Wed Jul 28 2:46am ET
By JIM LITKE
AP Sports Writer
In this Nov. 4, 1984, file photo, Chicago Bears running back Walter Payton, (34), eludes Los Angeles Raiders linebacker Rod Martin (53) as he follows blocking of Bears tackle Jim Covert (74) to score his second touchdown in the first half of an NFL football game at Soldier Field in Chicago. Covert made the people he played alongside look good, and after a nearly two-decades-long wait, the tough Chicago Bears left tackle will join them in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. (AP Photo/Steve Green, File)
In this Nov. 2, 1988, file photo, Chicago Bears offensive coordinator Ed Hughes, right, speaks with Jim Covert during NFL football practice in Lake Forest, Ill. Covert made the people he played alongside look good, and after a nearly two-decades-long wait, the tough Chicago Bears left tackle will join them in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. (AP Photo/Mark Elias, File)
In this Jan. 5, 1986, file photo, Chicago Bears' quarterback Jim McMahon, left, sticks out his tongue as he and Jim Covert stand on the sidelines during an NFL football game against the New York Giants in Chicago. Covert made the people he played alongside look good, and after a nearly two-decades-long wait, the tough Chicago Bears left tackle will join them in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. (AP Photo, File)
Former Pittsburgh and Chicago Bears offensive lineman Jim Covert speaks at a news conference for the retirement of his number 75 college jersey before an NCAA college football game between Pittsburgh and Notre Dame in Pittsburgh, in this Saturday, Nov. 7, 2015, file photo. Jimbo Covert made the people he played alongside look good, and after a nearly two-decades-long wait, the tough Chicago Bears left tackle will join them in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic, File)
Jimbo Covert made his name by making others famous first. Maybe that explains the wait.
He was recruited by Jimmy Johnson and finished up at Pitt just in time to join the revving-up Chicago Bears. There, beginning in 1983, Covert opened up running lanes for Walter Payton, walled off the blind side for ''punky QB'' Jim McMahon, and won a three-game, high stakes duel with Lawrence Taylor by making the Giants' linebacking legend look positively ordinary.
''He was one of the best in my 30 years of football,'' said coach Bill Parcells, to drop another name who thinks Covert should have been in the Hall of Fame before now. ''Other guys had to have help against Taylor.''
Yet Covert did need help to join the Centennial Class of 2020. A two-time All-Pro, he anchored an offensive line that swept the Bears to a Super Bowl championship and six division titles in seven years, but played only eight seasons total. He was selected to the NFL's 1980s All-Decade Team, despite losing large chunks of the 1987-88 seasons to the nagging back injuries that eventually cut short his career.
His eligibility for the hall, beginning in the mid-'90s came and went. Covert would make the ballot, but never made it to the semifinal round.
''You just kind of waited,'' he said in a recent videoconference. ''Then you got to the point where you go, `I don't want to think about it.' But it's always in the back of your mind.''
And it wasn't just Covert. Facing a backlog of deserving players, the hall elected 10 senior candidates to the 20-person centennial class. Covert got the news in January 2020, but the pandemic-delayed enshrinement ceremony was pushed back 18 months.
''Waiting for so long makes it even that much sweeter,'' he said.
In a nice bit of serendipity, Covert will enter the hall alongside Johnson, who was an assistant coach at Pitt when he recruited the big (6-foot-4, 277-pound) local hero to protect a quarterback and future Hall of Famer named Dan Marino.
''There were games when my uniform never got dirty,'' Marino said. ''There were games when I never hit the ground. That's incredible.''
At Pitt, Covert shared the credit with Russ Grimm, another future Hall of Famer, and Mark May, both of whom became part of the famed ''Hogs'' offensive line in Washington. When Covert arrived in Chicago in 1983 as the No. 6 pick overall, the team was just beginning to jell, and he took on a bigger leadership role.
With one of the NFL's best defenses ever and Payton in the backfield, the Bears wore out opponents on both sides of the ball and led the NFL in rushing every season from 1983 to 1986. Assessing his career now, Covert called those his salad days: ''I played as well as any tackle - maybe 20 years before that as well.''
Lucky for him, that run also included plenty of big games. After San Francisco beat Chicago 23-0 in the 1985 NFC championship game, Covert recalled a few 49ers joking afterward, ''Bring an offense next time.'' That taunt made the offensive unit determined to match the intensity of the Bears' defense. Practices were battles. They made the 1985 Bears special.
