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NFL Morning After: Adrian Peterson’s best season yet

Minnesota Vikings running back Peterson leaps over Detroit Lions safety Coleman during the second half of their NFL football game in Minneapolis Reuters

If I had told you on New Year’s Day that 2012 would be the best year of Adrian Peterson’s career, you would have said I was nuts. Well, I may be nuts, but Adrian Peterson is also the best running back in the NFL, and playing better this season than he ever has before.

Peterson, the Vikings running back who suffered a torn ACL in Week 16 of last season and spent his New Year’s recovering from reconstructive knee surgery, looked at the start of this year like he might not even be able to play football at all in 2012. Instead, Peterson put himself through a grueling offseason rehabilitation program in which the only doubt the Vikings’ medical staff expressed was whether they could keep the hard-working Peterson from overdoing it. He was ready to go for the first game of the season.

And what a season it’s been. In Sunday’s win over the Lions, Peterson carried 27 times for 171 yards and a touchdown, becoming the first player in the NFL this season to top 1,000 yards. Peterson leads the league in rushing with 1,128 yards, and he’s on pace to gain 1,805 yards this season. That would be a career high, as would his current average of 5.8 yards per carry, and he’s also on pace for a career-high 46 catches this year. Statistically, Peterson is having his best season.

But it goes beyond the statistics. It’s that Peterson, who last made the playoffs as a young player on a 2009 team led by Brett Favre, is now the veteran leader of this 6-4 Vikings team, which has legitimate playoff aspirations. It’s that Peterson is doing everything against defenses that are built to stop him: On Sunday, with the Vikings’ top receiver, Percy Harvin, sidelined, the Lions were stacking eight and even nine players in the box to stop Peterson. But they simply couldn’t: He broke tackles, outran people, and even hurdled a defender on a spectacular demonstration that his knee is 100 percent healthy. (Although the run on which he hurdled a defender didn’t count toward his stats, as it was called back by a holding penalty.)

Now the question is whether the Vikings, who are one of the NFL’s pleasant surprises through 10 games, can do it for six more games. Frankly, the smart money says they can’t. The Vikings still have to play the Bears twice, the Packers twice and the Texans once. They’ll probably only be favored in one of their final six games, Week 15 at St. Louis. So at the end of the season, it wouldn’t be at all surprising if Peterson’s heroics weren’t enough to lead the Vikings to a winning record.

But if the Vikings go through that gauntlet and end up in the playoffs, and if Peterson keeps up his current pace, it would represent by far the best season of his career. And it would make Peterson more than just the best running back in football. It would make him a strong candidate for the NFL’s MVP.

Peterson was the player who impressed me the most on Sunday. Here are my other Sunday thoughts:

Chip Kelly and Michael Vick would make a dynamic duo in 2013. Kelly, the Oregon head coach whose team is unbeaten this season, is widely regarded as a strong NFL head-coaching candidate. And Vick, the Eagles quarterback who suffered a concussion in Sunday’s loss against the Cowboys, is widely regarded as needing a fresh start after things have fallen apart for him in Philadelphia. So what could be better than Kelly (whose spread offense is predicated on having a quarterback who can beat defenses with his legs or his arm) coaching Vick (who is the NFL’s all-time leader for rushing yards by a quarterback)? Let me be the first to admit that it’s entirely possible that Kelly’s system wouldn’t work in the NFL, and it’s also entirely possible that Vick is simply done as a quality NFL starter. Yes, there’s a chance it would be an utter disaster. But there’s also a chance that Kelly and Vick would be an incredible pairing. I’d love to see it happen next season.

Titans running back Chris Johnson is the most inconsistent player in NFL history. After his 23-carry, 126-yard game against the Dolphins on Sunday, Johnson now has four games this season in which he gained more than 120 yards and at least 5.5 yards a carry. He also has four games this season in which he gained less than 25 yards and averaged less than 2.2 yards a carry. It seems impossible that a player who’s capable of the kind of greatness we routinely see from Johnson is also capable of turning in the kinds of dreadful performances that have become routine for Johnson. But that’s what Chris Johnson is: On any given Sunday he might be the best running back in the league, or the worst.

