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Reporters' Notebook

Shaquil Barrett's breakout, Chase Daniel ready, 49ers eye MNF

As we turn toward Week 5 of the 2019 NFL season,'s network of reporters provides the hottest news and notes from across the league, including:

-- Why the Bears trust Chase Daniel.

-- Devin McCourty's renaissance.

-- How Jimmy Garoppolo is getting ready for his first prime-time game with the Niners.

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BALTIMORE RAVENS: Jackson determined to snap skid. The Ravens enter Sunday's AFC North showdown at Pittsburgh on their first losing streak since Lamar Jackson became their starting quarterback last November.

So how is the second-year pro -- who won eight of his first nine-regular season starts before losses the past two weeks to the Chiefsand Browns -- handling his first bit of team adversity?

"He hasn't changed his approach," veteran guard Marshal Yanda told me. "Obviously, he's going to continue to try to grow each week, and obviously, we want to try to grow when we're successful and win -- but it's part of it sometimes, losing football games. But I think he's taken the right steps to try to put his best performance this Sunday out on the field."

Said right tackle Orlando Brown Jr., Jackson's 2018 draft classmate and locker neighbor: "He doesn't like to lose. He likes to win. I'll say that he's excited for Sunday."

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CHICAGO BEARS: Looking for an offensive spark. Through a quarter of the season, the Bears' defense has lived up to its preseason billing, on pace to be every bit as good as the top-ranked squad from 2018, ranking second in scoring and tying for fourth in the NFL with eight takeaways heading into Week 5. And special teams is playing well; kicker Eddy Pineiro, who went through a highly pressurized offseason just to earn the job, has completed all six extra-point tries and eight of nine field-goal attempts. The phase the Bears aren't happy with so far: The offense, which ranks 28th in points, 29th in passing yards and 25th on the ground. Chicago's per-game mark of 16.5 points is the lowest by a team with a winning record heading into Week 5.

Bears fans -- and coach Matt Nagy -- would surely like to see more big plays (runs of 10-plus yards or receptions of 20-plus yards). Through Week 4, Chicago had just 13 big plays (four on the ground, seven in the air), the third-fewest of any team this season.

Said Nagy this week: "Overall, I'll go back to what we all talked about Week 1 and Week 2: We're looking for more explosive plays -- we haven't had a lot of those explosive plays ... haven't had a lot of explosive plays in the run game. Those get you going."

Nagy comfortable with starting Daniel. While there is still no certainty as to when quarterback Mitch Trubisky will return from a dislocated left shoulder that will likely keep him out of this Sunday's matchup against the Raiders in London, Nagy did not sound overly concerned this week, especially given his confidence in backup Chase Daniel, who completed 22 of 30 pass attempts for 195 yards, one touchdown and a stout 101.4 passer rating after stepping in for Trubisky during Chicago's first possession in the Week 4 win over Minnesota

"He'll (Trubisky) be on a day-to-day basis for us," Nagy said. "We have the bye (in Week 6) coming up here, so we'll be able to see really how this goes for him. You know where we stand. But it's crazy how sometimes these things go with these byes. And where they come. But we're in a good position right now, knowing that Chase came in last week, and we've been in this before, so we're fully confident with that."

I specifically asked Nagy what attributes Daniel possesses that make him a good quarterback:

"The leadership and anticipation. Leadership within the huddle before the play happens. Directing people. Telling them where to go. How to get there. And then the anticipatory throws of knowing, OK, this guy is gonna be open because of this defense (he sees), and being able to throw the ball on time."

In his 11 pro seasons, Daniel has started four games, with a 2-2 record, 67.7 percent completion rate, a TD-to-INT ratio of 4:2 and a passer rating of 89.6. He's been to London twice, seeing the field once (he completed 2 of 2 passes for 4 yards with the Chiefs in Week 8 of 2015).

Trubisky will make the trip to London with his teammates and has been heavily involved in the game prep this week. "Mitch is in there with us game-planning (this week) just as well," Daniel said. "I mean, he's drawing up plays left and right. So he's fully into it, he's excited about it."

