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Andre Johnson credits new practice regimen for health, production

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Texans wide receiver Andre Johnson only played seven games in 2011 because of injuries, a number he topped Sunday by playing in his eighth game of the season.

Jerome Solomon of the Houston Chronicle reports that Johnson credits a new between game routine for keeping him on the field this season. Johnson is taking fewer reps in practice, doing more stretching and getting regular massages in hopes of being as fresh as possible on Sundays.

It didn’t look like the approach was working all that well through the first five weeks of the season. After catching eight balls in the opener, Johnson had just nine catches in the next four games and looked like a less dangerous receiver than he’s been at earlier points in his career. Things have turned around since then as Johnson has 25 catches in his last three games, including eight for 118 yards in Sunday’s win. The Texans had stretches of ineffective play on offense Sunday, but Matt Schaub found Johnson to keep the chains moving on several occasions during the 21-9 win.

Johnson’s burst of productivity has him closing in on the top 25 in NFL history in receptions and the top 30 in receiving yardage, numbers that he said don’t mean as much to him as the fact that the team is 7-1 halfway through the 2012 season.

“The only time I find out about stats is when I talk to the media,” Johnson said. “It’s an accomplishment, a great accomplishment, but winning is the thing.”

It felt at times on Sunday that the Texans were doing just enough to come out of the game with a victory. That won’t be enough to win against the Bears next Sunday, which makes it a good thing that Johnson is riding a hot streak into the marquee matchup of Week 10.

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NaVorro Bowman returns to team drills, doesn’t like knee brace

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With multiple inside linebackers surprisingly retired, the 49ers need to get Navorro Bowman back. And they’re moving closer toward doing just that.

Bowman returned to team drills on Friday, joining the 49ers for an OTA practice session more than 16 months after tearing an ACL in the NFC title game at Seattle.

“It’s great having him back out on the field,” coach Jim Tomsula said regarding Bowman on Friday. “Then also the road he’s traveled here in the last year and a half. It’s just awesome to have him out there and I think he’s really enjoying himself.”

Bowman’s not enjoying one thing — wearing a brace on his surgically-repaired knee.

“He is not, they are not friends,” Tomsula said of Bowman and his brace. “But, we really want him to wear it. Just why not, that’s all. And you know what, he’s doing great with it, he is. But, you know Bo. He’s something else, just pushing, pushing, pushing.”

Patrick Willis and Chris Borland called it a career after the 2014 season, making Bowman a key component of a defense that is squarely in transition, especially with defensive lineman Justin Smith retired, too.

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Browns’ offense appears to be moving on from Manziel

Manziel AP

Josh McCown is firmly entrenched as the starting quarterback in Cleveland, to the extent that Johnny Manziel, a first-round pick of the Browns last year, appears to be largely an afterthought at Organized Team Activities.

After reporting on the first week of OTAs, Tony Grossi of ESPN Cleveland describes Manziel as “a fish out of water” in the offense the Browns are installing. Grossi writes that the Browns don’t seem to be developing Manziel so much as they’re moving on from him.

At the practice the media were allowed to watch, Manziel seemed to eager to run and not confident enough in his passing. And Grossi reports that one source who witnessed another practice says Manziel was actually even worse in a session that the media didn’t see.

The bottom line is that 13 months after he was drafted, Manziel still hasn’t done anything to make the Browns think he’s ever going to be their franchise quarterback. McCown is the starter for now, and someone else will probably need to be found to be the long-term answer in the future.

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Brady appeal hearing set for June 23

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The deadline for setting Tom Brady’s appeal hearing came and went on Wednesday without a date being set. A date has now been set.

PFT has confirmed that the appeal hearing will commence on June 23, and that it will continue if necessary on June 25. The news was first reported by Adam Schefter of ESPN.

On Thursday, a source with knowledge of the situation told PFT that the NFL and NFL Players Association had agreed to extend the Wednesday deadline, and that the NFL had offered a pair of dates that weren’t ideal for the union. The NFLPA had responded with a pair of weeks that worked, and the NFLPA was waiting for the league to respond.

Brady and the NFLPA wanted the hearing to be conducted in June, in order to ensure that sufficient time will be available to go to court and challenge the outcome of the internal appeal process.

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Browns unveil four-tiered variable pricing

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With the blackout policy suspended for 2015 (i.e., dead as a doorknob . . . or is it doornail? I never know), teams need to find a way to attract customer to pay for tickets to game. The Browns are doing that by utilizing a four-tiered system of variable pricing.

The first tier consists of the Broncos and Titans. Yes, the Titans, because that’s the regular-season home opener.

