With Le’Veon Bell away, Steeler running backs get extra work
By DAN SCIFO
Tuesday, July 31
LATROBE, Pa. (AP) — Pittsburgh Steelers running back James Conner knows what to expect.
Two-time All-Pro running back Le’Veon Bell is skipping training camp at St. Vincent College for the second straight season because of a contract dispute. Bell’s absence last summer meant Conner saw additional snaps in camp as a rookie.
This time, he’s raised expectations. He’s at the top of the depth chart, at least until Bell arrives.
“Le’Veon here or not, I’m focused and trying to prove to myself that I’m in shape and I can handle playing,” Conner said. “I’m focused no matter who’s here or who’s not here.”
Bell chose to not sign his franchise tender until the eve of the 2017 season. He is expected to follow the same path this time. That’s with Conner, who intends to prove he can handle the heavier workload.
“I want to show it all,” Conner said. “Every time I get in, I’m going to make every rep count.”
Conner, a former star at the University of Pittsburgh, showed flashes as a rookie, sporadically filling in to give Bell a breather. The Steelers’ 2017 third-round pick appeared in 14 games, rushing 32 times for 144 yards, an average of 4.5 yards per carry, before a knee injury ended his season.
A leaner, trimmer Conner initially turned heads during spring workouts and that effort has carried into training camp.
Conner set the tone with a touchdown on the first competitive snap of training camp. Ben Roethlisberger delivered a quick slant to the slot where Conner hauled in the touchdown ahead of former first-round pick Artie Burns.
On Monday, Conner broke off a long touchdown run during a drill that featured live tackling. He displayed burst through the hole and into the secondary where he ran away from safety Nat Berhe en route to the end zone.
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin expects that kind of development from Conner in his second season.
“We’ve been around the track for a lap,” Tomlin said. “He understands what’s going on in terms of the environment of professional football. He should utilize that experience and knowledge to produce a better, more consistent performance.”
Rookie Jaylen Samuels still seeks that kind of consistency. He is taking advantage of the extra snaps to see where he fits in.
Samuels, a fifth-round pick, was a do-everything standout at North Carolina State. The 6-foot, 225-pounder stepped in at running back, fullback, wide receiver and even tight end. He ranks second in school history in total touchdowns, fourth in touchdown catches and sixth in scoring runs.
The Steelers list Samuels as a running back, but he’s also being used in the slot or split out as a receiver.
“I don’t want to be held to just one skill,” Samuels said. “I want to be able to showcase a lot of different skills. Whenever I go against different mismatches, I want it to be tough on them.”
Samuels knows he needs to improve on his pass blocking.
“I didn’t really do it in college as much,” Samuels said. “I did a lot in practice, but not really game-time situations because I was either in the route or I was getting the ball.”
Tomlin made Samuels take five consecutive, unsuccessful turns during the team’s “backs on backers” drill in which a running back or tight end attempts to pick up a blitzing linebacker.
“I feel like pass blocking is probably the most that’s lacking in my game right now,” Samuels said. “That’s the one thing I need to work on.”
Samuels will have his chance for additional development at training camp with Bell away.
“It’s definitely an opportunity to display my skills, and earn some respect from the players and coaches,” Samuels said. “I’m excited for the opportunity that’s ahead of me.”
Trade tornado: Dozier, Archer among 15 swaps on deadline day
By BEN WALKER
AP Baseball Writer
Wednesday, August 1
For Brian Dozier, getting traded meant a dash to the airport and a long trip to Dodger Stadium. For Jake Diekman, it was a lot easier — he simply rode the bullpen cart from one clubhouse to the other at Chase Field.
Chris Archer, Jonathan Schoop and a bunch of relievers moved on deadline day, a flurry of 15 swaps Tuesday before time ran out to make deals without waivers.
The trade market kept spinning at a dizzying pace. Every team except San Francisco made at least one deal since the All-Star Game, with Tampa Bay swinging seven.
Archer, a two-time All-Star, hugged teammates at Tropicana Field before heading to Pittsburgh. He is 3-5 with a 4.31 ERA in 17 starts this season, and joins a Pirates club that has pushed back into the playoff race even after trading away Gerrit Cole and Andrew McCutchen in the off-season.
“They’re super-hot right now, and they want me,” Archer said. “I’m excited to be part of the organization that wants me, part of a rich baseball history, a hard-working community. I can’t wait to get there.”
The Rays sent former All-Star catcher Ramos to NL East-leading Philadelphia, while Leonys Martin, Kevin Gausman and Cameron Maybin also switched sides as contenders tweaked their rosters.
