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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — In a span of seven minutes, Marcell Dareus used the words shocking, overwhelming and emotional to describe what he’s felt since he was traded to the Jaguars on Friday evening.

From the phone call from the Buffalo Bills informing him of the trade to his arrival in Jacksonville amid the annual Florida-Georgia game at EverBank Field to meeting the coaching staff to quiet moments in his hotel room, Dareus said he was still trying to adjust even as he participated in his first practice Monday morning.

“I still haven’t gotten over it yet,” Dareus said. “I’m still in shock. I’m shocked for a trade. I’m shocked that this defense, this team … I’m still just taking it all in. It’s three days, man. Three days.”

The Jaguars’ newest defensive tackle said he had an idea that something may have been in the works last week but he continued to prepare for the Bills’ home game against Oakland. When he was told he was headed to Jacksonville in exchange for a sixth-round pick in 2018, things started to happen pretty quickly.

Friends and teammates stopped by his home on Friday night to say goodbye, and on Saturday morning he was headed to the airport with a one-way ticket.
“I still haven’t gotten over it yet. I’m still in shock. I’m shocked for a trade. I’m shocked that this defense, this team … I’m still just taking it all in. It’s three days, man. Three days.”

Marcell Dareus said Monday that it's been a whirlwind three days after being traded from the Bills to the Jaguars.

Marcell Dareus said Monday that it’s been a whirlwind three days after being traded from the Bills to the Jaguars.

Marcell Dareus
“Little overwhelming,” Dareus said. “Kind of saw some things happening but at the same time I was getting prepared for the game and we had a game plan in and I was practicing all week and I’m just zoned in, trying to keep negativity out. And when I got the call and things happened the way it did, I can’t lie it did make me a little emotional because I know [Saturday] it is a one-way ticket [to Jacksonville].

“It was so swift that before I knew it I was already in Charlotte and by the time I got to Charlotte, a blink of the eye and I’m here in Jacksonville saying hey to the coaches, the biggest cocktail party in the world, and with all that going on it was just — the world is spinning. Traded, on the plane, cocktail party, going to the stadium, saying hello, getting out, going to the hotel room laying on the bed looking at the roof: What is going on?”

Dareus isn’t completely unfamiliar with the Jaguars. Doug Marrone was the head coach and Nathaniel Hackett the offensive coordinator in Buffalo in 2013-14. Jason Rebrovich is the Jaguars’ assistant defensive line coach and he was a quality control/assistant defensive line coach under Marrone in Buffalo, too.

That at least helped to somewhat lessen the shock, but he’s now caught up in learning the Jaguars’ defensive system and finding out where he fits in. The Jaguars are last in the NFL against the run (138.6 yards per game) and no team has allowed more than their 5.2 yards per rush. The 6-foot-3, 331-pound Dareus gets headlines because of his prowess as an interior pass-rusher (35 sacks in six-plus seasons) but he’s one of the league’s better run-stuffing tackles.
Dareus had his two best seasons under Marrone, racking up 17.5 sacks in 2013-14 and making the Pro Bowl in both seasons. The move does come with some risk. Dareus has had more than his share of off-field issues — he was benched for being late to a team meeting in 2013, was sent home from a preseason game this year for violating a team rule, was twice suspended for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy, and he’s had two offseason arrests — but the Jaguars believe the help the Alabama product can bring the run defense is worth the risk.

“We’re all at risk, myself, everybody,” Marrone said. “I think some people get themselves in situations [and] you hope that they learn from it. If they don’t then obviously there’s consequences.”

Dareus said he’s glad to be getting a fresh start.

“I thought that Buffalo was home and extremely happy for everything I’ve done there, everything they’ve done for me, the organization,” he said. “… “At the same time it’s a business and this is where I am and I am thoroughly happy just to be a Jag. It feels good to be wanted.”

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Luxury brand Aston Martin has begun selling a special Tom Brady Signature Edition car, promising a delivery for early next year.

The convertible, which features Brady’s touches on the company’s Vanquish S Volante model, is limited to just 12 total cars and will cost $359,950 each.

“We started with a blank canvas and finished with a beautiful car,” the New England Patriots quarterback said in a statement. “It’s been great to see it all come to fruition.”
The car has an ultramarine black exterior with dark leather inside and paddle shift tips made out of California poppy leather.

