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Dunlap on Rivers: “I’m His Bodyguard”

General Manager Tom Telesco has made no bones about it – King Dunlap was the best left tackle on the market, thus it was a no brainer to bring the popular lineman back into the fold.

The Chargers and Dunlap agreed to terms on a new four-year contract last Friday in a move that was widely praised and lauded throughout the entire NFL.

“I’m very excited and I love being a Charger,” Dunlap said. “I love the guys on this team.  It’s a great city and a great place, so I’m very excited to be back. It was very important to get it done early and out of the way. It means a lot knowing how much this team values me. Hearing what my coaches and teammates have said means a lot as both a player and a person. It motivates me to play hard to the best of my ability.  I’ve been working hard every year, and I’m going to work even harder to prove the contract I just got.”

It’s been a remarkable two seasons for number 77, who arrived in San Diego nearly two years ago to little fanfare.  Dunlap acknowledges that his arrival didn’t make waves as most assumed he was signed only to provide depth along the offensive line.  However, the 6-9, 330-pounder had other ideas and capitalized on it.

“(Two years ago) was a great opportunity, and I know when I signed it looked like I was coming in to be the swing tackle, but I came in with the mentality of being the starter. That is what I worked toward.  That was my goal, and that is what happened.   I’ve always worked to be a starter, even when I was in Philly.  That was the mentality I’ve had and the mentality I will keep working with.  That has been successful for me.”

Dunlap took the reins to become an integral part of the Bolts offense. Telesco explained what the front office saw in the left tackle two years ago, but really emphasized how Dunlap seized his opportunity to make the most of it.

“It’s kind of three pronged,” he said.  “Our scouting staff did a great job identifying him.  He’s 6-9 with really good feet.  There aren’t that many players that can pass protect with his type of length, size and feet.  You saw that when he was in Philadelphia as a part time starter and role player.  Then he came to our place and the coaches did a really great job developing him.  Joe D’Alessandris and Andrew Dees did a great job working with him the past two years.  And then most importantly, King himself took his opportunity and seized it.  He came in and played really, really good football for us.”

He certainly has as Dunlap was named Lineman of the Year last season after starting all 16 games for the first time in his career. He was a stabilizing force on a line ravaged by injuries, protecting Philip Rivers’ blindside as he completed a team-record 379 passes while throwing for 4,386 yards and 31 touchdowns in 2014.  Being named Lineman of the Year is an honor Dunlap doesn’t take lightly.

“That was the greatest award I’ve gotten in my athletic career,” he said.  “I’ve been named all state and Mr. Football in high school, and all state in basketball and a few high school honors, but to receive that from my teammates and the organization is a great feeling.  It’s also more motivation for me to work harder.  I look at it all as motivation.  It is a blessing and a great thing, and what more could you want as a lineman and a teammate than to be voted Lineman of the Year?”

No one has vocally endorsed Dunlap more than the man he’s tasked with protecting.  Rivers has passionately supported his left tackle since the moment he arrived in San Diego, never more so than when pushing for number 77 to make the Pro Bowl last December.   That’s why he was ecstatic to hear Dunlap would be returning in 2015.

“King has been top notch the last few years for us at left tackle,” he said. “It’s very well-deserved for him personally and a huge signing for our team.”

Protecting Rivers is a task Dunlap takes very seriously, and he credits his QB for making him the player he’s become.

“It’s awesome to protect Philip,” Dunlap added. “When you have such an elite quarterback, you want to keep him protected so he can do his job.  Clearly it shows when we keep him protected, he’s proven he can carve up any defense and pick it apart.  With the weapons we have, the longer we can keep him standing and clean in the pocket, the better we’ll be and more damage we’ll do. It’s great to have him backing me up and having my back.  As his left tackle, I’m his bodyguard. There is no him without me and no me without him, so I look forward to the next four years protecting him.”

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Philadelphia Eagles’ Quarterback Questions Could Be Answered Within NFC East

Let’s play a quick game of pretend. Say that the Philadelphia Eagles just simply decide they don’t want Nick Foles. Let’s say the Eagles can’t, won’t, or don’t move into the top five of the draft to select Marcus Mariota. Let’s also say that Mariota slips like many pundits are predicting, and he’s available at No. 5 where the Washington Redskins are slated to pick.

Why wouldn’t anyone assume the Redskins won’t select Mariota there? And if they do, why wouldn’t the Eagles then offer a lower draft selection for Robert Griffin III?

