Browns’ Bitonio willing, not eager to move to left tackle
By BRIAN DULIK
Sunday, July 29
BEREA, Ohio (AP) — The retirement of Joe Thomas left a gaping hole at left tackle for the Cleveland Browns.
Left guard Joel Bitonio is willing, but not necessarily eager to succeed his close friend at the position.
“If they want me to do that, like, cool, whatever makes the Browns better,” Bitonio said. “But I think left tackle is the toughest spot on the line, and after playing left guard for four years, going on five now, it would definitely be different.
“I don’t think it’s a thing where I have to volunteer for the spot, but if we get down the line and something needs to happen, we’ll see what happens there.”
Though Bitonio isn’t a household name outside of Cleveland, he is one of a handful of known quantities on a team that went winless in 2017 and is 1-31 in two seasons under coach Hue Jackson.
The 6-foot-4, 305-pounder was a second alternate for the Pro Bowl and did not miss a play last year, helping the Browns average 4.46 yards per rush to rank sixth in the NFL.
Offensive line coach Bob Wylie acknowledged that bumping Bitonio, an All-Mountain West left tackle at Nevada, to the outside is tempting, but not palatable because it would simultaneously create a weakness at guard.
“The state of the left tackle is our state of the union,” Wylie said. “But (moving Bitonio) is the last option. If you were going to go from A down, that would be Z. That would be Z.”
Thomas was the face of the franchise for 11 seasons, earning 10 Pro Bowl selections and playing 10,363 consecutive snaps before suffering a career-ending torn left triceps last Oct. 22 against Tennessee.
Third-year pro Shon Coleman has the first shot to fill his shoes, while second-rounder Austin Corbett and former No. 2 overall pick Greg Robinson are in the mix. Coleman was pulled off the field Sunday during practice and received an audible scolding by Jackson.
Center JC Tretter, right guard Kevin Zeitler and Bitonio each expressed hope that one of the top three candidates can win the job and keep their three-man interior unit intact.
“I’m excited to work with them again and, hopefully, be a dominant inside group,” said Bitonio, a second-round selection by Cleveland in 2014. “I’ve become really good friends with JC and Kevin, so we’re kind of bonding and I think the sky is the limit. We’re continuing to grow together.”
Tretter said the uncertainty at left tackle hasn’t affected Bitonio during training camp, nor does he expect it to, because he is a “real pro.”
Jackson wants to make a decision before the Browns’ third preseason game on Aug. 23 against the Eagles, putting Coleman on the hot seat to produce or force the staff to contemplate option Z.
“I know that Joel will do anything for the football team, but hopefully we do not have to go to that,” Jackson said. “But if we do, we do. Once we get a feel for what we have there, then as a group we’ve got to make a decision on how to continue to move forward.”
Bitonio is hoping for the best, and hoping to stay where he feels most comfortable. All 47 of his NFL games have been played as a starting left guard.
“Right now, I’m really focused on playing left guard and trying to get whoever is playing next to me ready to play left tackle,” he said. “I think anything else is something that’s pretty far down the line.”
Rookie QB Baker Mayfield impressed Jackson with several sharp passes. “Baker is deadly accurate with the ball,” the coach said. “He’s an outstanding listener who has been everything a quarterback can be for an organization so far.” . DE Myles Garrett, the top overall pick in 2017, and RB Duke Johnson were given the day off, along with LB Jamie Collins. WR Corey Coleman also was scheduled to rest, but declined the offer. Former Ohio State football coach Jim Tressel attended the late afternoon practice.
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Undeterred by skeptical fans, Thomas takes Tour title
By ANDREW DAMPF and CIARAN FAHEY
Associated Press writers
Monday, July 30
PARIS (AP) — The spits and the jeers. The eggs thrown at team cars. The attempts to unbalance riders while riding up the most grueling climbs.
Geraint Thomas never flinched at whatever fans — or his rivals — threw at him or Team Sky.
The Welsh rider was the steadiest rider from the start, the strongest in the Alps and the Pyrenees. On Sunday he concluded his transformation from a support rider into a champion of cycling’s biggest race by claiming his first Tour de France title.