Brady’s signature is on the doorsill plates, and his “TB12″ logo can be seen throughout the vehicle, including on the fender and embossed on the headrests.

The Tom Brady Signature Edition Car by Aston Martin will sell for $359,950 and will be limited to just 12 convertibles.

The Tom Brady Signature Edition Car by Aston Martin will sell for $359,950 and will be limited to just 12 convertibles.

The five-time Super Bowl champion signed a deal with Aston Martin in May after more than a year of talking to the company.

With the guidance of the company’s chief creative officer, Marek Reichman, Brady personalized his car.

“When he does something on the field, he sees the result immediately,” Reichman told ESPN. “His world is very short in terms of timing. So one thing he made clear to us was that he wanted to be able to make a move and feel the immediacy of performance.”

Despite the high price tag and the fact that Aston Martin is only making 12 cars, executives at the British company feel that signing Brady was a good move.

“This car touches people through a voice in Tom that they understand,” Reichman said. “He speaks English in an American’s English, and he’s telling the world why he loves our product. It’s as simple as that.”

Brady’s deal does not include a car, so he’d have to buy one himself.

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MINNEAPOLIS — The NFL handed down a one-game suspension without pay to Vikings strong safety Andrew Sendejo for his hit on Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Mike Wallace on Sunday.

The league says the hit was a violation of safety-related playing rules, in which Rule 12, Section 2, Article 6 (i) states, “there shall be no unnecessary roughness. This shall include, but will not be limited to: (i) using any part of a player’s helmet or facemask to butt, spear, or ram an opponent violently or unnecessarily.”
On the second play of Baltimore’s second drive, quarterback Joe Flacco threw a short pass to Wallace, and the receiver was quickly wrapped up and in the process of being tackled by Minnesota cornerback Xavier Rhodes. Wallace’s left knee was almost touching the ground when he was hit near the head and neck area by Sendejo.

Wallace’s helmet came off after contact was made. The receiver lay on the ground for several moments before heading to the sideline with trainers. He was put in the concussion protocol and later ruled out for the remainder of the game.
Ravens coach John Harbaugh declined comment when asked about the suspension.

NFL vice president of football operations Jon Runyan handed down the suspension on Monday afternoon and gave his reasoning in a letter to Sendejo.

Mike Wallace was knocked out of the game Sunday by a shot to the head from Vikings safety Andrew Sendejo in the first quarter.

Mike Wallace was knocked out of the game Sunday by a shot to the head from Vikings safety Andrew Sendejo in the first quarter.

“The violation was flagrant and warrants a suspension because it could have been avoided, was violently directed at the head and neck area and unreasonably placed both you and an opposing player at risk of serious injury,” the letter read.

Coach Mike Zimmer defended Sendejo’s hit during his Monday press conference under the belief that Wallace established himself as a runner.

“I think the receiver took five steps after he caught the ball and I think [Sendejo] hit him with a glancing blow,” Zimmer said. “He established position as a runner, took two extra steps. Xavier was trying to pull the ball out, which he ended up doing. The guy went down a little bit, but in my opinion, [Wallace] was a runner.”

Sendejo has up to three business days to appeal the suspension, per the NFL’s collective bargaining agreement. Under the terms of the suspension, the safety will eligible to return to the active roster on Monday, Oct. 30, one day after Minnesota plays Cleveland in London.

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The NFL will look into why Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton on Thursday declined to speak to media, league spokesman Brian McCarthy told ESPN.

Team spokesperson Steven Drummond said the 2015 NFL MVP did not give a reason. Coach Ron Rivera also was unaware of why his quarterback did not participate.

“I just found out,” Rivera said. “I thought he had a press conference today, but apparently not.”

Star players are required to be available to the media during the week while in season.

Panthers quarterback Cam Newton declined to speak to media on Thursday.

Panthers quarterback Cam Newton declined to speak to media on Thursday.

Newton, until Thursday, had participated in every required media opportunity the past two weeks since he made light of a football question from Charlotte Observer reporter Jourdan Rodrigue earlier this month.

Rodrigue took time off after the incident and was not at Newton’s other availabilities. She returned to the beat for the first time on Wednesday, when Newton normally holds his weekly news conference. He also did not speak that day.

Newton was at practice on Thursday and sat in front of his locker for more than 10 minutes playing loud music during the media open locker room session.

