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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 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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Roger Goodell will be earning his money on Tuesday

PHILADELPHIA, PA - NOVEMBER 2: (EDITORIAL USE ONLY)  In this handout image supplied by Carnival Cruise Lines, film extras surround a huge pinata, which has broken the Guinness Record for the world's largest pinata, on November 2, 2008 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The giant mock donkey measures 60 feet, 4 inches long; 23 feet, 10.5 inches wide and 61 feet, 10.25 inches tall and is filled with 8,000 pounds of candy. A wrecking ball will be used later on Sunday to smash the pinata during a public event. (Photo by Andy Newman/Carnival Cruise Lines via Getty Images) Getty Images

On Monday, a Congressional report slammed the NFL for trying to improperly influence a National Institutes of Health study regarding the possible detection of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy in living patients. On Tuesday, the man PFT’s Darin Gantt calls the world’s highest-paid piñata could be spewing candy all over the place.

Whether it happens during his post-meeting press conference or whether it occurs behind closed doors with his bosses, Commissioner Roger Goodell is going to be facing tough questions on Tuesday in Charlotte regarding the conclusion that the league crossed the line by trying to tie a supposedly no-strings-attached donation to the selection of a researcher that the league deemed to be acceptable — and then by yanking $16 million for the study when the league didn’t get its way. Goodell also may be asked to explain to those who pay him why the league didn’t respond to the report more quickly and more aggressively.

For hours on Monday, the league was silent. Which suggests that the NFL didn’t realize the report was coming or wasn’t otherwise prepared to counter the potential determination that the league had engaged in allegedly unsavory behavior. Which could spark some tough questions from owners on Tuesday regarding the league office’s handling of the issue.

It’s still unclear where this specific issue will go. Unlike most other NFL-related controversies, it won’t entail a judge banging a gavel or a jury reading a verdict. But it’s another example of the part-bullying, part-wagon-circling ways of the NFL on issues of head trauma, which will undoubtedly give the opponents of the league even more reason to continue to search for more evidence of the same kind of behavior.

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Report: Dwight Freeney to work out for Bengals

GLENDALE, AZ - DECEMBER 27:  Linebacker Dwight Freeney #54 and defensive end Frostee Rucker #92 of the Arizona Cardinals celebrate after a play during the NFL game against the Green Bay Packers at University of Phoenix Stadium on December 27, 2015 in Glendale, Arizona.  (Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images) Getty Images

Veteran pass rusher Dwight Freeney went on ESPN recently to market himself to teams that might be looking for a little bit more off the edge this season and said his preference is to join a winning team.

Freeney’s quest for that job will reportedly take him to Cincinnati. Coley Harvey of reports that Freeney will work out for the Bengals this week.

Freeney had a team-high eight sacks and also added three forced fumbles in 11 games for the Cardinals after signing with them during the 2015 season. That production came in a situational role that showed Freeney hasn’t lost much of his ability to get to the quarterback after 14 years in the NFL.

Carlos Dunlap and Michael Johnson are set to start at defensive end in the base 4-3 scheme that defensive coordinator Paul Guenther runs in Cincinnati, but the loss of Wallace Gilberry in free agency opens a role in sub packages that Freeney could fill.

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If Brady deserves punishment, why not the same as for Stickum?

Tom Brady AP

Remember when Buccaneers running back Errict Rhett was caught violating league rules by tampering with equipment in an effort to give himself a better grip on the football? You probably don’t, because in that case the NFL didn’t launch a months-long, multimillion-dollar investigation that concluded with Rhett being suspended and the Buccaneers being stripped of draft picks. No, when Rhett was caught putting Stickum on his jersey, the NFL responded by fining him $5,000.

With that decision, the NFL established a clear precedent that when a player commits an equipment violation, there’s a policy in place: He gets fined, and that’s the end of it. So why, when the NFL found that Tom Brady was caught violating the rules by tampering with equipment in an effort to give himself a better grip on the football, did the league have such a drastically different reaction?

That’s a question Ted Olson, the former United States Solicitor General who’s now part of Brady’s legal team, would like to have answered. Olson appeared this morning on PFT Live and pointed out that the Collective Bargaining Agreement already provides for players to get fined if they break a rule related to equipment. If the NFL thinks Brady broke an equipment rule, the punishment should have been a fine, not a four-game suspension.

“There’s a provision in the Collective Bargaining Agreement with respect to equipment violations, and that’s what Brady is accused of,” Olson said. “We feel — and the evidence is very strong — that Tom Brady did not do anything wrong with respect to that. But if he did, and that’s what he’s accused of, those provisions are the appropriate provisions to apply. They call for a fine. . . . Instead, this very draconian punishment of a four-game suspension was imposed, instead of referring to the very provisions in the Agreement for people accused of violating the rules with respect to equipment. And the commissioner did not even discuss why he was not turning to that provision of the Collective Bargaining Agreement.”

