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NFL morning after: Andrew Luck takes his star turn

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You know that 13-play touchdown-scoring drive you saw at the end of the Colts’ win over the Packers on Sunday? That’s what a franchise quarterback is supposed to look like.

Andrew Luck, the No. 1 overall pick who had the biggest pair of shoes to fill in the NFL when he took the place of Peyton Manning as the Colts’ quarterback, did every single thing you’d want a rookie quarterback to do if you’ve just put all of your faith in him as the man to lead your franchise for the next decade or so. He ran the no-huddle offense, he managed the clock, he checked down to tight end Coby Fleener when he needed to, threw deep to receiver Reggie Wayne when he needed to, even took off running and picked up a big first down on a third-and-7. Overall, Luck went 8-for-10 for 90 yards and a touchdown on the drive, which gave the Colts a 30-27 lead with 35 seconds to play.

This was a game in which the Colts, who were heavy underdogs, fell behind 21-3 at halftime. Coming after an impossibly difficult week in which they found out their coach, Chuck Pagano, was hospitalized with leukemia, it would have been easy for the Colts to go into the tank. But Luck wasn’t going to let that happen. He was simply great, completing 31 of 55 passes for 362 yards with two touchdowns and one interception, and adding 24 yards on the ground and a rushing touchdown.

Although Manning’s Broncos lost in New England on Sunday, he was outstanding again, with 345 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. And yet no matter how well Manning plays, I doubt there’s anyone in the Colts organization who would take back the decision to release Manning and draft Luck.

With 1,208 yards this season and a 2-2 record, Luck is the first rookie in NFL history to average more than 300 passing yards and lead his team to at least two wins in his first four games. Luck is doing things rookie quarterbacks have never done before. This is what NFL teams dream their rookie quarterback might be able to play like. Luck looks like a star.

Luck was the player who impressed me most on Sunday, but there were a lot of other things I liked, and a few things I didn’t:

The other rookie quarterbacks are pretty good, too. All five of the NFL’s rookie starting quarterbacks — Luck, Washington’s Robert Griffin III, Miami’s Ryan Tannehill, Cleveland’s Brandon Weeden and Seattle’s Russell Wilson — have shown a lot of promise. Griffin was knocked out of the Redskins’ loss to the Falcons early on Sunday, but he’s coming off a September in which he was named the league’s offensive rookie of the month. Tannehill threw for 223 yards and had no turnovers as the Dolphins beat the Bengals. Weeden’s Browns are 0-5, but he’s on pace for 4,121 yards this season, which would break the rookie record of 4,051 that Cam Newton set last season. And Wilson is the one rookie quarterback whose team has a winning record, after the Seahawks improved to 3-2 with a win over the Panthers on Sunday.

I love the intentional safety. What a smart call by Seahawks coach Pete Carroll, leading 16-10 and facing a fourth down on his own 18-yard line with a minute left in the game. Instead of punting, which would have given the Panthers the ball somewhere around midfield, Carroll called for an intentional safety, which allowed the Seahawks to take a little more time off the clock and then take a free kick from the 20-yard line. Whether the score was 16-10 or 16-12, Carroll knew that his defense just had to keep the Panthers out of the end zone to win the game. And taking a little more time off the clock and moving the Panthers back a little bit farther would make that a little bit tougher. A smart strategic decision by Carroll.

Let’s eliminate the term “mild concussion” from the NFL vocabulary. That’s how Redskins coach Mike Shanahan described the injury Griffin suffered on Sunday, and I know Shanahan was just trying to say that Griffin has a good chance of playing next week, but still: The NFL needs to make it clear that there are no “mild” concussions. It was also disconcerting that the Redskins at first only described Griffin as “shaken up” before later acknowledging that he had, in fact, suffered a concussion. The NFL is investigating whether the Redskins’ handling of Griffin followed league protocols for players who suffer head injuries. If nothing else, the Redskins would be wise to stop brushing off concussions as “mild,” or as just a player being “shaken up.”

