Johnny Manziel's NFL tenure hasn't gotten off to an ideal start after an incredible career at Texas A&M. Even so, Johnny Football will turn in his clipboard for a spot in the Cleveland Browns' huddle before long.
After just two preseason games, Browns head coach Mike Pettine decided to name veteran Brian Hoyer the starting quarterback for Cleveland's Week 1 game against the Pittsburgh Steelers over Manziel, according to Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com:
Pettine's choice has been debated by observers in recent days, and it is easy to see why. Hoyer is a journeyman who started just three games last season before tearing his ACL. He hasn't looked good during the preseason thus far, and there doesn't seem to be much upside.
Conversely, Manziel is a Heisman Trophy winner who enters the league as a first-round pick. He hasn't exactly torn it up during the preseason either, but he has been statistically superior to Hoyer, as seen in this graphic courtesy of SportsCenter:
Manziel probably gives the Browns a better chance to win in reality due to his mobility and penchant for making big plays out of nothing. Pettine likely feels more comfortable with a veteran under center to open the season, though, due largely to the difficult schedule that awaits the Browns.
Cleveland will face the Steelers, New Orleans Saints and Baltimore Ravens in the season's first three weeks. All of those teams ranked in the top 13 in total defense, and they are particularly well-known for their ferocity in terms of attacking the quarterback.
The Browns then have a bye in Week 4 before back-to-back meetings with the Tennessee Titans and Steelers. As pointed out by Aditi Kinkhabwala of NFL Network, things get much easier for the Browns on paper after that:
Once the defenses get a bit softer, it might be wise to phase Manziel in provided Hoyer isn't playing well. If things go particularly poorly over the first three weeks, Ben Volin of The Boston Globe believes the bye week could be a good spot to make the switch:
Hoyer may be "the guy" for now, but hints have already been dropped that the Browns aren't entirely committed to him in that spot. For starters, wide receiver Nate Burleson essentially gushed about Manziel during the aftermath of Pettine's decision, according to Nate Ulrich of the Akron Beacon Journal.
Johnny's still the man. He's still a really good quarterback. He's an NFL-quality starting quarterback. ... Johnny being the No. 2, as you want to call it, we got arguably the best No. 2 in the NFL.
Johnny will be successful in this league. He'll have his opportunities. Regardless of how many chances he'll get or waves of opportunities he gets, he's going to take advantage of them. It's not a bad thing for him to be the No. 2 [quarterback] Week 1. He is a rookie, still has a lot to learn and to do as a professional and as a player when it comes to the playbook. He's going to be all right. I'm a Johnny Football fan.
That may simply be a case of Burleson trying to defend his teammate, but it certainly sounds as though he views Manziel as the Browns' true answer at quarterback.
Even Pettine seems to be waffling to some degree. According to The Opening Drive on SiriusXM NFL Radio (h/t ESPN.com), Pettine is open to considering the possibility of utilizing both Hoyer and Manziel.
"I think in the NFL that you do yourself a disservice if you don't have two quarterbacks ready," Pettine said. "And people have asked me about potentially a two-quarterback system and having a package for [Manziel]. That is on the table."
Creating a package for an athletic backup quarterback is something that always sounds good in theory, but it very rarely works out. More often than not, all it does is stir up further controversy.
Pettine has to be well aware of that, so the fact that he is even thinking about doing something like that with Manziel means that he may not be 100 percent sold on Hoyer.
With Manziel lurking on the sidelines, Hoyer's margin for error will be razor thin. Browns fans will call for Johnny Football at the first sign of trouble, and Pettine will only be able to ignore it for so long.
It is tough to imagine Hoyer excelling against three tough defenses to start the season, so expect the Manziel era to officially commence in Week 5.
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Tennis will take center stage on the sports calendar one more time in 2014 with the U.S. Open. As the final major tournament of the year, as well as the only one to be contested on American soil, there will be lofty expectations for the big event.
Unfortunately, due to a lack of American stars on the men's side, it doesn't seem likely that any U.S. player will break the country's streak without a Grand Slam title. Andy Roddick's 2003 U.S. Open win remains the last Grand Slam title for any American.
The event also took a hit in star power when Rafael Nadal withdrew due to a wrist injury. It's still going to be full of drama like we always expect from the big tournaments, so why waste anymore time talking about what isn't going to happen.
Roger Federer's Last Stand
Given how long we have talked about Roger Federer not winning a major title, you would think he'd dropped off the face of the earth. The 33-year-old is in a Grand Slam drought, last winning one of the big four events in 2012 (Wimbledon).
However, it would be a mistake to think Federer has nothing left in the tank. He was the final at Wimbledon and took top-seeded Novak Djokovic to five sets in a marathon that lasted nearly four hours with all the drama you would expect.
Now, with one of Federer's biggest obstacles out of the way (Nadal), the door is open for the 17-time major winner to get back in the winner's circle. Making things easier, as Courtney Nguyen of SI.com wrote, is the draw:
Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray, Stan Wawrinka and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga are all in the top half of the draw, leaving No. 5 David Ferrer (who Federer beat the last two weeks and has a 16-0 record against), the slumping Tomas Berdych and Grigor Dimitrov as the top seeds remaining in Federer's draw.
Federer has built momentum coming into the U.S. Open, winning the Western & Southern Open last week for his first victory since June. If there is one more major for the veteran will win, it is going to be the U.S. Open.
Who Is Serena Williams?
This has been one of the most unusual years of Serena Williams' career. The top-seeded woman at Flushing Meadows is the odds-on favorite to capture her sixth U.S. Open title and third straight.
However, doing so would require Williams to buck her current trend in Grand Slam events. The American star hasn't made it past the fourth round of any major in 2014. There was also the scary incident during her doubles match with sister Venus, when an illness prevented her from hitting the ball with any authority.
