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Full text of Roger Goodell’s presentation at the Harvard School of Public Health

[Editor's note:  On Thursday, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell spoke at the Harvard School of Public Health. The full text of his prepared remarks, as distributed by the NFL, appears below.]

Let me begin by thanking Dean Julio Frenk for inviting me to speak here today.  It is truly an honor to discuss two topics that I am passionate about: the game of football and its future.

The history of football is closely connected with the history of Harvard. Football has been played here with distinction since 1873. Professor Paul Weiler of Harvard Law School persuasively argues that the first college football game took place in Cambridge between Harvard and McGill University.

President Faust paid eloquent tribute to Harvard’s football legacy in a speech the night before last year’s Harvard-Yale game. She mentioned the university’s landmark innovations in the game – uniforms, a team doctor, a trainer, a kicking specialist. Harvard’s legacy includes eight national championships and 20 College Football Hall of Famers. Also the current starting quarterback of the Buffalo Bills – Ryan Fitzpatrick – and Baltimore Ravens center Matt Birk – who last year won the Walter Payton Award as the NFL Man of the Year for his service on, and especially, off the field.

Football is embedded in your traditions, and your contributions have defined and changed how we play the game. We are proud of the connection. And we know that Harvard is proud of your team and players for their extraordinary accomplishments on the football field, in the classroom, and in life. From Harvard’s first African-American football captain, William Lewis in 1893, to Coach Murphy’s fine team this year, you have given so much to the sport we love. And good luck to the Crimson this Saturday in “The Game” against Yale, one of football’s grandest traditions.

Harvard and the NFL both stand for something else – leadership. Others in education, sports, and countless places beyond the playing fields look to us to influence their own decisions. We embrace our leadership position. And leadership means certain things, whether in sports, academia, or public health. It means thinking about the long term. It means listening and learning from people, including your critics or those who may be telling you what you don’t want to hear. It means facing up to your challenges and working tirelessly to make sure you make the right choices, for the right reasons, based on science and facts, not speculation.

So today, in this place of leadership, I want to speak about our role in protecting the health and safety of athletes – not just in the NFL and football, but in all sports and all levels of play. Our nation is experiencing a public health crisis fueled by growing levels of obesity, particularly in children. You understand the consequences and what needs to be done to reverse the trend. We know kids need to exercise – put simply, to play. And we know that whatever they play, they need to do it safely – with respect for the rules and other competitors, and in support of teamwork and sportsmanship.

Other than my family, my passion in life is football, and always has been. As a kid, it seemed like I was always either playing or thinking about football. The values I learned from the game are central to who I am. I learned about commitment, communication, sacrifice and determination. It was fun, exciting, and the ultimate team sport.

Thirty years ago, I joined the NFL as an intern in Commissioner Pete Rozelle’s office. I was Pete Rozelle’s driver at Super Bowl XX in New Orleans in 1986. I couldn’t believe my luck and couldn’t imagine a better job. It was the beginning of a dream I am still living. It has been, at times, a humbling journey.

I have been fortunate to preside over the National Football League for seven seasons now. As a league, we continue to achieve great success. A growing number of fans – more than one million a week – attend games at our stadiums. The 16 most-watched TV shows this fall are NFL games – that is, aside from the presidential debates. And they were almost a contact sport, too.

A recent Harris Poll indicated that the NFL’s popularity is rising, at an all-time high, and up 12 percent from just 10 years ago. The second most popular sport is college football. The interest is simply amazing – driven by the character of the game, the talent and hard work of our athletes, the dedication of coaches, and the passion of our fans.

I don’t need to tell you that our nation is sharply divided on many issues. But, as President Obama said just last week, “One of the big unifiers in this country is sports, and football in particular. You don’t go anyplace where folks don’t talk about football.”

Football connects generations. Many of us remember watching games with parents and grandparents. We’ve experienced the joy of introducing the game to our own children. It inspires us to rally around our players, teams, and cities. It brings together families, friends, and communities. And on a few occasions every year, it brings together the entire country.

Football has earned a vital place in the rhythm of American life. Nearly 6 million kids play flag or tackle football; another 1.1 million play in high school; and 75,000 play in college. For many reasons, I have never been more optimistic about football’s future or more confident about its place in our society. Optimistic, but not complacent.

The game of football is thriving. It is more compelling than ever. But it is also seen by some as a game at a crossroads. And not for the first time. We are well aware of social commentators who now question our future. And I am here to tell you: If we are at another crossroads, we have already taken the right path. We took it a long time ago, and our commitment to stay on it will not waver.

The risk of injury in football is well known. Throughout history, football has evolved; it has become safer and safer again. President Faust talked last year about eliminating the dangerous “flying wedge” in the college game more than a century ago. In recent years, there has been a much sharper focus on concussions in football and other sports. There are still unanswered questions, but scientists and doctors know more about concussions and their long-term potential effects than they did even a few years ago. The key issue for us is how we use this new understanding to make the game even safer and more exciting in the future.

I can say in no uncertain terms that this is our biggest challenge: Changing the culture in a way that reduces the injury risk to the maximum possible extent – especially the risk of head injury. We want players to enjoy long and prosperous careers and healthy lives off the field. So we focus relentlessly on player health and safety, while also keeping the game fun and unpredictable.