Chris Johnson stinks. I don’t know what on earth is wrong with Johnson, the Titans running back who held out from training camp last year until the team gave him a $53.5 million contract, but the reality is he’s just not a good football player anymore. Yes, he still has speed and is capable of breaking long runs, but NFL teams need a running back who can gain yardage consistently, not just break long runs occasionally. And when Johnson gained just 24 yards on 15 carries on Sunday against the Vikings, it marked the fourth time in five games this season that Johnson was held under 25 yards. Johnson is averaging just 2.9 yards a carry, a number that gets usually gets NFL running backs cut. He’s terrible.

Take a minute to appreciate Johnny Unitas. When Drew Brees threw a touchdown pass on Sunday night, making it the 48th consecutive game in which he had done so, he was breaking a record that Johnny Unitas set in 1960 — 1960! Think how different the NFL passing game was in 1960. In 1960, Unitas led the league with 25 touchdown passes. In 2011 there were nine different quarterbacks with more than 25 touchdown passes. The game has changed so much that it’s amazing any passing record could last for more than half a century, but Unitas’s record did. The Colts sure have had some great quarterbacks.

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Seahawks sign kicker John Lunsford

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The Seahawks had expressed their intentions to add a kicker to their roster to compete with Blair Walsh.

The team announced Wednesday evening that they signed John Lunsford to do just that.

Lunsford was released by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers earlier this week after signing a futures contract with the team in January. Lunsford spent time with the San Francisco 49ers in the preseason last year, appearing in three games. He converted both extra point attempts tried and had five kickoffs with two going for touchbacks.

Lunsford will provide offseason competition with Walsh. Steven Hauschka – Seattle’s kicker for the last six seasons – signed with Buffalo and was not expected to return following the Seahawks’ signing of Walsh last month.

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Clay Helton has no concerns about sharing a stadium or a market

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USC coach Clay Helton joined Wednesday’s PFT Live, primarily to talk a bit about some of his prospects entering the draft. In addition to addressing the NFL future of defensive back Adoree’ Jackson and receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster and the challenges associated with keeping quarterback Sam Darnold focused on the present, Helton addressed the reality of sharing his stadium with one NFL team — and his market with two of them.

Helton has no complaints about having an NFL tenant in the Coliseum. It definitely didn’t hurt the product; the Trojans were undefeated last year at home. They’ll have the Rams in the same building for two more seasons.

After that, the Rams and Chargers will share space in Inglewood. But that’s not giving Helton any concern about the ability of the Trojans to continue to draw plenty of interest in a market that is crowded with options — but also with people.

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Dolphins add tackle Avery Young

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The Miami Dolphins signed tackle Avery Young and waived cornerback Daniel Davie on Thursday with a non-football injury designation.

Young himself spent all of the 2016 season on the non-football injury list with the New Orleans Saints with an undisclosed issue after signing with the team as an undrafted free agent from Auburn.

He returned to practice with the Saints at midseason but was never activated from the NFI list.

Young played both guard positions and right tackle at Auburn.

Davie was signed by the Dolphins in January to a futures contract. Davie spent brief periods with the Indianapolis Colts and Tampa Bay Buccaneers last season after going undrafted from Nebraska.

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Vikings running back Latavius Murray has ankle surgery

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The Minnesota Vikings announced Wednesday that newly signed running back Latavius Murray had ankle surgery in North Carolina.

The surgery, performed by Dr. Bob Anderson in Charlotte, was said to be successful in a team statement.

“We were aware of the required surgery prior to signing Latavius on March 16,” the team said in a statement. “Latavius is expected to fully recover and be available for training camp.”

Murray has over four months to recover before training camp opens for the Vikings in late July.

The need for ankle surgery was likely apparent to each of the teams Murray met with in free agency. He had visited the Seattle Seahawks and Jacksonville Jaguars as well before reaching a deal with the Vikings. Ultimately, the issue didn’t concern the Vikings enough to dissuade them from signing him last week.

Murray scored a career-high 12 touchdowns last year with the Oakland Raiders and rushed for 788 yards in 14 games.

