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Tampa Bay Buccaneers Quarterback Jameis Winston Jersey

In this June 14, 2016, file photo, Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston throws a pass during an NFL football minicamp, in Tampa, Fla. The No. 1 overall pick in last year’s NFL draft threw for 4,042 yards and 22 touchdowns as a rookie, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are counting on him to build on the promising debut and help transform the struggling franchise into winners.

Jameis Winston can hardly wait to get started again.

The No. 1 overall pick in last year’s NFL draft threw for 4,042 yards and 22 touchdowns as a rookie, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are counting on him to build on the promising debut and help transform the struggling franchise into winners.

The Bucs, coming off a 6-10 finish that cost former coach Lovie Smith his job, have missed the playoffs eight consecutive seasons and haven’t won a postseason game since their 2002 Super Bowl run.

The quest to end the long, frustrating drought resumes when they open their first training camp under Smith’s replacement, former offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter, on July 28.

“When you win six football games, you’ve got a lot of stuff,” to work on, Koetter said.

It helps, though, to have a young quarterback with the tools of Winston, the 2013 Heisman Trophy winner who capped his rookie year with a Pro Bowl appearance.

“He’s smart, he’s competitive, wants to win as much as we do,” incoming offensive coordinator Todd Monken said. “You can win a lot of games with guys like that.”

Koetter was promoted, in part, because of the role he played in helping the young quarterback’s relatively smooth transition to the pro game. Winston’s first NFL pass was intercepted and returned for a touchdown. He enters his second season with a much deeper appreciation for how important it is to protect the football.

“Jameis is very perceptive, about not only what needs to get better, but what our offense and our team needs to get better,” Koetter said.

For his part, Winston talks about “getting better each and every day” and continuing to evolve as a leader — on and off the field.

“Leadership means to serve others,” Winston said. “As long as I can serve the guys around me, I feel like I’m doing a good job … and I know that they’re going to want to do anything for me, just like I would for them.”

Some things to watch as the Buccaneers prepare to try to end a streak of five consecutive last-place finishes in the NFC South:

NEWCOMERS: After using his first two drafts in Tampa Bay to address deficiencies on offense, general manager Jason Licht turned his attention to the overall team this year. First-round CB Vernon Hargreaves III is being counted on to strengthen the secondary and second-round DE Noah Spence could bolster an anemic pass rush. A lot of eyes are on kicker Roberto Aguayo after Licht felt strong enough about his NFL potential that he traded up into the second round to make sure he got Winston’s former college teammate.

DECEPTIVE STATS: The Bucs ranked fifth in total offense and 10th in total defense a year ago, the first time the club’s finished in the top 10 in both categories in the same season. That didn’t translate into a playoff berth because Tampa Bay was 20th in points scored and 26th in points allowed. After a 6-6 start, the team went 0-4 down the stretch.

ANNUAL SEARCH: One of Licht’s top priorities this offseason was improving a pass rush led by Pro Bowl DT Gerald McCoy. DE Robert Ayers Jr. and CB Brent Grimes were added in free agency. The GM expects drafting Hargreaves and Spence will be part of the solution, too. The Bucs were tied for 14th in sacks with 38 a year ago. They haven’t had a player finish with at least 10 in a season since 2005, when Simeon Rice had 14. DT Clinton McDonald said it’s time to play another tune.

“After a while you hear a broken record so many times you’re ready to change that record,” McDonald said. “It comes down to us being the players and being mature enough pros to say, ‘You know what? If this is what we want to be then this is what we have to go after to be.’ It’s time for us to step up our game, bring some wins to the Tampa Bay area and have everybody around here proud of us, ready to wear that red and pewter hat.”

RUN DOUGIE RUN: The team’s biggest move in free agency was re-signing RB Doug Martin to a five-year, $37.75 million contract. He rushed for 1,402 yards and six TDs last season, taking some of the pressure off Winston to carry an offense also relying on two other rookie starters, tackle Donovan Smith and guard Ali Marpet.

BUILDING CHEMISTRY: Winston and WR Mike Evans spent a lot of time together this offseason, working out and developing a bond they hope will make them an even more productive tandem. Evans had 74 catches and topped 1,000 yards receiving for the second time last year, however he had only three TD receptions; he had 11 as a rookie in 2014.

“The bottom line is still wins in the NFL. And for us to win, Jameis and Mike have to become a more lethal combination,” Koetter said, “and I’m quite confident they will.”

Indianapolis Colts RB Robert Turbin Jersey

Thanks to the fine folks that work on the individual SB Nation NFL team sites, we have the ability to get the inside scoop on each and every team that the Chicago Bears will face this season.

In this offseason series, we’ll lay out a few stats on Chicago’s 2016 opponents and have the team sites give us all the info we need to be up to speed on any changes they may have made.

