Rigoberto Sanchez Jersey

Now that NFL rosters have taken shape and we are less than a week away from real football, the question on most every fan’s mind is “How good is our punter?”

Or maybe that’s just me.

Typically punters are an afterthought; someone who is needed when the offense fails. Even in modern parlance, “punting” is often an idiom for quitting. Forgotten, overlooked, under-appreciated, the NFL punter is destined for obscurity.

Or maybe not. I’ve been intrigued by the recent emphasis on punters in the draft lately. In the 2017 draft, there were 3 punters taken and in 2018 that number increased to 4, including the Texas Bowl MVP. That is the most punters selected in a two year span since 1987(1).

Maybe that is random noise or maybe the NFL is starting to change their view of punters. Either way it begs the question of just how much can a good punter help a team?

OAKLAND — A 45-year-old kicker, a record-breaking play and a win on the road in front of friends and family. Just another day at the office for Hamilton High and Butte College alumnus Rigoberto Sanchez.

Sanchez, 24, midway through his second NFL season with the Indianapolis Colts as the team’s punter, holder and kickoff man, was relatively inconspicuous in a 42-28 win over the Raiders at the Oakland Alameda Coliseum on Sunday. On special teams, that is usually a good thing.

With the Raiders’ defense offering little resistance, Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck completed his first 10 passes of the game and helped the Colts score 21 fourth-quarter points. The Colts converted 9 of 13 third downs for the game and as a result, only needed the punting services of Sanchez once. He booted it for 46 yards, while also recording touchbacks on 7 of 8 kickoffs.

However, the most important role Sanchez played on Sunday was holding for Vinatieri, who passed Morten Andersen to become the NFL’s all-time points leader with 2,550. He passed the mark by drilling a 25-yard field goal with 29 seconds remaining in the first half. As holder, Sanchez had a hand in that history, quite literally, and was the first person to congratulate him on the field.

While Vinatieri will get much of the credit for the record, and rightfully so, a small share of it must go to Sanchez and long-snapper Luke Rhodes. Sanchez, who was both a placekicker and punter for much of his time at Butte College and later, the University of Hawaii, didn’t have any holding experience prior to the NFL. To go from a novice to holding for one of the best kickers in league history, was a challenge that Sanchez embraced.

“No question, he is the best kicker in the NFL,” Sanchez said in a phone interview Thursday. “But I try not to put it in that perspective, to think about who I’m holding for. I just try to think, catch the ball, put the ball in the right spot, get the right lean.”

As a rookie in 2017, Sanchez found himself in a position battle with veteran Jeff Locke for the team’s starting punter spot left vacant by the retired Pat McAfee. Sanchez, a former center midfielder on Hamilton’s boys soccer team, appeared to have the superior leg. But he also needed to learn how to hold for Vinatieri.

He and Rhodes worked together at practice daily, so Sanchez could learn how to spin the ball correctly to the laces side and get a feel for catching snaps from Rhodes. Even after practice, Sanchez returned home and asked his fiancee, Cynthia Ramirez, to throw him footballs and get him additional repetitions.

“(Adam) was really patient with us, with Luke and I, in the beginning of last year,” Sanchez said. “He believed in us, he gave us the benefit of the doubt, and we work for him, and I think we work for the whole team.”

After he beat out Locke for the starting job as a rookie, Sanchez emerged as one of the league’s brightest young punters, and it has carried over into his second year. He ranks 10th in distance (46.0 yards), 3rd in net distance (43.1) and has allowed the 2nd fewest return yards per punt (5.0).

Like many kickers and punters, Sanchez played soccer growing up, and he often dreamed of playing the sport beyond Hamilton High. He began playing football in his sophomore year of high school. One of his coaches, Abel Hernandez, noticed his kicking ability and told him early on that he had the potential to go somewhere with it. Sanchez filed that thought away in the back of his mind.

As he was completing his senior year of high school in 2013, Sanchez was faced with the decision to attend Santa Rosa Junior College and play soccer, or stay closer to home and play football at Butte College. He chose home.

“It was a hard transition for me, but I mean it all played out perfectly, so I’m happy to be here,” Sanchez said.

Though his family has traveled to see some of his pro games, Sunday’s contest in Oakland was the closest to home Sanchez has ever played since joining the Colts.

Along with New York Giants kicker Aldrick Rosas, who grew up in nearby Orland and also worked with Hernandez, Sanchez planned on hosting a football camp for youths last offseason. But he first had to take care of finishing his degree at Hawaii, and had to put the idea on hold.

He still wants to put together a camp at some point in the future. As a someone from a city of less than 2,000 residents, Sanchez hopes to inspire other small-town kids to chase their big dreams.
“I talked to Aldrick too about this — growing up you want to have someone there, you always want to meet that professional athlete,” Sanchez said, “and we never really had that. We never really got to be around them because we’re obviously from small towns. The good thing is that we’re here, and now we’re able to do that for other kids.”

INDIANAPOLIS (WTHR) – This is a positive Colts column. Maybe you don’t want to read a positive Colts column at this point, especially at the end of a week when the Colts got shut out, T.Y. Hilton trashed the offensive line and then may or may not have apologized to them personally and then

Robert Mathis got charged with an OWI.

Maybe you don’t want to hear anything good about a franchise that is on pace to set the kinds of records for ineptitude you don’t want to set.

But here it is, a positive column, a column about a guy who is quietly having a terrific season for the otherwise horrific Indianapolis Colts.

Rigoberto Sanchez.

He hasn’t made anybody forget about Pat McAfee – how can we ever forget Pat? – but he has come from nowhere to establish himself as one of the NFL’s best punters in this, his rookie year. He is also kicking off beautifully, and he’s learned to become a holder on field goals and extra points, something he never did before arriving in Indianapolis as an undrafted free agent from the University of Hawaii.

When training camp started, it was widely assumed that Jeff Locke, a free-agent addition from Minnesota, would be the man, and when Sanchez’ first preseason punt went nowhere, we figured it was Locke’s job to lose. We were wrong, so wrong. It was Sanchez’ job to win, and he won it with his consistency, his length and, most of all, his directional punting ability.

The numbers are impressive. Sanchez is fourth in the league in net yards punting. He is tied for first on punts inside the 20 yard line. He is first in forcing fair catches. He is fifth in yards per punt return. Currently, his net punting yards stands at 45.1 yards per punt; McAfee’s best ever came in 2014, when he averaged 42.8 On kickoffs, he’s done whatever special teams coach Tom McMahon has wanted him to do, either knocking it out of the back of the end zone, or popping it up, either to the left or to the right, just around the 1-yard line.

It is a harsh commentary on the state of the team that when Chuck Pagano was asked about his offense Monday, he changed gears and made sure to mention what a great year Sanchez is having. Come Wednesday, he was downright chatty about Sanchez, no doubt relieved at not having to discuss all the other issues that currently plague his team on the field and off.

“(Special teams coach) Tom (McMahon) does a great job unearthing these guys,’’ Pagano said. “He worked this kid out, evaluated him and from day one, he said this guy has a chance to be a Pro Bowler…and he was exactly right. He’s extremely mature and a great pro who spends countless time on task, working on his craft…’’

At this point you’re no doubt thinking, “Wow, we’re reduced to writing about what a great job the punter is doing.’’ And you wouldn’t be wrong. This recalls the day of Chris Gardocki and Rohn Stark and others back when the Colts specialists were far and away their biggest, and only, bright spots.

But, well, he’s having a great year, and he looks like the next in line of very fine Colts punters, going back years and then most recently, Hunter Smith and McAfee.

When I walked over to Sanchez to do an interview Wednesday, he was watching tape of the Cincinnati Bengals’ return men, looking for any little edge he could get in Sunday’s game.

“What I look at is how they catch the ball, and I also try to learn off other specialists out there, how they drop the ball (during a punt), little techniques that can help me,’’ Sanchez said. “These guys have been pros longer than I have, so I study them.’’

Sanchez, a rare bird in the NFL by virtue of his Mexican-American heritage, started out the way so many kickers do: As a soccer player. That was his favorite sport – and in some ways, still is – until his sophomore year in high school in California, when the local high school kicking coach noticed his leg talent and talked him into trying out for the team. The rest, as they say, is history. He kicked in high school, kicked two years at Butte College in California, then two years at Hawaii.

Christine Michael Jersey

Texas A&M running back Christine Michael is a very interesting prospect, and one who will excite a lot of teams looking for a back with great speed and quick cuts.

However, there are also many questions surrounding his ability as a blocker, and his injury problems will raise some red flags.  He's not the complete package, but he has raw talent to burn, which can often be the difference.When it comes to pure running ability, there's no running back in the 2013 draft class better than Christine Michael. On the other hand, none of the other backs of Michael's caliber have as many questions or holes in their game as Michael does. How high will an NFL team be willing to take this high risk/high reward ballcarrier?