In many ways, this year perfectly encapsulates what we know of Williams' career. Johnette Howard of ESPNW.com wrote an article titled "Will The Real Serena Williams Please Stand Up?" in which she flat out says that Williams seems to take pride in being an enigma:
Pendulous swings in her mood, health and level of play have been an overarching pattern in her career. So have long breaks. She defies categorization, and she courts celebrity more than her more introverted older sister, Venus. But they're both rugged individualists and near equals when it comes to talking the sort of zany Williamspeak and non sequiturs they often use to deflect questions.
While the character quirks are part of what fascinate us about Williams, it's hard not to think that at age 32 she's losing her grip on top of the women's tennis circuit. While no one has matched her dominance, nor are they likely to, the lack of success in majors is alarming.
Even if she doesn't come out on top at the U.S. Open, which wouldn't be a surprise with the women's side looking deeper than it has in a long time with Maria Sharapova, Simona Halep, Li Na and Petra Kvitova looking like formidable competition, Williams has to make a deep run to silence her doubters.
Is There An American Man Worth Watching?
It's alarming to look at the stage of men's tennis in the United States right now. There is only one player ranked in the top 25 of the ATP rankings (John Isner, No. 15) and two in the top 50.
In addition to not having a major winner since Roddick in 2003, there hasn't been an American man in the finals of a Grand Slam event since Roddick lost to Federer at Wimbledon in that 2009 five-set classic.
Kamakshi Tandon of ESPN.com painted a realistic picture of what this year's U.S. Open will be like for American men (Hint: It's bleak):
Isner's best showing was a quarterfinal in 2011, also his best Grand Slam result. "It's one of my favorite tournaments," he said. "I would say it's our Grand Slam. I've always played extremely well there, also."
Being a top U.S. up-and-comer has usually come with intense pressure, but the demands are now reduced. Jack Sock, 21, says the presence of Isner and other veterans means he has not yet been thrust into the spotlight.
Things don't figure to get better for Americans, especially with Isner withdrawing from the Winston-Salem Open on Thursday with a sprained ankle, via the Associated Press (h/t ESPN.com).
The road to recovery for American men is going to be a long one, so it's best to go into the U.S. Open with low expectations. That way, any run a player does make can feel like a big deal.
If you want to talk sports, hit me up on Twitter.
As has become the custom during their recent run, the Nationals won Thursday's game in dramatic fashion, downing the Arizona Diamondbacks 1-0 on a walk-off error by Arizona third baseman Jordan Pacheco in the ninth inning. The walk-off victory was Washington's fifth in a span of six games, something no team has done since the Houston Astros in 1986, according to ESPN Stats & Info.
Dating back to their time in Montreal, the Nationals/Expos have compiled five winning streaks of exactly 10 games, most recently—besides the current one—from June 2-12, 2005, per MLB.com. Each of the preceding four streaks ended at exactly 10 games, as the franchise has never put together an 11-game run in its 46-year history.
Among active major league franchises, only the Nationals/Expos and Miami Marlins have failed to compile a winning streak longer than 10 games. The Marlins have won nine in a row on four separate occasions but have yet to hit the 10-game mark in their 22-year history.
The Nationals head into Friday evening's game against the San Francisco Giants favored to take sole possession of the franchise record for longest winning streak. Playing at home for a seventh consecutive game, the Nationals will toss a red-hot Doug Fister against Giants right-hander Tim Hudson.
Fister, who owns a 12-3 record and 2.20 ERA this season, has not given up more than two runs in a start since July 2, with the streak spanning seven outings. He's held his opponent to three earned runs or fewer in 16 of his 18 starts this year.
In a part of the year that is ordinarily very quiet, NBA teams could complete some major moves on the trade market.
Instead of looking for minor additions to sit at the end of the bench, the next few weeks might see All-Stars, key contributors and top prospects all being moved around the league.
Considering one impact player can be the difference on a championship team, these deals remain something to keep an eye on as front offices wheel and deal.
Eric Bledsoe Finally Getting Traded?
One of the big stories throughout the offseason has been the handling of restricted free agents Eric Bledsoe and Greg Monroe. The Phoenix Suns and Detroit Pistons, respectively, have failed to come to an agreement with their players and now seem unlikely to complete an extension.
While Monroe appears likely to sign a one-year qualifying offer, Bledsoe could be traded before the start of the season. Jude LaCava of Fox 10 explained in an interview on Fox Sports 910 (transcribed by Matt Moore of CBS Sports):
You can take this to the bank, so to speak. The Suns are now discussing trade possibilities for Eric Bledsoe. The reality has kicked into the point that my sources are telling me that if they can accommodate Bledsoe and get something that they want in return, trade possibilities are very real and they have been discussed.
Bledsoe had a breakout year with the Suns, averaging 17.7 points, 5.5 assists and 4.7 rebounds per game last season. However, he and his agent rejected a four-year, $48 million contract extension to remain with the Suns, according to ESPN's Chris Broussard. The guard is reportedly looking for a max deal of $80 million over five years.
With the two sides unlikely to come to an agreement, it seems like a trade would be the best-case scenario to avoid letting him go for nothing.
On the other hand, an anonymous NBA general manager explained to why he would not trade for either Bledsoe or Monroe:
I think any one of us would be wary of getting involved in a trade for either player. Their teams overvalue them in terms of making trades, they don’t want to give them away for nothing. There’s no reason to give up significant assets for players who probably will be available next summer. That doesn’t mean a deal can’t get done, but it is complicated.
If a team does make a deal, they will have to be somewhat confident they can get Bledsoe to sign an extension. Still, the Suns' willingness to part with their point guard means a trade is at least possible.
76ers Eyeing Amar'e Stoudemire
The Philadelphia 76ers are taking a long road toward rebuilding. They have selected high-upside players in the draft and are hoping they can make an impact within a few years. However, they do not have legitimate hopes of contending in the 2014-15 season.
This has kept Philadelphia from making moves that will add significant cost to the team salary. The problem with this is that NBA teams must hit a minimum floor to avoid facing a penalty.