Players are subject to fines for missing media availability

Meanwhile, the Panthers could be without two of their biggest stars, middle linebacker Luke Kuechly and wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin, for Sunday’s game at Chicago.

Kuechly was at practice with a helmet and cleats, but he remains in the concussion protocol, where he was placed after taking a hit to the shoulder and neck area late in the second quarter of last Thursday’s 28-23 loss to Philadelphia.

He was listed as a non-participant in practice on the injury report, despite participating in some individual drills during the portion open to the media. He did not participate in team drills during the media portion.

The injury report said concussion protocol on Wednesday, but it was changed to concussion on Thursday. A team spokesman said the change was made to be consistent with a past injury report.

ESPN’s Adam Schefter, citing sources, reported on Sunday that the team does not believe Kuechly suffered a concussion. McCarthy said if a “player is diagnosed by medical staff with a concussion, he should be listed as concussion.”

Outside linebacker Thomas Davis said it was good to see Kuechly running around at practice.

“Just understanding this situation is not like the other situations,” Davis said of Kuechly, in the protocol for the third time in as many seasons. “Seeing him bounce back as quickly as he has — he’s in a definite good place at this time. Just excited to see him walking around and healthy.”

Kuechly still has to participate in a full practice and be cleared by an independent physician to be eligible to play. Asked whether it was unlikely the 2013 NFL Defensive Player of the Year would play on Sunday, Rivera said, “We’ll see.”
Kuechly missed three games in 2015 with a concussion. He was in the protocol for three games in 2016 and then held out the final three games as a precaution with Carolina out of playoff contention.

Benjamin did not practice for the second straight day, with swelling in his left knee that was surgically repaired in 2015.

“It swelled up from a shot he got the other day, so he went and saw the doctor,” Rivera said. “We’re a little bit concerned, so we’ll see.”

Rivera said if Benjamin doesn’t show signs of improvement on Friday then the team likely would make a roster move. Devin Funchess likely would step into Benjamin’s role as the “X” receiver, and rookie Curtis Samuel likely would see more time as the slot receiver.

Free safety Kurt Coleman saw his repetitions increased in practice after missing the past two games with a sprained knee. He was listed as limited on the injury report, but Rivera was encouraged by Coleman’s progress.

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GREEN BAY, Wis. — Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers will have surgery on his broken right collarbone “in the near future,” coach Mike McCarthy said Monday.
The quarterback’s season “potentially could be over,” but when asked if he’d consider bringing in a veteran quarterback, McCarthy was clear.

“I’ve got three years invested in Brett Hundley, two years invested in Joe Callahan,” McCarthy said. “The quarterback room is exactly where it needs to be, OK? We’re fortunate to have a great quarterback in Aaron Rodgers. We’re committed to the path that we’re on. We need to play better as a football team.”
McCarthy was adamant that he plans to go forward with Hundley as his starter and Callahan, who was promoted from the practice squad on Monday, as the backup. It’s possible the Packers might add a practice-squad or No. 3 developmental quarterback.
The team won’t make a decision on Rodgers until after the procedure, so he remains on the roster.

Hundley, who replaced Rodgers in Sunday’s 23-10 loss to the Minnesota Vikings, will make his first start Sunday against the New Orleans Saints at Lambeau Field. At this time, there has been no consideration given to bringing in a veteran such as Colin Kaepernick, Robert Griffin III or even Tony Romo.

Rodgers broke his right collarbone after Vikings linebacker Anthony Barr hit him in the first quarter Sunday. The quarterback was rolling out to his right with Barr pressuring him. As Rodgers threw, Barr hit him in the midsection and drove him into the turf, where Rodgers landed on his shoulder.

Packers backup quarterback Brett Hundley threw three interceptions in relief of Aaron Rodgers on Sunday.

Packers backup quarterback Brett Hundley threw three interceptions in relief of Aaron Rodgers on Sunday.

McCarthy took issue with Barr’s hit.

“He’s out of the pocket, he’s clearly expecting to get hit,” McCarthy said. “To pin him to the ground like that, I felt it was an illegal act. To sit here and lose any of your players on something like that, it doesn’t feel very good. Yeah, I didn’t like the hit. It was unnecessary … totally unnecessary, in my opinion.”