Seriously, think about it for a moment. Why wouldn’t that be the way it plays out? Honestly, I’ve been having a hard time trying to figure out why the Redskins would let Mariota slip past them and go to the New York Jets behind them at No. 6. Mariota was wowing people before the Combine, and now that the Combine is over he’s wowed even more. Displaying fantastic athleticism, superb arm strength and rock-solid character, Mariota might just be the safest pick in the draft.

I know Washington doesn’t necessarily want to give up on Griffin so quickly since they spent a fortune to get him. But if Mariota makes it to them at No. 5, the opportunity cost of passing him up could be too much to bear. Griffin isn’t so worth it to let a potential franchise guy slip past them. Also, imagine the fallout in Washington if they pass on Mariota for another year of Griffin, Mariota lights it up and Griffin can’t find a way to turn it around there. If you thought heads were going to roll after last season, that would pale in comparison. Washington needs an answer at quarterback and fast – I don’t think they can afford to let a possible long-term answer pass them by.

In that scenario, the Eagles are screwed no matter what. No way would Washington trade that pick to the Eagles, and I doubt the Eagles would want to give up that bounty of picks to a division rival anyway. But if the Redskins indeed took Mariota, they’d almost have to move Griffin and his price tag would plummet way, way down. Way down to the point where the Eagles would have to take notice.

Griffin would come with questions, no doubt, but he’d have two things in Philadelphia he wouldn’t in Washington: a more similar offense to the one he ran in college, and an offensive genius in Chip Kelly. I mean, look at what Kelly did with Mark Sanchez. Sanchez is/was a garbage quarterback, yet Kelly somehow made it work with him. If Foles just wasn’t in the plans and the Eagles missed out on Mariota, Griffin would be a young and cheap option with some upside.

I’m not suggesting this would be the way the Eagles need to go, but it’s something to keep in mind. Just don’t count Washington out of the quarterback hunt; they could shake up the expected availability of players that the Eagles might not be anticipating.

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Countdown to the deadline: Kings

General manager Dean Lombardi has about 19 different scripts for the Los Angeles Kings’ trade deadline plans. It could go a lot of different ways, depending on how the team plays over the next few weeks. Are the Stanley Cup champions going to be in a playoff spot come March 2 or will they have completely fallen out? That’s going to have a huge barometer on how things play out.

Status: Too close to call; TBD

Needs/Available: You sort of have to look at both possibilities if you’re the Kings, because they could be a buyer, a seller or neither, depending on where they are in the standings over the next couple of weeks. Their biggest need screams top-four blueliner, but a source suggested to ESPN.com Thursday that’s unlikely to materialize despite all the speculation. Why? Because the Kings have to plan for the possibility (remote?) of suspended blueliner Slava Voynov potentially coming back to play before the end of the season, should he either be acquitted of his criminal charges next month or if the case is thrown out. Now, the Kings don’t even know if the NHL would rescind Voynov’s suspension in that case, so the whole thing is a what-if scenario, but the bottom line is that the Kings need to keep that $4.1 million of cap space open in case Voynov does return.

Now, if the Kings could ever get a taker on Mike Richards and his $5.75 million cap hit, that could open up other trade possibilities. But after trying to get the Toronto Maple Leafs interested last month, it doesn’t appear there’s much interest on that front. Richards has played well by all accounts for Manchester in the AHL, so perhaps a team calls before March 2. But with five more years on that deal after this season, it’s tough sledding for the Kings ridding themselves of that contract.

In the meantime, should the Kings fall out of the playoff race by March 2 — which I doubt — would they look at their pending unrestricted free agents in Justin Williams, Jarret Stoll and Robyn Regehr and wonder if they need to move them to get some assets rather than take the chance they walk for nothing in July? It’s not out of the question if those guys remained unsigned and the Kings fall out of the playoff race. But again, I don’t think the Kings will fall out of it.

Finances: The Kings have zero wiggle room under the salary cap if they’re intent on keeping space open for a possible Voynov return. So any move would have to be dollar in, dollar out.

Scouting the GM: Lombardi is a tireless worker. He has thoroughly analyzed his team’s disappointing performance and projected how he’ll probably have to retool his roster over the next two seasons or so around what remains a terrific core centered by Anze Kopitar, Drew Doughty, Jeff Carter, Jonathan Quick and Jake Muzzin, among others. There are kids ready in Manchester. The Kings have drafted and developed well, and they’re ready to retool a bit when the time is right. But I think Lombardi is also willing to give his two-time defending champion squad another chance this season if they can somehow squeeze into the playoffs. The Voynov situation and the Richards contract have tied his hands to a certain degree, but you know there’s always a plan when it comes to the clever Lombardi. But it can go a lot of different ways depending on wins and losses in the next few weeks.

