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Justin Smith to get MRI on left arm

Justin Smith AP

It’s not a total coincidence that the Patriots comeback last night happened when one of the 49ers key players was on the sidelines.

Defensive tackle Justin Smith suffered what was described as an elbow injury, and missed a significant chunk of the second half. After going to the locker room for X-ray and getting his left arm wrapped, he tried to come back, but wasn’t able to finish.

Smith told Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com he’d have an MRI today when he returned to the Bay Area.

“I’ll see on MRI, and we’ll go from there,” Smith said. “I’ll do anything I can to play.”

Smith has played 188 consecutive games, the longest active streak among defensive tackles.

His replacement, Ricky Jean Francois, had a sack late in the game that helped them preserve the win.

“It’s next man up,” Smith said. “Ricky is a heck of a player and he came in and made a heck of a play. It was a huge play, a big turning point in the game.”

That’s nice, but if Smith’s out for any amount of time, it’s a huge blow for the 49ers defense, not only for his own contributions, but for the way he frees up outside linebacker Aldon Smith in the pass rush.

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Hard Knocks could keep Texans from luring practice partners

Texans Getty Images

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yet.

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Saints happy to have healthy safeties in OTAs this year

Terrance West, Jairus Byrd AP

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

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

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

The Saints also have safety Kenny Vaccaro on the field after he was limited last spring while coming off a fractured ankle. Vaccaro struggled on the field in 2015 and said Thursday his year was also negatively impacted by injuries, but thinks things are coming together for him and Byrd.

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

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

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Jordy Nelson not practicing, but not worried after hip surgery

Jordy Nelson AP

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

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

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

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

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

Michael Oher AP

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Tim Tebow enjoying his next last chance to make NFL mark

PHILADELPHIA, PA - MAY 28: Tim Tebow #11 of the Philadelphia Eagles walks off the field after OTA's on May 28, 2015 at the NovaCare Complex in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images) Getty Images

Being two years out of the league, Tim Tebow’s not about to take any opportunity for granted.

So even if he’s a bit of a curiosity, and no better than third on the Eagles’ depth chart, he’s still all smiles.

“I think sometimes when things are taken away, then you don’t realize how much fun it is to come out here and play this game,” Tebow said, via Nate Davis of USA Today. “You can’t play it forever, so I’m going to enjoy it.”

While many thought he was done after his training camp stint with the Patriots two years ago, he said he continued to train as if his next chance was coming any day. As for competition, he said a family gathering provided that.

“I still competed. I trained every single day,” he said. “You should have seen the Tebow Turkey Bowl. It was the craziest thing ever.

“I’m serious. We had uniforms.”

He said he thought his offseason work with quarterback tutor Tom House had helped, specifically mentioning his balance, posture and timing.

“I think he’s improved,” Eagles coach Chip Kelly said. “He’s had a lot of time the last two years working at his game. [We] wanted to have a fourth quarterback here.”

Kelly also said Tebow’s only there as a quarterback, scuttling any idea of a position switch. And with his proposal to move two-point conversions to the 1-yard line voted down, keeping him around for that job might not be as important as it might have been.

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Jameis Winston impressing with his work ethic in Bucs camp

TAMPA, FL - MAY 9: Quarterback Jameis Winston #3 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers works out during Rookie Mini Camp at One Buccaneer Place on May 9, 2015 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Don Juan Moore/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Buccaneers have found their first issue with quarterback Jameis Winston, already running into something he struggles with.

We have to kind of tell him when to leave,” Buccaneers coach Lovie Smith said, via Pat Yasinskas of ESPN.com.

That’s not a bad problem to have for any rookie, much less the first overall pick in the draft. While he wasn’t at Thursday’s practice because of the NFLPA Rookie Premiere event in Los Angeles, getting in enough work hasn’t been an issue.

Smith said he took double reps Wednesday to make up for the absence, and it was his best day of work so far (or perhaps since his marathon pro day workout prior to the draft).

“For him, there’s been a lot of individual work, but having a chance this week to go against our best defense and things like that [has been good],” Smith said. “We have a long ways to go. But we like where he is right now.”

Likewise, teammates have praised Winston for his work, and for always having his playbook on him, and being ready for whatever they throw at him, which has been a lot.

“He didn’t have his training wheels on or anything like that,” Smith said. “We’re kind of throwing him out there and he’s handling just about everything we’ve asked him to do.”

That’s a good sign for the Bucs, but a better sign for Winston, whose maturity many (reasonably) wondered about based on some of his college actions.

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Timing of Clady injury gives Broncos ample time to react

Peyton Manning, Ryan Clady, Rob Ninkovich AP

Two years ago, the Broncos lost left tackle Ryan Clady for the year in Week Two. They made it to the Super Bowl.

Sure, they could have used him against Seattle in the Super Bowl, but the Broncos nevertheless had a very successful season with Clady not contributing much to it. And they had to react to Clady’s absence on the fly, with no time to do anything other than call the next man up.

