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Another concussion for Ryan Clark

Ryan Clark AP

When it comes to Steelers injuries this week, you’re going to have a hard time capturing much attention if your name isn’t Ben Roethlisberger.

The quarterback isn’t the only member of the team to come out of Monday night’s 16-13 win over the Chiefs with an injury, however. Safety Ryan Clark suffered a concussion during the game after getting hit in the head during the final series of regulation.

It’s the second concussion in the last three weeks for Clark. He was also diagnosed with one following the Steelers’ Week Eight win over the Redskins. Clark was cleared in time to play against the Giants the next week and he’s picked up 18 tackles over the last two weeks.

Alan Robinson of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports that coach Mike Tomlin said that Clark “appears to be fine” during his Tuesday press conference. He’ll still need to go through the tests mandated by the league’s concussion protocol, though, and we won’t know until later this week if Clark will be on the field when the Steelers face the Ravens on Sunday night.

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Riley Cooper: Suggestion that Chip Kelly’s racist is “upsetting”

Eagles Cooper Football AP

Eagles coach Chip Kelly didn’t have much to say about being accused of being racist by LeSean McCoy, other than that McCoy wouldn’t return his calls.

But a number of Eagles players said they thought their former teammate was wrong to go there, and that his assertions were baseless.

It’s definitely difficult and upsetting for sure,” Eagles wide receiver Riley Cooper said, via Bob Grotz of the Delaware County Times. “I know [Kelly is] not like that.”

Of course, Cooper was the beneficiary of a pretty big second chance for his own unfortunate choice of words two years ago, but the Eagles have apparently embraced Cooper in the aftermath of it, or at least allowed him to move on.

But several of McCoy’s other former teammates said they didn’t understand why the running back chose to go that route.

“I think everything around here is equal,” defensive tackle Fletcher Cox said. “Everything around here is equal. Chip treats everybody the same. I don’t think there’s a difference. . . .

“I really don’t know what he said. I haven’t read it. I know LeSean. I mean, he’s a good friend. I still text him now and again and see from time to time. I just don’t want to get caught up in that. And I continue to see LeSean as a friend.”

But he and his friend do not see eye-to-eye on McCoy’s suggestion that Kelly had ulterior motives for the moves Kelly made.

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Report: Darren Sharper enters guilty plea on drug rape conspiracy charges

Darren Sharper AP

According to a published report, former NFL player and broadcaster Darren Sharper pled guilty in federal court in New Orleans on Friday to charges he schemed to drug and sexually assault three women.

According to the New Orleans Advocate, Sharper will be sentenced on August 20. Also, he is to plead guilty to three rape charges in Louisiana state court in June, per the report.

In March, Sharper agreed to plea deals to resolve charges against him in Arizona, California, Louisiana and Nevada.

All told, Sharper might serve as little as nine more years in prison in connection with a variety of rape and drug charges, but his plea agreement comes with a variety of strict conditions. Also, he is required to cooperate with authorities in other investigations, the Advocate notes.

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Byron Maxwell expects a third straight Super Bowl trip

Byron Maxwell AP

Cornerback Byron Maxwell has played in the last two Super Bowls and he doesn’t think his move from Seattle to Philadelphia is going to get in the way of a third straight trip to the NFL’s biggest game of the year.

Maxwell signed with an Eagles team that fell short of the playoffs in 2014, but told Jenny Vrentas of TheMMQB.com that he’s found the same “winning culture” that he experienced in with the Seahawks. He also said that he thinks his time in such a culture has him feeling like the Eagles are going to replace his old team as the tops in the NFC.

“Experience. Because I’ve been there before,” Maxwell said. “Knowing what it’s like if we go that far. Because we’re gonna go that far this year — meaning the playoffs and the Super Bowl. We’re gonna go that far. Hopefully that experience I already had, I can help them.”

Maxwell added that you “can take that as a guarantee” because he has “no choice but to think that way” heading into the season. Eagles fans, meanwhile, will have to hope that his big talk works out a bit better than the last time a new member of the team crowned himself and his teammates before the any games were played.

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PFT Live: DeVante Parker, Tevin Coleman

Miami Dolphins OTA's Getty Images

Another week of PFT Live comes to an end on Friday and we’ll close things out with a pair of guests who are just getting started in the NFL.

Dolphins first-round pick DeVante Parker will join Mike Florio to talk about his first days as part of Miami’s reshaped wide receiver group. Parker, Kenny Stills and Greg Jennings have joined Jarvis Landry after an offseason of change and we’ll get Parker’s take on his new teammates, including quarterback Ryan Tannehill.