Week 5 – Chicago Bears at Indianapolis Colts
October, 9 2016 – 12:00 CT on FOX

Last year the Bears’ offense ranked 21st in total yards (344.6), 23rd in passing yards (228.8), 11th in rushing yards (115.9) and 23rd in total points scored (20.9). Defensively the Bears ranked 14th in total yards allowed (345.4), 4th in passing yards allowed (224.6), 22nd in rushing yards allowed (120.9) and 20th in points allowed (24.8).

In 2015 the Colts’ offense ranked 28th in total yards (321.4), 22nd in passing yards (231.5), 29th in rushing yards (89.9) and in scoring they were 24th (20.8). Indy’s defense ranked 26th in total yards allowed (379.1), 24th in passing yards allowed (257.1), 25th in rushing yards allowed (122.0) and they were 25th in points allowed (25.5).

Colts 2016 Season Preview
From Stampede Blue

Notable free agent additions: Patrick Robinson (CB), Scott Tolzien (QB), Robert Turbin (RB), Jordan Todman (RB)

Notable free agent departures: Jerrell Freeman (LB), Coby Fleener (TE), Dwight Lowery (S), Greg Toler (CB)

Trades: n/a

Draft picks expected to contribute as rookies:

Ryan Kelly, center (first round pick) – He’s the starter from day one, without a doubt.

T.J. Green, safety (second round) – He’ll make the roster as a backup safety and special teams contributor.

Le’Raven Clark, tackle (third round) – He’s expected to provide depth.

Hassan Ridgeway, defensive line (fourth round) – He could factor into the defensive line rotation as a pass rush threat.

Antonio Morrison, inside linebacker (fourth round) – He will compete for playing time at the open inside linebacker spot.

Joe Haeg, offensive lineman (fifth round) – He’ll provide depth along the line, whether at guard or tackle.

Trevor Bates, outside linebacker (seventh round) – He will try to show something (anything) that suggests he can be a developmental pass rusher for the Colts, which they’re desperately looking for.

Austin Blythe, center (seventh round) – He’s expected to back up Ryan Kelly at center.

Biggest offseason addition: Ryan Kelly, center

Biggest storyline heading into training camp: The offensive line competition. A lot has been made about the Colts’ offensive line this offseason, and that was their biggest area of emphasis. They brought in Joe Philbin to coach the unit and then spent four of eight draft picks on their line. The left side – with Anthony Castonzo at left tackle, Jack Mewhort at left guard, and Ryan Kelly at center – looks good, but the right side is still a question mark. Joe Reitz is the current favorite at right tackle, though he’s still not guaranteed the job, while the right guard position is even more wide open. The offensive line competition has been a focal point all offseason and likely will continue to be in training camp.

Under-the-radar storyline heading into training camp: The injuries to the defensive line. While the inside linebacker competition is worth noting as well, I think the health of the defensive line is one of the biggest storylines for the Colts this year. The unit has the potential to be one of the deepest and best positions on the team, but a lot of that depends on when players get healthy and whether they can stay that way. Henry Anderson was tremendous as a rookie last year and already emerged as one of the team’s best defensive players, but he tore his ACL midway through the season. It’s uncertain whether he’ll be back for week one, while Arthur Jones is also recovering from an injury that caused him to miss the entire 2015 season. If Anderson comes back healthy, the defensive line should be a good group when considering guys like Kendall Langford, David Parry, Zach Kerr, T.Y. McGill, and Hassan Ridgeway, and Jones coming back healthy would be even more of a boost. The key, again, is health.

Notable injuries heading into training camp: defensive lineman Henry Anderson (knee), defensive lineman Arthur Jones (ankle), wide receiver Donte Moncrief (foot), guard Hugh Thornton (undisclosed), cornerback D’Joun Smith (knee).

Philadelphia Eagles Malcolm Jenkins Jersey

The safety position in the NFL is changing. Pat Kirwan does a great job of discussing this in his latest book ‘Keep Your Eye Off The Ball 2.0′. Kirwan discusses how any NFL team must have a contingent of safeties who as a group can perform specific functions that include – dropping into the box to defend the run, playing as the deep safety in single-high coverage, covering half the field in two-deep coverage and being able to cover tight ends and wide receivers in man coverage. Kirwan then states this:

    If a team can find a guy who has three of those traits, it will probably try to lock him up with a seven year-contract. A guy with two of those traits will still be very useful, and he’ll probably get a four-year deal.

You could make a strong case that Malcolm Jenkins can do all 4 of those functions that Kirwan mentions pretty well. This is what make Jenkins an extremely special player. In the Eagles defense, Jenkins wasn’t asked to cover the field in two-deep coverage or play single-high coverage often, but he can do it if required. He excels at playing in the box to defend the run and is one of the only safeties in the NFL that can consistently cover wide receivers and tight ends. I expect this year we’ll see more of him in two-deep coverage as Jim Schwartz runs a lot of cover 2. Kirwan directly references Jenkins in the book, here is what he has to say about him.

