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NFL OTAs: Vikes’ Zimmerman tackles Peterson controversy


The Sports Xchange

Two of the National Football League’s star running backs were in the spotlight as 27 teams went through the first or second day of OTAs (organized field activities) Wednesday.

Both players — Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson and Chicago’s Matt Forte — were newsworthy because they didn’t exactly come running back, as it were, to their respective teams for these workouts.

Peterson, who wants to play elsewhere after he said the team didn’t stand behind him during his highly publicized domestic violence incident, was a no-show at the Vikings’ camp, where coach Mike Zimmer made his position very clear.

“Adrian, he’s really got two choices,” Zimmerman said. “He can either play for us or he cannot play. He’s not going to play for anybody else. That’s just the way it’s going to be.”

At Lake Forrest, Ill., Forte showed up and sort of mirrored Zimmer’s comments on Peterson, saying he doesn’t have much choice and probably will play despite the fact he wants to renegotiate his contract, which expires after this season.

Another running back was conspicuous by his absence Wednesday. The Dallas Cowboys continued the task of trying to replace DeMarco Murray, who set a team record with 1,845 yards last season, then accepted the Cowboys’ daring challenge as a free agent and signed with the Philadelphia Eagles.

There was on-again-off-again mention of a mutual admiration between the Cowboys and Peterson, who grew up in Texas. But that is off again, for now.

Meantime, the Cowboys must go with what they have — Joseph Randle, Darren McFadden, Ryan Williams and Lance Dunbar.

“I got to give all those guys credit,” running backs coach Gary Brown said. “I’m trying to mix them in. They are all getting chances with the (first team), and they are performing.”

In New York, the tabloids can dust off the same old “Dog bites man” headlines as the Jets are once again mired in a quarterback controversy, despite lame semantics that attempt to say otherwise.

And in Houston, the Texans will bring their quarterback controversy to a television near you as the team will be featured in this year’s behind-the-scenes television series “Hard Knocks.”

Here is a close look at news, notes and quotes from OTAs Wednesday:

–Minnesota Vikings: Zimmer tried to dismiss the importance of Peterson’s absence by pointing out that the workouts are optional and, after all, he missed these things in the past.

But pushed to engage in a serious discussion, Zimmer let down his guard.

“It’s really not my place to figure out what he’s not saying publicly or what anybody else is saying,” Zimmer said. “It’s more about, really, these guys who are out here.”

Zimmer denied a report that said Peterson contacted him to inform him that he wouldn’t be attending this week’s OTAs. Zimmer said he hasn’t spoken to Peterson recently and doesn’t know if he will be at the mandatory minicamp June 16-18.

–Chicago Bears: Forte’s appearance at the Bears’ OTA may have looked good, but upon further review, his heart really was elsewhere. Or maybe it was just his pocketbook.

“They said we’re not talking about that type of stuff right now, so all I can do is play football,” Forte said about contract talks. “I’ve come to the realization that every run or catch that I make might be my last in a Bears uniform.

“So if they don’t want to re-sign me, I’ll have to play somewhere else then.”

Forte wants to remain with the team. He is the franchise’s second-leading rusher and has never had a season with fewer than 929 rushing yards.

“Nobody wants to play on a one-year deal, especially the uncertainty of how football is with how it goes,” he said. “You just figure like a guy who’s been there since Day 1, continues to put in hard work and has produced, you figure that that guy should be rewarded.

“But in this business that doesn’t always happen.”

Forte skipped previous workouts with the team to take part in speed training that he says was beneficial.

“I went to the same guy coming out for the combine,” he said. “My 40 time coming out of college was 4.5-something and I ended up running in the low 4.4s. So I used to go back a lot of times in the postseason every year. I missed last year, I didn’t go, and I felt the effects of my burst going through the holes and stuff like that, or just accelerating after catching the ball. So I went back and did that type of training and got a lot better. I got a benefit out of it.”

Meanwhile, tight end Martellus Bennett, who wants a raise, was absent from the team’s workouts, as he has been the entire offseason.

–Dallas Cowboys: Desperately seeking a replacement for the departed Murray and his 1,845 rushing yards last season, the choices in camp are Randle, McFadden, Williams and Dunbar.

“They know there is a job to be won and they all want it,” Brown said. “But at the same time they are going to work hard to get better. If they get better, the team gets better. We don’t have a winner right now. We will see what happens when the time comes.”

As good as Murray was last year, there is a belief among the Cowboys that the biggest key to their and his success was the presence of the league’s best offensive line, which featured three Pro Bowlers: left tackle Tyron Smith, center Travis Frederick and guard Zack Martin.