Did they bring back the replacement refs? (Part One) Broncos punt returner Trindon Holliday raced 76 yards for a touchdown in Carolina, but there was just one problem: He decided to start celebrating his touchdown after 75 yards. Holliday flipped the ball into the air before crossing the goal line, which means it should have been ruled a fumble into the end zone and the Panthers’ ball. But the officials on the field for some reason ruled it a touchdown, and even more egregiously, the replay assistant failed to signal to the referee to review it — even though the rules say that every touchdown needs to be confirmed on replay before the extra point is kicked. It was a stupid mistake by Holliday, a major oversight by the officials on the field, and it ought to be a firing offense for the replay assistant who failed to fix it.

Did they bring back the replacement refs? (Part Two) In one of the worst pieces of officiating you’ll ever see, the Vikings were briefly awarded an interception return for a touchdown on an incomplete pass — an incomplete pass that was so incredibly obvious that it’s stunning that none of the seven officials on the field saw that the ball bounced off the ground. Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford’s incomplete pass bounced into the hands of Vikings cornerback Antoine Winfield, who grabbed it and just stood there for a couple of seconds before he realized that none of the officials had seen it hit the ground, at which point he sprinted into the end zone for what was ruled on the field as a touchdown. The call was correctly overturned on replay, but it’s ridiculous that the officials needed replay to get that one right.

Did they bring back the replacement refs? (Part Three) Sunday’s most replacement-like officiating happened in the bizarre tie game in San Francisco, where the men in stripes simply looked like they had no clue. Long delays, conferences in which all of the officials appeared to be confused, and bad calls abounded. The worst of all was a strange sequence in which the officials allowed the clock to keep running while they brought out the chains for a measurement, resulting in more than a minute being wrongly run off the clock. Mistakes like that are inexcusable.

Indianapolis is going to the playoffs. The Colts’ win on Thursday, combined with losses by the Chargers and Dolphins on Sunday, give Indianapolis a two-game lead over the rest of the pack in the AFC wild card race. Considering that the Colts still have games against the 3-6 Bills, the 4-5 Lions, the 4-6 Titans and the 1-7 Chiefs, it’s almost impossible to envision Indianapolis falling short of a winning record, and this looks like a season in which anything over .500 is going to be good enough to secure an AFC playoff spot. Amazing as it is to say, the team that finished last year with the worst record in the league will finish this year in the playoffs. That’s almost as amazing as a running back who entered the year with a devastating knee injury finishing the year as an MVP candidate.

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Mathis tutoring potential replacement as Colts switch DE to OLB

Robert Mathis AP

The Colts used four draft picks on offensive linemen last week, addressing one major area of need.

That means the team still has a pretty glaring need for pass-rush help, and Zak Keefer of the Indy Star wrote Wednesday that one way the Colts are addressing that is switching second-year player Earl Okine from defensive end to outside linebacker.

In making the switch, Okine is following and learning from veteran pass rusher Robert Mathis, who learned the outside linebacker spot in 2012 after nine years as a 4-3 defensive end. Mathis, 35, shared the team lead with seven sacks last season.

He’s probably a pretty good teacher for Okine, 26, who played just 59 snaps last season. Mathis has 118 career sacks in 178 games.

Okine called Mathis the greatest pass rusher of all-time said learning from Mathis “is all I do in meetings. I ask him everything.”

Okine has played in the CFL, the FXL and the Arena League over the last three years. He was promoted from the practice squad to the active roster by the Colts last October, and now he’s looking at a four-month trial period that could determine whether he’ll stick around.

“I’m pretty confident in myself,” Okine said. “I’m ready.”

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Adrian Peterson partners with Salvation Army to raise funds for Palestine, TX floods

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The most famous native of Palestine, Texas is doing what he can to help his hometown in an hour of need.

