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Luck’s preseason debut: Three touchdowns in four possessions

Indianapolis Colts quarterback Luck laughs while talking to Colts quarterbacks coach Christensen prior to the start of their preseason NFL football game versus the St. Louis Rams in Indianapolis Reuters

We’re nearing the end of the first round of 2012 preseason games. And it’s probably safe to say that, so far, no NFL quarterback has made as strong of a first impression as Colts rookie Andrew Luck.

Playing 24 snaps in Sunday’s exhibition opener against the Rams, Luck completed 10-of-16 passes for 188 yards and two touchdowns. At least three of his six incompletions were dropped by receivers. Luck was incredibly sharp, making stick throws outside the numbers and displaying composure in the pocket. He threw the football accurately, made quick decisions, and flashed his underrated athleticism on a nine-yard scramble.

Opening the game with a 63-yard touchdown on a shovel screen to running back Donald Brown, Luck wound up engineering four offensive possessions. The Colts scored touchdowns on three of them, the second on a 23-yard dart to Austin Collie in the right corner of the end zone and the third on a goal-line carry by running back Delone Carter.

This is the preseason. The Colts were playing the Rams. It doesn’t really mean anything.

But Luck looked awesome. And every bit worth the No. 1 pick in the draft.

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Jim Leonhard reunites with Mike Pettine in Cleveland

Jim Leonhard AP

Safety Jim Leonhard said recently that he had spoken to the Packers about coming aboard for the 2014 season, but the Wisconsin native never reached agreement on a deal with the team.

He won’t have to leave the Midwest to play football this year, though. Leonhard tweeted on Wednesday afternoon that he has signed a contract to play for the Browns.

The move reunites Leonhard with Browns coach Mike Pettine, who was an assistant on Ravens, Jets and Bills teams that featured Leonhard. That year with the Bills came in 2013, when Leonhard started seven times and played all 16 games for a defense coordinated by Pettine. Leonhard had 41 tackles and four interceptions in Buffalo.

With that kind of familiarity and a thin group of backup safeties, the late start to camp shouldn’t hurt Leonhard much. Donte Whitner will hold one starting safety job for the Bills and Tashaun Gipson is pencilled in alongside him, although Leonhard could change that if Pettine decides to go with what he knows come the regular season.

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Bengals CB Chris Lewis-Harris suspended two games

Chris Lewis-Harris AP

The NFL has suspended Bengals cornerback Chris Lewis-Harris for the first two games of the 2014 regular season under the league’s substance-abuse policy, the team said Wednesday.

The 25-year-old Lewis-Harris appeared in six games for Cincinnati in 2013, recording three tackles. He’s vying for a reserve role with Cincinnati, which is deep at cornerback.

Lewis-Harris can play in exhibition games, but the earliest he can return to an active NFL roster is Monday, September 15.

A Tennessee-Chattanooga product, Lewis-Harris is one of 10 cornerbacks on Cincinnati’s roster.

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Cassel, Bridgewater begin even split of first-team reps

Bridgewater AP

The Vikings have a trio of quarterbacks about whom offensive coordinator Norv Turner periodically has raved.  With camp in full swing and the preseason games approaching, Turner has officially narrowed his focus to a pair of finalists for the Week One starting job.

Via multiple reports, veteran Matt Cassel and rookie Teddy Bridgewater have begun equally splitting first-team reps, with former starter Christian Ponder working exclusively with the reserves.

It’s unclear when a starter will be picked.  Appearing on Wednesday’s PFT Live, tight end Kyle Rudolph said that he and the other pass catchers prefer that a decision be made as soon as possible, so that the pass-catchers can focus on working with the guy who’ll be throwing the passes when the season begins.

For more from Rudolph, click the thing in the thing below.

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Gordon’s appeal is indeed all or nothing

Cleveland Browns v St. Louis Rams 8-8-2013 Getty Images

Despite a belief in some league circles that the person designated to handle the appeal of Browns receiver Josh Gordon’s one-year suspension can split the proverbial baby by imposing a suspension somewhere between zero and 16 games, the NFL characterizes the substance-abuse policy in a way that makes clear the absence of discretion.