And why not? All but four National League teams began the day within 5 1/2 games of a playoff spot. The American League is more spread out — division leaders Boston, Cleveland and Houston have been busy.
Manny Machado, Cole Hamels, Zach Britton, Mike Moustakas and Ian Kinsler were among the big names that moved earlier this month.
Bryce Harper, Jacob deGrom, J.T. Realmuto and McCutchen had been mentioned in trade speculation, but stayed put.
“I think whenever you hear your name or see your name on stuff, you always wonder. But I think that’s just the business side of the game,” Harper said. “It’s part of the game.”
One of Harper’s teammates packed up.
Exactly a year after getting traded from Minnesota to Washington, reliever Brandon Kintzler was part of another deadline deal. This time, the Nationals sent him to the NL Central-leading Chicago Cubs.
“I thought they were joking. I figured it’s not April’s Fools. They called me in, I said, ‘Am I traded?’ They said yeah,” Kintzler said.
An All-Star last year, Kintzler turns 34 on Wednesday.
“Birthday again tomorrow, so I’m traveling on my birthday again, so that’s great. It is what it is,” he said.
Dozier had been a fixture in Minnesota’s lineup for years. But the Twins dipped this season, and they sent the power-hitting second baseman to the NL West-leading Los Angeles Dodgers for infielder Logan Forsythe and two minor leaguers.
Rather than starting at Target Field in Minneapolis, the 31-year-old Dozier hustled to join his new club as it hosted Milwaukee. He’s now part of a revamped infield for the defending NL West champion Dodgers, who added Machado two weeks ago.
“Brian’s brand here in Minnesota, I don’t know if you can get much better than that,” Twins manager Paul Molitor said. “Everything that he’s done for the community and the way that he’s played the game, he’s set a great example for our young guys throughout, and you’re going to miss a guy like that.”
The New York Mets had discussions about their talent-rich young pitchers, who include deGrom, Noah Syndergaard and Zack Wheeler.
“We were not going to move those players unless it involved considerable talent coming back in our direction,” assistant general manager John Ricco said.
Diekman definitely was on the go.
The 31-year-old lefty struck out two while pitching for Texas on Monday night in a win at Arizona. The Diamondbacks reacquired reliever Brad Ziegler from Miami early Tuesday, then boosted their bullpen by getting Diekman from the Rangers.
Wanting to make Diekman’s move easy, the Diamondbacks offered the services of the bullpen cart used to ferry relievers into the game.
“They asked and I was like, ‘Yeah, I don’t want to carry all of my stuff,’” Diekman said.
AP Baseball Writer Ronald Blum, AP Sports Writers Dave Campbell and Bob Baum and AP freelance writers Mark Didtler and Harvey Valentine contributed to this report.
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Users share player tweets to expose ‘toxic’ baseball culture
By ERRIN HAINES WHACK
AP National Writer
A pair of Twitter users whose posts exposing offensive tweets by baseball players went viral over the weekend say their aim was not malicious but to give fans a fuller picture of who they’re cheering for, and to expose the sport’s “toxic” culture.
In exclusive interviews with The Associated Press, both users said they weren’t looking for the years-old tweets from Milwaukee Brewers reliever Josh Hader or Atlanta Braves pitcher Sean Newcomb, but when the posts came across their timelines, they felt obligated to share them.
Kevin Jenkins wasn’t looking through Hader’s twitter feed as he watched the All-Star Game earlier this month. But then they began popping up on his Twitter feed. After seeing the pitcher’s racist, sexist and homophobic remarks, it was hard for Jenkins to remain a fan.
“Before the tweets, I thought he was a cool guy,” Jenkins said via direct message on Twitter. “An amazing pitcher and an even better person … After the tweets, I mean … It’s hard to defend the guy. My opinion has definitely changed.”
Jenkins compiled screenshots of a handful of Hader’s offensive tweets and created a post. That tweet has garnered nearly 6,000 likes. He said his intent wasn’t to dig up Hader’s past to bring him down.
“I still feel that he’s an amazing pitcher, but the things he said were inexcusable,” Jenkins said. “None of us know if he’s really changed since then. I felt it was important for people to see the tweets and make their own judgment.”
After Hader’s tweets came to light, the reliever was swift to apologize, saying the posts were a youthful mistake, written in 2011 and 2012, when he was a 17-year-old and long before he was a major leaguer. For Jenkins, who is 16 and white, the explanation didn’t fly.
“I’m younger than he was at the time, and no one would ever see anything like that from me,” Jenkins said. “It’s horrid.”
Over the weekend, old, offensive tweets from Newcomb and Washington Nationals shortstop Trea Turner also resurfaced. Twitter user NatsSquid posted about Newcomb after seeing one of the tweets on his timeline and did a search to see if there were others.
