Lights, cameras, Browns: Team set for "Hard Knocks" series

BEREA, Ohio (AP) — Mostly unwatchable for several seasons, the Cleveland Browns could become a summer TV sensation.

HBO’s banking on it.

“It’s an underdog story,” said network executive Peter Nelson. “And people love rooting for underdogs.”

Despite the Browns’ 0-16 record last season and dismal decades of futility for one of the league’s signature franchises, NFL Films insists the Browns are the team it wanted to feature most on “Hard Knocks,” the award-winning documentary series that takes fans behind the scenes for an in-depth look at the grind — and the drama — of training camp.

“We got the team we wanted,” said Ken Rodgers, NFL Films VP senior coordinating producer, “our No. 1 pick, the Browns, to be on our show. We think it’s the right time with the right team.”

Rodgers said the Browns were appealing on so many levels, but mostly because of their comeback story — the climb to being competitive again — is universal and strikes a chord with any sports fan.

“We tell our kids that it’s not about how you get knocked down, it’s about how you get back up and this is a unique situation, having such turnover on the roster, of starting anew, with some old pieces, with some valuable new pieces, that we just felt will speak to a lot of fans,” he said.

“What we generally think of when we select a team is, who would the national audience be interested in finding out what’s going on, what’s going on with the team? And nationally now, the Browns are a big story, rightfully so.”

Cleveland had one of the busiest offseasons of any team. The Browns traded for quarterback Tyrod Taylor and Pro Bowl wide receiver Jarvis Landry before selecting Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield with the first overall pick in the draft. Mayfield’s arrival has energized Cleveland’s fan base and created a national buzz about the Browns.

NFL Films is certain to train its cameras on the colorful Mayfield, whose on-field antics at Oklahoma earned him a bad-boy reputation.

During his opening remarks, Rodgers said he wanted to “address the elephant in the room” and seemed to be implying Mayfield.

“I think a lot of people will be asking how much a certain someone will be featured,” he said, “and this position on a football team demands a lot of attention, and it has always been that way for “Hard Knocks.” So, yes, we definitely will be featuring head coach Hue Jackson.”

Cleveland’s third-year coach previously appeared on “Hard Knocks” when he was on Cincinnati’s staff in 2013. Jackson enjoyed the experience and said he’s not worried about the added camera crews and attention around camp affecting the QB battle between Taylor and Mayfield.

“It’s a competition anyway,” he said. “Tyrod’s our starting quarterback. Baker’s our No. 1 pick. He’s our quarterback of the future. I’ve said that since this happened. I don’t think that will change. I want those guys to be exposed for what they do, because I think our fans want to know them and what makes the tick. But at the same time, I don’t think it should put any more pressure on what we need to do as a football team about who’s playing quarterback for us.”

Jackson plans to speak to his team about appearing on the show. He doesn’t want anything to alter their focus in camp, and he’s confident the Browns’ leaders will make sure players don’t play up to the cameras.

Running back Duke Johnson fears some of his teammates may see the show as an opportunity for publicity.

“I hope it doesn’t really change much, but it’s easy to say that now — there’s no cameras here,” he said following practice. “I hope we don’t have a lot of guys that turn into actors and try to be all Hollywood. If Hollywood is what you want to do after football, go for it.”

Jackson made it clear he doesn’t want HBO’s cameras around next week when he makes good on his promise and jumps into Lake Erie.

“No, please, no,” he said.

NOTES: Johnson said he’s “very optimistic” that he’ll work out a contract extension with the team. He’s in the final year of his rookie deal. “It’s going well,” he said. “It’s not going bad. This is kind of my first contract negotiation. I’m not sure the timetable of when it’s supposed to be done, when it should be done, so we’re taking it one day at a time.” Johnson led the team in catches (74) and yards receiving (693) last season.

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The Latest: Bethea: New NFL policy 'not really a compromise'

ATLANTA (AP) — The Latest on the NFL’s new policy requiring players to stand if they are on the field during the national anthem but permitting them to stay in the locker room if they prefer (all times EDT):

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6 p.m.

Arizona Cardinals safety Antoine Bethea says the NFL’s new national anthem policy is “not really a compromise,” as touted by the league.