Consider a guy like Malcolm Jenkins, who the Saints took with the 14th pick of the 2009 NFL Draft. He won the Thorpe Award as a cornerback at Ohio State, but he came into the league at 6’0″ and 204 pounds. The Saints soon found he could cover a wide receiver, defend the deep middle or cover half the field in a two-deep zone, and they moved him to safety in his second NFL season. Plus, Jenkins is stout enough to play the run- he proved that immediately in Philadelphia where he signed as a free agent in 2014; in his first season with the Eagles, he led the team in tackles. Jenkins has become the model for the kinds of safeties we’re seeing more and more in the NFL.

I love that last line. Everyone wants a Malcolm Jenkins on their roster right now, he is invaluable to a defense in today’s NFL. You can be a very good safety in the NFL if you can only perform 1 or 2 of those functions mentioned above well. Jenkins is a true difference maker though as he is so versatile and this allows defensive coordinators to use him in a variety of ways.

Most of my film pieces recently have looked at the Eagles young players and discussed what I think of them moving forward. I’m going to do something different here though and break down why I think Malcolm Jenkins is such a special player.

Let’s start by looking at Malcolm Jenkins in coverage, last year the Eagles used him as a slot cornerback a lot of the time for a couple of reasons. 1) He’s actually a really good cornerback and 2) they didn’t really have anyone else who could play that role.

Here you can see Jenkins covering in the slot and I think he’s lined up against Jarvis Landry who is an excellent route runner. Jenkins is an intelligent player which helps him in coverage, here he knows he has a single high safety so he gives Landry inside release. When Landry makes a sharp cut to the outside, Jenkins flips his hips extremely quickly and stays with him stride for stride. Not bad for a safety.

Against the Cardinals last year Jenkins was put in man coverage against Larry Fitzgerald, one of the best route runners in the NFL, and held him to under 50 yards receiving. In this clip, Fitzgerald is lined up outside but Jenkins stays with him in man coverage. Fitzgerald gets a decent push off but Jenkins stays close and Palmer is forced to throw the ball too high. If Palmer put the ball in the correct spot, this could have been picked.

This clip shows how Jenkins really can play like a cornerback, he’s covering Chris Hogan in the slot and Hogan actually gets a step on Jenkins which means he can’t turn around and play the ball. However, Jenkins has forced Hogan to the outside throughout the route and he keeps his eyes on Hogan’s hands perfectly and the second Hogan goes up to get the ball, Jenkins swats it away and forces him out of bounds. This is perfect technique for a cornerback if you are unable to get your head turned around.

Jenkins can also cover tight ends and he was matched up against a number of good tight ends last year. I’ve mentioned before how Jenkins is a smart player and this is shown again here. This is 3rd and 7 and Jenkins is covering Jordan Cameron. He gets pushed back a little but he shows good awareness and makes sure he keeps Cameron in front of the first down line and tackles him for no gain. He rarely misses these tackles.

Jenkins is covering a running back here but I thought I would show this play because it’s just such an unbelievable play. Jenkins biggest weakness is probably dropping balls that he should intercept but he makes a wonderful catch here.

Let’s end looking at Jenkins in coverage by looking at one of the best plays of last season. This is the 4th down play that the Patriots failed to convert, meaning the Eagles won the game. Firstly, Jenkins is lined up in the slot on the right hand side and he stays with his guy. Just look at what he does next though, he sees that the pass is going to the receiver behind him and he sharply turns around and delivers a fierce hit which helps knock the ball out. This is an awesome play and once again highlights just how aware Jenkins is to his surroundings.

Another benefit to Jenkins playing as a slot cornerback is that he can tackle and shed blocks like a prototypical strong safety. This allows Jenkins to blow up numerous short passes like the one above by quickly shedding his blocker and wrapping up the ball carrier. Jenkins tackling technique is consistently excellent and there are so many examples of Jenkins making great plays like this last season.

Here’s another example of Jenkins doing the same thing, he easily sheds the wide receivers block and makes a great tackle in the open field on Brandon Marshall. He even forces the fumble here, not bad for a guy who supposedly had issues with missed tackles before joining the Eagles.

Let’s finish by looking at the other aspect of Jenkins game which he excels at, stopping the run. Jenkins does a good job stopping the run as both a deep safety and a box safety. Here you can see him come down from the safety position and make a nice play. He doesn’t go mad and charge up the middle because he’d be easily blocked by the right guard and would lose sight of the ball carrier. He stays back and avoids the right guard while always keeping his eyes on the ball carrier, this allows him to charge downfield and make a great tackle at the line of scrimmage when the time is right. This is just smart football again.

Here Jenkins shows great discipline as the single-high safety, this is something new Eagles signing Rodney McLeod excels at. When you are the playing the single-high safety, you are literally the last line of defense. If you get beat, the play will probably result in a touchdown. Jenkins knows this and shows discipline by not charging downhill and taking a bad angle but waiting until he can get to the ball carrier without being blocked.