In 2013, Chris Clark got the assignment. And Clark is still on the team, able to do now what he did then — with a lot more time to prepare for the assignment.

Veteran Ryan Harris, who signed with the Broncos in the immediate aftermath of the Clady injury, can handle the right side, and youngsters Michael Schofield and Ty Sambrailo can compete for reps and provide depth.

Of course, the fact that the latest Clady injury happened in May could prompt a certain quarterback who may be entering the last year of his career to clamor for one or more 2016 draft picks to be dangled in an effort to upgrade the position, especially since said quarterback may not be around when those picks would be used.

Still, it’s much better to have time to react to a major injury. The Broncos did well to replace Clady when they didn’t have that luxury. They’ll now be expected to do it again.

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Ishmaa’ily Kitchen signs restricted tender with Browns

Ish Kitchen Getty Images

Cleveland Browns defensive lineman Ishmaa’ily Kitchen signed his restricted free agent tender with the team on Thursday.

The Browns placed a right of first refusal tender on Kitchen prior to the start of free agency in March. The tender is worth $1.542 million for the 2015 season.

Kitchen appeared in 12 games for Cleveland and made three starts while playing primarily at nose tackle. He recorded 43 tackles for the season. In his three-year career, Kitchen has played in 40 games for the Browns.

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Confusion emerges regarding basis for Hardy discipline

Hardy Getty Images

The Greg Hardy appeal hearing has come and gone, and confusion has emerged regarding one of the most important aspects of the case.

Per a source with knowledge of the situation, Hardy and the NFL Players Association contend that the NFL failed to specify during the hearing whether league imposed on Hardy a 10-game suspension under the Personal Conduct Policy in force at the time of the alleged misconduct or under the version that came later in the year, following the Ray Rice debacle. Hardy and the NFLPA also contend that arbitrator Harold Henderson failed to force the NFL to say which version of the policy was used.

In an appearance last month on ESPN’s Outside the Lines, NFL general counsel Jeff Pash seemed to emphasize that the discipline was imposed under the old policy. But he also made it clear that the investigation occurred under the new procedures that were adopted after the Rice case.

The alleged confusion also comes in the wake of an effort by the union to have the NFL deemed to be in contempt of court for failing to comply with the court order issued in the case filed on behalf of Vikings running back Adrian Peterson. That motion specifically claims that the league applied the new policy retroactively to Hardy, in defiance of the ruling from Judge David Doty to the contrary in Peterson’s case.

Absent a significant reduction in Hardy’s suspension, a lawsuit is inevitable in his case, too. And Hardy could easily win.

But no one would be able to accuse the NFL of going too soft on off-field misconduct. Given that the Rice situation nearly took down a Commissioner, the NFL will never be accused of going too soft on off-field misconduct ever again.

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Report: Giants meet with Jake Long

Jake Long AP

The Giants, who are likely to be without their starting left tackle for at least part of the 2015 season, have reportedly huddled with a four-time Pro Bowler at the position.

Ex-Ram Jake Long, who has struggled with injuries in recent seasons, met with the Giants on Thursday, per Dan Graziano of ESPN.com.

The No. 1 overall pick in 2008 by Miami, the 30-year-old Long has torn his right ACL in back-to-back seasons, most recently on October 26. He also has suffered biceps and triceps tears in 2011 and 2012, respectively. The Rams released Long in March after two seasons.

The Giants’ incumbent left tackle, Will Beatty, suffered a pectoral tear last week. The injury could force first-round pick Ereck Flowers to step into the lineup right off the bat on the left side.

If healthy, Long would bolster the Giants’ tackle depth, giving them insurance in the event Flowers isn’t ready. However, Long would have to pass a physical.

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Adrian Peterson takes aim at the NFLPA

Adrian Peterson AP

Vikings running back Adrian Peterson isn’t happy. The good news is he’s finally admitting it. The bad news is that it’s still not clear who or what he’s not happy with.

After months of leaks and comments from folks close to Peterson but not Peterson suggesting that he’s not happy with the Vikings because of how the team reacted to Peterson’s off-field issue last year, Peterson made it clear on Wednesday night that he’s not happy with a contract that provides him no further guaranteed money. On Thursday, Peterson broadened his attack to encompass the entire system.

On Thursday night, Peterson took specific aim at the NFL Players Association.

“To clarify,” Peterson said on Twitter, “since analysts & everyone else have the answers as to what place in MY Heart this ‘rant‘ came from, this is not against the Vikings. I am just frustrated that our union did not get guaranteed contracts for its players. NFL players deserve guaranteed contracts like Our NBA and MLB brothers. Owners have the right to release players, at will, without honoring their contracts. However, players do not have the luxury of saying that they want out of their contract. And I won’t even get into the franchise tag convo.”

I’m a huge Adrian Peterson fan. I always have been. But I’m definitely not a fan of this new tactic.

Peterson believes he has in some way been wronged, by someone, over the past nine months. Still, a shotgun attack on a system that has made him a very rich man and that has the Vikings ready to pay a 30-year-old running back $12.75 million this year makes little sense.