''We went back out there (later) in 85,''' Covert laughed, ''and we brought an offense that time.''
Then there were those one-on-one clashes with Taylor; two came in the postseason and the third was the 1987 regular-season opener, matching the past two Super Bowl champs, both with a penchant for trash talk.
Covert held Taylor, the most disruptive player in the game, without a sack in all three meetings. Equally impressive, he did it almost singlehandedly.
''I just felt like, in order to for us to be successful in those three games, I had to do my job and I had to do it well,'' Covert recalled.
That became harder midway through the 1987 season, after he began dealing with what became chronic back issues. After spending the 1991 season on injured reserve and then retiring, Covert carved out a second career in business and is currently an operating partner in a private equity firm.
His induction this year, along with the late Ed Sprinkle, gives the Bears 30 Hall of Fame players, the largest class in the NFL. He couldn't help lobbying for one more: defensive tackle Steve McMichael, recently diagnosed with a ALS.
''In my opinion, there was a four- or five-year period there in the mid-'80s when no one played the inside position better. He deserves consideration,'' Covert said.
''I had a few scraps with him, but we were like brothers,'' he added. ''I'll be thinking about him that day, you bet.''
Despite being embroiled in numerous civil and criminal cases alleging sexual misconduct, Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson is at training camp and is currently permitted to participate in team activities. The NFL says that Watson faces "no restrictions" when it comes to his participation as the league reviews the allegations. Still, don't take this as a sign that Watson will be playing quarterback in Houston this year, as he's still going to potentially face punishment down the line. Houston is also reportedly open to trading Watson, who requested a trade earlier in the offseason. Tyrod Taylor will be the starter in Houston this year and Watson's probably not going to see the field anywhere in 2022.
The Houston Texans have released wide receiver Donte Moncrief with a non-football injury designation, a move that starts to simplify Houston's crowded receiver room. Moncrief was always a long shot to make the Texans roster, as the team had a lot of young and veteran players on the roster. This move makes it easier for either Chris Conley or Isaiah Coulter to make the final roster, though both still face an uphill battle when it comes to seeing the field. Moncrief wasn't on the fantasy radar and this move doesn't put any other Texans wideouts on that radar either.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers rookie wide receiver Jaelon Darden has certainly caught the eyes of many during training camp so far. This includes coach Bruce Arians, who claimed the wide receiver is quite effective at getting open. Even more encouraging news is the fact the fourth-round draft pick from this past draft is already catching passes from Tom Brady. The North Texas product is coming off a stellar senior season in which he amassed 74 receptions for 1,190 yards and 19 touchdowns. Unfortunately, Darden will enter the season far down the depth chart due to the Bucs' large amount of talent at WR, meaning he's not fantasy-relevant at all.
Los Angeles Chargers rookie offensive tackle Rashawn Slater agreed to a four-year contract that is fully guaranteed on Tuesday. Slater was the 13th pick in the 2021 NFL draft and was one of the best tackles in college football for Northwestern this past season. The Chargers offensive line struggled this past season and Slater should be a big upgrade for Justin Herbert and company. With Slater under contract, only quarterbacks Zach Wilson and Trey Lance remain unsigned from the first round rookie class.
The Pittsburgh Steelers have very high expectations for first-round rookie running back Najee Harris this season. Team GM Kevin Colbert told reporters that he thinks Harris can be a three-down back as soon as his rookie year. Colbert was quoted as saying, "Him coming in as a senior out of college, he has more experience than some of the other underclassmen, so I think that will help him transition. He's coming out a traditional NFL-type offense that should help him transition." In the Mike Tomlin era, the Steelers have been a team that likes to feature one running back, with Najee Harris queued up to be the next bell-cow back for the team. He is a safe bet to finish as an RB1 in fantasy this season and is worth picking as early as the second round in fantasy drafts.
The Dallas Cowboys officially came to terms on a contract with defensive back Malik Hooker. Hooker was the 15th pick of the 2017 draft and played the extent of his rookie contract with the Indianapolis Colts. He's been a strong player while on the field, but has suffered a series of injuries, culminating with a torn Achilles' tendon in September. It's a low-risk, high-reward signing for the Cowboys, who certainly need help in their secondary. Hooker could develop IDP value if he can stay healthy.