Flash flooding in Palestine over the weekend killed six people, including four children. Vikings running back Adrian Peterson, who went to school with one of the adult victims, has partnered with the Salvation Army to raise awareness to the problem and funds for those in need.

Peterson has donated $100,000. He’ll also match all fan donations on a dollar-for-dollar basis, up to another $100,000.

Fans can donate by texting “AP28” to 51555 or by visiting the Salvation Army page created for contributions.

Every dollar you give gets doubled, up to $100,000. Any amount helps.

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Former NFL wide receiver Brett Perriman hospitalized

2 Nov 1997:  Brett Perriman of the Miami Dolphins in action against the Buffalo Bills during a game at Rich Stadium in  Orchard Park, New York.  The Bills defeated the Dolphins 9-6. Mandatory Credit: Rick Stewart  /Allsport

Former NFL wide receiver Brett Perriman collapsed and was taken to a Miami-area hospital Tuesday night, per multiple reports.

CBS Radio in Miami reported that Perriman, 50, collapsed due to “extremely high blood pressure” and quoted an unnamed family member as saying Perriman had shown “small signs of progress” from Tuesday into Wednesday.

Perriman played 10 NFL seasons and played for the Saints, Lions, Chiefs and Dolphins. He was a second-round pick of the Saints in 1988.

His son, Breshad Perriman, was a first-round pick of the Ravens in 2015. Also a wide receiver, Breshad Perriman was injured early in training camp last summer and did not play as a rookie.

CollegeSpun.com collected some tweets showing support for Perriman, including one from his son.

Brett Perriman had a career-best 1,488 receiving yards in 1995 with the Lions. In that season, Perriman and Herman Moore became the first teammates in NFL history to each record more than 100 receptions and more than 1,400 receiving yards in the same season.

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Eagles sign five picks

MORGANTOWN, WV - NOVEMBER 07:  Wendell Smallwood #4 of the West Virginia Mountaineers rushes for a 16 yard touchdown in the first half during the game against the Texas Tech Red Raiders on November 7, 2015 at Mountaineer Field in Morgantown, West Virginia.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images) Getty Images

The bad old days when it took weeks or months to sign a draft class are long gone.

The latest reminder of that came on Wednesday when the Eagles announced that they’ve signed five players they selected last week.

Running back Wendell Smallwood is the highest pick to agree to a deal. He was drafted in the fifth round after leading the Big 12 in rushing last season. He’ll try to earn time on offense along with Ryan Mathews and Darren Sproles.

The Eagles also signed two safeties, sixth-rounder Blake Countess and seventh-rounder Jalen Mills. Seventh-round defensive end Alex McCalister and seventh-round linebacker Joe Walker round out the group.

That leaves three players unsigned, including second overall pick Carson Wentz. Once upon a time that contract negotiation could drag into camp, but Wentz will be joining today’s quintet soon enough.

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Johnny Manziel turns himself in, posts a $1,500 bond

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Former Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel has taken a break from whatever he’s been doing lately, to turn himself into authorities.

According to the NBCDFW.com, Manziel has been booked and posted bond for his domestic violence case in Texas. He faces his first court hearing tomorrow.

His attorney said Manziel had posted his $1,500 bond in Highland Park, and will appear in a Dallas County courtroom tomorrow.

Manziel was indicted by a grand jury for misdemeanor assault family violence for allegedly hitting then-girlfriend Colleen Crowley.

If he’s convicted, he faces a year in jail and a $4,000 fine. Obviously, it’s been more costly to him professionally, as the former first-rounder is radioactive to NFL teams.

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Lions add Andre Caldwell

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As the Lions try to prepare for life after Calvin Johnson, they’ve added another receiver to the depth chart.

Per a league source, Detroit has signed former Broncos receiver Andre Caldwell to a one-year deal.

Caldwell, who actually is older than Calvin Johnson, arrives after four seasons in Denver and four before that in Cincinnati.

