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Week 12 Thanksgiving 10-pack

Packers Lions Football

We’ve moved the Friday 10-pack to Thursday, since posting it on Thursday puts the Thanksgiving games in play for our 10 takes regarding the coming weekend of games.

I also needed to get it done early because I’ll be spending Thursday night preparing to host The Dan Patrick Show on Friday, a process which may look a lot like achieving and maintaining a turkey-induced stupor.  Primarily because that’s precisely what it will be.

1.  At least the NFL tried to give us good games on Thanksgiving.

Every year, complaints arise regarding the quality of the games played on the fourth Thursday in November.  This year, the NFL did something about it.

Though the Lions continue to have a hammerlock on the early game, the NFL picked the Patriots to be the visiting team.  (Because CBS will televise the game, the road team had to be from the AFC; this year, the choices were the Jets and the Patriots.  Either way, a quality opponent would have been pegged for the game.)

For the afternoon contest, the NFL earmarked a game that, as of April, looked to be one of the 10 best of the year — Saints at Cowboys.  Though the Cowboys’ struggles have made the game less intriguing, the NFL opted not to take advantage of its captive audience by offering up the weakest home game on the Dallas schedule.  (Then again, the Lions already were booked.)

The night game — Bengals at Jets — also looked as of April to be a potentially great game, given that the Bengals and Jets both made the playoffs in 2009.  Who knew that the Bengals would be after 10 games The 2-Ocho Show?

Short of moving Thanksgiving to September, the risk that games that looked great in April will be relevant in November applies to every NFL season.  All we can ask is that the NFL attempt to provide quality games.

Even if the Lions and Cowboys would lose their automatic home games, there’s no way of knowing that the games picked prior to the season will involve quality teams by the time the games are played.  What if the Vikings had “earned” a home game on Thanksgiving as a result of their 2009 performance?  Or the 49ers, based on the widespread belief that they’d be much improved in 2010?

In April, every season is a crapshoot.  At least the NFL has finally decided to shoot for something other than crap on Thanksgiving.

2.  Favre could thrive under Frazier.

The decision of Vikings interim coach Leslie Frazier to keep brett Favre at quarterback makes sense.  Frazier will earn the job for 2011 only by winning games, and Farve at quarterback gives Frazier the best chance to do that.

The Vikings don’t need to know what Tarvaris Jackson can do; he had relevance only when a change of quarterbacks may have belped salvage a playoff berth.  And Frazier has no interest in developing Joe Webb to become the possible starter for the next regime.

So what of the notion that Favre will continue to produce more turnovers than a baker on an IV full of Red Bull?  Without former coach Brad Childress peering over Favre’s shoulder and constantly telling him what to do and what not to do, it’s entirely possible that Favre will perform better.

Even though reeling off six in a row likely won’t be enough to edge out one of the three-loss teams currently in position to take both of the wild-card spots, a strong finish to the season would partially rehab Favre’s fading legacy — and it would give Frazier a fighter’s chance at keeping the job.  Having Childress out of the picture will make if easier for Favre to just relax and play.

3.  Delhomme’s revenge.

Earlier this year, the Carolina Panthers discarded quarterback Jake Delhomme like an empty bottle of screw-top wine.  And for good reason.  Ever since the completion of the 2008 regular season, Delhomme had been playing like a guy whose Gatorade had been spiked with a full bottle of screw-top wine.

On Sunday, Delhomme will get his first start since Week One, due to Colt McCoy’s ankle sprain.  Coincidentally, that start will come against the Carolina Panthers.

So the game will provide Delhomme with a shot at redemption, a chance to prove the Panthers wrong.

Then again, given that Delhomme received a contract worth $20 million guaranteed before the 2009 season, it’s the Panthers that should be thinking about revenge.

Either way, the link gives a sliver of meaning to an otherwise meaningless game.

4.  It’s getting no easier for Mike Vick.

If the Eagles and quarterback Mike Vick struggle at Soldier Field on Sunday, it’ll be easy to blame the Sports Illustrated jinx, given that he graces the magazine’s cover this week.  But we’re not much for jinxes, unless the person to be jinxed allows himself to think that the jinx exists.

For Vick, the bigger concern should be opposing defenses studying ever bit of tape from his performances to date, building on game plans that slowed him down and trying to devise the one tactic that will shut him down and/or knock him out.