My most important job is to protect the integrity of the game – but it goes beyond that. It is also to protect the 1,800 professionals who choose to play and who make our game so great.

The responsibility to our players does not end when they hang up their uniform for the last time. The health and safety of former, current, and future players involves many facets, not just head injuries. It includes the quality of playing fields, the equipment players wear, rules to protect them from unnecessary risk, programs to support their lives off the field, and post-career benefits.

At one time spinal cord injuries were considered a greater risk than they are today. But after changes in rules and techniques, those injuries have been dramatically reduced. We also have addressed the impact of heat and hydration, better educating our medical staffs and players and supporting the outstanding work of the Korey Stringer Institute. Now we are devoting more resources to the well-being of players as they transition away from the game, including their mental health.

We more than accept this responsibility on total health and safety. We seek it; we pursue it; we honor it. We do it to make a difference in football, in all sports and, we hope, beyond.

I’m sure some of you have asked yourselves the same tough questions others ask: When there is risk associated with playing tackle football, why do people continue to play? And for parents, should I let my kids play tackle football?

These are valid, important questions. Answers can differ from person to person – and especially from parent to parent.

In trying to respond to these concerns, we have looked to the realities of football. We have established an open dialogue – speaking frankly and engaging our critics directly – so that we can improve the safety of football. Whether to play football or any contact sport is a highly personal choice for kids and parents. It must be a thoughtful, informed decision.

The simple truth is that any physical activity comes with risk and reward. Head injuries occur in sports. Earlier this month, many of the world’s top sports concussion experts convened in Zurich, Switzerland. It is the leading conference on concussion in sport. In attendance were experts from the International Olympic Committee, international soccer (or as they say “football”), rugby, equestrian competition, Australian Rules Football and many other sports, including the NFL. The chief medical officer of the international soccer federation noted that 300 million people around the world play soccer. Concussions are hardly an issue limited to football or the NFL.

The conference reached a thoughtful consensus on how to advance safety – teach proper techniques and fundamentals; educate coaches, parents and players about concussion recognition and management; eliminate unnecessary contact; and continue to research the unanswered questions surrounding concussions.  At the same time, these international experts recommended that sports be played actively, but safely, without regard to age. These few steps will make sports safer for all.

There is no question that there are tremendous benefits to playing team sports like football, whether it’s tackle, flag or touch football in the backyard – benefits such as physical fitness, self-discipline, friendships, leadership opportunities, self-esteem, college scholarships, and, most importantly, just plain fun.

Presidents from Dwight Eisenhower to John Kennedy to Gerald Ford played and loved football. Business leaders like Jeff Immelt and military leaders like General Ray Odierno learned important lessons from playing football. At West Point, the cadets are required to play a team sport because the experience is fundamental to leadership development.

Is playing tackle football worth the risk? For some, the answer may be no. But millions say yes. We emphatically say yes. And I pledge that the NFL will do everything in its power to minimize the risks and maximize the rewards of this great and increasingly global game.

The way I look at it: Football is always at a crossroads, facing challenges that require leaders to act with courage and purpose to secure and advance its future.

Let’s look back at one issue that involved Harvard more than a century ago, in 1905, before the NFL even existed. This was a time when football was extremely dangerous and violent. More than 150 college players suffered serious injuries and 18 players died in 1904 alone – - at a time when far fewer athletes played football.

Just think about that for a moment … 18 student-athletes died … in one season, primarily from skull fractures.

The nature of the game at that time led to widespread criticism. In 1903, The New York Times stated that football was trending toward “mayhem and homicide.” Some called for ending the sport, including Harvard President Charles Eliot.

The future of football was very much in doubt.

But a Harvard graduate, who happened to be the President of the United States, loved football. And Teddy Roosevelt came to football’s rescue.

He had not played football at Harvard, but he loved the game. He saw the merit in the lessons and principles that make football compelling. And in December of 1905, he brought the Big Three – Harvard, Yale and Princeton – to the White House. He convinced them that something had to change. President Roosevelt recognized that the game did not need to end. It needed to evolve.

As a result of President Roosevelt’s initiative, and the leadership of Harvard, key rules and the equipment of the game were changed and what became the NCAA was created. This led to modern football, one that included the forward pass, 10 yards for a first down, and the elimination of the flying wedge. These changes led to a more wide open, safer game.
Teddy Roosevelt helped transform a sport in trouble into something better – a game that has helped shape the lives and careers of generations of young men in so many positive ways.

In 1910, President Woodrow Wilson observed that the changes were working. “The new game of football seems far more enjoyable than the old one,” he said. “The new rules are doing much to bring football to a high level as a sport, for its brutal features are being done away with and better elements retained.”

So it was that a Harvard graduate and the university itself played a pivotal role in transforming football and paving the way to its future success.

The game has continued to evolve. Not long ago, the game allowed the head slap, tackling by the face mask, horse collar tackles, dangerous blocks, and hits to the head of defenseless receivers and quarterbacks. All of that has changed.

“The war against roughness in pro football is a continuing one,” said the NFL commissioner. That was Pete Rozelle in 1963.

