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Manning leaves Cardinals facility after 6.5-hour visit

Indianapolis Colts Release Peyton Manning - News Conference Getty Images

After meeting with Cardinals officials for six-and-a-half hours, free agent quarterback Peyton Manning was driven out of the team’s facility by coach Ken Whisenhunt on Sunday evening.  [Editor's note:  Brad Childress said in response, "Hey, that's my move!"]

During Manning’s visit in Tempe, he met with Whisenhunt, receiver Larry Fitzgerald, club president Michael Bidwill, and offensive line coach Russ Grimm. It’s unclear whether the sides engaged in any contract talks.

Manning also left his Broncos visit without a contract.

These things are subject to change, but it’s tentatively expected that Manning will now head back to his South Beach condo. He’s not known to have scheduled a visit with the Dolphins. Yet.

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Le’Veon Bell made his own way to Philadelphia

Le'Veon Bell AP

Steelers running backs Le’Veon Bell and LaGarrette Blount were both in a car pulled over by police on Wednesday and are expected to be charged with possession of marijuana after 20 grams of it were found in the vehicle, but only Bell is also facing potential DUI charges since he was behind the wheel.

Bell was taken to a Pittsburgh hospital to have his blood drawn to test for marijuana in his system, which meant that he didn’t make it on the team’s charter flight to Philadelphia for Thursday’s game against the Eagles. Missing the charter won’t mean that Bell is staying at home, however.

Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports that Bell made his own way to Philadelphia. Blount, who did not have any blood drawn, was on the team’s charter flight.

The team is aware of the incident on Wednesday, but offered no further comment about either player’s status for Thursday night’s game or anything else having to do with their status.

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Report: 49ers don’t want to trade holdout guard Alex Boone

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Considering the 49ers either did or did not offer holdout guard Alex Boone a new deal that would pay him like a top-12 guard in the NFL, his situation is still very much in limbo.

Thus, teams are calling to ask about his availability.

But according to Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com, the 49ers are not interested in trading Boone.

One source suggested that they only way they’d do it is if someone offered a first- or second-round pick, a high price considering the new contract that would have to accompany it.

And that’s almost a de facto “no sale” sign, unless some team is truly desperate.

Boone has two years left on his current deal, and is scheduled to make $2 million this season. He’s held out of the first four weeks of training camp, which led to fines of $30,000, which means he will shortly chew up about half that amount.

The 49ers have been talking up backup Joe Looney, and by putting out word that they don’t want to deal Boone, perhaps they might make a move to keep him.

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Pierre Thomas expects to do “more pass protection and route running”

Drew Brees, Pierre Thomas AP

The Saints traded Darren Sproles to the Eagles this offseason and saw Lance Moore sign with the Steelers as a free agent in a pair of moves that eliminated two players that caught 108 passes between them in 2013.

Running back Pierre Thomas expects at least a few of those passes to come his way this season. Thomas has seen Mark Ingram and Khiry Robinson get increased work running the ball this season, leaving him with the feeling that he’ll be doing a lot of his work in the passing game.

“I know my role is going to change a whole lot this year,” Thomas said, via the New Orleans Times-Picayune. “I’m going to do more pass protection and route running. I’m improving my route running game. I’m still going to be running the ball too. I’ve got a few changes here and there.”

Thomas was hardly a bystander in the passing offense last season as he caught 77 passes to set a career high, so it wouldn’t be too surprising to see him take on some of Sproles’ portfolio. But they also added rookie wide receiver Brandin Cooks and given Ingram more work as a receiver this summer, so things may shake out differently than Thomas expects.

That may mean that he winds up doing more, however. Coach Sean Payton said that every year they go into a season with a plan for Thomas that then shifts because Thomas is “an exceptionally smart player” who knows the Saints offense very well after years in the system. That familiarity can be comforting to an offense and it could turn out to be a familiar role for Thomas as a result.

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Five questions: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Jacksonville Jaguars Getty Images

The Buccaneers have a lot to put behind them after 2013.

But after blowing out the front office, sterilizing the locker room for MRSA and a lot of big names off the payroll (namely Darrelle Revis), it’s a new day in Tampa Bay.

They even changed the uniforms, although that might be one case where new isn’t better.

But for all the turnover in Tampa, there’s at least reason for optimism, which is something that was lacking after two seasons gone awry under Greg Schiano.

1. How quickly can Lovie Smith reshape the team in his own image?

By all accounts, quickly.