“The disciplinary penalties were negotiated by the NFLPA and NFL more than 20 years ago and there has never been a proposal to change them,” NFLPA spokesman Brian McCarthy tells PFT via email.  “When they were first established, the union expressed the strong view that they needed to be stated and mandatory to ensure that all players be treated the same regardless of position, experience, level of ability, or competitive considerations.  On appeal, the hearing officer’s responsibility is to determine whether the violation was established and, if so, he is bound by the agreed-upon sanctions.”

For players in Stage III of the program, a positive test automatically triggers a one-year suspension.

For Gordon, then, only two options exist:  full-year suspension or no suspension at all.

If the terms of the policy are applied as written, Gordon could indeed be facing a one-year suspension, no matter how unfair or heavy-handed or otherwise wrong.  Or maybe the hearing officer will, consciously or otherwise, broaden the lens and consider the reaction to a one-year suspension for Gordon versus a mere two-game suspension for Ray Rice and his far more heinous conduct.

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Brandon Browner gets heated at Patriots practice

Brandon Browner AP

The Patriots signed Brandon Browner this offseason because he’s a big, physical cornerback capable of keeping wide receivers from doing exactly what they want while running their routes.

On Wednesday, the Pats offense got an up-close view of how Browner makes that happen. Browner shoved wide receiver Kenbrell Thompkins to the ground after a pair of plays that saw the duo matched up one-on-one and then got into a shouting match with receivers coach Chad O’Shea that ended when other members of the team separated the two.

Browner said afterwards that he came into practice with the mindset of being more aggressive after the defense “gave up a few easy balls” in Tuesday’s session. He said that he and O’Shea “hugged it out” after practice and explained why he thought the scrapes would make for a better team.

“It gets us both better,” Browner said, via CSNNE.com. “Guys on the other side of the ball, it’s what [opponents are] going to do in guys in games. And it’s what they’re going to do to me in games … That’s my style of play. Play aggressive. You don’t want to cost your team any penalties, but we’ll let the officials do their job.”

Browner will have to cool his jets for the first four games of the regular season while serving a suspension for violating the league’s drug policy, leaving the Patriots to hope that his summer work helps his teammates enough to make the absence less of a hindrance for the defense.

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John Harbaugh: I’m proud of Ray Rice for how he’s handled it

johnharbaugh AP

The Ravens are continuing their public support of Ray Rice, the running back whose two-game suspension for a domestic violence incident has been widely criticized.

Ravens head coach John Harbaugh said today that he continues to support Rice and believes that Rice is making the most of a bad situation.

“I love the way he’s handled it,” Harbaugh said. “I hate what happened. What happened was wrong, flat out. The thing I appreciate about it is how Ray has handled it afterwards by acknowledging that it was wrong and he’ll do everything he can do to make it right. That’s what you ask for when someone does a wrong thing. So I’m proud of him for that, from that standpoint. And for anybody out there who’s going to misconstrue that and just write, ‘John Harbaugh is proud of Ray,’ then shame on you. I’m proud of him for the way he’s handled it, OK? Disappointed in what happened, but you go forward. You know, you go forward. That’s what we’re going to do as a football team, and that’s what we’re going to do as an individual, he’ll do as an individual.”

Although Harbaugh was careful to explain that he means he is proud of the way Rice has responded since his February arrest, and not that he condones what Rice did to result in the arrest, that distinction may not change the fact that some people simply don’t want to hear the Ravens continuing to support Rice publicly. The Ravens’ full-throated support of Rice has — like the NFL’s two-game suspension — struck many as insensitive to victims of domestic violence.

Harbaugh declined to talk about the backlash to the suspension, which has been widely decried as an indication that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell doesn’t grasp the seriousness of domestic violence.

“There’s no way I’m going to comment on the length of it, but I know this: Those that make those decisions do so with great seriousness. They aim to be just and fair and they aim to do right by all parties involved,” Harbaugh said.

But Harbaugh did say that he thinks opening the season without Rice will be tough for his team to overcome.

“It’s going to be tough for us,” Harbaugh said. “It’s going to be two games without one of our very best players. But we’ll move forward and deal with it. Beyond that, there’s really nothing else to say.”

Harbaugh may have nothing left to say, but Rice is expected to address the media on Thursday. His comments will surely be scrutinized by those who believe Rice has yet to show genuine remorse — and who believe both the Ravens and the NFL have been far too supportive of Rice.