The 12-year NFL veteran noted that “if you want to use your right of freedom of speech and take a knee, you’re going to get fined. So it’s really not a compromise.”

(In reality, the team, not the player, would be fined.)

Bethean noted that the NFL did give players the option of staying in the locker room while the anthem is played.

“Either it’s going to be a team thing and everybody stays in the locker room or everybody goes out and stands,” Bethea said. “But I think the fine thing is kind of overboard. I really do think fining players for really expressing what they believe, I think that’s kind of overboard.

“It’s a club policy so if the club supports the guys to do as they wish, then that’s fine, too. If the club decides everybody stays in the locker room, that’s a decision every team has to make.”

The players’ union also dismissed the idea that the policy was a compromise.

“The NFL chose to not consult the union in the development of this new ‘policy,'” the NFLPA said in a statement.

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5:40 p.m.

Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott says he’s happy an agreement was reached on the anthem issue.

Prescott says that “I’ll be out there standing.” He added: “I’m sure we all know what (owner) Jerry (Jones) said. His statement was last year, and I don’t see that changing.”

While there was never a formal public declaration of such by Jones last year, the Cowboys owner had threatened to bench any players who did kneel.

During a Cowboys game at San Francisco in late October, about a half-dozen 49ers kneeled while all the Dallas players stood, though defensive tackle David Irving raised his fist after the anthem ended.

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5:30 p.m.

The Minnesota Vikings haven’t had any players kneel during the national anthem before games, and that’s fine by coach Mike Zimmer.

Zimmer has frequently avoided commentary on such non-football subjects, but on Wednesday after practice, he made his feelings known about the controversy. He said he was proud of the team last season for standing during the anthem.

Zimmer said: “I think it’s important we represent our country the right way. A lot of people have died for that flag. That flag represents our country and what we stand for.”

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5:10 p.m.

Cleveland Browns quarterback Tyrod Taylor learned of the new anthem policy shortly after practice. He was a bit surprised players were not consulted.

Taylor said that “to make a decision that strong, you would hope the players have input on it but obviously not.”

Taylor added that “it’s what we have to deal with as players, good or bad. But at the end of the day, they call the shots and make their rules and that’s what we have to abide by.”

Taylor hopes that the focus will now be on “what players and owners can do in the community.”

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4:45 p.m.

The New York Jets say they will pay any fines and not penalize players if they violate a new NFL policy to stand or stay in the locker room during “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

Jets owner Christopher Johnson said Wednesday the team is focused on working with players to advance social justice issues rather than creating club rules or penalties that restrict demonstrations.

The ruling approved by NFL owners fines teams for their players kneeling on the field during the national anthem in a move meant to stem widespread debate over protests started by former quarterback Colin Kaepernick. The policy leaves it up to individual teams to decide whether to pass that cost on by punishing players directly.

Johnson says he plans to meet with Jets players and coaches to discuss the decision. He says he’ll support the players “wherever we land as a team.”

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4:25 p.m.

Chicago Bears linebacker Sam Acho credits Colin Kaepernick, Eric Reid and Michael Thomas for using their platform to raise awareness of social injustice.

But he sidestepped the questions when asked if he was OK with how the league implemented the changes to its national anthem policy and whether the union should have had more input.

Acho, a union representative, said that “of course, somebody who is standing on the side of the union is going to say yes and people who didn’t give the union a say — the owners — are going to say no. And so, what I do think is, I think we’re in a really good place, as a team, honestly as a country. Because we’re at this point, almost like a point of contrition, right? What do you do now?”

Acho also said the players and league need to continue working together to address the issue. He said that “it’s not an us-versus-them thing.”

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4 p.m.

Denver Broncos union representative Matt Paradis says that while he wishes players were consulted on the new national anthem policy, NFL owners have every right to introduce new rules.

Paradis says that “they are the employers, so if they want to create a stipulation, we’ll go from there.”

Denver defensive end Derek Wolfe agrees with the league’s new mandate for players to stand for “The Star-Spangled Banner” or stay inside the locker room.

