NFL players resumed their demonstrations during the national anthem in the first week of preseason on Thursday.
In Miami, Dolphins receivers Kenny Stills and Albert Wilson took a knee during the national anthem, while defensive end Robert Quinn raised his right fist.
Stills, who kneeled during the anthem the past two seasons, said he and Wilson didn’t plan the protest together beforehand, but was comforted to see his teammate join him.
“Being a part of this protest hasn’t been easy,” Stills said. “I thought I was going to be by myself out there. Today I had an angel with me with Albert being out there. I’m grateful he sees what’s happening, and he wants to do something about it as well.”
Quinn, meanwhile, raised his fist as he did last season with the Los Angeles Rams.
“As a black man in this world, I’ve got an obligation to raise awareness,” Quinn said. “If no one wants to live in unity, that’s why we’re in the situation we’re in.”
Colin Kaepernick, who started the movement of protesting during the anthem and is currently a free agent, showed his support for Stills and Wilson on Twitter.
My brother @kstills continued his protest of systemic oppression tonight by taking a knee. Albert Wilson @iThinkIsee12 joined him in protest. Stay strong brothers!✊🏾— Colin Kaepernick (@Kaepernick7) August 10, 2018
📸 @footcandles#imwithkap #imwithereid #takeaknee pic.twitter.com/LimoadfUcW
Philadelphia Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins again raised his fist during the national anthem, with teammate Chris Long putting his arm around him to show support, as he often did last season. Cornerback De’Vante Bausby also raised his fist.
In Jacksonville, four Jaguars players – Telvin Smith, Jalen Ramsey, Leonard Fournette and T.J. Yeldon – weren’t on the field during the national anthem.
Three Seattle Seahawks players – Branden Jackson, Quinton Jefferson and Duane Brown – left the field before the playing of the anthem in their game against Indianapolis.
In Baltimore, Ravens linebacker Tim Williams stood alone in front of the bench with his back towards the field during the anthem.
The league issued a statement on Thursday night reiterating that ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ will continued to be played before games and everyone is expected to stand, or remain in the locker room.
“There has been no change in the NFL’s policy regarding the national anthem,” league spokesman Brian McCarthy said in a statement. “The anthem will continue to be played before every game, and all player and non-player personnel on the field at that time are expected to stand during the presentation of the flag and performance of the anthem. Personnel who do not wish to do so can choose to remain in the locker room.
“We remain committed to working with the players to identify solutions and to continue making progress on important social issues affecting our communities.”
Preseason football is usually a tease.
We wait months for football to come back and when it finally does with the first week of preseason, we have to settle for a few drives by the starters before the second, third and fourth-stringers take over the rest of the game.
Aside from a glimpse here or there – which mostly come in the dress rehearsal third week – it’s one big appetiser before the main course of the regular season.
But appetisers can be tasty and filling too, and this year’s preseason features plenty of storylines that should whet your appetite before the real games begin.
Here’s what to keep an eye on.
Try your Luck
For the first time in 585 days, Andrew Luck will be in uniform for an NFL game when the quarterback takes the field on Thursday night for the Indianapolis Colts’ preseason opener against the Seattle Seahawks.
An injury to his throwing shoulder forced Luck to miss all of last year as the Colts finished just 4-12 in what was ultimately a lost season.
But now, Luck is ready to go and is expected to play about a quarter on Thursday in his much-anticipated return. There will undoubtedly be some rust to work through, but it will be interesting to see how Luck’s shoulder responds to hits.
“Nervous? I’ll be very nervous,” Luck told NBC Sports.
Luck isn’t the only big-name quarterback returning from injury in the AFC North.
In Houston, Deshaun Watson is back after an ACL tear limited to seven games in his sensational rookie season.
The Texans’ ceiling with a healthy and fully-functional Watson is high, considering the juice he brings to the offence with both his arm and legs.
Watson is likely to play in the preseason opener and one thing to watch with him is how comfortable he is running the ball. There’s no need to take risks in preseason, but Watson is at his best when he’s putting pressure on the defence with decisive decisions to leave the pocket.
