Mychal Kendricks among NFL players to still make scrutinized trip to Israel

Mychal Kendricks among NFL players to still make scrutinized trip to Israel

JERUSALEM — It was supposed to be a feel-good visit by a group of professional football players to give a boost to image-conscious Israel.

But in an embarrassing fumble by the Israeli government, only five of 11 NFL players in the delegation showed up after being blitzed by Palestinian activists opposed to the visit.

Israel's ministry for strategic affairs and public diplomacy issued a press release after the Super Bowl boasting that the visit would bring "influencers" who would serve as "goodwill ambassadors" when they returned home.

The announcement led Seattle Seahawks defense lineman Michael Bennett to pull out. In a lengthy Twitter post, he accused the government of trying to use him for PR purposes and cited sympathy for the Palestinians.

"I will not be used in such a manner," he wrote, adding that he still intends to visit Israel, but only on a trip that includes stops in the West Bank and Gaza Strip to meet Palestinians.

Citing the example of Muhammad Ali, and the late boxing legend's support for the Palestinians, Bennett said he too wants to be a "voice for the voiceless."

"I cannot do that by going on this kind of trip to Israel," he said.

Several others players followed suit, and at the delegation's first official stop on Tuesday at Rambam Hospital in Haifa, only five players were present, said hospital spokesman David Ratner. He said the players were given a tour of the hospital and shown a presentation of a device developed by one of Rambam's researchers that detects concussions in real time.

Among those who also dropped out were Bennett's brother Martellus, of the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots, Miami Dolphins receiver Kenny Stills, Seahawks' Cliff Avril, San Francisco 49er Carlos Hyde and Justin Forsett of the Denver Broncos.

Public Diplomacy Minister Gilad Erdan, whose office spearheaded the visit, had enthusiastically promoted it, saying the NFL players would help boost Israel's image and counter the influence of an international boycott movement.

"I hope that, through their visit, they will get a balanced picture of Israel, the opposite from the false incitement campaign that is being waged against Israel around the world," he said. "I hope that the players will present the beautiful face of Israel to their tens of millions of fans in the United States."

But since Bennett's post on Saturday, the ministry has gone silent. After promising various updates on the delegation, Revital Yakin-Karkovsky, the executive director for communications and strategy in the ministry, said Wednesday it would not comment on the visit. The Tourism Ministry and the nonprofit America's Voices in Israel organization, which were also involved in the planning, have also distanced themselves.

The five players who did make the trip — Delanie Walker of the Tennessee Titans, Mychal Kendricks of the Eagles, Cameron Jordan of the New Orleans Saints, Calais Campbell of the Arizona Cardinals and Dan Williams of the Oakland Raiders — have also noticeably kept quiet on social media.

The only evidence of the visit is an Instagram video of Kendricks from a local restaurant, where he sings along to Marvin Gaye's "Let's get it on" and asks locals to say hello to the camera in Hebrew.

An open letter published in The Nation that was signed by pro-Palestinian activists and supporters such as Harry Belafonte, Danny Glover and Alice Walker had urged the players to skip the trip.

"The Israeli government sought to use these NFL players, who have tremendous platforms due to their popularity, in an effort to whitewash Israel's ongoing denial of Palestinian rights," said Yousef Munayyer, director of the U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights, who initiated the open letter. "It was heartening to see so many players choose not to sit on the sidelines but instead to stand on the right side of history."

NFL Notes: Patriots reach deal with former Jets LB David Harris

NFL Notes: Patriots reach deal with former Jets LB David Harris

BOSTON -- A person familiar with the situation says the New England Patriots have agreed to terms on a deal with former New York Jets linebacker David Harris.

The new two-year pact could be worth as much as $6.75 million, the person told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity Wednesday because the deal has not yet been announced.

Harris, a 2007 second-round pick from Michigan who has spent all 10 of his NFL seasons in New York, was released earlier this month by the Jets in a series of offseason moves to cut high-priced veterans. He was the franchise's second-leading tackler.

He now moves within the division to play for Bill Belichick, who has lauded Harris' play in the past. It also gives the Patriots some veteran depth to pair with Dont'a Hightower.

Jaguars: Rhaney claimed off waivers
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The Jacksonville Jaguars have claimed offensive lineman Demetrius Rhaney off waivers from the Los Angeles Rams.

The Jaguars announced the move Wednesday and said they released rookie offensive lineman Parker Collins to make room on the roster for Rhaney.

The 6-foot-2, 301-pound Rhaney was a seventh-round draft pick out of Tennessee State by the Rams in 2014. He spent his first season on injured reserve but played in every regular-season game the past two seasons, starting once at left guard in 2015.

Packers: Guion arrested on suspicion of DUI
HONOLULU -- Green Bay Packers defensive lineman Letroy Guion has been arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence of an intoxicant in Hawaii.