“An Unfolding Tragedy.” That was a headline. The story said, “As football injuries mount, lawsuits increase and insurance rates soar, the game is headed toward a crisis, one that is epitomized by the helmet, which is both a barbarous weapon and inadequate protection.” It was a Sports Illustrated cover story in 1978.

Protecting the health and safety of players has included taking drug abuse and steroids out of the game. We have randomly tested year-round for steroids since 1990, the first league to do so, with immediate suspensions for any violations. Next we need to implement testing to make sure human growth hormone is out of the game. Performance enhancing drugs are dangerous. They also present unknown risk that may be seriously impacting an athlete’s health in ways he or she never considered. Some have suggested that there may be a link between performance enhancing drugs and concussions and brain disease.

Football has always evolved, and it always will. Make no mistake: change does not inhibit the game; it improves it.

It’s with Teddy Roosevelt in mind that we embrace today’s challenges. I learned a long time ago that you don’t do things because they are popular in the short term. You do them because they are right for the long term. And this is the right conversation to be having.

My commitment has been and will continue to be to change the culture of football to better protect players without changing the essence of what makes the game so popular.

It has been done. And it will be done.

As stewards of the game, it is our responsibility to promote a culture of safety. To be leaders. So let me share with you some specifics on how we are leading.

(Leadership)

Leaders do not sit and wait for others to provide answers. We will continue to make rule changes, invest in innovative protective equipment, and provide our medical staffs the tools and authority to protect players on the field.

The rule in our league is simple and straightforward: Medical decisions override everything else. There has been attention this week on the fact that three NFL quarterbacks sustained concussions last Sunday. The positive development was that all three were taken out of the game as soon as they showed symptoms. The team medical staff then diagnosed a concussion, and each player was out of the game. That is progress. That is the way it should be in all sports at every level.

We know that our actions set an example. The concussion awareness material and training videos we developed with the Centers for Disease Control were used by the U.S. Olympic team this past summer. The United States military, NASCAR and college conferences have adopted our concussion protocols.

The Ivy League this year adopted rules similar to the ones in the new agreement with our NFL players, limiting contact in practices and emphasizing taking the head out of the game – as we have been doing.

High schools and colleges must take leadership roles as well with their coaches and athletes. An aggressive dialogue and educational efforts at all levels will raise awareness and change the culture to more strongly emphasize safety. We challenge everyone in sports to be agents of culture change. And we will learn from each other.

There is more to be done. And we will continue to lead by example.

(Research)

Second, leaders base decisions on facts. We actively support independent and transparent medical research. Much of this focuses on the brain, sometimes called the last frontier of medicine and a public health issue that affects millions. Most of them do not even play sports.

We hope our focus on brain injury and the discoveries ahead will benefit the broader population. We recently committed $30 million to the National Institutes of Health for research on the brain. The agreement with our players sets aside an additional $100 million for similar medical research over the next decade. We have invested millions more in medical research through our charitable foundations, including at the Boston University Center for the Study of CTE. The center’s co-director, Dr. Robert Stern, is here today.

We may learn through breakthroughs in science that there are genetic or other factors that make certain individuals predisposed to concussions or brain disease. If an athlete has repeated concussions or takes longer to recover, it may signal a problem unique to that individual. Such individuals will benefit from advances in the science of concussion. They will be able to make more informed decisions about whether to accept the risk of playing a contact sport.

We support research into new helmet designs and have sponsored independent helmet testing to provide better information to players on helmet performance. One of the helmets our players wear was designed by a former Harvard quarterback, Vin Ferrara.

We may see a day when there are different helmets for different positions, based on which helmet can best protect players at their position.

As a sport that is on the national stage and under the spotlight, we are working to make a difference. Innovations in research today will improve safety in the sport tomorrow and for future generations in all sports.

(Rules)

Third, we are committed to strengthening our playing rules – and insisting on strict enforcement. Preserving the essence of the game, while reducing unnecessary risk, means we have to constantly reevaluate and refresh our rules reasonably and responsibly.

Strategy, strength and speed are what make the game great. We don’t want to take physical contact out of the game. But we must ensure that players follow rules designed to reduce the risk of injury. Enforcing rules on illegal hits to the head with fines and suspensions has changed tackling for the better. Players and coaches have adjusted. They always do. We now see fewer dangerous hits to the head and noticeable changes in the way the game is being played.

We continue to look for other ways to take the head out of the game. Two years ago we moved the kickoff line five yards forward to the 35. That reform yielded real benefits – a 40 percent reduction in concussions last year on kickoffs. College football then adopted our rule. Some think that the kickoff – the play with the highest injury rate – should be eliminated from the game or modified even further.

Here’s an idea I’ve heard from an NFL head coach: put a weight limit on players for kickoffs. Smaller players against smaller players would mean less severe collisions.

We will monitor the data on kickoffs, and all plays, with an open mind toward change.

Our Player Safety Panel, co-chaired by Hall of Famers Ronnie Lott and John Madden, has recommended that our Competition Committee carefully review the rules on all blocks below the waist. Protecting “defenseless” players started decades ago by banning the hitting of kickers. We now have nine separate categories of defenseless players in our rule book. All players can be defenseless in certain situations and we must address it comprehensively.

The right safety equipment is also crucial. Next year NFL players will be required to wear knee and thigh pads, as players are required to do at every other level of football. Many NFL players haven’t been wearing them. Getting them into the right equipment is part of changing the culture.

