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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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Josh Johnson joins Jets, Jake Heaps jettisoned

Josh Johnson Pic Getty Images

The Jets have made a change at the bottom of the quarterback depth chart.

Veteran Josh Johnson signed with the Jets today, while rookie Jake Heaps was cut.

Johnson, who was cut by the Bengals this week, is one of the NFL’s most athletic quarterbacks, but has struggled as a passer. He has played in 29 games and thrown five touchdown passes and 10 interceptions while rushing for 274 yards. Heaps is an undrafted free agent from the University of Miami who threw one pass, an incompletion, for the Jets this preseason.

It’s unlikely that Johnson will make the Jets’ roster, but he’ll provide depth for now. While Geno Smith continues to recover from a broken jaw, Ryan Fitzpatrick is the starter and the backups are rookie Bryce Petty and the recently signed veteran Matt Flynn.

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NFL slated to start the season with more than 30 players suspended

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The NFL has suspended more than 30 players this offseason.

Our NFL 2015 suspension tracker currently has the names of 34 players on it, with the possibility that more suspensions could still be coming.

It’s still possible that some suspensions could be overturned. Steelers receiver Martavis Bryant is still appealing his four-game substance-abuse suspension, while Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is still going through the courts to battle his four-game Deflategate suspension.

The two longest suspensions handed down this offseason were the 16-game bans given to Browns receiver Josh Gordon and Dolphins defensive end Dion Jordan. Some of the suspended players are little-known free agents who likely wouldn’t play in Week One anyway, but some of the noteworthy suspensions include six games for 49ers receiver Jerome Simpson, four games for Chargers tight end Antonio Gates, four games for Jets defensive end Sheldon Richardson, four games for Cowboys linebacker Rolando McClain, four games for Cowboys defensive end Greg Hardy, two games for Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell, one game for Patriots running back LeGarrette Blount and one game for Bills defensive tackle Marcell Dareus.

In all, players have been suspended for a cumulative 159 games for the 2015 season.

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Russell Wilson has more to say about Recovery Water

Seattle Seahawks v Kansas City Chiefs Getty Images

Over the past two days, Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson has said plenty of stuff about Recovery Water, a company in which he has invested. And most of what he has said indicates a belief by him that the product helps prevent or treat concussions.

Wilson was back at it on Thursday, extolling the virtues of a beverage with nanobubbles, which he claims helped him not get a concussion when he took a blow to the head against the Packers in January.

“I didn’t have a concussion,” Wilson told reporters, via comments distributed by the team. “I guess it was perceived wrong, but I did not have a concussion. I was saying that I had consistently been drinking the water for about a month, month and a half, you know, five to seven times a day and maybe this stuff is helping me out. It’s one of those things that I truly do believe it helps with recovery, it’s one of those things that the science behind it, all that help that they’re trying to do.”

Via Twitter on Wednesday, Wilson said that Recovery Water helped prevent him from getting a concussion, which meshes with what he said today. But what he said today conflicts with the message sent by his quotes to Rolling Stone, when he said, “I banged my head during the Packers game in the playoffs, and the next day I was fine. It was the water.”

Saying “the next day I was fine” implies that the prior day he wasn’t. Wilson said today that he was.

“I didn’t have any head injuries, but I was trying to say I think it helped prevent it,” Wilson said. “I think your brain consists of like 75 to 80 percent water so I think that just being hydrated and drinking the Recovery Water really does help.”

Under that theory, drinking any type water would help. As, possibly, would playing football while wearing not a helmet but a fishbowl.

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It sounds like Aaron Rodgers won’t play on Saturday

Packers Camp Football AP

Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers said Wednesday that the Packers offense is right where it needs to be for the start of the regular season before saying he wasn’t sure how much playing time he’d get in Saturday’s game against the Eagles.

Based on what one of his backups had to say on Thursday, it sounds like he won’t get any playing time at all. The Packers have three starting offensive linemen battling injuries heading into the game, which isn’t the kind of situation you want to put Rodgers in if you can avoid it. Quarterback Matt Blanchard says that they won’t when discussing his own plans for the game.