Michael is an electric runner. He gets north-south in a hurry with explosive cuts into the hole and generally plays at a different speed than anyone else on the field. Michael is a rugged and explosive player who will attempt to run a tackler over just as quickly as he’ll put a move on them in the open field.

His initial burst and acceleration through the line are unrivaled in this class, and he loses little momentum when he changes direction. Michael’s speed makes tacklers take bad angles, and he has the long speed to take the ball to the house from anywhere on the field. He also has an ideal compact build and low pad level that makes it very tough to knock him off balance.

There are questions about injuries (broken tibia in 2010 and torn ACL in 2011). There are questions about his pass blocking and receiving ability – both are limited and sometimes ineffective. There are questions about his character which caused him to be used in a smaller role during 2012, and also resulted in Michael sleeping through some meetings with teams at the Combine. He has also never had more than 166 carries in a season.

At 5’10” 220, Michael’s frame is just about perfect for an NFL running back. His timed speed of a 4.54 40 at the Combine isn’t elite, but his initial burst and moves in the open field still create plenty of long plays. Michael’s 43″ vertical, 6.69 three-cone time, and 4.02 short shuttle were all the best among running backs at the Combine. His 27 bench press reps and 10’5″ broad jump were top three. He is a rare physical specimen.

As mentioned above, Michael’s relationship with the A&M coaching staff cost him playing time in 2012. He made a bad impression off the field at the Combine with his missed meetings, and he also has two serious leg injuries in his past. His character issues are big enough that Lance Zierlein wrote that they could cause him to fall to the fourth round at The National Football Post.

Michael had a good mix of runs out of an I-formation and shotgun runs without a lead fullback over the course of his career. He was at his best on stretch plays that allowed him to see and choose the hole himself.

Michael’s vision isn’t perfect – you’ll sometimes see him take runs outside to his detriment instead of staying between the tackles – but his explosion of out decisive cuts is so overwhelming that he often appears to be very advanced at seeing the hole developing. He doesn’t hit holes, he attacks them. Michael doesn’t look patient because his body is crackling with kinetic energy, but he can deliberately find and tear through holes on stretch plays.

Michael has little experience as a receiver, with no more than 15 receptions in any year of his career. Occasionally, he will light up a blitzer, but just as often he’ll whiff or fail to engage a rushing defender. When he moves his feet and squares up, Michael can be a devastating blocker, and he can also execute cut blocks well, but inconsistency here will limit his work on passing downs early in his career.

Michael is very comfortable running between the tackles. His sharp cuts get him through the hole immediately after quick, choppy steps to survey the line and locate the hole. He can also take a ball and instantly get downhill when he has a lead blocker with great results. Michael is not afraid of contact and will run hard in tight quarters to get what’s there.

Even though he has the innate quickness to do it, Michael is not a dancer or a jitterbug back in space. He puts pressure on a defense by getting to the second level without pause, and then forcing missed tackles with sharp cuts that can sometimes turn tacklers 360 degrees in an attempt to recover. Michael has a great spin move, but he is more likely to defeat a tackler with subtle moves in the open field before he encounters them. Michael does gather to change direction and appears to be impatient as an open field runner at times, but his amazing tools often make up for any shortcomings in his mental approach to running the ball.

His game isn’t predicated on power, but Michael will truck a tackler in the open field. He has a mean stiff arm and generally runs with little regard to his or the tackler’s health. His naturally low pad level ensures many won collisions, and Michael usually gets even lower when he senses oncoming contact.

Like David Wilson with the Giants last year, Michael will need to work on his pass blocking to get on the field as a rookie. He may never be an ideal back on third downs, but he will likely be the most physically talented back on his roster from day one. Michael could be a big-time playmaker in a zone blocking running scheme with his combination of burst, size, decisiveness, and toughness.

During his four years as an Aggie, Michael compiled a series of differing achievements.

As a freshman, he was named Big 12 Offensive Freshman of the year, racking up 844 yards and 10 touchdowns. It seemed that he would be an absolute star, but his second season was suddenly brought to a close when he broke his leg against Texas Tech. He missed the final four games of 2010, including the Aggies’ Cotton Bowl loss to LSU.

Nevertheless, he came back strong in 2011 and gained some real momentum with three consecutive 100-yard games. Again, however, this came to an abrupt end when he tore his ACL and missed the final three games of the season, including another bowl game.

Even after all this, there was reason to believe he would finally have his breakout season in 2012, but these hopes were brought crashing down as the season began.

Michael faced accusations of laziness and a bad attitude, resulting in him spending a lot of time on the bench. His blocking remained a concern, as well as his ability as a receiver. He seemed unwilling to work on these issues, and as a result, he had little momentum going into this year’s combine.

Prior to his gig in Indianapolis that was cut short, Michael last played a split season for the Seattle Seahawks and Green Bay Packers in 2016. He finished that year with a total of 583 rushing yards and seven rushing touchdowns.

Seattle is also where Michael began his career as a second-round pick from 2013. Though he also played a brief five games with the Dallas Cowboys in 2015.

The Colts must feel as if Michael will be a contributor to an offense that let running back Frank Gore walk in free agency. As it stands, second-year running back Marlon Mack is the No. 1 guy.

Health here for Michael is clearly a concern that the Colts seem willing to look past. He is just 27-years-old, which is at least a plus.

Indianapolis Colts running back Christine Michael was released on Monday, according to Field Yates of ESPN. Despite showing well in the preseason, Michael was buried on the Colts running back depth chart behind sophomore Marlon Mack and rookie rushers Jordan Wilkins and Nyheim Hines. This news bodes well for Mack’s fantasy owners, who are hoping the presumed lead back in this offense is recovering well from his hamstring and foot problems. Michael finishes his brief 2018 stint with the Colts having rushed twice for nine yards across two games.

Erik Swoope Jersey

ALAMEDA, Calif. – The Oakland Raiders have signed free agent TE Erik Swoope, the club announced Wednesday.

Swoope, a 6-foot-4, 255-pound tight end, originally entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent following the 2014 NFL Draft. He spent his first five seasons (2014-18) with the Indianapolis Colts, including a short stop with the New Orleans Saints in 2018. Over his career, Swoope has appeared in 24 games and made six starts, compiling 23 receptions for 384 yards (16.7 avg.) and four touchdowns.

Last season, Swoope made seven appearances for the Colts with two starts, logging eight receptions for 87 yards and a career-best three touchdowns. In 2016, he appeared in all 16 contests and set career marks in receptions (15) and yards (297), after seeing action in one game in 2015 and spending the 2014 season on the club’s practice squad.

Tight end was a huge hole heading into the offseason for Jon Gruden and the Oakland Raiders. Rather than swing for the fences, the Raiders are going to replace Jared Cook with a committee of three or four tight ends.

In order to add to their tight end room, Oakland will sign tight end Erik Swoope, who spent last year with the Indianapolis Colts.

Swoope went to football factory Miami, but never played football at the collegiate level. He was a key rotation piece on the Hurricanes’ basketball team. At 6-5, Swoope was deemed to small for the NBA, and signed on with the Colts as an undrafted free agent.

Over the last four seasons, Swoope has recorded 23 catches for 284 yards and four touchdowns.

Swoope is a player with a very defined role. He’s not a great blocker or route runner, but his verticality and sure hands make him a threat in the red zone that Jon Gruden will likely find a way to use.

The Oakland Raiders have signed former Indianapolis Colts tight end Erik Swoope to a one-year contract Tuesday evening, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter.

A vacancy at tight end was created for the Raiders when Jared Cook left in free agency and signed with the New Orleans Saints.

Swoope spent most of his five NFL seasons in Indianapolis after going undrafted out of Miami. His best season came in 2016, appearing in 16 games (four starts) and recording 15 receptions for 297 yards and a touchdown.

The first two seasons of his NFL career resulted in one played game, and a knee scope stemming from knee pain experienced in training camp derailed his 2017 campaign. While last season saw the 27-year-old play only seven games, he scored a career-high three touchdowns.

The fact that Swoope has scored an NFL touchdown at all is unlikely given his four years at Miami were spent on the basketball team. He had never played organized football prior to the Colts signing him. In December 2016, the Sun Sentinel’s Shandel Richardson dove into Swoope’s background:

“‘I thought [Miami coach Jim Larranaga] was joking [about interest from NFL scouts],” said Swoope, who averaged five points and 2.7 rebounds his senior season at UM. ‘I had never played a day in my life. I watched some football. My older brother and my dad played football, but aside from that my life was basketball.’

“The reason for the interest was simple. At 6’5″ and 257 pounds, Swoope was considered a ‘tweener’ on the basketball court because he had no true position. On the football field, those dimensions combined with athleticism were a perfect fit for tight end.”

The Raiders must have seen something they liked about Swoope’s hybrid athleticism during his workout earlier Tuesday, per NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport. Head coach Jon Gruden had described on May 3 the team’s tight end position as a “logjam.”

Swoope joins Darren Waller, Luke Willson and Foster Moreau at the position. Oakland signed Willson as a free agent in March and drafted Moreau out of LSU in the fourth round of this year’s draft.

