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Jonathan Vilma: NFL wouldn’t give me evidence

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Jonathan Vilma says Roger Goodell’s refusal to show him evidence of his activities in the Saints bounty program is the reason why he didn’t speak to league’s investigators about it.

“We asked for evidence and he wouldn’t give it to us,” Vilma told Ian Rapoport of NFL.com. “How can I defend myself when I don’t know what I’m defending against? It’s just logical, things that people decided to ignore.”

Vilma’s attorney Peter Ginsberg also talked about a lack of evidence during a recent appearance on PFT Live. NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith has also publicly questioned the NFL’s evidence against the players suspended (Will Smith, Scott Fujita and Anthony Hargrove are the others) by the league.

Rapoport writes that when Vilma, who is also suing Goodell for defamation, was asked whether or not the union advised him not to cooperate with the investigation, the linebacker responded by repeating the question about defending himself. Vilma, who again said that he neither paid nor intended to pay anyone was suspended for a full year by the NFL for his role in the program, although he and the other players suspended by the league are fighting the suspension.

“He was invited to come in with his attorney to discuss the evidence prior to any decision on discipline,” said NFL spokesman Greg Aiello in response to Vilma. “He declined. He has another opportunity to do so in his appeal. The union has been shown evidence.”

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Billick bashes Falcons defensive talent

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On the surface, recent remarks from coach-turned-commentator Brian Billick about the quality of the Falcons’ defensive talent will raise no eyebrows.  Billick was doing what commentators do, commentating with commentary about topics worthy of comment.

But Billick and Falcons coach Mike Smith are family, in the Walter White/Uncle Hank sense.  Married to sisters, that relationship has in the past ruffled feathers at other franchises when Billick was working Falcons games for FOX.  Now, the feathers could be ruffled within Falconland.

“I can’t think of another team in the league that has less quantifiable talent on it defensively,” Billick told 92.9 The Game in Atlanta, via D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.  Billick added that Falcons defensive coordinator Mike Nolan has been working with “smoke and mirrors” for awhile, and that he’s now merely dealing with “smoke.”

Given the relationship between Billick and Smith and, separately, the relationship between Billick and Nolan (who spent four years with Billick in Baltimore), Billick’s words easily could be viewed not as his own thoughts but as a recitation of complaints he has heard from either or both men.  Which could be interpreted as evidence of a growing disconnect between the coaching staff and the front office.

Which perhaps cries out for some sort of joint effort by the coaching staff and the front office to demonstrate that they’re on the same page, and that they’re not not pointing fingers at each other in the event that the season unfolds more like Week Two and Week Four and less like Week One and Week Three.

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Derek Carr thinks he’ll be ready to play after bye week

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The Raiders fired coach Dennis Allen this week and named Tony Sparano as their interim coach, a decision that has overshadowed everything else going on with the Raiders this season.

Sparano will coach his first game when Oakland returns from their bye for a Week Six game against the Chargers and one of the things he’ll have to figure out is who will be starting at quarterback. Derek Carr suffered a high ankle sprain and an MCL sprain in last Sunday’s loss to the Dolphins, injuries that would suggest at least a little bit of time out of the lineup.

That’s not what Carr is thinking. The quarterback said Wednesday that he is “doing a lot better” and that he doesn’t think he’ll be forced to miss the game against San Diego.

“We’re taking it [a] day at a time,” Carr said, via CSNBayArea.com. “But knowing myself, I’ll be ready — that’s my answer, that’s my goal. I’ve just got to continue to work hard to get ready.”

Matt Schaub returned to practice on Wednesday after missing the last two games and the trip to London while dealing with a family matter. He and Matt McGloin would be Sparano’s options if Carr can’t go, but they won’t be needed if the rookie is correct about how quickly he’s healing.

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Cecil Shorts said he was “selfish” to play through hamstring

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It might be weeks before Jaguars wide receiver Cecil Shorts gets back on the field.

But he said he was “selfish” for trying to play a week ago.

Shorts aggravated a previous hamstring problem during the loss to the Chargers, and pulled up on a play which turned into an interception.

‘“I probably shouldn’t have done that – that was selfish on my part to try and play through it,” Shorts said, via Ryan O’Halloran of the Florida Times-Union. “I felt [the injury] the play before the interception and was thinking, ‘OK, TV timeout, let’s see how it feels.’ So I’m jumping around and doing a little bit.

“But I went in motion and I pulled up and couldn’t come back to the ball. I hung my team out to dry. That hurt me because I let the team down and gave [San Diego] three points. That was definitely one me.”

