Bucs’ Howard: ‘I think I’ll be able to come in and make plays when it’s time’

Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end O.J. Howard was hoping to have a breakout year in 2020, and after four games, he was on pace to have career-highs in receptions, receiving yards, and touchdowns. However, in Week 4 against the Chargers, Howard ruptured his Achilles tendon, which caused him to miss the rest of the season.

The 26-year-old is back, and according to Howard, the Achilles is feeling good.

“It’s awesome to be back. I’m just working to get back to where I want to be,” Howard said on Monday. “It’s good to be back around the guys and be in the huddle again. The Achilles feels good. It’s just one day at a time for me right now, but I’m just so happy to be back.”

Coming back from a ruptured Achilles is never easy, but the 19th overall pick in the 2017 NFL draft feels he’s slowly getting back to himself.

“My conditioning level is really good right now but getting into football shape, of course, is different,” he said. “We’re getting it in, but we’re being smart about it. The most important thing for us is Sept. 9 and playing weeks after that.”

The goal for the five-year veteran is to get better in all aspects of the game. Howard worked on his run blocking and his pass-catching in the offseason, which he discussed on Monday.

“I just tried to study every aspect of my game,” he said. “I took the top guys in my position pass-catching wise and took the top of my position run blocking wise. I studied all six of them. I just tried to steal things from their tapes and try to evaluate my game. I think it’s been translating over to the field as I’ve been getting acclimated to the field.

“As far as my production on the team this year, I think I’ll be able to come in and make plays when it’s time. We’ll have our opportunities based on who we have out in our receiver corps. My position, in general, is going to have a chance to open the middle and make plays, so when we get those chances, we must be ready. I think we’ll have a lot of those this year.”

This is a big year for Howard, who can be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season. If he wants to get big money, whether with the Bucs or elsewhere, he has to prove he’s back from the injury, and he has to produce.

Maestre to battle Mykal Fox after Crowley withdraws due to COVID-19

Welterweight contender Eimantas Stanionis will square off against former world champion Luis Collazo in a 10-round duel that headlines FOX PBC Fight Night and on FOX Deportes this Saturday, August 7 from The Armory in Minneapolis.

FOX PBC Fight Night begins at 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT and features unbeaten welterweight and two-time Venezuelan Olympian Gabriel Maestre battling Mykal Fox for the Interim WBA Welterweight Title in the co-main event. Kicking off the broadcast, former-two division world champion Devon Alexander “The Great” will return to action for a 10-round welterweight showdown against Luke Santamaría.

Maestre was originally scheduled to face fellow unbeaten Cody Crowley, who was forced to withdraw after a positive COVID-19 test.

Stanionis (13-0, 9 KOs) has earned a series of eye-catching victories as he has climbed up the ranks from prospect to contender, most recently earning a career-best 12-round decision over Thomas Dulorme in April. The 26-year-old from Lithuania, who now lives and trains in California, looked impressive as he picked up three solid wins in 2019, beating Samuel Figueroa via unanimous decision and scoring early stoppages against Julio Cesar Sanchez and Evincii Dixon. The undefeated welterweight continued to put the division on notice with back-to-back dominating main event performances in November and December 2020, when he notched ninth-round knockouts over Justin DeLoach and Janer Gonzalez respectively.

An experienced veteran in the welterweight division, Collazo (39-8, 20 KOs) has proven a stiff test over the years for top welterweights such as Keith Thurman, Shane Mosley, Amir Khan, Andre Berto and Ricky Hatton, to name a few. The Brooklyn, New York-native was a world champion in 2005 and has sprung upsets on rising contenders with memorable knockouts of Victor Ortiz and Sammy Vasquez. After triumphing over Bryant Perrella in 2018, Collazo defeated Samuel Vargas in March 2019 and most recently lost a technical decision to Kudratillo Abdukakhorov in October 2019.