Falcons running back Tevin Coleman will also stop by the show a few weeks after Atlanta made him a third-round pick. We’ll hear about his his initial impressions of coach Dan Quinn, fellow running back Devonta Freeman and more during his visit.

We also want to hear what PFT Planet thinks. Email questions at any time via the O’Reilly Auto Parts Ask the Pros inbox or get in touch on Twitter at @ProFootballTalk to let us know what’s on your mind.

It all gets started at noon ET and you can listen to all three hours live via the various NBC Sports Radio affiliates, through the links at PFT, or with the NBC Sports Radio app. You can also watch a simulcast of the first hour of the show by clicking right here.

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Vikings’ special teams coach sees an extra-point advantage outdoors

Minnesota Vikings Media Access Getty Images

The Vikings are a cold-weather team this season at TCF Bank Stadium, playing their home games outside before moving back into a dome next year. And Vikings special teams coach Mike Priefer likes it that way.

Priefer says the new extra point rule will make kicks tougher on cold days, and he thinks the Vikings will be better suited to those cold days than their opponents.

“I’m excited about it. I think it will be a home-field advantage for us because it’s nasty,” Priefer told the Pioneer Press. “TCF is a nasty place to kick in November and December, and our guys will be ready for it. We’ll be used to it, absolutely.”

Priefer did say, however, that he has his work cut out for him with the new rule that allows defenses to return blocked extra points for two points.

“Last year we gave up two blocks, and we can’t do that this year,” said Priefer. “That’s going to be our emphasis all spring and all summer long.”

The difference between a 20-yard kick for an extra point and a 33-yard kick for an extra point isn’t big to an NFL kicker. But in a one-point game, this rule change could be very big. It’s certainly big enough that it has every NFL special teams coach thinking.

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Story of James Wright testament to LSU’s sheer talent, Bengals’ scouting

James Wright AP

Odell Beckham Jr. Jeremy Hill. Zach Mettenberger. Jarvis Landry. La’El Collins. Alfred Blue.

All were contributors on offense for LSU two years ago, and all have spots in the NFL. Beckham, the Giants’ leading receiver as a rookie, is already a superstar, while Landry hauled in 84 passes for Miami. Hill, meanwhile, emerged as the Bengals’ featured back down the stretch.

However, another member of that 2013 LSU offense is also quietly trying to make a name for himself: second-year Bengals wide receiver James Wright, a seventh-round pick of Cincinnati in 2014 despite not catching a single pass in his final collegiate season.

In a story published Friday, Geoff Hobson of Bengals.com noted that Wright’s blocking, special teams play, pro day workout and pre-draft visit were key in Cincinnati’s decision to take a flier on the wideout, who hauled in just 25 passes for 304 yards and no TDs in four seasons in Baton Rouge.

And the move appears to have worked out well.

The 23-year-old Wright played in 11 games for Cincinnati as a rookie, catching five passes before suffering a season-ending knee injury. However, he was back for OTAs this week, and he is seeing time at all of the WR spots, per the club’s website.

“I have a lot of trust in James with his speed, athleticism and toughness,” Bengals offensive coordinator Hue Jackson told Bengals.com. “He knows how to play. He knows what to do. He does it with confidence.”

And he appears to be proof that if you do your job well, no matter where it is on the field, the NFL might just take notice.

The Bengals particularly might be paying attention, given their thorough scouting of an LSU team with so much starpower right at the surface.

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Packers will keep Clay Matthews moving on defense

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Clay Matthews had to learn to play inside linebacker on the fly last year when the Packers stuck him there in the middle of the season for a game against the Bears, but Matthews handled the move well enough that it remains part of the team’s plans for the 2015 season as well.

Matthews and Sam Barrington were playing inside with the first team during Thursday’s organized team activity and Matthews says that the practice time has him “actually learning why I’m doing certain things” at the position. The Packers are quick to say that they aren’t going to play Matthews exclusively at that spot, however, and defensive coordinator Dom Capers said the plan is to keep offenses on their toes.

“It makes it harder for people to prepare for you,” Capers said, via the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “We’ve tried to do that since we’ve been here….I felt at the time we drafted him, watching him work, that he’d be a Pro Bowler outside, inside. It didn’t make a difference where you put him: he was going to have a significant impact.”

Matthews had 8.5 of his 11 sacks in the second half of last season, so the trips inside didn’t neutralize his ability to get after the quarterback. Matthews said he viewed the shift as playing the same position at “two different spots” and it looks like something that the team’s opponents will have to be ready for again in 2015.

