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ALAMEDA http://www.jacksonvillejaguarsteamonline...lor-jersey , Calif. (AP) — Two drug suspensions threatened to derail Darren Waller’s NFL career before it really got started.Now the leading candidate to replace Jared Cook as Oakland’s top tight end, Waller credits those early setbacks with getting him back on track.“At the time it seemed like a whole lot but I’ve been able to learn that the most uncomfortable work is the one that pays off and makes things much more enjoyable,” Waller said Tuesday at the start of the Raiders‘ three-day mandatory minicamp. “It’s been a whole lot of hard work, a whole lot of just making sure that I’m consistent.”Waller missed all of 2017 after being suspended by the NFL for one year following a second violation of the league’s substance-abuse policy. That came on the heels of a four-game suspension in 2016 when Waller acknowledged using marijuana.Waller returned to the NFL in 2018 but didn’t play until the Raiders claimed him off the Ravens’ practice squad. He played in four games late in the season and caught six passes for 75 yards.Though a small sample size, it was enough to convince Oakland to keep Waller around. When Pro Bowl tight end Jared Cook signed with New Orleans as a free agent, Raiders coach Jon Gruden quickly dubbed Waller a leading candidate to replace Cook.“Since he’s been here he’s been one of our most impressive players,” Gruden said. “He played a key role last year when he got here. He’s got some big shoes to fill. I know he respects that. He’s versatile, he’s smart, he’s fast.He wants to do good.”A sixth-round pick of Baltimore in 2015, Waller was drafted as a wide receiver before converting to tight end in 2016. That was right at the start of his off-field troubles which Waller acknowledged carried over to what he did on the field. He caught 12 passes in 18 games with the Ravens.It’s an issue the 26-year-old Waller said he no longer has to worry about.“That gives me a place to feel good about myself and respect myself when I look in the mirror,” Waller said. “Before, I couldn’t really do that and those kind of things translate to the field where it’s like you’re kind of hesitant out there, you’re not too sure of yourself. But now I wake up and I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing in my life and representing my family in a positive way. That goes a long way into me taking on a heavier load and having the confidence in myself to carry it out.“I just tried to prepare myself to come back and contribute again. I didn’t really look as far as how big my role would be but that if my work was there and I was staying clean and being consistent in what I was doing that my role would increase at some point.”Cook’s departure as a free agent was a big hit to the Raiders offense. In two seasons with Oakland http://www.jacksonvillejaguarsteamonline...-ii-jersey , Cook caught 122 passes for 1,584 yards and eight touchdowns, often serving as a safety net for quarterback Derek Carr.Gruden and general manager Mike Mayock overhauled the team’s receiving corps in the offseason, highlighted by the acquisition of Antonio Brown. That could mean fewer opportunities for the tight ends, although Waller’s maturation should keep him in the mix.At the very least, it’s given Waller another shot in the NFL, something he has reminded himself of this offseason.“Staying clean, number one of course, just doing something every day involving football,” Waller said when asked about his daily routine. “Making sure that I know that all I have is today. I don’t really have any days that are promised and I can’t live my life that way.”Notes: Cornerback Gareon Conley worked out on his own in a nearby weight room. . Gruden said Mayock and representatives for Rodney Hudson have been in talks regarding a possible contract extension for the two-time Pro Bowl center. . The Raiders are discussing holding joint practices with the Los Angeles Rams prior to their Aug. 10 preseason game. . Oakland signed WR Montay Crockett and CB Isaiah Langley. DB Makinton Dorleant and S Montrel Meander were waived. INDIANAPOLIS — The Indianapolis Colts kept insisting Andrew Luck would play better after shoulder surgery.He did.Frank Reich acknowledged some of his best work came in a backup role.Apparently, it still does.A healthy Luck and an opportunistic first-year coach led the Colts on a historic midseason turnaround, ending with a playoff run and a glimpse into a potentially promising future.