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Packers excited for rare gathering of 4 top WRs

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Packers excited for rare gathering of 4 top WRs

GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) Aaron Rodgers is putting up MVP-worthy numbers again, throwing for more touchdowns than anyone in the NFL and ranking near the top in completions and yards passing.

Imagine if he'd had all of his favorite toys for the whole year.

With Randall Cobb back from a sprained ankle and Jordy Nelson planning to play in Saturday night's NFC wild-card game against Minnesota, the Green Bay Packers finally will have all four top receivers for the first time in, essentially, three months.

``It makes us very dangerous,'' Greg Jennings said Thursday. ``It's pretty obvious when we have all four guys healthy, the amount of big plays that we can accumulate goes up. Aaron has a lot more options.''

There's no question Rodgers is a special quarterback, one of the league's finest, and he'd put up impressive numbers if he had only one or two guys to throw to. But he has four - count `em, four - receivers who could be No. 1s on many other teams.

``I don't think so,'' Nelson said when asked if any other team is as loaded at receiver as the Packers. ``I don't think you can go four and five deep like we can.''

Jennings had 1,000-yard seasons from 2008-10, and came up just short (949) last year despite missing three games. Nelson has a career average of 15.1 yards per catch, and joined Jennings in the 1,000-yard club last year. James Jones led the NFL with 14 TD catches this year, and matched a Packers record with two scores in three straight games. Cobb is the newest of the bunch, and all the second-year receiver has done is lead the team in catches (80) and yards receiving (954).

Add in big tight end Jermichael Finley and you can see why defensive coordinators have nightmares about facing the Packers.

``You can go to any one of them and get a big play, so it makes it more difficult for defenses to defend,'' Green Bay offensive coordinator Tom Clements said. ``If (opponents) only have one guy or two guys that they have to defend against, they can structure their defenses and set it up in certain ways to take those guys away. But if you have four out there, and sometimes even five, it makes it more difficult.

``So if it's more difficult for them, it's advantageous for us.''

But injuries have kept the Packers (11-5) from making full use of that advantage. The Big Four have played less than three full games together this year, and you have to go all the way back to the Sept. 24 game in Seattle for when they were last all at full strength. (Yes, they were all available for the Dec. 2 game against the Vikings, but Nelson was gone after the second series with a hamstring injury.)

Jennings was hurt in the season opener, and wound up missing eight of the first 11 games with a torn muscle in his abdomen. Nelson was out for four games with a hamstring injury. And Cobb, who's also been Green Bay's primary kick returner, was sidelined last week with a sprained ankle.

Only Jones made it through the entire season unscathed.

``It's been a while,'' Nelson agreed. ``Hopefully we can go out and perform well, make a lot of plays and play a few games together. That's what you want. You want to be at full strength going into the playoffs, and I think we're as healthy as we can be.''

To get an idea just how potent the Packers could be, look at their last three games, when only one of the Big Four was on the sidelines. Rodgers has thrown for 998 yards and 10 touchdowns. Cobb, Jones and Jennings have had 100-yard games, and each game has had three receivers with five or more catches. Green Bay has put up 110 points, including hanging a season-high 55 on Tennessee.

Yes, the Packers lost at Minnesota on Sunday. But the offense found another gear after an uncharacteristically slow start on the first three drives, outgaining and outscoring the Vikings over the final 40 minutes. Jennings had his best showing since his return with 120 yards and two touchdowns on eight catches, while Nelson averaged a whopping 29 yards on his three catches.

Finley's eight catches gave him 61 for the year, a Packers record for a tight end.

``We definitely got it going,'' Jennings said. ``Felt good with what we were seeing, ARod was delivering the ball on the point and guys were making plays all across the field. Are there some things we could have done better as a whole? Absolutely. But we got another shot at it. We've got a chance to make it right this week.''

And they'll be doing it at full strength.

Cobb was held out last weekend as something of a precaution, but he's practiced all week. Nelson was a question mark after he banged up his knee against the Vikings. But he was a full participant in practice Thursday and said ``no, none whatsoever'' when asked if there was any question he'd play.

``We were hoping that, come this time, everyone would be together and ready to go and we are,'' Nelson said. ``And we look forward to the opportunity.''

Notes: Coach Mike McCarthy said there won't be a rep count on Charles Woodson, who will be playing his first game since breaking his collarbone Oct. 21. ``We're going to let him play and communicate on the sidelines and make sure he's OK,'' McCarthy said. ``He's been really pushing the conditioning really the last five or six weeks and he has been practicing the last four weeks. It's just that transition to the games.'' ... CB Tramon Williams missed Thursday's practice with the flu.

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Hard Knocks L.A. Episode 1 Recap: Anthony Lynn tested positive, Justin Herbert shines

Hard Knocks L.A. Episode 1 Recap: Anthony Lynn tested positive, Justin Herbert shines

Football is back on TV as the new season of HBO's Hard Knocks premiered Tuesday evening. It’s the first time in the documentary's 15 seasons that the show will follow two teams, the Los Angles Chargers and Los Angles Rams. In case you missed it, here are some highlights from episode one. 