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Colts guard Donald Thomas leaves practice early

Joe Reitz, Donald Thomas AP

The Colts need to do a better job of protecting quarterback Andrew Luck, and that job didn’t get any easier today.

According to Stephen Holder of the Indianapolis Star, guard Donald Thomas is believed to have re-injured his quadriceps, and left the practice field early. He’s expected to have an MRI to determine the severity.

Thomas played just two games for the Colts last year before tearing his quadriceps tendon, sending him to injured reserve. The rehab process also kept him from participating in OTAs this year.

The Colts signed him to a four-year, $14 million deal last offseason, and haven’t gotten much of a return on that investment.

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Tyron Smith’s 10-year deal is “nuts”

Dallas Cowboys v Minnesota Vikings Getty Images

It’s hard to say that a guy who signed an eight-year contract reportedly worth $98 million made a mistake.  But in the NFL, where the player is far more bound to the deal than the team, left tackle Tyron Smith apparently has given the Cowboys near-unilateral control over the balance of his career.

“There’s no way you can do a deal that long,” a league source with extensive experience negotiating player contracts told PFT.  “I’m stunned. . . .  10 years is nuts.”

The extension reportedly places Smith under contract for a total of 10 years at a payout of $110 million.  He’ll have no power to get more money, no matter how well he performs.  And if he doesn’t perform well, the only security he’ll have is the fully-guaranteed money that he received when committing himself to the Cowboys for the next decade.

The full details eventually will be known, and we’ll get a chance to see just how team friendly the contract is.  Unless every year of the contract is fully guaranteed (and if it were, that detail would have been leaked), the mere duration of the deal makes it a bad one for the player — who apparently wanted to do a contract badly enough that he was willing to make a commitment that, for nearly all NFL contracts, never is mutual.

Apparently, the Cowboys knew how badly Smith wanted that new contract, and the Cowboys took full advantage of it.

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PFT on NBCSN takes closer look at 49ers, Patriots, more

Tom Brady AP

Wednesday’s edition of Pro Football Talk on NBCSN delves into a potential Super Bowl matchup that has never actually happened — 49ers vs. Patriots.

This year, it could.  Which would mean New England quarterback Tom Brady would be going against the team he cheered for as a child.

He’s far from being a child now, and he’s 10 years removed from his last Super Bowl ring.  The 49ers are 20 years removed from theirs.  So today’s poll question asks which of the two is more likely to get a crack at another title to cap the 2014 season.

Tune in at 5:30 p.m. ET.  And stick around for Fantasy Football Live at 6:30 p.m. ET.

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Manziel takes a training-camp detour to a tavern

Manziel AP

Before the draft, Johnny Football was all about football, working out and studying and spending every waking moment getting himself ready to be as attractive as he possibly could be for an NFL team.

After the draft, Johnny Football became Johnny Vegas and Johnny Bieber and Johnny Rolled-Up-Hundy and everything but a guy who was all about football.  That supposedly was going to change once training camp opened, with Manziel buckling down and focusing on becoming the best football player he can be.

And so on the night before the first day off at training camp, Manziel reportedly was spotted at a bar roughly two miles from the team’s headquarters, according to Nate Ulrich of the Akron Beacon Journal.

As Ulrich points out, the behavior goes against the notion that “Work Hard, Play Harder” would yield to “Work Hard, Work Harder” once camp opened.  It also contradicts the prediction of former Texas A&M teammate Mike Evans.

“In training camp, I don’t think he’ll go out at all,” Evans said in June.  “He’ll be committed and devoted and fighting for a starting job.”

The photo posted online at BustedCoverage.com shows nothing controversial or even all that interesting.  It’s a dude at a bar with a “crap, I think someone may be taking my picture with a camera phone” look on his face.

It’s only an issue because Manziel’s lifestyle and the team’s evolving reaction to it — from “we don’t care” to “tone it down” to “we’re alarmed” — creates a potential connection between Manziel’s actions away from the field and the Browns’ willingness to allow him to take the field in games that count.  Especially with most of the organization seemingly ready to drive Brian Hoyer down to Canton this weekend for inclusion in the new class of Hall of Famers.

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Fred Jackson signs one-year extension with Bills

Fred Jackson AP

Bills practice was halted on Wednesday when some nasty weather rolled through the area, but some members of the organization were able to make good use of the unexpected free time.