It’s a strong argument on Brady’s side, one that the Chief Judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit finds persuasive. And although NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell wouldn’t say so, it’s easy to wonder whether, in hindsight, he had just put this whole thing behind him a year and a half ago by fining Brady and moving on.

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Bills have no immediate plans to look for outside help after injuries

PHILADELPHIA, PA - DECEMBER 13:  Sammy Watkins #14 of the Buffalo Bills celebrates scoring a touchdown against the Philadelphia Eagles during the first quarter at Lincoln Financial Field on December 13, 2015 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Bills got two pieces of bad injury news recently with wide receiver Sammy Watkins‘ broken foot and linebacker Shaq Lawson’s shoulder issue.

During an appearance on WGR 550 on Tuesday, General Manager Doug Whaley said that there hasn’t been a firm timetable established for either player’s recovery at this point but did say Lawson is expected to miss at least the early part of the regular season. Whaley said they don’t anticipate Watkins will miss any time come September, but the team will have to prepare for that possibility in the coming months.

For now, neither that preparation nor the effort to replace Lawson will include an addition from outside the organization. Whaley was asked about signing veterans like Dwight Freeney and Anquan Boldin and said that the team wants to see how the players already on the roster fare before considering any move to bring in a new face.

Manny Lawson is expected to be the first man up at linebacker while the unrelated Lawson recovers from shoulder surgery. Greg Salas, Leonard Hankerson and rookie Kolby Listenbee are some of the receivers who will see more time while Watkins is out of the lineup.

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Head of NFL’s head, neck and spine committee slams Congressional report

Capitol Getty Images

The NFL’s lead concussion doctor feels like he’s been blindsided.

In an interview with Tom Pelissero of USA Today, Dr. Richard Ellenbogen, who co-chairs the league’s head, neck and spine committee, denies he tried to direct funds for a research grant on the NFL’s behalf and said he wasn’t contacted before the Congressional report critical of the league’s role was released.

Ellenbogen said his two phone calls with National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke director Dr. Walter Koroshetz were related to the research protocols, and not to influence whether a $16 million grant went to researchers at Boston University instead.

“We know there are long-term risks of traumatic brain injury, and we need to know the incidence and prevalence,” Ellenbogen said. “Is it one in a million or is it 100 in a million? That was the entire thing that got blown up.

“I never talked to Congress. No one ever asked me my opinion. I had two private conversations with Walter, and this is a lesson I guess: Big Government can crush you if you disagree with them. I’m trying to protect the kids.”

The Democratic staff report of the House Energy and Commerce Committee criticized the NFL, saying they tried to influence the direction of research funding.

The league has denied the allegations in the report, saying they were “deeply committed to continuing to accelerate scientific research and advancements in this critical area, and we stand ready to support additional independent research to that end.”

Ellenbogen, who said he isn’t paid by the NFL, defended his work studying concussions in youth players, and said he hoped for longitudinal studies to provide more information. He’s taken up the cause after a patient of his (Zackery Lystedt) nearly died because of a brain hemorrhage after he re-entered a game following a concussion. He’s advocated for a law that requires youth athletes who suffer concussions to receive written approval from a doctor before returning to play.

“Why would I go and lobby 50 states to pass the Zack Lystedt law if I wanted to hide the [issue]?” Ellenbogen said. “We put protection in place for kids. That’s what I do. I’m there to make sports safer. Sports are good for kids. I want to make it safer. That’s my role. Period.

“I had no delusions [about influencing the grant selection]. But as long as it’s America, I get to express my opinion. And Congress never asked me. That’s pretty interesting – guilty until proven innocent, huh?”

While the report may have been partisan, it’s certainly an embarrassing visual for the league, and something owners will certainly want to learn more about from commissioner Roger Goodell at today’s league meetings in Charlotte.

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Tuesday morning one-liners

SEATTLE, WA - JANUARY 18:  Jordy Nelson #87 of the Green Bay Packers is tackled by  Byron Maxwell #41 of the Seattle Seahawks during the 2015 NFC Championship game at CenturyLink Field on January 18, 2015 in Seattle, Washington.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Bills’ right tackle competition will heat up at OTAs.

Former Dolphins RB Larry Csonka was involved in the pitch for bringing a Super Bowl to Miami.

Three undrafted cornerbacks are trying for spots with the Patriots.

Ryan Fitzpatrick won’t be there, but plenty of eyes will be on the quarterbacks at Jets OTAs this week.

