Day: October 2, 2019

Football Giants May Get Saquan Back as well as Golden Tate

By Scott Mandel

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – It was 88 degrees here this afternoon, but to Golden Tate it created emotions oddly similar to those experienced at another time of year.

“It felt like Christmas to me,” he said.

Tate to make season debut after 4-game suspension

Tate was the proverbial child receiving a long-anticipated gift. After missing the first month of the Giants’ season while serving an NFL suspension, Tate practiced with the team for the first time since the final week of August, on a day strangely hotter than it was then. He will make his season debut on Sunday, when the Giants host the Minnesota Vikings.

“It was good,” Tate said. “I felt like I was moving around pretty well. Obviously, I just need to catch my wind a little bit. But I felt like I was pretty sharp for the most part. You had guys like (Sterling) Shep(ard) and Cody (Latimer) that helped me if anything popped up.

“I missed these guys, I missed the chatter, the music, the warmups, I missed everything about it. Just being around the guys, it was special. Something that I definitely value. Just excited to get back out and compete. It was great.”

Tate spent his enforced absence at his home in San Diego working out with Melvin Gordon, the Los Angeles Chargers’ running back who ended his holdout last week. Though they attempted to make their sessions as rigorous as possible, NFL football is a game that cannot be replicated away from a team’s practice environment.

“It’s hard to simulate football without playing football,” Tate said. “So much goes into it. I was running a lot, and I felt like I was in shape. But until you have that first practice, that’s when you learn – today was also an 88-degree day, so that could have something (to do with) it. The biggest thing is I think I’m strong enough where I won’t go out and pull any muscles or tendons, so that’s the most important thing. My wind will come over the next few days, I would expect. Coach (Pat Shurmur) is doing a great job of taking care of me.”

Tate brings skill, speed, experience and 611 career receptions to an offense that has been on an upward curve since rookie Daniel Jones became the starting quarterback two weeks ago. He should step right in and join Shepard and tight end Evan Engram as Jones’ favored targets.

“Obviously, he’s a guy that’s played a long time, he’s caught a lot of balls,” Jones said. “He’s a really good player, he gives us another weapon, another tool on offense. Excited to have him back out there for sure.

“I worked with him a little bit (in the preseason). The week of the Patriots game especially, I worked with him a little bit. We all worked with everyone throughout camp and throughout the preseason, I feel comfortable with him, I think he feels comfortable with me, so I think we’ll be on the same page.”

Tate has played in 137 regular-season games with 100 starts, so he knows how to prepare during the week and can anticipate what will happen on Sunday, both physically and mentally.

“With this being my 10th year, I feel like I have a good beat on what to expect,” he said. “I guess the biggest thing would be being used to the physicality of the game. That first time I get out there, getting off a release and actually getting jammed, or getting pads put on me and being knocked off my path. Or when I do make a catch, getting hit and trying to have that body control down to the ground. I would probably say that’s the biggest thing. Maybe the speed. The speed is obviously going to be a little bit more than it is in practice, especially against this defense that flies around. I think I’ll adjust pretty quickly.”

That might take a little more time against the Vikings, who line up with one of the NFL’s most formidable defenses. Minnesota is ninth in the league in passing yards allowed with 218.5 a game.

The good news is that this is a very familiar foe for Tate. He spent 4½ seasons with the Detroit Lions, one of the Vikings’ NFC North foes. He has played 10 games against them and his 50 receptions vs. Minnesota is his second-highest total vs. any opponent (Green Bay, 52).

“I believe (that helps),” Tate said. “I’m very familiar with majority of those guys on that defense. I used to play them twice a year. I know them a lot, but with that being said, this is a very hardnosed, tough defense that we’re playing.”

The other part of that equation, of course, is that had these teams met a week ago, the Vikings would not have had to contend with Tate. Now they have to prepare for him with no game action to study to help them discern how the Giants might use him. Tate wants to contribute not only statistically, but to the chemistry on an ascending offense.

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” he said. “(I am) just another option. It’s no secret that yards after the catch is something that I specialize in. I feel like I can take that five-yard pass and turn it into an explosive play, which is what we might need a time or two this season. I don’t mind going through the middle. I don’t mind blocking. I think I can make big plays. Just another complete receiver on top of the guys that they have like Cody, Shep, Evan and Wayne (Gallman). We have a lot of guys that can make plays. Just another option that hopefully is going to make it easier for D.J. and harder for defenses to cover.”

