Eagles

NFL Notes: As Cowboys prep for training camp, Jerry Jones backs Ezekiel Elliott again

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NFL Notes: As Cowboys prep for training camp, Jerry Jones backs Ezekiel Elliott again

OXNARD, Calif. -- Jerry Jones interjected some bad-boy anecdotes from his youth, smiled at the thought of life before social media and even asked a couple of questions himself Sunday at his annual training camp opener with reporters.

When the topic is the multitude of off-field issues confronting the Dallas Cowboys -- headlined by star running back Ezekiel Elliott -- their owner, president and general manager can dance with the best of them.

"I can give you the same old excuses -- young, aggressive, got a lot of energy," Jones said. "Hard to paint that picture of the days when it won't be this easy, they won't be as pretty and they won't have the money. Somehow you've got to paint the picture."

Elliott is still waiting for clearance from the NFL on a year-old domestic violence case that prosecutors didn't pursue. The NFL rushing leader last season as a rookie, Elliott didn't help himself with his involvement in a bar fight a week before the Cowboys flew to California for camp.

Jones reiterated his belief that Elliott wasn't guilty of domestic violence in a dispute with his ex-girlfriend last summer in Columbus, Ohio, where he starred for Ohio State. But the Dallas owner still wouldn't speculate on whether Elliott will get suspended.

The Cowboys will have two suspended defensive players when the season starts in pass rushers David Irving and Randy Gregory. Two more could be: cornerback Nolan Carroll (drunken-driving charge) and linebacker Damien Wilson (aggravated assault charges).

Receiver Dez Bryant was late to report at the team's practice facility in suburban Dallas on Friday, a day before he was on the team flight to California. Irving decided to stay in California rather than report in Texas, and running back Darren McFadden missed the charter flight (see full story).

Cardinals: Larry Fitzgerald motivated by quest for championship
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Training camp is a drag at this point in Larry Fitzgerald's long and accomplished NFL career. Of course, the quest for the ring is the main reason the 14-year veteran continues to play.

The longtime Arizona Cardinals wide receiver isn't sure what his future holds as far as retirement.

"That's the only reason I'm playing at this point," Fitzgerald said Sunday, the second day of Cardinals training camp. "From a personal standpoint, things I've accomplished, they're fine. But the thing that you will say is out of your control because you're in a team sport is a championship."

Fitzgerald said he feels good, and when retirement comes there won't be a podium or tears because "that's not who I am."

Yet it is important to him to still be productive as a player when he decides to step away. Fitzgerald admitted it would be a struggle to accept a diminished role due to not being able to give 100 percent.

"The end is never really pretty for elite athletes. It never looks good. You watch Michael Jordan in a Washington Wizards uniform or see Tony Dorsett playing for the Denver Broncos. ... It's weird because you're used to seeing them at their most dominant stage," Fitzgerald said. "For me, I really want to do things at a high level and be able to walk away and still be someone who can play at a high level."

Fitzgerald has asked others who are closer to retirement or have retired about their thought process going into it. He's been doing that for the last few years, checking in with the likes of Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Tony Gonzalez.

For now, he still enjoys being around teammates and staff, asking questions in an effort to improve as a player and setting an example and providing leadership for young players (see full story).

Browns: Rookie Peppers signs, full class under contract
CLEVELAND -- Browns rookie defensive back Jabrill Peppers has signed and now Cleveland's entire draft class is under contract.

Peppers and the Browns had been haggling over guaranteed money on his four-year-deal, which is worth $10.3 million and includes a $5.6 million signing bonus.

The Browns chose Peppers -- one of Cleveland's three first-round selections -- with the No. 25 overall pick. The former Michigan standout played numerous positions for the Wolverines, but the Browns will try him at strong safety and as a kick returner.

Peppers may have been passed over by other teams after he had a diluted urine sample at the scouting combine. Peppers was placed in the first stage of the NFL's substance abuse policy, but he can be cleared from the program after 90 days if he has not positive tests.

Cleveland's rookies were scheduled to report to training camp Sunday night with the veterans arriving on Wednesday. The Browns will open their second training camp under coach Hue Jackson on Thursday.

By just being himself, Doug Pederson has had masterful year

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By just being himself, Doug Pederson has had masterful year

Bill Belichick didn’t win a playoff game until his fourth year as an NFL head coach and didn’t reach a conference title game until his seventh year.

Don Shula didn’t win a playoff game until his sixth year as a head coach.

It took Dick Vermeil four years to win a playoff game, Dan Reeves six years, Tom Landry eight.

Heck, Pete Carroll didn’t reach a conference title game until his third head coaching stop, and Marv Levy didn’t even get to the playoffs until his eighth year as a head coach.

Just a little context.