Wolfe says: “That’s probably the best way to do it. The NBA’s been doing it for 20 years and they haven’t had an issue.”

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2:45 p.m.

Pittsburgh Steelers guard Ramon Foster shrugged his shoulders when asked about the NFL’s new policy on national anthem protests, saying in a way, players are powerless.

Foster says: ‘If the team says, ‘this is what we’re doing,’ and ownership (does too), you either deal with it or you’re probably going to get cut. You can fight the resistance on that one but, same as we can’t smoke marijuana because it’s illegal in certain states, it’s the same issue.”

The guard says, “you have to adhere to the rules and if not, they’ll find a way to get you up out of there.”

The Steelers botched an attempt last fall to stay out of the national anthem flap by remaining in the tunnel during a game in Chicago.

Left tackle Alejandro Villanueva, a graduate of West Point who did three tours in Afghanistan before joining the NFL, found himself on the field when the anthem began playing and turned to face the flag. His teammates remained in the tunnel, leading to the stark image of Villanueva standing alone while his teammates remained out of sight 20 yards away.

Villanueva and the rest of the Steelers apologized for what they called a miscommunication.

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12:45 p.m.

NFL owners have approved a new policy aimed at ending the firestorm over national anthem protests, permitting players to stay in the locker room during the “The Star-Spangled Banner” but requiring them to stand if they come to the field.

The decision was announced Wednesday by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell during the league’s spring meeting in Atlanta.

In a sign that players were not part of the discussions, any violations of the policy would result in fines against the team — not the players. The NFL Players Association said it will challenge any part of the new policy that violates the collective bargaining agreement.

The owners spent several hours addressing the contentious issue — which has reached all the way to the White House.

Former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick began kneeling during the national anthem in 2016, a quiet but powerful protest against police brutality and racial inequities in the justice system.

Other players took up the cause.

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Incognito taken into custody for psychiatric examination

BOCA RATON, Fla. (AP) — Richie Incognito, the NFL offensive lineman who was once suspended for bullying a teammate, was taken into custody Wednesday for psychiatric examination after an incident at a Florida gym.

Boca Raton police spokeswoman Jessica Desir said officers received a call Wednesday morning from a patron at Life Time Gym about a disturbance involving Incognito. He was taken into custody under Florida’s Baker Act, which allows for involuntary psychiatric commitment for people seen as a danger to themselves or others. She did not have details about the disturbance.

The 34-year-old Incognito announced this year that he was retiring after 11 seasons in the NFL, the last three with the Buffalo Bills. The Bills released him from their reserved/retired list on Monday, leaving open the possibility he could sign with another team.

The four-time Pro Bowl selection has had a series of troubles. Incognito was among the players identified for targeting teammate Jonathan Martin in the Miami Dolphins’ bullying scandal during the 2013 season. The NFL suspended Incognito for the final half of the season and he was eventually released by Miami before being reinstated by the league the following offseason.

Incognito was out of football for 18 months before the Bills provided him a second chance by signing him to a one-year contract.

Incognito has been on a downward spiral for much of this offseason.

His closest friend on the Bills, center Eric Wood, is being forced into retirement after being diagnosed with a career-ending neck injury in January.

The Bills also asked Incognito to take a pay cut in restructuring the final year of his contract. Incognito initially backed the agreement by posting a note on Twitter saying he was “thrilled to be returning this season and fired up to get back to work with my Buffalo Bills brothers.”

He, however, had a change of heart weeks later when Incognito abruptly fired agent David Dunn in a post on Twitter.

A week later, Incognito posted a series of vague Tweets which eventually led to him announcing his retirement. He included the accounts of the NFL Players’ Association and the union’s assistant executive director, George Atallah, by posting a note that read, “I’m done,” followed” by a winking emoji with its tongue stuck out.

He sent the same message in a text to The Associated Press later in the day.

Incognito continued posting a variety of tweets over the next five days before abruptly stopping. He hasn’t tweeted since posting his last messages on April 15, in which he said he was visiting his mother in New Jersey.

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The Latest: Browns' Taylor surprised players had no input

ATLANTA (AP) — The Latest on the NFL’s new policy requiring players to stand if they are on the field during the national anthem but permitting them to stay in the locker room if they prefer (all times local):

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5:10 p.m.

