Best of Friday at NFL training camps: Teams continue the conversation about social injustice

Ongoing discussions about social injustice dominated NFL training camps again Friday. Among the most vocal players were Tennessee Titans safety Kenny Vaccaro, who vowed not to discuss football with the media this season, and Green Bay Packers tackle Billy Turner, who is determined to find the best approach to produce the desired changes in society.

Said Vaccaro: “For me and my platform, my duty is to speak on things that are happening, and that’s just my stance. I’m just not going to talk football this year.”

Several squads, including the Miami Dolphins and Minnesota Vikings, held team meetings to discuss the issues.

On the field, a few teams held live scrimmages, with Dak Prescott and Tom Brady among the quarterbacks making a good impression.

Here’s what you need to know from camps across the league:

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Packers tackle Billy Turner: Boycotting NFL games won’t bring needed societal change

Turner wants societal change as much as much anyone, but he doesn’t think players skipping NFL games is the way to bring it about. Turner, who has been outspoken about social injustices throughout the offseason, said Friday that he and his team have discussed a wide array of options to help promote change but questioned whether not playing in the regular season would be effective.

“The system that is so brutally and utterly ruining everything that is freedom in this country is what needs to change,” he said.

Titans’ Kenny Vaccaro: No football talk this season in light of police shootings

Vaccaro started his virtual news conference by informing the media that he is shutting down all football talk this season. Vaccaro feels that it’s only appropriate to discuss social injustice, systemic oppression, racism and police brutality in light of the recent events including the shooting of Jacob Blake by police in Kenosha, Wisconsin.

“I don’t think sitting out a practice is going to stop police from killing Black men. The next step is getting into communities,” Vaccaro said.

Source: Ravens alter routine, but don’t cancel practice

Baltimore altered its routine on Friday, holding meetings ahead of an afternoon walk-through, but did not cancel a practice despite an announcement that indicated that was planned, a team source told ESPN’s Jamison Hensley.

Tom Brady ‘fired up’ in first scrimmage at Bucs’ stadium

Tampa Bay quarterback Tom Brady led three scoring drives — two culminating in touchdowns — in the Bucs’ first scrimmage of training camp, Brady’s first time playing at Raymond James Stadium in a Bucs uniform.

There were no fans, but there was crowd noise and cannons were fired as Brady’s team — the first-team offense and defense — defeated Blaine Gabbert’s second-team units, 15-6.

“He was fired up. He was ready to go,” coach Bruce Arians said. “It was his first time in a game atmosphere. He had great command.”

Broncos RB Melvin Gordon emotional about native Kenosha

Of all the Denver Broncos players and coaches who spoke during a day’s worth of discussions about social justice, police shootings and potential work the players and team could do in the community, running back Melvin Gordon’s words might have resonated the deepest.

Gordon, a Kenosha, Wisconsin, native, stood up in a full team meeting Thursday to reveal what he was feeling about the Jacob Blake shooting, and his teammates said Gordon’s words will long be remembered.

“When Melvin got up there, it just hit so much closer to home than, I think, people expected,” Broncos safety Justin Simmons said Friday.


Reflection, discussions continue

Following practice inside U.S. Bank Stadium, the Vikings met as a team in the end zone and moved their message forward after an emotional two-hour meeting on Thursday during which players aimed to find real solutions to issues of social and racial injustice.

Running back Ameer Abdullah spoke for his teammates and called for the proper prosecution of ex-Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who is on trial for the killing of George Floyd after kneeling on his neck for nearly eight minutes, along with the other officers involved in Floyd’s death.

“Right now, we’re going to put the pressure on the bureaucratic system to implement a proper [prosecution] of Derek Chauvin,” Abdullah said. “I’ll repeat his name again — Derek Chauvin. I’m not going to just say ‘the officer.’ His name is Derek Chauvin, along with the other officers who murdered George Floyd in the streets of Minneapolis. I speak for my entire team right now. I appreciate them allowing me to come up and be the voice. But just know, I’m just one man but the army behind me is stronger when we’re together.” — Courtney Cronin

Seahawks safety Quandre Diggs said he’s registered to vote this year for the first time in his life. He was planning on preparing his ballot later Friday so he could send it out early. The 27-year-old Texas native said he didn’t know much about absentee voting previously and that he’s more mature than he was four years ago.

“For me it’s my duty to go out there and vote. For me, I just made it important. I don’t like the leadership that we have now. I’m just going to be honest with you. So for me, for me to invoke my change, I think it’s important for me to go out there and give my vote. I’m not telling people to vote for … People back in the day fought for our rights to be able to vote, and for me, I think it’s important for me to take advantage of those rights and go do that.” — Brady Henderson

What our NFL Nation reporters saw Friday

During Dallas’ scrimmage, Prescott threw to Cedrick Wilson, who shook free from Chris Westry at the goal line for a touchdown with no time on the clock in the Dallas Cowboys‘ scrimmage. Needing the 2-point conversion to tie the game, Prescott ran it in himself, although in a true game he would have had to force his way through a defender.

Prescott had converted a fourth down with a scramble and hit running back Ezekiel Elliott with a short pass to set up the TD throw to Wilson.

Trevon Diggs dropped a game-clinching interception on a Prescott throw to Michael Gallup during the drive. Had Diggs, who had a good day otherwise, come up with the takeaway, Prescott would not have had the chance to tie the game.