“Baseball culture is toxic and I want players to be held accountable for what they say,” said NatsSquid, who spoke to The AP via direct message on Twitter and declined to give a reporter his name identifying himself only as “a DC-area male.”
“There is deeply rooted racism in baseball as well as homophobia and sexism,” he said. “I would like baseball culture to change and be more accepting for everyone.”
Despite the rivalry between the Nationals and Braves — currently fighting for position in the National League East — NatsSquid said his posts were not a form of fan warfare.
“It absolutely had nothing to due (sic) with the Braves,” he said. “When I tweeted out Newcomb’s tweets, I didn’t even remember that he played for the Braves. It wasn’t about the game, or the team, it was about him as person. I was also really disappointed in the tweets that came out with Trea Turner and I thought I could expect better from him.”
NatsSquid said he was aware of the Hader controversy when he tweeted about Newcomb. When asked if he thought this weekend’s posts were the work of copycats, Jenkins said he hadn’t considered it, but doesn’t encourage it.
“I’m hoping people don’t continue to do this to athletes as a way to get attention, because that wasn’t my intention at all,” Jenkins said.
The act of exposing tweets is recognition that racism is everybody’s problem, said University of Hartford sociologist Woody Doane.
“Going to a racist insult is something that white Americans have in their toolkit,” Doane said. “As much as we like to say otherwise, I don’t think that’s something we’ve gotten rid of. If racism is going to end, white people need to call each other out on it. One of the elements of white privilege is not having to care about racism.”
Whack is The Associated Press’ national writer on race and ethnicity. Follow her work on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/emarvelous
Richardson Responds to DeWine’s Opposition to Issue 1, Calls on Gov. Kasich to Act
CINCINNATI, OH – Over the weekend Ohio Attorney General and Republican Candidate for Governor Mike DeWine made a statement at the Ohio State Fair, expressing his opposition to Issue 1—the Ohio constitutional amendment on the ballot this November that would “reduce low-level felonies for drug use and possession to first-degree misdemeanors and lead to the potential release of those now imprisoned for some drug crimes.”
Richardson, who earlier this year called on sitting Treasurer Josh Mandel to study the economic impact of Ohio’s private prison system on taxpayers, issued the following statement:
“I am deeply troubled to learn of Attorney General Mike DeWine’s opposition to a Constitutional amendment that would reduce mass incarceration by lowering penalties for non-violent drug offenders. Rather than invest in more drug treatment and job training, state legislators like Robert Sprague have stood watch over a worsening opioid crisis and let private prisons waste billions in tax dollars tearing Ohio families apart – as Treasurer I’ll put a stop to this once and for all. That’s why I urge Sprague and others to join my call on Governor Kasich and others to express their full support for Issue 1 and act now to break this cycle of injustice.”
Rob Richardson is a former chairman of the University of Cincinnati Board of Trustees, where he established the U.C. Scholars Academy for students in the Cincinnati Public School District. He also founded the first Next Lives Here Innovation Summit and led the development of the 1819 Innovation Hub where students, faculty, and staff collaborate with entrepreneurs, startups, and others in the private sector.
Richardson has been a longtime advocate for workers as a marketing construction representative. He also serves “of counsel” with the law firm Branstetter, Stranch & Jennings, where he practices in securities litigation.
Opinion: New Research Bolsters Case for E-Cigarettes
By Robert Goldberg
Gallup recently announced that American smoking rates have hit an a record low of 16 percent. Evidence suggests that e-cigarettes deserve some of the credit.
Nearly half a million Americans die each year of cigarettes. That is nearly three times more than the combined number of suicide, overdose and alcohol deaths, whose rise have generated headlines and been attributed to the decline in U.S. life expectancy. Cigarette smoking causes about one in every five deaths in the United States. It’s estimated 1 billion people worldwide will die prematurely in the 21st century due to cigarette smoking.
While government initiatives, including smoking restrictions, higher taxes and education campaigns, have helped cut the national smoking rate by nearly two-thirds over the last half century, one in six Americans still smoke.
Enter the private sector. The advent of e-cigarettes, which the Royal College of Physicians in Britain concludes are 95 percent less harmful than traditional cigarettes, have coincided with the biggest annual drops in cigarette smoking in decades. Just since 2012, when e-cigarettes began becoming popular, smoking rates have fallen by nearly one-quarter.
A new survey conducted by the independent Center for Substance Use Research in Glasgow of e-cigarette users adds to a growing body of evidence suggesting that the negative association between e-cigarettes and smoking is causative, not merely correlative.