This hamstring injury is his third since the start of camp, and will at least cost him this week’s game against the Steelers. His previous two each cost him two weeks of game time (in the preseason and regular season), and he said this one could be the same.

He has just seven catches on the season, and his lack of availability is one of the things that has bogged down their offense this season, beyond the quarterback decision.

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Pagano says talk of piped-in crowd noise is an “insult” to fans

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As the Ravens prepare to face the Colts in Indy, Baltimore coach John Harbaugh made a tongue-in-cheek reference to notion that the Colts artificially augment the crowd noise at home games.

Colts coach Chuck Pagano wants the crowd to show Harbaugh he can stick it somewhere other than in his cheek.

“I think it’s more of an insult to our 12th man, if you will,” Pagano told reporters on Wednesday.  “I think he’s calling out our fans, which I think are the best fans in the National Football League.  So let’s see how our 12th man reacts to that insult.”

Nearly seven years ago, the Colts were cleared of using artificial noise during a game against the Patriots.  The Pats had complained about the situation, and coach Bill Belichick likewise groused that his coach-to-quarterback communication system wasn’t working.

Two years earlier, the Steelers complained about piped-in crowd noise in Indy, prompting then-Commissioner Paul Tagliabue to issue a memo threatening the stripping of draft picks for franchises that artificially made it louder in their home stadiums.

While there’s no evidence that the Colts have ever artificially increased the volume of the fans at Lucas Oil Stadium or its predecessor, the RCA Dome, Pagano’s comments surely were aimed at creating an artificial controversy that will prompt an increase in the natural noise from the stands.

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Sammy Watkins: Ball comes out faster with Kyle Orton

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The Bills handed the keys to the offense to quarterback Kyle Orton this week and it hasn’t taken long for Orton’s teammates to notice the differences from the way things ran with EJ Manuel.

Wide receivers Robert Woods and Sammy Watkins have both picked up on the new things that Orton brings to the table. Woods noted Orton’s “directness” and the way he tells the other members of the offense what to look for when they break the huddle and line up for the play. Watkins has noticed that as well and also pointed out some other ways that Orton’s experience has revealed itself during recent practices.

“We just had a different approach to practice. [Orton] demands what he wants out of us,” Watkins said, via ESPN.com. “He’s more of a veteran guy. The way he talked, the way he handles business, the way he looks at plays and breaks down defenses, it’s kind of different than EJ. He reads it quicker, the ball is coming out faster. That’s just some things that we have to adjust to.”

Orton wasn’t taking the bait when it came to questions about what he will do better than Manuel, but the comments from the wide receivers suggest that Orton’s going to be more advanced when it comes to reading defenses and more able to direct his younger teammates in the offense. Both should benefit the Bills as long as Orton’s physical abilities are up to snuff.

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Ndamukong Suh won’t talk about 2015

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Defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh can become a free agent after the season and a report last weekend indicated that Suh was unlikely to remain with the Lions once the offseason does arrive.

That report had New York, Chicago and Dallas listed as preferred destinations, but Suh didn’t stick around to answer any questions about it or anything else after Detroit’s victory over the Jets. Suh reportedly was in such a hurry that he wore the same undershirt he wore during the game onto the team bus, but Suh said that wasn’t true when he met the media on Wednesday.

Suh said he that he “always” takes a shower after games and that it would be “bad hygiene” to do anything else. Attempts to turn the discussion toward his 2015 plans were less successful, however. Suh said he was happy to answer questions about this week’s matchup with the Bills, but only about the matchup with the Bills.

“I cannot address that [report] just from the simple fact that I have not spoken to any reporter about it or any reporters about supposedly what has come out,” Suh said, via the Detroit Free Press.

Suh and the Lions have tabled talks on a new deal until after the season, which doesn’t leave Suh much to talk about on the 2015 front at the moment. That won’t stop speculation or questions from bubbling to the surface, but it does seem they’ll go unanswered for a few more months.

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2015 NFL Draft set for April 30-May 2

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The NFL still hasn’t decided where the 2015 draft will take place, but the date is set.

The first round of the draft will take place on Thursday, April 30, with the second and third rounds set for May 1 and the fourth through seventh rounds for May 2, according to Adam Schefter of ESPN.

Last year the NFL moved the draft back two weeks from its usual late April start, prompting some complaints that it was too late in the year. This year the draft has been bumped up a week earlier in the offseason than last.

We still don’t know where next year’s draft will be. The NFL has been weighing the options of moving the draft to Chicago or Los Angeles for months.

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Thursday morning one-liners

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Bills QB Kyle Orton brings a sense of calm.

The Dolphins are getting a good return out of their rookie class.

The return of Patriots CB Brandon Browner should be a big boost.