Cleveland Browns quarterback Tyrod Taylor learned of the new anthem policy shortly after practice. He was a bit surprised players were not consulted.

Taylor said that “to make a decision that strong, you would hope the players have input on it but obviously not.”

Taylor added that “it’s what we have to deal with as players, good or bad. But at the end of the day, they call the shots and make their rules and that’s what we have to abide by.”

Taylor hopes that the focus will now be on “what players and owners can do in the community.”

___

4:25 p.m.

Chicago Bears linebacker Sam Acho credits Colin Kaepernick, Eric Reid and Michael Thomas for using their platform to raise awareness of social injustice.

But he sidestepped the questions when asked if he was OK with how the league implemented the changes to its national anthem policy and whether the union should have had more input.

Acho, a union representative, said that “of course, somebody who is standing on the side of the union is going to say yes and people who didn’t give the union a say — the owners — are going to say no. And so, what I do think is, I think we’re in a really good place, as a team, honestly as a country. Because we’re at this point, almost like a point of contrition, right? What do you do now?”

Acho also said the players and league need to continue working together to address the issue. He said that “it’s not an us-versus-them thing.”

___

4 p.m.

Denver Broncos union representative Matt Paradis says that while he wishes players were consulted on the new national anthem policy, NFL owners have every right to introduce new rules.

Paradis says that “they are the employers, so if they want to create a stipulation, we’ll go from there.”

Denver defensive end Derek Wolfe agrees with the league’s new mandate for players to stand for “The Star-Spangled Banner” or stay inside the locker room.

Wolfe says: “That’s probably the best way to do it. The NBA’s been doing it for 20 years and they haven’t had an issue.”

___

2:45 p.m.

Pittsburgh Steelers guard Ramon Foster shrugged his shoulders when asked about the NFL’s new policy on national anthem protests, saying in a way, players are powerless.

Foster says: ‘If the team says, ‘this is what we’re doing,’ and ownership (does too), you either deal with it or you’re probably going to get cut. You can fight the resistance on that one but, same as we can’t smoke marijuana because it’s illegal in certain states, it’s the same issue.”

The guard says, “you have to adhere to the rules and if not, they’ll find a way to get you up out of there.”

The Steelers botched an attempt last fall to stay out of the national anthem flap by remaining in the tunnel during a game in Chicago.

Left tackle Alejandro Villanueva, a graduate of West Point who did three tours in Afghanistan before joining the NFL, found himself on the field when the anthem began playing and turned to face the flag. His teammates remained in the tunnel, leading to the stark image of Villanueva standing alone while his teammates remained out of sight 20 yards away.

Villanueva and the rest of the Steelers apologized for what they called a miscommunication.

___

12:45 p.m.

NFL owners have approved a new policy aimed at ending the firestorm over national anthem protests, permitting players to stay in the locker room during the “The Star-Spangled Banner” but requiring them to stand if they come to the field.

The decision was announced Wednesday by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell during the league’s spring meeting in Atlanta.

In a sign that players were not part of the discussions, any violations of the policy would result in fines against the team — not the players. The NFL Players Association said it will challenge any part of the new policy that violates the collective bargaining agreement.

The owners spent several hours addressing the contentious issue — which has reached all the way to the White House.

Former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick began kneeling during the national anthem in 2016, a quiet but powerful protest against police brutality and racial inequities in the justice system.

Other players took up the cause.

___

For more AP NFL coverage: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP_NFL

Chargers' Telesco laments Henry's injury, demurs on Gates

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Chargers tight end Hunter Henry tore his knee ligament while running an ordinary route during a non-contact workout on the opening day of organized team activities, general manager Tom Telesco confirmed Wednesday.

Telesco declined to confirm whether the Chargers will go back to Antonio Gates to fill the suddenly gaping hole in their offense.

Henry is expected to miss the upcoming season while he recovers from his knee injury, which dealt an extraordinary blow to the Chargers’ plans more than three months before their opener.