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Fully-guaranteed contracts could cause problems for teams, players

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It’s easy to say that NFL contracts should be fully guaranteed. In theory, every player should want that.

In practice, fully-guaranteed contracts could create plenty of problems, both for teams and for players. Especially for younger players trying either to get a job or to get paid a fair salary.

Assume, for example, that Adrian Peterson’s contract were fully guaranteed through 2017. With $12.75 million committed this year, $14.75 million committed next year, and $16.75 million committed in 2017, the Vikings would have far less flexibility to pay other players under the hard-cap system the NFL uses.

And if Peterson’s skills were to suddenly decline in 2015, the Vikings would be stuck with a guy who is no longer earning his keep, but in turn unable to properly compensate the player(s) who would be carrying the load on his behalf.

The truth is that if the NFL had fully-guaranteed contracts, the Vikings never would have loaded so much money into the last two years of the Peterson deal. The contract either would have been shorter in duration, or it would have paid out far fewer dollars beyond the running back witching hour of his 30th birthday.

Having NFL contracts that aren’t fully guaranteed ensures that the game will remain closer to a meritocracy, with the best players getting the most money and earning the playing time. If/when those players are no longer earning the playing time, they’ll no longer be getting the dollars. Which is how the system currently works.

Already, too many players who don’t deserve to be in the starting lineup up get those spots at least in part to justify their contracts and/or their draft status. Fully-guaranteed contracts would give teams another reason to keep trotting out a player who may no longer be better than his backup, because if the highly-paid player with the guaranteed contract isn’t playing, the fans and the media will have another reason to lobby the owner to fire the guy who signed the player to that contract in the first place.

In a cap-driven system, fully-guaranteed contracts can become as problematic as the pre-2011 system for paying guys taken at the top of the draft. Previously, unproven players who never became contributors sucked millions out of the system that could have gone to players who deserve it. Fully-guaranteed contracts would potentially do the same thing on the back end of a career, allowing a player who isn’t what he used to be to coast to the finish line, collecting checks that otherwise should go to the guys who are getting the job done.

With an ever-growing cap and a spending minimum that keeps pushing higher and higher, the players will get paid. It’s better for the players who are contributing to get paid. Fully-guaranteed contracts could keep that from happening.

With fully-guaranteed contracts, some teams would likely insist on shorter-term deals. And that would give players more flexibility to change teams or to get more money. But it also would make it harder for players to receive a major, multi-year, life-changing contract, because teams won’t want to put huge dollars into a contract if the team has no way out if the player isn’t earning money that could otherwise go to someone who is.

Non-guaranteed contracts give players who have gotten past the guaranteed portion of the contract a clear reason to keep working hard and to keep fending off the guy who is trying to take his job. If every year of the salary is guaranteed, the player at some point could lose his edge — and the team would be paying a lot of money to a guy who simply isn’t earning it.

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Steve Smith: I won’t be playing at 40

Divisional Playoffs - Baltimore Ravens v New England Patriots Getty Images

Ravens wide receiver Steve Smith never gave serious thought to retirement this offseason after catching 79 passes for 1,065 yards in 2014, but he has given some thought to when he might bring his playing days to an end.

Smith turned 36 this month and he said Thursday that he can see the finish line coming in the next few years. As Smith explained, he doesn’t plan to follow Jerry Rice’s lead and play until he’s 42 years old.

“Jerry Rice is obviously the greatest wide receiver to ever play, and I really don’t have the family structure to chase 40, to be honest,” Smith said, via the Baltimore Sun. “I have got a lot of things on my to-do list that don’t have anything to do with football. I’m going to take it day by day, but I will not be playing until I’m 40.”

Smith remained productive last season, but he did average six more yards per catch in the first half of the season than he did in the second half, which may explain why coach John Harbaugh has talked about limiting the veteran’s snaps in 2015. That may not be the easiest thing to pull off given the makeup of the receiving corps, which added Breshad Perriman while losing Torrey Smith and doesn’t have anyone with anything close to Smith’s track record as a reliable target.

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Andy Reid claims nothing’s wrong with Eric Fisher

ericfisher AP

Eric Fisher has gone from first overall pick to second string, but Chiefs coach Andy Reid says there’s nothing to worry about.

Fisher, the top pick in the 2013 NFL draft, has not played well in his first two NFL seasons. So when Fisher worked with the second-string offense at Organized Team Activities on Thursday, that looked like a strong signal that the Chiefs are disappointed with his development.