Tier Two has the Ravens and Steelers. Tier Three consists of the Raiders, Cardinals, 49ers, and Bengals.

Tier Four has the two preseason games, against Washington and Buffalo.

The decision not to put the Ravens and Steelers in the top tier and the decision to put the Bengals in a tier lower than the other division rivals seem odd. But even in a league where coaches look for any ammunition to motivate players, it’s hard to envision Bengals coach Marvin Lewis firing up the troops by pointing out that the Browns saw fit to put the team that has made it to the playoffs four straight years in the third of four pricing tiers, only one click above games that don’t count at all.

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Falcons cut linebacker/alleged dog-killer Prince Shembo

NEW ORLEANS, LA - DECEMBER 21:  Prince Shembo #53 celebrates with Robert McClain #27 of the Atlanta Falcons following an interception against the New Orleans Saints during a game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on December 21, 2014 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images) Getty Images

That didn’t take long.

Within hours of charges being filed accusing him of kicking and killing his then-girlfriend’s small dog, the Falcons have released linebacker Prince Shembo, according to Zach Klein of WSB. The Falcons have since announced the move themselves.

“We are aware of the charges that have been filed against Prince Shembo,” the team said in a statement. “We are extremely disappointed that one of our players is involved in something like this. Accordingly, we have decided to waive Prince Shembo.”

Shembo was charged with felony aggravated cruelty to animals, for allegedly kicking a Yorkshire terrier named Dior, causing massive internal injuries.

The Falcons were willing to stick up for Shembo after they chose him in the fourth round of the 2014 NFL Draft, despite an incident during his college years at Notre Dame. He was accused of sexually assaulting a female student at nearby St. Mary’s College, who later committed suicide.

No charges were filed in that case, and the Falcons said they were “very comfortable” with him in regards to it.

They’re apparently less comfortable now, and moved quickly to distance themselves.

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Bills claim quarterback Matt Simms off waivers from Jets

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The Bills decided to freshen up their four-headed quarterback competition, by grabbing a guy from their own division.

According to Howard Balzer of the Sports Xchange, the Bills claimed former Jets quarterback Matt Simms off waivers.

Simms was released yesterday, as the writing was on the wall for him with the Jets when Bryce Petty was drafted. But now he lands with former head coach Rex Ryan and quarterbacks coach David Lee, which can’t hurt his chances.

To make room for Simms on the roster, the Bills got rid of Jeff Tuel, who was rotating among Matt Cassel, EJ Manuel and Tyrod Taylor.

While Simms might not change the bottom line for the Bills, he at least adds more competition at the bottom of the depth chart

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Kiko Alonso surprised by how good his knee feels

kikoalonso AP

Ten months ago, Kiko Alonso suffered a torn ACL that cost him the entire 2014 season with the Bills. In the time since then, Alonso has been traded to the Eagles — and has healed so fully that he surprises himself with how good he feels.

I honestly didn’t think I’d be doing this much,” Alonso told Philly.com at Eagles’ OTAs. “I’ve just been going on how I feel, and it’s feeling really good.”

Part of the reason Alonso feels good is that he’s running without a knee brace.

“I feel comfortable without it,” Alonso said. “I never really liked wearing the brace.”

Alonso played for Eagles coach Chip Kelly at Oregon and knew that Kelly does everything at a fast pace and has a demanding conditioning program. Still, Alsonso didn’t realize just how hard he’d be going this offseason.

“I knew what to expect, but I definitely thought I’d be more in shape, but I was wrong,” Alonso said. “I remember when I was in Buffalo, I was like I can’t imagine going against the Eagles and that pace. Because if you don’t practice like that and you go, it’s brutal.”

That brutal work in May will pay off for Alonso in September, when he finally gets back on the field after his knee injury cost him a season.

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Jason Kelce: Missing the playoffs “almost a good thing” in hindsight

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The roster turnover of the Eagles (and the opinions about the reasons for it) have been a major topic of the NFL offseason and another member of the team has weighed in with his opinion.

Center Jason Kelce didn’t cite race, egos or anything other than the simple fact that the Eagles weren’t talented enough last year. Kelce said that he thought the team’s locker room was strong last year, but that “we were lacking in talent at a couple positions” and that failing to make the playoffs could almost be spun as a positive because it made the team address those needs.

“This might [tick] off a few people, but when we started off 9-3 … [but] we got lucky quite a few times to win games that we probably shouldn’t have been in,” Kelce said, via the Philadelphia Daily News. “I think that ending the season the way we did — didn’t make the playoffs — in hindsight is almost a good thing because it forced the coaches and the organization to reevaluate what we had. Guys all of the sudden that were on the bubble, [coaches now knew] that we need to make an upgrade there. We need to do this. We need to do that to improve the team as a whole.”