General manager Sam Hinkie explained earlier in the offseason that he wants to keep his options open, via John Gonzalez of CSNPhilly.com:
I think we’ll be open-minded. I don’t know, exactly, what we’ll do there. I think we’ll look for opportunities. And we’ll go from there. Our cap space last year was used in several ways. One is to pick up some of the seconds that we used [on draft night] and other future seconds. Some is to pick up international players like Furkan Aldemir, who we traded for last year. Those are all sort of possibilities.
Among those possibilities is bringing in someone during the season who would get the team close to the salary floor. Steve Kyler of Basketball Insiders breaks down a potential in-season trade to acquire Amar'e Stoudemire:
What’s far more likely is that the long rumored Amar’e Stoudemire to Philadelphia deal gets done at the deadline. The Sixers take on Stoudemire’s $23 million salary cap number, which pushes them way over the minimum. They would only owe him roughly 30 percent of his remaining contract, so they’d end up paying him $7 million in cash and likely extract a draft pick or a rookie scale player for their troubles.
Philadelphia will be able to add assets in a trade just for taking on the salary, which the organization will easily be able to do based on the extended room in the cap.
The team does not have to act immediately, but this is something to keep in mind in the coming weeks and months.
Cavaliers, Timberwolves and 76ers on Brink of Blockbuster Deal
The deal that will send Kevin Love to the Cleveland Cavaliers is nearing completion with three teams now involved, as ESPN's Marc Stein reports:
Sportscenter provides a look at what each team gets in the deal:
This trade can be confirmed on August 23 as soon as Andrew Wiggins is eligible to be traded after signing his rookie contract.
The immediate winner in this deal is obviously the Cavaliers, who add an All-Star to a roster that already includes LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and a number of talented pieces. While a championship is far from guaranteed, they are certainly the favorites to go all the way this season.
On the other hand, Minnesota did as well as you can expect for a team losing one of the best players in the league, as noted by ESPN's Jeff Goodman:
Brian Geltzeiler of Sirius XM NBA Radio believes things could get even better for the Timberwolves:
Andrew Wiggins has great upside and could become a star in the league. If he reaches his potential, Minnesota will have ended up with a steal.
As for the 76ers, they were able to add some more salary (remember, that is a good thing) while getting a pair of high-upside players. This will be a win for everyone involved as soon as it is confirmed.
Follow Rob Goldberg on Twitter for the latest breaking news and analysis.
Chris Brown is known for his singing and dancing, but he can handle himself on the basketball court as well.
The recording artist was at Roc Nation's charity basketball event at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York, on Thursday night. While there, he decided to show what he can do with a basketball.
Here's another angle of the crossover:
As you can see, he wasn't able to drain the jumper to cap off the play the right way.
[Instagram, Jason Greenberg]
Bayern Munich are off doing Bayern Munich things right from the get-go.
The defending Bundesliga champions kicked off their German campaign on Friday night against Wolfsburg and scored the season's first goal from two usual suspects.
Arjen Robben tore down the right hand side and fired in a low cross to Thomas Muller, who coolly redirected it home.
Whether the latter meant to do it is up for debate. But he's Muller, so he can pretend like he absolutely meant it.
[Vine, @European Goals]
West Indies secured a series victory against Bangladesh in Grenada thanks to a massive win by 177 runs in the second one-day international.
The home side batted first and made 247-7 on a slow wicket, then in reply the visitors utterly collapsed from 57-3 to 70 all out.
The West Indians selected an unchanged side from the first game, while Bangladesh brought in left-arm spinner Abdur Razzak in place of seamer Taskin Ahmed.
The Bangladeshis won the toss and elected to field, and they struck almost immediately as Kirk Edwards was bowled for a duck by Al-Amin Hossain.
At the other end, Chris Gayle played in his usual aggressive manner, alongside the more circumspect Darren Bravo who came in at No. 3.
Having started watchfully himself, Gayle started to pepper the boundaries and hit some tremendous blows as West Indians passed 50 in the 14th over.
Gayle would bring up his own half-century just four overs later, and was well aided by Bravo who was happy to play the supporting role.
However, the opener’s knock would come to an end on 58 as he slogged a short ball from Mahmudullah to deep midwicket, where Sohag Gazi took a good catch.
With the fireworks from Gayle at an end, Denesh Ramdin joined the fray at No. 4 and helped take West Indies past 100 in the 24th over.
Bravo went on to reach his half-century also, but then shortly afterwards was removed for 53 as Gazi had him pinned lbw.
Ramdin and Lendl Simmons took the score past 150 with ease without hitting many boundaries as they impressed with their fast running, but on 171 the partnership was broken.
The West Indian captain looked to hammer a delivery from Hossain, but only succeeded in nicking through to Mushfiqur Rahim behind the stumps for an easy catch.
Simmons was joined by Kieron Pollard, who looked to carry on his good form from the last game, and he looked strong with some lusty blows of his own.
However, he was bowled off an inside edge for 26 from the bowling of Mashrafe Mortaza, then Simmons departed shortly after for 40, caught at long on off the same bowler.
Dwayne Bravo hit a boundary but then became Mortaza’s third wicket, then some meaty blows from Jason Holder and Sunil Narine lifted the hosts’ score to 247-7 from 50 overs.
Bangladesh’s reply started well as openers Tamim Iqbal and Anamul Haque looked good, but then with the score on 12, disaster struck as Haque nicked to Ramdin off Holder’s bowling.
Iqbal then started to open his shoulders and hit some boundaries, including three in an over off Ravi Rampaul, and looked in good touch as he passed 30 quickly.
However, things were not going so well at the other end, as Imrul Kayes was caught by Lendl Simmons off Rampaul, then Shamsur Rahman was bowled by Kemar Roach for just four.
Iqbal and new man Rahim would take Bangladesh past 50, knowing that they would need to build a big partnership if the away side were to come close to their target.
However, the visitors’ captain would be undone right after drinks, as Narine fooled him with some extra bounce and forced Rahim to nick a cut behind to Ramdin.
The next delivery, new man Mahmudullah would also perish as he was bowled through the gate, leaving Narine on a hat-trick, which he would not quite achieve with his next ball.