Technology is also helping us. Recent developments include new protocols, certified athletic trainers in press boxes to serve as spotters for team medical staffs, and the use of iPads and cell phones by medical staffs on the sidelines. We allow this technology for medical reasons, but not for competitive purposes.

We are testing accelerometers in helmets. They are sensors that determine the impact of a hit. We are also testing sensors in shoulder pads which could provide important information.

The most significant innovation may be the use of video by medical staffs on the sidelines to evaluate the mechanism of injury. We started it late last season and now use it for every game. It allows team doctors and trainers to more quickly understand and better treat an injury. Our team medical staffs are raving about it.

(Advocacy)

Fourth, we use our leadership position to advocate for safety in sports. We took a lead role in supporting the Zackery Lystedt Youth Concussion Law. It applies to all sports. It requires education for coaches, players, and parents, removal from games or practice for any school athlete who suffers a concussion, and clearance by a medical professional before the athlete can return to play. This law has now been passed by 40 states and the District of Columbia. Our goal is to secure approval in all 50 states. And I am confident that we will get there.

We are committed to the safety of young athletes, starting as soon as they step on the field. My twin daughters in middle school play lacrosse and soccer. Girls’ soccer has the second highest rate of concussions in youth sports. I am concerned for their safety. I want them to play, but I want them to play for coaches who know how to teach proper techniques and who are trained in the safety of their sport.

Ten years ago, we helped endow a non-profit organization called USA Football. With the CDC and other medical and football experts, USA Football created the only nationally accredited coaching course in the history of football. Tens of thousands of coaches have completed the course. Better certification and background checks of all coaches must be among the highest priorities for all youth sports.

USA Football has commissioned an injury study – research that the youth game has never seen. It also established a pilot program this year called “Heads Up Football.” This program invites parents to participate and delivers training and education for safer tackling, practice regimens modeled on the NFL, and a safety coach whose sole task is to monitor and ensure player safety in practices and games.

In fact, there is a critical need for more certified athletic trainers for youth and high school sports. According to the National Athletic Trainers Association, in 2010 only 42 percent of high schools had access to certified trainers who were trained in concussion care.

There is more we can do to make youth sports safer. And again, we stand ready to lead.

(Partnerships)

And finally, we know we can’t do it alone. To learn what needs to be learned and do what needs to be done, we need partners with expertise to make things happen.

We will continue to work with leading organizations to support independent research. One day we hope that will include the Harvard School of Public Health.

We have assembled an all-volunteer advisory panel of doctors, scientists, and thought leaders in brain injury from academia, sports medicine, engineering, the NIH, CDC, and Department of Defense. It includes some of our earlier critics. This group has four subcommittees and is directing discussion and research – ranging from long-term outcomes to education to making safer equipment. It includes another Harvard graduate and former Crimson football player, Dr. Mitch Berger. Dr. Robert Cantu, long respected in this area, is here today and he is an advisor to our committee.

We have eight other medical advisory committees within our league, comprised mostly of doctors plus other experts from inside and outside the league. These committees are overseen by a committee of owners chaired by an NFL owner who is also a physician, Dr. John York of the San Francisco 49ers.

Earlier this year, with the help of the Consumer Products Safety Commission, we launched a pilot program to replace helmets in underserved schools.

We need to be driven by facts and data, not perceptions and suppositions. The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has done studies on NFL players. This summer NIOSH exploded a myth that has been circulating for years that the life expectancy of NFL players was 55 years of age. That caused many NFL players to make a bad decision to take their pension early at a much lower rate. NIOSH found that the true life expectancy of an NFL player is actually longer than the general population. There are real-life consequences when working off bad facts.

One of our most exciting and innovative new partnerships is with the Army, helping to change the culture in both organizations. Too often, bravery and commitment to the unit or team stand in the way of safety. In this new partnership, NFL players and service members are working together to put in place a culture of safety. It is helping players and soldiers identify the signs and symptoms of brain injuries, and empowering them to make better decisions. We are working cooperatively to make soldiers and athletes safer.

We are proud to be leaders in sports health and safety. Members of Congress, former critics, influential members of the news media, and others have praised our initiatives. But while we have worked hard throughout our history, the right road is never ending. Evolution, by nature, does not stop. Football will always continue to evolve.

The culture of the athlete is still too much of a play-through-it, rather than player safety mentality. Many players have publicly admitted to hiding concussions and other head injuries.

I was recently at dinner with family friends. Their 15-year-old daughter plays field hockey and told me how during a recent game she hit her head on the turf and blacked out for a moment. She didn’t tell anyone because she didn’t want to come out. The next day she was diagnosed with a concussion. It’s the warrior mentality – in a 15-year-old girl. This is unfortunate, but we are working with players, team doctors and coaches to change that culture. It is changing, but will take more time, resolve, patience, and determination.

Let me conclude with a question: What is our goal? I can answer in one simple word: Safety.

A safer game for all who play at every level of football. A safer game made even more exciting through thoughtful adjustments of the rules, next-generation equipment, pioneering research, and transparent partnerships with the best minds.