“With the boys, that’s the main thing for the whole three weeks, we stuck together through some tough times, stayed strong,” Thomas said. “Everything just clicked this race.”
Thomas successfully defended his lead of 1 minute, 51 seconds over second-placed Tom Dumoulin in the mostly ceremonial final stage.
Four-time champion Chris Froome, Thomas’s teammate, finished third, 2:24 behind. Froome rode next to Thomas as they crossed the line and applauded.
Thomas was a support rider during Froome’s four victories but he emerged as Sky’s strongest rider in this race when Froome crashed early on and couldn’t keep up in the mountains.
Sky — and consequently Thomas — became a target for many fans due to an asthma drug case involving Froome, stemming from last year’s Spanish Vuelta. Even though Froome was cleared of doping days before the start of the Tour, that didn’t stop some fans from abusing the British team’s riders throughout the three-week race.
“When there is negativity like that, it brings us as a team closer together,” Froome said. “It feels like it’s us against the rest of the world. … You can choose to let it get to you or you can choose to let it motivate you, and we let it motivate us.”
Thomas stormed into the lead by winning back-to-back mountain stages in the Alps, including the iconic climb up Alpe d’Huez, then defended his advantage in the Pyrenees.
During the podium ceremony, Thomas draped the flag of Wales over his shoulders, then ended his victory speech with a mic drop.
“All I can say is that I do it the right way,” Thomas said when asked about concerns of alleged doping within Sky. “We train super hard and there’s nothing I can say that will prove it. I’ve just got to keep doing what I’m doing. It will stand the test of time.”
An all-around rider who began his career on the track, the 32-year-old Thomas helped Britain to gold medals in team pursuit at the 2008 and 2012 Olympics before turning his full attention to road racing.
“I have my own goals and I kept doing what I’m doing and kept focused on that. … Obviously it’s not nice to hear (the jeers) but I do what I do and focus on myself,” Thomas said. “It’s easy to get wrapped up in or get angry or depressed but I stay in my own world.”
Riding a yellow bicycle to match his yellow jersey, Thomas shared glasses of champagne with his teammates during the casual ride into Paris before buckling down to keep up with the other leaders on the jarring cobblestones of the Champs-Elysees.
“It’s going to take a while to sink in,” Thomas said. “Normally that stage is really hard but today I just seemed to float around it. I had goose bumps going around there. The support from the Welsh, British flags. … To ride around wearing this (yellow jersey) is a dream.”
Norwegian rider Alexander Kristoff with UAE Team Emirates won the last stage in a sprint finish, narrowly beating John Degenkolb and Arnaud Demare.
“I’ve dreamed about this victory for many years,” Kristoff said. “I’ve been close many times before but never managed to beat the faster guys like (Mark) Cavendish, (Andre) Greipel, or (Marcel) Kittel, but today they’re not here, they’re out after the mountains, and today I was the fastest, so I’m super happy.”
The mostly flat 116-kilometer (72-mile) leg began in Houilles just outside Paris and concluded with nine laps up and down the Champs-Elysees.
Many spectators along the Champs-Elysees held their arms high to record the riders on their smart phones as they went past on the cobblestones, and there were more cheers when 11 jets flew overhead leaving trails in the blue, white and red colors of the French flag.
Street vendors sold chicken, sausages, waffles, cake and sweets, while the smell of crepes filled the air.
Glenn Roberts, from Newtown in mid-Wales, was in attendance with his wife and children. The family timed its summer vacation to coincide with the Tour’s finish.
“Thomas was in the yellow when we left Wales but we didn’t know if he was going to keep it. We thought Froome was going to win it, if I’m being honest,” Roberts said. “It’s the best thing a Welshman has ever done in sport.”
AP Sports Writer Samuel Petrequin contributed.
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Horan’s late goal pulls US into 1-1 draw with Australia.
Monday, July 30
EAST HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Lindsey Horan scored in the 90th minute to give the United States a 1-1 draw with Australia on Sunday night in the Tournament of Nations.