INDIANAPOLIS — The Indianapolis Colts today signed tight end Erik Swoope to the practice squad and released quarterback Phillip Walker from the practice squad.

Swoope, 6-4, 255 pounds, has spent time on the Colts active roster and practice squad this season. He appeared in seven games (two starts) for Indianapolis in 2018 and caught eight passes for 87 yards and three touchdowns. Swoope originally signed with the Colts as an undrafted free agent on March 13, 2014. He has played in 24 career games (six starts) with Indianapolis and has caught 23 passes for 384 yards and four touchdowns.

Walker, 5-11, 216 pounds, has spent a majority of the season on the Colts practice squad. He participated in the team’s 2018 offseason program and training camp before being waived on September 1. Walker signed a reserve/future contract with the Colts on January 1, 2018. He spent the entire 2017 season on Indianapolis’ practice squad. Walker was originally signed by the Colts as an undrafted free agent on May 4, 2017.

ALAMEDA, Calif. (AP) — The Oakland Raiders have signed free agent tight end Erik Swoope.

The Raiders released quarterback Landry Jones on Wednesday to make room on the 90-man roster.

Swoope had eight catches for 87 yards and three touchdowns in seven games last season with Indianapolis. He entered the league as an undrafted free agent with the Colts in 2014 after playing college basketball at Miami. He has 23 career catches for 384 yards and four TDs in 24 games.

Jones’ departure leaves Mike Glennon and Nathan Peterman as the backups to Derek Carr.

Swoope had eight catches for 87 yards and three touchdowns in seven games last season with Indianapolis. He entered the league as an undrafted free agent with the Colts in 2014 after playing college basketball at Miami. He has 23 career catches for 384 yards and four TDs in 24 games.

Jones’ departure leaves Mike Glennon and Nathan Peterman as the backups to Derek Carr.

Al Woods Jersey

The Seahawks continued to bolster their defensive line with addition of veteran defensive tackle Al Woods, whom the team reportedly signed to a one-year deal Friday. The move isn’t nearly as splashy as the signing of former Lions pass rusher Ezekiel “Ziggy” Ansah, but for 710 ESPN Seattle’s Brock Huard, Woods was signed to occupy a role the Seahawks have leaned on for years.

Why was Woods the choice at defensive tackle?

“Humility, and comfort and background,” Huard said during his Blue 42 segment of Brock and Salk Monday morning. “He was here a long time ago with Pete Carroll. Woods has now been with more teams in the NFL (five) than he has sacks in his nine-year career (four-and-a-half). He is not a guy who is going to give you any upfield push. But I say ‘humility’ in that (his mentality is going to be) ‘You want me to eat up these two blocks? I’ll eat them up.’

“Last year, according to Pro Football Focus, Woods’ D-tackle ranking was really low. The season before that? He was a top-15 guy as far as defensive tackles in the league go, of holding the point, of doing your job, of making people around you better. Basically, (he is) what Shamar Stephen has done in this system; what Tony McDaniel has done. That position is to eat up two dudes, and free up Bobby Wagner, free up K.J. Wright, and free up the others to go and get it done. Play your early downs — that’s what he’s going to be asked to do.”

Woods appeared in two games for the Seahawks in 2011. Since then, he’s played at nose tackle for the Pittsburgh Steelers, Tennessee Titans, and most recently, with the Indianapolis Colts. Over the course of his career, the 32-year-old has appeared in 111 games, and recorded three passes defended, 4.5 sacks, and 172 combined tackles.

Huard also answered questions about quarterback Geno Smith, who is reportedly expected to sign with the Seahawks, and potential replacements for wide receiver Doug Baldwin. Listen to Monday’s full Blue 42 segment in the audio clip embedded above, or on Brock and Salk’s podcast page.

May 11 (UPI) — Veteran defensive tackle Al Woods has signed with the Seattle Seahawks, according to his agency.

Woods, 32, played two games for Seattle in 2011. He started 24 games over the last two seasons with the Indianapolis Colts.

Woods had 24 tackles in 14 games last season. He began his career with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2010.

His agency, SportsTrustAdvisors disclosed the terms but NFL Media reported Woods signed a one-year contract worth $2.25 million.

Woods previously visited the Lions this offseason. He left Detroit without a contract.

Seattle signed defensive end Ziggy Ansah earlier this week. Ansah was a first-round pick of the Lions in 2013 and has 48 career sacks.

On offense, the Steelers are the same Steelers we have seen the past couple of years, using short passes, screens and intermediate throws to get the ball into the hands of wide receivers Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders and generate yards after the catch. They also remain dedicated to the run despite their struggles. The biggest change from Week 7, though, is that they are more often using the no-huddle offense with three wide receivers to get quarterback Ben Roethlisberger into a rhythm. On defense, the Steelers still use their 3-4 zone blitz scheme, of course, but unlike the first half of the season, they are…

Former LSU defensive lineman Al Woods signed with the Seattle Seahawks Friday, Woods’ agency, Sports Trust Advisors, announced on social media.

The Seahawks will make the seventh NFL team Woods has played for during his 10 years. The Seahawks wanted a run-stuffing defensive tackle, and Pete Carroll got his man in Woods.

Woods previously played with the Seahawks during the 2011 season. He last played for the Colts in 2018.

The Louisiana-native was originally drafted in the fourth round of the 2010 NFL Draft by the Saints. New Orleans later released Woods the same year even after he signed a four-year contract. His best season came during the 2017 season with the Colts, where he made a combination of 44 tackles and one sack.

Woods finished his LSU career with 73 tackles, eight tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks. He started all 13 games for the Tigers as a senior in 2009.

RENTON, Wash. (AP) — Free-agent defensive tackle Al Woods has agreed to a one-year contract with the Seattle Seahawks according to his agency.

Woods’ agency, SportsTrust Advisers, announced the agreement on social media on Friday night.

Earlier in the day, the Seahawks officially announced the signing of defensive end Ezekiel Ansah after the sides agreed to a one-year deal earlier in the week. Ansah missed a significant portion of last season due to shoulder injuries that required offseason surgery. Seattle released defensive end Nate Orchard to clear a roster spot for Ansah.

Woods spent the past two seasons with Indianapolis where he started 24 of 30 regular-season games. Woods had a career-high 44 tackles in 2017 and had 24 tackles last season. Woods will add depth to Seattle’s defensive tackle rotation.

RENTON, Wash. (AP) — Free-agent defensive tackle Al Woods has agreed to a one-year contract with the Seattle Seahawks according to his agency.

Woods’ agency, SportsTrust Advisers, announced the agreement on social media on Friday night.

Earlier in the day, the Seahawks officially announced the signing of defensive end Ezekiel Ansah after the sides agreed to a one-year deal earlier in the week. Ansah missed a significant portion of last season due to shoulder injuries that required offseason surgery. Seattle released defensive end Nate Orchard to clear a roster spot for Ansah.

Woods spent the past two seasons with Indianapolis where he started 24 of 30 regular-season games. Woods had a career-high 44 tackles in 2017 and had 24 tackles last season. Woods will add depth to Seattle’s defensive tackle rotation.

Earlier in the day, the Seahawks officially announced the signing of defensive end Ezekiel Ansah after the sides agreed to a one-year deal earlier in the week. Ansah missed a significant portion of last season due to shoulder injuries that required offseason surgery. Seattle released defensive end Nate Orchard to clear a roster spot for Ansah.

Woods spent the past two seasons with Indianapolis where he started 24 of 30 regular-season games. Woods had a career-high 44 tackles in 2017 and had 24 tackles last season. Woods will add depth to Seattle’s defensive tackle rotation.

So far Woods’ hard work has earned him nine years in the NFL where he has played for the Tennessee Titans, Seattle Seahawks, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Pittsburgh Steelers and now the Indianapolis Colts. Last season, Woods’ first season with the Colts, he had a career high of 20 tackles. This season Woods has 10 tackles across 14 games.

During the season, Woods is not near the farm to help him clear his head before a big game, but he has another not-so-secret weapon to keep himself in a good pre-game mental state: his children. Playing with his children is his favorite way to prep for a game as it puts him in the right mindset, especially at this time of year.

“Christmas is coming, so I’m just always looking forward to watching the kids open their gifts and seeing their happy faces,” Woods said.

Margus Hunt Jersey

If the Bears went to Paul Brown Stadium on Saturday night in search of a little self-confidence, they left unfulfilled.

This team is short on talent, and you didn’t need to watch the most significant of the four exhibition games to know that. The Bears’ drafts from 2009 through 2014 — six drafts totaling 40 selections — produced four of the team’s starters in the 21-10 loss to the Bengals.

Preseason isn’t a good indicator of regular-season success, but the Bears aren’t suddenly going to look faster when the Packers come to Soldier Field on Sept. 13. They’re not suddenly going to discover playmakers on both sides of the ball. Left tackle Jermon Bushrod’s back isn’t going to…

INDIANAPOLIS — Margus Hunt is back to build upon his career year with the Indianapolis Colts.