A two-time Olympian for his home country of Venezuela, Maestre (3-0, 3 KOs) had an extensive amateur run that included victories over Brian Castano, Carlos Adames, Alexander Besputin, Oscar Molina and Brian Ceballo. The 34-year-old turned pro in 2019 with a pair of impressive triumphs, stopping previously unbeaten Jeovanis Barraza before earning a TKO over veteran contender Diego Chaves. August 7 will mark Maestre’s U.S. debut professionally.

Fighting out of Upper Marlboro, Maryland, Fox (22-2, 5 KOs) towers at nearly six-feet-four-inches tall and has used his length and excellent boxing ability during his pro career that dates back to 2014. The 25-year-old bounced back from a 2019 loss to Shohjahon Ergashev to win his next three outings. In his most recent fight, Fox lost a close decision to Luke Santamaria in August 2020.

Alexander (27-6-1, 14 KOs) makes his return after a June 2019 defeat to Ivan Redkach stunted a previous comeback attempt that saw Alexander go 1-1-1 in fights over a 10-month stretch. Before that stretch, a period of inactivity saw him seek treatment for an addiction to painkillers and eventually prove an inspiration in returning to deliver exciting fights against Andre Berto, Victor Ortiz and Walter Castillo. The St. Louis, Missouri native had an impressive run at super lightweight and unified titles in that division before scoring victories over Marcos Maidana, Lucas Matthysse and eventually Randall Bailey to capture a welterweight championship.

The 32-year-old Santamaría (11-2-1, 7 KOs) steps into the ring to make his FOX debut after dropping a decision to top welterweight prospect Paul Kroll last October. Santamaria had previously scored an August triumph over veteran contender Mykal Fox that saw him drop Fox in round one of their battle on FS1. The Garden Grove, California native also owns a decision over Willie Jones and a split draw against Marquis Taylor in his 2019 contests. Santamaría was unbeaten in 10 fights since his first loss before facing Kroll, with his only other defeat coming via a four-round decision in his third pro bout in 2015.

Team USA Women’s basketball to face Australia in medal round

Following the 2020 Olympic women’s basketball preliminary round, FIBA conducted the draw to determine quarterfinal pairings for the Tokyo Olympic basketball medal round on Monday night in Saitama, Japan. The U.S. Olympic Women’s Basketball Team (3-0) will take on Australia (1-2) to open medal round play on Wednesday, Aug. 4 (1:40 p.m. JST / 12:40 p.m. EDT).

“We’re in the quarterfinals playing a team like Australia, who we’re very familiar with,” said USA head coach Dawn Staley (South Carolina). “Australia will be a formidable opponent because we know each other so well, and we look forward to the challenge of getting out of the quarterfinals. We certainly have to execute on both sides of the ball and continue to get better to advance.”

After dropping its opener to Belgium (85-70) and a close contest to China (76-74), in order to advance Australia had to defeat Puerto Rico in its final pool play game by 25 points. After trailing 45-44 heading into the locker room, Australia stormed out in the second half for a 27-point, 96-69 victory to advance.

The other three quarterfinals games will feature China (3-0), which won Group C, against Group A second place finisher Serbia (1-2); Group A first place finisher Spain (3-0) will meet up against France (1-2), the third-place team out of Group B; while host Japan (2-1), which finished second in Group B, will compete against Group C second place finisher Belgium (2-1).

Winners of the USA versus Australia game will face the winner of the China versus Serbia contest in the first of two semifinal contests on Aug. 6 (1:40 p.m. JST / 12:40 p.m. EDT), while the winners of the other two quarterfinal games will square off in the second semifinal (8 p.m. JST / 7 a.m. EDT).

Semifinals winners advance to the Aug. 8 gold medal game (11:30 a.m. JST / Aug. 7 at 10:30 p.m. EDT), while the bronze medal game will be played on Aug. 7 (4 p.m. JST / 3 a.m. EDT).

Teams eliminated from the Olympic women’s basketball tournament are Nigeria (0-3) from Group B, South Korea (0-3) from Group A, Puerto Rico (0-3) from Group C and Canada (1-2), which finished in second place out of Group A.