Kelce didn’t specify the areas, but the list of positions that the Eagles addressed this offseason is pretty much the list of positions on their roster as well as Chip Kelly’s move to the top of the personnel hierarchy. For a team that’s won 10 games in each of the last two seasons, it’s a major overhaul and one that’s going to be placed on Kelly’s shoulders however it plays out.

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Falcons linebacker accused of killing very small dog

dead-dog

Falcons linebacker Prince Shembo didn’t just allegedy kick a dog and kill it, he allegedly found one of the smallest dogs possible to kick and kill.

According to Alexis Stevens of the Atlanta Journal Constitution, police documents say Shembo killed his then-girlfriend’s pet Yorkie named Dior.

Yorkshire terriers, which top out around 7 pounds, are no match for 254-pound linebackers, it seems.

The Gwinnett County Police Cpl. Michele Pihera said Shembo was charged with aggravated cruelty to animals, following an April 15 incident.

According to the report, his then-girlfriend Denicia Williams told police she had taken Dior to Shembo’s apartment, and left the dog there. When she returned, the dog was unresponsive, and died a short time later at an animal hospital.

She said the next day, Shembo told her he killed the dog, at which point she broke up with him.

A necropsy was performed at the Gwinnett County Animal Shelter, where the cause of death was determined to be blunt force trauma.

According to the report, Dior had “a fractured rib, fractured liver, abdominal hemorrhage, thoracic hemorrhage, extensive bruising and hemorrhage in the muscles in her front leg and shoulders, head trauma, hemorrhage and edema in lungs, hemorrhage between the esophagus and trachea, and hemorrhage in the left eye with internal injuries.”

The Falcons drafted Shembo in the fourth round last year from Notre Dame.

Photo credit: Gwinnett Police.

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Trey Watts suspended four games by NFL

Watts Getty Images

Rams running back Trey Watts, an undrafted free agent who made the team in 2014 and who appeared in 14 games last season, has been suspended for the first four games of the 2015 season for violating the NFL’s substance-abuse policy.

The NFL announced the suspension on Friday.

Watts, the son of former Oklahoma quarterback and Congressman J.C. Watts, played college football at Tulsa. He gained 30 yards on seven carries as a rookie.

Watts is eligible to continue to participate in all offseason activities, training camp, and the preseason. The suspension begins after the fourth preseason game.

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Falcons linebacker Prince Shembo charged with killing dog

FLOWERY BRANCH, GA - MAY 16:  Rookie linebacker Prince Shembo #53 of the Atlanta Falcons runs drills during rookie minicamp at the Atlanta Falcons Training Facility on May 16, 2014 in Flowery Branch, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images) Getty Images

Falcons fans didn’t need this kind of deja vu.

According to Tony Thomas of WSB in Atlanta, Falcons linebacker Prince Shembo has been accused of killing his girlfriend’s dog.

Gwinnett Police have filed animal cruelty charges, alleging that Shembo kicked and killed the animal.

Shembo was last year’s fourth-round pick from Notre Dame, and this isn’t the first time his name has been linked to an unseemly situation.

When he was at Notre Dame, he was accused of sexually assaulting a female student at nearby St. Mary’s College, who committed suicide. No charges were ever filed in the case, and Falcons General Manager Thomas Dimitroff said last spring he was “very comfortable” with Shembo after their pre-draft research.

Of course, the Falcons own history with animal abuse dates back to former quarterback Michael Vick, who was imprisoned on felony charges for his role in a dog-fighting ring.

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Brandon Spikes on Belichick: We kissed and made up

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Linebacker Brandon Spikes’s first stint with the Patriots didn’t come to a happy end.

Spikes finished the 2013 season on injured reserve after he missed a practice and Spikes later said that the Patriots filed false injury reports while he was a member of the team. Spikes also referred to his time with the Patriots as “4 years a slave,” which only added to the surprise when Spikes wound up re-signing with the Patriots this month after spending last season with the Bills.

It’s less surprising that Spikes had nothing bad to say about coach Bill Belichick or the Patriots on Friday. Spikes referred to Belichick as a “genius” and described himself as “honestly in awe to be standing here talking” to the media as a member of the Patriots while sticking to the company line that the past will remain in the past.

“I don’t want to talk about that. You can clearly see me and The Hoodie kissed and made up. I’m here, that’s in the past. I’m moving on,” Spikes said, via WEEI.com.