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Goodell suggests enhanced use of play clocks

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The NFL often routinely uses a play clock throughout each game. However, it’s not as universal as it soon could be.

In a Wednesday letter to fans, Commissioner Roger Goodell suggested expanded use of a play clock in order to keep games moving along.

“Regarding game timing, we’re going to institute a play clock following the extra point when television does not take a break, and we’re considering instituting a play clock after a touchdown,” Goodell wrote. “We’re also going to standardize the starting of the clock after a runner goes out-of-bounds, and standardize halftime lengths in all games, so we return to the action as quickly as possible. Those are just a few of the elements we are working on to improve the pace of our game.”

Goodell also emphasized a point that is coming up too often to not happen — an effort to eliminate the kind of lulls that can get folks in this short-attention span society to change the channel or to otherwise find some other shiny object on their phones, tablets, or wherver else distractions currently come from.

“Together with our broadcast partners, we will be working to meaningfully reduce down time and the frequency of commercial breaks in our game,” Goodell wrote. “We will also be giving our broadcast partners increased flexibility to avoid untimely breaks in the action. For example, we know how annoying it is when we come back from a commercial break, kick off, and then cut to a commercial again. I hate that too. Our goal is to eliminate it.”

It’s smart, and to the extent that it came from last year’s ratings panic (which seemed to have subsided by the end of the year), the short-term dip in viewership could help make the game much more watchable in the future.

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Packers re-sign Christine Michael

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After arriving in Green Bay midway through the 2016 season, running back Christine Michael will stick around for 2017.

Michael has re-signed with the Packers, Field Yates of ESPN reports.

The Packers, who said goodbye to Eddie Lacy this offseason, expect to start Ty Montgomery at running back, and Michael can back him up.

Last season Michael played six games for the Packers, carrying 31 times for 114 yards and a touchdown. He had previously played for the Seahawks, who cut him in November even though he was their leading rusher. Michael originally entered the NFL as a second-round pick of the Seahawks in 2013 and has had two stints in Seattle as well as time in Dallas and Washington.

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Goodell hints at substantive changes to game broadcasts

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Apart from an effort to speed up the pace of the game, the NFL apparently plans to explore strategies for altering the manner in which the game is presented to its fans.

“We . . . know that you feel there are too many elements in the broadcast that aren’t relevant to the play on the field,” Commissioner Roger Goodell said in his Wednesday letter to fans. “With our partners, we will be looking to instead focus on content that is most complementary and compelling to you — whether that is analysis, highlights or stories about our players. All of these changes are meant to give you more of what you want: a competitive game with fewer interruptions and distractions from the action.”

That’s a broad statement, and it suggests that the league will be mandating changes to the manner in which games are televised. It’s unclear where or how an enhanced focus on “analysis, highlights or stories about our players” will fit into the presentation of a football game, since there currently aren’t many spots for doing anything other than reacting one play at a time to the things happening on the field.

It’s also unclear what Goodell means when he says there are “too many elements in the broadcast that aren’t relevant to the play on the field.”

A cynic could view that statement as part of a broader effort to ensure that the broadcasts will focus only on positive storylines, with negative aspects that may nevertheless be newsworthy or compelling receiving less emphasis in the name of taking even greater advantage of the three-hour infomercial for which the league gets paid billions every year. This particular cynic will withhold judgment on that point until more details emerge regarding the changes that will be made.

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Former Patriots center Bryan Stork calls it a career

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Once a very promising young offensive lineman, former Patriots center Bryan Stork has decided to call it a career.

“I can’t say I’m retiring because I’m only 26 but I have decided to officially step away from playing the game of football which I will always love dearly,” Stork wrote on Twitter. “While chasing a childhood dream I was very blessed I had family, friends, and coaches on my side to help me get to where I wanted to go.”

Last year Stork became the subject of an odd story in training camp, as the Patriots were reportedly poised to cut him, then traded him to Washington, before reports surfaced that he was contemplating retirement. Stork decided not to retire at that time, but he then failed his physical in Washington, nullifying the trade, and he was released. Stork tried to sign on with a couple of other teams but that never materialized, and he didn’t play last season.