The No. 1 team in the world and following its three preliminary games, the USA owns an all-time record of 69-3 in Olympic play and is riding a 52-game winning streak in Olympic competition, which began with the 1992 bronze medal game, includes a record six-straight gold medals and three victories in Tokyo.

Photo: Team USA

Fury, Dubois make American debut on Paul-Woodley undercard

Three more exciting matchups have been finalized for the highly-anticipated Jake Paul vs. Tyron Woodley SHOWTIME PPV fight card. Former world champion Ivan Barancyhk will compete along with U.K. stars Daniel “Dynamite” Dubois and Tommy “TNT” Fury making their U.S. debuts in separate bouts on Sunday, August 29 from Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse in Cleveland, Ohio.

The five-fight SHOWTIME PPV telecast will begin at 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT and be headlined by renowned content creator and undefeated professional boxer Jake “The Problem Child” Paul taking on the toughest challenge of his young career in the former UFC champion Tyron “The Chosen One” Woodley. The card also features the previously announced world championship showdown between Puerto Rican star and WBC/WBO Featherweight World Champion Amanda “The Real Deal” Serrano and super bantamweight world champion Yamileth Mercado of Mexico, which will serve as the co-featured bout.

A former junior welterweight world champion, Baranchyk will step into the ring to face the unbeaten Cleveland-native Montana Love in a 10-round showdown on the pay-per-view. Baranchyk seeks another run at the 140-pound title, while Love looks to score a career-best win.

The hard-hitting heavyweight Dubois, who is ranked No. 1 by the WBA, will face Joe Cusumano in a 10-round matchup, and Fury, the younger brother of heavyweight world champion Tyson Fury, will square off against combat sports veteran Anthony “Pretty Boy” Taylor in a six-round, 180-pound catchweight fight to open the pay-per-view telecast.

Additional action at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse includes top-10 ranked junior middleweight and 2016 U.S. Olympian Charles Conwell taking on Lucas Bastida of Argentina in a 10-round fight. Paul, Love and Conwell will be fighting critical bouts in front of their hometown fans at the Cleveland arena.

The Belarusian Baranchyk now fights out of Oklahoma and will look to move closer to another world title opportunity with a win August 29. Sporting a 20-2 record with 13 knockouts, the 28-year-old returns to the ring after fighting in the 2020 Fight of the Year against Jose Zepeda last October. The two fighters combined to score a staggering eight knockdowns in the instant classic won by Zepeda. Baranchyk became a world champion in 2018 by stopping then unbeaten Anthony Yigit in seven rounds. He steps in against Love, a graduate of the ShoBox: The New Generation series who owns a 15-0-1 record with seven knockouts. A highly accomplished amateur, Love will be fighting in his hometown of Cleveland for the second time in his career.

“This is a big step for me,” said Baranchyk. “I am grateful to get back in the ring with someone like Montana after my loss. I want to show everyone that I’m back, I’m stronger, and I’m a new version of myself. I want to thank my fans for the support you’ve always given me. On August 29, it’s SHOWTIME, baby!”

“I know Ivan is a strong young fighter, but he has some ugly habits,” said Love. “We’re having a grueling camp right now and I’m going to keep it ‘Too Pretty’ on fight night. Cleveland deserves the show I’m about to put on.”

A promising heavyweight contender at 23 years old, Dubois has compiled a 16-1 record with 15 knockouts since turning pro in 2017. Dubois had an impressive amateur career as a five-time British junior national champion. A London-native, Dubois’ lone professional loss came against top heavyweight contender Joe Joyce in November 2020. Dubois rebounded quickly with an emphatic second-round knockout of Bogdan Dinu in June to capture the Interim WBA Heavyweight Title. Now, he takes on the 33-year-old Cusumano, who has won four of his last five bouts with all of those victories coming by stoppage. With a record of 19-3, his 17 knockouts give him an impressive 77% KO ratio. Fighting out of Danville, Virginia, Cusumano most recently knocked out Gregory Corbin in November 2020.