The Colts today announced that they have re-signed the veteran defensive lineman, who was set to become an unrestricted free agent when the league’s new year began on March 13.

Hunt, who will turn 32 just before the start of training camp this year, was a free agent signing by the Colts back in March 2017, after the former second-round pick had spent the first four seasons of his career with the Cincinnati Bengals.

Hunt had a solid first season in Indy as a spot starter in 2017, posting a then-career high 29 total tackles, including six tackles for loss, to go along with one sack, seven quarterback hits and two passes defensed.

But with the team changing to a completely new defensive front, the 4-3, in 2018, Hunt, at 6-foot-8, 298 pounds, was originally seen by many outside the organization as a player without a set role heading into the season.

Hunt quickly changed some minds, however.

Mostly starting out at defensive end before moving more inside for much of the second half of the season, Hunt collected career highs in tackles (30), tackles for loss (13), sacks (5.0), and he also added six quarterback hits, two passes defensed, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery.

His play was key for a Colts’ defensive unit that made a major overall improvement in 2018, finishing 11th in total defense, and eighth against the run.

“Margus is a unique guy inside because of his length,” Colts general manager Chris Ballard said of Hunt on Jan. 14. “Putting him at the three (technique) and the one (technique) it really kind of accentuated on what he is really good at. We were fortunate to have Margus.”

Hunt will be counted on to once again be a key piece for a Colts defensive line that will continue to be molded and shaped by Ballard and head coach Frank Reich and his staff.

Four other key contributors — Denico Autry, Jabaal Sheard, Tyquan Lewis and Kemoko Turay — are also back in 2019, as are the likes of Al-Quadin Muhammad, Grover Stewart, Hassan Ridgeway, Carroll Phillips and Jihad Ward.

The Colts also signed defensive end Anthony Winbush and defensive tackle DeShawn Williams to reserve/future contracts earlier this offseason.

INDIANAPOLIS — Margus Hunt could’ve easily parlayed a career year in 2018 into an opportunity to test the open market and maximize any deals that assuredly would’ve came his way.

Instead, on Tuesday, Hunt signed a reported two-year contract extension to remain with the Indianapolis Colts, a little more than a week before the start of free agency.

As it turned out, Hunt didn’t want to even entertain the thought of playing anywhere else.

“I was really hoping that this contract would happen sooner rather than later,” Hunt told reporters Tuesday in a conference call. “So it wasn’t really a hard decision to where, you know, I was wondering whether or not I was going to play out the market or not.

“I knew that if the opportunity arises for me to be back here in this kind of environment and with this team and these guys, it’s a no-brainer.”

The decision to bring Hunt back was likely a no-brainer for the Colts, as well, who saw the versatile defensive lineman set several career marks in 2018, finishing with 30 tackles — 13 of which were for a loss— to go with 5.0 sacks, six quarterback hits, two passes defensed, one fumble recovery and one forced fumble.

Hunt began the 2018 season playing off the edge in Matt Eberflus’ new 4-3 system, but as the season wore on, he found himself lined up more within the interior of the defensive front. And while he started off the year hot with four sacks in his first four games, Hunt was an especially valuable piece for one of the league’s top run defenses, too, finishing with 20 run stops on the season, according to Pro Football Focus.

Hunt said the opportunity to play at several positions during training camp set him up well for when he actually had to play at certain spots once the regular season came along.

“I just think it was the training camp (practices), we had some injuries going on and around the defensive line, so I just got kind of inserted into all these different roles of playing defensive end, defensive tackle, and trying to take the reps and trying to put good stuff on tape, and that hopefully will show up,” Hunt told Colts.com’s Matt Taylor on Tuesday. “And it did throughout the season to where they were able to put me in all these different positions and be successful at it. And it worked out.”

All individual accolades aside, however, Hunt put one priority over all others when deciding to stay in Indianapolis for another couple years.

After starting the 2018 season with a 1-5 record, the Colts stormed back to finish with wins in nine of their last 10 games to earn their first playoff appearance in four seasons. Hunt said there’s something clearly building in Indy under general manager Chris Ballard and Frank Reich, and he’s happy to continue playing his part in taking the team where it thinks it can go.

“The locker room that’s here, and the guys that Chris and Coach (Reich) have brought in, and the chemistry we have right now, I mean, it’s just something that I didn’t want to change out for anything else,” Hunt said.

There are some exceptional prospects in the NFL draft every year, but Southern Methodist University defensive end Margus Hunt is one of the craziest in recent memory. Not literally crazy, but he makes you wonder if he’s from the same planet as everyone else.

Hunt’s from the same planet (probably), but not the same country. He came to America from Estonia, originally to pursue a career in track and field.

He won gold medals as a junior Olympian in the discus and shot put, and he also plays the piano. He’ll be 26 years old by the time the season starts—Hunt is truly a rarity among NFL prospects.

He also possesses an out-of-this-world combination of size and athleticism, measuring in at 6’8” and 277 pounds at the combine. Hunt ran the 40-yard dash in 4.60 seconds and had 38 reps on the bench press. To put that in perspective, Hunt ran the 40-yard dash as fast as the 248-pound linebacker Dion Jordan and had the same number of reps on the bench press as the 311-pound defensive tackle Star Lotulelei.

Foreign-born players are always interesting because they typically haven’t been playing the game for very long. In Hunt’s case, he’s been playing football for only the last four years. No one expects a guy who has been playing football for only a few years to have refined technique, but Hunt’s height makes any problems he has more glaring.

Hunt has been labeled as being “raw” from a technique perspective, which is certainly true when it comes to his ability to maintain proper pad level. For a player as tall as Hunt, he needs to keep his pad level down to be effective.

However, when Hunt does play with the proper pad level, he can take over a game. At one point against Fresno State, the Bulldogs assigned three blockers to try to slow Hunt down. If Hunt’s pad level rises, he can be neutralized and disappear in games.

How much a team values Hunt in the draft is going to depend on if it believes he can improve his pad level. For those teams that believe pad level is coachable, Hunt is a first-round talent. For those that think pad level is not coachable or that he’s too tall to ever be consistent with his pad level, he’s a third-round draft choice.

Jabaal Sheard Jersey

Yes, the Ravens outlasted an inferior opponent to maintain their leg up in the AFC wild-card race. That has to be the headline.

But this was not an encouraging effort from a team that has generally rounded into form over the past six weeks. The Ravens talk about making a deep run if they get into the postseason, but that won’t happen if they make as many mental and physical mistakes as they did against the Indianapolis Colts.

“Not the best-played game by us,” coach John Harbaugh said.

The Ravens mishandled a succession of key plays that could have…

During his second year of a three-year contract, Sheard didn’t put up world-beating numbers in the stat sheet, but he was a consistent force setting the edge and rushing the passer.

Starting all 16 games for the Colts, Sheard 5.5 sacks, 14 tackles for loss and four batted passes.

As the Colts transitioned the defensive alignment from a 3-4 to a 4-3 under new coordinator Matt Eberflus, Sheard easily converted from an outside linebacker to a defensive end, which appeared to be his more natural position.

The Colts pass rush was inconsistent throughout the season. They would have their strong games but then string together a few quiet ones. Sheard seemed to be a consistent threat from the edge, though, even if he wasn’t racking up sack totals.

Sheard was the ninth-ranked edge defender among 15 in this year’s list. He ranked behind Cameron Jordan (6), Calais Campbell (9), Von Miller (10), DeMarcus Lawrence (12), Melvin Ingram (24), Brandon Graham (27), Joey Bosa (28) and Khalil Mack (31). That’s a pretty great group in which to be included.

As PFF mentioned, Sheard stood out in a down year overall for the Colts defense. Without his 4.2 quarterback pressures per game, their pass rush would’ve been non-existent. He only had 5.5 actual sacks on the year, but pressure can make things almost as chaotic for an opposing passing game. Overall, Sheard also had 52 tackles (4 for loss), 2 forced fumbles and 3 pass breakups.

The Colts signed Sheard as a free agent last offseason while trying to find young, yet experienced players to add to the front seven. You could say that Sheard exceeded expectations. Although he didn’t post double-digit sacks, he provided consistent pressure and was as durable as ever. He played in all 16 games, which reflects his career durability. He’s only missed seven games in seven seasons.

In 2018, we’ll see if Sheard’s production changes at all. The Colts are moving to a 4-3 defense under coordinator Matt Eberflus from their former 3-4 hybrid under Chuck Pagano. Sheard is expected to take a role as a defensive end rather than outside linebacker, where he played in 2017. Sheard has plenty of experience with his hand in the dirt throughout his seven-year career, though. He will likely remain the top pass-rushing option as the Colts usher in and groom some younger players in 2018.

Sheard was the only Colts player to make the top 101. PFF also released a list of the 10 players who just missed the cut. There were no Colts on that list.