Though the Bears present the latest challenge, a pair of games against the Cowboys, a rematch with the Giants, and a date with the Vikings remain.  With each passing week, defenses will be trying even harder to be the team that solves the Vick riddle, preferably by putting him back on the injury report.

Look for the Bears, mired in a seven-quality-teams-but-only-five-spots chase for the postseason, to pull out all the stops.

5.   Monday night loser could still be alive.

Thanksgiving weekend wraps up with a Monday night game between the 49ers and Cardinals.  It presents a rare stinker on ESPN’s 2010 slate.  But it’s not as bad as it appears, if we ignore the fact that each team has a record of 3-7.

If the 5-5 Seahawks lose on Sunday against the Chiefs, the loser of Monday night’s game will remain only two games out of first place with five games to play.

Sure, the loser will be a woeful 3-8.  But if we can get past that won-loss record, the reality is that the loser can still get hot in December and steal the division and reset its record to 0-0 in the single-elimination tournament that will commence with the NFC West champion hosting a playoff game.

6.  In Atlanta, home-field advantage possibly hangs in the balance.

The game of the week undoubtedly occurs in the Georgia Dome, where the red-hot Packers take on the red-hot Falcons.

Under quarterback Matt Ryan, the Falcons have won 18 games and lost only one at home.  Under quarterback Aaron Rodgers, the Packers have scored a total of 76 points in consecutive games against the Cowboys and Vikings.

The Packers are more than a good offense; their defense has allowed only 10 points in three games, including the pitching of a shutout of the Jets at the New Meadowlands Stadium.

With these two teams destined to play beyond January 2, this game will go a long way toward determining where the second game may occur.  And regardless of what happens this time around, the location of a January rematch will have a lot to do with its potential outcome.

7.  Keep an eye on Tom Brady’s foot.

Vikings quarterback Brett Favre has no qualms when it comes to talking about his injuries.  Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is more apt to talk about his hair.

And so it’s impossible to know the exact diagnosis of and prognosis for Brady’s current foot injury, which caused him to miss practice on Tuesday and Wednesday and to be listed as questionable for Thursday’s game, a rare departure from his usual designation as probable.

Sporting a defensive line that could give the Patriots flashbacks to Super Bowl XLII and a Detroit team that is otherwise irrelevant in NFL circles, it’ll be interesting to see whether these Lions use their rare national spotlight as an occasion to roar, by pouncing on Brady’s bum foot.

8.  Colts are suddenly in trouble.

If the season ended today, the Colts’ season would be over.  And while they’ll play four of their final six games at home, the Colts face the prospect of missing the playoffs — and of winning fewer than 10 games — for the first time since Jim Mora refused to use the “P” word.

The slide very well could continue on Sunday night, when the surging Chargers come to town.  The Chargers have played the Colts well in recent years, providing Indy with a consistent thorn in their side.

And while both of the quarterbacks have had to overcome injuries to their supporting cast on offense, the Chargers are getting healthy a lot faster than the Colts.  And the Chargers will have receiver Vincent Jackson back, for the first time all year.

It could spell trouble once again for the Colts.  At 6-5, the Colts would have to make like the Chargers and finish strong in order to avoid missing the playoffs for the first time in nearly a decade.

9.  Bucs get their chance to impress.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have handled every team they’ve faced, with the exception of the three elite franchises they’ve played — the Steelers, Saints, and Falcons.

This weekend, the Bucs draw the Ravens.  On the road.

On paper, this is another game that Tampa should lose.  If the Bucs find a way to win, it’ll be time to take this team seriously.

Actually, it’s already time to take this team seriously.  With upcoming games against the Redskins, Lions, and Seahawks, 10 wins could be in the offing.  With the Ravens, Falcons, and Saints also on the docket, victory in any one of those games will help the Bucs do the unthinkable — nailing down coach of the year honors for Raheem Morris, and possibly executive of the year recognition for Mark Dominik.  With a roster devoid of pricey veterans, the Bucs are one of the few teams that is playing like a true team.

10.  Chargers are following form, and will likely continue to do so.

After the Chargers lost five of their first seven games, we said (one or twice, or more often) that the team eventually would try to follow a slow start with a fast finish — and fail.