“I am ready now to push on and build on the WBA interim title I won in my last fight,” said Dubois. “I am thrilled to take the show on the road and look to win the American public over. I am told the American public love heavyweight boxing, so it is time to introduce them to Daniel Dubois. I will make sure it is a name they won’t forget.”

Already a crossover star after his runner-up finish on the hit U.K. reality TV show “Love Island”, Fury will look to follow in the footsteps of his boxing-rich family and establish his own championship legacy. The 23-year-old from Manchester is 6-0 with four knockouts, having most recently earned a unanimous decision over Jordan Grant in June. Fury will be opposed by Alameda, California’s Taylor, an experienced MMA competitor who dropped his sole pro boxing appearance in 2017 by split-decision. The 32-year-old’s MMA experience includes five Bellator fights and a 7-5 overall record with wins in his last five fights. Taylor is currently training in Puerto Rico and is a regular sparring partner of Jake Paul as he prepares for his bout against Woodley.

“American fans can, as always with me, expect a big dirty knockout,” said Fury. “That is what I say and that is what I try to bring. I want to put on a masterclass performance and show levels again and show how much I am improving. This is another step on my journey to world titles.”

Mavs pick up contract option on Cauley-Stein

The Dallas Mavericks have picked up the second-season contract option for center Willie Cauley-Stein, the team announced on Sunday.

Cauley Stein will make $4.1 million next season. He signed this current contract with the Mavericks last December.

Last season, the 27-year-old averaged 5.3 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 17.1 minutes in 53 games (16 starts). The career 54.5% shooter has shot at least 50% from the floor in each of his seven NBA seasons, including a career-high 63.2% (115-182 FG) in the 2020-21 season.

The six-year veteran was acquired by Dallas from Golden State on Jan. 25, 2020, in exchange for a 2020 second-round pick.

Cauley-Stein holds career averages of 9.1 points, 6.0 rebounds, 1.5 assists, and 22.6 minutes in 402 career games (253 starts) with Sacramento, Golden State, and Dallas. 

He was the sixth overall pick by Sacramento in the 2015 NBA Draft after a three-year career at the University of Kentucky. 


Jonnie Rice on win over Coffie: ‘I had to fight a little bit like Deontay Wilder’

Heavyweight Jonnie Rice (14-6-1, 10 KOs) got a big opportunity at Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey, when he stepped in for Gerald Washington(COVID-19) to score a technical knockout over previously unbeaten Michael Coffie (12-1, 9 KOs) in the main event on Saturday night(FOX).

Referee Eric Dali called a stop to the action at the 2:19 mark of the fifth round after Rice was tagging Coffie in the corner.

Rice had lost two straight fights before battling Coffie on Saturday night, including a unanimous decision loss to Efe Ajagba last September, but he fought inspired against Coffie and dominated the fight from start to finish.

While Rice was a late replacement, according to him, he was ready.

“I wasn’t a late replacement,” Rice said. “I was waiting for an opportunity. We replaced someone, but we weren’t late. We were right on time. I was training every day. I was training with Michael Hunter. I did 20 rounds, 10 and 10, last Friday before I got the call. So when I got the call, I was ready.”

Rice was surprised by how Coffie fought. He expected Coffie to be more of the aggressor. However, it was the opposite. Rice was the one dictating things in the ring. In his mind, it was like Deontay Wilder versus Luis Ortiz, and he was Wilder.

“Honestly, I didn’t expect to overwhelm Coffie like that,” Rice said. “I knew Michael Coffie from his fights, but not because he had a great record but because he was a sparring partner for Deontay Wilder. In my head, I played the little game that I was Luis Ortiz’s sparring partner for his second fight against Wilder. So technically, it was Luis Ortiz’s vs. Deontay Wilder’s sparring partners. We’re going to see what happens. I was playing with that in my head. I had to fight a little bit like Deontay Wilder and then a little bit different.”