Denver Broncos head coach Vic Fangio said that wide receiver K.J. Hamler (hamstring) will be ready to go for training camp. "We have to do a good job of keeping him healthy," Fangio said. Hamler battled hamstring issues throughout his rookie season and ended the year in 2020 on Injured Reserve with a concussion. The Broncos could ease the second-year wideout back into practices this summer, which could also hurt as he tries to develop chemistry with either Drew Lock or Teddy Bridgewater. Hamler has some intrigue as a speedy deep threat that can make splash plays, but he'll likely continue to be inconsistent from a fantasy standpoint, especially with Courtland Sutton returning in 2021. He'll compete for targets with Tim Patrick behind Sutton and Jerry Jeudy.
Chicago Bears head coach Matt Nagy said he will take an aggressive approach to playing time in the preseason, and rookie quarterback Justin Fields is "going to get a healthy amount of reps." Fields is expected to open his first season in the NFL as the backup to veteran Andy Dalton, but the rookie will have plenty of chances along the way to prove that he's the better option in 2021. Dalton will have a short leash as well, so it's a good bet that Fields will be making starts at some point this year. Nagy has also been impressed with Fields' knowledge of the offense to this point. The dynamic athlete with a very strong arm has heaps of upside and could be a great value if he becomes the starter sooner than later as the current No. 19 fantasy QB off draft boards.
New England Patriots tight end Devin Asiasi is out indefinitely in training camp after testing positive for COVID-19. Since he is fully vaccinated, Asiasi can return when he produces two negative tests 24 hours apart. The good news is that the second-year tight end is experiencing only mild symptoms and is targeting a return to the field as soon as he clear's the league's COVID-19 protocols. David Wells should handle an increase in repetitions in training camp behind Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith until Asiasi returns to the field. The 23-year-old had just two catches on seven targets for 39 yards and a touchdown in nine games (three starts) in his rookie season. Asiasi would likely need one of Henry or Smith to go down with an injury to see a bigger workload, and even then he probably wouldn't be on the fantasy radar in most leagues.
Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield should have better chemistry with tight end Austin Hooper heading into their second season together. Hooper had an adjustment period in 2020 after coming over from the Atlanta Falcons. His disappointing season in his first year in Cleveland has him going, on average, as the No. 22 fantasy tight end off the board in drafts this summer. And while he might have better chemistry with Mayfield, there's no guarantee that Hooper will improve on his 5.4 targets per game in this run-first offense. David Njoku and Harrison Bryant also remain at the position, and the Browns have Odell Beckham Jr. (knee) returning from injury. Hooper had career-lows in catch rate (65.7 percent) and yards per target (6.2) in 2020, so it remains to be seen if he can return to the type of production he had in Atlanta. Don't bank on it.
Miami Dolphins star cornerback Xavien Howard, who wants a new contract from the team, reported to training camp on Tuesday, according to a source. So Howard will not hold out after all. The two-time Pro Bowler and 2020 All-Pro inked a five-year, $75.25 million contract extension back in 2019, which at the time made him the highest-paid cornerback in the NFL, but he's already not even the highest-paid cornerback on his own team. The 28-year-old led the NFL with 20 passes defended and 10 interceptions last year, so he has become one of the better shutdown corners in the league. There's a chance that the Dolphins could trade Howard before the season, but they'd likely want a first-round pick in return.
Chicago Bears quarterback Justin Fields will start the first training camp of his NFL career with a boatload of expectations. The Bears traded up in this year's draft to take Fields at number 11 and is competing with veteran Andy Dalton for the starting job. Fields may start the season as the backup but already is earning national praise and some lofty comparisons. ESPN analyst recently described Fields as "a bigger, stronger and faster Dak Prescott". If the talented passer can reach those heights, Bears fans may finally get what they've never had; a franchise quarterback. Fields will be an excellent dynasty/keeper player and a late-round stash in standard formats who could become a quality fantasy starter by season's end.