Nagy added, "He'll (Trubisky) be right there and involved with us. Communicating and being a coach as well."

Regardless of the starting quarterback, Nagy -- forever the optimist -- is encouraged: "From Week 1 to right now, we're definitely getting better. We're improving as an offense. We're starting to slowly create an identity. We're not there yet. But we are getting there."

Bears players have plenty of trust in Daniel. The Bears didn't seem surprised Chase Daniel came out firing in relief of an injured Mitch Trubisky in last week's win over the Vikings.

"Chase is like a general," Bears receiver Anthony Miller told me. "He knows everything. He knows what each and every person is supposed to do on each and every play, and we're going to ride with him."

It'd be just the fifth start in 11 NFL seasons for Daniel, 32, who has been one of the league's highest-paid backups in recent years. By season's end, he will have made a little over $34 million in career earnings.

Said Miller: "Well worth it."

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INDIANAPOLIS COLTS: Nelson still rolling after strong rookie season. We've heard of professional wrestlers or NBA superstars having a signature move, but it was surprising to find out that one of the best offensive linemen in the NFL has a signature move of his own.

Last season as a rookie, Colts guard Quenton Nelson was named an All-Pro. In his second season, he's continued to dominate at a level that even opposing players study.

"He's a great player," Chiefs right guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif told me Wednesday, ahead of the upcoming "Sunday Night Football" clash between Kansas City and Indianapolis. "When you want to watch great pass pro technique, you watch (Cowboys right guard) Zack Martin, and when you want to watch someone just dominate people in the run game, you watch Quenton Nelson."

This week, I asked Colts head coach Frank Reich what his favorite Nelson play on film was. "Oh man," Reich said exhaling. "Well, there's so many."

"The things that are unique about Quenton are two things," Reich went on to say. "One, when he's pulling. When he's pulling and when he's out in space, he has unique ability as an offensive lineman.

"And then the other thing that is just a signature move of Quenton's, unlike any other offensive linemen I've ever been around, when a running back or a receiver is making a play 10 or 15 yards down the field, when you blink for a second, you'll see Quenton right there, faster than anybody. He just has this innate ability and desire to finish plays and be there at the end of plays. I just think that helps set the tone for our whole team."

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KANSAS CITY CHIEFS: Mahomes sees sky-high potential when Hill's speed returns. All-Pro receiver Tyreek Hillreturned to practice this week for the first time since suffering a collarbone injury in a win over the Jaguarsin Week 1. The Chiefs have gone 3-0 since, while quarterback Patrick Mahomes was named AFC Offensive Player of the Month after recording a 10:0 TD-to-INT ratio, 377.5 yards-per-game mark and 120.4 passer rating in September.

Kansas City has been fortunate to remain unbeaten during Hill's absence. The team believes other players within the offense were able to grow as they picked up the slack without him on the field, which will only benefit them in the long run.

"Obviously, the attention that [Hill] gets, how explosive he is, he can take a little shovel pass and take it to the house," Mahomes said Wednesday. "We have a lot of guys like that, but he's the kind of guy defenses have game plans for. Defenses have to account for him with one or two guys to try to figure out a way to stop him; it helps everybody else out. Having him back, and when he comes back, we will utilize him and the other guys to expand our offense and really take it to another level."

In the eyes of head coach Andy Reid, this Chiefs team is the fastest he's ever coached. Receiver Sammy Watkins has 40 speed in the low 4.4-second range, and rookie receiver Mecole Hardman was clocked at 4.33 seconds at the NFL Scouting Combine earlier this year. But Hill is on another plane.

I asked Chiefs cornerback Bashaud Breeland a simple question: Who is faster, Hardman, Hill or Ravens rookie receiver Marquise Brown? For context, Breeland shadowed Brown, who is considered the fastest player in this year's draft and one of the fastest players in football, and who was held to just two catches in Kansas City's Week 3 win over Baltimore.