That itself is a pretty good srecei

Barkley running and cutting today

*Saquon Barkley officially did not practice today, but he was on the field for the first time since spraining his right ankle 10 days ago at Tampa Bay. After going through some rehab drills, he stood with his fellow running backs and was both cheerleader and observer. And afterward, Shurmur was asked if this week’s game is too early for Barkley’s return to the field.

“I don’t know yet,” Shurmur said. “We’re just going to see where he’s at. He’s out there moving around. I’ve seen him moving around. I guess this is the first opportunity for you guys (reporters) to, so that’s probably why it’s a point of interest.”

Image result for Saquon Barkley running today
Barkley was running and cutting today at practice, two weeks after his injury, despite the high ankle sprain prognosis of 8 weeks

*Linebacker Alec Ogletree (hamstring) and guard Kevin Zeitler (shoulder) also did not practice.

Four players were limited: running back Wayne Gallman (neck), tackle Nate Solder (neck) and linebackers Lorenzo Carter (neck) and Tae Davis (concussion).

“We have a bunch of guys here that this time of year, it’s just game soreness,” Shurmur said. “I’m not really concerned about (them). … Just game soreness stuff. This time of year, it kind of creeps up. By the end of the week, most, if not all, of these guys will be ready to go.”

SportsReporters’ 2019-2020 NBA Previews: Brooklyn Nets

The Brooklyn Nets enter the 2019-20 NBA season with very different expectations than they did a season ago. Lots of teams enter training camp talking about culture and/or how they’re being overlooked. Well, the Nets were one of the few teams that were right in 2018-19. They entered last season having won only 28 games the season prior and ended the season with 42 wins and a playoff berth.

The Nets swapped out D’Angelo Russell for Kyrie Irving, they return a fully healthy Caris LeVert and they still have Kevin Durant to look forward to in 2020-21. Further, they fleshed out their depth at the center position and swapped out Allen Crabbe for Taureen Prince. Long story short, the Nets are ready for the national spotlight. Now they’ll have to live up to the hype instead of playing above expectations.

You have to give coach Kenny Atkinson, a local guy from Long Island who played point guard at the University of Richmond, credit. He’s changed the culture of this moribund organization know mostly for its losing ways. The Nets became contenders quickly – going from the laughing stock of the league to the envy of it in about two years. Even with Durant missing most – or probably all – of 2019-20, the Nets will still boast top-10 talent.

They’ll be fun this season and if Durant returns to form in 2020-21, look out. The one caveat for 2019-20 is if Kyrie can put his ego aside and be the Nets on-the-court leader. He struggled to do so in Boston. But last year was a learning opportunity and Irving should be better prepared to be a team-centric leader with the Nets this year.

Sean Marks, their general manager who learned how to construct an NBA team from the geniuses in San Antonio, Gregg Popovich and the general manager, R.C. Buford, inherited a mess of a team when he took over in the front office, and he’s done a remarkable job of cleaning it all up and putting a real contender together. Brooklyn has become a destination for marquee players and that was evident this past summer. Taurean Prince, Garrett Temple, and Wilson Chandler were solid pickups. Jarrett Allen and Rodions Kurucs were spot on draft picks. It will be huge if this team can manage to win a playoff series while Durant recovers.

Key Players:

Jarrod Allen

A major knock on Jarrod Allen was on full display in the postseason last year against Joel Embiid and Philadelphia. Embiid made a habit of bullying Allen in the post, and Allen simply couldn’t hold his ground. But according to Nets Daily, Allen added 10 pounds of muscle this offseason, which will come in handy when battling bigger and more physical opponents – and which could help separate him and other above-average rim protectors as early as this season.

Top Playmaker: Spencer Dinwiddie

Spencer Dinwiddie attacks the basket with supreme confidence – he averaged a career high 6.6 points in the paint in 2018-19. But he can also dish the rock, too. He averaged 6.6 assists per game in 2017-18 and 4.6 in 2018-19.

He’ll probably play alongside Irving a bit but since the Nets lack true point guards, he’ll also almost certainly rack up minutes as the lead guard for the Nets’ second unit, allowing him to demonstrate his ability to create for others.

