Oakland Raiders linebacker Nicholas Morrow played in front of only a few hundred fans at Division III Greenville College. That's a far cry from the atmosphere Morrow will face Sunday in his NFL debut when the Raiders visit Tennessee in front of a crowd of about 70,000.
Oakland Raiders linebacker Nicholas Morrow played in front of only a few hundred fans at Division III Greenville College.
That's a far cry from the atmosphere Morrow will face Sunday in his NFL debut when the Raiders visit Tennessee in front of a crowd of about 70,000.
"It's always been a dream to play in the NFL," Morrow said. "I hope I just go play and don't worry about the crowd and all that. It will be crazy."
Morrow made an immediate impression on the Raiders with his speed and versatility to become the first player ever from Greenville, a small Christian school in Illinois.
Morrow isn't the only player to go from the obscurity of Division III football to the NFL in less than a year. San Francisco safety Lorenzo Jerome made the team after a successful training camp and could be a key contributor for the 49ers.
"Everyone is proud of me. They want me to stay level-headed," Jerome said. "I have a big chip on my shoulder coming from a small school."
REFINING HIS TECHNIQUE: Minnesota Vikings defensive end Danielle Hunter is on the verge of becoming one of the league's latest star pass rushers, with 18½ sacks over his first two seasons . The 6-foot-5, 250-pound product of LSU is a long, fast and strong prototype for his position, with plenty of room left for development.
Vikings coach Mike Zimmer has been working with Hunter to home in on more consistent placement of his hands on his opponents, to keep his height from working against him. Leg muscles produce more power, for one. Standing straight up also makes a player easier to block.
"There are times when he wants to raise up and start to peek to see what the play is going to be, instead of coming off low and defeating his man," Zimmer said. "It happens a lot with tall guys."
Hunter has surpassed 11-year veteran Brian Robison as the every-down player.
"When he first came in here, he was kind of a raw talent," Robison said. "It was one of those deals where you knew he had a lot of potential, it was just going to be how quick he could grasp the game, but he is a smart kid. He takes notes every day. He goes in there, and you can definitely tell he is applying it on the field. He is understanding situations, understanding different formations that the offense is throwing at him, and he's being able to recognize those things faster."
STATMUSE: Want to ask a statistical question and have it answered by an NFL player? StatMuse, which does natural language processing for sports, has launched a first app enabling fans to interact with sports stars.
With the voice app, fans can ask about scores, stats and more, and hear the answers straight from players.
So an Atlanta fan can ask, "When do the Falcons play next?" and will hear in response: "This is Devonta Freeman . Yes, it's really me. The Atlanta Falcons play the Chicago Bears next Sunday at 1 p.m. Eastern."
Other stars currently available — StatMuse promises rapid expansion of its voices — are Peyton Manning, Jerry Rice, Le'Veon Bell, Deion Sanders, Terrell Owens, Jay Ajayi and Drew Brees.
The company has a partnership with the NFL Players Association, secured through the OneTeam Collective, which is designed to give companies the opportunity to be affiliated with the union's group player rights.
SPEEDBALL: Bengals rookie receiver John Ross set a 40-yard dash record in the NFL combine. Reds center fielder Billy Hamilton leads the majors in stolen bases. They finally got together on the field this week before a Reds game against the Brewers.
Ross threw a ceremonial pitch to Hamilton — straight but low — and the two chatted briefly. Ross had never thrown a first pitch and would have liked a chance to warm up.
"I asked them: Can I get a practice throw? They said yes, but it never happened," Ross said. "So I was a little nervous when I got there, but it went better than I thought."
When the Bengals drafted Ross in the first round, Hamilton said he'd like to race him. That's not going to happen, given how teams are worried about players getting hurt. Ross plans to chat with Hamilton at some point and talk about how they use their speed in their different games.
Also, Ross would like a favor: There wasn't time for Hamilton to sign the ball after their pitch.
"I wanted to get Billy to sign it," he said. "I still might. I think that would be cool, put it up in my house."
MAKING FRIENDS — AND COFFEE: As he heads into his second NFL season, Dak Prescott is making sure he is surrounded by friends. Well-caffeinated friends.
The 2016 Offensive Rookie of the Year gifted teammates and Dallas Cowboys staffers 176 boxes of Keurig REVV Coffee, and 100 Keurig K-Select brewers, a device that only launched this week. Clearly, Prescott has connections.
The quarterback also gifted travel mugs and T-shirts.
Players often hand out such gifts at the end of the schedule, but Prescott got a jump on this season.
He posted on Instagram a message to the Cowboys, which in part read: "4dakGifts for my team. Let's #GetREVVedUp for the season."