The franchise’s second-round pick in 2016 was slated to fill a major role in the Chargers’ offense after catching 81 passes for 1,057 yards and 12 touchdowns over his first two seasons.

“I’m not going to minimize it: He’s a Pro Bowl talent with Pro Bowl intangibles,” Telesco said. “As bad as we feel about losing him, and as bad as the fans feel about it, Hunter feels worse. This team means a lot to him. He means a lot to us. It’s going to be harder without him, but let me be clear: We will adapt and move on.”

Telesco indicated the Chargers haven’t decided how they’ll adapt just yet, and he is grateful they’ve got a few months to come up with a plan.

The GM was entirely noncommittal about the possibility on every Chargers fan’s mind: A reunion with Gates, the franchise’s career leader in receptions and yards receiving, and the NFL record-holder for TD catches by a tight end.

“Just looking at where we’re at right now, we’ve got to look at really all of our options and what are out there, and kind of take it from there,” Telesco said when pressed about the possibility of re-signing Gates.

The Chargers publicly bade farewell last month to Gates , who will turn 38 years old in June. Gates, whose 30 receptions last season were his fewest since his rookie season with the Bolts in 2003, already said he hopes to play in the NFL again this season.

Last month, Telesco cited a desire to increase Henry’s role in one of the NFL’s best offenses as a prime reason to part ways with Gates after 15 seasons. Before he missed the final two games of last season with a kidney laceration, Henry emerged as a top target for Philip Rivers, combining his size and athleticism with improved route-running.

“He’s taking it tough, as you’d expect,” Telesco said. “He loves this team, and we love him, too, and he wants to be a part of it this year. … He feels like he let us down. I told him, ‘Look, you did not let this football team down. You went out there, and you’re practicing the way you always do, and these things happen.'”

These things seem to happen dismayingly often to the Chargers. Their recent history is littered with major injury problems for key players at nearly every position except quarterback, where Rivers has played every game since 2006.

The Bolts largely avoided debilitating injuries last year during their relocation season, and they barely missed the playoffs at 9-7 after winning nine of their final 12 games.

With Henry injured and Gates unsigned, the Chargers have exactly one tight end on their roster with an NFL catch: Virgil Green, an offseason free-agent signee from Denver, where he was used primarily as a blocker. Braedon Bowman and Sean Culkin also are back from last season’s team, but neither has significant NFL experience.

“We have some young players on the roster that we think have a chance to develop,” Telesco said. “As we saw today in practice, they got a lot of extra balls today. So we’ll see if some of those guys can ascend.”

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Football is easier for Norman after 'Dancing With the Stars'

ASHBURN, Va. (AP) — Josh Norman thought football was difficult.

Then he went appeared on “Dancing With the Stars.”

The Washington Redskins cornerback had some impressive performances with dance partner Sharna Burgess on the show in Los Angeles and each week took a red-eye back to the East Coast for the team’s offseason program. Norman and Burgess finished second to skater Adam Rippon and Jenna Johnson.

Norman was back on the field this week with a new appreciation for dancing and a fresh approach to his day job.

“My mindset is a bit different,” Norman said Wednesday. “I can go further now than I thought I could and push myself to pretty much a new level, I feel, a new height. So now I look at things and I (used to) be like, ‘That’s hard.’ Nah, I don’t think so.”

Norman didn’t quite know what to expect out of “Dancing With the Stars,” which included 12-hour days of learning, practicing, rehearsing and performing . Add in the cross-country flights and Norman was more fatigued than after a one-on-one showdown with Giants receiver Odell Beckham Jr.

He approached the performances like NFL games, though, and was glad he took on the adventure that reminded him of theater class in college.

“You could be someone else,” Norman said. “You could be different. Everybody is different in their own right, and everybody work to a common goal. Part of it is just going out there amongst athletes and trying to best them all.”

Norman got a good laugh about going shirtless for dance routines because “there’s a lot of cougars that like the shirt off” and knew voting was involved. Taking a temporary break from his pursuit of the Lombardi Trophy, Norman came away crushed that he didn’t help Burgess win the Mirrorball Trophy she has been trying for the past seven years.