In the next over the dangerous Iqbal would depart for 37 as he chipped an easy catch to midwicket off Roach, meaning the hosts had lost three wickets in six balls for no runs.
The carnage continued as in his next over, Narine had Gazi caught by Edwards at deep square leg as he looked to hammer the spinner out of the ground.
Nasir Hossain then followed for just six as he was caught by the leaping Pollard at midwicket off Roach, meaning the visitors had then lost five wickets and scored just 10 runs in 32 balls.
The ninth wicket then followed before the halfway point in Bangladesh’s innings, as Mortaza was lbw to Rampaul for just two, leaving the visitors on 70-9 and facing defeat.
To complete an embarrassing outing for the visitors, Al-Amin Hossain was then run out by Simmons for nought, meaning Bangladesh were all out for 70 and defeated by 177 runs.
It's Week 3 of preseason action, which is typically the game when teams' starters get the most playing time and handle some actual scheming. It also will be the last opportunity for 15 members of the roster, with August 26 being the first roster cut-down day.
With that said, let's not kid ourselves..This game is about a pair of big-time receivers facing a big-time defense. The challenge should prove to be a quality test for both sides before the regular season.
We'll be looking for continued strong play from the offensive line, separation at second-string quarterback and all-around quality play from the starters.
Tonight's game kicks off at 7 p.m. PT at CenturyLink Field. Please join us for live updates and commentary on the game.
BILD (h/t to Metro's Vaishali Bhardwaj) has learned Bundesliga side Wolfsburg are ready to enter the race for the attacker, with Galatasaray having already expressed an interest in signing the player.
Bhardwaj claims Arsenal could be willing to sell the 29-year-old, who isn't expected to be a starter for the Gunners in 2014-15. Cashing in on a squad player before he starts to lose his transfer value seems like a smart thing to do, but in this case, a sale could backfire tremendously.
Arsenal have struggled with depth in the past few seasons, as several promising campaigns came to a disappointing end due to one or two key injuries. The Gunners have never had issues with talent—other top clubs simply had more bench options to cope with key players missing time.
Arsene Wenger has finally started to address this issue in the summer of 2014, and Arsenal look like they could be serious candidates for the 2014-15 Premier League title. Alexis Sanchez will play a huge role in the team's attacking plans, and a healthy Olivier Giroud can still be a very effective player.
Joel Campbell, Podolski and Yaya Sanogo are the main options to provide depth up front, with Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain likely playing a much larger role for the squad out wide.
Podolski has also seen most of his minutes in a wide role, but unlike most of his teammates, he has the versatility to fit into a variety of attacking positions without losing much of his effectiveness.
There's no denying more was expected from the German international's Arsenal career. Widely regarded as one of the world's most exciting attacking talents when he joined the Gunners in 2012, he failed to truly establish himself as the next Premier League super striker.
Two years later, the Gunners appear to be ready to move on. Bleacher Report's James McNicholas believes the presence of Campbell could speed up Podolski's departure:
The presence of Joel Campbell in the squad is another threat to Podolski's position. Wenger may decide there is only room for one left-sided striker in his 25-man squad. In that case, sticking with the younger man may make more sense. Podolski earns a hefty salary in London and could swiftly become little more than a very expensive reserve.
Campbell is one of the Premier League's most exciting young talents, but while his early performances for the club have been promising, how he will adapt to the highly competitive English league remains an unknown.
Wenger knows what Podolski can do. He has plenty of experience on the highest level, and as a bench player, he still holds a lot of value. He proved how important he can be for the club at the end of last season, scoring several vital goals when the Gunners needed them the most.
Podolski is still a very good finisher who can weigh on a defence, and he can slide into the most advanced role and replace Giroud if needed. The Frenchman isn't particularly injury prone, but with the relatively unproven Sanogo as the only other real striker in the squad, keeping Podolski around would provide Wenger with a safety net.
Value is the key here, and given the frankly ridiculous prices some clubs have paid for talent in the 2014 summer window, it's unlikely the Gunners will receive a large enough transfer fee that would justify moving the club's most experienced forward.
Teams aren't going to pay more than £10 million for Podolski, and in today's market, such a fee won't find the club a quality replacement before the end of the transfer window.
The Gunners finally have the depth to compete with the very best—now is not the time to jeopardise that depth.
Madison Square Garden will host Team USA as it takes on Puerto Rico in its third exhibition game en route to the FIBA World Cup to be held in Spain. You can catch all the action at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN2.
All eyes will be on Derrick Rose after the Chicago Bulls point guard sat out Wednesday night’s exhibition game against the Dominican Republic on account on knee soreness. The former MVP has played just 46 games over the last three seasons due to repeated injury, but he could be a major contributor for Team USA this summer.
Even without Rose, however, Team USA boasted six players scoring in double figures on Wednesday. It will look for another ensemble effort against Puerto Rico.
For its part, the Puerto Rican team will have its hands full. Its only current NBA representative is J.J. Barea of the Minnesota Timberwolves, though Carlos Arroyo and Renaldo Balkman previously played in the Association.
But after the United States thrashed the Dominican Republic by a final score of 105-62, it appears that head coach Mike Krzyzewski’s club is finding its rhythm well in advance of the games that actually matter.
Puerto Rico could be just another step along the way.
Keep it here for live coverage and analysis.
The Pittsburgh Steelers offense has struggled the past two seasons under offensive coordinator Todd Haley, and after watching the team this preseason, Steelers fan Snoop Dogg is fed up.
Snoop Dogg posted an Instagram video to let everyone know what he thinks about the team's offense. The rapper demanded that Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin fire Haley, citing the team's failure to make the postseason with its current offensive coordinator.
Warning: Video contains NSFW language.
The clock is ticking away, some would say not fast enough, to the August 26 release date of Madden 15, the latest installment in the always-popular video game series. It's also a chance for EA Sports to swing big with new features to captivate players.