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NFL’s chief health & medical adviser has ties to Patriots, Robert Kraft

The NFL recently announced the hiring of its first-ever chief health and medical adviser, Dr. Elizabeth Nabel. Dr. Nabel is an extraordinarily credentialed professional — she is a professor at Harvard Medical School, for one. She is also the former Director of the US National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute at the US National Institutes of Health, and has received numerous awards, including the Willem Einthoven Award from Leiden University in the Netherlands, the Amgen-Scientific Achievement Award from the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, and Distinguished Achievement Awards from both the Basic Cardiovascular Sciences Council and the Atherosclerosis, Thrombosis and Vascular Biology Council of the American Heart Association.

However, Dr. Nabel also is and will continue to serve as the president of Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, which, in a partnership with the Kraft Group (Patriots owner Robert Kraft’s holding company) operates a health-care center in Kraft’s name. As pointed out by The Sporting News, there is a photo on the Kraft Center website featuring Nabel and Kraft’s son, Josh.

Throughout this season, the relationship between commissioner Roger Goodell and Robert Kraft has been a point of contention. A GQ story referred to Kraft as “the assistant commissioner” and in the wake of the Deflategate controversy, Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman questioned whether the Patriots would be punished at all given the close relationship between Kraft and Goodell. Goodell, Sherman pointed out, had recently been photographed at Kraft’s house before the AFC Championship Game.

Now, Goodell has hired a chief medical expert who has ties with Kraft. This is not to say there is any reason to question Dr. Nabel’s integrity or ability as a medical professional — as stated above, she is a very accomplished doctor — but it is yet another instance of Goodell and Kraft’s relationship seemingly playing a role league decisions.

Additionally, as two different medical professionals told The Sporting News, Dr. Nabel is not an expert in the medical area that should be most concerning to the NFL at this moment: brain and spine injuries, but she is rather a cardiologist (a doctor with special training and skill in finding, treating and preventing diseases of the heart and blood vessels).

As the NFL’s chief health and medical adviser, there is no doubt Dr. Nabel will deal with a wide variety of issues, “but the fact that it is not a brain injury specialist jumps out at me,” rehabilitation specialist Dr. Michael Marino said.

“From the perspective of the league,” lawyer and professor Michael Kaplen said, “my first question is why they picked a cardiologist?”

These are the kind of questions that come up with seemingly every decision made by Goodell these days, and it’s likely they will continue to be asked.

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Cousins: I don’t hire or fire coaches

All-Star power forward DeMarcus Cousins formally weighed in on the Sacramento Kings’ coaching situation before their game in Chicago on Tuesday night, insisting in an interview with ESPN.com’s Marc Stein that he has had no input for or against the man expected to take over next week as his new coach: George Karl.

“I don’t fire coaches or hire them. Everyone knows I liked and respected Coach [Michael] Malone. I didn’t want [Malone's firing in December] to happen,” Cousins told ESPN.

“I’m not involved in any coaching decisions right now. I’ve heard that George Karl is a great coach. If that is the direction that the organization chooses, I’ll support it. Out of respect for Coach [Tyrone] Corbin, I hadn’t planned on making any comments about what is rumored out there. But at this point I felt some things needed to be clarified.”

Although the Kings have yet to formally announce a done deal with Karl, sources told ESPN.com on Tuesday that the organization is already operating under the premise that Karl will take over the team after the All-Star break.

Team sources say that, since it emerged Saturday in a Sacramento Bee report that the Kings were in talks with Karl about replacing Corbin, Cousins has met with Kings general manager Pete D’Alessandro only once and has not met with Kings owner Vivek Ranadive about the prospect of Sacramento hiring its third coach of the season.

Amid various weekend reports suggesting that Cousins or his representatives had been voicing opposition to the Kings’ courting of Karl, Cousins launched into a cryptic rant at his locker Sunday night after hitting a buzzer-beating jumper at home to topple the Phoenix Suns.

“I ain’t pumped up. I’ve just got a lot on my mind,” he told local reporters. “The crazy thing about it is, I’ve just got a question for y’all: How you gonna stop God’s plan? How you gonna do that? How you gonna do that? That’s all I want to know. How you gonna stop God’s plan?

“Man, this city done put me through so much, and I stayed loyal to it the whole time. Hey, I just wanna know, how you gonna stop God’s plan? God gives his hardest battles to his strongest soldiers. The marathon continues. I’m out.”

Karl has a connection with one of Cousins’ agents. Jarinn Akana worked with Karl in Denver and was shifted from an assistant coach to a team scout when Karl took the Nuggets job in 2005.