Joining the Pittsburgh Panthers in 2010, Sheard consistently developed through his four seasons in college. After totaling just three tackles in seven games his freshman year, Sheard exploded for 45 tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks in 2011. His level of play continued to grow and he finished out his collegiate career with 142 tackles, 35.5 for a loss and 19.5 total sacks.

A second round pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, Sheard would become a member of the Cleveland Browns and spend his first four seasons in the AFC North. Sheard started in his first 45 games of his professional career and had 97 tackles, 21 sacks, seven forced fumbles and nine pass deflections. Sheard’s numbers, however, decreased in each season following his rookie year, which resulted in him starting in just five games in 2014. He would then sign in the following offseason with the New England Patriots on a two-year, $11 million contract.

In his two seasons in New England, Sheard started in nine of his 33 appearances — eight of which were in 2016 — and won his first and only Super Bowl Championship in the Patriots 34-28 victory over the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl 51. In the 2016 playoffs, Sheard had 0.5 sacks, two tackles and five assists on tackles. That following offseason Sheard signed a three-year, $25.5 million contract with the Colts starting all 16 games of the 2017 season — leading the team in sacks with 5.5 and totaling 37 tackles.

INDIANAPOLIS – Jabaal Sheard was easily the most consistent and disruptive front 7 player for the Colts last season.

Sheard finished his first year with the Colts having posted 5.5 sacks (including a game-clincher in Houston). But diving deeper into Sheard’s numbers shows he was even more productive than just your basic sack numbers.

Per Pro Football Focus, Sheard had the 13th most pressures in the league last year (66) and was 4th in total run stops (30) among edge defenders.

Those effective numbers, against the run and pass, are impressive and offer one of the few glimmers of hope from last year’s major defensive struggles.

But Sheard isn’t up for hearing too much about them.

“We finished as one of the worst teams in the league,” Sheard said to Colts.com earlier this spring. “No matter how you played individually, we’ve got to be better.

“Everyone knows that, unless you want change again.”

Things have changed pretty substantially on the defensive side of the ball for the Colts.

Sheard and his teammates are immersed in learning a new 4-3 system.

It’s been a while since Sheard, an 8-year veteran, played in a 4-3.

The former second-round pick in 2011 points out the ‘dummied’ down defense in which his switch to a hand in the dirt defensive end will gladly remove him from coverage responsibilities.

“It’s about guys up front creating penetration and just making it (cleaner) for the linebackers,” Sheard says. “It’s not going to be your (Dwight) Freeney and (Robert) Mathis back in the day but hopefully we can work to that point where we get some pass rushers and get after the quarterback. We won’t be them, but hopefully something like them, being aggressive and getting after quarterbacks and running backs in the backfield.”

Last season, the Colts finished the year with a mere 26 sacks—the fewest for the team in more than a decade.

What has followed in the aftermath of missing the playoffs for a third straight season?

New coaches. New schemes. New personnel.

“If you don’t win,” Sheard reiterates, “things change.”

Jabaal Sheard is moving on from the New England Patriots following two seasons with the reigning Super Bowl champions, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter and Field Yates.

Schefter added it’s a three-year deal worth $25.5 million with $12.75 million guaranteed.

Sheard inked a two-year, $11 million deal to suit up for the Patriots in March 2015, and he looked like an instant bargain.
After he racked up 23 sacks in four seasons with the Cleveland Browns, Sheard proceeded to tally eight sacks in his first season as a member of the Patriots. During the productive campaign, Sheard graded out as the Patriots’ top defender with an overall grade of 88.2, according to Pro Football Focus’ Ben Stockwell.

Jacoby Brissett Jersey

Jacoby Brissett is a franchise quarterback-in-waiting, and organizations with issues at the game’s most important position should place Indianapolis Colts general manager Chris Ballard’s number on speed dial in an attempt to acquire the offseason’s most tantalizing option.

“I want to be a starter in this league,” Brissett said, per Fox 59’s Mike Chappell. “If that’s what you’re asking me, yeah, I want to be a starter in this league.”

Every backup wants to be a starter. The difference with Brissett lies in a combination of age, upside, previous experience and potential availability.

The NFL draft and free agency aren’t the only ways to acquire a quality starter. The trade market provided two squads—the San Francisco 49ers and Washington Redskins—with their signal-callers, even though both dealt with serious injuries.

It doesn’t come as much of a surprise that Brissett is generating interest in the league. With so many teams needing quarterbacks and high-end depth pieces behind their starters, it was only a matter of time before the Colts received offers.

Brissett was a 2016 third-round pick with the New England Patriots but was traded to the Colts in September for 2015 first-round pick Phillip Dorsett.

After Scott Tolzien failed to get through a full game in 2017, Brissett took over as the starter and was fully given the reigns when the Colts placed Luck on the injured reserve list.

Brissett had his struggles in 2017 but he also had plenty of moments of promise. He completed 58.8 percent of his passes for 3,098 passing yards, 13 touchdowns and seven interceptions.

However, it is difficult to blame him for all of the offensive woes, especially considering the Colts virtually had no pass protection or rushing attack.

He also emerged in the locker room as a leader and proved to be tough as nails playing behind an offensive line that allowed the most sacks in the NFL.

Brissett is still just 24 years old and though he has been generating interest, it seems the Colts like him as a solid starter or high end backup behind Luck.

The Colts have a potential trade chip in backup quarterback Jacoby Brissett. However, they also value him highly and aren’t inclined to trade him for cheap.

“I think he’s a starter in the league,” GM Chris Ballard said (via Joel A. Erickson of the Indianapolis Star). “It would take somebody doing something that would blow me away, and it has to be the right thing for the kid, too. I’m not just sending him anywhere.”

Last year’s free agent QB crop was uniquely strong, but this year’s group doesn’t offer nearly as many viable options. Between Brissett’s 2017 performance and the dearth of quality signal-callers out there, Brissett could fetch a high price if he’s dangled to other teams.

The Colts went just 4-12 without Andrew Luck under center in 2017, but Brissett did well from an individual perspective. He completed 58.8% of his throws that year for 3,098 yards with 13 touchdowns against seven interceptions. Those aren’t MVP numbers, but he was playing behind a porous offensive line that allowed him to be sacked 52 times.

At some point, the Giants will not be able to sit back and allow their quarterback situation to settle like all those leaves gently falling from the trees. They will need to shake that darn tree.

The Giants say they have a succession plan for life after Eli Manning. That plan cannot entirely wait until the 2019 draft, hoping they find one with a top-five pick. How about trading with the Colts for Jacoby Brissett?

It makes some sense. Brissett is big, mobile, athletic and has a huge arm. Bill Belichick liked him enough to make him a third-round pick in 2016. Belichick also traded him (for receiver Phillip Dorsett) a year later when Andrew Luck went down and the Colts were desperate for a quarterback. Brissett started 15 games last season and, amid all the losing on a bad team, showed promise, completing 59 percent of his passes, with 13 touchdowns and seven interceptions. He also can move around in the pocket. Luck is healthy and Brissett is back on the sideline. If Luck gets through 2018 unscathed, perhaps Brissett can be pried away early in the offseason.

This is a 24-year-old who, at 6-foot-4 and 235 pounds, has the skill set to thrive in the modern NFL offensive circus. Bill Parcells loved him when Brissett came out of North Carolina State. There were some in the Giants organization who were also high on him, with evaluations such as “he has everything you’re looking for in an NFL quarterback of today” and lauding his ability to throw a great deal of passes without turning the ball over.

Perhaps Brissett develops into a bona fide NFL starter. Adding him diminishes the pressure to absolutely, positively take a quarterback in the first round in 2019. Even if the Giants are able to land Justin Herbert of Oregon, Brissett would be a valuable placeholder. Something to think about.

The Giants have a lot of quarterback options this offseason, very few of which would exactly blow away their fans.

But they may have to blow away Indianapolis to land one of them.

The Colts, who possess one of the most enticing backup quarterbacks in the league in Jacoby Brissett, want the NFL world to know they are open for business and are setting their sights high.

Colts GM Chris Ballard admitted he has talked with Brissett about the possibility of trading him this offseason, as the 25-year-old is set to enter the final season of his rookie-league contract — making him especially affordable and attractive to interested teams.

“It would have to be right [fit] organizationally, and for him,” Ballard told reporters Monday as the Colts wrapped up their season, which ended with a 31-13 playoff loss to the Chiefs. “I want to do the right thing for the player, too, now. I want to do the right thing for Jacoby. Jacoby has too much value to us, not only as our backup quarterback, who I think you can absolutely win with and I think he’s a starter in the league, but also to the locker room. He is well-respected throughout the locker room by both sides of the ball — offensively and defensively.

“… It would take somebody doing something that would absolutely blow me away, and it has to be the right thing for the kid, too,” Ballard added. “I’m not just sending him anywhere.”