Four years ago, he could have insisted on a fully-guaranteed contract. Or he could have insisted on a shorter-term deal, which would have allowed him to get a fresh start elsewhere. Instead, with full awareness of a system that was reiterated by a Collective Bargaining Agreement signed not long before he signed his latest contract, Peterson made a seven-year commitment, knowing that the commitment would only go both ways as long as his employer wanted it to.

Peterson made that commitment after comparing pro football to “modern-day slavery.” So he went in with eyes and ears open as to what the NFL is (or as to what he thinks it is), he signed a long-term contract, he willingly and voluntarily took a $12 million signing bonus, he earned more than $35 million over four years at a position that has become largely interchangeable in recent seasons, and he’ll get another $12.75 million this year by simply showing up for work.

It’s unclear whether Peterson is willing to not play this year or to retire if the Vikings don’t guarantee his contract beyond 2015 or if they won’t trade him. It’s possible he simply needed to vent, as he makes his way from anger to bargaining then denial, depression, and finally acceptance.

Regardless, he’s not going to find much sympathy here, or pretty much anywhere.

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Cowboys sign rookie LB Damien Wilson

2015 NFL Scouting Combine Getty Images

The Cowboys almost have their entire rookie class under contract.

Dallas has signed fourth-round selection Damien Wilson, a linebacker from Minnesota, the team said Thursday.

The pact with Wilson leaves cornerback Byron Jones, the Cowboys’ first-round selection, as the only rookie without a deal.

Wilson (6-0, 243) notched 197 tackles (16 for loss) in two seasons with the Golden Gophers. He was timed at 4.77 seconds in the 40-yard dash at the 2015 NFL Scouting Combine, and he posted a 37-inch vertical leap.

“He’s learning real well, and he’s working real hard, so excited about where’s he going,” Cowboys linebackers coach Matt Eberflus said of Wilson on Wednesday.

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Malcolm Jenkins: No one on the Eagles thinks we have a race issue

malcolmjenkins AP

Former Eagle LeSean McCoy may think Chip Kelly got rid of the good black players, but those who have remained in Philadelphia don’t see it that way.

That’s the word from Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins, who said he and his teammates respect Kelly and don’t believe he’s basing his evaluations on race.

“Chip has been very, very transparent on what he’s evaluating us on,” Jenkins said, via CSNPhilly.com. “That’s not only what we do on the field, but what we do in our assessments and how disciplined we are with our nutrition and all the sports science stuff. I haven’t seen him make a move outside of those parameters. I don’t think anybody in the locker room now thinks we have an issue with race. I don’t see that being a problem in the future. I don’t think there’s any need for Chip to address it.”

If other players on the Eagles agree with McCoy about Kelly, it has the potential to undermine Kelly’s ability to coach his team. But their public comments suggest that other players agree with Jenkins that there’s not a race problem on the Eagles.

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DeMaurice Smith suggests Ray Rice is being blackballed

Ray Rice Press Conference Getty Images

NFL Players Association head DeMaurice Smith thinks it doesn’t speak well for the NFL that no team is willing to give Ray Rice another chance.

Smith told Sal Paolantonio of ESPN that Rice, who is not suspended and is eligible to play as soon as a team signs him, would be back in the NFL if teams were willing to give him a fair chance.

“This, unfortunately, is a league that has a history of blackballing players. I find it hard to believe that a player of Mr. Rice’s caliber hasn’t at least gotten one offer from a team to come work out,” Smith said.

The term “blackballing” suggests something underhanded, but the reality is that NFL teams aren’t hiding the fact that they simply don’t want to do business with the man who last year became the poster boy for domestic violence in America. That’s the prerogative of each team, and while the union is free to advocate on Rice’s behalf, there’s not much the union can do about it.

If all 32 NFL teams have decided that they’re never going to give Rice another chance, then Rice has only himself to blame for that.

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Dez Bryant does the smart thing by showing up

Dez Bryant AP

It’s become a given that a player saddled with the franchise tag won’t show up for any workouts or practices until he signs a long-term deal or accepts his one-year franchise tender. But it may not be the smart thing to do — especially if the tagged player plans to work out on his own.

As Broncos G.M. John Elway pointed out several weeks back when venting regarding the absence of receiver Demaryius Thomas, unsigned franchise players who get injured while working out on their own get nothing. Unsigned franchise players who show up pursuant to a letter agreement that guarantees their franchise tender if they tear an ACL or pop out an Achilles who get injured get full pay.

So unless staying away was going to squeeze more money out of the team’s coffers (it wasn’t), why not continue to get ready to have a big season while working out with the team? For Bryant, the best play would be to take the $12.8 million this year, do it again next year at a 20-percent raise ($15.36 million), and then hit the market in 2017 — because there’s no way the Cowboys would pay him $22.11 million under a third franchise tag.

More franchise-tagged players need to consider the wisdom of Bryant’s move. And more will do what Bryant did the minute that one of them suffers a serious injury while unsigned and while working out at the local YMCA.

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