But the Chargers have shown that they can do it again, reeling off three wins and moving to within a game of first place in the AFC West.  And they’ll likely continue their climb to the playoffs.

Where they’ll likely lose in one of the first two rounds.

While, as mentioned above, they match up well with the Colts, the Chargers eventually would face the Patriots, Jets, Ravens, or Steelers.  And with five losses already in the standings, the Chargers will have to take their pass-first offense to an open-air stadium in the Northeast.  In the middle of January.

Moving forward, and as our friend Scott Caplan of XX 1090 in San Diego pointed out during our weekly Wednesday morning radio visit, the Chargers should redouble their efforts to figure out why they can’t win more games in September and October.  If they could emerge into November and December with a better record, they’d be able to force some of the other elite teams to San Diego in January.

Hey, at least the Chargers wouldn’t have to face a long flight home after losing.

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Nick Foles on DeSean Jackson: It’s surprising, but it’s a business

DeSean Jackson

Eagles quarterback Nick Foles didn’t expect to lose his No. 1 receiver, DeSean Jackson, and didn’t see it coming before the Eagles sent Jackson packing.

You know, it’s surprising,” Foles told CSNPhilly.com. “But at the same time, you learn that it’s a business. It’s a tough business, at times. We develop a lot of friendships on a team and I’ve had many of my close teammates let go. It’s very tough, but at the same time, you know it’s part of the game, part of the business.”

Despite talk that Jackson was a trouble maker in the locker room, Foles said he never saw any of that.

“He was a great teammate to me,” Foles said. “We had a great relationship on and off the field. Everybody has other things going on, but to me personally, I really enjoyed playing with him and I’m excited that he landed on his feet. He’s a heck of a player.”

Now he’ll be a heck of a player for Philadelphia’s NFC East rival in Washington.

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Warren Moon: Johnny Manziel has to adjust his game in the NFL

Johnny Manziel AP

Warren Moon is a fan of Johnny Manziel’s skill set.

However, Moon does have a few reservations about the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner.

In an interview with Alex Marvez and Zig Fracassi on SiriusXM NFL Radio, Moon said the 6-foot, 207-pound Manziel must avoid seeking contact as much as he did on the college level. Moreover, Manziel also must prove he can regularly operate from the pocket, according to the Hall of Fame quarterback.

“Well, he’s one of the most exciting players to play college football, no question about it,” Moon said of Manziel. “He’s a risk taker, and he gets away with a lot of those things.

“I just think in the NFL, some of those things, he’s going to have to take out of his game. He just won’t be able to get away with some of those things that he did in college football, especially taking on people, being as physical as he likes to play the game. I don’t think you can do that in the NFL or you won’t be available for your football team.

“So if he changes a lot of those things out of his game, those are the things that made him special. Now all of a sudden he becomes a pocket passer. Can he do that on a consistent basis? That’s something I’m really not comfortable with right now. I’d have to see him do a little bit more of that.

“But no question about it, he’s an exciting football player that brings some very exciting athleticism to the position.”

Moon praised Manziel’s approach to the predraft process, noting that the former Texas A&M star has focused upon his craft.

Nevertheless, Moon still isn’t sure if Manziel’s collegiate production will translate to the NFL.

“He’s doing all the things right to move himself up in the draft, but still, what makes Johnny Manziel ‘Johnny’ is those special, magical plays that he makes, and I just don’t know if there’s going to be as many of those when you’re playing against the talent that he’s playing against in the NFL,” Moon said.

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Dolphins’ interest in receivers raises questions about Wallace’s future

Mike Wallace

The Dolphins have denied reports that they want to trade wide receiver Mike Wallace, and it appears highly unlikely that Wallace will play anywhere other than Miami this season. But there are big questions about whether Wallace has a future in Miami beyond 2014.

The latest question comes from Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald, who reports that the Dolphins are closely scrutinizing several receivers they could take in the first or second round, including LSU’s Odell Beckham, USC’s Marqise Lee, Mississippi’s Donte Moncrief, Oregon State’s Brandin Cooks and Florida State’s Kelvin Benjamin. Jackson adds that “if the Dolphins do add a receiver in the first three rounds, it will raise questions about their intentions with Wallace in 2015 and beyond.”