Brissett, a third-round pick of the Patriots in 2016, impressed immediately that season in filling in for Tom Brady, and then was flipped to Indy for receiver Phillip Dorsett just before the start of the 2017 season. He did not sparkle but did not flop as he filled Andrew Luck’s shoes last year, completing 58.8 percent of his passes and throwing 13 touchdowns to seven interceptions (plus four rushing touchdowns) in 15 games started, all while still picking up the playbook.

With Luck healthy this season, he reverted to backup, a role Ballard praised him for. If he is to be traded, it would likely be to a team looking for competition at the quarterback spot.

“He is a special, special teammate,” Ballard said. “I think you’ve all seen it. You’ve been through that locker room. He is well-respected. And I think the relationship between him and Andrew has become very strong over time — and as you would expect in that quarterback room.”

The Giants have Eli Manning entering the final year of his contract and are coming off a 5-11 disaster. The

quarterback options in the draft are not hyped — although Dwayne Haskins and possibly Kyler Murray could intrigue. Nick Foles also could be on the market — a thin market that might never be better for the Colts to trade Brissett.

“This is what I told Jacoby: I said, ‘I’m not giving you away. Won’t do it,’” Ballard said. “I said I had chances last year and I didn’t do it, and I won’t do it again.”

Matt Slauson Jersey

Indianapolis Colts guard Matt Slauson suffered a significant injury during last Thursday’s loss to the New England Patriots that could have been even worse.

Per Zak Keefer of the Indianapolis Star, Slauson continued to play in the game after suffering two broken vertebrae in his spine during the third quarter and could have been paralyzed.

“I had no idea how close I was to changing my family’s life,” Slauson said.

The Colts announced Monday that Slauson had been placed on injured reserve after he played 88 snaps—including all 83 on offense—against the Patriots.

Indianapolis signed Evan Boehm on Monday to add depth along the offensive line. The unit has been without left tackle Anthony Castonzo all season due to a hamstring injury, and right tackle J’Marcus Webb landed on injured reserve after Week 1 with a hamstring ailment as well.

Slauson signed a one-year deal with the Colts in March. He started each of the team’s first five games.

Now in his ninth NFL season, Slauson has also played with the New York Jets, Chicago Bears and San Diego/Los Angeles Chargers.

Ex-Jet Matt Slauson has called it a career.

The 32-year announced his retirement on Instagram Wednesday after nine seasons in the NFL. He began his career with three seasons in New York before moving on to the Bears, Chargers and Colts. His time with Indianapolis was unfortunately short-lived after he suffered a scary spine injury in October.

“Four organizations and countless friendships,” Slauson wrote. “What an amazing dream this has all been. Thanks to all my teammates who have gone into battle with me, the group of coaches that have made me better on and off the field, the fans that were there no matter what, and especially my wife and kids who supported me through it all. It has been a very difficult decision but we are excited for what the next chapter holds.”

Slauson, a Nebraska product, was drafted in the sixth round by the Jets in 2009. He played both guard and center for New York and started all but three possible games for the Jets. Not bad for a late-round pick.

This past season with the Colts could have been life-changing for Slauson. After being placed on injured reserve, he learned that he had been playing with two broken vertebrae. Doctors told him he was one play away from being paralyzed.

Fortunately, that didn’t happen. Instead, Slauson is now walking away from football with his long-term health intact after a surprising but successful career.

On Monday, the Indianapolis Colts placed starting guard Matt Slauson on injured reserve with an unspecified injury. Slauson played all 83 offensive snaps in the team’s loss to the Patriots last week, and his injury was only apparent after the game. As it turns out, he had been playing since early in the third quarter with a pair of spinal fractures. The Indianapolis Star’s Zak Keefer has the terrifying details.

Slauson said today that he still feels healthy, though the risk of paralysis is obviously serious enough that he will be out for the year. There were plenty of plays in the second half of last week’s game that Slauson could have been permanently injured on without knowing why, and he also said playing through the pain was “not one of my smartest decisions.”

Slauson, 32, will be an unrestricted free agent after the season, and the Colts have asked him to stick around the team and help out the offensive line for the rest of the season. Hopefully he’ll be healthy enough this offseason to get a new contract.

Colts offensive lineman Matt Slauson is out for the season, but he’s incredibly lucky to only be on injured reserve.

On Wednesday — six days after he was on the field for all 88 possible snaps against the Patriots and two days after the Colts placed him on injured reserve out of nowhere — Slauson revealed that he played nearly the entire second half of Thursday night’s game with two broken vertebrae in his spine. He acknowledged that he was a play away from paralysis. He just didn’t know it at the time.

“I felt like if I could stand, I could play,” he said, per the Indianapolis Star’s Zak Keefer.

It was only afterward when he realized how close he came to a life-altering injury.

“I had no idea how close I was to changing my family’s life,” he said.

Slauson added that, “It does me no good to wrestle over (what could have happened), but I’ll be honest, it’s really hard not to think about it.”

Slauson, who entered the NFL in 2009, has played for a number of teams, from the Jets to the Bears to the Chargers and now the Colts. At 32 years old, he’s nearing the end of his playing days. He played in only seven games last year and five games this year. And his contract with the Colts is set to expire after the season. From a health perspective, he’ll be reevaluated in January.

If he does return to the field, Slauson indicated he’d like to return to the Colts next year. And the Colts appear to value his role as a mentor.

Without Slauson, the Colts will likely turn to rookie Braden Smith to fill his void at right guard. Smith, taken in the second round, will be playing alongside first-round pick and starting left guard Quenton Nelson. The Colts might want Slauson back as a mentor, but the youth movement is already taking over as they try to provide Andrew Luck with the protection he deserves.

So far this season, the 1-4 Colts own the sixth-best pass-blocking offensive line, according to Football Outsiders. Last year, they finished dead last.

Matt Slauson’s story could have ended much worse. His move from the roster to injured reserve caught most by surprise after the miserable spectacle that was the Thursday Night football game. There was not a lot of information readily available, but it is now known that in the 3rd quarter of the game, Slauson broke two vertebrae in his spine. He played the remainder of the game.

My first reaction to hearing that is that Matt Slauson’s toughness can never be challenged again. Anyone who can break two vertebrae and then just rub some dirt on it and resume hitting 300lb men is a tougher human being than anyone I know. I for one am greatly relieved that he didn’t suffer a worse injury during that time that could have paralyzed him. He seems to have realized in retrospect what a foolish decision it was to keep playing after the injury, although he obviously didn’t know the extent of it at the time.

The loss of Slauson is big for the Colts’ offensive line as well. He has done a good job holding down the right guard spot, and while he hasn’t been perfect, his toughness, attitude, and leadership have been important in establishing a culture on this young offensive line that stresses the importance of keeping Andrew Luck upright.

It is worth noting that the Colts asked him to stick around to be at practices and for preparation. Though he was signed to only a 1-year deal, the team wanted him to be an influencer on this roster. There is more to what has changed along this line than simply Matt Slauson’s influence, but it certainly has been something that the coaches feel is valuable.

This kind of story just goes to show what players are laying on the line out there on the football field for our entertainment. Despite the league’s best attempts to make this game safer, it is a violent sport that has long term serious effects on the human body. Some of those changes have been good for the game and others not so much.

It is hard to know if playing on a short week could contribute to this kind of injury. More than likely it is just the result of a freak accident. All the same, it is good that the story doesn’t have a much uglier end.

Ryan Grant Jersey

The Oakland Raiders signed wide receiver Ryan Grant, the team announced Wednesday.

Grant appeared in 14 games for the Indianapolis Colts in 2018, catching 35 passes for 334 yards and a touchdown. Through five seasons, he has 1,319 receiving yards and seven scores.

The Las Vegas Review-Journal’s Michael Gehlken noted Grant was on the Raiders’ radar last offseason.

He agreed to a four-year, $29 million deal with the Baltimore Ravens before he failed a physical, thus voiding the offer. He settled on a one-year, $5 million contract from the Colts.

Grant joins a revamped passing game in Oakland. The team acquired Antonio Brown from the Pittsburgh Steelers and signed Tyrell Williams for $44.3 million over four years.

Upgrading the receiving corps was clearly a priority for the Raiders after a disappointing 2018 campaign. The offense slipped to 17th in pass defense DVOA (defense-adjusted value over average) after sitting 13th in 2017, per Football Outsiders. Jon Gruden also watched Amari Cooper put together a Pro Bowl-caliber season following his trade to the Dallas Cowboys.

Grant should be a solid No. 3 receiver behind Brown and Williams. Together, the three represent a big upgrade over what Oakland had to finish out the season—even when factoring in Jared Cook’s departure.

OAKLAND, Calif. — For the Raiders and Ryan Grant, it was better late than never.

Grant signed a one-year contract worth up to $2.5 million, a person familiar with the incentive-laden deal said Wednesday. The wide receiver visited the team last offseason before signing with the Indianapolis Colts. Time passed, but the Raiders’ interest didn’t.

He becomes their fourth recent addition at the position. Antonio Brown, Tyrell Williams and J.J. Nelson are the others.