Stork has had several injuries, including concussions and a neck injury. He will be remembered for starting for Florida State’s 2013 national championship team, then starting for the Patriots when they won Super Bowl XLIX a year later. He is one of only a handful of players in the history of football to start for the college national champions and the NFL champions in back-to-back seasons.

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Jaguars sign former Raiders tight end Mychal Rivera

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The Jacksonville Jaguars announced on Wednesday they have signed former Oakland Raiders tight end Mychal Rivera.

It’s a one-year deal with a team option for a second year according to Mike Garafolo of the NFL Network.

Rivera has played in 61 games for the Raiders over the past four seasons with 15 starts. Last year was his least productive year in Oakland, recording just 18 catches for 192 yards and one touchdown as Clive Walford assumed the primary pass receiving role from the position. Rivera’s career-highs came in 2014 with 58 catches for 534 yards and four touchdowns.

Rivera had visited the New York Jets earlier this week before agreeing to a deal with Jacksonville.

Rivera gives the Jaguars another veteran option at tight end to pair with Marcedes Lewis following the trade of Julius Thomas to Miami this offseason.

Rivera was high school (Birmingham High School in Van Nuys, Calif.) and college teammates (Tennessee) with Jaguars defensive tackle Malik Jackson.

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Jim Mora misses the relationships with other his fellow coaches

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In an extended interview with PFT Live, former Falcons and Seahawks coach (and current UCLA coach) Jim Mora addressed a wide variety of interesting topics. At one point, I asked him what he misses about coaching in the NFL.

He said he misses the relationships with his peers. While NFL coaches fiercely compete, the competition ends, for the most part, on the field. Sure, there’s often some competition when it comes to free agents. But not nearly the kind of neverending fight for talent that happens among college coaches.

Constantly, they’re trying to get players to choose their school over another one. Constantly, they’re relying upon their ability to essentially swipe a talented player from another coach. As a result, Mora said he doesn’t have the kind of relationship with his fellow coaches that he had when he coached in the NFL.

That’s just one example of the things Mora discussed. The full video is worth a listen.

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Roger Goodell explains to fans how new replay system will work

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In a move that feels a lot like a President making his case for legistlative change to the people before the House or the Senate cast a vote, Commissioner Roger Goodell has sent a letter to fans outlining various changes that will be considered by the owners next week in Arizona.

The letter from Goodell with the salutation “Dear Fans” presents the proposals in a way that suggests the changes are a done deal, even though the changes won’t be finalized until at least 24 owners vote in favor of them. This means either that Goodell has polled enough owners to conclude that at least 24 votes are coming — or that he has concluded that enough owners are on the fence to justify an effort to work the public in advance of the vote. Why else, frankly, would he feel compelled to tell the fans about the changes only one week before the changes become actual changes?

As it relates to the centralization of replay review, a topic that has been a sore point for multiple coaches and team executives who worry that this will allow the league office to make decisions aimed at reaching outcomes desired by 345 Park Avenue, Goodell outlined the new procedure that would be adopted: “Instead of a fixed sideline monitor, we will bring a tablet to the Referee who can review the play in consultation with our officiating headquarters in New York, which has the final decision. This should improve consistency and accuracy of decisions and help speed up the process.”

It also should allow Microsoft to get even more bang for its product-placement buck, with the peep-show approach replaced by an official using the official tablet of the National Football League, complete with that distinctive electric blue case.

Apart from the obvious change to the appearance of the replay review process, the new approach would result in the referee losing final say over the outcome, with the league office having the power to overrule the ruling on the field.

So why involve the referee at all? Doing so eliminates the sense that the decision is being made remotely (and possibly arbitrarily). In fairness to the league, it also allows for an extra set of eyes, which is never a bad thing. And, as mentioned above, it provides for greater integration of the Microsoft tablet into the presentation of the game. Which makes that partnership even more valuable to the league.

Especially when the time comes to put the official tablet sponsorship out for bidding.

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Titans sign offensive lineman Tim Lelito

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The Titans have made it a point to strengthen both lines, and added some depth on offense Wednesday.