This play just shows Jenkins at his very best, how many safeties can make this play? Jenkins is right up at the line of scrimmage, he gets off the snap quickly and bursts through two Patriots lineman and makes the play in the backfield. A linebacker would be proud of this play. Also, this play was two plays before the famous Walter Thurmond pick six that Jenkins helped cause by tipping the ball up in the air.

Let’s end this post with another good play by Jenkins. I thought this play was a good one to show because it’s something Jenkins will be doing a lot of next year. Jim Schwartz expects his safeties to be able to set the edge, which is one reason why he never tried to re-sign Thurmond. Jenkins sets the edge here as well as a linebacker would. He keeps his arms extended so he can push the Panthers tight end back whilst keeping his eyes in the backfield and then makes the play on the running back.

Overall

Normally with my film pieces, I sum up what I think of the player moving forward because I have focused on the younger Eagles. There’s no need to do that with Jenkins seeing as we all know by now that he’s a stud. I personally think he’s actually underrated by some Eagles fans, there really aren’t many safeties in the NFL that can play as many roles as he can in a defense. I think you can certainly make an argument that he’s one of the best, if not the best, safeties in the NFL right now.

As I said earlier, every team now wants a Malcolm Jenkins on their defense.

Minnesota Twins Max Kepler Jersey

Max Kepler and the Minnesota Twins are going into the All-Star break playing their best baseball.

Kepler hit the first grand slam by the Twins this season, one of their four homers in a 15-5 win Sunday at the AL-leading Texas Rangers. While still in last place in the AL, Minnesota has won seven of its last nine games.

“We always talk about trusting the process, but when you get good results and win games, you understand how enjoyable it is to go out there and compete and come out and win games,” manager Paul Molitor said. “I’d like to think that these guys are hungry to win as many games going forward. That’s kind of an understatement. It should be the mindset all the time.”

Minnesota (32-56) won three of four at Texas after taking the last two games of its home series against the Rangers the previous weekend.

Kepler’s slam with two outs in the fifth off A.J. Griffin (3-1) put the Twins up 6-0. It was the first career grand slam for Kepler, and seventh homer in his last 20 games.

“We’re just having fun. Everybody’s laughing before the game, enjoying themselves as much as they can. Picking each other up,” Kepler said. “When you have fun like that, you forget about the bad at-bats and all the negative swings you take or whatever it is.”

Kennys Vargas hit a towering shot to centre in the fourth for the game’s first run. Eduardo Escobar and Brian Dozier added back-to-back homers in a seven-run seventh for the Twins.

Minnesota has hit 29 homers the last 15 games, and the Twins’ 140 runs since June 18 are the most in the majors.

Tommy Milone (2-2) struck out three and walked three. The left-hander was out of the game after walking Adrian Beltre to start the sixth, and Ryan Rua promptly grounded into a double play against reliever Taylor Rogers.

Texas (54-36) still has the AL’s best record but has lost nine of 12. Its AL West lead has dwindled from 10 games to 5 1/2 over Houston, still the largest ever for the Rangers at the break, but their smallest since June 14.

“There are points in the season where they don’t look so well, don’t feel so well. Today capped all that off. Hopefully, that’s the bottom,” Texas manager Jeff Banister said. “There’s some times when you’re not playing well, you kind of hope for a rainout. We get a four-day rainout.”

Minnesota matched its season high with 18 hits after also having 18 in the series opener Thursday night. Robbie Grossman, Eddie Rosario and Kurt Suzuki, the Nos. 6-8 batters, each had three hits, and No. 9 batter Escobar had two hits.

“It’s great to score 15 runs. It’s a good way to end the half,” Grossman said. “We’ve been playing some good baseball. We’ll recharge in the next couple of days and get back after it.”

OFF THE BASE — BARELY

Rosario, coming off a four-hit game for the Twins on Saturday night, clearly slid into second base ahead of the tag in his first at-bat in the second inning Sunday. Banister asked for a replay review, which showed Rosario’s foot just briefly lost contact with the bag while 2B Rougned Odor was still applying a tag. The safe call was overturned for the second out, and Suzuki then had what was an inning-ending flyball instead of a likely sac fly to leave Grossman stranded at third base.

SHORT HOPS

Vargas had his third homer in six games since being called up July 4. … Odor had two errors in the eighth.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Twins: CF Byron Buxton missed his second game because of a bruised right knee sustained in the first inning Friday night when he crashed into the wall. Buxton was available, but Molitor wanted to give Buxton more time to get him “back feeling good” instead of playing just one more game before the All-Star break.

Rangers: RHP Keone Kela (right elbow) was scheduled to pitch in relief at Double-A Frisco for the second consecutive game Sunday night. If all goes well, he could rejoin the Rangers after the All-Star break.