“I know the starters aren’t going to be playing but for us, it’s our first time out on Lambeau this season,” Blanchard said, via Rob Demovsky of ESPN.com. “The backups don’t normally get these type of reps. We have a lot of respect for Philly and their defense. Their starters are going to be playing a lot of time. It’s a good opportunity for Brett [Hundley] and I to get in there and see where we’re at and take advantage of it.”

Given the usual operating procedure for the final week of the preseason, it seems likely that Rodgers’s next game action will come in Week One against the Bears. Demovsky reports the team’s defensive starters are expected to play in Saturday’s game.

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Thursday’s PFT on NBCSN poll question looks at Colts, Rams

NBCSN

Week Three of the preseason includes a game between a pair of franchises that were once swapped by Robert Irsay and Carroll Rosenbloom. The Colts visit the Rams in a matchup of teams that were in Baltimore and L.A. when their pink slips were swapped.

Thursday’s Pro Football Talk on NBCSN bases a poll question on these two teams, asking whether it’s more likely that the Colts will make the Super Bowl or the Rams will make the playoffs.

Cast a ballot below and then tune in at 6:00 p.m. ET for 30 minutes of new and analysis with Rodney Harrison, Paul Burmeister, and yours truly. It’s guaranteed to get you ready for the all-important third week of the preseason. Assuming any week of the preseason is important.

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Patriots waive/injured 2012 third-rounder Jake Bequette

Jake Bequette AP

The Patriots waived 2012 third-round pick Jake Bequette last year, but brought him back to the practice squad and then moved him from defensive end to tight end this year in an attempt to find a place for him on the roster.

That effort has come to an end. The NFL’s daily transactions report brings word that Bequette, who had been absent from practice of late, has been waived with the injured designation. If he’s not claimed, he can go on Patriots injured reserve or become a free agent after an injury settlement with the team.

Bequette was one of four players dropped from the roster on Thursday. The team announced that offensive lineman Mark Asper and linebacker Cameron Gordon have been waived and that veteran defensive tackle Antonio Johnson has been released. The team also waived defensive back Jimmy Jean on Wednesday.

All the moves leave the Patriots with several open roster spots, but they may remain unfilled with the deadline to cut rosters to 75 players coming next week.

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Terrelle Pryor not sure if he’s playing Saturday

Terrelle Pryor AP

Terrelle Pryor practiced for the Browns again on Thursday, but he’s not sure whether he’ll be in the lineup for the team’s third preseason game on Saturday.

Pryor said, via Nate Ulrich of the Akron Beacon Journal, that how his hamstring feels on Friday will determine whether or not he can make his first appearance of the preseason and his first game appearance since making the move to wide receiver upon joining the Browns this offseason.

Browns coach Mike Pettine said recently that Pryor’s extended absence this summer has hurt his chances of making the team, something Pryor is aware of but says won’t stop him from following the injury protocol laid out by the team.

Given the lack of potential playmakers on Cleveland’s offense, Pryor may stand a better chance than most players who have had as little to do on the field as he’s had during camp. Still, a good showing on Saturday that ends with Pryor healthy would go a long way toward extending his stay with the team.

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Eagles waive/injured Emmanuel Acho after thumb surgery

Philadelphia Eagles v Arizona Cardinals Getty Images

The Eagles are down one inside linebacker in the competition to make the 53-man roster.

According to multiple reports, Emmanuel Acho has been waived/injured because of a thumb injury. Zach Berman of the Philadelphia Inquirer reports that Acho’s injury required surgery.

Every team in the league will have an opportunity to claim Acho off of waivers. If no one does, he can revert to injured reserve with the Eagles or reach an injury settlement with the team that makes him a free agent.

Acho played 20 games for the Eagles the last two seasons and made two starts last year. He was competing for a backup inside linebacker job this year.

His departure leaves Brad Jones and Najee Goode in the mix for spots along with Kiko Alonso, Mychal Kendricks, DeMeco Ryans and third-round pick Jordan Hicks. Jones has been getting some work at outside linebacker as well, which could boost his chances of surviving the cut to 53 players.

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RG3 declines to say if he had a concussion

Robert Griffin III AP

If you were inclined to believe that Robert Griffin III didn’t really suffer a concussion in last week’s preseason game, nothing he said today would change your mind.