“This was the year to break that curse and I wasn’t the one to do it and it’s just like, ‘Dang,'” Norman said. “It’s like a heart-throbbing gut-puncher that I couldn’t be the one for her to get over the hump.”

Norman was a winner to his teammates, a handful of whom traveled to L.A. to watch the finale Monday. Running back Chris Thompson was impressed by the dance moves and felt his teammate “got cheated.”

“I never saw Josh as being a dancer, for one,” Thompson said. “It was great. It was just cool just to see somebody doing something different.”

Coach Jay Gruden said he watched every episode and came away impressed with Norman’s rhythm, execution and willingness to balance dancing and football.

“The work that he put in to get ready for that show and also fly back out on red eyes and get here for practice or OTAs, I just really had a lot of admiration for what he did and what he accomplished because that’s not easy,” Gruden said. “I thought he should’ve won the dang thing. I think he got ripped off, to be honest with you.”

Even in a losing effort, Norman figures “Dancing With the Stars” helped his physical and mental preparation, his footwork, posture and focus. Call it a journey of self-discovery.

“It taught me a lot about myself,” Norman said. “I grew tremendously. I wouldn’t have wanted anything else from it than that.”

With the Redskins in the middle of organized team activities, Norman was hardly breaking a sweat Wednesday after what he had been through under the lights each week dancing.

“This is a cakewalk,” he said. “This is like picking daisies.”

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Worst to first: Browns top choice for "Hard Knocks" series

BEREA, Ohio (AP) — Here’s a new one: The Cleveland Browns were a No. 1 pick.

Despite the team’s 0-16 record last season and decades of futility, NFL Films insists the Browns were the team it wanted to feature on this summer’s HBO “Hard Knocks” series, which chronicles the grind — and the drama — of training camp.

But following a busy offseason, which included the team selecting quarterback Baker Mayfield with the first overall pick in the draft, the Browns have become a more compelling story as they try to rebuild a once-proud franchise with one of the league’s most passionate fans.

“We got the team we wanted,” said Ken Rodgers, NFL Films VP senior coordinating producer, “Our No. 1 pick, the Browns to be on our show.”

Cleveland had turned down previous requests to appear on the popular show.

Running back Duke Johnson said he’s worried some of his teammates may try to “be all Hollywood” and act for the cameras.

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No QB debate at Clemson: Kelly Bryant No. 1 on depth chart

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — There’s no debate at Clemson heading into the fall — Kelly Bryant is the Tigers’ starting quarterback.

Bryant, the returning starter, was first on the depth chart released by the Tigers on Wednesday with freshman Trevor Lawrence the backup. Bryant will have the spot heading into fall workouts where he hopes to build on his successful season as a first-time starter in leading Clemson to a 12-2 record including an Atlantic Coast Conference title and a spot in the College Football Playoff.

Some fans had clamored for the long-haired, strong-armed Lawrence to overtake Bryant, more of a run-first, dual-threat quarterback who did not put up the passing numbers of his predecessor, national championship winning quarterback Deshaun Watson. Lawrence, who was rated the No. 1 quarterback in last season’s recruiting class, surpassed several of Watson’s Georgia high school records.

Lawrence also had the better showing at last month’s spring game as the 6-foot-5 signal-caller from Cartersville High completed 11 of 16 passes for 122 yards — including a 50-yard touchdown to receiver Tee Higgins. Bryant was 8-of-15 passing for 35 yards.

Still, in Clemson’s biggest moments last year — the Tigers defeated five ranked opponents on the way to the CFP — it was Bryant running the show and Swinney has not seen anything yet to change his mind.

“Obviously, Kelly’s won a conference (championship) and taken us to the playoffs, and he’s got great experience,” Swinney said. “The other guys are right there and battling.”

Behind Bryant is a paucity of experienced passers. Lawrence enrolled in January while fellow freshman Chase Brice practiced all last season but did not get on the playing field as a redshirt.

In January, it appeared the Tigers might have a glut of quarterbacks to work into practice until experienced backups Zerrick Cooper and Tucker Israel transferred. Hunter Johnson, rated the No. 1 pocket passer in the 2017 recruiting class by ESPN, announced his intention to leave, seemingly stuck behind Bryant this season and Lawrence after that.