One thing that can plague any video game series released on a yearly basis is complacency. Considering the insane popularity of football in this country, not to mention EA knowing it can sell millions of copies of Madden without trying, no one would blame the company for sticking with what works.
However, innovation is everything in technology and video games. EA Sports is not resting on its laurels this time around, going all-out to provide an experience fans won't soon forget. We've got a look at the best new features available in this year's game and what they mean for you.
Game Prep & Confidence in Connected Franchise Mode
As technology makes video game simulations more life-like, it's only appropriate Madden 15 would incorporate the real phases that players and teams go through on and off the field. In the past, you could just take the field, win or lose and go about your business.
Now, according to the notes from Josh Looman of EASports.com, an immersive experience before, during and after the games are over is going to make it feel more like the ebb and flow of a real NFL season.
Game prep is pretty straightforward as a way to set up a game plan in the week leading up to the game, looking at your opponent's tendencies and adjusting your offense and defense to match up with that.
Confidence is particularly exciting because it's not a set-in-stone rating, but will change from week to week, like it does in real life, per Looman:
Every player now has a confidence rating between 1 and 99. That confidence rating is dynamic and will change based on what happens to the player and his team from week to week, and is is NOT an indication of how confident the player generally is in real life.
The best part of any Madden game will always be playing as your favorite team, but what separates a good version from a great version is the ability to bring the reality of what it's like to be a player and lead a team into your living room.
Where we are with technology and the incredible engine systems for the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One makes all of it possible.
Player Sense 2.0
One thing that has never made sense about the Madden video games is how players reacted based on what we (the controller) saw instead of what they (the avatars) saw. That sounds ridiculous to say, but hardcore gamers will understand what it means.
No longer will the little animated guys simply move and react based on how we tell them to, thanks to an upgraded Player Sense mode. The feature was introduced last year and gets a makeover in 2014.
According to EASports.com, the upgraded Player Sense feature will make it so that artificial intelligence is more natural. Instead of a defensive back who makes a play simply because you tell them to, their movement and reaction will be based on how they are positioned.
Player Sense unlocked the human element in Madden NFL 25 with more than 50x the contextual calculations of its predecessors.
In Madden NFL 15, Player Sense 2.0 creates the smartest playing Madden ever by improving player emotion, contextual awareness, head tracking, reach tackles and more.
It doesn't make sense to have a corner get an interception when you can see that they were never facing the play. Another aspect of this feature is it also allows defenses to play closer to how they do in real life.
There is no reason that a zone coverage should be treated the same way as man coverage. They are two distinct styles and should feel that way when you are playing the game, which it will now.
Better Tackling Mechanics
In keeping with the Player Sense 2.0 upgrades, one of the things that Madden has never gotten 100 percent right is tackling mechanics. You look at past games and see that as long as a defender is in the vicinity of the ball, they were going to make the tackle.
Fans are smart enough to know that's not how things work in real football. EA Sports apparently took notice of it, too, which is why the company has introduced an improved tackling system that will play more like what you see in real games.
The biggest change, according to EASports.com, is the integration of a "Tackle Cone" that basically serves as the defensive version of the old "Quarterback Vision" first introduced in 2006.
User controlled defenders now have an all-new Tackle Cone that is used to determine if they can complete a conservative tackle. If the user presses A (Xbox One) or X (PlayStation 4) while the ballcarrier is somewhere in defender's Tackle Cone, the defender will engage in a non-big hit tackle animation. Success of this tackle is based on a number of factors, primarily player ratings. that may or may not be successful based on a number of factors.
There are also two different types of tackles (conservative and aggressive). Aggressive tackles are more likely to create a fumble or big hit, but there's also more risk that you can be swiped away like a bug by the person carrying the ball.
This also requires video game players to be more decisive when picking a defensive player to control. For instance, a great tackling linebacker like Luke Kuechly or Patrick Willis has a better chance to make an aggressive tackle than one who is better in coverage like Lance Briggs.
If you want to talk sports, hit me up on Twitter.
We were promised a new era at Manchester United this season.
We were given a new manager, the hope of new players and a new season to wash away the disappointment of the last one.
But it's taking a little longer to get going than many had hoped.
With 10 days to go before the deadline, this summer's transfer business still feels underwhelming. And the season has already started with a home defeat to Swansea City.
It was a reminder that Louis van Gaal's appointment hasn't solved everything.
There is still time for Van Gaal and executive vice chairman Ed Woodward to bring in more new faces.
They still look short in midfield, and Van Gaal has gone on record, per a report by David Lynch of the Manchester Evening News, about his desire to secure a "top-class winger."
But there's no guarantee.
It's easy to forget during a summer of speculation that Van Gaal inherited some very good players, too.
The benefit of Van Gaal's 5-3-2 is that Rooney, Van Persie and Mata will all get the chance to play in their best positions.
It was designed to get the best out of Van Persie, Arjen Robben and Wesley Sneijder during the World Cup.
United's squad has obvious weaknesses. But they have three of the best forwards in the Premier League.
Getting them all playing well, scoring and making goals, is more important to United's chances this season than anything that might happen in the final days of the transfer window.
United fans haven't yet seen the best of Rooney, Van Persie and Mata since the Spaniard arrived from Chelsea for a club-record fee in January.
Van Persie missed almost all of the second half of the season with a knee injury. Mata, meanwhile, spent it being shoehorned into a wide role that he wasn't used to.
But Van Gaal has spent the summer trialling a system built around all three. Rooney and Van Persie can play as central strikers. Mata is accommodated in the hole behind.
Sunday at the Stadium of Light will offer the Dutchman the first chance to see it in action.
And maybe then the new era can finally begin.
The Kansas City Chiefs' offensive line was dealt a major blow Friday as tackle Donald Stephenson has been suspended for the first four games of the 2014 regular season.
The organization released a statement on KCChiefs.com regarding the matter.
"This morning the NFL notified the team of Donald Stephenson's four-game suspension," the statement said. "Obviously losing Donald is disappointing, but we are in full compliance with the league's policy. We will have no further comment on the situation."