The center surveyed nearly 19,000 users of Juul e-cigarettes, which command about half the U.S. market share. Nearly two-thirds of respondents who were current smokers at the time they began using e-cigarettes quit smoking as a result. Compare this quit rate to other nicotine replacement therapies, including gums and patches, of less than 7 percent.
More than half of cigarette smokers in the survey who weren’t able to quit were nevertheless able to cut their cigarette consumption by 50 percent to 99 percent after they began using e-cigarettes.
Meanwhile, just 2 percent of respondents who hadn’t previously smoked cigarettes began doing so after using e-cigarettes. This suggests the gateway effect that e-cigarette critics fear is minimal-to-nonexistent. For every one respondent who started smoking after using an e-cigarette, 137 quit. Many more significantly reduced their consumption.
These results are in line with other research, including an objective study that measured e-cigarette users’ exhaled carbon monoxide and found that two-thirds of participants had quit smoking. Centers for Disease Control data suggests at least 2.5 million American e-cigarette users have quit traditional cigarettes. Dr. Michael Siegel, a preventive-medicine physician at Boston University’s School of Public Health, believes e-cigarettes are the singular technology that could put an end to smoking.
Given these public health implications, you’d think e-cigarettes would be welcomed with open arms by government officials. Yet the opposite is true. The Food and Drug Association’s “Deeming Rule” requires e-cigarettes to comply with an approval process so arduous and expensive that it will — in the FDA’s own estimate — result in 99 percent of products not filing applications. The rule is set to take effect in 2022.
Like so many regulatory justifications, officials claim e-cigarettes must be stringently regulated to protect children. In April, 11 Democratic senators wrote a letter to FDA Commissioner Scott Gottleib stating that e-cigarettes are “putting an entire new generation of children at risk of nicotine addiction and other health consequences.”
It’s true that e-cigarettes have made their way into American high-schools, displacing traditional cigarettes as the most popular method of nicotine consumption. But the best evidence suggests they are hardly an epidemic. Recently released CDC data find that e-cigarette use has fallen among American high-schoolers since 2014, part of a broader drop in nicotine use over recent decades.
David Abrams, a professor at NYU’s College of Global Public Health, chalks up the concern to e-cigarettes being “a sheep in wolf’s clothing.” Another explanation may be that the veterans of the tobacco wars in the 1990s didn’t just retire or change fields but got positions in public health on the lookout for “the next tobacco.” Tobacco company lobbyists, for their part, also have mortgages and kids to send through college, and may see campaigns to regulate e-cigarettes as a way to maintain their dwindling market share. Like smoking, lobbying habits die hard.
Yet anecdotal and empirical data are clear: E-cigarettes are a relatively healthy alternative that help people quit smoking.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Robert Goldberg is vice president at the Center for Medicine in the Public Interest. He wrote this for InsideSources.com.
Dalton’s aim: Put the big play back in Bengals’ offense
By JOE KAY
AP Sports Writer
Tuesday, July 31
CINCINNATI (AP) — Bill Lazor’s statistical study of the Bengals’ offense during the offseason left him feeling the same as he did on all those discouraging game days. The numbers confirmed what his eyes had seen so many times.
Some mighty small numbers filled up the columns measuring big plays. The Bengals were one of the most inept teams in the league at getting the ball downfield, the main factor in a second straight losing season.
“Statistically, it looks just like it felt,” the Bengals’ offensive coordinator said. “You were there.”
The main emphasis in Lazor’s overhaul of the offense has been finding ways to get big plays out of an offense that finished last in total yards and near the bottom in big plays as well. It all begins with Andy Dalton, who is coming off one of his least-effective seasons.
The eighth-year quarterback completed 69.9 percent of his passes and averaged 6.69 yards per attempt, both figures his worst since his rookie season. Dalton repeatedly was off-target on long passes. He also was under constant pressure, which limited the time for receivers to get open downfield and contributed to the lack of long passes.
“This group’s been one of the best groups in the NFL — since Andy came into the league — on vertical passes,” coach Marvin Lewis said. “And we weren’t very good. So that alone is the first thing.”
The 2015 season was Dalton’s best as he worked behind a veteran line. The Bengals had 63 pass plays of at least 20 yards, nine shy of the league high shared by the Saints and Jaguars. Last season, they managed only 34 such plays, a huge decline. The Saints led the league with 72 pass plays of 20 yards or more.
The passing game wasn’t the only failed area. The Bengals’ longest run was only 25 yards, the worst in the league.
Injuries played a role. Tight end Tyler Eifert hurt his back in the second game and was out for the rest of the season. Top draft pick John Ross was severely limited by two shoulder injuries and didn’t catch a pass.