The reality is that Dolphins General Manager Dennis Hickey probably doesn’t have any intentions with Wallace in 2015 and beyond. Hickey wasn’t in Miami when former G.M. Jeff Ireland signed Wallace, and Hickey probably thinks what most people think, which is that Ireland overpaid to acquire Wallace last year.

The Dolphins won’t trade Wallace not because they don’t want to, but because his contract makes it all but impossible. First, Miami would take an immediate cap charge of $8.8 million if Wallace is traded before June 1. Secondly, any team that trades for Wallace would be taking on his fully guaranteed salary of $15 million this season. That’s not going to happen.

So don’t be surprised if Hickey drafts a receiver this year who could replace Wallace as Miami’s No. 1 receiver next year.

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Jim Kelly returns to Buffalo, will continue treatment

Jim Kelly AP

Former Bills quarterback Jim Kelly has returned to the Buffalo area to continue to be treated for sinus cancer, his brother, Dan Kelly, said today, according to multiple reports.

“Jim’s coming back, and he wants to fight cancer here in Buffalo. He will be continuing all his treatments here in Buffalo,” Dan Kelly said on Saturday, according to the Buffalo News.

According to the News, Kelly arrived in Buffalo on Saturday.

Kelly reportedly began chemotherapy treatments about two weeks ago. He had been receiving treatment in New York City.

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Report: Loucheiz Purifoy was caught with drugs, avoided arrest

loucheizpurifoy AP

Loucheiz Purifoy, a former Florida cornerback who is expected to be drafted next month, reportedly was caught with drugs last month and avoided arrest by agreeing to work as a police informant.

Now the matter of how Purifoy avoided arrest is the subject of an investigation. The Gainesville Sun reports that Purifoy never made himself available to officers to serve as an informant, so the Alachua County sheriff, whose officers originally stopped Purifoy, has asked the Gainesville Police Department to conduct an independent investigation into the matter.

According to the report, Purifoy was caught with marijuana and the synthetic drug known as bath salts. Alachua County Sheriff Sadie Darnell wrote in a letter to Gainesville Police Chief Tony Jones that after Purifoy failed to act as an informant an arrest warrant issued for him was quashed, and now the matter needs to be investigated.

“Based on probable cause developed by the deputy, an arrest warrant was issued for Loucheiz Purifoy for April 4, 2014, after he failed to fulfill his end of the bargain,” Darnell wrote. “The action to quash the warrant is highly unusual and, as a result, I have numerous questions as to the propriety of how this occurred.”

Purifoy was previously arrested for marijuana possession in February of 2013, and the Gators suspended him for the first game of the season. If he can stay out of trouble off the field, Purifoy has the talent to be a major contributor in the NFL: At Florida he was a starting cornerback, played a little wide receiver and was outstanding on special teams as a returner, on kick coverage and in blocking kicks.

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Tom Savage will not attend the draft

Tom Savage AP

Former Pitt quarterback Tom Savage has quickly gone from an unknown to a hot prospect, to the point where he received an invitation to attend the NFL draft. But Savage won’t be there.

Savage has declined his invitation and will not attend the draft, Josina Anderson of ESPN reports.

Just a few weeks ago, no one would have even expected Savage to get an invitation. But the buzz around the league suggests that NFL teams are growing so enamored with Savage’s size and arm strength that some teams may think he’s worth a first-round pick.

Savage started as a true freshman at Rutgers in 2009 and showed a lot of promise, but he suffered a hand injury and lost his starting job in 2010, transferred to Arizona and then transferred again when new coach Rich Rodriguez implemented an offense that didn’t play to his strengths. At Pittsburgh in 2013, he completed 61.2 percent of his passes, threw for 2,958 yards and had 21 touchdowns and nine interceptions. Moving around so much makes Savage one of the toughest prospects in the draft to evaluate, but some people think he’s going to hear Roger Goodell call his name early.

When Savage does hear his name called, it will be on TV.

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Lions keep bringing in guys they can’t draft at No. 10

KHALIL MACK AP

If you assume the Lions aren’t delusional, you can also assume they want to make a move up in the draft.

Because they’re bringing in another top-five caliber prospect for a visit, when they’re picking 10th.

According to Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press, Buffalo linebacker Khalil Mack is visiting the Lions next week.

Along with recent visits from South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney and Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins, it’s clear the Lions aren’t limiting themselves to their present location.