The Kings initially pledged, in the wake of Malone’s dismissal, to let Corbin coach the team for the rest of the season so they could launch a more comprehensive search in April. But in December, ESPN.com reported that Ranadive tried to convince Kings adviser Chris Mullin to take the job despite his lack of prior coaching experience, with Ranadive believed to be enamored with the Steve Kerr model in Golden State after his time as a Warriors minority owner. The Kings then began pursuing Karl this month after losing 19 of their first 25 games under Corbin.

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Scottish Cup: Raith Rovers stun Rangers with win at Ibrox

A spectacular free-kick from Ryan Conroy and a tap-in from Christian Nade either side of a Rangers debut goal from Haris Vuckic ensured Raith will be in the draw for the quarter-finals on Monday.

Both of the fit on-loan Newcastle players, who joined Rangers on loan on deadline day, came straight into the starting line-up against Raith.

Slovenian midfielder Vuckic and central defender Remie Streete featured, but Gael Bigirimana was missing after suffering a hamstring injury in training on Saturday.

Rangers began the match in confident mood having already beaten the Kirkcaldy side twice in the Scottish Championship this season, but it was Raith who started on the front foot and had the first chance of the game when Nade headed wide from 10 yards out.

At the other end, Richard Foster rampaged down the right wing before firing over a deep cross that was met powerfully by John Daly, but Raith ‘keeper David McGurn was alert to the danger and beat the ball away from under the bar.

The best chance of the first half fell to Paul Watson from a corner, but his towering header hit the post before bouncing straight back into the grateful arms of Rangers ‘keeper Steve Simonsen.

Streete’s Rangers debut only lasted 43 minutes as he was forced to limp off with Darren McGregor, whose place he had taken in the team, coming off the bench.

Raith opened the scoring in the 54th minute when Ross Callachan was floored by Kyle Hutton on the edge of the box and Conroy stepped up to bend a brilliant free-kick past Simonsen’s sprawling dive.

Great defending from Watson then denied Daly when the Raith defender managed to get his head on a cross and flick the ball clear with the Irishman lurking with intent.

Raith were only ahead until the 62nd minute when Hutton picked out Vuckic and the Slovenian took an excellent first touch before arrowing the ball past McGurn and into the corner of the net.

Substitute Kris Boyd lashed his shot straight at the ‘keeper and Nicky Law sliced an effort wide as Rangers went in search of another goal.

But it was Raith who got the crucial goal in the 75th minute when Jason Thompson broke down the right and fired in a low cross that Foster and Simonsen were unable to deal with and the ball fell perfectly for Nade, who tapped in from close range.

Boyd missed a sitter in the 90th minute when he found himself unmarked but failed to hit the target with a free header from six yards out.

Rangers pressed hard for an equaliser in stoppage-time but the Raith rearguard held firm to give the Kirkcaldy team their first win at Ibrox for 56 years.

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Rangers G Lundqvist out vs Bruins following shot to throat

New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist will sit out against the Boston Bruins on Wednesday night because of an undefined neck injury, four days after being struck in the throat with a puck.

Lundqvist remained in Saturday’s game against Carolina, following the shot by Brad Malone, and then played again Monday night in a win over Florida. He skipped practice Tuesday to take a maintenance day, and coach Alain Vigneault said the star goalie would be in the lineup on Wednesday night.

That changed during the team’s optional skate Wednesday morning when Vigneault said Lundqvist would miss the game for an undisclosed reason relating to being struck in the throat.

He said it wasn’t a concussion and added the club was ”investigating” the issue. The Rangers said later that Lundqvist is day to day with a neck injury.

Despite not practicing Tuesday, Lundqvist made a public appearance that night with former Rangers goalies Mike Richter and Eddie Giacomin. It is unclear if something happened to Lundqvist after that.

Vigneault became aware of the injury on Tuesday night.

Lundqvist was initially injured on a freak play in which the stick of Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh lifted up Lundqvist’s mask, blocking the goalie’s vision and exposing his throat.

Malone’s shot then came in and struck him, knocking Lundqvist backward and down to the ice. He kicked his legs and was in obvious pain when the training staff reached him. Lundqvist later described himself as lucky not to have been injured worse.

Lundqvist, 25-11-3 with a 2.25 goals-against average in 39 games this season, was treated on the ice for several minutes. He said he had trouble breathing and felt light-headed and had headaches because of the lack of oxygen. He said he had stiffness on Sunday, but was well enough to play Monday.