Vikings coach Mike Zimmer thought the hit was clean.
“We’re playing football,” Zimmer said. “It’s unfortunate that he got hurt but I think everything was above board. We’re not a dirty football team. We’ll never be a dirty football team as long as I’m here. We’re going to play within the rules and sometimes things happen.”
Rodgers missed seven starts in 2013 when he broke his left collarbone. This time he is expected to be out longer because it’s his throwing shoulder. Rodgers did not have surgery four years ago.

Hundley threw one touchdown pass and three interceptions in relief of Rodgers. Two of the interceptions came on deflected passes. The former fifth-round pick out of UCLA played well in his rookie preseason in 2015, when he led the league in exhibition passing yards while throwing seven touchdown passes and one interception.

“He brings a lot of tools to the table,” Packers offensive coordinator Edgar Bennett said. “I think it all starts with his overall preparation and his command in the huddle. You look at the way he’s performed in the preseason, I think he’s a unique player. Go back to his college days, the plays that he made stood out. We know that we have a player that we have all the confidence in.”

After Sunday’s game, the mood in the Packers’ locker room was somber.
“It’s devastating, no question about it,” Packers receiver Randall Cobb said. “First and foremost, it’s one of my closest friends, so to see him go down with that, it’s tough. But we’ve still got to play football. We’ve got a long season ahead of us, and we’ve got to figure out what we’re going to do.”

On Monday, McCarthy tried to turn the attention forward even though there are other injury issues on the offensive line (where three starters dropped out Sunday) and in the secondary (where three starters were inactive and a fourth, cornerback Quinten Rollins, was placed on injured reserve to make room for Callahan).

“We are ready and fired up to go get them Saints,” McCarthy said. “I mean, that’s the mood, it was important to shift gears. We took the later part of our meetings today and focused on getting on to the Saints video. We usually wait ’til Wednesday to do that. Had a bunch of corrections to go through by segment to the offense, defense, special teams. But we’re looking forward to playing again after our performance yesterday.”

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ALAMEDA, Calif. — The NFL is keeping an eye on the wildfires in Northern California and has been exploring options to move Sunday’s game between the Oakland Raiders and Los Angeles Chargers if it becomes necessary.

Michael Signora, the NFL’s vice president of football communications, said Thursday that the league is getting updates on the situation from both teams and from city officials in Oakland.

“We continue to monitor air quality conditions in the Bay Area and are in close communication with both the Raiders and Chargers, as well as local authorities,” Signora said. “At this point, the game remains scheduled for Sunday in Oakland.”

At least 29 people have died, and some 3,500 homes and businesses have been destroyed by the blazes, which began in California wine country Sunday. An estimated 25,000 people have been driven from their homes.

Oakland, which is about 45 miles south of the fires, has been blanketed by smoke.

The Raiders released a statement on the matter.
“We continue to monitor air quality conditions in the Bay Area and are in close communication with the NFL, the Chargers & local authorities. At this point, the game remains scheduled for Sunday in Oakland.”

College football games in Berkeley and Stanford are also planned for this weekend, and officials from both schools are monitoring the situations there as well.

If the NFL decides that conditions in Oakland are too unhealthy to play Sunday, the Raiders game could be moved to Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara. San Diego mayor Kevin Faulconer has also offered up Qualcomm Stadium, where the Chargers used to play before relocating to Los Angeles this year.

“It’s up to them to make the final decision to either move us, prepare us to play here, or what not,” Raiders cornerback TJ Carrie said. “But we have to continue to practice and play as if we’re going to play here.”

Carrie said the Raiders have advised players to be cautious with their time outside.

“Our strength team and some of the nutritionist people that we have, they’ve expressed to us on different masks that we can purchase and different things that we can do to just keep us healthy,” Carrie said. “Staying indoors, little things that they feel like will make the most difference.”
The fires aren’t far from Napa, where the Raiders have held training camp since 1996, one year after late owner Al Davis moved the team back to Oakland from Los Angeles.

“It’s scary for all the victims that, one, we’ve lost, and then the victims who’ve lost their livelihood,” Carrie said. “We’re talking about homes, cars, memories, pictures. They’ve lost so much in this process, and it’s very devastating. As everyone within the community, we need to pull together for them.”

The smoky conditions have forced the Raiders to alter their outdoor schedule this week. Practice times have been changed to limit the effect on the players.

“We’ve done our best to stay as in-routine as we can,” offensive coordinator Todd Downing said. “Coach [Jack Del Rio] has done an awesome job of adjusting where he’s needed to, but we feel like we’re putting together a good week of prep.”