UP NEXT

Twins: Minnesota opens a three-game series Friday at home against AL Central-leading Cleveland.

Rangers: After the All-Star break, the Rangers open a 10-day, nine-game road trip Friday with an interleague series at the Chicago Cubs.

Bruno Alves Portugal Jersey

France plays Portugal in the Euro 2016 Final. The match is Sunday July 10 at 3:00pm ET. It will be shown on ESPN. Here are 12 things you need to know entering the final.

Home Pitch Advantage: Tournament hosts tend to do well. Compound that when it is France. France won Euro 1984 at home. They won the 1998 World Cup at home. With the crowd behind them (and performing unfortunate Iceland clap recreations), the French are heavy favorites to lift the trophy at home again. France is 16-0-2 in its last 18 tournament matches on home soil. The last loss was in the four-team, inaugural “European Nations Cup” in 1960.

Disrupting Destiny: The Portuguese have been here before, on the opposite side. Portugal were flashy, favorite hosts at Euro 2004. They entered fresh off wins against the Netherlands and England. They faced a dour, underwhelming, defensive Greece team, that upset them 1-0 in Lisbon. An ugly Portugal win would be dispiriting, but feel oddly fitting.

Ronaldo’s Last Shot: Ronaldo is one of soccer’s all-time greats. He has been stuck with pedestrian international teammates. Ronaldo took Portugal to the semifinals at the 2006 World Cup and at Euro 2012. This is his first final appearance since he was a 19-year-old at Euro 2004. Ronaldo, like Lionel Messi, does not need an international trophy for validation. But, this is his last, best opportunity to win one.

Deciding the Ballon d’Or? Messi and Ronaldo have dominated the world’s best player award. The last time another player won was Kaka in 2007. Andres Iniesta (2010) is the only other player to finish second since 2008. Ronaldo would be a shoo-in for his fourth win with Champions League and Euro triumphs. But, could Antoine Griezmann, who also led his team to the Champions League final, creep in there if France comes out on top?

Disrupting the Equilibrium: Controlling play matters. But, a brilliant split second from a great player can alter a match. Teams that win tournaments don’t always play well. But, they have a difference maker that can carry them. Portugal has Cristiano Ronaldo. But, France has multiple players who can step forward. Dimitri Payet bailed out France against Romania. Paul Pogba and Antoine Griezmann sealed off a nervy win against Germany.

History Favors The French: The French have won their last 10 matches against Portugal (Portugal’s last win was in 1975) and 15/18 matches since World War II. That stretch includes some narrow, historic tournament eliminations. France came from behind in extra time to beat Portugal in the Euro 1984 semifinal. France beat Portugal on an extra time penalty in the Euro 2000 semifinal. France edged Portugal 1-0 on a penalty in the 2006 World Cup semifinal. How different things could have gone for the Portuguese if not for the pesky French…

Probably Sticking With the 4-2-3-1: France began the tournament in a 4-3-3. But, expect them to stick with the 4-2-3-1 they fielded against Iceland and Germany. Griezmann has been in been in stupendous form since being played in a central role off Olivier Giroud as a lead striker. The formation has weaknesses. The French are a bit lighter in central midfield without N’Golo Kanté. Giroud’s pace can be a detriment while counter-attacking. Germany was far better placed to exploit those weaknesses than Portugal, and did not do so.

Will Pepe Be Fit? Portugal’s central defender Pepe is the major injury question. He missed the semifinal with a thigh injury. He is still not training with his Portugal teammates. He’s an unpopular heel. He cost Portugal dearly in 2014. But, he was having a strong tournament through the quarterfinals. He has ample big match experience. Losing him would be a blow. Replacing him with aging Bruno Alves against France’s front line is a scary prospect.

Boring, Boring Finals: Spain took out Italy 4-0 in the Euro 2012 Final. That was the lone exception in what has been a pattern of tight, cagey international tournament finals. The last three World Cup finals have produced one open play goal combined in the regulation 90 minutes. The previous two Euro finals before 2012 were 1-0s. The last two Copa America finals went to penalties after a 0-0 draw. Oddsmakers set the over/under for total regulation goals at 2.5. We may get some entertainment.

The Dreaded Thursday-Sunday Transition: France played Thursday. That gives them one less day to recover than Portugal, who played Wednesday. Playing Thursday, then again on a weekend can be rough. It is when upsets happen. It is why many EPL teams will field weakened teams to get out of playing on Thursdays in the Europa League. That said, the swift trip from Marseilles to Paris is less grueling than a flight back to England from Eastern Europe.

Mark Clattenburg: Well, some Englishmen made it to a tournament final. UEFA, with Wales’ elimination, opted for an English crew led by Mark Clattenburg. Having already reffed this year’s FA Cup and UEFA Champions League finals, 2016 has been the year of Clattenburg. His Premier League efforts have not gone without criticism. But, he has a solid reputation. He’s not card happy. For a tournament final, that’s all one can cask.