The 34-year-old did not call out anybody after the fight, but at this point, the goal for Rice is to be a world champion and make a bunch of money doing it.

“I want it all. I want what every boxer wants,” he said. “I want to be world champion. I understand that my record doesn’t say that, but I want the world to watch my progress. I’m not in the right mind to be calling people out. I’m just going to be ready for the opportunity, and when it comes, I’m going to answer the call. I’m going to get as much money for it as I can. And you know one thing, I’m going to put on a show.”

Coffie did not look good on Saturday night, but all the credit goes to Rice; he was well-prepared and fought a great fight. Now, maybe more significant opportunities are on the way.

Mielnicki dominates Kidd

In the co-main event on FOX, New Jersey native Vito Mielnicki Jr. (9-1, 6 KOs) knocked out Noah Kidd (6-4-2, 5 KOs) in the second round of their welterweight contest. Mielnicki scored a knockdown in the opening frame, causing the crowd at Prudential Center to erupt with cheers for the hometown favorite.

Mielnicki continued to batter Kidd in the second round, forcing Kidd to take a knee. Referee Eric Dali had seen enough at that point and stopped the action at the 2:32 mark of the second round.

“Kidd was fading fast,” said Mielnicki. “That’s why I started to pick up the pressure. He was starting to wilt. I learned in my past performance that when you have someone hurt you have to finish the job.”

Mielnicki was supposed to compete in a rematch against James Martin, but Martin missed weight. Kidd was originally scheduled to fight on the non-televised portion of the undercard, but filled in as Martin’s replacement against Mielnicki.

“There were no issues with the change of opponent,” added Mielnicki. “I trained for a more technical fighter. Kidd was more awkward than Martin. We got the job done in front of my hometown fans, so I’m happy.”

Having noticed the tremendous amount of support at Prudential Center, Mielnicki concluded, “This is my home and these are my people. Whenever we fight in Jersey this is where we’re doing it. I’m looking forward to many more fights here.”

Dirrell stops Brooker

In FS1 action, veteran contender and Olympic bronze medalist Andre Dirrell (28-3, 18 KOs) got a technical knockout win over Christopher Brooker (16-8, 6 KOs) in their light heavyweight bout. Referee Richard Gonzalez stopped the fight at the 2:58 mark of the third stanza.

The FS1 co-main event featured unbeaten heavyweight Norman Neely (9-0, 7 KOs) defeating Juan Torres (6-4-1, 3 KOs) by unanimous decision (60-54, 60-54, 60-52).

The FS1 opener showcased super lightweight contender Karl Dargan (20-1, 10 KOs) knocking out Ivan Delgado (13-4-2, 6 KOs). Referee Harvey Dock called a stop to the action at the 1:09 mark of the third round.

Photo/credit: Frank Micelotta/FOX

Team USA Men’s basketball to battle Spain in medal round quarterfinals

With preliminary round play completed, FIBA (International Basketball Federation) conducted the draw for the Tokyo Olympics men’s basketball medal round quarterfinals Sunday night, and the U.S. Olympic Men’s Basketball Team (2-1) will face Spain (2-1)  on Tuesday, Aug. 3 at 12:40 a.m. EDT.

Other August 3 quarterfinals pairings unveiled Sunday included Group B first-place finisher Australia (3-0) versus Group C third-place finisher Argentina (1-2) at 8:00 a.m. EDT; Group A first-place finisher France (3-0) versus Group B second-place finisher Italy (2-1) at 4:20 a.m. EDT; and Group C first-place finisher Slovenia (3-0) versus Group B third-place finisher Germany (1-2) at 9:00 p.m. EDT on Aug. 2.

Winners of the USA/Spain and Australia/Argentina quarterfinal games will meet in one semifinal on Aug. 5, while the winners of the France/Italy and Slovenia/Germany quarterfinal games will face off in the other semifinal. Semifinal winners will advance to the Aug. 7 gold medal game (10:30 p.m. EDT on Aug. 6), while semifinal losing teams will advance to the bronze medal game (7:00 a.m. EDT).