Even though he’s heading into only his second season, Watson is already established as a premier playmaker.
In Kansas City, Mahomes has the chance to be the next Watson thanks to his absurd arm. Aside from last year, the Chiefs have mostly been a dink-and-dunk offence under Alex Smith. But with Mahomes now taking the reins after serving as a back-up, the downfield attack is expected to go to another level.
Trubisky, on the other hand, has already been a starter for the majority of a season as he took charge of the Bears in 12 games last year with mixed results. With Matt Nagy now at the helm as head coach, Trubisky should have a more open offence to work with. His weapons will also be greatly improved with the additions of Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel and Trey Burton.
Both Mahomes and Trubisky should get more work in the preseason than the standard entrenched starting quarterback because of their lack of experience, so the Chiefs and Bears will be worth tuning in for.
First look at rookies
One of the most exciting parts of preseason, if not the most exciting, is it gives us an initial look at all the new rookies.
Skill players in particular will be fun to watch, whether you’re preparing for your fantasy league draft or not.
Among quarterbacks, first-round picks Baker Mayfield, Sam Darnold, Josh Allen, Josh Rosen and Lamar Jackson should all get significant time under centre.
In the case of Mayfield, Darnold and Allen, the door may be open for them to seize the starting spot if they impress. Rosen and Jackson will almost surely sit behind Sam Bradford and Joe Flacco, respectively, in the regular season, but they’ll also have opportunities to show off their talent in preseason.
Aside from the quarterbacks, there’s quite a few rookie running backs to follow after seven were taken in the first two rounds of the draft.
Saquon Barkley is the biggest name, but playmakers like Nick Chubb, Rashaad Penny and Derrius Guice should be fun to watch as their teams figure out the best ways to utilise them as runners and receivers.
Aaron Donald is in it for the long haul with his holdout.
The star defensive tackle continues to be absent from the Los Angeles Rams’ training camp in an attempt to pry a lucrative long-term deal that would reportedly make him the highest-paid defensive player in the league.
Tuesday was a deadline of sorts for Donald to report in order for him to accrue a season towards free agency. Because he remained away from the team, he will now be a restricted free agent next offseason.
While that distinction would make the deadline seem important, the impact, at least in this case, is inconsequential.
If Donald were tendered by the Rams at the highest restricted free agent level, that would require a team to hand over a first-round pick to sign him. There would be no shortage of teams willing to pay that price for the Defensive Player of the Year, all while handing him a rich contract.
Los Angeles would rather not lose one of the pillars of their team, so if they didn’t want to match the deal – or couldn’t for some reason, due to the structure – they could simply slap Donald with the franchise tag.
Essentially, that would land Donald and the Rams right back in the same place they are now, with the sides unable to reach an agreement on a long-term contract.
Which is why both sides are willing to be patient and wait for the other to give one. It could be some time, possibly even into the regular season, before that happens though.
Even though Aaron Donald would have to report to Rams’ camp by Tuesday to make sure this counts as an accrued season and he wouldn’t be a restricted free agent next off-season, he has no plans to rejoin the team, per sources. He will not be there Tuesday, nor anytime soon.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) August 6, 2018
“I don’t think anything is going to change with that in the near future,” Rams coach Sean McVay said Monday. “I’ve had a little bit of dialogue with Aaron and we’re hopeful that we’ll get something done, but I don’t think there’s any realistic deal to August 7th being a date that changes really anything, but you never know.”
Donald is set to earn $6.9 million in the final season of his rookie deal, but he would lose out on game checks if his holdout continues into the regular season.
He’s reportedly seeking an average salary over $20 million, which would clear the benchmark set for defensive players by Denver Broncos linebacker Von Miller, who makes $19m per year.
Donald also held out last year and didn’t report until September 9, which forced him to sit out the first week of the regular season. The absence didn’t appear to affect him, however, as he recorded 11.0 sacks and five forced fumbles to earn Defensive Player of the Year.