There is even a belief that Murray’s numbers can be duplicated if not improved upon considering that he was more of a power runner than a breakaway threat and that he left yardage on the field that that his speedier potential replacements would feast upon.

–New York Jets: The Jets’ ever-murky quarterback situation got cloudier Wednesday when coach Todd Bowles said there would be competition for the starting job between oft-harried incumbent Geno Smith, newcomers Ryan Fitzpatrick and Bryce Petty and holdover Matt Simms.

“Come camp time, there will be competition at that spot,” Bowles said. “I’ve said it from day one.”

But Bowles spoke just seven days after offensive coordinator Chan Gailey declared Smith the starter. Gailey said there “wasn’t a thought” given to an open competition and he expected Smith to start against the Cleveland Browns in the regular-season opener Sept. 13 at MetLife Stadium.

“That’s the way we expect it to be,” Gailey said, “Unless something happens with an injury, something that you don’t foresee, that’s how we anticipate it going.”

Not so fast.

“I view it as an open competition, with Geno being the starter,” Bowles said. “It’s his to lose. It’s Ryan’s to take. It’s Bryce’s to take. It’s Matt’s to take.”

While there is once again confusion about the definition of competition at quarterback, at least it is coming from two coaches and not the general manager. During former general manager John Idzik’s two years at the helm, he spoke often of creating a competitive culture like the one he said he helped build as a salary-cap guru with the Seattle Seahawks.

But last summer, Idzik didn’t allow veteran Michael Vick to compete with Smith, whom Idzik selected in the second round of the 2013 draft. Smith face-planted throughout the first half of the season, but Vick looked disinterested and ill-prepared when he started games in place of Smith, who won back the job for the final month.

Bowles said he wasn’t worried about a disconnect with his hand-picked offensive coordinator. He chalked Gailey’s comments up to his “very matter-of-fact personality.”

–Houston Texans: A day after enduring floods that slammed the Houston region and forced the team to postpone its first day of OTAs, the Texans announced they are the NFL’s chosen team for HBO’s “Hard Knocks” series this season.

With the personalities of defensive end J.J. Watt, outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney, running back Arian Foster and coach Bill O’Brien and an old-fashioned training-camp quarterback competition, the Texans are a natural source of TV drama.

“The last year has not been the best year for public relations for the NFL,” McNair said Wednesday at NRG Stadium. “Our team has not had the kind of problems that have existed with many teams. I think it’s a wonderful opportunity for the rest of the country to see that we’ve got a first-class group of players and coaches.

“This is the way we’d like to see the game presented. I think it’s something that will be very positive and not just for us but for the league. I’m quite proud of our players and the way they do represent us.”

As for the product on the field, the Texans ran through the first day of workouts without any major issues.

Quarterback Brian Hoyer began with the first team Wednesday. Backup Ryan Mallett then got some reps, with Hoyer sometimes watching from the sideline as third-stringer Tom Savage and Mallett led the Texans’ offense.

Hoyer was part of a similarly hyped and widely watched quarterback competition in Cleveland last year. He edged Johnny Manziel to start for the Browns.

“I’ve been through it before,” Hoyer said. “I’m not going to let it affect me, and I’ll just be myself and really focus on the things that I can control.”

For Mallett, returning to action and firing passes with his trademark zip was a welcome feeling after recovering from pectoral surgery.

“I was just ready to go,” said Mallett, who threw to a specific set of receivers.

–Indianapolis Colts: Coach Chuck Pagano likes what he sees on the field during early OTA sessions. And what he sees are a lot of new faces who weren’t on the team when it was pounded in the AFC Championship Game, 45-7, by the New England Patriots.

“We’re further ahead at this point than we’ve been in any offseason since I’ve been here,” Pagano said after Wednesday’s OTA session.

Pagano sidesteps suggestions that his reloaded roster is being recognized as one that could make a run at the Super Bowl.

“Really? I haven’t heard that,” Pagano said. “Put no basis on strength of schedule. Every team is different from 2014 to 2015, and that includes us as well.”

Still, several first-year players — most notably wide receiver Phillip Dorsett, safety Clayton Geathers and running back Josh Robinson — grabbed the attention of Indianapolis coaches.

Dorsett may have been a surprise choice by the Colts in the first round, but his physical skills and approach to practice continue to impress.

“He’s got rare, rare speed,” Pagano said of Dorsett, whose 40-yard time of 4.33 seconds was third best this year at the Scouting Combine. “He doesn’t even look like he’s running until he’s 5 yards behind you, (and he) can play multiple spots.”