Reid, however, says he just wanted to see how 2012 third-round pick Donald Stephenson looked running with the first-string offense.

“That’s the only way you can get Donald some reps there,” Reid said, via the Kansas City Star. “We want to make sure we’ve got everybody covered. Actually, Fish has done a very nice job, so I wouldn’t read anything into that. We’re staying consistent.”

Reid is trying to put a positive spin on it, but the reality is, when you spend the first overall pick on a player, you hope he’s so firmly established as a starter by his third year that the idea of him taking second-team reps at OTAs would sound silly. With Fisher, it sounds reasonable. He hasn’t played like the franchise left tackle Kansas City wants him to be.

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Friday morning one-liners

Buffalo Bills v Oakland Raiders Getty Images

CB Leodis McKelvin likes the schematic changes to the Bills Defense.

Before heading to the Dolphins, Mike Tannenbaum helped Steve Kerr and David Blatt land the coaching jobs that have them in the NBA Finals.

Rookies Geneo Grissom and Trey Flowers are trying to earn roles on the Patriots defensive line.

A critical take on the Jets’ handling of their quarterbacks.

Ravens CB Jimmy Smith says he’s ahead of schedule in his return from a foot injury.

S Shawn Williams has a chance to land a bigger role for the Bengals.

Rookie RB Duke Johnson wasn’t at Browns OTAs this week.

James Harrison hopes he can help younger Steelers linebackers reach their potential.

Texans DL Louis Nix III wants to emulate new teammate Vince Wilfork.

The Colts are looking for the right center to snap the ball to Andrew Luck.

Jaguars DE Dante Fowler had surgery to repair his torn ACL on Thursday.

WR Hakeem Nicks is trying to return to the good old days with the Titans.

Broncos players responded to the news of T Ryan Clady’s torn ACL.

The Chiefs are excited about their pass rushing potential.

A numerical breakdown of Raiders S Charles Woodson’s career.

Chargers CB Jason Verrett is from the Bay Area and has a tattoo of the Golden Gate Bridge, but won’t be rooting for the Warriors in the NBA Finals.

RB Ryan Williams is looking for redemption in the Cowboys backfield.

Giants WR Odell Beckham is branching out into radio.

Said Eagles QB Mark Sanchez, “You act like you’re the starter, and that’s the only way I know how to play. As soon as you start thinking and counting reps, or ‘I wonder if this guy is going to be healthy,’ then you’re already beat.”

Redskins S Duke Ihenacho tapes his cleats to look like Chuck Taylors.

Jeremiah Ratliff is willing to play wherever the Bears want him on the defensive line.

DT Caraun Reid is making a bid for playing time up front for the Lions.

QB Aaron Rodgers isn’t expecting any big changes to the Packers Offense.

Vikings QB Teddy Bridgewater is looking forward to playing with a healthy TE Kyle Rudolph.

DL Tyson Jackson has cut weight in hopes of making a bigger contribution to the Falcons.

The Panthers are getting a glimpse of WR Stephen Hill’s potential.

The Saints and Cam Jordan continue to talk about an extension.

The Buccaneers aren’t concerned about WR Mike Evans after a hamstring tweak.

Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said rookie T D.J. Humphries has been progressing slowly.

The Rams are banking on better things from the same set of wide receivers.

CB Dontae Johnson could play a bigger role in his second season with the 49ers.

Seahawks sixth-round OL Kristjan Sokoli is blazing a previously untravelled trail from Albania to the NFL.

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Hard Knocks could keep Texans from luring practice partners

Texans Getty Images

The Texans have agreed, perhaps a bit reluctantly, to serve as the featured act on Hard Knocks. And the Texans could have a hard time finding a team to agree to practice with them this year.

The Texans and Saints had planned to work out together prior to their exhibition game in August. On Thursday, Saints coach Sean Payton said that won’t be happening.

Asked whether the decision to not practice with the Texans had anything to do with the appearance on Hard Knocks, Payton attributed the decision to the fact that the Saints will be working out with the Patriots.

“We discussed and talked about a second team, really the decision was more about getting back into a schedule here and then certainly recognizing the fact that they are going to be featured on Hard Knocks, but it was really about our team and what is best for us,” Payton told reporters on Thursday.

While Payton made it clear that the decision primarily arises from a desire to practice with only one other team, some in the media (such as John McClain of the Houston Chronicle) have interpreted Payton’s remarks as partially attributing the development to Hard Knocks.