No Suspensions: The accumulated yellow cards rule still needs work. Suspending players for the semifinal after two yellow cards over five matches is egregious. But, wiping the cards after the quarterfinal accomplished its mission. There were no red cards in the semifinal matches. No players, Karim Benzema excepted, are suspended for the Euro 2016 Final.

Detroit Tigers Michael Fulmer Jersey

Bottom 2nd: Fulmer strands single

Tigers ace Michael Fulmer, save for a two-out single by Corey Dickerson, rolled through the bottom of the second inning. He struck out Brandon Guyer and Nick Franklin, for his fourth strikeout in two innings. After two innings in what is developing to be a pitcher’s duel, the game is still scoreless.

Top 2nd: Tigers go 1-2-3

Rays starter Drew Smyly, after walking Miguel Cabrera in the first, did not allow a baserunner in the second inning, setting the Tigers down in order. Nick Castellanos grounded out to third base, before Justin Upton struck out and and Mike Aviles flew out to end the half inning. Going to the bottom of the second, the game remains scoreless.

Bottom 1st: Fulmer sets Rays down

Tigers ace Michael Fulmer worked quickly in the bottom of the first, setting the Rays down 1-2-3. He got Logan Forsythe to strike out on a nasty slider low and away, for the first out, before striking out Evan Longoria two batters later to end the inning. After one inning, the Tigers and Rays are scoreless.

Top 1st: Ex-Tiger Smyly strands one

Former Tiger Drew Smyly struck out Ian Kinsler and Cam Maybin to start the game, before walking Miguel Cabrera — extending the inning for the Tigers. Victor Martinez flew out to end the half inning. Michael Fulmer takes the mound going to the bottom of the first in a scoreless game.

How to watch: Detroit Tigers vs. Tampa Bay Rays

Well, that was an exciting start to the 11-game road trip.

The Tigers had a 0.4 percent chance to win Thursday night’s game against the Rays when they trailed 7-2 after eight innings, according to Fangraphs. But win they did, 10-7, by scoring eight times in the ninth.

Now they’re set for the second game of the four-game series, with Michael Fulmer being opposed by former Tiger Drew Smyly. First pitch Friday night is 7:10 p.m.

It’s one of two starts the Tigers are planning for Fulmer before the All-Star break, in their continuing quest to manage the rookie’s innings.

Before the Tigers’ huge rally Thursday night, it looked like they would be the latest victims of Tropicana Field and its gauzy-looking roof and circular catwalk, as Chris McCosky reports.

TIGERS LINEUP

Ian Kinsler, 2B

Cameron Maybin, CF

Miguel Cabrera, 1B

Victor Martinez, DH

Nick Castellanos, 3B

Justin Upton, LF

Mike Aviles, RF

James McCann, C

Jose Iglesias, SS

Michael Fulmer, P

RAYS LINEUP

1. Logan Forsythe, 2B

2. Brad Miller, SS

3. Evan Longoria, 3B

4. Logan Morrison, 1B

5. Brandon Guyer, CF

6. Corey Dickerson, DH

7. Nick Franklin, LF

8. Oswaldo Arcia, RF

9. Hank Conger, C

Drew Smyly, P

TIGERS VS. RAYS

When: Friday, 7:10 p.m.

Where: Tropicana Field, St. Petersburg, Fla.

Pitching matchup: RHP Michael Fulmer (7-2, 2.40 ERA) vs. LHP Drew Smyly (2-8, 5.32 ERA)

Local TV: Fox Sports Detroit

National TV: None

Internet streaming: MLB.TV (blacked out in Detroit market)

Local radio: 97.1 FM

Satellite radio: SIRI Internet 849

Barcelona Defender Thomas Vermaelen Jersey

West Ham United are keen on bolstering their squad this summer, following a promising season last year. The Hammers now enter a new era in the Olympic Stadium, as Slaven Bilic looks to bring them on to the next level.

The Londoners have been linked with several big names, and today a report in Sport Witness suggests that they are ahead of Liverpool in the race for Barcelona defender Thomas Vermaelen.

The centre-half is currently on international duty with Belgium at Euro 2016, as the Red Devils fancy themselves to go all the way in the tournament. Despite an opening game loss to Italy, the Belgians regrouped and have recorded three consecutive wins against Ireland, Sweden and Hungary to leave them in the quarter-finals.

Vermaelen would certainly be a huge signing for West Ham, but they face opposition in the form of Premier League rivals Liverpool. The Reds themselves are keen on adding quality to their side this summer, as Jurgen Klopp looks to put his own stamp on the side.

The German replaced Brendan Rodgers during last season, so this is his first summer to build his own system fully.

This is an ambitious swoop by both the Hammers and Liverpool, and Vermaelen may be staying put this summer.