Despite Lawrence’s strong spring, expecting him to step in and be productive immediately should Bryant get hurt is a tall order. Clemson’s lone, regular-season loss last year came at Syracuse after Bryant was knocked out of the game in the first half with a concussion. When Bryant returned in the next game, the Tigers began a six-game winning streak that concluded with a 38-3 win over Miami in the ACC title game.

Bryant ended last season with 2,802 yards passing, 13 touchdowns and eight interceptions. Clemson finished with 3,297 yards passing, its lowest total since 2010.

The Tigers reliance on the run and Bryant’s struggles at times to get the ball downfield on long passes left supporters accustomed to Watson’s pass all the time style — he threw for an ACC record 580 yards against Pitt in 2016 — antsy and eager for more deep balls.

Lawrence appears like an answer to those prayers.

“He’s a very poised young player,” Swinney said. “He’s been exposed to a lot. He’s a kid that’s been starting since the ninth grade.”

Swinney has said Bryant and Lawrence will still compete throughout August camp and that No. 1 is always a fluid situation depending on work ethic and how well you play.

“It’s a very good situation,” he said.

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While Bell stays home, rookie Samuels looks to impress

PITTSBURGH (AP) — Jaylen Samuels smiled at the question. It’s not the first time he’s been asked where exactly he fits on the football field.

The answer during Samuels’ time at North Carolina State depended on when you asked him.

Tight end? Fullback? Tailback? Wide receiver? Safety? At some point, the Pittsburgh Steelers rookie played them all for the Wolfpack.

He doesn’t see that being an issue in the NFL. At least not in Pittsburgh anyway. The Steelers made it clear when they called him on the final day of the draft last month and told him they were taking him in the fifth round.

Samuels is a running back. And only a running back. For now anyway. Yet even as he explains his comfort level in a room that’s currently missing Le’Veon Bell — who is skipping organized team activities while waiting to sign his one-year franchise tender — Samuels also tips his hand. He might not be done moving around the field just yet.

“I’m also in the slot, playing a little bit of that position, being able to run some routes, catch some balls in the slot, outside, wherever they want me,” Samuels said on Wednesday.

Sounds an awful lot like what the Steelers ask Bell to do. Of course, Bell is a three-time Pro Bowler, a two-time All-Pro and one of the most dynamic players in the NFL. Samuels is none of those things. He’s just a 21-year-old trying to find his way and hardly the only one in a backfield that is wide open behind Bell.

Former Pitt star James Conner showed flashes as a rookie last fall before a knee injury ended his season. Stevan Ridley arrived in December as a stopgap and did enough to earn a one-year deal for 2018. Fitzgerald Toussaint remains on the fringe of the picture too. Jarvion Franklin and James Summers are unknowns.

Bell’s long-term status is uncertain. He says he wants to be in Pittsburgh for the duration of his career. The Steelers do too. And yet if the two sides don’t reach an agreement on a new contract by the mid-July deadline, 2018 will almost certainly be Bell’s last year with the Steelers.

While Conner and Samuels are saying the right things — that the starting job is Bell’s whenever he shows up and for as long as he’s on the roster — both understand the opportunity the extra snaps created by Bell’s absence offers.

So does their quarterback.

“This is a big time for James with some of the injuries that he had last year and learning last year,” Ben Roethlisberger said. “I think this will be really good for him to get as many reps as possible.”

Though Conner remains a work in progress in the passing game, Samuels has wasted little time proving he knows what he’s doing when he lines up as a receiver. During a 2-point conversion drill on Wednesday, he hauled in a beautiful catch over a linebacker for a conversion, a grab that earned a roar from the sideline.

“It wasn’t nothing new for me,” Samuels said with a shrug.

Not by a longshot. Samuels set a school record by catching 202 passes at N.C. State, and his 47 touchdowns rank second all-time in program history. He believes he has a “knack” for getting over the goal line, and whenever the Wolfpack would get inside the opponent’s 20, offensive coordinator Eliah Drinkwitz has a special section on his playcall sheet just for Samuels.