Jets FB John Conner thinks he might have a bigger role this time around.

Ravens rookie LB C.J. Mosley has made them better against the run.

The Bengals have a good matchup this week with their defensive line against the Patriots.

Browns WR Travis Benjamin’s ready to “showcase my skills” this week.

Steelers S Mike Mitchell knows the team has to reduce penalties.

The Texans added some CB depth to the practice squad.

Colts S Sergio Brown will get the first chance to replace LaRon Landry.

Upon return from his suspension, Jaguars WR Ace Sanders said he’s ready to step up.

Titans backup QB Charlie Whitehurst, aka Clipboard Jesus, was named one of the 25 most beautiful people in Nashville.

Broncos QB Peyton Manning is approaching another passing milestone.

Chiefs T Donald Stephenson returned from suspension.

Stanford’s David Shaw shot down any interest in the Raiders job.

The Chargers are still at risk, even without blackout rule.

The Cowboys have no regrets drafting LT Tyron Smith over J.J. Watt.

Giants WR Odell Beckham is apparently wowing people in in practice.

Eagles C Jason Kelce is hoping for a quick recovery from sports hernia surgery.

Washington is trying to keep the focus inward.

Bears DE Jared Allen is on track to play this week.

The Lions are 0-4 all-time against Kyle Orton.

The Packers going shotgun so often has slowed down RB Eddie Lacy.

The Vikings made a significant investment in nickel CB Captain Munnerlyn.

Falcons DE Osi Umenyiora tries not to look back on his time in New York with regrets.

It’s been kind of a busy week for the Panthers, at least off the field and in the trainers room.

The Saints changed their practice schedule to make it more competitive.

Bucs QB Josh McCown still isn’t about to throw, which is a problem.

Cardinals assistant Tom Moore knows Peyton Manning well, but deflects credit.

Rams WR Tavon Austin was back to work on a limited basis.

CB Tramaine Brock is beginning rehab on a sore toe, and not expected to play this week.

The Seahawks thrive in prime time environments.

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Nick Foles has problems, but they’re not physical

Nick Foles AP

Nick Foles doesn’t look like Nick Foles any more.

But Eagles coach Chip Kelly insisted there was nothing physically wrong with his quarterback.

According to Geoff Mosher of CSNPhilly.com, Kelly said his quarterback hasn’t missed any time, and hasn’t had any MRIs.

He hasn’t had any of that,” Kelly said. “He just got banged in the shoulder. He hasn’t missed a day of practice [and] hasn’t missed a rep throwing.”

That’s not for a lack of trying by his opponents. The hit he took from Washington’s Chris Baker two weeks ago probably still has some teeth loose, and Foles followed with an uncharacteristic performance against the 49ers last week.

Completing fewer than 50 percent of his passes and throwing two picks, it wasn’t the kind of clean performance we’re accustomed to, and there were more hard shots.

But he wasn’t on the injury report Wednesday, and Kelly said he had no examinations scheduled. So it must be something else.

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Cam Newton’s ankle surgery more complicated than he thought

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Cam Newton’s still not himself, still not able to run pain-free because of his offseason ankle surgery.

That was an expected part of the process, but Newton said Wednesday he might have been unclear about the expectations going in.

“We kind of teased about it a couple weeks ago, how the doctor kind of downplayed how the surgery was going to go,” Newton said, via Bill Voth of Black and Blue Review. “I just thought this was a surgery just to clean up the ligaments and what not. But after reading a lot of reports from you guys, hearing about so much of ligament repair and this major ankle surgery that may hold Cam Newton off for a couple months, that’s when I started scratching my head like, man, this may be bigger than I thought. And something I thought may have a cast on for a couple weeks end up to be a couple months. I’m still in that mode where I’m trying to realize that I’m still trying to recover from a major ankle surgery that was displayed to me originally as just a regular little cleanup.”

It’s entirely possible that Newton heard what he wanted to hear rather than he was misled, since he’s never had to rehab a major injury. So when doctors told him it would be a year before he was fully pain-free, he might have shrugged it off.

Either way, it’s kept him from being himself, and the shot to the ribs in the preseason which kept him out of the opener didn’t help. He has just eight rushing attempts on the season, and his inability to run has caused the Panthers as a whole to lag behind in the run game.

“My body is mending up, slowly but surely,” Newton said. “That’s giving me a lot of confidence when I am thinking about running the football and throwing the football as well.”

He’s actually throwing it better than ever, with career highs in completion percentage (63.8) and passer rating (98.2), and hasn’t thrown a pick yet.

Yet he hasn’t been himself, and until he’s able or willing to run the way he can, he won’t be.

