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'Not awkward': Vilma, Smith, Williams face-to-face

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'Not awkward': Vilma, Smith, Williams face-to-face

WASHINGTON (AP) It had been 10 months since New Orleans Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma and defensive end Will Smith were face to face with their former defensive coordinator, Gregg Williams - a span that included NFL suspensions for all three in connection with what a league investigation determined was a cash-for-hits bounty program.

For about four hours on Friday, Vilma and Smith sat and watched while their lawyers cross-examine Williams during a hearing that is part of the players' latest appeals of their punishments.

``We got to hear what Gregg had to say,'' Smith said afterward. ``We wanted to make sure we were there just to hear him out.''

Smith described the hearing, the third this week in Washington overseen by former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, as ``peaceful'' and ``not awkward.''

Smith, suspended four games, and Vilma, suspended for the entire current season, have been allowed back on the field while their appeals are pending, and both flew into town after playing in the Saints' 23-13 loss at the Atlanta Falcons on Thursday night. Two former New Orleans players also were banned: Cleveland Browns linebacker Scott Fujita had his suspension reduced to one game, while free-agent defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove has not played in the NFL this season but faces a two-game suspension if he signs with a team.

Smith and Vilma were not required to attend Friday, but wanted to be in the room when their former coach was questioned.

``We know what we did and know what we didn't do,'' Smith said. ``I mean, we just wanted to be there because it was our right to be there.''

The NFL has described Vilma and Smith as ringleaders - and Williams as being in charge - of a performance pool designed to knock targeted opponents out of games from 2009 to 2011. The league has sworn statements from Williams and former Saints assistant coach Mike Cerullo - who testified Thursday - saying Vilma offered $10,000 to anyone who knocked quarterback Brett Favre out of the NFC championship game at the end of the 2009 season.

They declined to discuss any details of Friday's hearing, citing Tagliabue's insistence that the contents of the appeals process remain private. The hearings - scheduled to resume Monday in New Orleans - have been behind closed doors. Vilma is supposed to be questioned next week.

Tagliabue and various lawyers declined to comment Thursday or Friday.

``Paul wants to keep it under wraps, keep everything low-key ... so not really much I can say right now,'' Vilma said.

``Of course,'' he added, ``it felt good being able to go in there.''

Vilma said it was the first time he had seen Williams since January, when the Saints' season ended with a playoff loss against San Francisco.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell issued the initial suspensions, which also included a full-season ban for Saints head coach Sean Payton.

Lawsuits brought by Vilma and the NFL Players Association to challenge Goodell's handling of the case, including his decision in October to appoint Tagliabue as the arbitrator for the appeals, are pending in federal court in New Orleans.

On Thursday, U.S. District Judge Ginger Berrigan gave the parties until Monday to answer questions about whether the NFL's collective bargaining agreement prevents a commissioner from handing out discipline for legal contact, and whether the CBA's passages about detrimental conduct are ``ambiguous, hence unenforceable.''

In March, the NFL announced that its investigation showed the Saints put together a bounty pool of up to $50,000 to reward game-ending injuries inflicted on opponents. ``Knockouts'' were worth $1,500 and ``cart-offs'' $1,000 - with payments doubled or tripled for the playoffs, the league said.

According to the league, the pay-for-pain program was administered by Williams, with Payton's knowledge. At the time, Williams apologized for his role, saying: ``It was a terrible mistake, and we knew it was wrong while we were doing it.''

Later that month, Payton became the first head coach suspended by the league for any reason - banned for all of this season without pay - and Williams was suspended indefinitely.

Williams was known for his aggressive, physical defenses as a coordinator for Tennessee, Washington, Jacksonville and New Orleans, and during his time as head coach of Buffalo. In January, he was hired by St. Louis to lead their defense but hasn't been able to do that while suspended.

When Vilma and Smith made an earlier attempt to appeal their punishments, Goodell refused to reduce their bans.

As Vilma, wearing a gray suit, headed out of the building Friday, a reporter told him that Smith indicated the hearing was helpful.

``Yeah? Well, we said that last time,'' Vilma replied, ``and we saw how that turned out. So we'll see what happens.''