Horan scored on a bouncing header off a well-placed corner kick from Megan Rapinoe. The tie extended the Americans’ undefeated streak to 18 games.
“I actually thought performance-wise, I thought we played pretty well,” Rapinoe said. “We had a lot of chances, exposed them quite a bit in the wide areas, we were able switch the ball quite a bit. We had some good chances.”
It was Horan’s sixth international goal.
Alex Morgan had three goals for her fourth career hat trick in the team’s tournament opener Thursday against Japan in Kansas City, Kansas. Rapinoe added a goal and an assist in the 4-2 victory.
The United States, ranked No. 1 in the world, is gearing up for World Cup qualifying in October. The Americans hope to defend their title next summer at the World Cup in France.
But eighth-ranked Australia, which has already secured a spot in France, struck first when Lisa De Vanna charged the ball upfield before passing off to Chloe Logarzo for a goal in the 22nd minute.
Australia won its tournament opener 3-1 over Brazil. The Matildas, the defending Tournament of Nations champions, beat the United States 1-0 last year.
That was the U.S. team’s last loss. They’ve gone 15-0-3 since.
The result put the U.S. and Australia atop the tournament standings with four points apiece.
“These are the kind of games we’re going to see into qualifying and obviously going in to the World Cup next year,” Rapinoe said. “I mean, I love these games. I wish obviously that we would have won, but (it was) a competitive environment, great stadium tonight. It was a good match for us, good in a lot of ways, good performance and good preparing us going forward.”
Attendance for the match was announced a 21,570.
Earlier Sunday at Pratt & Whitney Stadium at Rentschler Field, five-time FIFA World Player of the Year Marta scored in the 76th minute and Beatriz added a goal before the end of regulation for a 2-1 victory for seventh-ranked Brazil against Japan.
Moeno Sakaguchi scored in the third minute of stoppage time for sixth-ranked Japan, which has also secured a spot in the World Cup.
The tournament wraps up on Thursday at Toyota Park in Bridgeview, Illinois. Japan faces Australia in the opening match followed by the United States against Brazil.
Broncos second-year coach Vance Joseph gets another shot
By ARNIE STAPLETON
AP Pro Football Writer
Sunday, July 29
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) — No, Vance Joseph never felt as if he was drinking out of a firehose when the Denver Broncos stumbled through a 5-11 season in his first year as head coach last year.
That’s how general manager John Elway has repeatedly described what it must have been like for a first-year head coach in the NFL.
“That’s not my personality, so I didn’t feel that way,” Joseph told The Associated Press. “My focus was purely on trying to flip it and get us back on a winning path. I think being a young head coach and being a young coach is a different deal. I’m not a young coach. I’ve been a part of teams that have gone through adversity so I kind of knew what the issues were.”
A sieve of an offensive line.
Locker room rifts.
A lack of chemistry, the byproduct of another protracted quarterback competition.
Still, “I think overwhelmed, that’s not the word,” Joseph said.
Denver’s dive, which included eight losses by double digits, was a shock to a city and a franchise that had a ticker-tape parade just two years earlier, and Elway acknowledged that he pondered firing Joseph at season’s end.
“That’s the direction I want to go, but it’s my responsibility to think about other options to see what would be best for the football team,” Elway said in January. “We thought about different options, but ultimately, my goal was to stick with Vance and give him that shot.”
Elway, who had riled up his players by calling them soft during an eight-game skid, said he shared in the blame for Joseph’s deficient debut and needed to surround him with better personnel.
Joseph replaced nearly half of his coaching staff while Elway embarked on a massive roster upgrade .
He signed quarterback Case Keenum in free agency and all 10 members of his ballyhooed 2018 draft class spent four years in college and most were captains. That’s a far cry from the previous two classes that were loaded with raw athleticism, long-term projects and plenty of question marks.
Joseph seems much more comfortable in his second season.
“I don’t see it as a do-over. It’s hard in this league. You don’t get do-overs, unfortunately. But it’s a new year and obviously last year wasn’t good enough,” Joseph said.