His best season came in 2009, when Caldwell caught 51 passes for 432 yards and three touchdowns. Last year, Caldwell caught only 10 passes for 72 yards and a pair of scores in the regular season. He also added three catches for 36 yards in the postseason, including a 22-yard reception in Super Bowl 50.

The catch and run came on a third down during the opening drive of the game, which resulted in a field goal.

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Drew Nowak among five waived by Seahawks

GREEN BAY, WI - SEPTEMBER 20:  Center Drew Nowak #62 of the Seattle Seahawks during the NFL game against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field on September 20, 2015 in Green Bay, Wisconsin.  The Packers defeated the Seahawks 27-17.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) Getty Images

Drew Nowak opened last season as the Seahawks’ starting center, but he lost his spot to Patrick Lewis during the regular season.

Now he’s lost his spot on the roster altogether. The Seahawks made Nowak one of five cuts from the roster on Wednesday as they made changes to accommodate their incoming group of rookies.

Nowak made seven starts in the first eight weeks of the 2015 season, but was benched as the Seahawks tried to find a more productive offensive line group after a rocky start to the season. The offensive line remained a concern and continues to be a weak spot for the team, but the offense and quarterback Russell Wilson in particular took off over the final eight games.

Nowak ended the year on the practice squad after being waived from the active roster in December and signed a futures deal with the Seahawks early in the offseason. Running back Cameron Marshall, tight end Ronnie Shields, defensive end Josh Shirley and wide receiver Tyler Slavin were also let go.

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Dave Caldwell says Myles Jack currently is “full go”

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The NFL wants its new players to be as healthy as possible. Before the NFL pounds them to smithereens.

One of this year’s most debated cases of damaged goods was former UCLA linebacker Myles Jack. Appearing on Wednesday’s PFT Live on NBC Sports Radio, G.M. Dave Caldwell discussed the thought process that resulted in a trade up in round two to get Jack — and the prognosis for his knee.

“As we started to get to the late 20s [in round one] I was relatively surprised because we still had [Jack] in our top five players,” Caldwell said. “So we were looking at him as a possible trade back in to the first round. I didn’t really want to give up the fourth-round pick [to trade into round one] because I knew there would still be good defensive players on the board.

“After we slept on it, I reached out to a few teams picking in front of us and I just said, ‘Hey, if our guy’s there, it’ll be a fifth-round pick if guys are willing to do it,’ and Baltimore graciously was willing to do it. They did a nice job, too, because they then parlayed it into another trade-back scenario.”

So what about the concern that Jack may need microfracture surgery at some point?

“I think there’s a lot of information out there, and all the information out there is not accurate,” Caldwell said. “We feel really good about the research that our doctors have done, our medical staff, our trainers. We’ve consulted some of the best cartilage specialists in the country, and we have a plan for him.”

The plan for now is to let Jack, who tore a meniscus last season, get ready for his rookie season.

“Right now, he’s full go,” Caldwell said. “If he was in spring ball, he’d be able to participating at UCLA’s practice, according to his operating surgeon. We look forward to getting him out here and practicing and if something does arise we do have a good plan for it. I don’t think the plan involves microfracture [surgery]. I feel confident with the kind of people we’ve consulted and our medical staff. I don’t think he’s a candidate for that from what I’ve been told, but there may be need to be a procedure somewhere down the line. As of right now he looks good, he feels good, and he’s ready to go.”

Caldwell also pointed out that the Jaguars don’t need Jack to become a major contributor right out of the gates, thanks to the presence of Paul Posluszny and Telvin Smith.

“We would like [Jack] too but if something were to arise it’s not like our cupboard’s bare there,” Caldwell said. “So we look forward to having him come in and compete, and we think that with his skill set . . . he’ll come in and help us.”

So the Jaguars were willing to roll the dice on Myles Jack. If it works out, Jack could end up making a huge difference for the Jaguars as the team tries to get back to the postseason for the first time since 2007.