According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, the suspension relates to Stephenson violating the NFL's policy against performance-enhancing drugs:
The NFLPA also released a statement on the matter:
“I’m extremely sorry that I failed to check with the NFL, NFLPA, or Chiefs medical team before I took a medication that requires a therapeutic use exemption. The rules are strict, and without at TUE, the consequence is a four game suspension. I apologize to the Hunt family, John Dorsey, Coach Reid and his staff, my teammates, and our awesome Chiefs fans. It is not a mistake I will ever make again. I will train extremely hard during my time away from the team, and I will be ready to contribute to my team’s effort to win a Super Bowl as soon as I return.”
The 25-year-old Stephenson is listed as the Chiefs' starting right tackle on their official website, but they will have to find a replacement for the first month of the season.
As pointed out by Bleacher Report's Matt Miller, Kansas City is lacking in terms of other options:
Stephenson is entering his third NFL season after being drafted by the Chiefs in the third round of the 2012 NFL draft. The Oklahoma product has 14 career starts under his belt, and he was supposed to take on an even bigger role in 2014.
One potential replacement is 29-year-old veteran Ryan Harris, who has 39 career starts with the Denver Broncos and Houston Texans. Kansas City also has J'Marcus Webb, who started all 32 games for the Chicago Bears in the 2011 and 2012 campaigns.
Either player could potentially provide adequate play over a short period of time, but neither measures up to Stephenson at this juncture.
A lot will be expected of the temporary right tackle in terms of blocking for running back Jamaal Charles and protecting quarterback Alex Smith. With such a big change needing to be made so close to the start of the season, the Chiefs' offensive rhythm could very well be disrupted.
Regardless of how Harris or Webb perform in Stephenson's stead, Chiefs fans will eagerly anticipate the conclusion of his suspension.
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Fact: The reported Red Sox signing of Cuban OF Rusney Castillo (7 years, $72.5M) would be the biggest first-time contract awarded to a Cuban-born player.
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Source: ESPN Stats & Info
The biggest asset in building LeBron James' presence in Cleveland into a title-contending Cavaliers team might not be the playmaking of the King or Kyrie Irving. That honor might actually be the court vision of the final piece of the Big Three, Kevin Love, who is expected to become an official member of the Cavaliers on Aug. 23.
Love is one of the league's most gifted outlet passers. And with the speed, ball-handling and finishing abilities of James and Irving, Love's ability to quickly translate defense into offense isn't to be underestimated, say a handful of NBA talent evaluators, who analyzed what the league's newest terrifying trio might look like on the court next season with Bleacher Report.
"Some players are rebounding just to get possession of [the ball], but [Love] is rebounding to get it out, which is the difference," a Northwest Division scout said. "He's seeing guys as he's getting that rebound. That's why he gets [the ball] out so quickly. He's got a high basketball IQ and he's physically strong. There are some guys in the NBA who can throw the ball a far distance, but the problem is they don't see their teammates. He's aware of people on the court."
Next season, the Cavaliers could create their own version of the "three-man weave" on breakaways: a Love outlet pass to an Irving dribble attack to a James alley-oop. This kind of sequence could be No. 1 on their opponents' whiteboard to stop. Athletic up-and-comers Dion Waiters and Tristan Thompson will also facilitate and finish, respectively, along with mobile veterans Shawn Marion and Anderson Varejao.
These are the tools that new head coach David Blatt, considered by many in basketball as one of the game's most gifted offensive minds, will likely look to leverage from the start.
"He's totally committed like a Navy SEAL," an Atlantic Division scout said. Throughout his career, from coaching the Russian national team to Maccabi Tel Aviv last season, he's successfully played to the strengths of his players without preaching a specific system.
"I'm sure that he's going to want to create numbers offensively [in transition]," the Northwest scout said. "I'm sure they're going to be getting up and going, and they're going to want to play full-court attacking."
The Cavaliers could also be masters of the secondary fast break, which fuels off of three-pointers in a quick-hitting pick-and-roll. Irving, for one, fed off of these last season. And Love, who's become one of the NBA's best-conditioned athletes since coming in heavy from college, figures to be a major threat as a trailing big man, playing off of James or Irving in the two-man game. Love shot 37.6 percent from three-point range last season. Then, add in seasoned sharpshooters Mike Miller, James Jones and potentially Ray Allen, who is still undecided about his future, according to a source.
Those are the shooting assets the Cavaliers didn't have last season, when they ranked in the bottom half in three-point percentage (.356).
Once the Cavaliers settle down in a half-court set, it's unlikely that Blatt will call for a clear out to initiate the offense, especially with the diverse talent on the roster.
"[We have] versatility at different positions," Irving said this week after a recent Team USA practice. "There are so many different spots that can be filled, 1 through 5. We have a young core and we have guys coming in that can play the game of basketball and have championship caliber."
Two Eastern Conference scouts think that Blatt will only have around four offensive sets he uses the most, because he'll put trust in James and Irving's playmaking, as well as their experienced teammates, to make reads on their own within the flow of the offense.
"They're not going to be ball-stopping in David Blatt's offense, I can tell you that for sure, especially the way that Miami lost last year and LeBron being the intelligent player he is," the Atlantic scout said. "[Blatt] can flat out coach. The ball is going to move, there's going to be great spacing, that free throw lane area is going to be open and Kevin Love will spread the floor as a stretch-4 and play the 5 in a small lineup with a lot of shooters. It's going to be fun to watch."
So who will be options No. 1, 2 and 3? A Southwest Division scout believes James will want to play position-less basketball based on his Finals experience losing to the Mavericks in 2011 and the Spurs this year.
"He's seen the recipe; we all saw it," the scout said. "In 2011, [Dallas] picked [Miami] apart by swinging the basketball. The ball kept moving, players kept moving. They demolished them that way, and the Spurs made them look like a junior high team. It was wild, so everybody should take a page out of the Spurs' playbook."