WR Breshad Perriman and TE Dennis Pitta will try to prove to the Ravens that they can stay on the field.

Said Bengals QB Andy Dalton of WR Brandon LaFell, “Ever since he walked in it feels like he’s been here the whole time. When we’re calling plays it’s not like he’s second guessing himself. He knows what he’s doing. He’s going to help us a lot this year.”

The arrival of four wide receivers in the draft led to the end of the line for WR Brian Hartline with the Browns.

Steelers LB Arthur Moats believes younger players have a better chance to contribute under defensive coordinator Keith Butler than they did under Dick LeBeau.

Texans LB Whitney Mercilus and G Jeff Allen were college roommates.

Scott Tolzien is getting used to life as a Colts backup quarterback.

Jaguars CB Davon House has high hopes for Jalen Ramsey’s recovery speed.

Habitat for Humanity will hold an event in conjunction with the Titans.

The Broncos spent Monday on the golf course.

Taking stock of the Chiefs cornerbacks.

More offensive balance is a Raiders goal this season.

Chargers LB Joshua Perry is keeping a diary of his first NFL season.

OTAs offer a chance to see how Byron Jones is settling in at safety for the Cowboys.

Giants coach Ben McAdoo is naming drill periods at practice after former players.

S Rodney McLeod is feeling at home in the Eagles defense.

Have the Redskins improved their defense enough?

Bears CB Kevin Peterson hopes to prove the NFL wrong for passing him over in the draft.

Taylor Decker’s spot on the offensive line is one thing to watch at Lions OTAs.

How much will Packers WR Jordy Nelson be doing during OTA practices.

Year Three is shaping up to be a big one for Vikings QB Teddy Bridgewater.

Falcons CB Jalen Collins discussed the “mistake” that resulted in a four-game suspension.

The Panthers’ home field is undergoing some maintenance.

How will the pieces fit in the Saints backfield?

The Buccaneers are working on developing options at center.

Cardinals CB Brandon Williams used to be a member of Carl Lewis’ track club.

Sifting through the Rams’ injury questions heading into the final stretch of offseason work.

The 49ers have the makings of a competition at inside linebacker.

Do the Seahawks have their backup quarterback on the roster right now?

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Colts draft bust Bjoern Werner is having more fun in Jacksonville

Bjoern Werner from Florida State Uni holds an Indianapolis Colts jersey after being selected by Colts as the 24th overall pick in NFL Draft in New York Reuters

The Colts spent a first-round draft pick on pass rusher Bjoern Werner in 2013, and he was a huge disappointment, with just 6.5 sacks before he was released this year. But Werner, who has signed with the Jaguars, says he’s now in the right place.

That doesn’t just mean Jacksonville instead of Indianapolis — though it doesn’t hurt to be closer to Florida State, where he played his best football. It mostly means back at defensive end, his college position, rather than outside linebacker, where the Colts tried to play him.

“It’s just reminding me of being back in my college days because the last three years was a lot of standing up,” Werner told the Florida Times-Union. “It makes it so much more fun putting your hand down.”

Although some would say it was dumb of the Colts to put a square peg in a round hole by drafting a defensive end and moving him to outside linebacker, Werner says he takes responsibility for his failure in Indianapolis.

“I wasn’t good enough for the team, I guess,” Werner said. “I had never really experienced that part of the game before. I’m here and now I’m the outside guy looking in. I’m just trying to make the team.”

If he can play defensive end like he did in college, he has a good chance.

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Luke Joeckel out to prove he can still be left tackle of the future

Jacksonville Jaguars v Tennessee Titans Getty Images

The Jaguars have done everything to suggest to Luke Joeckel this offseason that he’s not their left tackle of the future.

But the former No. 2 overall pick is determined to prove he can still be the left tackle of the present.

Via Ryan O’Halloran of the Florida Times-Union, Joeckel said he’s fighting to keep the job expected of him since the 2013 NFL Draft, when he was the second player off the board, ostensibly to become a franchise cornerstone.

I’m going in planning on winning the job,” Joeckel said. “I’m competing for a spot – that’s what this program is based on. I have to go out there and improve myself each and every day.”

He’ll have to. Already this offseason, the Jaguars went out and signed former Steelers left tackle Kelvin Beachum, and yesterday they gave Joeckel snaps at guard as part of the kind of experiments you try in the spring.

But the toughest blow was when they didn’t pick up the 2017 option on his rookie contract, since they didn’t want to guarantee $11.9 million a year from now to a guy they didn’t know what to do with.

“I don’t know if insulted is the right word for it,” he said. “[General manager] Dave [Caldwell] was honest with me the whole time.

“You do take it personally, for sure. But I want to stick in Jacksonville. I like it here. It all comes down to my play and I know that.”