They were able to put the finishing touches on the announcement of a one-year extension for running back Fred Jackson. Jackson was entering the final year of his contract, which is set to pay him a base salary $2.45 million. There were no financial details announced by the team.

Jackson’s role for the 2014 season is a bit unclear with Bryce Brown and Anthony Dixon joining Jackson and C.J. Spiller in the backfield. There’s been talk that the 33-year-old may be slated for a more limited role than he’s played in the past, but the extension suggests he’s still very much in the Bills’ plans now and in 2015.

Brown and Dixon are also signed through next season, but Spiller has a player option for 2015 that he’ll likely pass on exercising if things go well this year. Jackson’s extension could give the Bills more flexibility in dealing with any negotiations that may be coming with Spiller, especially if the Bills decide to follow recent trends and allocate less money at running back than at other positions.

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Alex Smith will end contract talks if they’re a distraction

Alex Smith AP

The Chiefs and quarterback Alex Smith apparently haven’t gotten anywhere on a new contract, and Smith said Wednesday there will come a point when they’ll stop trying.

“You’re getting to the point where either way, you want it to stop being a distraction,” Smith said, via Terez Paylor of the Kansas City Star. “You guys know how I feel about this, and it’s the truth. . . .

“You’re finally gonna cross a line where it’s like, it’s just football from here on out and I’m done not only talking about it with you guys, but even behind the scenes as well. “We talk about eliminating distractions and that’s a part of it. The focus needs to be on ball.”

He didn’t specify when that time would be, saying: “No, no hard line. At some point mentally it will come for me where it’s like ‘OK, it’s over’ and let’s just focus on the season.”

Perhaps he should adopt the Bugs Bunny strategy of negotiating, but for now, his talking about it is just a gentle reminder that he’s ready to talk.

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Aldon Smith in L.A. for hearing to wrap up incident at LAX

Aldon Smith AP

49ers linebacker Aldon Smith isn’t facing any charges from an April incident at Los Angeles International Airport, but he still had some housekeeping to take care of regarding the issue on Wednesday.

Bill Williamson of ESPN was the first to report that Smith is in Los Angeles instead of at practice on Wednesday to take part in a hearing that will officially close the case. Smith ran afoul of authorities at LAX when he made reference to having a bomb that he did not actually possess. Coach Jim Harbaugh confirmed Smith was absent, but wouldn’t confirm the reason.

“He’s going through a process,” Harbaugh said, via Cam Inman of the Bay Area News Group.

Smith was recently sentenced to 12 days in jail on gun and DUI charges from a different incident, but has not yet heard anything about any discipline from the league for his walks on the wrong side of the law. Smith said last week that he expects to meet with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell soon for a discussion on that front.

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Ahmad Brooks restructures to clear cap room for 49ers

San Francisco 49ers Brooks reacts after sacking Baltimore Ravens quarterback Flacco in the NFL Super Bowl XLVII football game in New Orleans Reuters

The 49ers have several guys they want to pay, one they won’t unless he shows up, and now they have a little more cap room.

According to Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com, linebacker Ahmad Brooks restructured his deal just before camp to save $2 million in salary cap space.

This was a simple restructure, as he took $3.395 million of his $5.1 million base salary as a bonus, allowing the team to prorate it.

That moved the 49ers to around $10 million under the cap.

Whether they intend to use any of it on holdout Alex Boone if he shows up, or whether they’re thinking about putting it toward bigger deals such as for pending 2015 free agents Michael Crabtree or Mike Iupati remains to be seen.

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Two Ravens rookie defensive linemen injured on same play in practice

Baltimore Ravens Rookie Minicamp Getty Images

Injuries are an unavoidable part of life in training camp, a truth that the Ravens were reminded of twice on the same play during Wednesday’s practice.

Rookie defensive end Brent Urban and rookie defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan were the unlucky members of the squad. Aaron Wilson of the Baltimore Sun reports that it looks like Urban, a fourth-round pick, suffered the more serious blow.

Urban needed to be helped off the field by members of the training staff and was then carted back to the team’s facility for further evaluation. Per Wilson, Urban, who had ankle surgery in February, was unable to put weight on his right leg following the injury. Jernigan “appeared to be favoring his back” as he also made his way from the field before the end of practice.

Wilson also reports that linebackers Daryl Smith and Albert McClellan did not practice on Wednesday, although there’s no reason given for either man’s absence.

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