More and more teams in recent years have devoted a portion of training camp to working out with other teams. Last year, the Texans worked out with both the Falcons and Broncos. And the practice sessions between the Falcons and Texans got more than a little chippy, possibly because the NFL Films cameras and microphones were there as part of Atlanta’s role as the Hard Knocks team.

Practice fights may make for good TV, but it doesn’t necessarily make for good football practice, especially when the goal is to emerge from practice with as many healthy players as possible.

For the Texans, it means that they’ll go from having a pair of joint practice partners in 2014 to none in 2015. And even though the NFL can now twist arms to get a team to serve as the focal point of Hard Knocks, the NFL can’t force other teams to go along for the ride.

Yet.

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Saints happy to have healthy safeties in OTAs this year

Terrance West, Jairus Byrd AP

The Saints made one big offseason acquisition in the secondary this year when they signed cornerback Brandon Browner, but it feels like they actually have a pair of new additions.

Safety Jairus Byrd, last year’s free agent splash, had back surgery that kept him from practicing in the offseason and then landed on injured reserve with a knee injury four games into the regular season. Byrd is participating fully in OTAs this year, though, and coach Sean Payton said that’s a step in the right direction for the defense.

“I think it is significant,” Payton said, via the New Orleans Times-Picayune. “He is in good shape now and working through. There are still some maintenance things he is doing with his knee and yet to get out here, for all of these guys, but specifically a player like him [it’s important]. … I think it is also beneficial to the other 10 guys when you are talking about a veteran playing like him with regards to calls, with regards to communication and leadership.”

The Saints also have safety Kenny Vaccaro on the field after he was limited last spring while coming off a fractured ankle. Vaccaro struggled on the field in 2014 and said Thursday his year was also negatively impacted by injuries, but thinks things are coming together for him and Byrd.

“Jairus has rehabbed well and we’re meshing together,” Vaccaro said. “We’ve been working this whole offseason together. It’s been fun. You’ve got to work off each other. The secondary has to work like glue. You’ve got to stick together. I think that’s what we’re building.”

The Saints Defense needs to be better across the board in 2015, a goal that will be easier to attain if they are more secure in the back end. Byrd and Vaccaro will be a big part of that, which makes their presence on the field a big plus in New Orleans.

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Jordy Nelson not practicing, but not worried after hip surgery

Jordy Nelson AP

Packers wide receiver Jordy Nelson needed to have hip surgery earlier this offseason and coach Mike McCarthy said in late March that the receiver would be “fine” in a couple of weeks.

It’s now late May, but Nelson hasn’t started practicing with the team. He was stretching and throwing the ball on the sideline during Thursday’s OTA and said after practice that there wasn’t a timetable for when he’ll be back to full speed, although he added that there was also no major concern as the season draws closer.

“Not necessarily,” Nelson said, via the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. “We’re just going to continue to progress going forward. Like I said, we’re excited where we’re at and don’t have any worries about anything that’s of importance down the road.”

If Nelson is feeling well enough to get on the field before training camp, that would probably suit the Packers fine. There’s plenty of time for him to be sure all is well before camp and little reason for a veteran of his significance to the team to push things before that point, however.

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Michael Oher fitting in nicely as the Panthers’ latest left tackle

Michael Oher AP

So wait, what you’re telling me is that Michael Oher just wanted someone to take him in, to make him feel like part of the family? Sounds like a movie.

But the Panthers new left tackle was simply talking about his new team, as he tries to fit in at the most important position on the offensive line.

It seemed like they wanted me,” Oher said of the Panthers, via Jonathan Jones of the Charlotte Observer. “I got the [same] feeling going into my rookie year of not wanting to let guys down and guys with a winning culture.

“For me, it’s about getting back to the basics and fundamentals of doing everything right. Looking myself in the mirror knowing what I have to do and getting better from within.”

The Panthers need him to get back to when he was a good tackle, because he’s their third left tackle in as many years, and last year’s experiment (Byron Bell) was kind of a disaster.

But the Panthers are counting on Oher being healthy (after a toe problem bothered him last year with the Titans) and his old Ravens position coach (John Matsko) getting him back to his previous level of stability.

“Knowing the two of them have a positive relationship, they’ve worked well together,” Panthers coach Ron Rivera said. “He worked very well for coach Matsko, and then at the end of the day he wanted to be here. That’s one of the things that he told us that impressed us. He said he wanted to be here and needed to improve and work on certain things and get back on track.

“Just hearing that from a player, and then watching him after he signed his contract. He was here and he’s been here since; that’s very pleasing.”

Probably mostly so to Cam Newton, who did too much running for his life last year, and could use someone to keep him upright so he could work on passing from a pocket.

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