Pederson has been magnificent this year, and out of everybody we talk about who’s played a role in the Eagles' success — from Carson Wentz to Nick Foles, Howie Roseman to Joe Douglas, Fletcher Cox to Malcolm Jenkins, Jim Schwartz to John DiFillippo, Jason Kelce to Alshon Jeffery — Pederson is the common thread that’s tied all of it together.

We saw last year that Pederson had a rare ability to keep a team together when faced with adversity. Whether it was the whole Sam Bradford situation before the season, Lane Johnson’s suspension, a couple arrests, two players publicly speaking out about mental health, or just keeping the thing on the rails after three straight late-season ugly losses, Pederson won over his players by confronting each issue openly and professionally and treating his players like grown men.

By the time the team training camp ended this past summer, Pederson had earned the respect of the veterans by preaching discipline without being over the top about it and by constantly keeping the lines of communication open with his players. 

Here’s a young, inexperienced coach who had a long but undistinguished playing career and no real track record or resume as a head coach trying to convince a locker room of Super Bowl winners and all-pros that he knows what he’s doing.

But he did that. Just by being himself. Tough, smart, open, honest.

And once you get guys like Malcolm Jenkins, Jason Peters, LeGarrette Blount and Alshon Jeffery to buy in, the younger guys just fall in line. 

And that might be the biggest challenge any head coach faces. Getting guys to believe in his message. To believe in him.

But Pederson has tremendous instincts when dealing with people, a real natural, honest way of getting his point across, and it enabled him to seamlessly win over the locker room. 

Once that happened, this team was built to withstand whatever challenge it faced. To withstand whatever roadblocks stood in its way.

And as it turned out, there were plenty of them. 

We don't have to run down the littany of season-ending injuries the Eagles faced, but what this team has accomplished without its MVP quarterback, its Hall of Fame left tackle, its best linebacker, its all-pro returner and its top special teamer is nothing less than astonishing.

Nick Foles is their quarterback and they're in the NFC Championship Game.

Think about the last month.

They came from behind in Los Angeles to beat the Rams after Wentz got hurt. They beat the Giants on the road. They beat the Raiders to clinch No. 1 seed. They "upset" the Falcons in a conference semifinal playoff game. 

For this football team to be one home win away from the Super Bowl after all it has been through speaks volumes about Pederson. He's guided this franchise through adversity that would have crushed some locker rooms, and he's done it in his second year as a head coach above the high school level.

Pederson found a way to get 53 guys to believe in themselves even when very few other people did. And they returned the favor by consistently playing smart, physical, disciplined football for him no matter who the opponent, no matter what the score, no matter how long that Injured Reserve list grew.

This has been a masterful year for Pederson, and anybody who can't see that just isn't looking very hard.

Why lack of touches for Jay Ajayi after 1st quarter?

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Why lack of touches for Jay Ajayi after 1st quarter?

Jay Ajayi wasn't hurt Saturday night. So why did he barely play after a huge first quarter?

Ajayi dominated the first quarter of the Eagles' 15-10 playoff win over the Falcons at the Linc with seven carries for 49 yards. But after a one-yard carry a minute into the second quarter, he didn't touch the ball again until the third quarter.

After his hot start, he didn't even get on the field on the Eagles' last two drives of the first half.

LeGarrette Blount actually had more carries than Ajayi after the first quarter, but netted only 19 yards on nine attempts, although he did score the Eagles' only touchdown from a yard out in the second quarter.

Ajayi never got into a rhythm after his long layoff. He had eight carries for five yards after the first quarter and finished with 15 carries for 54 yards along with four catches for 44 yards, including a 32-yard catch and run that was the Eagles' longest offensive play of the game.

Head coach Doug Pederson said Monday he just wanted to get Blount some work. He also said he likes to go hurry-up after long plays and was unable to sub Ajayi while the offense was going with tempo. But there weren't any plays longer than 15 yards while Ajayi sat.

Pederson said the decision on which back to use rests with him and not running backs coach Duce Staley.

“I ultimately control the personnel," he said. "Duce doesn’t sub them. I’m the one calling the plays, so I call for those guys in particular situations, and a couple times when we broke off a long run or a pass particularly — it’s a good time to go a little tempo. So whoever the back is at the time on the field, I just kept him in there.

"And [Blount] was heating up a little bit and we wanted to get him going as well and it’s just the way it went."

Ajayi had 35 of the 86 net yards on the Eagles' only touchdown drive of the game.

After that second-quarter TD drive, the Eagles ran 15 times for 17 yards, not including three Nick Foles kneel-downs.  

Pederson said all the backs know all the plays, but he just prefers different backs depending on what the Eagles are doing offensively. 

Of the Eagles’ 67 offensive plays, Ajayi played 29, Blount 20, Corey Clement 16 and Kenjon Barner one (see Snap Counts).

"The way it is set up is by design, by scheme design, a particular back might be good at a certain run scheme so we put that back in for that particular play," he said.