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Rich Gannon blasts Raiders organization and culture of losing

GANNON AP

To say Rich Gannon isn’t happy with the Oakland Raiders would be a massive understatement.

Gannon – who won the NFL MVP award in 2002 while leading the Raiders to a Super Bowl appearance against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers – took his radio show Wednesday on Sirius XM NFL Radio to blast the Raiders organization and their “commitment to mediocrity” after the firing of Dennis Allen as head coach Monday night.

“You’re not winning because you have players and coaches and people in the building that have become comfortable with the process of losing,” Gannon said, via CSNBayArea.com. “It’s okay to lose out there, it’s okay. It’s not a big deal. In other places, it’s simply not tolerated. And when it gets to the point where they don’t tolerate it anymore, it’s unacceptable, and we run people out of the building who haven’t figured that out…and then bring in players who care, and players who work and players who aren’t going to tolerate that, then you’ll get the results you so long desire.

“But they don’t know how to do it and it drives me crazy.”

The Raiders fired Allen and replaced him with Tony Sparano as their interim head coach. Sparano is the eighth head coach to lead the team since 2002. Oakland doesn’t have a single winning season and just two 8-8 seasons in the 11 years since their last Super Bowl appearance.

The continued struggles of the franchise that Gannon led to three playoff appearances in four seasons pushed Gannon to blast the team and the people employed by the organization.

“There’s people out in Oakland, in that building, players, coaches, front office, people in business, accounting: stealing!” Gannon said. “They ought to give the check back. The product on the field is terrible. And when you lose like that, how can you go to the bank and cash the check? You should be embarrassed.”

The results speak for themselves. No playoff appearances in 11 seasons (and firmly on their way to making that 12 straight) and an average of fewer than five victories per season over that span. There doesn’t appear to be a light at the end of the tunnel either at this point for the Raiders.

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Week Five skill position injury report — Wednesday

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For fantasy football players, here’s a rundown of the skill position players listed on Wednesday’s injury report as furnished by the NFL. Key fantasy starters are bolded. The final injury report for Sunday games is released Friday, with the final Monday-night injury report released on Saturday

(Week Five byes: Raiders, Dolphins).

FULL

Cowboys WR Dez Bryant (shoulder).

Bengals RB Rex Burkhead (knee).

Eagles TE Trey Burton (Achilles).

Browns TE Jordan Cameron (shoulder).

Eagles TE James Casey (knee).

49ers RB Michael Crabtree (foot).

Vikings RB Jerome Felton (knee). — PROBABLE

Bills WR Marquise Goodwin (concussion).

49ers RB Frank Gore (back).

Broncos TE Virgil Green (concussion).

Patriots TE Rob Gronkowski (knee).

Cardinals TE Rob Housler (hip).

Eagles WR Josh Huff (shoulder).

Jets RB Chris Johnson (ankle).

Titans QB Jake Locker (right wrist).

Eagles WR Jeremy Maclin (hamstring).

Bears WR Brandon Marshall (ankle).

Vikings RB Jerick McKinnon (ankle). — PROBABLE

Broncos PK Brandon McManus (right groin).

Ravens RB Bernard Pierce (thigh).

Eagles WR Brad Smith (groin).

Vikings WR Rodney Smith (hamstring). — PROBABLE

Chiefs RB De’Anthony Thomas (hamstring).

Bills WR Sammy Watkins (ribs).

Saints TE Benjamin Watson (groin).

LIMITED

Rams WR Tavon Austin (knee).

Giants WR Odell Beckham (hamstring).

Vikings QB Teddy Bridgewater (ankle) — QUESTIONABLE.

Chiefs RB Jamaal Charles (ankle).

Jets WR Eric Decker (hamstring).

Cardinals RB Andre Ellington (foot).

Chargers TE Ladarius Green (hamstring).

Falcons WR Devin Hester (ankle).

Texans WR Damaris Johnson (foot).

Chargers WR TE David Johnson (shoulder).

Falcons WR Julio Jones (ankle).

49ers TE Vance McDonald (knee).

Panthers RB Jonathan Stewart (thigh).

Browns RB Ben Tate (knee).

Titans TE Delanie Walker (shoulder).

Steelers WR Markus Wheaton (groin).

DID NOT PRACTICE

Chiefs WR Donnie Avery (groin).

Lions RB Joique Bell (concussion).

Packers WR Jarrett Boykin (groin). — OUT

Colts RB Ahmad Bradshaw (not injury related).

Panthers TE Richie Brockel (ankle).

Steelers WR Martavis Bryant (illness).

49ers TE Vernon Davis (back).