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ALLEN PARK, Mich. — Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford suffered a hamstring injury and a sprained ankle in Detroit’s 27-24 loss to Carolina, a source told ESPN Insider Dan Graziano, and Stafford’s week of practice will determine whether he plays Sunday against New Orleans.

During an appearance on the Mitch Albom Show on WJR Radio in Detroit earlier Monday, Stafford was cagey about his status for Sunday. He declined to provide an update on the status of his ankle and leg, deferring questions to Lions coach Jim Caldwell. When asked directly if he was going to be playing Sunday, Stafford said, “I don’t know yet. We’ll see.”

Caldwell told reporters to “check the report” when asked about Stafford’s injuries. The first injury report of the week comes out Wednesday. Caldwell said Stafford was “sore,” but that a lot of players were sore after Sunday’s game.
Stafford said he and the Lions are protecting the information because they believe it offers a “competitive advantage or disadvantage,” as well as being for the safety of players.

“Why would you want another team to know exactly what’s going on with you if you don’t have to mention it?” Stafford said. “Obviously the reports come out and all that kind of stuff, and that’s about as much information as we’re as a team going to get out.

“There’s no real win in telling everybody in America what’s going on with ya, right? ‘What’s the positive’ is how I look at it.”
Asked when a decision will be made about whether or not he’ll play against the Saints, Stafford said, “I’m not sure, honestly.”
If Stafford were unable to play, Jake Rudock — who has never taken a snap in the NFL — would be the likely starter. Detroit has only two quarterbacks on the roster. The third quarterback from training camp, Brad Kaaya, is now a member of the Panthers. Last season’s backup, Dan Orlovsky, is a free agent.

Stafford joked on the radio show that he also tells his parents to “check the report” when they ask about his injuries. He said he suffered the injury on specific plays, and that it wasn’t a cumulative injury that occurred against the Panthers.
Stafford wouldn’t say much about the injury after the game Sunday, but gingerly walked out of the locker room. Trainers examined his right leg and right ankle during the game, and he was clearly hobbling while leading the Lions on two touchdown drives in the fourth quarter.

Stafford has been sacked 12 times in the past two weeks, including six times Sunday. He has completed 64.2 percent of his passes this season for 1,116 yards, nine touchdowns and one interception.

Stafford has started every game for Detroit at quarterback since the start of the 2011 season. He missed six games his rookie year and 13 games his second year due to injury.

The Lions signed Stafford to a five-year, $135 million extension in the offseason, making him the highest-paid player in the NFL per year.

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ALLEN PARK, Mich. — Detroit Lions defensive tackle Akeem Spence tweeted Thursday afternoon that his father was denied a contracting job because of Spence’s protest during the

national anthem on Sunday.
Spence was one of eight Lions players who kneeled during the national anthem prior to Detroit’s loss to the Atlanta Falcons. He told ESPN after the game that the decision to kneel was a group effort among those players and that it was to “stand up for what’s right, man.”
He also said the protest had nothing to do with the military or the flag.

“No disrespect to the flag, no disrespect to any of the veterans or anything. It was just right is right, wrong is wrong, and what the guy said about us as NFL players, I just feel like that’s something that’s us, as NFL players, we have to stand up for that’s not what we are,” Spence said. “You know what I’m saying. We’re human beings. We give back to the community.

“We do great things, and our owners, you know what I’m saying, they do great things. So that’s something we don’t represent around the NFL. That’s something every team should have come out and showed this Sunday, that it’s not what that guy said about us.”

Spence — and many NFL players — protested during the anthem following critical statements made by President Donald Trump, who said players who protest during the anthem should be “fired” by their teams’ owners.

“It’s crazy and it’s wrong, you know. It shouldn’t be like that,” Spence said. “We’re hard-working people who give back to the community. Our owners are the same way, you know, and they have the utmost respect for us and we have the utmost respect for our country, our flag and everything like that. So for our head guy to say something like that about our owners and what they should do, that’s something that I can’t, man, right is right.

“I felt like he was wrong in that sense, and we just came out and acted unity, together and just tried to make a statement.”

Spence was not immediately available for comment Thursday because he tweeted about his father after the Lions’ open locker room period for the day.