"Tyreek, not even close," Breeland told me, without even taking a second to answer. "I can run with all of them, but Tyreek has that different gear, and I can't. You have a chance if you can get him at the line, make him dance and try to line up square, but if he opens up and you try to run, it's a wrap."

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NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS: McCourty making history in Year 10. For the first time in his lengthy and successful NFL career, Devin McCourty has been named AFC Defensive Player of the Month, thanks to his play in September. McCourty, now in his 10th season, has interceptions in each of the Patriots' first four games. That ties a team record for most consecutive games with at least one pick, putting the affable safety in the record books next to Hall of Famer Mike Haynes. Not bad for a 32-year-old who's combining experience and wisdom with rocket fuel in his legs.

"I feel like that," said McCourty. "I doubt a lot of people think 32-year-olds are at a nice combination, but I feel pretty good, so I like how you put that. If you don't mind, just keep telling the coaches that, too."

McCourty has long been the anchor of the Patriots defense, at times even wearing the green communication dot on his helmet, a rarity for safeties. He hasn't had more than two interceptions in a season since 2012, when he finished with five -- and back then, he was splitting time between cornerback and safety.

"The ball is finding me," he said. "You know, I think a lot of -- I was talking to (Eagles safety) Malcolm Jenkins last night, and he texts me, and he's like, 'Man, you've got four interceptions,' and I was like, 'Yeah, man. For a lot of years, the ball didn't find me a lot.' You could be in good position, you could play good football, but the ball doesn't find you. And then sometimes you go out there and, you know, (Patriots cornerback) Steph (Gilmore) tips one to me, I got an overthrow, I got another overthrow, and one where the quarterback never saw me. So, I wouldn't say they're like the hardest plays you ever make in your career, but sometimes you keep putting yourself in the right position, the ball will find you. Sometimes it doesn't, but you've just got to keep trying to play good football."

In McCourty's mind, his personal success is also related to how good the players are around him. The defense has allowed only one touchdown through the first four games of the season, while the Patriots have gone 4-0.

"I think me having interceptions shows how good this unit is," McCourty said. "I'm able to play a lot of things just on being free, and knowledge, because our corners are so good. I don't have to worry about anything. I have complete faith in what they're doing, and I think a lot of us being on the same page allows us to do some things out there as a group that you can't always do, unless you have a lot of guys that are studying film together and smart enough to go out there and try to do some things."

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NEW YORK GIANTS: Barkley getting back to work. Just 10 days removed from a high ankle sprain that left him in a boot and on crutches, running back Saquon Barkley was back doing individual work on the practice field beginning Wednesday. His return date to game action remains unclear (on Friday, he was ruled out for Sunday's game against the Vikings). However, Giants coach Pat Shurmur seemed pleased as he debunked outside medical opinions that suggested timelines for return in the eight-week range. "Not my doctors," Shurmur said.

Barkley is a model of consistency and told reporters Thursday that he believes his mental approach is important when overcoming injury.

"Like I said, the same way I attack the field and the same way I attack the weight room, I was going to attack the training room and recovery," Barkley said. "I think I've been doing that."

The second-year pro, who led the NFL as a rookie with 2,028 yards from scrimmage in 2018, also said his injury "probably should have been way worse than it was," but wasn't because of his training regimen.

None of this regarding his healing surprises his college coaching staff.

"He does everything faster/quicker than most human beings, and healing is on that list, too," Penn State coach James Franklin told me. "He also is a guy that is going to do EVERYTHING right from a treatment standpoint to give himself the best chance to come back as early as possible. He is a pro's pro and has been since college."

As a freshman at Penn State, Barkley sustained a high ankle sprain, missed just two games and returned to rush for 194 yards against Ohio State.

Jones keenly aware of ways he could improve.Giants offensive coordinator Mike Shula was asked about rookie quarterback Daniel Jones' turnovers -- he has five on the season, including two interceptions against the Redskins in Week 4 -- and said Jones knows he can't turn the ball over but stays even-keel.

More interestingly, Shula said Jones "was more upset about a throw he completed ... that he could have been out front a little bit more and gained a few more yards."