Griffin met with the media today for the first time since the team announced last Thursday that he had a concussion, and when he was asked directly if he actually had a concussion, Griffin wouldn’t answer.

“You’ve got to talk to the people who report that stuff. I don’t report that stuff. I was in the locker room, taking a shower, getting ready to watch the rest of the game, so I don’t know,” Griffin said.

Questions have been raised about whether the team used a concussion diagnosis as a convenient way to let Griffin dodge the media. The NFL’s media policy says that all players are required to talk to reporters after games — with the exception of players who suffered concussions.

Asked today if he suffered a concussion when he got hit on his final play, Griffin answered, “I have no idea. I just know I was in some pain, the trainers came out and that was it.”

The team couldn’t get its story straight on the night of the game about whether Griffin had a concussion, and Griffin sounded today like he wanted to wash his hands of the team’s official concussion diagnosis, without coming right out and contradicting it.

What Griffin did say is that he’s been cleared to return, and he’s planning to play Saturday. He’ll have to address the media again after that game. Unless the team says he has another concussion.

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Still no timetable for Breshad Perriman’s return

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When Ravens first-round pick Breshad Perriman injured his knee in late July, the Ravens said they didn’t think it was a serious injury and that Perriman should be back without missing much time.

It’s almost a month since the injury and Perriman has yet to resume practicing, however. Coach John Harbaugh said last week that an MRI came back “normal,” but said Thursday that there still isn’t a timetable for Perriman to get back on the field.

“I’m asking too,” Harbaugh said, via the team’s website. “It’s just slower healing than [the doctors] expected. They really don’t have a timetable right now. That’s all I really have to say on that.”

Quarterback Joe Flacco called Perriman’s absence “disappointing” and said that Perriman will likely have work to do to get himself back into shape once he does get the green light to resume football activities. There will also be a lot of making up for lost practice time, all of which could lead to less of an impact from Perriman than the Ravens hoped to receive during the 2015 season.

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Pettine: Manziel likely done for preseason

Johnny Manziel AP

The mystery surrounding the elbow and arm soreness plaguing Browns second-year quarterback Johnny Manziel continues to grow with Thursday’s announcement by Browns coach Mike Pettine that Manziel is definitely going to miss Saturday’s preseason game at Tampa Bay and probably won’t be able to play in the Sept. 3 preseason finale at Chicago, either.

Pettine said Wednesday that an MRI on Manziel had shown no structural damage and that he was dealing with “a little bit of soreness.”

A day before announcing Manziel was likely done for the preseason, Pettine said Manziel “could play [if he had to]” in Saturday’s preseason game, but the team saw no reason to risk it. Thursday, Pettine said basically said the same, which adds to the mystery.

Earlier this week, new Browns offensive coordinator John DeFilippo told reporters Manziel’s injury was a function of his delivery.

Is it just soreness? Or is it something more — and potentially more serious — that’s likely to keep a player trying to rebound from a lost rookie season to miss basically two weeks of practice and two preseason games?

Pettine said Thursday the Browns had planned to give Manziel his first reps of the preseason with the starting offense at Tampa Bay. He led one touchdown drive in each of the first two preseason games with the No. 2 offense.

Manziel’s injury all but assures that Josh McCown will be the team’s starting quarterback for the Sept. 13 preseason opener at the Jets. Pettine had been firm that McCown was the No. 1 quarterback, but unless McCown can win a bunch of games the Browns need to see Manziel at some point to get a further evaluation on whether he can end the team’s ongoing quest for a franchise quarterback, and having arm problems makes things even more difficult on Manziel.

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Letroy Guion’s three-game suspension is upheld

Letroy Guion AP

Packers defensive lineman Letroy Guion was suspended three games by the NFL under the substance-abuse policy. He had appeal rights under a procedure that, as of September 2014, removed final say from the league office and exported it to an external panel.

The panel has now spoken, and the appeal has been upheld — only three days after a hearing on the situation.

The league has announced that Guion will miss the first three games without pay of the 2015 regular season. He’ll be eligible to return after the September 28 game against the Chiefs. The suspension begins following the preseason finale.