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Cowboys’ team doctor is confident in Jaylon Smith’s knee

SOUTH BEND, IN - SEPTEMBER 06:  Jaylon Smith #9 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish celebrates a tackle for a loss against the Michigan Wolverines at Notre Dame Stadium on September 6, 2014 in South Bend, Indiana. Notre Dame defeated Michigan 31-0.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Cowboys took a big chance when they took linebacker Jaylon Smith in the second round of the NFL draft, as Smith is recovering from a very serious knee injury.

Except that the surgeon who performed Smith’s surgery also happens to be the Cowboys’ head team physician, and he’s very confident that Smith will heal completely.

The Cowboys’ website reported that Cooper was a major part of the decision to draft Smith, and Cowboys Executive V.P. Stephen Jones said today on Mike & Mike that Cooper gave Smith a positive prognosis, leading the football people to get on board with the idea that he’s worth a second-round pick — even if he won’t play until 2017.

Dr. Cooper sat us down and walked us through other injuries where the nerve didn’t fire right away and then ultimately it did and ultimately they made a full recovery to be the player they had been before the injury,” Jones said, via the Dallas Morning News.

Cooper is staking his reputation on his belief that Smith will return to full speed and get on the field in a year. And the Cowboys believe in their team doctor.

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Cardinals cut Aussie import Joel Wilkinson, three others

BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA - JULY 06:  Joel Wilkinson of the Suns runs with the ball during the round 15 AFL match between the Brisbane Lions and the Gold Coast Suns at The Gabba on July 6, 2013 in Brisbane, Australia.  (Photo by Matt Roberts/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Cardinals drafted six players last week and they agreed to terms with 16 undrafted free agents, leaving them with more players than they had room for on their 90-man roster.

They began remedying that problem on Wednesday by parting ways with four players. They’ll need to make one more move in order to have room for all the rookies as the undrafted signings don’t count against the roster until they officially sign their contracts with the team at the start of rookie minicamp on Thursday.

Three of the players the Cardinals dispatched are listed as cornerbacks, including Joel Wilkinson. Wilkinson is an Australian Rules Football player who was trying to make the same jump that running back Jarryd Hayne made with the 49ers. Kevin White and Tyrequek Zimmerman were also cut after their chances of making the team took a hit when the Cardinals drafted a pair of corners.

Arizona also drafted center Evan Boehm in the fourth round, which likely helped them decide to waive center Valeran Ume-Ezeoke.

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Broncos release journeyman tight end Richard Gordon

ST. LOUIS, MO - SEPTEMBER 3: Richard Gordon #89 of the Kansas City Chiefs makes a catch against Bryce Hager #54 of the St. Louis Rams in the fourth quarter during a pre-season game at the Edward Jones Dome on September 3, 2014 in St. Louis, Missouri.  (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Broncos didn’t draft any tight ends last weekend, but they deemed one expendable Wednesday anyway.

The team announced they had waived tight end Richard Gordon, who made a cameo appearance for them last season when they were short at the position.

Gordon’s a blocker by trade, who will turn 29. He’s spent time with six different organizations, with stints with the Raiders, Steelers, Chiefs, Titans, Chiefs again, Broncos, Ravens and Broncos again. He has four career receptions, none since 2013.

He played five snaps in the one game he appeared in last year, before being cut when they needed safety help. He was re-signed this offseason, but they parted ways today.

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NFL V.P. of security Jeffrey Miller resigns

15940746-mmmain-1 Getty Images

The man who has been charge of NFL Security for nearly a decade is moving on.

Per multiple sources, NFL V.P. of security Jeffrey Miller has resigned. The NFL has confirmed that Miller is leaving.

“He informed the league last month that he was going to take a job on the West Coast with a private security firm,” NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said. “He worked the draft, will work at the league meeting and subsequent training session. He will leave the NFL next month.”

As one source put it, the move has nothing to do with performance, and it wasn’t initiated by the league. “This guy is awesome, really competent,” the source said.

Miller has taken a position that will allow him to move to the West Coast. He joined the league in 2008, after serving as Pennsylvania’s state police commissioner.