According to a tweet from his agents, Saints free agent blocker Tim Lelito has signed with the Titans.

Lelito also visited with his hometown Lions, but apparently found a better deal in Nashville.

Lelito has started 24 games the last four years with the Saints, and gives them some experience in the middle after losing Brian Schwenke to the Colts.

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Bart Hubbuch withdraws lawsuit against New York Post

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In roughly 99.999999999 percent of all civil lawsuits, an effort to dismiss the case is met with a vigorous effort by the plaintiff to keep the case alive. In the wrongful discharge lawsuit filed by Bart Hubbuch against the New York Post, a motion to dismiss filed by Hubbuch’s former employer apparently has prompted Hubbuch to walk away.

The official paperwork reflects a stipulated dismissal of the case with prejudice, which means that the case can’t be re-filed at some later date. While the paperwork contains no mention of the reason for the ending of the lawsuit, a spokesperson for the Post left no doubt, via statement sent by email to PFT: “In response to the . . . motion to dismiss, Mr. Hubbuch has voluntarily withdrawn his lawsuit, acknowledging his claims were frivolous.”

Dismissal notwithstanding, Hubbuch’s attorney, Scott Lucas, disputes a key portion of the statement from the Post.

“The claim was voluntarily withdrawn,” Lucas told PFT by phone on Wednesday afternoon. “There has been no acknowledgement that it was frivolous.”

The Post recently filed a motion to dismiss the case, arguing among other things the falsity of Hubbuch’s contention that he wasn’t working when he posted a controversial tweet regarding the inauguration of President Donald Trump. Hubbuch’s lawsuit relied in large part on the contention that he was using Twitter “on his own time, from his own computer, and from his own home.”

The motion to dismiss sough sanctions against Hubbuch and Lucas, based on the contention that Hubbuch “has asserted that (1) his January 20th Tweet was sent on a day that was his ‘day off’ and (2) he was told that the Post had no written social media policy,” and that “[t]he documentary evidence submitted on this motion squarely proves those sworn assertions to be fabrications.” The stipulation dismissal of the case states that each party will be responsible for its own litigation costs; it’s possible that the Post offered to abandon any claim for sanctions in return for an agreement to end the case.

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Chiefs bring back defensive lineman Jarvis Jenkins

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The Chiefs made one big change on their defensive line, but they’ve brought another key part back.

According to a tweet from his agent, Chiefs defensive end Jarvis Jenkins has re-signed for another year.

The Chiefs brought Jenkins in after he was cut by the Jets in November, and he provides a solid rotational option for them. They let nose tackle Dontari Poe walk out the door in free agency, and replaced him with former Eagles lineman Bennie Logan.

Jenkins was originally a second-round pick by Washington, and has also spent a year with the Bears.

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Is a looser bright-line rule coming for celebration penalties?

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Reports of a plan by the NFL to give officials discretion to determine whether the penalize teams for excessive celebrations suggests that the currently strict bright line (no going to the ground, no use of the ball as a prop) could be replaced with something much fuzzier and subjective. The end result still could be a looser standard that nevertheless carries with it a bright line.

Per a source with knowledge of the situation, the league may actually be getting closer to a bright-line rule that allows for consistency in the determination as to whether a foul occurred but that is less rigid than the current standard. The specifics of any such possible rule currently aren’t known.

That’s good news, if it occurs. Based on current reporting, the rule would be looser but it also would be flexible, allowing for too much interpretation — and for too many different potential rulings based on the perceptions and attitudes of 17 different officiating crews.

The source also didn’t rule out immediately the possibility of using replay review in some form to allow for oversight of decisions made regarding conduct that doesn’t happen during a play. The challenge would be coming up with the right standard, and obviously ensuring that the process would occur expediently and reliably.

The NFL has absorbed extensive criticism for stripping individuality out of the sport by prohibiting some spontaneous displays of enthusiasm following touchdowns and other significant plays. Last year, the league began the process of giving teams a wider berth, for example by not automatically flagging players making snow angels, even though that necessarily results in players going to the ground.

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