But there is still intrigue over how the NBA's newest Big Three will make sacrifices. That consumed some of the league talk this past week in Las Vegas at Tim Grgurich's annual coaches camp, where every NBA team's front office was represented.
"[Irving and Love] are not going to have a problem with LeBron leading the team, but are they going to have problems being a deputy?" an Eastern Conference executive wondered. "If Kyrie is the second leader, how is that going to affect Kevin? Or if Kevin is, how is that going to affect Kyrie? I talked to everybody that was out here—scouts, refs, coaches and GMs—and everybody is curious to see who's going to submit for the good of the team."
"I think winning will take care of everything," the Atlantic scout added. "Kevin Love wants to win. He's now six years without going to the playoffs. Kyrie, the same thing since he's been in the league. You're going to win with LeBron. I think that when you win, that definitely helps things and relationships."
Regardless of the hierarchy, a Central Division scout noted that opponents can't game-plan against the Cavaliers thinking that way. What could be stressed from the opposing side is getting the ball out of Irving's hands quickly, making sure Love is jumped all the time and playing physical with both of them. That approach could carry some bit considering the injury history of both.
Above all, though, preparation against the Cavaliers will come down to their offensive patterns.
"Once they get into the thick of the season, they're probably going to have three, four sets that they use the most," the Central scout said. "Then you go on player tendencies—what they do when they catch it on this side of the floor or this area on the floor, and all your players have got to know it."
It's a strong possibility that the Cavaliers' half-court offense will start with multiple pick-and-roll options between James, Irving and Love. The most lethal could be a pick-and-pop with James and Love, in order for Love to further spread the court. As the Southwest scout said, "That's pretty damn scary. It's just like, 'What do you do on defense?'"
The Central scout chimed in: "If LeBron is at the 2 or at the 1, with Kevin at the 3, now teams are in trouble. But If LeBron and Kevin are used as the 3 and 4 in the pick-and-pop, that may be a switch opportunity depending on how big your 3 is, and then it's going to end up being a lot of post-up games for LeBron or Kevin."
Last season, James and Love were very effective in the post based on points per play, according to Synergy Sports. Love actually got most of his touches on the block, but he'll likely see a decrease down there in Blatt's spread-out, movement-based offense. The Big Three will need to make adjustments—most likely for Love, whose scoring might dip not only because of Blatt's offense, but also because of the facilitator-scorer roles James and Irving are likely to play—and that could mostly come off the ball.
"[Blatt] is a very creative coach (who played in legendary coach Pete Carril's Princeton offense), and I don't think he's going to stick to one thing," the Central scout said. "He's going to go with what works and he's got a million different things he can do. Maybe he'll get out of Kyrie's hands initially, have him loop through and have him get it on the second or third catch, and then have him run a ball screen."
Not only could Irving run off of screens like a 2-guard—he shot nearly 40 percent from mid-range last season—but James could also be an option on the move, spotting up and receiving feeds inside off of curl cuts. With his improved outside jumper, he could also become a bigger three-point shooter in the corner—where he cleverly established himself last season at 55.6 percent—to boost the team's spacing.
"During Vegas Summer League, [Blatt] just ran some very nice sets—double-screen options for shooters, after-timeout plays," the Atlantic scout said. "Another way that I evaluate coaches is if he's going to run an out-of-bounds play that's not going to make you chuck a shot, but make you take a good shot. He did that in summer league."
There could also be some Triangle action between James, Irving and Love, who can all pass, shoot and score out of the mid-post. With all the focus on the Big Three, the role players will need to set hard screens, rotate well to maintain floor balance, make smart cuts to the basket and, above all, knock down wide-open shots.
Already a product of scoring without the ball, Love should fit in well alongside Irving and James. Love is a smart cutter and gets strong position quickly in the paint, which helps make him unique as a scorer, explained two scouts.
"His small area of quickness is off the charts," the Central scout said. "You may be the slowest player from one end to the other, but from me to you away if we're standing close to each other, he's the quickest player in the NBA because his brain works at such a high level and his hands are so fast. Obviously that helps his rebounding."
The Northwest scout added: "He's a smart player. He understands angles, understands how to get shots off. He's not fast, but he's just fast enough to be effective. He's like a change-up in baseball. He's very good at the elbow facing the basket. He's got a great release. He's also physically strong and he's able to move people with his hips, with his shoulders. And he's got tremendous hands."
On the flip side, Love's biggest Achilles' heel, as it is for Irving, is defense.
With Irving, who's only 22, scouts point to desire and effort being the reasons he hasn't been committed to making stops. In fact, he admitted this week that he hadn't been a leader for his team. "I have to be that much better and I'm going to be," he said.
The Atlantic scout also suggested that Irving's new $90 million extension offers motivation as well.
As for Love, the Northwest scout said the power forward's flat-footed style and his lack of lateral quickness has affected him defensively. But the Central scout said he's noticed strides on that end in Minnesota, even as Love has maintained his focus as a do-it-all offensive player.
"Kevin's improved there," the scout said. "A lot of times as you get older, the game slows down to you and you read the game at a higher level. So defensively he's reading the game at a higher level, he's understanding body positioning and player tendencies a little bit better. That just goes with his IQ. He's becoming smarter defensively and he's figuring out how to use his footwork defensively. That just takes a little time. You don't see teams isolating Kevin any more."
Regardless, the Cavaliers will likely not orchestrate their defensive system in the same aggressive manner James' former team, the Miami Heat, demonstrated guarding pick-and-rolls. Adding Marion, Dallas' best perimeter stopper last season, was a plus, but according to the Eastern Conference scouts, Cleveland doesn't have the same defensive speed and versatility as Miami did, nor has Blatt demonstrated as suffocating a defensive approach.
"I don't think Cleveland is going to be a consistent blitzing team like Miami. I think they're going to have a little more variety in their style," the Atlantic scout said. "Like in Chicago and San Antonio, I think in Cleveland you're going to see the big man sag off and play just coverage defense, as opposed to blitzing or hedging. It's a very smart defensive strategy. I think you're also going to see a mixture of zone defense against out-of-bounds plays. That's what David Blatt did in the Vegas Summer League."