Four teams were eliminated from the medal round, including Pool A third-place finisher Czech Republic (1-2), Pool A fourth-place finisher Iran (0-3), Pool C fourth-place finisher Japan (0-3) and Pool B fourth-place finisher Nigeria (0-3).

The American men concluded Olympic Pool A preliminary round play with a 2-1 record, losing  their opening game to France 83-76 and recording victories over Iran 120-66 and Czech Republic 119-84.

The USA’s quarterfinal opponent, Spain, defeated Japan 88-77 and Argentina 81-71, and lost to Slovenia 95-87 in Group C preliminary play.

The XXXII Olympic Games men’s basketball competition is being held July 23-Aug. 7 at the Saitama Super Arena in Saitama, Japan.

The 2020 Tokyo Olympic men’s basketball tournament features a different format than in past Games.

The 12 competing men’s teams were drawn into three groups of four teams apiece for preliminary play that was contested July 27-Aug. 3. Following completion of the preliminary round, the top two finishing teams from each pool and the two best third-place teams, according to FIBA’s placement rules, qualified for the medal round and were re-seeded.

The U.S. men have won the gold medal in the last three Olympics and have medaled in all 18 Olympics in which they have competed, including 15 gold medals, one silver and two bronze medals. The Americans currently own an impressive 140-6 all-time record (.956 winning percentage) in Olympic action. Since NBA players began representing the United States in 1992, the USA is 53-3 in the previous seven Olympics, capturing six gold medals and one bronze medal.

Photo: Team USA

Jags QB Trevor Lawrence on first week of training camp: ‘I definitely made a lot of strides’

Jaguars rookie quarterback Trevor Lawrence has completed his first week of training camp, and as a rookie in the NFL, every day is a learning experience. 

On Saturday, the number overall pick in this year’s draft reflected on his first week of training camp.

 “It was a good week — yeah, I felt like I definitely made a lot of strides, individually, but as an offense and a team since the spring, you can kind of see everyone getting comfortable and learning the system,” Lawrence said. “It was a really good week. I didn’t have the best day today, but that’s what training camp is about — working out the kinks and really just owning our offense in the situations that were going in and against.”

According to Jaguars head coach Urban Meyer, the real work starts next week for Lawrence.

“He’s good. His skill set is there,” Meyer said. “The thing is that everybody has to remember [is] that defense is not allowed to make a play on the ball right now. That’s what happened in spring, and we almost got fined because we had two defensive backs go after the ball. I told them today it’s over now. Now go make a play, next week we can start that. So, all you can evaluate now is retention and skill set, plus plus. The real stuff starts next week.”

Last season, quarterback Gardner Minshew was the starter for the Jaguars. Coming into this season, Minshew will probably be the backup and Lawrence the starter, but at this point, there’s a “quarterback competition,” and Lawrence enjoys the competition.

“It’s always a competition — I mean, I’d say when I was at Clemson when I first came in, it was a similar situation, and that’s how it has to be. It has to be a competition — nothing can be given,” he said. “When you start giving things to people, you set the wrong precedent for the team. I have a lot of respect for the coaches, the way they’ve handled everything, and my job is to just come in every day, go to work and try to make this team better, and that’s hopefully getting close to the season, we can all gel and get some more work together, but right now, I’m just doing my job.”

Lawrence is going to have good days at camp, and he will have bad days. He also will have struggles during the season, but the Jaguars invested a lot in him, so he will have any and every opportunity to be the guy in Jacksonville. Week one of training camp is done, and Lawrence has to continue to put the work in as training camp continues next week.

Watch highlights of Jaguars training camp:

Mavs acquire Moses Brown from Celtics for Richardson

The Dallas Mavericks have acquired Moses Brown from the Boston Celtics in exchange for Josh Richardson, the team announced on Saturday.