Mack is viewed by many as a more natural fit in a 3-4 defense, but the Lions could use him in a Von Miller-type role as well. Or they could just be establishing a smokescreen in an effort to cut a better deal with someone in the top five.

 

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Raiders plan to cut Pryor on Monday if they can’t trade him

Terrelle Pryor

One way or another, Terrelle Pryor will no longer be an Oakland Raider by the close of business Monday.

That’s the word from Alex Marvez of FOX Sports, who reports that the Raiders will cut Pryor on Monday if they can’t trade him before then. That’s not a big surprise; it had already been clear that the Raiders have no plans for Pryor going forward, and that means it makes sense to send him packing before the start of the offseason training program.

It seems unlikely that anyone would trade for Pryor when the word is out that he’s about to be cut. Then again, he did show flashes of promise last season, and he’s only due a salary of $750,000 this year, so it’s possible that some team might think he’s worth a seventh-round pick.

Pryor is a phenomenal athlete who made some big plays last season, but those big plays were more with his feet than with his arm, and he still has a lot of work to do as a passer. If a team is willing to work with him as he develops, there’s still a chance that he’ll be a franchise quarterback. Just not in Oakland.

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Sankey knows running back position has less value in today’s NFL

Sankey AP

The ongoing devaluation of the running back position could prompt highly-talented athletes to gravitate toward other positions.  Until then, highly-talented athletes who have chosen to play running back will be relegated to making chicken salad out of their NFL prospects.

Washington running back Bishop Sankey realizes that the game is changing.  But he still embraces the challenge of playing running back at the NFL level.

“Obviously last year with there being no running back going in the first round, I think there has just been a bigger emphasis on the pass in the NFL and maybe I’m biased but I feel like running back are just as valuable as anybody else on the field especially on the offense,” Sankey told NBCSN’s Pro Football Talk this week.  “We not only contribute on the ground but we also pass protect, protect the quarterback and we can also be used as an asset out of the backfield catching the ball.

“Not only that I think a lot of running backs contribute a lot on special teams as well with kick returns, punt returns.  Not even being a returner but also blocking for those guys and it’s kind of the direction the league’s going in now, but for me it’s just like I want to go out there every time I get a chance and eliminate all the questions that the NFL coaches have and really just try and put my best foot forward to give me a good opportunity come draft day.”

This year, there likely will be no running backs taken in round one.  If given the choice between being a first-round pick or the first running back taken, Sankey would take being the first running back selected.

“I think it just speaks high if you’re the first guy to go at your position,” Sankey said.  “It speaks high of what teams think about you and the work that you’ve put in up to this point.”

While it’s highly unlikely any running back will go in the first round, Sankey has a good shot of being the first running back whose name is called.  And then he’ll get a fair chance to show what he can do in September, when his number is called.

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Northwestern union vote coming in six days

Northwestern AP

The question of whether the Northwestern football team can have a union won’t matter unless the players want a union.  The latter question will be resolved soon.

The vote will be conducted on April 25.  For the yes-or-no proposition, a simple majority wins.

As recently explained by Alejandra Cancino of the Chicago Tribune, the vote possibly will be delayed pending full resolution of the question of whether the student-athletes are also employees.  The more likely outcome will be a sealing of the ballots until the legal issue has made its way through the court system.

So it’s possible that, after months of appeals resulting in a decision that the players can have a union, the votes will be counted and it will be determined that the players choose not to unionize.

Still, a ruling permitting unionization will allow other student-athletes at other private colleges to attempt to organize.  And the mere threat of union drives should prompt the NCAA to make changes that would make players less likely to choose against a union.

Those changes could eventually impact the NFL’s free farm system in ways that could make the farm system something other than free.  Or which could prompt the NFL to launch its own developmental league.

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Saturday morning one-liners

Morris Getty Images

The Bills secured preliminary approval for a $3 million class-action settlement arising from allegations that the team’s mobile alert service sent out more texts than the recipients had agreed to receive.

RB Chris Johnson says the Jets told him Geno Smith and Mike Vick will battle it out for the quarterback job.

Count Northern Colorado QB Seth Lobato among the many signal-callers whom the Patriots have examined this year.

The Dolphins seem to have a real interest in Miami QB Stephen Morris.