The road may be long and twisting. But I have no doubt we will reach our destination – a culture of safety for every sport so our world continues to be blessed by the vital and vibrant rewards that come uniquely from sports. For football, I can say with humility, resolve, and confidence: the best is yet to come.

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Sankey knows running back position has less value in today’s NFL

Sankey AP

The ongoing devaluation of the running back position could prompt highly-talented athletes to gravitate toward other positions.  Until then, highly-talented athletes who have chosen to play running back will be relegated to making chicken salad out of their NFL prospects.

Washington running back Bishop Sankey realizes that the game is changing.  But he still embraces the challenge of playing running back at the NFL level.

“Obviously last year with there being no running back going in the first round, I think there has just been a bigger emphasis on the pass in the NFL and maybe I’m biased but I feel like running back are just as valuable as anybody else on the field especially on the offense,” Sankey told NBCSN’s Pro Football Talk this week.  “We not only contribute on the ground but we also pass protect, protect the quarterback and we can also be used as an asset out of the backfield catching the ball.

“Not only that I think a lot of running backs contribute a lot on special teams as well with kick returns, punt returns.  Not even being a returner but also blocking for those guys and it’s kind of the direction the league’s going in now, but for me it’s just like I want to go out there every time I get a chance and eliminate all the questions that the NFL coaches have and really just try and put my best foot forward to give me a good opportunity come draft day.”

This year, there likely will be no running backs taken in round one.  If given the choice between being a first-round pick or the first running back taken, Sankey would take being the first running back selected.

“I think it just speaks high if you’re the first guy to go at your position,” Sankey said.  “It speaks high of what teams think about you and the work that you’ve put in up to this point.”

While it’s highly unlikely any running back will go in the first round, Sankey has a good shot of being the first running back whose name is called.  And then he’ll get a fair chance to show what he can do in September, when his number is called.

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Northwestern union vote coming in six days

Northwestern AP

The question of whether the Northwestern football team can have a union won’t matter unless the players want a union.  The latter question will be resolved soon.

The vote will be conducted on April 25.  For the yes-or-no proposition, a simple majority wins.

As recently explained by Alejandra Cancino of the Chicago Tribune, the vote possibly will be delayed pending full resolution of the question of whether the student-athletes are also employees.  The more likely outcome will be a sealing of the ballots until the legal issue has made its way through the court system.

So it’s possible that, after months of appeals resulting in a decision that the players can have a union, the votes will be counted and it will be determined that the players choose not to unionize.

Still, a ruling permitting unionization will allow other student-athletes at other private colleges to attempt to organize.  And the mere threat of union drives should prompt the NCAA to make changes that would make players less likely to choose against a union.

Those changes could eventually impact the NFL’s free farm system in ways that could make the farm system something other than free.  Or which could prompt the NFL to launch its own developmental league.

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Saturday morning one-liners

Morris Getty Images

The Bills secured preliminary approval for a $3 million class-action settlement arising from allegations that the team’s mobile alert service sent out more texts than the recipients had agreed to receive.

RB Chris Johnson says the Jets told him Geno Smith and Mike Vick will battle it out for the quarterback job.

Count Northern Colorado QB Seth Lobato among the many signal-callers whom the Patriots have examined this year.

The Dolphins seem to have a real interest in Miami QB Stephen Morris.

Ravens DT Terrence Cody says LB Rolando McClain has “humbled himself” and is “ready to play football.”

Steelers DE Nick Williams is working his way back from a knee injury that wiped out his 2013 season.

Bengals strength coach Chip Morton is looking forward to the expansion of the weight room.

Browns QB Brian Hoyer participated in a celebrity cooking competition.

Jaguars LS Carson Tinker wrote a book about his experience in the Tuscaloosa tornado of 2011, which claimed the life of his girlfriend.

Injuries hit the Texans harder in 2013 than in 2012.

Colts DE Bjoern Werner recently visited practice at Kentucky.

Titans LB Shaun Phillips strongly prefers the 3-4 to the 4-3.

The Raiders have finalized their exhibition schedule, which includes a nationally-televised game against the Packers.

Former Chargers QB Jesse Freitas, 62, will spend up to three years in a locked mental-health facility after a history of setting fires and other crimes.

The Chiefs use iPad playbooks during the regular season; they may experiment with using them in the offseason, too.

Broncos defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio visited Oregon State practice to watch his son, Luke.

Eagles QB Nick Foles will serve as honorary captain for the home opener of the Philadelphia Soul.

Redskins WR DeSean Jackson reportedly celebrated his arrival in D.C. this week with a $20,000 bottle of champagne.  (Who says he doesn’t get it?)

Giants P Steve Weatherford accepted a high-school prom invitation via Twitter.

Cowboys fans aren’t happy that DL Jason Hatcher left for Washington.

The Vikings are kicking in another $1.2 million to get bigger and better video screens at their new stadium.

The Bears are sniffing around former Lindenwood CB Pierre Desir.

The failure of Lions DT Ndamukong Suh to show up for the offseason program is bad; the team’s apathy about his absence is worse.

Should Packers Hall of Famer Bart Starr gotten more of a chance when coaching the team?

After undergoing back surgery last August, Panthers DT Linden Gaydosh couldn’t sit for a month.

Buccaneers S Keith Tandy will host a football camp this summer in his hometown of Hopkinsville, Kentucky.