The 21-year-old Brown averaged 8.6 points, 8.9 rebounds, 0.7 steals, 1.1 blocks in 43 games (32 starts) with the Thunder last season. 

The second-year center holds career averages of 7.3 points (.540 FG%), 7.6 rebounds, 0.9 blocks, and 18.3 minutes in 52 games (32 starts) with Portland and Oklahoma City.

Brown, who went undrafted in 2019, was traded along with Al Horford to Boston in the deal that sent Kemba Walker to Oklahoma City.

Richardson, 27, is being dealt for the third straight year. The Mavericks acquired him from Philadelphia in exchange for Seth Curry and the draft rights to Tyler Bey (36th overall pick in 2020) last November.

Last season, he averaged 12.1 points, 3.3 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 1.0 steals in 59 games.

I love this deal from the Mavericks’ standpoint. Brown is a player on the rise and has shown a lot of potential during his time with OKC. Regarding Richardson, he gives the Celtics a solid perimeter defender and a player who is a solid scorer. 


Giants’ Lawrence: ‘This whole offseason I worked on myself, I worked on learning my position’

Dexter Lawrence is listed as a 6-4, 342-pounder on the Giants’ roster, so it’s no surprise he’s usually not impressed by a teammate’s size. But Danny Shelton, who checks in at 6-2 and 345 pounds, is the rare person who can make Lawrence feel small.

“A little bit,” Lawrence admitted after a training camp practice today. “He’s a massive dude, but good personality. He fits right in. I’m excited to be able to work with him.”

Entering his third year, Williams trained this offseason with neither losing nor gaining weight as a goal.

“I was just trying to maintain and shape my body,” he said. “It’s kind of like, I’m to the point that I’m going to be big all my life. Just make it look good … and keep my sexy on.”

The defensive line has a different vibe in this camp. Gone is Dalvin Tomlinson, who started every game the last four years and in 2020 was a captain and the Giants’ Walter Payton Man of the Year nominee. He was enormously popular within the organization. But the Giants could not fit him under the salary cap and still address other needs, so Tomlinson signed with the Minnesota Vikings.

They compensated for the loss by adding Shelton, one of the NFL’s most consistent run-stopping linemen. With him in the middle of the front, the Giants could improve their run defense, which ranked 10th in the NFL last season, allowing 111.4 yards a game.

“Honestly, the group in whole, we all just bond and click,” Lawrence said. “We can coach each other. We can pick on each other. There’s no hard feelings with anything because everybody is genuine. Like I said, he fits right in. He came in and fit right in. He even brought some character to the room, so it’s not a lot of – it’s not like an intruder came. It’s kind of like, it just fit like a puzzle was put in.”

In addition to its abundance of size, the defensive front has plenty of talent. Lawrence, Shelton and Leonard Williams were all first-round draft choices, selected 12th, 17th and sixth in their respective drafts. Williams had a career-high 11.5 sacks and was twice named the NFC Defensive Player of the Week last season. Shelton has 247 career tackles and earned a Super Bowl ring with the 2018 New England Patriots.

Lawrence, who played in all 32 games with 31 starts in his first two Giants seasons, last year tied linebacker Kyler Fackrell for second on the team with 4.0 sacks. He also tallied 53 tackles (30 solo), including six for loss, 10 quarterback hits and two passes defensed.

“I expect more from myself,” Lawrence said. “My main focus is helping the team win games. Whatever I can do to help the team win games is what I will do. I push everybody in practice, the whole D-line, we root for each other. We want to see each other be great, so that’s the whole goal in the room is to help everybody be great.

“My focus this offseason was learning the position more. I know there was a lot that I watched myself on tape that I didn’t exactly know what to do. This whole offseason I worked on myself, I worked on learning my position.”

That should pay dividends for both the Giants and him this season.

“I’m improving every year,” Lawrence said. “The goal as a D-lineman is to be a complete player, to do all you can. You want to play every down. So that’s your goal is to be that complete player and that’s what you work at, taking it stage by stage.”

Via: Michael Eisen