The Bucs turned over a roster like few teams in the league this offseason, on both sides of the ball. But this is clearly a team built to Smith’s specifications, with playmakers on every level of the defense, and a quarterback and an offense designed to minimize mistakes.

He’s also giving them a shot of credibility, after the fiasco that was the Greg Schiano experiment.

2. About that quarterback, is this a short-term fix?

Josh McCown has bounced around the league a bit, and has never been able to make a job his own for more than a few weeks at a time.

But he’s also respected in the locker room, and is coming off a brilliant stint in Chicago in relief of an injured Jay Cutler.

Mike Glennon isn’t so bad that they don’t think he can be their guy in a few years, but he wasn’t so good last year that Smith was willing to commit to him. Watching this position develop will be interesting as the season goes on, and if McCown can hang onto what could be his last chance at a starting job.

3. Can they keep either quarterback on his feet?

That might be the biggest question about this Bucs roster.

The offensive line was a hot mess early in the preseason, and they still can’t be sure who the guards are.

They spent free agent money on Anthony Collins to play left tackle and Evan Dietrich-Smith to play center, and Demar Dotson is solid and underrated at right tackle. The spots between them are the big question marks.

They moved one presumptive starter (Jamon Meredity) to tackle after a bad debut, and are still grading a couple of kids at the moment. The two guard spots are far from a finished product, and they’ll likely look to add there via cuts or trades.

4. How much will the offense matter?

Maybe not as much as you’d think.

The Bucs have a chance to have an old-Bucs-level defense, built around defensive tackle Gerald McCoy. He and linebacker Lavonte David give the Bucs a Sapp-Brooks-ish duo in the front seven, and there’s plenty of talent around them.

They’ll need to be great, but there’s a very real possibility that can happen, as Smith puts his imprint on a team with plenty of existing talent.

5. How much ground can they make up in a year?

It would probably be unfair to expect the Bucs to pull off the worst-to-first, but that’s happened often in the NFC South.

Improvement is almost certain, as they have a clear direction and a coach that inspires confidence rather than mutiny.

If they can straighten out the offensive line and run a little, there’s a real chance for them to make a big step.

But playing in a division with the Panthers, Saints and Falcons is going to make it hard to expect a playoff berth in Year One of this project.

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Calvin Johnson “as curious as anybody else” about how he’ll be used this season

Calvin Johnson AP

The Lions will give wide receiver Calvin Johnson his first playing time of the preseason on Friday night against the Jaguars.

It will also be his first game action as part of the offense put together by new Lions offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi, who has talked about moving Johnson around the offense more than previous Lions coordinators have in past seasons. Johnson thinks doing so will give the Lions a good idea about what opposing defenses are doing, but he admits that even he isn’t quite sure how things will look when put into actual practice.

“I’m as curious as anybody else,” Johnson said, via the Detroit Free Press. “But one thing that’s not going to change is the way we go out there and work. We’re still going to go out there and bust our butts. No matter what Coach calls, however we fit into the plan, we just want to win at this point.”

Johnson said his physical condition is good, describing it as “night and day” to last season when he dealt with knee and finger issues that needed surgical attention after the season. As long as things stay that way, it’s a good guess that Johnson will remain a major part of the Lions offense regardless of where he lines up on the field.

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Jalen Saunders still not sure what happened to him

Indianapolis Colts v New York Jets Getty Images

Jets rookie wide receiver Jalen Saunders didn’t shed much light on the “medical incident” that sent him to the hospital after he drove his car off the road last week, but he said he didn’t think whatever it was would jeopardize his career.

But he also made it clear he’s still looking for answers, as they make sure he’s well before putting him back on the field.

I’m not sure what it is,” Saunders said, via Darryl Slater of the Newark Star-Ledger. “That’s why I got the tests done on me. I’m still waiting on information to get back from the team doctors. So whenever I figure out what is going on with my body, I’ll be happy to share what’s going on.”

The fourth-rounder, who figured to be their punt returner this year, said he’s not sure if there are long-term implications or whether it could crop up again.

The Jets won’t use him this weekend against the Giants, but Sauders said he’s “not concerned at all” about his football career being impacted.

“I still have a bright future ahead of me,” he said. “That’s my gut feeling. I’ve got God by my side, so that’s all that matters.”

That and the opinion of the doctors. He spent two nights in the hospital getting tests, and still needs more information to make sure he’s going to be well.