By contrast, every part of the offense — receivers, tight ends, running backs — provided game-turning plays in 2015.
“Guys did a good job of making tough, contested catches,” Dalton said. “I was being accurate with the ball, and guys were catching and running. I think there were probably some broken tackles in the run game and different things. It’s a big thing we want to do.”
The Bengals failed to score a touchdown in their first two games last season and fired offensive coordinator Ken Zampese. Lazor took over as an interim coordinator, got the job after the season, and was given a lot of latitude to reinvent the offense.
The new playbook provides many opportunities to try for a big play.
“It’s not on everything, but there’s definitely chances to take shots down the field,” Dalton said.
The Bengals traded with the Bills for left tackle Cordy Glenn and drafted center Billy Price in the first round as part of their line overhaul. Ross is back and making impressive plays during camp. Eifert signed a one-year deal and was cleared to practice on Monday.
There was no thought of bringing in someone to challenge Dalton, who has the backing of Lewis and owner Mike Brown. They’re hoping a solid line will give Dalton the time he needs to perform more like he did in 2015.
“When Andy came to us in 2011 up to now, our winning percentage is eighth in the league,” said Duke Tobin, director of player personnel. “We’re confident in him leading our team. We have to be better in front of him than last year. We’ve got to put a better run game with him.
“We feel like we’ve got weapons on the outside and he should be in the prime of his career, so he’s going to have to lead the charge.”
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MLB offense rebounds in July after a historic drop
By RONALD BLUM
AP Baseball Writer
NEW YORK (AP) — Offense is on the rebound in Major League Baseball.
After a historic drop during the season’s first three months that concerned the sport’s leadership, the big league batting average in July was .255, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, raising the season’s average from .246 to .248. Unless it goes up to at least .251 during the final two months, the season average would be the lowest since .244 in 1972.
There were 6,546 hits and 6,195 strikeouts in July, reversing an anomaly in which strikeouts exceeded hits in two of the first three full months.
Overall this season, batters have whiffed more than hit: There have been 27,285 strikeouts and 27,218 hits with the season about two-thirds through. Strikeouts topped hits in April (6,656 to 6,360) and June (6,776 to 6,640) while hits slightly exceeded strikeouts in May (7,033 to 6,971). Before this year, the previous low differential for a full month was in April 2017, when there were 138 more hits than strikeouts.
Strikeouts per game averaged 16.6 in July, down from 16.9 in June, 16.75 in May and 17.5 in April, which was a record for a full calendar month. Strikeouts project to 41,207, which would be the 11th consecutive season setting a record, topping last year’s 40,104. The total was 32,884 in 2008.
There were 857 home runs in 373 games in July, an average of 2.30 that left the season average at 2.29. The average was 2.52 through July last year, just above the record-setting final figure of 2.51.
Weather could have been a factor in the early drop, since balls travel farther in warmer temperatures. The 48.9 degree average U.S. temperature in April was coldest since 1997, according to the National Weather Service, and May’s 65.4 degree average broke the previous high, set in 1934. June’s 71.5 degree average was the third-highest in 124 years of records, behind only 1933 and 2016. July data will not be available until next week.
Baseball officials have attributed the offensive drop partly to the increased use of infield shifts and to more frequent pitching changes that bring hard-throwing relievers into games.
“We think it’s our obligation to carefully monitor what are significant developments with respect to how the game is being played on the field,” baseball commissioner Rob Manfred said on the day of last month’s All-Star Game. “The changes you’re seeing are being driven by smart people who want to win more baseball games.”
“The question for us becomes at what point do we want to step in, OK, and manage that organic change, reflect the judgment that this organic change may be driven by competition,” he added. “There is a growing consensus or maybe even better an existing consensus among ownership that we need to have a really serious conversation about making some changes to the way the game is being played.”
Officials also are concerned about attendance — this year’s average of 28,863 is down 5.2 percent from 30,453 through July last year, and this season could be the first with an average below 30,000 since 2003. Baseball officials cite bad weather that had led to 44 postponements, five more than last year’s season total, and many early season games being played in temperatures below 40. But fan reaction to changes in the game and the many non-competitive teams also are factors.
Players are reluctant to alter playing rules and reaching any consensus among them on what should be done has been difficult.
“Over the last five years or so we’ve seen more changes to the game than we had in the number of years prior,” union head Tony Clark said at the All-Star Game. “Even that in and of itself is concerning to the guys because they don’t want to get to a point and don’t want to get to a place where the fans that have always loved the game and been passionate about it are no longer enjoying it, and we’re also not engaging the next generation of fans along the way. That combination platter is very concerning to the players.”
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