Honolulu police booking records show Guion was arrested early Wednesday in Waikiki. He was released after posting $500 bail.

Packers spokesman Aaron Popkey says in a statement that the team is aware and will refrain from making further comment because it's a legal matter. He says he doesn't know what Guion was doing in Waikiki.

Guion was suspended without pay by the NFL for the first four games of the 2017 season for violating the league's policy on performance-enhancing drugs.

He started 15 games last season, making 30 tackles. The nine-year veteran agreed to a three-year deal worth $11.25 million in February 2016.

NFL: Former player Ryan Jones shot dead
RENO, Nev. -- Nevada authorities say former NFL linebacker Ryan Jones was shot dead over the weekend in a Reno apartment and two other people suffered non-life threatening gunshot wounds.

Reno Police Department spokesman Officer Tim Broadway declined comment Tuesday on the circumstances that led to Sunday's shooting because detectives were still interviewing people for their investigation.

Jones, 26, signed a free-agent deal with the Baltimore Ravens in 2014 and had a stint with the New York Giants before becoming a mixed martial arts fighter.

He was the first Montana Tech football player in the college's history to sign an NFL contract.

Jones graduated from Hug High School in Nevada before attending Sierra College and then Montana Tech in 2011.

Eagles LBs coach thinks there's more ceiling for Jordan Hicks

Eagles LBs coach thinks there's more ceiling for Jordan Hicks

Jordan Hicks is a good middle linebacker. 

After his first two seasons in the NFL, the former third-round pick has piled up some eye-popping numbers. 

In his first 24 games in the league (his rookie season was cut short with a pec injury), he has seven interceptions, 14 passes defensed, four fumble recoveries, a forced fumble and two sacks. 

He's just the fifth player in NFL history — and only linebacker — to have that many INTs, fumble recoveries and forced fumbles in the first two years of his career. 

Hicks, who turns 25 later this month, is already really good. The next step is to become great. 

Is there room for more growth? 

"I would hope so," Eagles linebackers coach Ken Flajole said last week. "We're all emotionally tied in with our guys. I think he's done a great job for us. Is there room for improvement? No question. But he works at it. It's important to him. I know it's important for him that he puts the team success above himself. 

"I would suspect that there's more ceiling for him at linebacker. And I expect him to work at those things." 

Hicks actually had a chance to work on some of those things this offseason. As he exited last year, it was clear Hicks possessed ball-hawk traits, but admittedly needed to get better against the run. 

After his first NFL season, Hicks was stuck recovering from his torn pectoral and subsequent surgery. The rehab didn't allow him to strength train as much as he would have liked. 

This year, it's been a different story. He's hit the weight room hard, put on some extra weight, and hasn't been hamstrung by a tedious rehab process. 

"It's been great, man," Hicks said. "Having a full offseason to get in rhythm, having a full offseason to lift and get stronger and not have to take a step back to rehab and do everything over again, it's huge. Huge. To just build and stack and stack on top of each other."

Flajole agrees with Hicks, that the extra time in the weight room will help him against the run, specifically at the point of attack.  

Flajole isn't the only person in the NovaCare Complex who thinks big things are still ahead for Hicks. After the season finale against the Cowboys last season, Malcolm Jenkins said he thought Hicks is "trending to be one of the better linebackers in this league."

While Hicks wants to improve his run defense, it's undeniable that the strength of his game — to this point — is his knack for being around the ball. He always seems to be making a big play, whether it's an interception or a fumble recovery. 

It might seem like chance, but Flajole doesn't discount it as such. 

"He's a very instinctual guy and I think he understands the game," Flajole said. "The thing that can't be discounted for Jordan is that he works at it. He watches a lot of tape and because of those things, he feeds off of tendencies that the offense would give him, either by down and distance or formation. And he uses those to his advantage." 

For the second straight year, Hicks will be in the same defense under Jim Schwartz and will have the same battery mate in Nigel Bradham, who enters the second year of his two-year deal. 

At some point before the 2017 season starts, Hicks will set some personal goals for himself, like he does every year. While he hasn't set them yet, Hicks said they are normally leadership-based or stat-based. 

"It definitely gives you something to reach for and keep you on track," Hicks said. "Just like you set team goals. If you're not setting goals, you're just working towards nothing, just shooting in the air at nothing." 

One thing the goals won't be is accolade-based. Sure, Hicks would like to be named to his first Pro Bowl, but that won't be on the checklist. 

If he gets better than he's been in Year 1 and 2, it'll only be a matter of time before the recognition catches up with his stats. 

"I'm not really worried about the accolades at this point," he said. "It's not really what I'm focused on. I believe that if you're doing what you need to do, day in and day out, you're giving it everything you got, the rest will come. I'm focused on what I can do for this team, what I can do to make this team the best it can be. And let the rest fall in place."