The Atlanta Journal Constitution has a new mock draft that predicts the Falcons will trade up to No. 2 for OT Greg Robinson.

Saints CB Champ Bailey will make his public debut Tuesday at a local celebrity golf tournament.

The turf has been installed at the 49ers new stadium.

The Seahawks will be keeping a close eye on the development of RB Christine Michael this offseason.

Rams LB Jo-Lonn Dunbar calls 2013 a “wacky year.”

The new video boards being installed at the Cardinals stadium will be triple the size of the original screens.

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Patriots continue showing interest in quarterback prospects

Seth Lobato AP

The Patriots don’t have an immediate need at quarterback, but they’re continuing to show interest in drafting one.

Our list of pre-draft visits shows that the Patriots have spent time with Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger, Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray and Virginia Tech quarterback Logan Thomas. According to Boston.com, the list of quarterbacks the Patriots have spent time with at Pro Day workouts also includes Eastern Illinois’s Jimmy Garoppolo, Ohio State’s Kenny Guiton, Alabama’s A.J. McCarron, South Carolina’s Connor Shaw and Ball State’s Keith Wenning.

And the latest name to the list of quarterbacks the Patriots have been linked to is Northern Colorado’s Seth Lobato, a raw, 6-foot-6 former basketball player.

The Patriots might be thinking now about what they’ll do at quarterback when Tom Brady retires. Or they could be trying to light a fire under Brady. Or they could be trying to pick the brains of as many quarterbacks as they can, as offensive schemes increasingly migrate from college to the NFL. Whatever the reasons, by the time of the draft in three weeks, it appears that the Patriots will have talked to just about every available quarterback.

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Mike Tice’s Midnight Hawk the 4-5 favorite in $500,000 Illinois Derby

Sham Stakes Horse Race AP

Midnight Hawk, a three-year-old colt co-owned by Falcons offensive line coach Mike Tice, is the heavy favorite to capture Saturday’s $500,000 Illinois Derby at Hawthorne Race Course in Cicero.

Midnight Hawk has been installed as the 4-5 favorite on the track’s morning line, which is an estimate of how the race will be bet. No other horse in the eight-horse field is lower than 5-1.

The winner’s share of the purse is $300,000. A gray horse, Midnight Hawk will break from post position No. 3.

Chicago Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville, whose team plays the St. Louis Blues at 3 p.m. Eastern on Saturday in a game televised on NBC, is another co-owner of Midnight Hawk.

Midnight Hawk has won 2-of-5 career races, with two second-place finishes and one third-place finish. He finished second in his lone other try at the 1 1/8-mile distance of the Illinois Derby.

Midnight Hawk has 52 qualifying points toward running in the Kentucky Derby and would make the field if trainer Bob Baffert and ownership elected to run. However, the Kentucky Derby is in just two weeks, which makes Midnight Hawk’s participation perhaps questionable. The Preakness, which is run on Saturday, May 17, could be another logical next race for Midnight Hawk if he performs well at Hawthorne, which is about 10 miles to the southwest of downtown Chicago.

Tice told the Chicago Tribune that the Illinois Derby was a logical spot for Midnight Hawk, who has been competitive throughout his career but has yet to win beyond a mile.

“Joel and I are coaches and when you’re a coach you look for the best matchups. You should take a horse and look at it the same way, which is what Bob Baffert did,” Tice told the Tribune.

Post time for the Illinois Derby is 6:42 p.m. Eastern on Saturday.

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Report: Dolphins targeting Cyrus Kouandjio in the first round

Cyrus Kouandjio

Alabama offensive tackle Cyrus Kouandjio is the target of the Dolphins in the first round of the draft, if one local report is to be believed.

The Palm Beach Post reports that Dolphins General Manager Dennis Hickey prefers Kouandjio to the other offensive tackles who are expected to be available with the Dolphins’ first-round pick, No. 19 overall. Notre Dame’s Zack Martin, Virginia’s Morgan Moses and Michigan’s Taylor Lewan are among the other offensive tackles who have been projected as potential Dolphins picks.

Dennis has got a love for Kouandjio and he should be sitting there for them,” a source told the paper.

As with all reports of this nature, it’s fair to ask whether it’s just a smokescreen. If the Dolphins really are high on Kouandjio, they should be keeping that a secret so some other team that loves Kouandjio doesn’t move ahead of them in the first round.

What is clear is that the Dolphins aren’t done rebuilding their dysfunctional offensive line. And of the offensive linemen they’re considering, Hickey reportedly thinks Martin makes a better guard than a tackle, Moses reportedly has a less-than-stellar relationship with Dolphins offensive coordinator Bill Lazor (who coached Moses at Virginia) and Lewan may not be available for the Dolphins at No. 19. By process of elimination, that would leave Miami with Koundjio.

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Saban claims Manning and Gase visits were separate

Nick Saban AP

When Alabama coach Nick Saban revealed that Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning and Broncos offensive coordinator Adam Gase had visited the Crimson Tide, it raised eyebrows as a potential violation of the NFL rules preventing players and coaches from meeting before the start of the offseason program. But now Saban says Manning and Gase didn’t meet together.