If Dinwiddie can shore up the second unit, the Nets will – once again – boast two top-tier point guards. And the drop off from Irving to Dinwiddie might be the smallest across the entire league as far as starting and backup point guards is concerned, which is a huge buoy to a team’s offensive continuity.

Top Clutch Player: Joe Harris

Joe Harris gained national attention in the last year or so, thanks entirely to his shooting ability. Harris is definitely more than just a shooter, but he is also a certifiable assassin from long-range. He shot 45.9 percent from three-point range last season and ran around screens at an elite level – according NBA.com, Harris ranked 5th in the league in average speed on offense at 5.17 mph. He also shot 47.9 percent on 4.2 attempted catch-and-shoot three-pointers per game.

Also, his time with Team USA this summer should only improve his game and work ethic, having been exposed to superstars and their processes, including Kemba Walker and Jayson Tatum.

Harris’ unassuming approach and demeanor also make him a perfect fit with other similar-minded Nets like Jarrett Allen. And having a team-first shooter like Harris is a must for teams hoping to compete for a championship (e.g., Kyle Korver).

The Unheralded Player: Caris LeVert

It might be a stretch to call LeVert unheralded, but the presence of guys like Irving and (eventually) Durant will allow him to fly under the radar, even after a quasi-breakout year last season.

Fresh off of a three-year extension with the Nets, LeVert can now put financial distractions aside and focus exclusively on his game – not that that’s been an issue. He looked primed for an All-Star selection through the first few weeks of last season, but an ankle injury derailed his year and cost him more than 30 games.

A healthy LeVert will benefit from the increased offensive threat that is Kyrie Irving. He is an ideal third option alongside Irving and Durant come 2020. But LeVert will happily develop his game as the second option this season next to Irving – and the Nets could find themselves contending for an NBA title if LeVert takes his game to the next level.

Best New Addition: Kevin Durant

As much as Durant doesn’t affect the on-the-court product this season, building a dynasty is about much more than one year. Durant’s addition truly validates the Nets ascension. They have completely arrived as a force to be reckoned with. Irving was a great addition and boasting a strong core and excellent coaching staff is equally important, but adding a top-three active player moves the needle in the NBA like few other things can. Durant has the luxury of being patient with his rehab and recovery. While rumors already began to circulate about Durant’s return thanks to video of him walking without crutches in Los Angeles this summer, it’s more likely than not that Durant takes his time and returns at the start of the 2020-21 season. And the Nets should do everything in their power to ensure that is the case – unless his recovery is so far ahead of schedule that the team and every expert available all agree that he there is no doubt he is back to 100%.

2. DeAndre Jordan

As much as Allen is the Nets’ defensive anchor, he struggled defending Embiid in the playoffs (as stated above). Jordan’s game is very similar to Allen’s, only he is 10 years older and approximately 30 additional pounds heavier. Having two starting-caliber centers who can’t share the floor with one another – neither of them can stretch the floor – might be unusual for the modern NBA, but it also guarantees that they’ll always have a shot blocker and rim runner available. Signing Jordan to a four-year deal with no team options was curious, but he’s obviously a good addition.

THE BURNING QUESTION

Can Kyrie Irving play nice with others?

It’s hard to say so with certainty. His recent past doesn’t speak highly of his ability to do so. He abruptly asked for a trade from Cleveland, and then he wore out his welcome in Boston thanks to an allegedly holier-than-thou attitude.

But Brooklyn might be different. After all, he likely won’t have to endure any prolonged periods of subpar play, which could change his thinking on things – and that probably won’t happen given the level Coach Atkinson had his team operating at last year.

And further, Irving had selected Brooklyn as his destination of choice. While he requested out of Cleveland, Boston was not on his short list of preferred teams. We haven’t seen a prime, locked-in Irving since the 2016 NBA Finals. His recent experiences will serve him well in his dealings with Durant, LeVert and his other teammates.

Additionally, Irving’s played for some accomplished coaches – but none as universally loved by their teams as Coach Atkinson is in Brooklyn. And because of that, Atkinson can get even more out of Irving than did Mike Brown, David Blatt, Ty Lue or Brad Stevens.

So if Irving is willing to be a big brother to his teammates and help lead the way, he’ll have the requisite support of his coaches – and that could result in the 2019-20 version of Irving being the best we’ve seen yet.