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The traffic slog up to AT&T Stadium spares no one, rich or poor, gifted or unathletic, because 100,000 people descending on an area near a baseball stadium and a Six Flags amusement park is destined to be chaos. On opening night for the Dallas Cowboys earlier this month, Richard King took a cab as far as he could, then went the rest of the way on foot.

King works security at a hospital about 1,500 miles away in Pennsylvania, and before he left to see his first Cowboys game, he bought a Jaylon Smith jersey. He loved the young linebacker’s story — how Smith came back from a gruesome knee injury in his final college game — and figured the No. 54 shirt would stand out in a stadium full of Daks and Zekes.
As he approached AT&T Stadium, King heard someone yell, “Yo, 54!” from a white Chevy Tahoe. The man behind the wheel was stuck in traffic too. It was Jaylon Smith.

“If you jump in here,” Smith told King, “I’ll sign that for you.”

Smith and the Cowboys will visit the Cardinals on Monday night. It will mark the first time the linebacker takes the field at the University of Phoenix Stadium since he injured his knee during a bowl game there on New Year's Day 2016.

Smith and the Cowboys will visit the Cardinals on Monday night. It will mark the first time the linebacker takes the field at the University of Phoenix Stadium since he injured his knee during a bowl game there on New Year’s Day 2016.

King thought somebody must be playing a joke on him. But Smith cleared some stuff off his passenger seat, and King hopped in while Smith dug out a Sharpie. He signed the back of the jersey and mugged for pictures with King.

When a couple of Smith’s teammates were told about the encounter this past week, they thought the exchange was cool — up until the part about letting a random fan into the car.

People who know Smith say there’s an innocence about him, an unbreakable faith in people, God and himself. And as King climbed out of the SUV, Smith actually thanked him.

“I didn’t even believe it was happening,” King said.

“He said he was glad to see that people still had faith in him.”
People generally don’t act this way. Jaylon Smith spent 20 months recovering from a shredded knee, and during his rehab last year as a rookie, he smiled every single day. While various media types were writing last year that Smith would never play again, he spoke to about 1,500 men at Gateway Church in Southlake, Texas. Pastor James Lee said it was like a scene from the movie “Braveheart,” and by the time Smith was finished, everyone in the building gave him a standing ovation and was convinced he would be back on the field again in 2017.

Smith not only recovered from a torn anterior cruciate ligament, a torn lateral collateral ligament and a stretched nerve in his knee; he is starting at middle linebacker for Dallas and currently leads the team with 23 tackles, according to the coaches’ breakdown.

On Monday night, he’ll travel back to University of Phoenix Stadium, where he suffered the injury 632 days ago that changed his life. Yet Smith said he has put no thought into the significance of the venue for the game between the Cowboys and the Arizona Cardinals.

To give you an idea of how little his family has thought about it, his older brother, Rod Smith, a backup running back for the Cowboys, didn’t even remember that the Cardinals’ home field was where Jaylon suffered the injury that dropped him from a top-five pick to completely off the board for some teams.

As of Thursday, there were no plans for their parents to attend the game.

“It’s something in the past,” Rod said. “He’s beaten those odds.”

The Cowboys reportedly had planned to put him on sort of a pitch count in the preseason, but then they wound up in schemes that favored Smith in the season opener against the New York Giants. He looked good, recording seven tackles and a forced fumble. He has progressed enough to take away playing time from veteran Justin Durant.

When asked whether he was surprised that Smith was playing so much so early in the season, Cowboys defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli said, “Nothing surprises me.”

“He’s gaining ground with every step. He’s got really extraordinary talent. He’s really fast. He’s learning. He hustles and does all the things right, and he’s going to get better every week.”
Before that life-altering day in Arizona, Smith, an All-American for Notre Dame, had never been seriously hurt. He had never missed a game, never missed a practice, in high school or college. While some seniors or players who are declaring for the draft don’t fly home with the team after a bowl game, Smith rode back with his teammates.

He spent the first couple of days at the Morris Inn, a hotel on the South Bend, Indiana, campus. Michael Bertsch, Notre Dame’s director of football media relations, was one of the first people to check in on him. Bertsch is 41, with a 1-year-old son, and he can’t imagine how he would handle something like that. Smith was sitting on the bed, his leg propped up, and Bertsch tried to console him.

But there was no need.

“I just can’t wait to get started on getting back,” Smith told Bertsch.