Grant, 28, caught 35 passes for 334 yards and one touchdown in his lone season with Indianapolis. He initially agreed to join the Baltimore Ravens last March, but a four-year, $29 million pact dissolved following a failed physical.

The 2014 fifth-round pick spent his first four NFL seasons with the Washington Redskins, recording 84 receptions for 985 yards and six scores in that span. Jay Gruden, Raiders coach Jon Gruden’s younger brother, was Grant’s head coach during the entirety of his Washington tenure.

Ryan Grant signed with the Oakland Raiders on Wednesday, the team announced. NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported the deal is for one year with a max value of $2.5 million.

Grant played last season with the Indianapolis Colts after a four-year deal with the Baltimore Ravens fell through due to a failed physical. During that process, Grant visited Oakland and he will now join them and add to a new-look receiving corps that also includes high-profile additions Antonio Brown and Tyrell Williams.

A five-year vet, Grant started a career-high 10 games in 2018 with the Colts and totaled 35 catches for 334 yards and one touchdown. Prior to that, he played four seasons with the Redskins.

Here are other transactions from Wednesday:

The Buffalo Bills have inked longtime Tennessee Titans starting guard Quinton Spain, per Spain’s agency. Terms were not disclosed. A four-season veteran, Spain has started 42 games over the last three seasons including 15 starts in 2018.

Led by standout center Mitch Morse, the Bills have now added six offensive linemen this offseason. In addition to Morse and Spain, there’s Spencer Long, Ty Nsekhe, Jon Feliciano and LaAdrian Waddle.

The Cleveland Browns announced the signing of tight end/fullback Orson Charles on Wednesday. Terms were not disclosed. A season ago, Charles tallied two starts with 13 games played. Since 2012, Charles has been a member of four teams: the Bengals, Lions, Chiefs and Browns.

The Atlanta Falcons announced the signings of offensive guard Adam Gettis and linebacker Kemal Ishmael to one-year contracts. Ishmael has played the duration of his career for the Falcons, while Gettis was previously with the Buccaneers, though he never played a game with them. Gettis hasn’t played since 2016 with the Giants.

Long snapper Patrick Scales will be back for a fourth season with the Chicago Bears, who announced they signed the special-teamer to a one-year contract on Wednesday. Scales’ rookie season was spent in Baltimore in 2014 and since then he’s been with Chicago.

April 3 (UPI) — Former Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Ryan Grant signed with the Oakland Raiders on Wednesday, the team announced.

Sources told the NFL Network that Grant’s deal is for one year with a max value of $2.5 million. The team hasn’t confirmed financial terms of the agreement.

Grant played last season with the Colts after a four-year, $29 million agreement with the Baltimore Ravens collapsed due to a failed physical. He started a career-high 10 games with Indianapolis in 2018 and posted 35 catches for 334 yards and one touchdown.

The Washington Redskins originally drafted Grant in the fifth round of the 2014 NFL Draft out of Tulane. He spent four seasons with the Redskins and appeared in all 64 contests (15 starts) with the franchise. He set career highs with Washington in 2017, registering 45 receptions for 573 yards and four receiving scores.

In five seasons in the league, Grant has appeared in 78 career games (25 starts) and recorded 119 catches for 1,319 yards and seven touchdowns.

Grant joins former Pittsburgh Steelers star Antonio Brown, Tyrell Williams and J.J. Nelson in the Raiders’ new-look receiving corps.

A little more than a year ago, wide receiver Ryan Grant signed a four-year contract to play with the Baltimore Ravens.

Or so he thought.

The next day, the Ravens announced he had a physical for what Ryan said was a “mild ankle sprain,” making him a free agent. Grant then signed a one-year contract with the Indianapolis Colts. And on April 3, he joined the Oakland Raiders.

“I think it was a blessing in disguise,” Grant told Zig Fracassi and Alex Marvez on the End Zone about the Ravens voiding his contract. “I feel like, had I signed with the Ravens, they probably would have, you know, did some other shady stuff to get me traded or released or something like this. So I’m thankful that they did what they did. No hard feelings towards the organization over there in Baltimore.

‘It just feels like I’ve been drafted all over again’

“But I’m happy where I am now. Super excited to be a part of the Raiders organization. It’s the spirit and the culture of the team. And it just feels like I’ve been drafted all over again. I’m just so ecstatic.”

Nevertheless, Grant can’t deny some lingering hard feelings. He said he had the ankle sprain since December of 2017, while he was with the Washington Redskins, but continued to play through it and “finished the season just fine.”

“It stings a little bit now and it always will,” he said. “When I went to Baltimore for the physical, I was honest with the physicians. I told them, ‘You know, I sprained my ankle, I didn’t miss any time. And for whatever reason, they say that I failed the physical.

“They were like, ‘Oh, there’s something there.’ But, in reality, nothing was wrong with my ankle. It was a minor ankle sprain and it was something that they didn’t want to move forward with that I believe.”

Eric Ebron Jersey

Eric Ebron sat back at Glow Spa and Nails, soaking his size 15s in a plastic tub filled with warm water and Epsom salt.

Ahhhhh.

The scrubbing was next. Then came the clipping and filing of his toenails. Finally, the foot massage and moisturizer.

The callouses from all the miles behind him had been rubbed away. His feet felt so fresh, so renewed.

Then the vibrating of his cellphone interrupted. It was Bob Quinn, general manager of the Lions. Now this was a surprise.

Ebron had recently finished his fourth season with the Lions. He and his wife, Gabriela, were getting ready for a vacation in Curacao, an island in the Caribbean. He was under contract for another year, and he wasn’t thinking about football.

“Hey Ebron,” Quinn said. “Just calling to let you know we are letting you go. We know you will do great somewhere else and find a home soon.”

Stunned, Ebron hung up the phone, finished up at Glow Spa and Nails, and drove to his Houston home. There had been talk that the Lions were trying to trade him. But he never suspected they would cut him.

He had been the 10th overall choice in the 2014 draft, taken two picks ahead of Odell Beckham Jr., and three ahead of Aaron Donald. He was supposed to really be something. But Ebron never played like his abilities promised he would, and Lions fans resented him for it. The Detroit Free Press called him “the most hated man” in Detroit sports.

After he arrived home, he was hit by “a roller coaster of emotions.” He lost it. The frustrations of four dismal seasons streamed down his cheeks.

“I was hurt,” he says. “I felt I let myself down. You get drafted, you want to be on one team forever. That was my thing. In high school my team wasn’t so good. With a few other players, we took that team from nothing to undefeated. In college, [North] Carolina was good, then went down. I come there, football program goes back up, we had tons of draft picks. Then I get picked 10th, Detroit is struggling. My thing was to help out. It didn’t work the way I wanted to. I felt I failed myself.”

He doesn’t feel that way now. A new city, a new team and a new day have changed everything. The tight end who couldn’t do anything right for the Lions can’t do anything wrong for the Colts.

A tattoo on the back of the left hand is of Jesus’ face, a reminder of sacrifice and security. A tattoo on the back of the right hand is a lion, a reminder of power and dominance. On game days, he tapes each finger at its base, and then between the knuckle and the joint. From the outside of his thumb to the outside of his pinky finger, each outstretched hand measures 10 inches.

If you could imagine a pair of hands you’d want to trust, you would imagine hands that looked like these.

But during Ebron’s time in Detroit, no one could trust those hands. Ebron dropped every kind of throw imaginable—high passes, low passes, lasers on the money and soft floaters. He failed to hold onto the kind of catches that little kids routinely make in their backyards. One after another after another.

In college, Ebron made some big runs after the catch. Ron Prince, his first tight ends coach in Detroit, said he thought Ebron started thinking about running before he secured the football. Martin Mayhew, the general manager who drafted Ebron, had a different theory. “I think it was nervousness, being picked so early, the expectations,” he says.

“I thought way too much,” Ebron says. “I thought I needed to do more than I really needed to. I let it all get to me.”

In the months before the NFL draft, Ebron thought he might have a chance to be a mid-to-late first-round pick. But before his senior season at North Carolina, he wasn’t even sure the NFL would want him. He had just started playing football as a junior in high school, and he began as a wide receiver and defensive end.

Yet, he did not lack for bravado as the draft approached. He proclaimed he would play the tight end position like no one else. During an interview with the Falcons that winter, a front office man mentioned they were trying to replace Tony Gonzalez, who is likely to be a Hall of Famer soon.

Front office man: “Those are mighty big shoes to fill.”

Ebron, without skipping a beat: “I’ve got some mighty big feet.”

“I think there was some immaturity,” Mayhew says. “He was a little lacking in confidence. He had some anxiety, and it manifested itself in trying to pretend to be more confident than he was.”

Ebron was not ready to be the 10th pick in the draft. “I had just turned 21. Everything happened so fast,” Ebron said. “I only was playing two years in high school, then three years in college, and here I was, the 10th pick in the draft. I was surprised to go so high. I was really young. I didn’t expect it.”