Spikes said his only focus now is on making the team and his chances will be greatly improved if Belichick decides the team needs to shore up their run defense in 2015.

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Belichick doesn’t say much about #DeflateGate

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Patriots coach Bill Belichick met with the media on Friday, an unexpected press conference during an OTA session. And Belichick didn’t have much to say about the #DeflateGate situation. Which isn’t much of a surprise, because he usually doesn’t have much to say about pretty much anything.

Asked whether the football-inflation controversy takes away from the joy of winning the Super Bowl, Belichick said this, via a transcript distributed by the team: “That was a long time ago. We’re on to next year. It’s 2015. You can forget about last year; that was last year.”

But last year spills into this year as it relates to the availability of quarterback Tom Brady to play in the first four games of the season. Asked whether Belichick is preparing Jimmy Garoppolo to be the starter as of Week One, Belichick said, “We’re just going day by day right now. Everybody’s working hard trying to get better. That’s what we’re all doing.”

Asked whether it’s been tough to watch the events of the past few months, Belichick said this: “We’re just working hard every day to come out here and get better. Coaches, players, everybody in the organization, each day we’re trying to make it a little bit better than the day before. That’s where we’re at. That’s what we’re going to keep doing.”

Asked whether he agrees with owner Robert Kraft’s decision to accept the punishment imposed on the team, Belichick said this:  “He made a statement on it last week.”

But Belichick wasn’t only characteristically mum about the #DeflateGate situation. He also didn’t have much to say about the use of a drone to film practice.

Q: “What does that do for you?”

A: “Oh, I don’t know.”

I personally don’t know why Belichick would talk to the media and say nothing. He wasn’t required to speak today. So why even do it?

Maybe the goal was to present Belichick on short notice was to give the local media a chance to grill him about the Ted Wells report and the team’s reaction to it with minimum time to put together the best possible questions.

Or maybe it’s just Belichick being Belichick, and he wouldn’t have said anything of value or interest, no matter what the questions were or how much time the reporters had to formulate them.

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Jimmy Garoppolo says he’s not changing his approach

Jimmy Garoppolo AP

As it stands now, the first month of the season will be quite different for Jimmy Garoppolo.

But that doesn’t mean this month has to be.

The Patriots backup quarterback, who would be the starter for the first four games if Tom Brady’s suspension is upheld following his appeal, said today he wasn’t changing much.

Asked if he followed the #DeflateGate saga more closely because of the immediate impact it would have on him, Garoppolo gave as perfect a Patriots answer as he could.

No different than I usually would,” he said, via Mike Reiss of ESPNBoston.com. I just went about my business, tried to get prepared for this season, got in the playbook a lot, got out there with some of the guys and threw it around, so it was a good offseason.”

He took a few more reps than normal, splitting them close to 50-50 with Brady. And while said he spent some time training in California with some of his receivers, he otherwise seemed unmoved by the attention coming his way.

“It’s nice to be back out here, I missed the guys and missed the team,” he said. “I just have the mindset I’m trying to get better. That’s all you can control at the end of the day.”

I’m not sure what the OTA rules are for brainwashing, but that’s about as Belichickian as it gets, without saying he’s “on to Cincinnati.”

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Teddy Bridgewater getting more comfortable as a leader

<> at Barnstable Brown House on May 1, 2015 in Louisville, Kentucky. Getty Images

Once the pre-draft hype subsided and he got on the field, Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater made plenty of noise last year.

But this year, he may make even more, of a different kind.

The second-year quarterback seems ready to assert himself as the Vikings’ leader even more, as teammates are expecting him to take a larger and louder role.

Guys kind of push you into that leadership role,” Bridgewater said, via Chris Tomasson of the St. Paul Pioneer Press. “I’m a young guy still on the team, but guys are pushing me forward to say something in the huddle, or break the team down, or break the offense down.

“That just gives you that confidence in yourself, confidence in your leadership — and I’ve been extremely comfortable doing that.”

Bridgewater is a soft-spoken kid, who showed impressive poise once he took over the starting job four games into last season. But with an offseason under his belt to grow, he’s apparently more comfortable in a forward role.

“[He’s] becoming more of a leader, and you can tell that this is more of his team as we continue to go,” Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said. “He’s a lot more vocal with the guys, as far as telling them where to go and what routes they should be running. He obviously has a better command of the offense, as well.”

While the Vikings are in the midst of a mess with running back Adrian Peterson, it helps having someone else on the offense who has enough credibility to lead the group. And having that player be your quarterback is better yet.

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