New associate head coach Tyronn Lue and new assistant Larry Drew should also help plug a defense that ranked 17th last season in points per 100 possessions. The Atlantic scout called them both "grinders." Lue made two title runs with the Lakers as a player and later worked for five years on Doc Rivers' tough-minded staff. And Drew, who was the head coach in Milwaukee last season, "mixed up zones and defended pick-and-rolls well," according to the scout.
According to a source, the Cavaliers could also sign Chauncey Billups, who's close with Lue and knows defense well from his Detroit days winning a championship in 2004.
"Chauncey is like a coach on the floor," the scout said. "He's going to be either a coach or GM in this league, it's only a matter of time. He's a leader and he's a guy that players totally respect. And he was a pure professional as a player."
No matter the schemes, the scouts and Irving agreed that Cleveland's future relies on player camaraderie.
"Guys everywhere on every team are going to be gunning for us, and that's something you look forward to as a competitor," Irving said this week. "But the most important thing is just figuring out team chemistry and team roles, and go from there."
Can the young Cavaliers of last season blend in with many of the older players that James has recruited this summer to get past the fierce competition? Winning should take care of everything. James knows what that's like, but Irving and Love have yet to taste it.
Once that happens, as the Southwest scout said, "they could the change the way basketball is played in the East."
Not much has gone right for the 49ers, who have dropped two straight preseason games, being outscored 57-3 in the process. San Francisco's offense has failed to muster any sort of production and the defense has been vulnerable in a number of significant areas.
Of course, we have to remind ourselves that it is just the preseason and these scores mean almost nothing in determining the eventual outcome of the 2014 NFL season. The 49ers remain an elite team in spite of the generated statistics.
Additionally, we know that the 49ers have rested the vast majority of their starters in both preseason matchups thus far.
We might expect them to do more of the same come Week 3 of the preseason, although it would not be out of the question for head coach Jim Harbaugh and Co. to try to create some more positives in what has otherwise been a lackluster start to the final preparations before the regular season.
Harbaugh: “We need to make decisions on who we’re playing with. We’re not going to keep experimenting. We need to tighten this down, fast.”— Eric Branch (@Eric_Branch) August 18, 2014
It is feasible that we see less of San Francisco's fringe players against San Diego given that the team will have to cut the current 90-man roster down to 75 by 4 p.m. ET on Aug. 26. The final formulation of the 53-man roster will be made on Saturday, Aug. 30.
A current list of the 49ers roster can be found here.
Harbaugh and the 49ers coaching staff may have already made some personnel decisions by now, which could lead to speculation about which players may be seen Sunday. Of course, this third preseason game may be the final in-game opportunity to view bubble-watch players before being cut.
At any rate, we should expect the 49ers to try to bounce back in some fashion from two underwhelming performances.
Let us break down what to look for in the upcoming preseason matchup versus the Chargers. There are some significant questions on the table and we'll try to answer them.
Former longtime UFC welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre says fight fans shouldn't expect him to strap on the gloves again unless the world's premiere mixed martial arts organization institutes independent drug testing.
Rush vacated UFC gold, which he won back in April 2008, last December. He was only a few weeks removed from a razor-thin split-decision win over Johny Hendricks at UFC 167.
Now, in an e-mail interview with Brent Brookhouse of Bloody Elbow, the French-Canadian superstar has revealed that he won't be returning to the Octagon unless the UFC steps up its drug testing policies.
"I will never fight again in MMA without my opponent and myself being thoroughly tested for the most advanced PEDs by a credible independent anti-doping organization like VADA or USADA under the strictest standards of the World Anti-Doping Association (WADA) Code," GSP told Brookhouse.
Hendricks and St-Pierre both called for stricter drug testing prior to their November 16 encounter, but the idea never came to fruition since the parties could not agree on which outside agency to use, per MMA Fighting.
For the record, St-Pierre has never failed a drug test in 27 professional mixed martial arts contests, nor have any of his opponents.
The Tristar Gym standout was riding an impressive 12-fight win streak when he vacated his title and announced his hiatus from the sport.
In his absence, Hendricks captured the vacant welterweight championship against Robbie Lawler at UFC 171 in March.
After bicep surgery, Bigg Rigg will return to the cage to square off with Lawler sometime in early 2015.
Will his hardened stance on completely eliminating performance-enhancing drugs from MMA mean we've seen the last of St-Pierre as a UFC fighter?
ESPN anchor Linda Cohn has reportedly filed a lawsuit against a New York ice hockey arena after a large coin machine fell on her and left a large gash on her arm in March.
According to the New York Daily News' Dareh Gregorian, the suit was filed last month and states that Cohn "continues to endure great pain and suffering" and "continues to be unable to engage in and attend to all daily activities, pursuits and pleasure associated with (her) person and station in life."
Cohn—who regularly hosts ESPN's flagship program, SportsCenter—was at the Brewster Ice Arena to practice for a promotional appearance with the AHL's Hartford Wolf Pack, which was scheduled for the next day.
Cohn was a talented hockey player in college, playing goalie for the SUNY-Oswego women's ice hockey team.
Unfortunately, the change-machine incident rendered her unable to take to the ice the next day, and she is seeking unspecified damages in Manhattan federal court, per Gregorian.
Cohn's Instagram post in March showed off the extent of her injury, which apparently required several stitches.
"It's the kind of a machine that should not be allowed to fall on anyone under any circumstances," said Cohn's lawyer, Jonathan Silver, via Greg Shillinglaw of the Poughkeepsie Journal. "Imagine what would have happened if it fell on a kid. It's bad enough what happened to (Linda)."
The gash does appear to be significant, and it is indeed an unfortunate incident for all parties involved. Hopefully, the matter can be resolved swiftly and without any complications.
Are concerns beginning to grow in Pittsburgh? What young players need to step up? Are Todd Haley and Dick LeBeau keeping the game plan "vanilla" in the preseason?