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Connect with Howard Fendrich on Twitter athttp://twitter.com/HowardFendrich

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AP Sports Writer Brett Martel in New Orleans contributed to this report.

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Baltimore Ravens Roundup: OTAs Day 1

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Baltimore Ravens Roundup: OTAs Day 1

Kick off your Tuesday with the latest Baltimore Ravens news including a recap of the first day of OTAs.

Player/Team Notes: 

1. Yesterday, (Monday) was the first day of the Ravens' OTAs. OTAs continue today (Tuesday) as the Ravens work on developing a new offense. Check out some of the highlights here. 

2. The Baltimore Ravens have officially announced the full 90-man roster that will be competing for an official team roster spot in OTAs this summer. 

Looking Ahead:

July 15: 4 p.m. deadline to get a long-term deal done with designated franchise tag players.

The 2019 NFL schedule is set! See the Baltimore Ravens defend the AFC North at M&T Bank Stadium this season. Get your tickets now at www.BaltimoreRavens.com/tickets.

Credit: Baltimore Ravens for news points.

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2019 NBA Draft prospect profile: Jaxson Hayes

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2019 NBA Draft prospect profile: Jaxson Hayes

The Washington Wizards will have the ninth overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft. Here is the latest in our series on draft prospects who could fall around where the Wizards will select...

2019 NBA Draft Wizards Prospect Preview: Jaxson Hayes

School: Texas
Position: Center
Age: 19
Height: 7-0
Weight: 219
Wingspan: 7-4
Max vertical: 34.5 in.

2018/19 stats: 10.0 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 0.3 apg, 0.6 spg, 2.2 bpg, 72.8 FG% (3.8/5.3), 00.0 3PT% (0.0/0.0), 74.0 FT%

Player comparison: Jarrett Allen, John Henson

Projections: NBC Sports Washington 10th, NBADraft.net 9th, Bleacher Report 10th, Sports Illustrated 9th, Ringer 10th

5 things to know:

*Hayes is considered the best center prospect in this year's class. He is athletic, plays with energy and measured in at the combine at about 7-feet in shoes with a 7-foot-4 wingspan. He can run the floor and play above the rim.

*The skill that stands out most for Hayes is rim protection. He averaged 2.2 blocks in only 23.3 minutes per game. That extrapulates to 5.7 blocks over 100 possessions. He has long arms and appears to have good instincts tracking the ball in the lane. He is following in the footsteps of fellow Texas shot-blockers before him like Myles Turner and Jarrett Allen. The latter may be the best player comparison for Hayes in today's NBA.

*Hayes is not considered a very good rebounder. He averaged 5.0 per game and only once reached double figures. It could be that he just needs to add some weight, an issue that is correctable but would hurt him even more at the NBA level initially. The worst-case concern is that he is soft and won't do the necessary dirty work.

*At this point, Hayes offers nothing in the way of an outside shot. He didn't attempt a single three-pointer in college and didn't do much on offense outside of dunks and putbacks. In order to justify being taken with a high draft pick, he will either need to develop a post game, an outside shot or be extremely good on defense. His lack of an all-round game will certainly give some teams pause in evaluating him.

*Hayes comes from a family of impressive athletes. His father played 12 seasons in the NFL and recently served as the tight ends coach for the Cincinnati Bengals. His mother played basketball at Drake University and later coached in college, including a stint as an assistant at Oklahoma. Hayes followed his father's footsteps by playing wide receiver in high school before a growth spurt made it clear basketball was the path to go.

Fit with Wizards: Hayes is one of the best fits for the Wizards among the players who could be available with the ninth pick. He does what they arguably lack the most, which is play defense and more specifically protect the rim.

The Wizards allowed the most field goals within five feet of any team this past season and the third-highest field goal percentage in that range. They desperately need someone who can block and alter shots.

Hayes would likely be the Wizards' best shot-blocker Day 1. But whether he can help them in other ways is a question at this point.

Hayes would represent a bit of a project for the Wizards and may not have All-Star potential because of his offensive limitations. Still, he remains one of their best options in the first round. Long-term, he could transform their defense and form a strong pick-and-roll partner for John Wall.

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