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Nick Fairley wants to win his starting job back

Nick Fairley AP

Nick Fairley admitted he let himself go a bit, gained some weight, and that contributed to his benching.

But even after the latest attempt to motivate the 2011 first-rounder, Fairly says he wants to earn back the Lions’ trust and become the kind of player they think he can be.

“Really what I plan on doing is just continue to get better as a player and help this team win and just go out there and play my [tail] off,” Fairley said.

The Lions recently put him behind C.J. Mosley on the depth chart, and Fairley denied he was disappointed, even though he hopes to regain his starting job soon.

“No, no, no. Not at all,” he said. “Hey, I’m a team player. I’m here to help this team win, and I’m trying to be the best teammate I can.”

That almost sounds sincere (unlike when Arian Foster says it when he’s trying to get out of interviews he seems to think are beneath him), but the Lions have a vested interest in getting Fairley back in the boat.

Teammate Ndamukong Suh said: “Nick is more athletically gifted than me, and he has an opportunity to be better than me, and that’s what I want to see out of him.”

While that might be a stretch, it’s safe to say he can be an important part of the Lions’ defense, but only if he’s in shape and wants to be.

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Christian Ponder: I’m not asking for a trade

Christian Ponder AP

Last week, Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder said that he was open to a trade now that he’s ensconced in the No. 3 spot on the depth chart in Minnesota.

Vikings coaches have since said that they feel there’s value to having Ponder on the team, something the team’s fans don’t seem to agree with given the boos that Ponder’s heard in the preseason. Ponder said Wednesday that he’s heard the boos and understands where they come from, but the frosty reaction isn’t turning his openness toward a trade into a burning desire to move elsewhere.

“I’m not asking for a trade,” Ponder said, via the Pioneer Press. “I’m learning so much right now. I do feel like it’s beneficial for me to be right here right now. As a competitor, though, you want to be the guy that’s out there playing. But I do feel like in the situation I’m in right now, I am getting better though I’m not playing.”

The idea of Ponder asking for a trade after the way he’s played thus far in his NFL career may elicit some chuckles, but so do the backup quarterback pictures for some teams around the league. The 49ers come to mind as a team that may want to consider other options after watching Blaine Gabbert live down to his reputation and there aren’t many with the experience that Ponder has picked up over the last three years.

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Knowshon Moreno says he’s ready to go

Knowshon Moreno AP

There hasn’t been a lot of good news related to running back Knowshon Moreno since he signed with the Dolphins this offseason.

He was overweight during spring work, which left him down the depth chart while Lamar Miller, Daniel Thomas and others got more of the work. Then he needed to have his knee scoped in June, keeping him off the field early in training camp and leaving him inactive for the first two preseason games.

The clouds have started clearing for Moreno, however. He’s been practicing for a couple of weeks and Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald reports that he looked the best he’s looked all summer during Wednesday’s practice. For his part, Moreno said that he feels good and that he feels ready to play against the Cowboys this weekend.

The team will determine his status after watching him work on Thursday, but this would be the week to get Moreno some work if they want him to get up to speed against a starting defense. If that goes well, the Dolphins may reshuffle the depth chart at running back before the regular season because they’ve run for just 104 yards in the first two weeks.

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Thursday morning one-liners

Jairus Byrd AP

Bills CB Ron Brooks is fighting for his job, and getting a chance.

With a failed experiment at C, Dolphins RG Shelley Smith is back where he belongs.

Patriots CB Brandon Browner has “enjoyed every second” of his time in New England.

Jets QB Geno Smith is ready to run.

The Ravens are focusing on getting better in the red zone.

It appears the Bengals got a solid bargain on the Vontaze Burfict deal.

Browns DE Desmond Bryant could miss the regular season opener after wrist surgery.

Steelers RT Marcus Gilbert’s dedication was rewarded.

Texans LB Brian Cushing feels good, wants to play on Saturday.

The notion of a No. 1 WR target isn’t a simple question for the Colts.

Jaguars OT Cameron Bradfield is ready to fill another hole in the offensive line.

For just another guy, the fade passes to Titans WR Justin Hunter appear hard to stop.

Injured Broncos LB Danny Trevathan is on crutches, but pleased with what he saw against the Texans.

Chiefs rookie RB De’Anthony Thomas joins a crowded injury list with a hamstring problem.

Raiders FB Marcel Reece’s foot is improving and he hopes to play this weekend.

Chargers NT Sean Lissemore avoided a serious injury.

Cowboys RB DeMarco Murray has confidence in his backups — this year.