Smith would drop 20 pounds from his 245-pound body and vomit from the effects of anesthesia. When he eventually got back on his feet and posted video of himself moving around, it was one of those “That poor guy” moments for his doubters.

He flunked some NFL physicals in February, but even then, Fighting Irish coach Brian Kelly was convinced that Smith, who declared early for the draft, would be back to playing football. Kelly told coaches and general managers that, and some listened. Others didn’t. He sat in his office for an interview with ESPN.com in the winter of 2016, predicting that Smith would be a star in the NFL.

Kelly has been coaching for 27 years, and he said he has never seen someone like Smith, someone who set the entire tempo for everyone at practice — a linebacker, no less — someone who so greatly touched an entire team.

“When we talk about this young man, unique’s not even the right word,” Kelly said. “He’s got incredible grit. He loves life, and he loves the challenges of it.”

The Cowboys seemed to be one of the few teams who listened. It helped that their team doctor, Dan Cooper, performed Smith’s surgery just after the Fiesta Bowl. But even Cooper couldn’t guarantee that the nerve would fully regenerate.

Still, Dallas selected Smith in the second round, and the NFL — and a fan base — held their collective breath and hoped.

Rehab can be a place where people might tend to feel sorry for themselves. Injured players keep schedules similar to that of their teammates, arriving at the team facility at 6 a.m., putting in six or seven hours of sometimes grueling work, but knowing they have no chance to play.

Cowboys defensive end Charles Tapper also was drafted in 2016, and like Smith, he spent the year on injured reserve with a bad back. The isolation from the team could be depressing, Tapper said. You’re with the team by virtue of being in the same building, but you’re not really with the team.

Smith, the proverbial long shot of the injured players, was the one lifting Tapper up.

Smith ran through drills as hard and as fast as he could, and soon it became a competition. If one guy came up an inch or two short of the line, they ran again. Tapper said it took his rehab to another level.

“He’s almost like a robot,” Tapper said. “We’d be in the weight room, and … I’m like, man, this guy is not human.”

“I’ve never seen him upset, never seen him talk bad about anybody,” Tapper added. “He never talks bad about anything. I would come in some days and I’d say, ‘Man, I’ve got my mom and my brother and all this stuff,’ and he’s like, ‘Hey, Tap, it’s going to be all good.’ We loved competing against each other, but then we’d come back and sit and talk. Once we did those things, I’m like, ‘Man, this is a real guy right there.’”

Maliek Collins was also part of the Cowboys’ 2016 draft class, also wound up injured last year and also fell under the spell of Smith. At one point, Collins asked Smith how he stays so positive. Smith would tell his fellow injured teammates, “Man, we’ve got the opportunity to still be Cowboys. We can still be great.”

“He just kept faith though the process,” Collins said. “I respect the hell out of him.”
Smith is declining one-on-one interviews right now. His publicist said he wants to focus solely on football but that Smith politely says thank you for your interest. The Cowboys want it this way now, anyway. Maybe they don’t want to put too much on a 22-year-old who has been through so much and is essentially a rookie.

He does not fit into the personality mold of some of his other marquee teammates.

On Thursday, for example, receiver Dez Bryant stood on a cameraman’s ladder, holding court as he acted like a character from “Game of Thrones.”

Running back Ezekiel Elliott deflected the latest controversy, which centered on whether he quit on a play in a loss at Denver.

Smith was nowhere to be found in the locker room. But he was coerced into doing a group interview on Saturday.

“Everything I’ve done has been a part of the plan, you know what I mean?” Smith said. “The rehab, the training prior to getting back out on the field in OTAs, camp, all of that stuff is tougher than going out playing, quite frankly. We work pretty hard, very hard, so the game is all about going out there and having fun.

“We’ve been playing the game since we were 7 years old, so that’s kind of the joy and the relief to be able to go out there and play. For me, I love performing at a high level, so that’s what I’ll continue to do.”

The nerve injury gave Smith a drop foot, which essentially means that he could not pick up his left foot on his own. Smith still wears a brace on the foot, and it’s unclear how long he’ll need it. During training camp, Sports Illustrated reported that his nerve was 80 percent regenerated.

But Cowboys linebackers coach Matt Eberflus said he “doesn’t mess around with percentages.” He just said he expects Smith to keep getting better as he gets healthier and learns more on the job.

“His attitude is positive, and it’s very contagious,” Eberflus said. “Guys, I think, are drawn to him because of that.”