A big point of emphasis: Getting rookie running back Antonio Gibson involved. But that means he has to learn a lot of different areas, because Washington will line him up all over — from the backfield to out wide and in one- and two-back sets. Gibson only works with the running backs during practice, but must sit in on meetings to learn what he must do when aligned wide (as other backs have done, too).

Ron Rivera said it has led to some confusion for Gibson. The team could lessen his role “but when you do that he only has a limited amount of plays,” Rivera said. So they’ll keep putting as much on him as possible for a simple reason, Rivera said: “Having him on the field helps us be a good team.” — John Keim

Due to heavy rains, the Browns moved their practice up three hours and moved it inside. Because the team moved all its weight equipment into the indoor practice facility, to allow for the weight room space to become a second locker room accommodating social distancing, the Browns had about half as much field space as in the past for practice. — Jake Trotter

The Steelers circled Thursday and Friday as practices to walk through some game-day procedures. They treated the first half of Thursday’s practice as a Saturday walk-through before moving on to kickoffs and returns with live tackling. On his first kickoff return rep, Ray-Ray McCloud found a hole and burst through, running all the way to the tunnel on the opposite end. Tonight, they continue the mock-game weekend with a 6 p.m. practice at Heinz Field. — Brooke Pryor

On a day when team owner David Tepper made an appearance and first-round pick Derrick Brown went down on a one-on-one pass rush drill with what coach Matt Rhule called a “nagging ankle” injury that isn’t serious, the most intriguing thing might have been that Kaare Vedvik was doing all the kicking. And Joey Slye was not.

Perhaps Rhule was giving Slye some rest before Saturday’s “big scrimmage” at Bank of America Stadium. Perhaps he was sending a message that Slye needs to be more consistent. Vedvik was claimed off waivers last week to give punter Joseph Charlton some competition and an occasional break. Stay tuned for exactly what this all means. Rhule did say he wouldn’t keep three kickers on the 53-man roster, but could stash one on the practice squad. — David Newton

Once again, Bengals running back Joe Mixon was nowhere to be found at practice. Coach Zac Taylor confirmed the star tailback is dealing with migraines, which have kept him out of recent practices. When asked if Mixon’s absence was related to the lack of a contract extension, Taylor said he didn’t believe that was the case and that Mixon has been honest and open with the coaching staff. Mixon is entering the final year of his rookie deal. — Ben Baby

If the first nine practices have been a struggle for rookie quarterback Jordan Love, then perhaps practice No. 10 was a breakthrough.

Love, the Packers’ first-round pick and potential heir apparent to Aaron Rodgers, made perhaps his best throw of camp, hitting receiver Malik Turner in stride on a deep corner route to his right. He came back on the next throw and fired a ball just behind receiver Reggie Begelton over the middle, and while he narrowly missed his target, at least Love fired the ball with some velocity. He has been throwing mostly touch passes in camp.

“I thought today he was much better,” coach Matt LaFleur said after practice. “He was more aggressive. I thought he was more decisive, and that’s what we want to continue to see.” — Rob Demovsky

The Titans had two players leave practice early. Receiver A.J. Brown jogged inside with a trainer after the first team period and didn’t return. Tannehill found Brown on a deep pass along the sideline and across the middle.

Isaiah Wilson went down during team period, but got up and limped to the sideline before walking inside. Tennessee’s offense struggled in the next team period without Brown. Harold Landry got a would-be sack and Derick Roberson also pressured Tannehill. — Turron Davenport

Running back Todd Gurley looked fresh and rejuvenated as he stood out during the Falcons’ “mock game” at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Gurley had seven touches on the first team’s first two drives, including a 9-yard run on his first touch and then a 2-yard touchdown when he ran to the outside and beat linebacker Edmond Robinson to the end zone.

Gurley got the corner on cornerback Isaiah Oliver on a 9-yard run and had a solid block on linebacker Mykal Walker. Gurley also caught a pass over the middle where he was met by two linebackers. He didn’t seem to have any issue with his left knee while being involved in three drives, although he had no touches on the last drive. — Vaughn McClure

The 49ers practiced inside Levi’s Stadium for the first time this season Friday in hopes of getting a feel for what a game day will be like. The practice was lively but it was also defense-dominant as the first-team offense struggled to gain any traction. Without fullback Kyle Juszczyk, tight end George Kittle, receivers Brandon Aiyuk and Deebo Samuel, and center Ben Garland, the offense couldn’t get much going after a strong opening drive led by the run game.

At one point, center Daniel Brunskill snapped the ball over quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo‘s head and into the end zone. Exasperated coach Kyle Shanahan could be heard voicing his frustration in no uncertain terms as the second unit on both sides came onto the field. The good news for the Niners? They’re expecting more or all of those injured players back in time for the opener against Arizona. — Nick Wagoner

The Raiders officially broke training camp with a pseudo-Family Day practice at Allegiant Stadium — their second workout in their new digs in as many weeks — in front of an estimated 200 COVID-tested and socially distanced friends and family. While the seventh padded practice of camp looked more like a scrimmage with most starters dressing but sitting out most of the day, quarterback Derek Carr continued working on establishing a rhythm with speedy rookie receiver Henry Ruggs III, particularly on deep balls.

While right tackle Trent Brown, who practiced for the first time on Wednesday, receiver Tyrell Williams and backup quarterback Marcus Mariota were nowhere to be seen, cornerback Trayvon Mullen was working with a trainer on the sidelines. The Raiders are off this weekend — walk-throughs are possible — and get into regular-season practice mode on Monday. — Paul Gutierrez

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