Giants QB Eli Manning is more vocal in practice.

Trading for RB Kenjon Barner means 10 percent of the Eagles’ roster is made of former Oregon players.

Washington brought in some new competition for the punting job.

Bears QB Jordan Palmer will get the second-string snaps this week.

Lions DE Ziggy Ansah might play this week as he recovers from shoulder surgery.

The Packers have taken a scientific approach to their training table.

Vikings LB Chad Greenway was slowed by another wrist problem in practice.

Falcons RB Steven Jackson could return to practice soon.

The Panthers aren’t putting CB Josh Norman in the doghouse again — yet.

Saints S Jairus Byrd celebrated his first full practice with an interception.

The Buccaneers are hoping the heat is a home field advantage.

Cardinals DE Frostee Rucker is expected to take on a bigger role in the defense now.

The Rams brought Ferguson-area teams to practice this week as well.

The 49ers say their grass will be ready for Sunday’s game.

Seahawks DE Cliff Avril could be next in line for a contract.

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Ryan Grigson: Trent Richardson needs to answer the bell

Trent Richardson, Robert Ayers AP

Colts running back Trent Richardson ran for eight yards on his first carry of the preseason, the kind of run that could be seen as a fresh start for a player who struggled to gain any positive yardage after joining the team during the 2013 season.

Richardson has added just 26 yards on his next 13 carries, however, and his 2.4 yards per carry is actually down from last year’s anemic totals. Neither coach Chuck Pagano nor General Manager Ryan Grigson is ready to pull the cord on Richardson as a result, but Grigson also made it clear that they need to get more from the third overall pick of the 2013 draft.

“Trent, he needs to answer the bell and do his job to the best of his ability,” Grigson said, via ESPN.com. “We’re all accountable here. I will say this, there are a lot of backs last year that wouldn’t have got [2.9 yards per carry] considering the amount of people he had in that box and the amount of bodies that were hitting him before he even seemed to get the ball sometimes. He’s such a hard runner, we know how tough he is, but he’s got to produce just like all these guys do on this final 53.”

Richardson’s two best runs of the preseason have come when the team is lined up in the shotgun and Pagano talked about his belief that the Colts’ ability to throw the ball “is going to open things up in the run game.” There’s also the hope that wide receiver Reggie Wayne’s return to full action and finding the right players on the interior of the offensive line will further open things up for Richardson, but it is still going to be on the back to take advantage of advantageous situations.

Vick Ballard’s injury limits the Colts’ options if that doesn’t happen, but if accountability is something Grigson is stressing then they’ll have to turn to Ahmad Bradshaw or someone else in the event Richardson turns in more of the same this season.

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Giants rookie, Rex Ryan trade barbs about rivalry game

x350-15 AP

If you’re looking for reasons to be interested in a generally uninteresting preseason game, the Giants and Jets are doing their best to manufacture a little interest.

Giants rookie Andre Williams turned the heat on by declaring to the New York Post: “I think the Giants are the real New York team.”

Fortunately, there was time to get a response from Jets coach Rex Ryan to the young running back from Boston College.

Yeah, last time I saw him he was getting smoked by Clemson,” Ryan said.

(Ryan’s son Seth plays at Clemson, and Williams was held to 70 yards in a loss to the Tigers last year, his third-lowest rushing game of the year.)

“I have a funny feeling,” Ryan continued, via NJ.com “he’s going to get some [helmets] put on him.”

As rivalries go, this one isn’t much, as the Giants can point to a cabinet full of trophies, while the Jets haven’t won anything since Woodstock.

 

“I think there is something to it,” Ryan said of the preseason series. “You don’t get to play each other very often. This game’s always a physical game.”

And now it has a subplot, which puts it ahead of most preseason games, and gives us a parenthetical reason to be interested in it.

 

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Da’Quan Bowers is no lock to make the Bucs’ roster

Washington Redskins v Tampa Bay Buccaneers Getty Images

Da’Quan Bowers was viewed as one of the most talented players in the 2011 NFL draft, but he dropped all the way to the middle of the second round because of concerns about whether he could stay healthy. Three years later, those same concerns could cost him a spot on the Buccaneers’ roster.

Bucs coach Lovie Smith said that Bowers, who is currently sitting out practice because of a groin strain, is risking having other players take his roster spot.