In some ways, things have worked out. Rod and Jaylon Smith are playing together. They never had the chance to do that in high school or college. As kids in Fort Wayne, Indiana, their dad, Roger, whom Rod calls “Pops,” had them run for five miles around a development called Village Woods. They were 6 or maybe 7 years old. Sometimes, Rod said, they couldn’t have supper until they had run.

The siblings spend a lot of time with each other now. Rod draws the line on living together; a man has to have his own space. Besides, this is Jaylon’s first chance to have his own apartment.
About the only drawback of having Jaylon in Dallas, Rod said, is that it means more reporters want to talk to him.

“I mean, I’m a chill dude,” Rod said.

But Rod loves talking about his brother. He loves being around Jaylon. After the Sept. 17 loss at Denver, Rod sat silently at his locker while Jaylon answered questions about the defense. Then they boarded a bus to the airport together. Getting the chance to be together in Dallas was a big surprise for Rod. A welcome surprise. His brother’s comeback? That wasn’t shocking at all. Rod had faith. Just like Jaylon.

“Me, I expected it,” Rod said. “Injury or not, I just know what he’s about.”

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BOSTON — Former New England Patriots star Aaron Hernandez had a severe case of the degenerative brain disease chronic traumatic encephalopathy, researchers said on Thursday. His lawyer announced a lawsuit against the NFL and the team for hiding the true dangers of the sport.

Dr. Ann McKee, the director of the CTE Center at Boston University, said Hernandez had stage 3 (out of 4) of the disease, which can cause violent mood swings, depression and other cognitive disorders.

“We’re told it was the most severe case they had ever seen for someone of Aaron’s age,” attorney Jose Baez said.

Hernandez was 27 when he killed himself in April in the prison cell where he was serving a life-without-parole sentence for murder. Baez said Hernandez had shown signs of memory loss, impulsivity and aggression that could be attributed to CTE.

“When hindsight is 20-20, you look back and there are things you might have noticed,” he said. “But you don’t know.”

CTE, which can be diagnosed only in an autopsy, has been found in former members of the military, football players, boxers and others who have been subjected to repeated head trauma. A recent study found signs of the disease in 110 of 111 NFL players whose brains were inspected.

The lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court claimed that the league and the Patriots failed to protect their players’ safety, leading to the disease that deprived Hernandez’s 4-year-old daughter, Avielle, of her father’s companionship.

“Defendants were fully aware of the dangers of exposing NFL players, such as Aaron, to repeated traumatic head impacts,” the lawsuit said. “Yet, defendants concealed and misrepresented the risks of repeated traumatic head impacts.”

NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said the league had not yet seen the lawsuit and could not comment. A Patriots spokesman did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment.

The league recently agreed to pay $1 billion to retired players who claimed it misled them about the dangers of playing football.

The “loss of consortium” lawsuit filed on Thursday is independent of the class-action suit that began making payments this summer. Baez said it was the first of its kind.

“If we have to be groundbreakers in this area, it’s something we’re prepared to do,” he said.

Hernandez committed suicide just hours before his former teammates visited the White House to celebrate their latest Super Bowl victory and a week after he was acquitted in the 2012 drive-by shootings of two men in Boston.

Prosecutors had argued that Hernandez gunned the two men down after one accidentally spilled a drink on him in a nightclub, and then got a tattoo of a handgun and the words “God Forgives” to commemorate the crime.

Hernandez did not raise CTE in his defense at either trial because he claimed actual innocence.

“It’s something I deeply regret,” Baez said.
A star for the University of Florida when it won the 2008 title, Hernandez dropped to the fourth round of the NFL draft because of trouble in college that included a failed drug test and a bar fight. His name had also come up in an investigation into a shooting.

In three seasons with the Patriots, Hernandez joined Rob Gronkowski to form one of the most potent tight end duos in NFL history. In 2011, his second season, Hernandez caught 79 passes for 910 yards and seven touchdowns to help the team reach the Super Bowl, and he was rewarded with a $40 million contract.

But the Patriots released him in 2013, shortly after he was arrested in the killing of semi-pro football player Odin Lloyd, who was dating the sister of Hernandez’s fiancée. Hernandez was convicted and sentenced to life in prison; the conviction was voided because he died before his appeals were exhausted, though that ruling is itself being appealed.