Plenty of scrutiny came Miller’s way in 2014, after the Ray Rice elevator video surfaced the day after the regular-season opener. The Associated Press reported in September 2014 that the video had been sent to Miller before it surfaced at TMZ.com. An independent investigation found no evidence that Miller or anyone else had received the video.

The NFL has not decided on a replacement, according to one source with knowledge of the situation.

For clarity, the Jeffrey Miller who is leaving the NFL runs security. The Jeff Miller who serves as executive V.P. of player health and safety remains on the job.

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Falcons, first-rounder Keanu Neal agree to terms

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Four 2016 draft picks are now under contract. Only one was a first-round pick.

Falcons safety Keanu Neal, the 17th overall selection in the draft, has agreed to terms on the standard four-year deal, with a fifth year option to be exercised by May 3, 2019. The contract will be signed Thursday.

Per a league source, Neal told the Falcons he wanted to focus on getting ready to play football and not on negotiating a contract. So the two sides got the deal done quickly, and Neal is now under contract for all offseason activities.

The move proves that all draft picks can — and should — be signed before they report for offseason workouts. Otherwise, they’re working out for free.

Neal played college football at Florida, entered the draft after three seasons of college football. At age 20, he’s one of the youngest players in the entire draft class.

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Vikings get Mackensie Alexander under contract

COLUMBIA, SC - NOVEMBER 28:  Mackensie Alexander #2 of the Clemson Tigers reacts after breaking up a pass against the South Carolina Gamecocks during their game at Williams-Brice Stadium on November 28, 2015 in Columbia, South Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Vikings were the first team to sign its entire draft class in 2015 and they are pushing to finish first in 2016 as well.

The latest pick to agree to terms is cornerback Mackensie Alexander, who, per multiple reports, will formally sign his contract with the Vikings on Thursday. Seventh-round defensive end Stephen Weatherly is also expected to sign Thursday and the team has already agreed to deals with their other seventh-rounder and both of their sixth-round picks.

With those five players done, the Vikings only have to wrap up deals with first-round wide receiver Laquon Treadwell, fourth-round offensive lineman Willie Beavers and fifth-round linebacker Kentrell Brothers to have the entire class under contract.

Alexander got some buzz as a potential first-round pick after wrapping up his career at Clemson, where he played with Vikings seventh-round pick Jayron Kearse. He lasted until the 54th overall pick, however, and the Vikings are expected to start him out as a backup to slot corner Captain Munnerlyn. Munnerlyn can be a free agent after the season, which should leave Alexander wit the job if he earns the staff’s trust as a rookie.

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Teammate says Blaine Gabbert is taking control of 49ers’ offense

SANTA CLARA, CA - NOVEMBER 08:  Blaine Gabbert #2 of the San Francisco 49ers reacts after being tackled close to the goal line during the first half of their game against the Atlanta Falcons at Levi's Stadium on November 8, 2015 in Santa Clara, California. The ball was ruled down on the 1-yard line and the 49ers scored on the next play.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images) Getty Images

Colin Kaepernick is throwing again in the 49ers’ offseason program, but that doesn’t mean he’s the guy running the show in the offense.

Instead, it’s Blaine Gabbert, who usurped Kaepernick as the 49ers’ starting quarterback last season, who has taken charge.

He’s definitely taking control,” tight end Garrett Celek said of Gabbert, via CSNBayArea.com. “Whoever’s at quarterback needs to take control and be our leader out there. And he’s definitely doing that. He’s making good decisions on the field. I think he’s definitely developing more and more as the days go on. But, right now, we’re all in the same boat learning this offense.”

Despite widespread talk of a Kaepernick trade, from all appearances he will remain in San Francisco and compete with Gabbert for the starting job. Last year Gabbert finished the season ahead of Kaepernick on the depth chart, and while Kaepernick eases back into work following multiple offseason surgeries, he may have a hard time moving back ahead of Gabbert and into the starting job.

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