Setting the table for the first day of the best weekend of the professional sports calendar …
1. Early in the week, as I heard it, Rams RB Todd Gurley looked like a guy coming off a month on the shelf (he hasn’t played since Dec. 16), while, at times, flashing his trademark speed and burst. By Thursday, according to one staffer, Gurley “looked like a monster.” Bottom line: The Rams are expecting him to be himself. And more good news: C.J. Anderson is now there to spell him as needed. The plan is to get him work too.
2. Barring something strange happening with the planned hire of Patriots linebackers coach Brian Flores, Cowboys secondary coach Kris Richard will finish as runner-up in Miami. Trust me when I say this: The Dallas brass is ecstatic to keep him. My understanding is that the Joneses like him so much that even if things had fallen apart this year and they made a change at head coach, they’d have tried to keep Richard on and pair him with someone like Oklahoma’s Lincoln Riley. As is, there’s a really good chance the Cowboys shuffle staff after the season to pass the defensive coordinator title on from Rod Marinelli to Richard. That’s reflected in Richard’s duties, too. At the start of the year, he was setting up the back end of the defense and calling play on third downs. By the end of September, he was calling the whole game for the Cowboys.
3. While we’re there, the Cowboys plan to give slot receiver Cole Beasley and tight end Blake Jarwin a chance to prove they’re healthy enough to go in warmups. The team hopes to have both active and ready to go. If they can’t, we may see little more of Tavon Austin than usual. And another man to watch on the Dallas offense: rookie Connor Williams, who played well enough last week to stake a claim to his left guard spot. I’m told he’ll probably start, even with Xavier Su’a-Filo back healthy and likely up for the game. And that means he’s going to see a lot of Aaron Donald.
4. The Chiefs went to bed Friday night still unsure on WR Sammy Watkins and S Eric Berry. Watkins hasn’t played in almost two months, but there’s optimism that, pending a final check pregame, he’ll play. Berry’s situation is significantly foggier, and his heel injury has kept him pretty far from 100 percent all year. In other words, we’ll see if he plays, but it’s not like Berry has really played like his former self so far this year anyway.
5. Not that it means he and his team will win Saturday at Arrowhead, but all the credit in the world to T.Y. Hilton for the toughness he’s shown over the last couple months. He has routinely been sidelined for entire weeks of practice—he was this week, again—and still brought it on Sunday (and this week and last, Saturday). We’ll see to what degree he can help Andrew Luck exploit a shaky K.C. secondary.
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