The Lions had just invested in wide receiver Golden Tate, so they didn’t really need another wide receiver. They also were hesitant to draft a wide receiver in the top 10 after taking Mike Williams, Roy Williams and Charles Rogers with top-10 selections over a four-year stretch. “We had a bad team history with first-round receivers,” Mayhew said.

They wanted to give new offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi a tight end who could do for him in Detroit what Jimmy Graham had done for Lombardi in New Orleans.

In hindsight, the Lions thought they were drafting a 25-year old Ebron instead of a 21-year old Ebron.

“He was a developmental player,” Prince says. “There were a lot of things about being a tight end that he had not been exposed to. Some of the routes he was going to run in the NFL he had not experienced. There was a great anticipation of being able to pair him with Calvin Johnson and creating a duo that was very difficult to match up with. Many of those route concepts that he was working on were new to him, the nuances of the coverages.”

Prince said Ebron was inexperienced “about a lot of things tight ends are asked to do in the National Football League. But there was no doubt about his talent.”

He finished his rookie season with 25 catches for 248 yards and one touchdown, and more skeptics than fans. Beckham, meanwhile, made one of the most spectacular catches in NFL history and led the league in yards per game.

Ebron often was reminded he wasn’t Beckham. He says he was always happy for Beckham, whom he met and became friends with in the months before the draft.

“I felt like the draft is based on what scheme you are in,” he says. “[Beckham] was drafted in a great scheme. He was taken advantage of. When I was drafted, I was the fourth option. They had Calvin Johnson, they had just signed Golden Tate and they had [tight end] Brandon Pettigrew. It was kind of rough to understand that coming from college, where I was the man. I kind of went negative about it. I thought, ‘I need to play now. I’m the best person on the field.’ But that wasn’t the case. I needed to work my way up the system.”

He overslept and missed meetings twice, by his recollection. He said he didn’t commit himself to learning the intricacies of his position. He didn’t pay enough attention to what defenses were doing. He wasn’t invested.

All of it snowballed. “Some of my worst days,” he says, “consisted of small mistakes, then overthinking and then second-guessing myself.”

In his final year in Detroit, negativity was all around him. Whenever a ball was thrown his way at Ford Field, boos. If the announcer said his name, boos. When his image appeared on the video screen, boos.

“I guess they just didn’t like me,” he says. “I would get booed over stuff that wasn’t even my fault, like if a ball was overthrown but thrown in my direction. When they started booing me, I was playing my best. I just lost connection with our fans.”

Mayhew believes if Ebron had been the 25th pick instead of the 10th, he could have played a dozen years for the Lions.

The end.

That’s all Ebron could think about when those tears were streaming down his face after being cut. What he couldn’t yet conceive was what was about to begin.

The phone call from Quinn meant Ebron’s island vacation would be put on hold. The Panthers called. Since he went to high school in Greensboro, North Carolina, and college at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte and the Panthers would be his first stop. But there were other options, good options. Also interested were the Ravens, Patriots, Broncos, Seahawks and Colts.

The Colts were the most aggressive suitor, so Ebron traveled to Indianapolis next. New coach Frank Reich had coordinated offenses in Philadelphia and San Diego that featured tight ends Zach Ertz and Antonio Gates. In Ebron, he saw a weapon with similar potential. Ebron, he thought, had the explosiveness to be a playmaker.

Investing in Ebron would require some research. Reich called a number of his friends who knew Ebron well, including Jim Caldwell, for whom he had worked when Caldwell was the head coach of the Colts and Reich was an assistant. Caldwell had been Ebron’s head coach in Detroit, and he spoke more of his potential than his disappointments. “I got nothing but positive feedback about the kind of person he is,” Reich says.

Before Ebron could visit another team, the Colts signed him to a two-year, $13 million contract. Replacing Honolulu blue with royal blue, Ebron moved about 300 miles to another Midwest town.

“It’s a place where we didn’t know anyone,” he says. “We were going to start from ground zero and build our way up with this state, these people, this team. … Indy is so peaceful, so relaxing and nice to live in. My family loves it here. The people are appreciative and so accepting of who I [am] and [they] allow me to be me.”

He also felt at home in the Colts’ system. “This offense allows me to get the matchups I want—or that we want—to make plays,” Ebron says. “The [Lions] offense was more given towards our wide receivers. That’s how [Matthew] Stafford liked it. I feel here it’s more about the tight end.”

Part of Reich’s vision was to have Ebron do what he does best. That means playing maybe half the snaps, with an emphasis on third downs and the red zone. The Colts don’t need Ebron on the field all the time because they have a Pro Bowl tight end in Jack Doyle, who is a better blocker.

“I don’t want [Ebron] to block 30 times a game,” Reich says. “I don’t think that’s his strength. It’s hard to have elite athletic ability and run the way he runs and also be an above average blocker. If you put Eric in the run game too many times, that’s bad coaching. You will wear him down, take away his energy from the pass game. But I’d like to ask him to block five or seven times a game and know I’m going to get a good effort and know he’s going to do his job. He’s shown a willingness to do that.”

That arrangement is cool with Ebron. In part because of Doyle’s presence, expectations for Ebron have been more manageable than they were in Detroit. “The pressure is not all on him,” Colts quarterback Andrew Luck says. “We’ve got a great group of tight ends. And I don’t think he’s putting undo pressure on himself.”

There were times, Ebron is certain, when Stafford became frustrated with him. Luck has not been. Luck and Ebron had a connection from the start. Luck went to Stratford High School in Houston with Ebron’s wife’s sister. Ebron sits behind him in meetings so they can compare notes, and so Ebron can laugh at Luck’s corny jokes. When Luck warms up before practice, Ebron volunteers to run routes for him.

Doyle and Luck have been together for five years, so Doyle is Luck’s guy. But when Doyle had to sit out with a hip injury, Luck was forced to throw to Ebron more, and subsequently learned to trust him more. In those five games, Ebron scored four touchdowns. “Eric stepped up, and has earned more and more trust with Andrew,” Reich says.

Ebron should hold a property title to the red zone. At 6’4″, 260 pounds, and with 4.60-second speed in the 40-yard dash, he gets off the line easily and gets on defensive backs quicker than expected. And then he uses his size and athleticism to give them lessons in humility.

With nine receiving touchdowns, Ebron is tied for second in the league. He also has a rushing touchdown.

He only wishes he had drafted himself on his fantasy football team. His best friend drafted him before Ebron could take himself, forcing Ebron to take Rob Gronkowski. When Ebron played his best friend, Ebron lost in part because Ebron put up 22 fantasy points in a game against the Patriots while Gronkowski put up seven.

“To be one of the best in fantasy is cool,” he says. “The more people who cheer for you and know you, the better. As long as I’m helping my team win and getting people their points, I’m guess I’m doing my job.”

In the second quarter of the season opener, Ebron caught his first touchdown pass of the season in the right corner of the end zone. He followed with a celebration in which he fell to his knees like a downed Fortnite character, then was “revived” by T.Y. Hilton and Nyheim Hines. And then, the “Hype” dance.

It was as if he spread the ashes of the old Ebron right there in the end zone at Lucas Oil Stadium, and the new Ebron emerged.

After another touchdown catch in an October game against the Raiders, Ebron did a strut straight out of a Victoria Secret fashion show, swinging his arms and swaying his hips.

“It was to let people know when you are walking down the walkway and looking good, it’s amazing,” he says. “I’m letting them know I am who I am. I am an amazing athlete, person. I am the baddest of what I do. Yeah, I’ll let you know. I’m in a class of my own at my position now.”

The new Ebron is having enough fun to make up for the fun he missed the previous four years.

“He’s a fun-loving person,” Reich says. “And I love that. I love that about him. I don’t want him to change.”

Ebron radiates energy. Even when he was living in the shadows in Detroit, Ebron still was an energy giver. The Colts are more receptive to it than the Lions were, however.

“They allow me to be me here,” he says. “I can be the goofball, tell the jokes. When it’s business, I handle my business, and the more I do that, the more fun I have.”

Ebron still is full of youthful spirit, but now he’s a husband and father who has experienced failure. Once, he was all Call of Duty. Now, he’s all changing diapers and washing baby bottles. He and Gabriela are expecting their second child in January.

He has perspective he could not have imagined when he showed up in Allen Park, Michigan, on May 9, 2014, stood at a podium and announced, “It’s just insane to be the 10th overall pick in the draft. That’s forever written in stone that you have that label.”

These days, Ebron handles the truth better than he used to handle some of Stafford’s passes. He acknowledges his missteps and takes responsibility for them.

But regrets? Not really.

“Honestly, I wouldn’t change anything,” he says. “When you go through life, everything is about lessons. It’s about learning. … I know now you might have a drop. You might blow an assignment. Things happen, but you have to roll with it and keep pushing. Everything that happened was meant to happen. … It’s led to where I am now.”

And where he is now often is in an opponent’s end zone.