Arsenal F.C. Olivier Giroud Jerseys

Sky Sports pundit Charlie Nicholas provides his assessment of the main Euro 2016 contenders as we head into the final 16 without a clear favourite.

Hosts France currently head Sky Bet’s outright market despite struggling in all three group games, while Spain and England’s failure to win their groups has resulted in an interesting draw for the rest of the tournament.

That sees Belgium and Croatia now considered among the favourites, but do they really have what it takes to lift the trophy? Soccer Saturday’s Nicholas looks at their credentials…

France (4/1 with Sky Bet)

No team has really lit up the tournament yet, with France particularly struggling, but when you are favourites and hosts the expectations are incredibly high.

France, for me, have enough quality options to see off the Republic of Ireland so I certainly see them making quarter-finals, but I don’t think Didier Deschamps is bold enough for them to go all the way.

Deschamps doesn’t know what his best team is still. They’ve got a lot of pace, an unpopular but effective Olivier Giroud, and they’ve kind of fallen on Dimitri Payet, while I’m not convinced by their defence. I think if anyone is backing them then, it’s purely because of home advantage.

Germany (5/1 with Sky Bet)

Germany have weaknesses at the back as well, as do most teams in the competition, and they’ve also struggled in terms of strikers. Thomas Muller has had a really disappointing tournament and Mario Gotze has struggled, resulting in them turning to Mario Gomez.

I’ve backed Spain but Germany have looked the force ready to deliver. As a backer, you’d be more concerned if they started well because they always gradually build in these tournaments and they’ve got a great chance.

Spain (11/2 with Sky Bet)

Whoever comes through the tie between them and Italy will gain the mentality of knowing they’re really ready for the rest of the competition.

Spain should have had the Croatia game dead and buried… why do you put Sergio Ramos on penalties? He’s totally overrated for me and, having backed them pre-tournament, it annoys me that somebody like Cesc Fabregas wasn’t allowed to step up, slot it home and leave me full of confidence with a favourable draw.

I’m still believing though, especially with Alvaro Morata on a roll and full of confidence. He’s somebody I’d like Arsenal to sign and, while I’m not sure he’s a top striker yet and still has a lot to learn, he’s got a great chance of adding to his tally of three with the players he’s got creating chances around him.

Belgium (11/2 with Sky Bet)

We get carried away with Belgium because we’re used to seeing their stars, but they’re not a tactically astute side.

They have what was arguably the best central-defence in the Premier League last season in Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen but even they’ve looked average, which is a reflection of the system.

They still haven’t found a way to get the best out of Kevin de Bruyne and I’d like to see him moved inside into that number 10 role. I’m sure they’ll see off Hungary but I’ve got major doubts over their ability to go much further.

Croatia (8/1 with Sky Bet)

I have no such doubts about Croatia as a team. I really do feel that they’re on the cusp of something special.

This is a good technical side. They’ll worry about Cristiano Ronaldo, who isn’t playing great but obviously scored a couple of goals to get Portugal through, but if they can cut off the supply to him then I think they’ll win comfortably.

England (10/1 with Sky Bet)

The problem Roy Hodgson faces is what he does with his changes now. I think he’ll probably revert back to his previous XI with Jamie Vardy in instead of Raheem Sterling.

I think it’s going to be another awkward game against Iceland and if they can’t win it fairly comfortably they don’t deserve to even be considered contenders.

If they struggle again then their belief will drain even more. You need to feel like you’re good enough to beat the big teams by producing a good performance against the lesser sides at some stage.

Best of the rest

If I’m looking at the draw and trying to pick a side that can make the final then, other than Croatia, it’s Poland (28/1) for me. They were my dark horses at the start of the tournament and the draw has opened up perfectly for them.

Italy (16/1) would be getting talked up a lot if they were in the other side of the draw after impressing in their opening two games. I don’t think we can take anything from their performance against Ireland and I think they’ll run Spain close.

As for Wales (28/1), they will fancy their chances against Northern Ireland with Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey but they’ll need more in the later stages.

England Daniel Sturridge Jersey

ROY Hodgson’s England secured their place in the last 16 of Euro 2016, but lost their status as Group B winners, after being held to a goalless draw by Slovakia on Monday.

Wales’ 3-0 win over Russia in Toulouse meant the Three Lions finish second in Group B.

Slovakia must now wait to see if they qualify as one of four best third-place best teams after their goalkeeper Matus Kozacik pulled off a string of saves — some more luck than judgement.

England will now play their last 16 game in Nice next Monday against the side who finishes second in Group F, most likely against Hungary or Portugal.

“We tried and tried and they shut the door in our face,” Cahill told ITV. England coach Roy Hodgson made six changes to the line-up, but Cahill denied it had affected the result.

“I don’t think so,” he said. “We had the ball constantly, we just didn’t quite have that cutting edge to open them up.