The hands-off philosophy Joseph brought to Denver last year has vanished.
“I think it’s a fine line between micromanaging and coaching coaches. And I didn’t want to ever be micromanaged as an assistant coach because in my mind I was doing the best I could for that head coach and the best I could for that football team. And I took great pride in coaching my guys and being the best group on the field every day in the meeting rooms or on the field,” Joseph said.
“So, in my mind every coach would feel that way and every coach would want to coach that way. So, I was cautious in interrupting coaches’ drills, interrupting coaches’ ways of doing things because I had an experienced staff.”
That led to the notion that Joseph was still acting like an assistant coach last year while offensive coordinator Mike McCoy continued operating as though he were still a head coach before getting fired at midseason.
Joseph vehemently denies that was the case.
“I thought Mike did a great job every week of accepting his role and we talked every week about the game plan, so that’s not true,” Joseph said.
“I worked for a lot of coaches who didn’t micromanage me, Gary Kubiak, Marvin Lewis, great guys who have won a lot of games. So, that’s not true. Our staff last year we discussed every game plan that we put forward and again it was the best thing for our players at the time.
“So, our thought process early on was to be an explosive offense. We were 3-1. It wasn’t perfect. But it was working. Now, turning the ball over, not protecting the quarterback, those things affected how we played on offense. But not Mike trying to be in total control, that’s not true.”
Still, Joseph said he has to coach his coaches better, and by that, he means challenging them.
“I don’t coach the receivers, I don’t coach the running backs or offensive line. I’m a defensive backs guy, I’m a defensive guy. So, I think asking the right questions and triggering more thought process on how we can do things better. Or simply seeing it differently than the coach and saying, ‘Why don’t we do it that way?’” Joseph said.
“Now, I can be wrong, but I think simply asking more questions is a simple way of helping the coaches get better and helping our football team get better and not letting anything slide.”
Joseph realizes he won’t get another chance if things don’t change.
“Winning football games is a must this year,” he said. “We have to do that. That’s why they hired me.”
And why Elway stuck with him.
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Chipper Jones shines in Hall of Fame induction speech
By JOHN KEKIS
AP Sports Writer
Monday, July 30
COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. (AP) — Chipper Jones didn’t bow to the pressure of the moment, and it was considerable.
Jones was inducted Sunday into the Baseball Hall of Fame, and he stood there delivering his speech with wife Taylor staring up at him, hours away from giving birth to a son to be named Cooper in honor of the special day.
Faced with that daunting task, Jones delivered flawlessly, just as he did during a 19-year career with the Atlanta Braves.
“She changed my life forever,” Jones said as his wife brushed away tears. “It took me 40 years and some major imperfections in me along the way to find my true profession. Now we’ve taken our two families and blended them together. It has given me what I’ve been searching for my entire life —true happiness.”
A crowd estimated at about 50,000 gathered on a sun-splashed day to honor six former players. Also enshrined were Jim Thome, Vladimir Guerrero, Trevor Hoffman and former Detroit Tigers teammates Jack Morris and Alan Trammell.
Jones controlled his emotions in a speech that took the crowd through his entire career, starting with his rookie season when he helped lead the Braves to the 1995 World Series title. He was one of the greatest switch-hitters in baseball history, in the mold of his dad’s favorite player, Mickey Mantle, and finished with a .303 career batting average, 468 home runs, and 1,623 RBIs, credentials that earned him election on the first try.
Jones also heaped praise on his mom and dad — “You’re the reason I’m on this stage,” he said — and ended his speech by thanking the loyal Atlanta fans.
“You stuck by me,” he said. “You’re the reason I never want to play anywhere else. I love you guys. Thank you.”
Emotional during a Hall of Fame visit in February to tour the museum in preparation for this day, Thome held it together despite having to wipe away tears after his daughter Lila sang the national anthem. Like Jones, he heaped praise on his wife, Andrea.