“We left our hearts on the field every game,” Luck said Sunday http://www.losangelesramsteamonline.com/...son-jersey , a day after a 31-13 elimination loss at Kansas City. “I know we all wished we played better yesterday. It’s sad. We wanted this somewhat magical season to continue and we’ll use that to motivate us.”That could be bad news for a team that seemed to defy the odds at every turn.Most figured the Colts hit rock bottom when Josh McDaniels backed out of a deal to become the Colts’ new coach while Luck continued to rehab his throwing shoulder in early February. General manager Chris Ballard wasted no time in making Reich, the offensive coordinator for the Super Bowl champion Eagles, his second choice.The odd sequence included Reich inheriting a defensive coordinator in Matt Eberflus, whom he didn’t know much about and who was already plotting a conversion from a 3-4 front to a 4-3. Reich followed the advice of Ballard by keeping him in the same role and adding two more first-year coordinators to his staff.To outsiders, it looked like a complete rebuild.But the Colts never bought into the perception and delivered the kind of season nobody thought possible when they lost their fourth in a row in mid-October.That’s when things changed.Luck rounded into form, the Colts developed a balanced attack, their revamped offensive line became a virtual fortress and the oft-criticized defense suddenly emerged as one of the league’s stingiest units.The Colts (11-7) won nine of their last 10 regular-season games to become the third team in league history to make the postseason after starting 1-5, followed by a wild-card win at Houston.“You wonder as a first-time head coach, what is this really going to be like? I just couldn’t have imagined in my wildest dreams how this year was,” Reich said. “The guys in this building, the guys in that locker room, the coaches and players, they just exceeded any of my wildest expectations.”Everyone else’s http://www.minnesotavikingsteamonline.co...jr.-jersey , too.Luck had the best overall season of his career, throwing for nearly 4,600 yards and 39 touchdowns while setting career highs in completions, attempts and percentage. He was sacked a league-low 18 times, one season after the Colts allowed a league-high 56 sacks.Meanwhile, Marlon Mack fought off injuries to finish with five 100-yard games — the most by a Colts running back in more than a decade.Eric Ebron finally delivered on the first-round promise the Detroit Lions saw in 2014 by catching 13 touchdowns to lead the league’s tight ends and earning his first Pro Bowl selection.“It was a helluva time, a helluva season,” center Ryan Kelly said. “Guys were fighting for each other and it was just a good time.”But Reich’s favorite might have been watching the rookies develop.Quenton Nelson and Braden Smith were rock solid at left guard and right tackle, and linebacker Darius Leonard led the league in tackles with a franchise-record 163. Nelson and Leonard became the first rookie teammates to earn first-team All-Pro honors since Dick Butkus and Gale Sayers achieved the feat in 1965.Now, with Luck heading into his first healthy offseason in four years, a veteran coach and proven players, Reich knows the expectations will increase next season. He promises to be ready.“We had an opportunity to learn so many lessons this year,” he said. “We lost four or five and then won 10 or 11. So we’ve had a taste of that. I think handling success and high expectations is always more difficult http://www.newyorkgiantsteamonline.com/d...nce-jersey , but I believe in the guys, the players, the leaders to get that done.”NOTES: Kelly wouldn’t rule out having surgery on his injured left knee but described the procedure as minor. … Pro Bowl tight end Jack Doyle said he spent two days in the hospital after suffering a season-ending kidney injury in late-November. Doyle told reporters he was feeling “pretty good,” though he’s still recovering. … Kicker Adam Vinatieri hopes to return for his 24th season after missing the shortest field goal of his career Saturday. He broke the NFL’s career scoring record this season and now has 2,600 points. … Indy signed tight end Billy Brown, cornerback Jalen Collins, offensive linemen Antonio Garcia and De’Ondre Wesley, receivers Krishawn Hogan and Steve Ishmael, quarterback Phillip Walker and defensive linemen DeShawn Williams and Anthony Winbush to futures contracts Sunday.100<button class="view-gallery">View Gallery</button> Gallery:View from the sidelines: NFL cheerleaders 2018Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports | Raj Mehta
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