Ravens DT Terrence Cody says LB Rolando McClain has “humbled himself” and is “ready to play football.”

Steelers DE Nick Williams is working his way back from a knee injury that wiped out his 2013 season.

Bengals strength coach Chip Morton is looking forward to the expansion of the weight room.

Browns QB Brian Hoyer participated in a celebrity cooking competition.

Jaguars LS Carson Tinker wrote a book about his experience in the Tuscaloosa tornado of 2011, which claimed the life of his girlfriend.

Injuries hit the Texans harder in 2013 than in 2012.

Colts DE Bjoern Werner recently visited practice at Kentucky.

Titans LB Shaun Phillips strongly prefers the 3-4 to the 4-3.

The Raiders have finalized their exhibition schedule, which includes a nationally-televised game against the Packers.

Former Chargers QB Jesse Freitas, 62, will spend up to three years in a locked mental-health facility after a history of setting fires and other crimes.

The Chiefs use iPad playbooks during the regular season; they may experiment with using them in the offseason, too.

Broncos defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio visited Oregon State practice to watch his son, Luke.

Eagles QB Nick Foles will serve as honorary captain for the home opener of the Philadelphia Soul.

Redskins WR DeSean Jackson reportedly celebrated his arrival in D.C. this week with a $20,000 bottle of champagne.  (Who says he doesn’t get it?)

Giants P Steve Weatherford accepted a high-school prom invitation via Twitter.

Cowboys fans aren’t happy that DL Jason Hatcher left for Washington.

The Vikings are kicking in another $1.2 million to get bigger and better video screens at their new stadium.

The Bears are sniffing around former Lindenwood CB Pierre Desir.

The failure of Lions DT Ndamukong Suh to show up for the offseason program is bad; the team’s apathy about his absence is worse.

Should Packers Hall of Famer Bart Starr gotten more of a chance when coaching the team?

After undergoing back surgery last August, Panthers DT Linden Gaydosh couldn’t sit for a month.

Buccaneers S Keith Tandy will host a football camp this summer in his hometown of Hopkinsville, Kentucky.

The Atlanta Journal Constitution has a new mock draft that predicts the Falcons will trade up to No. 2 for OT Greg Robinson.

Saints CB Champ Bailey will make his public debut Tuesday at a local celebrity golf tournament.

The turf has been installed at the 49ers new stadium.

The Seahawks will be keeping a close eye on the development of RB Christine Michael this offseason.

Rams LB Jo-Lonn Dunbar calls 2013 a “wacky year.”

The new video boards being installed at the Cardinals stadium will be triple the size of the original screens.

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Patriots continue showing interest in quarterback prospects

Seth Lobato AP

The Patriots don’t have an immediate need at quarterback, but they’re continuing to show interest in drafting one.

Our list of pre-draft visits shows that the Patriots have spent time with Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger, Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray and Virginia Tech quarterback Logan Thomas. According to Boston.com, the list of quarterbacks the Patriots have spent time with at Pro Day workouts also includes Eastern Illinois’s Jimmy Garoppolo, Ohio State’s Kenny Guiton, Alabama’s A.J. McCarron, South Carolina’s Connor Shaw and Ball State’s Keith Wenning.

And the latest name to the list of quarterbacks the Patriots have been linked to is Northern Colorado’s Seth Lobato, a raw, 6-foot-6 former basketball player.

The Patriots might be thinking now about what they’ll do at quarterback when Tom Brady retires. Or they could be trying to light a fire under Brady. Or they could be trying to pick the brains of as many quarterbacks as they can, as offensive schemes increasingly migrate from college to the NFL. Whatever the reasons, by the time of the draft in three weeks, it appears that the Patriots will have talked to just about every available quarterback.

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Mike Tice’s Midnight Hawk the 4-5 favorite in $500,000 Illinois Derby

Sham Stakes Horse Race AP

Midnight Hawk, a three-year-old colt co-owned by Falcons offensive line coach Mike Tice, is the heavy favorite to capture Saturday’s $500,000 Illinois Derby at Hawthorne Race Course in Cicero.

Midnight Hawk has been installed as the 4-5 favorite on the track’s morning line, which is an estimate of how the race will be bet. No other horse in the eight-horse field is lower than 5-1.