I am surprised to hear that anyone thought that what they were doing was in any way wrong. That’s what people get for assuming,” Saban told the Denver Post. “We did not talk Broncos football at all, other than Peyton asking questions about how he could get better as a player.”

Asked if Manning and Gase were in a meeting at the same time, Saban said, “Only to say hello.”

Gase got his start in coaching as a graduate assistant for Saban at LSU, and Saban characterized their meeting as personal, not professional.

“I only talked to Adam about his family. He talked to our assistant coaches,” Saban said.

The Denver Post story suggests that it’s not an issue because “Manning’s idea of vacation is talking football,” and so Manning won’t complain about it. But the rule doesn’t only exist to protect players from being forced by their coaches to do extra offseason work. It also exists to provide a level playing field for all 32 NFL teams. If Manning and Gase are permitted to travel together to study defenses during what’s supposed to be the players’ time off, they’re getting an unfair advantage over the teams that strictly obey the rules prohibiting any coaching from taking place at this point in the offseason.

Saban says that’s not how it happened. Saban is saying exactly what he needs to say to clear Manning and Gase of any wrongdoing, but the NFL has said it will look into the matter.

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Peyton gets paid $105,000 to speak at Oklahoma State

Peyton AP

Alabama coach Nick Saban got Peyton Manning’s time for free.  Oklahoma State had to pay a bit more.

According to the Tulsa World, Manning received $105,000 for a 30-minute speech and a 30-minute question-and-answer session in Stillwater.  The money was paid by the OSU Speakers Board.

So what did they get in return?  Apparently, a laundry list of fairly obvious lines that appear in any of the various motivational books that can be purchased for 99 cents on the clearance shelf.

“I challenge each of you in this arena tonight to invest your time to become a game-changer.  A game-changer looks deeper and senses something others don’t and then acts on it.”

“You either get better or worse every day.  You don’t stay the same.”

“Enjoy the journey, not the destination.”

“This is your world.  Own it.”

Actually, this isn’t our world.  It’s Peyton’s world.  The rest of us are just paying the rent.  At $105,000 per hour.

Seriously, though, we’ll never complain about a guy finding a way to get paid for his time.  We’re all worth whatever someone will pay, and OSU’s Speakers Board decided Manning is worth $105,000 per hour.  There’s not a thing wrong with Peyton collecting the cash.

But here’s the bigger issue.  At a time when the NCAA and various member institutions are fretting about how to afford the inevitable obligation to pay student-athletes, the fact that $105,000 can be scraped together by Oklahoma State for 60 minutes of cliché and rah-rah reconfirms that, when the time comes to cough up fair market value to the kids who are bringing in millions, the schools will find a way.

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Newton in a boot, still recovering from ankle surgery

Newton AP

It’s been a month since the surprise announcement that Panthers quarterback Cam Newton needs ankle surgery.  So how’s he doing four-plus weeks after having the procedure?

Darin Gantt of PFT, who covered the Panthers 14 years before joining this establishment nearly two years ago, reported during Friday night’s edition of Pro Football Talk on NBCSN that Newton remains in a boot — and that the team remains hopeful Newton will be back to 100 percent in time for training camp.

Of course, Newton may still miss all of the practice reps of the offseason program, which becomes more critical as the Panthers break in a bunch of new receivers.

The next time we hear Newton’s name inevitably will be when the Panthers exercise the fifth-year option on his rookie contract, which will pay him $13 million for 2015.  It’s only a matter of time before the Panthers pay him a lot more than that.

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Dominik predicts a slide for Manziel

Manziel Getty Images

Teddy Bridgewater isn’t the only 2014 quarterback prospect who received a dire prognosis from former Buccaneers G.M. Mark Dominik on Friday.  Via Rotowold, Dominik also had some bad news for Johnny Manziel.

Dominik, who now works for ESPN, said on the air that Manziel “will fall a little more than people think” in the draft.

This assessment presumes that a consensus currently exists as to where Manziel will go.  It doesn’t.

As time passes, it seems less likely the Texans would use the first overall pick in the draft on Manziel.  After that, it gets fuzzy.  Could a team spring in front of Jacksonville (No. 3) and Cleveland (No. 4) to get Manziel with the No. 2 selection currently held by the Rams?  Possibly.

If he gets past No. 2 (and he likely will), the hot spots become Jacksonville, Cleveland, Oakland at No. 5 (very unlikely), Tampa Bay at No. 7, Minnesota at No. 8, and Tennessee at No. 11.

The Cowboys at No. 16 could be very intrigued by Manziel.  Perhaps sufficiently intrigued to trade up.

If Manziel makes it past the first half of the round, the question then becomes whether a team from round two would trade up in front of the Browns at No. 26, if the Browns don’t take a quarterback at No. 4.  After the Browns, it then becomes possible if not probable that a team springs into the first round, where a four-year contract and a one-year option would apply.

We’d be shocked if Manziel isn’t taken in the first round.  His actual placement in round one, whatever it may be, won’t be a surprise.

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Reggie Wayne: If you say I’m over the hill, I’ll prove you wrong

Reggie Wayne AP

As Colts receiver Reggie Wayne recovers from last season’s torn ACL, one thing is motivating him to work harder than ever: Knowing that people doubt he can do it.