Dorsett signed his first contract with the team after Wednesday’s practice. Cornerback D’Joun Smith (third round) and defensive end Henry Anderson (third round) are the only two unsigned Colts rookies.

Geathers, Indianapolis’ fourth-round selection, is vying for a spot in the team’s safety rotation.

“He’s exceeded expectations,” Pagano said, adding that the team has plans for Geathers to take part in several defensive sub-packages during the 2015 season. “We like his physicality and his FBI (football intelligence).”

–Detroit Lions: At Allen Park, Mich., strong safety James Ihedigbo ended a brief holdout from voluntary workouts to rejoin the team for organized team activities, but he is seeking a raise.

Ihedigbo, 31, reiterated Wednesday that he outplayed his contract in Detroit in 2015 and is still hoping for more money next season.

“My focus is on this season coming up and putting the work in on that field to make sure I can help our team taking that next step and individually taking that next step,” he said.

In his first year with the Lions, Ihedigbo was a Pro Bowl alternate after getting 71 tackles, seven for loss, four interceptions, three forced fumbles and two sacks in 13 games. He is due $1.1 million in base salary for 2015 but thinks he deserves more, though he declined to provide an update on any negotiations.

From the Lions’ standpoint, it will be hard to give Ihedigbo a raise as they already are tight against the salary cap and he may not fit the profile of a long-term investment considering his age.

The coaches also benched him in the second half of the Week 17 game, and he struggled in the playoff loss at Dallas. Of course, the team was glad to have him back on the field after he chose to work out at home in Houston instead of at team headquarters the past month.

“I think it’s always good when we can get all of our guys back,” coach Jim Caldwell said. “I think that’s important. It gives us an opportunity to get better.”

–Buffalo Bills: Coach Rex Ryan won’t admit that he is uncomfortable about the situation at strong safety, but his actions at the start of OTAs on Wednesday revealed his concern.

Ninth-year veteran Corey Graham was running with the first unit in place of the triumvirate of Bacarri Rambo, Duke Williams and Jonathan Meeks.

Ryan values veterans on his defensive unit, and Graham has more NFL experience than the other three combined, plus he played some safety through the years. Thus, Graham will be given the opportunity to learn the position full time during OTAs to be ready to compete head-on in training camp.

“I’m not saying he won’t go to corner because I’m sure he’ll play some there, but we really want him to focus on safety right now,” Ryan said of Graham. “I just want to give him a shot. You know, you just want to get your best 11 on the field, so let’s see what we have out there.

“And this is no slam on Duke or on Rambo or on Meeks or any of those guys, but this is us doing what’s best for the team. And if that means we feel good about him playing safety, then that’s where he’ll be.”

Graham is one of Buffalo’s most versatile defensive backs. Last year in his first season with the Bills after playing for Baltimore and Chicago, Graham saw time at outside corner, nickel corner and safety.

“We’ve worked him a lot at corner,” Ryan said, referring to practice sessions during voluntary workouts the past few weeks. “We’re confident that he can jump right back in there. He’s going to need a lot of reps at safety. So that’s where he’s going to be getting the majority of his work.”

–New York Giants: While lifting weights last week, starting left tackle Will Beatty tore a pectoral muscle, and while he takes several months to heal, the team will feel the pain.

The Giants are trying to piece together a viable five-man combination on the offensive line to protect quarterback Eli Manning.

As this week’s OTAs began Wednesday, the initial combination began with rookie first-round pick Ereck Flowers at Beatty’s left tackle spot and offseason free agent acquisition Marshall Newhouse at right tackle.

Justin Pugh, the Giants’ starting right tackle each of the past two seasons, moves to left guard, a decision that coach Tom Coughlin said was made before the Beatty injury.

At right guard, Geoff Schwartz shared snaps on the first unit with John Jerry, the latter of whom started at right guard last season.

Finally, second-year man Weston Richburg, who played last season at left guard, moved to his more natural position at center.

All eyes, of course, will be on Flowers, the 21-year-old from the University of Miami drafted ninth overall this year despite some pre-draft scouting reports that questioned his pass blocking technique.

If the Giants share any concerns about Flowers’ technique, they are certainly not showing any signs of panic yet.

“I don’t subscribe to that, what people think, what people say,” Coughlin said. “He’s our kid, and he’s an outstanding young player who’s going to do nothing but get better.

“Sure, things are going to happen to him that haven’t happened before. We know there are a couple of things that we need to clarify and work with on him, but he will do it.”

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