I asked Shula if the play could've been a touchdown. He said no, just a bigger gain.

More insight into the rookie quarterback's progress: Shula said one completion to running back Wayne Gallman came on Jones' fifth read. Gallman was covered earlier in the play, then Jones went back to him. Of course, it also says something about the Giants' offensive line that Jones got so far through his progressions. And, perhaps, about the Redskins' 28th-ranked defense.

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SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS: Shanahan has eye on how players handle prep for prime time. The Week 4 bye is over, and the 49ers are getting ready for "Monday Night Football" against the Cleveland Browns. Head coach Kyle Shanahan is trying to keep the players focused and humbled ahead of their prime-time home game, acknowledging that "everyone's watching, and guys get excited for that." But outside of that, Shanahan said it's like every other week.

With rookie receiver Jalen Hurd (back) on injured reserve, the team re-signed veteran receiver Jordan Matthews, who came close to making the active roster a few months ago and said he's happy to have gotten the call. Cornerback Jason Verrett (knee) was also placed on IR. Verrett has battled several major injuries throughout his career, including a torn Achilles that kept him off the field for all of 2018, his fifth and final season with the Chargers. He's played in just 26 career games.

"We like the person and the player we gambled on," Shanahan said of Verrett, before lamenting the circumstances around the cornerback's injuries.

In better injury news, running back Tevin Coleman, who hasn't played since suffering an ankle injury in Week 1, is "good to go" according to Shanahan, and he was out with the team at practice on Thursday. No word yet as to whether or not or Coleman will play on Monday, or if he does, how active he'll be.

The bye week was a good chance for most of the team to rest up, but quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo stayed in Santa Clara, mainly doing more work at the facility. When asked why he chose to stay instead of heading home to Chicago, Garoppolo said it was important for him to "keep this thing going" ahead of his prime-time debut with the Niners. And he mentioned the weather in California made it an easy choice, as well.

Niners didn't see Jags' Ramsey as trade fit. Jags owner Shad Khan made things pretty easy for trade suitors this week by saying he doesn't plan to deal cornerback Jalen Ramsey, who had asked to be dealt earlier this year. Even before Khan went there, it was highly unlikely that the 49ers would make a move to acquire Ramsey, according to a team source.

Besides the freight it would cost in draft picks to acquire Ramsey, a former first-rounder, two-time Pro Bowler and one-time All-Pro, Ramsey's contract expectations are probably too rich for San Francisco, the source said.

Additionally, given the investment in four first-round picks on the defensive line (Nick Bosa, Solomon Thomas, Arik Armstead and DeForest Buckner), as well as the free-agent signings of pass rusher Dee Ford and inside linebacker Kwon Alexander this offseason, the Niners' philosophy is to create havoc up front and pay those players, according to the source.

Circumstances could dictate a change, but for now, Ramsey doesn't seem bound for Santa Clara.

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TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS: Barrett finally balling. Outside linebacker Shaquil Barrett was named the NFC Defensive Player of the Month for good reason, registering a league-high nine sacks (Tampa Bay has a total of 11). As a rotational player in Denver behind Von Miller, DeMarcus Ware and then Bradley Chubb, Barrett, who signed in Tampa this year, told me it took him time to enhance his craft to the point it is now.

"Last year and this year, I felt the most ready I've ever felt," said Barrett, who is in his sixth NFL season. "Practice-wise and in games, I had to put together all my moves, feel confident in what I was doing, and that's happened over the past two years. My first four years, I was still learning and developing. As you can see, that process has been good for my career."

Barrett's diligence has been the common denominator, and now, with him surging, more attention could be coming his way -- or not, Barrett said. The Buccaneers have done a good job -- they need to still improve, Barrett said -- of running multiple looks while lining up in the same formation. That's caused confusion and allowed the front four or five to create havoc.

"It's hard to figure out what we are doing," Barrett said. "We have stuff that looks the same. We change it to zone when it looks like a man blitz and the other way around. We do a lot of things, but it all comes from the same look."

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