Wayne told Mike Chappell of the Indianapolis Star that “naysayers” in the media are pushing him through his rehab.

“It’s you guys,” Wayne said. “You guys motivate me. You guys say that I can’t do it. I’m 35. I’m over the hill. No way I can come back the same. I wasn’t a big newspaper reader, but I’ve become one. Next time I read it maybe you’ll be saying I’ve found the fountain of youth.”

Wayne has previously said that he believes he’ll be ready to go full-speed during offseason workouts, but that Colts coach Chuck Pagano is telling him to take it easy and not to push himself too hard. Whenever Pagano is ready to let Wayne go, however, Wayne sounds ready to show that he still has a lot left in him.

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Colts sign two fullbacks from Super Regional Combine

Indianapolis Colts v Jacksonville Jaguars Getty Images

The Colts have added a pair of fullbacks who took part in last week’s NFL Super Regional Combine in Detroit.

The club said Thursday it had signed Stephen Campbell and Cameron White, each of whom was not in the NFL in 2013.

Campbell (6-1, 245) played for West Virginia Wesleyan from 2009 through 2012. He participated in the NFL’s New York/New Jersey Regional Combine on February 15, then was invited to the Super Regional Combine.

White took part in the Chicago Regional Combine on March 15 before moving on to the Super Regional Combine. He is a Hillsdale (Mich.) College product (2009-2012).

Both rookie fullbacks have shown they can catch the ball; White hauled in 94 passes in his collegiate career, while Campbell recorded 65 receptions.

The Colts now have three fullbacks on the roster, with veteran Stanley Havili the club’s other blocking back.

The Colts’ willingness to explore all available outlets for talent has been one of the trademarks of G.M. Ryan Grigson’s tenure.

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Report: League installing real-time fiber optics for replay review

Eagles Cowboys Football AP

One of the key ingredients for a centralized replay function is the latest in real-time fiber optic technology.  The NHL has it.

According to John Kryk of the Toronto Sun, the NFL will soon have it, too.

Per Kryk, the league will have the ability this year in the league office to view the games as they happen, which will allow V.P. of officiating Dean Blandino to better assist the referees as they engage in the formal replay review.

With the technology in place to see things happen as they happen, it could be that the ability of Blandino to guide the referees through the review process in 2014 ultimately becomes Blandino and company actually conducting the replay reviews from New York City.

That’s the way we’d prefer it to be.  The process could be much more efficient if the referee were removed from the process and the review happened quickly at the proverbial situation room.

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Ex-Jag Richard Collier is “on cloud nine” nearly six years after being paralyzed

Jacksonville Jaguars Training Camp Getty Images

It’s a slow Friday in the football world, which gives us a bit of time to catch up on some stories that don’t have to do with the draft or the coming season.

Vito Stellino wrote one of them in the Florida Times Union about former Jaguars offensive tackle Richard Collier. Collier’s NFL career came to an end after just nine games when he was paralyzed after being shot 14 times by a man who has since been sentenced to life in prison.

Collier went on to have part of one leg amputated as a result of the 2008 shooting, but told Stellino that he has forgiven the shooter while forging ahead with a fulfilling life that no longer includes football. Collier speaks against gun violence, runs a foundation called The Spirit Strong, rehabs diligently and plays father to twin sons he had with his wife earlier this month. It’s all part of a life that Collier says “keeps getting better” almost six years after his football career and much more were cruelly taken away from him.

“It was a bad situation, but no one can ever take away my joy. I am still smiling, just enjoying life,” Collier said. “It was hard at first, but I got around to smelling the roses. I take every day and appreciate it. I could have died. Somebody was looking over me. I don’t take it for granted. Life is great. No matter what the situation is, I’m on cloud nine. Everything I want, I have right in front of me.”

Collier remains hopeful that medical advances will help him make even more progress and we share that hope for him and anyone else in a similar position, but remains positive that everything will work out even if they don’t. After reading Stellino’s profile, it’s hard not to share that feeling.

 

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Mark Dominik: Teddy Bridgewater’s problems go beyond Pro Day

Teddy Bridgewater AP

Former Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater’s draft stock has appeared to decline dramatically in recent weeks, as a disappointing Pro Day has led to talk that he’s not the potential No. 1 overall pick that he was proclaimed to be during the 2013 season. But one NFL personnel man says that in reality, Bridgewater’s stock was never that high to begin with.

Mark Dominik, the former Buccaneers general manager who now serves as an analyst for ESPN, said on NFL Live that he doesn’t believe Bridgewater’s Pro Day is a problem so much as his skinny frame, as well as the fact that Bridgewater didn’t always look like an elite passer on tape.

“There were things you saw on tape when you watched him,” Dominik said. “Something that scouts internally, we talked about it in Tampa with Teddy Bridgewater last year. Is he really the premiere quarterback? I like the young man, I think he’s a quality individual, he’s got character and leadership and those things. But this is a quarterback, and you’re judged by what quarterback you draft, and I think Teddy Bridgewater might not have all the pieces you’re looking for.

Dominik indicated that if teams with Top 5 picks like the Texans, Jaguars and Browns are interested in Bridgewater, their interest is in hoping Bridgewater falls all the way out of the first round and is still available early in the second round. That’s a long fall from where most people thought Bridgewater would be drafted.

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