Guion was arrested in February on marijuana charges. He eventually reached a plea deal in the case.

Packers linebacker Datone Jones also has been suspended for the first game of the 2015 season for violation of the substance-abuse policy.

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IK Enemkpali goes the “no comment” route, which is probably best

Buffalo Bills v Cleveland Browns Getty Images

While it’s hard to imagine what he could say to make this better, IK Enemkpali chose to play it safe this time.

According to Tyler Dunne of the Buffalo News, the Bills linebacker declined comment through a team spokesman about the bizarre catfishing story which has landed his name in the headlines again.

As we noted this morning, Enemkpali was named in a 2011 report saying he — maybe you should catch your breath here — punched a man he thought was a woman he had arranged to have sex with who now happens to be a pastor in Louisiana, allegedly breaking out two of his teeth before the imposter named “Missy Lee” tried to extort him out of $1,000.

Yeah, that’s what we thought too.

So yes, this story is lewd, lascivious, salacious, and outrageous. And it’s embarrassing for a kid who has enough to worry about without it.

At the same time, it’s at least the third time he is documented to have punched someone (along with an off-duty cop and former Jets teammate Geno Smith), which ought to be a concern for the league and perhaps the Bills beyond the prurient details of this particular story.

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Four-game suspension suggests multiple violations for Martavis Bryant in a year

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The new substance-abuse policy dramatically reduced the punishment for players who test positive for banned compounds like marijuana. Which means that more violations of the policy are now required to trigger a four-game suspension.

For Steelers receiver Martavis Bryant, the proposed four-game suspension means that the league believes he has violated the policy a second time while in Stage Two of the three-stage program.

Given the changes to the policy, the Steelers should be alarmed that Bryant already is facing a four-game suspension. It means that, only 16 months after he was drafted, he has failed to choose football over a banned substance on multiple occasions.

If he continues to not choose football over one or more banned substances, he eventually will face a 10-game suspension and, after that, a minimum suspension of one year.

The good news for the Steelers and Bryant is that, under the substance-abuse policy that was in place when Bryant joined the team, he possibly would be facing a one-year suspension now. The better news is that the new substance-abuse policy removes from Commissioner Roger Goodell or his designee final say over the punishment, with neutral arbitration available for Bryant to present any arguments he may have in support of the position that he didn’t violate the policy, this time.

Still, if he loses, Bryant could eventually be facing a one-year suspension — with a requirement to pass up to 10 tests per months in order to get reinstated.

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NFLPA, NFL say nothing unusual about number of preseason injuries

Kelvin Benjamin AP

Several teams have found themselves changing plans this preseason after seeing a key player go down with a season-ending injury and the growing number of such injuries have some people wondering if those injuries have become more prevalent.

Both the NFL and the NFL Players Association say that they haven’t. The loss of players like Jordy Nelson, Kelvin Benjamin, Orlando Scandrick, Ryan Clady and Junior Galette may leave teams shorthanded, but both the league and the union told Mark Maske of the Washington Post that there’s nothing unusual about the number of severe injuries to this point in the season.

“As a physician, your heart goes out to these guys,” NFLPA medical director Thom Mayer said. “You feel so bad for them. These guys put so much into this and it’s such a letdown for them, for their teams, for the fans. [But] as a research scientist, you have to say, ‘Let’s look at this over time.’ Statistically it doesn’t look like it’s a trend. Unless it continues at this pace for some time, it doesn’t look like anything out of the norm. But for each of these guys individually, it’s 100 percent of their experience. It’s a setback professionally and it’s very difficult personally.”

There have been coaches and others around the league that have shared their opinion that reductions in the number of practices and amount of hitting in those practices in the 2011 CBA have left players more vulnerable to injuries. Others argue that the league’s crackdown on high hits has left players at greater risk to knee injuries, but, per the league’s injury data, the number of ACL and MCL injuries has remained fairly steady in the last few years and, as we saw with Nelson and other players, many torn ACLs are non-contact injuries.

It’s still a subject that the league, union and teams should explore in order to make the game as safe as possible, but the end result may still be that playing football carries an inherent risk of injury that can’t be totally eliminated.

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