Anthony Lynn tested positive

Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn revealed in the opening scene that he had tested positive for coronavirus earlier this year. Lynn is the third known NFL head coach to have contracted the virus, joining New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Peyton and Philadelphia Eagles head coach Doug Pederson.

Justin Herbert shines

The Chargers first-round draft pick was the star player of episode one showing off his arm skills. He nailed almost every one of his targets during accuracy drills. The episode didn’t show too much of any player, but the former University of Oregon signal-caller stole the show in small amount of camera time he had

Rams head coach Sean McVay

Sean McVay’s introduction to the show had fans jealous of the panoramic views from his home in Los Angeles. McVay’s jokes were also a highlight of the episode. 

COVID-19 precautions and safety

Training camp is off-limits to fans in order to decrease potential exposure of the virus for players and staff. With that in mind, Hard Knocks is fans and media members first look at what an NFL training camp in 2020 looks like. From the frequent testing to the outdoor facilities that both the Rams and Chargers have invested in, it's a different type of training camp. It’s also a different type of Hard Knocks, but because of our desire for anything football-related, it has the potential to be one of the best seasons yet.
 
It will be tough to top the excitement of episode one but with two teams in action, there's no shortage of storylines. Episode two airs on HBO next Tuesday at 10 p.m. ET. 

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Wizards' NBA Bubble Awards: Thomas Bryant was the clear MVP

Wizards' NBA Bubble Awards: Thomas Bryant was the clear MVP

The Wizards closed out their 2019-20 regular season on Thursday with a much-needed win, as they finished the year 25-47 and their time in the NBA's restart bubble 1-7. 

Those final eight games, though, were about much more than wins and losses. The team was evaluating their young players as they look ahead to next season when the expectations will be raised significantly.

Just looking at those eight games, here are some awards and superlatives for what we saw...

Most valuable: Thomas Bryant

This is a very easy call, it was a unanimous vote. Though Bryant wasn't the only young player who looked good in Orlando, he was by far their best player overall.

Bryant leaves the bubble with eight-game averages of 18.6 points, 8.9 rebounds, 2.0 blocks and 1.4 steals per game. Those are big-time numbers, even if they were compiled on a team that went 1-7. Bryant took on a larger role in the offense and increased his volume while remaining efficient. He shot 53.2 percent overall and 40.5 percent from three.

Bryant took a big step forward. He was healthy after dealing with a foot problem earlier this season, and delivered. The Wizards have a legitimate starting center they can pencil in for next season, hopefully with the green light to take more threes.

RELATED: WIZARDS FINALLY WIN IN BUBBLE

Most improved: Jerome Robinson

This was one of the more unexpected, yet pleasantly surprising developments for the Wizards in the bubble. Robinson, who had spent his entire career to this point backing up really good players, finally got a chance to spread his wings. And, boy, did he.

Robinson found a newfound level of consistency, averaging 14.8 points while shooting a solid 36.7 percent from three. He reached double figures in scoring in seven of the eight games after only doing that four times in his previous 88 NBA appearances. 

Given the small sample size, and the stakes, it probably isn't enough to truly guarantee him a role going into next season. But he has absolutely earned a chance to compete for the back-up role behind Bradley Beal.

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Most intriguing: Troy Brown Jr.

Brown had a tremendous start in the bubble, but slowed down late as he was thrown into the fire as the starting point guard. Though he struggled in that role, it was an invaluable experience that he can take a lot of lessons from.

Overall, though, Brown made clear improvements in his game. He thrived with a greater share of the play-making duties and was able to showcase his skills as a passer and ball-handler.

It was enough to warrant some focus by the Wizards' coaching staff next season. Though they will have John Wall and Beal coming back, they have to find a way to incorporate Brown's strengths. That may come in a bench role as the primary ball-handler in the second unit.

Needs most improvement: Admiral Schofield

Not all of the Wizards' young players displayed growth in the bubble games and included in that group is Schofield, the team's 2019 second round pick. Unfortunately for him, it was all juxtaposed with the breakout performance of Bol Bol, whom the Wizards passed on to select Schofield out of the University of Tennessee.

Schofield averaged only 2.7 points in 12.6 minutes while shooting 29.4 percent from the field. He looked uncertain on the floor and continues to sort of float between roles with no defined path towards stability in the rotation.

Keep in mind, though, Schofield is just starting out his NBA career. He was a second round pick and those guys take time. He has the physical tools, the work ethic and the smarts to make it in this league. But there is no question this will be an important offseason for the guy.

Best moment: Moe Wagner vs. Giannis Antetokounmpo

The most memorable image from the Wizards' time in Orlando was definitely the ejection of the league's reigning MVP in their penultimate game. Antetokounmpo has since been suspended by the league for it.

He lost his cool and headbutted Wagner, who now has another notch on his belt in his neverending quest to get under the skin of his opponents. He is a pest and an effective one at that.

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