“Obviously, induction into the Hall of Fame is one of the greatest honors of my life,” Thome said. “The best thing, though, that’s ever happened to me is the day you agreed to marry me. You are without a doubt the best teammate I could ever have and, with the world as my witness, I love you more today than ever.”
The lefty-swinging Thome hit 612 home runs, eighth all-time, and had an MLB record 13 walk-off homers, mostly for the Cleveland Indians.
Thome marveled that the genesis of this moment was hitting rocks on a gravel driveway with an aluminum bat as a kid.
“It’s been my great privilege to have played the game for as long as I did,” he said. “And I can say this with certainty, the possibilities are just as important as the outcome. Living the dream that is major league baseball, the best part is not the result but taking the journey with the people whose contributions make it all possible.
“I’m so honored to be part of something so special. Baseball is beautiful, and I am forever in its service.”
Greeted by hundreds of fans waving Dominican Republic flags, Guerrero spoke in his native Spanish in a speech that was translated from Spanish and lasted just five minutes. He thanked his father and mother, who cooked dinners for him and does the same now for his son, and the fans and the people in his hometown of Don Gregorio. His son Vladimir Jr., the top prospect in the minor leagues with the Blue Jays, was in attendance.
The nine-time All-Star outfielder batted .318 with 449 homers and 1,496 RBIs and is the first player inducted wearing the cap of the Angels, the team where he enjoyed his greatest success.
Just as he did in his unflappable role in the bullpen during his career as an ace reliever, Hoffman was flawless in delivering his speech, also closing it by thanking his wife, Tracy.
“You shared with me this amazing journey of ups and downs from the beginning, always never letting me get too high or get too low,” Hoffman said. “I love you.”
Hoffman played the bulk of his career with the San Diego Padres before finishing with the Milwaukee Brewers. After failing to impress the front office in three years as a shortstop, he switched to the bullpen and became a star. Using a stultifying change-up, Hoffman recorded 601 saves over 18 seasons, second all-time to former Yankees star Mariano Rivera’s 652.
He also credited his parents for his success.
“Mom, dad, you’re the biggest reason I’m on this stage,” Hoffman said. “In fact, you’re all of my reasons. Not a day goes by that I’m not thankful for all both of you have done. I love you both beyond words.”
Morris, now 63, spent 15 years on the ballot before getting the call from the Hall of Fame last December. Known for his toughness on the mound, he pitched 18 seasons for the Tigers, Twins, Blue Jays and Indians, and played on four World Series champions. The crowning achievement of his career was his 1-0, 10-inning complete-game victory in Game 7 of the 1991 World Series while pitching for his hometown Twins against the Braves.
Among those he thanked were his dad and his late mother and the late Sparky Anderson, who managed the Tigers to the 1984 World Series championship.
“Thank you mom and dad for everything you taught me and have done for me,” Morris said, his voice cracking with emotion as he looked at his dad. “Mom, I know you’re smiling down on us today. Dad, thank you for instilling in me the work ethic that was so vital to my success, but more than that you showed equal love for all your children.
“I know Sparky Anderson is with us here today,” Morris added. “He taught me so many things, especially to respect this great game. He taught me a valuable lesson by allowing me to fail and fight through adversity.”
Trammell, who played shortstop for 20 seasons — all for the Tigers — and Morris were selected together by a veterans committee, which made the day extra special for the Motor City.
“We signed together in 1976, spent 13 years together in Detroit, and now 42 years later, Cooperstown. Wow!” Morris said.
Trammell earned six All-Star Game selections, four Gold Glove Awards and three Silver Slugger Awards. His .977 fielding percentage ranks sixth among shortstops with at least 2,000 games played. During his tenure, the Tigers had one of the great double play combinations in MLB history in Trammell and second baseman Lou Whitaker, who was in the audience on a special day for the Motor City.
“For 19 years Lou Whitaker and I formed the longest running double play combination in the history of baseball,” Trammell said, recalling the two were called up to the Tigers on the same day. “Lou, it was an honor and a pleasure to have played alongside you all those years. I hope someday you’ll be up here, too.”
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