Lundqvist won’t serve as the backup to Cam Talbot on Wednesday night. The Rangers recalled 20-year-old Mackenzie Skapski from Hartford of the AHL to be on the bench. In 11 games this season, Talbot is 4-4-1 with a 2.15 GAA. He hasn’t started since a 3-0 loss to Boston on Jan. 15.

On Monday, Vigneault said the Rangers had mapped out a plan for when Talbot would start down the stretch. Now that the schedule has been altered, Vigneault said Wednesday that he and the team are comfortable with Talbot in the lineup.

”After starting his season with I would say an average start, he came through with three shutouts in a row, and has given us a chance in every game he has been in goal since,” Vigneault said. ”We’re very confident when Cam’s in goal. He’s a hard-working young man, and I’m sure he’s going to be fine tonight.”

It isn’t yet known exactly how long Lundqvist will be sidelined. After Wednesday, the Rangers play at Nashville on Saturday before hosting Dallas on Sunday. Talbot was likely to start one of those games even before Lundqvist’s injury.

Skapski, a sixth-round pick in the 2013 draft, is 12-7-3 with a 2.38 GAA in 24 games with Hartford.

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Gabriel and Bielik at Arsenal make for a decent transfer window

Arsenal’s January transfer window is a case of better late than never. After leaving themselves short on defense last summer, they have now undertaken the necessary business to ensure they have substantial strength across all areas of the pitch.

With the squad nearing completion, manager Arsene Wenger may be afforded some respite from intense transfer activity in the remainder of 2015. That shouldn’t come as an enormous surprise after an outlay of over 80 million pounds since the end of last season. The team have adopted a radical new transfer policy that has seen them catch up with many of Europe’s biggest spenders.

The result is a squad that has competition and quality throughout. Take the goalkeeping situation — Wojciech Szczesny and David Ospina are currently locked in a fierce battle for the No. 1 shirt. That’s a win-win scenario. Both players are seasoned internationals with big potential. Wenger has never had two goalkeepers of that calibre on his books simultaneously.

Gabriel Paulista’s arrival, along with the emergence of 19-year-old Hector Bellerin, means there is plenty of defensive depth. The acquisition of Gabriel should allow another new signing, Calum Chambers, to develop at a more leisurely pace.

The midfield options have been boosted by the rise of Francis Coquelin, who has profited from an injury crisis to climb from Championship loanee to one of the first names on the team sheet. The Frenchman is set to be rewarded with a new three-year contract and shows signs of providing a long-term solution to the defensive midfield problem.

Up front, there have been no new additions. In fact, three strikers have left the club on loan in the past month. Lukas Podolski, Yaya Sanogo and Joel Campbell have all made temporary moves elsewhere, and Podolski seems particularly unlikely to return. That had led to some suggestions that Arsenal may have left themselves short at the business end of the pitch.

Such claims are unfounded. The squad was top-heavy to begin with, and Wenger has merely streamlined his options. If there were any lingering concerns in attack, those anxieties were surely dismissed by the 5-0 thrashing of Aston Villa at the weekend. Arsenal racked up their biggest league win in two-and-a-half years without Alexis Sanchez, Danny Welbeck and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in the match-day squad.

Even having allowed a trio of forwards to depart, Wenger has rarely had such a glittering array of attacking talent at his disposal. Any more would surely prove excessive — it is notoriously difficult to motivate players if they feel they have little chance of a regular place. It’s a fine line between competition and congestion, and Wenger seems to have struck upon a decent balance.

Looking ahead, he won’t want to disrupt that delicate alchemy with a summer of heavy transfer activity. He shouldn’t need to. Arsenal have a squad stocked with young talent that will only improve.

Only Tomas Rosicky and Mikel Arteta could be said to be approaching the end of their careers, and Wenger seems likely to keep both around for their experience and dressing room influence. What’s more, in Jack Wilshere, Aaron Ramsey, Krystian Bielik and Gedion Zelalem, Arsenal have midfielders with the potential to replace their elder counterparts. It had been assumed Wenger would use the summer to bring in a holding midfielder, but Bielik’s arrival and Coquelin’s progress place even that in doubt.

His main focus may well be on resolving the future of his three on-loan attackers. Podolski is certain to be sold, but the indications are that Sanogo and Campbell could stay. For that to happen, someone may be let go. Impending contract negotiations with Theo Walcott could play a crucial role in determining Wenger’s summer plans.

If this season has seen Arsenal undergo a transfer overhaul, next summer ought to be just about fine-tuning. Wenger has done most of his work in the marketplace, and he finally has a squad of sufficient depth to satisfy the fans.