“It was just ‘JaySam’ plays,” Samuels said. “Just for whenever he wanted me to get the ball. If it was third down, fourth down, he’d just put me in the backfield and put me in the slot and try to get me the ball.”

Yet Samuels is just as comfortable lining up behind the quarterback too, a transition that began in earnest during his final season with the Wolfpack. He averaged 5.2 yards per carry in 2017 and ran for 12 touchdowns despite averaging just six rushes per game.

At 6-feet and 225 pounds, he considers himself a power guy with a dash of breakaway ability thrown in for good measure.

Still, NFL scouts didn’t quite know what to make of him. He worked out with the tight ends at the draft combine, doing just two drills with the running backs. He thinks that’s one of the reasons he was still there in the fifth round waiting for his name to be called. Getting passed over bothered him. More than a little.

“I felt disrespected going as late as I did,” Samuels said. “But that’s just going to be motivation for me.”

No matter where — or when — he lines up.

NOTES: The Steelers and third-round pick Mason Rudolph agreed to a four-year deal on Wednesday, leaving first-round pick Terrell Edmunds as the only selection yet to sign. … Roethlisberger was not on the field Wednesday.

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Football is easier for Norman after 'Dancing With the Stars'

ASHBURN, Va. (AP) — Josh Norman thought football was difficult.

Then he went appeared on “Dancing With the Stars.”

The Washington Redskins cornerback had some impressive performances with dance partner Sharna Burgess on the show in Los Angeles and each week took a red-eye back to the East Coast for the team’s offseason program. Norman and Burgess finished second to skater Adam Rippon and Jenna Johnson.

Norman was back on the field this week with a new appreciation for dancing and a fresh approach to his day job.

“My mindset is a bit different,” Norman said Wednesday. “I can go further now than I thought I could and push myself to pretty much a new level, I feel, a new height. So now I look at things and I (used to) be like, ‘That’s hard.’ Nah, I don’t think so.”

Norman didn’t quite know what to expect out of “Dancing With the Stars,” which included 12-hour days of learning, practicing, rehearsing and performing . Add in the cross-country flights and Norman was more fatigued than after a one-on-one showdown with Giants receiver Odell Beckham Jr.

He approached the performances like NFL games, though, and was glad he took on the adventure that reminded him of theater class in college.

“You could be someone else,” Norman said. “You could be different. Everybody is different in their own right, and everybody work to a common goal. Part of it is just going out there amongst athletes and trying to best them all.”

Norman got a good laugh about going shirtless for dance routines because “there’s a lot of cougars that like the shirt off” and knew voting was involved. Taking a temporary break from his pursuit of the Lombardi Trophy, Norman came away crushed that he didn’t help Burgess win the Mirrorball Trophy she has been trying for the past seven years.

“This was the year to break that curse and I wasn’t the one to do it and it’s just like, ‘Dang,'” Norman said. “It’s like a heart-throbbing gut-puncher that I couldn’t be the one for her to get over the hump.”

Norman was a winner to his teammates, a handful of whom traveled to L.A. to watch the finale Monday. Running back Chris Thompson was impressed by the dance moves and felt his teammate “got cheated.”

“I never saw Josh as being a dancer, for one,” Thompson said. “It was great. It was just cool just to see somebody doing something different.”

Coach Jay Gruden said he watched every episode and came away impressed with Norman’s rhythm, execution and willingness to balance dancing and football.

“The work that he put in to get ready for that show and also fly back out on red eyes and get here for practice or OTAs, I just really had a lot of admiration for what he did and what he accomplished because that’s not easy,” Gruden said. “I thought he should’ve won the dang thing. I think he got ripped off, to be honest with you.”

Even in a losing effort, Norman figures “Dancing With the Stars” helped his physical and mental preparation, his footwork, posture and focus. Call it a journey of self-discovery.

“It taught me a lot about myself,” Norman said. “I grew tremendously. I wouldn’t have wanted anything else from it than that.”

With the Redskins in the middle of organized team activities, Norman was hardly breaking a sweat Wednesday after what he had been through under the lights each week dancing.

“This is a cakewalk,” he said. “This is like picking daisies.”

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