The winner’s share of the purse is $300,000. A gray horse, Midnight Hawk will break from post position No. 3.

Chicago Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville, whose team plays the St. Louis Blues at 3 p.m. Eastern on Saturday in a game televised on NBC, is another co-owner of Midnight Hawk.

Midnight Hawk has won 2-of-5 career races, with two second-place finishes and one third-place finish. He finished second in his lone other try at the 1 1/8-mile distance of the Illinois Derby.

Midnight Hawk has 52 qualifying points toward running in the Kentucky Derby and would make the field if trainer Bob Baffert and ownership elected to run. However, the Kentucky Derby is in just two weeks, which makes Midnight Hawk’s participation perhaps questionable. The Preakness, which is run on Saturday, May 17, could be another logical next race for Midnight Hawk if he performs well at Hawthorne, which is about 10 miles to the southwest of downtown Chicago.

Tice told the Chicago Tribune that the Illinois Derby was a logical spot for Midnight Hawk, who has been competitive throughout his career but has yet to win beyond a mile.

“Joel and I are coaches and when you’re a coach you look for the best matchups. You should take a horse and look at it the same way, which is what Bob Baffert did,” Tice told the Tribune.

Post time for the Illinois Derby is 6:42 p.m. Eastern on Saturday.

UPDATE 8:29 p.m. ET: Midnight Hawk was second by a nose in the Illinois Derby, earning $100,000 and increasing his career earnings to $447,000.

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Report: Dolphins targeting Cyrus Kouandjio in the first round

Cyrus Kouandjio

Alabama offensive tackle Cyrus Kouandjio is the target of the Dolphins in the first round of the draft, if one local report is to be believed.

The Palm Beach Post reports that Dolphins General Manager Dennis Hickey prefers Kouandjio to the other offensive tackles who are expected to be available with the Dolphins’ first-round pick, No. 19 overall. Notre Dame’s Zack Martin, Virginia’s Morgan Moses and Michigan’s Taylor Lewan are among the other offensive tackles who have been projected as potential Dolphins picks.

Dennis has got a love for Kouandjio and he should be sitting there for them,” a source told the paper.

As with all reports of this nature, it’s fair to ask whether it’s just a smokescreen. If the Dolphins really are high on Kouandjio, they should be keeping that a secret so some other team that loves Kouandjio doesn’t move ahead of them in the first round.

What is clear is that the Dolphins aren’t done rebuilding their dysfunctional offensive line. And of the offensive linemen they’re considering, Hickey reportedly thinks Martin makes a better guard than a tackle, Moses reportedly has a less-than-stellar relationship with Dolphins offensive coordinator Bill Lazor (who coached Moses at Virginia) and Lewan may not be available for the Dolphins at No. 19. By process of elimination, that would leave Miami with Koundjio.

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Saban claims Manning and Gase visits were separate

Nick Saban AP

When Alabama coach Nick Saban revealed that Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning and Broncos offensive coordinator Adam Gase had visited the Crimson Tide, it raised eyebrows as a potential violation of the NFL rules preventing players and coaches from meeting before the start of the offseason program. But now Saban says Manning and Gase didn’t meet together.

I am surprised to hear that anyone thought that what they were doing was in any way wrong. That’s what people get for assuming,” Saban told the Denver Post. “We did not talk Broncos football at all, other than Peyton asking questions about how he could get better as a player.”

Asked if Manning and Gase were in a meeting at the same time, Saban said, “Only to say hello.”

Gase got his start in coaching as a graduate assistant for Saban at LSU, and Saban characterized their meeting as personal, not professional.

“I only talked to Adam about his family. He talked to our assistant coaches,” Saban said.

The Denver Post story suggests that it’s not an issue because “Manning’s idea of vacation is talking football,” and so Manning won’t complain about it. But the rule doesn’t only exist to protect players from being forced by their coaches to do extra offseason work. It also exists to provide a level playing field for all 32 NFL teams. If Manning and Gase are permitted to travel together to study defenses during what’s supposed to be the players’ time off, they’re getting an unfair advantage over the teams that strictly obey the rules prohibiting any coaching from taking place at this point in the offseason.

Saban says that’s not how it happened. Saban is saying exactly what he needs to say to clear Manning and Gase of any wrongdoing, but the NFL has said it will look into the matter.

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