Bills WR Marcus Easley (knee).

Buccaneers WR Mike Evans (groin).

Falcons WR Harry Douglas (foot).

Lions TE Joseph Fauria (ankle).

Chargers WR Malcom Floyd (illness).

Texans RB Arian Foster (hamstring).

Rams QB Shaun Hill (thigh).

Saints RB Mark Ingram (hand).

Texans WR Andre Johnson (ankle).

Lions WR Calvin Johnson (ankle).

Bengals WR Marvin Jones (ankle).

Saints RB Erik Lorig (ankle).

Chargers RB Ryan Mathews (knee).

Buccaneers QB Josh McCown (thumb).

Steelers TE Heath Miller (not injury related).

Browns WR Marlon Moore (illness).

Jets WR David Nelson (ankle).

Cardinals QB Carson Palmer (right shoulder).

Lions RB Theo Riddick (hamstring).

Cowboys QB Tony Romo (back).

Vikings TE Kyle Rudolph (abdomen, groin) — OUT.

Buccaneers TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins (ankle).

Titans TE Taylor Thompson (knee).

Colts WR Reggie Wayne (not injury related).

Panthers RB Fozzy Whittaker (thigh).

Panthers RB DeAngelo Williams (ankle).

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Justin Blackmon working through voluntary treatment program

Justin Blackmon, Chris Harris AP

Receiver Justin Blackmon has missed an entire calendar year’s worth of games after being suspended indefinitely by the league for repeated violations of the league’s substance-abuse policy.

The Jacksonville Jaguars have stuck by Blackmon despite his issues but fully expect to not have him be available this season.

Whether he will ever be reinstated remains to be seen as well, but Blackmon is at least attempting to take steps needed to give himself the chance to return to his NFL career in the future.

According to Mark Long of the Associated Press, Blackmon has checked into a voluntary treatment facility and is about halfway through the 90-day program.

“He’s healing and taking time for himself,” head coach Gus Bradley said. “The great thing is he has chosen this for himself. It’s awesome to hear about.”

This isn’t the first time Blackmon has sought out treatment for his problems. He also planned to enter rehab last year after the suspension was handed down by the league. But Blackmon was arrested again in July for possession of marijuana in Oklahoma, which essentially closed the door on any chance that he could return to the field this year.

Blackmon showed great potential as a rookie in 2012 when he caught 64 passes for 865 yards and five touchdowns for the Jaguars. After serving a four-game suspension to begin the 2013 season, Blackmon also had a standout performance in Denver with 14 catches for 190 yards before he was suspended indefinitely in November.

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Cowboys player allegedly involved in a sexual assault

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Despite unprecedented sensitivity to the issue of domestic violence and sexual assault in the NFL, incidents involving NFL players continue.

The latest allegedly happened on the evening of September 20.

According to the New York Daily News, defensive back C.J. Spillman has been accused of sexually assaulting a female at the team’s hotel.

“We have a sexual assault report we are investigating at this time, and it does involve C.J. Spillman,” a police spokesman told the Daily News.  “He is involved in the investigation.  We are looking into the matter.”

Spillman played on September 21 at St. Louis, and again on September 28 against the Saints.  On September 26, the alleged victim’s lawyer, Gloria Allred, alerted Commissioner Roger Goodell to the allegations.

It’s unclear whether the team or the league previously knew about it.  It’s also unclear why Spillman has not yet been placed on the rabbit-from-a-hat Commissioner’s Permission list.

Now that the situation has become publicly known, chances are that Spillman will land on paid suspension until the charges are resolved.  Or maybe the Cowboys will simply cut him, since he’s not a key player.

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Alexander says suspension arises from violation “many months ago”

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The four-game suspension imposed on Panthers defensive end Frank Alexander has become a 10-game suspension.  Alexander has issued a statement expressing regret for the incident that, according to Alexander, happened a long time ago.

“I’m very sorry to the Panthers organization, my teammates, and Panthers fans that my mistakes from many months ago will prevent me from contributing for several more weeks,” Alexander said in a statement.  “This discipline arose from a violation that occurred many months ago.  Since that violation, I have continued to grow, and I will continue to work hard, as I have been doing, to stay in shape and be a major contributor upon my return.   Through God’s favor, I will continue to show through my behavior that I have learned some valuable life lessons.”

While the violation triggering the 10-game suspension may have happened many months ago, it wasn’t only one violation that resulted in the suspension.  But for the revision to the substance-abuse policy, the latest violation would have resulted in Alexander missing an entire year, at a minimum.

A fourth-round pick in 2012, Alexander will be eligible to return after Week 15, barring another violation.

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