“In games like that you sometimes need something a little bit special. “We obviously tried to bring fresh legs in there, it’s very difficult to play this intense and in this heat and I think we looked good. On another day we should win.” Cahill agreed that the opening 1-1 draw with Russia had ultimately cost England dear.

“Of course. We may as well move on, we know we’re second in the group now and we know we’ve got a huge game coming up.”

This was another frustrating night for England fans in Saint-Etienne. It was at the Stade Geoffroy Guichard where David Beckham was sent off as England lost to Argentina on penalties in the last 16 of the 1998 World Cup.

Prince William, who turns 34 on Tuesday, was in Saint-Etienne, sat next to FA chairman Greg Dyke who has said Hodgson will remain England manager — provided they reach the semi-finals.

Hodgson’s contract expires after Euro 2016.

The England boss boldly made six changes to team, starting strikers Jamie Vardy and Daniel Sturridge, who both scored off the bench in the 2-1 win over Wales.

Hodgson left skipper Wayne Rooney among the replacements with centre-back Gary Cahill taking over the captain’s armband.

Slovakia coach Jan Kozak kept faith with the starting side which beat Russia 2-1 last Wednesday.

Vardy worked hard throughout, but squandered two clear chances of England’s nine first-half attempts on goal to Slovakia’s single effort.

He fired over early on, then had his shot blocked by Kozacik in a one-on-one after winning a sprint against Slovakia captain Martin Skrtel.

And only a fine tackle from right-back Peter Pekarik denied Sturridge at the near post in the opening 10 minutes.

Lallana was then denied by Kozacik’s reflex save with half an hour gone. England’s frustration continued after the break.

A mix-up between centre-back Chris Smalling and goalkeeper Joe Hart allowed Slovakia winger Robert Mak a half-chance.

At the other end, only the slightest of deflections off Kozacik’s shoulder kept out Nathaniel Clyne’s shot.

There was a big cheer from travelling England supporters — the loudest of the night — when Wayne Rooney came on for Jack Wilshere with 56 minutes gone.

Dele Alli, on for Lallana, then saw his shot cleared by Skrtel after finding himself unmarked when he arrived in the area at pace.

Only England fans could be heard as the second half wore on, nosily urging the Three Lions on in search of the crucial goal which never came.

Rooney was a constant menace after coming on, firing wide as the game entered the final 10 minutes while Harry Kane, on for Sturridge, had a couple of late chances — all to no avail.

New Orleans Saints Defensive Coordinator Dennis Allen Jersey

Nick Fairley’s comeback tour has taken him from Detroit to St. Louis to New Orleans over the past three seasons.

But in the process, his career is finally on a positive trajectory.

“I tell ya, he’s been a pleasant surprise,” New Orleans Saints defensive coordinator Dennis Allen said of the former first-round pick, who signed a one-year, $3 million deal.

Fairley, 28, basically signed a one-year “prove it again” deal with the Saints after he drew praise for how well he performed on his one-year “prove it” deal with the Rams last year.

Fairley battled injuries and inconsistent performance in his early years in Detroit, facing questions about his weight and his motivation. But he started to turn things around during his final season with the Lions, when he first hired a personal chef and started to really keep his weight down. He is listed at 6-foot-4, 308 pounds, but has said he has been under 290 in recent years.

“I think anytime you get a first-round draft choice that probably hasn’t had the success that he and we thought he would have, you want to know what the reasons why are,” Allen said of the Saints’ research into Fairley before they signed him. “But I’ve been pleasantly surprised with the way he’s come out here and worked. He’s gotten better in this offseason. I think as long as he buys in to what we’re selling, I think he’s gonna have some success.

“To this point, he’s been outstanding in that (attitude and work ethic) regard. I’m excited to see what he can do. He’s a very talented player. And I think he’ll play well for us.”

Fairley said earlier this offseason that he feels “great” at the weight he’s at and that he likes being in Allen’s system, which is similar to the one St. Louis ran last year under former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams.

One of the people the Saints consulted before signing Fairley was their new middle linebacker James Laurinaitis – who spent last year in St. Louis with him.

Fairley had only 29 tackles and 0.5 sacks with the Rams while playing a rotational backup role on their stacked defensive line. But he was lauded by scouting services for his disruption at the line.

“Definitely, when they asked me about him, I said Nick is a guy that I’ve loved playing with him last year,” Laurinaitis said. “He’s super-athletic for a D-tackle, gives great effort. I mean, there are some plays on screen plays last year, he’d burst out of that stack so fast, and you’d see him coming behind the ball carrier and you’d think, ‘I better get down,’ because this guy here is moving. Just a fun guy in the locker room, too, great teammate. And so I was pumped when we were able to get him here.

“I think really for him, it’s an opportunity for him to be more of an every-down guy again as opposed to being in a rotation. I had absolutely no problems with effort or commitment from him. That guy gave it his all every single game for us.”