Miami Dolphins wide receiver Preston Williams (foot) is not ready to practice and will start training camp on the Physically Unable to Perform list. Williams had surgery on his foot last November and was held out of practice during the offseason program. Injuries have been a problem for him in his two NFL seasons, but he's been productive when on the field with 50 receptions and seven touchdowns in 16 career games. The 24-year-old won't be a popular sleeper pick in 2021 due to the additions of Will Fuller and rookie Jaylen Waddle. As things stand now, Williams projects as Miami's No. 4 receiver with a question mark at quarterback in second-year signal-caller Tua Tagovailoa. The Dolphins have other options for depth at the position, too, so Williams needs to get back to full health and prove himself.
Minnesota Vikings wide receiver K.J. Osborn heads into training camp after performing well in OTA's and mini-camp, according to coaches. The second-year receiver was relegated to playing only special teams during his rookie season but is working hard for a bigger opportunity. The Vikings recently added to their wide receivers room with the signing of Dede Westbrook but Osborn simply needs to focus on what he can control and continue to impress the coaching staff. Expect Osborn to see some run during preseason but is considered a long-shot to become a fantasy factor anytime soon.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers safety Antoine Winfield Jr. tested positive for COVID-19 on Sunday, but it was followed by a negative test on Monday. "Antoine tested positive, but today he tested negative, so we think it's a false positive," head coach Bruce Arians said. "That's the problem right now with these false positives, they're missing two days. A couple of them are safeties, so we'll just wait and see." Teammate and fellow safety Jordan Whitehead is also on the COVID-19 list in training camp. It's annoying that they'll have to miss a few days in camp, but both players should be able to return in short order. The 22-year-old Winfield finished as the No. 18 defensive back in IDP scoring in his rookie season in 2020 with 94 tackles (64 solo), one interception, six passes defensed and three sacks.
The Chicago Bears have signed free agent wide receiver Justin Hardy. Hardy has played the first five seasons of his career with the Falcons and has 95 receptions for 946 yards and nine touchdowns for his career. Hardy had registered all nine scores from 2016-2018 but caught only 19 passes in 2019 before not playing at all last season. The move corresponds with the Bears moving on from former second-round pick Anthony Miller and Hardy will compete for one of the final wide receivers spots on the team.
Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers was seen walking into the Packers team facility as training camp opens for the team on Tuesday. It has been a roller-coaster offseason between the Packers and the reigning MVP but perhaps this is the first sign that the soap opera is over....for now. Green Bay's front office and Rodgers appear to have hammered out an agreement, with several unnamed concessions, that will have the 39-year-old playing half of his season at Lambeau Field for one more season. On the fantasy side, Rodgers still ranks as a high-end quarterback, with 40-plus touchdown upside, for the 2021 season.
The Green Bay Packers have announced they have released backup quarterback Blake Bortles. It's not that Bortles would have 'challenged' reigning MVP Aaron Rodgers for the starting job but could have competed for the backup job with untested prospect Jordan Love. The veteran passer is years removed from throwing 35 touchdowns in 2015 for the Jaguars but still could provide depth on an NFL roster. As training camps around the league get underway, Bortles may have to be patient before he finds a landing spot.
Los Angeles Chargers running back Justin Jacksonhas been placed on the COVID-19 reserve list. Jackson is entering training camp in a competition with Joshua Kelley and Larry Rountree III to back up Austin Ekeler. It has already been reported that Jackson could be on the roster bubble, and being sidelined to begin training camp will not help his chances. There is no timetable for how long Jackson will be out, but any missed time is critical in his competition. Jackson has rushed 138 times for 676 yards and caught 43 balls for 330 yards in three seasons with the Chargers. The Chargers have a new coaching staff and new offense with Joe Lombardi as the new offensive coordinator. Whoever wins the backup job behind Ekeler should be one of the better insurance options heading into the season and could even make an impact as a flex option.
New Orleans Saints wide receivers Marquez Callaway and Lil'Jordan Humphrey could see their roles increase in 2021, with star wideout Michael Thomas (ankle) expected to miss the first few months of the season. Provided the Saints don't bring in a veteran receiver, second-year pros Callaway and Humphrey will be tasked with filling in the void of production a healthy Thomas likely would have provided in the offense. Callaway made the most of his opportunity in an October contest against the Panthers last year sans Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders, turning a career-high 10 targets into eight receptions for 75 yards. Humphrey also briefly flashed, connecting with former signal-caller Drew Brees for a red-zone score. Given that they're unproven at the professional level, Callaway and Humphrey are likely to go undrafted in fantasy drafts this fall- though they should be on managers' radars as potential waiver wire pickups.