“I think every day you don’t practice you’re hurting your chances [of making the team],” Smith said, via the Tampa Times. “We’ve seen enough to like Da’Quan a lot. But all the reps that he’s not getting, someone else is getting them. The best way to beat your competition sometimes is just to stay on the field. You can’t get Wally Pipped. Da’Quan is trying to get back. Again, I think he has a future in the league, whether it be as a defensive end outside or more of a third down rush guy inside.”

Bowers has missed nine games in his three NFL seasons and hasn’t been the kind of explosive pass rusher he was expected to be heading into the draft, with just 5.5 sacks in his career. Bowers still has some work to do to convince Smith he belongs on the Bucs, and Bowers can’t do that work if he’s stuck on the sidelines.

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Smith, Gordon, Irsay remain on deck for discipline

Smith AP

The NFL has developed a habit, wisely from a P.R. standpoint, of dropping bad news on Friday afternoons.  The move necessarily takes the steam out of a story, since by Monday the weekday radio and TV shows will be focused on the actual sporting events of the intervening weekend.

And while the Internet remains available for content and comment at any day and time, folks tend to spend more time reading and reacting during the normal workweek, when they’re on the company’s time.  By the time they’re on their own time, they’re making time for other stuff.

Coupled with the NFL’s habit of resolving disciplinary matters that could result in suspension before the start of the regular season, the next three Fridays likely will feature final decisions regarding 49ers linebacker Aldon Smith, Browns receiver Josh Gordon, and Colts owner Jim Irsay.

Smith faces a multi-game suspension under the personal-conduct policy and/or the substance abuse policy.  Because the latter would entail a more complex and time-consuming appeals process, look for the league to impose discipline under the personal-conduct policy.  Smith, who met with Commissioner Roger Goodell two weeks ago in Baltimore, awaits an initial decision.  If/when a suspension is imposed under the conduct policy, Smith will have three days to file an appeal, which almost certainly would be resolved before the 49ers face the Cowboys in Week One.

For Gordon, the two-day appeal hearing under the substance-abuse policy ended 17 days ago.  Barring a negotiated resolution, hearing officer Harold Henderson will impose a ruling, presumably sooner than later.  Under the strict terms of the substance-abuse policy, the options are no suspension at all and a full year.

As to Irsay, the league presumably has been waiting for a potential plea deal on the pending charges of operating a vehicle while under the influence of prescription medication.  League insiders reportedly expect Irsay to receive a six-to-eight-game suspension.  The biggest unanswered question regarding Irsay remains whether he will be subjected to the same player standard of 10-times-per-month urinalysis and, eventually, a potential one-year banishment from the sport.

While plenty of unknowns linger as to all three men, past precedent suggests that each will have a decision rendered before Sunday, September 7 — and that the news will likely emerge on one of the next three Fridays.

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Texans-Broncos practice gets chippy

Peyton AP

The Texans and Broncos already may be getting sick of each other.

Wednesday’s joint practices between the two teams, occurring in advance of their Saturday night preseason game, included some heated moments.

Via Arnie Stapleton of the Associated Press, Texans defensive end J.J. Watt and Broncos right tackle Chris Clark exchanged words during one-on-one drills, after Watt dominated Clark and Clark took a swipe at Watt, knocking his helmet off.

Don’t get mad when you get beat,” Watt said to Clark.

Meanwhile, Texans safety D.J. Swearinger celebrated a little too loudly and proudly after intercepting Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning during 11-on-11 drills.

“I picked off Peyton today and I guess that got them a little chippy,” Swearinger said. “The offense did great, ran the ball down their throat, so, hey, I would get mad, too.  That’s all it is:  Players making plays and people getting mad.”

Coach Bill O’Brien downplayed the notion that lines were crossed.

“It was competition,” O’Brien told reporters.  “I don’t really even know what you’re talking about.  I really don’t.  It was just a lot of good competition and I felt like it helped our team a lot, and I’m not speaking for the Broncos, but I know that competition helps everybody, so it was good.”

The good news is that no actual fights occurred.  For the Broncos, the better news was that the offense heard and heeded quarterback Peyton Manning’s complaints from Tuesday regarding its performance at practice.

“I’m sure a lot of our guys noticed that he wasn’t happy on the field,” offensive coordinator Adam Gase told reporters. “I spoke my mind in the meetings. I’m not really going to do it out here for everybody to watch, but I said my piece. We made sure that we came out here and had a better day.”

Thursday won’t be as good, because the teams won’t practice in pads.  Which means that the chances of intense competition or chippy moments or fisticuffs or a full-blown brouhaha will be reduced.

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