Jaguars coach Gus Bradley said he could see a difference in Joeckel this spring, saying: “It feels like he’s on a little bit of a mission.”

A mission for a new contract, and to convince the Jaguars he can still be the guy they thought they were getting in 2013.

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J.J. Watt still working on the side as Texans begin OTAs

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - FEBRUARY 04:  J.J. Watt attends the J.J. Watt At Mizzen+Main Pop-Up Shop In San Francisco on February 4, 2016 in San Francisco, California.  (Photo by Eugene Gologursky/Getty Images for Mizzen+Main) Getty Images

Texans defensive end J.J. Watt has a cool new logo, and also some free time on his hands.

According to Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle, Watt wasn’t among the Texans practicing at the start of OTAs, as he recovers from offseason groin surgery.

Watt, the defending NFL defensive player of the year after a 17 1/2-sack season which also included a broken hand, worked out on the side while his teammates got started on the field.

He wasn’t the only Texans star on the sidelines, as left tackle Duane Brown continues to recover from a torn quadriceps tendon. Brown has said he’ll be ready by the start of the regular season.

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Pete Morelli gets entirely new officiating crew after multiple errors last season

Morelli Getty Images

After a poor season for Pete Morelli and his officiating crew last season that featured two separate disciplinary measures from the league for mistakes, the league has given Morelli an entirely new crew for 2016.

According to Ben Austro of, Morelli’s crew has been entirely reassigned after errors with timing in the Pittsburgh Steelers-San Diego Chargers game and a Baltimore Ravens-Jacksonville Jaguars contest last season resulted in league discipline against the crew.

Side judge Rob Vernatchi was suspended for Week 6 games after failing to notice a clock error in the Steelers-Chargers game. Another mistake in the Jaguars-Ravens game gave Jacksonville the opportunity to kick a game-winning field goal when time should have expired. The result was Morelli’s crew getting yanked from working a Sunday Night Football game in Week 13 between the Steelers and Indianapolis Colts.

The league is also set to add three new officials this season. Side judge Alan Eck and head linesman Jerod Phillips from the Big 12, and umpire Ramon George of Conference USA. Head linesman George Hayward is the only retirement from the on-field officiating roster.

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Chargers, Cardinals to practice together in training camp

GREEN BAY, WI - OCTOBER 18:  Head coach Mike McCoy of the San Diego Chargers calls a play in the second quarter against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field on October 18, 2015 in Green Bay, Wisconsin.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Chargers haven’t conducted joint practices with another team during training camp since 2012, a year before Mike McCoy arrived as head coach. They’ll do it this year.

Via Michael Gehlken of the San Diego Union-Tribune, the Cardinals and Chargers plan to practice together in advance of an August 19 preseason game between the two teams.

“You can count on us doing it,” McCoy said Monday, according to Gehlken. “I can’t tell you it’s going to be this day, it’s going to be that day. But we’re going to practice against Arizona.”

A couple of Chargers veterans with experience facing other teams during camp approve of the approach.

“I don’t want to say it breaks training camp up, but it’s not your teammates you’re going up against, so it’s kind of nice,” running back Danny Woodhead said, per Gehlken. “You get to compete against people who haven’t seen you every single day. It’s always fun to do that — not necessarily a measuring stick to where you’re at but just to go against a different team.”

“[Y]ou get tired of going up against your guys,” cornerback Brandon Flowers said. “At the end of the day, you start to pick up on all the tendencies. I’m not saying it’s not fun anymore, but you get used to it. Every day, you do the same thing. If a different team comes in here to practice, it amps up the intensity.”

The challenge is to ensure that the intensity doesn’t result in practices that get out of hand, with scuffles and fights and, ultimately, opportunities for guys to get injured beyond the scope of normal football activity.

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Jaguars’ Luke Bowanko suffers hip injury, will go on PUP

Jacksonville Jaguars Rookie Minicamp Getty Images

Yet another Jacksonville Jaguar is dealing with an injury.

This time it’s center Luke Bowanko, who has a torn labrum in his right hip and will need surgery. The Jaguars have announced that Bowanko will be placed on the Physically Unable to Perform list.

The 24-year-old Bowanko, a sixth-round pick in 2014, started 14 games at center as a rookie in 2014 but played in only six games, with no starts, in 2015.

Jacksonville has also seen first-round pick Jalen Ramsey suffer a torn meniscus and seventh-round pick Jonathan Woodard suffer a torn Achilles.

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Colts sign second-round safety T.J. Green

GLENDALE, AZ - JANUARY 11:  T.J. Green #15 of the Clemson Tigers reacts in the first half while taking on the Alabama Crimson Tide during the 2016 College Football Playoff National Championship Game at University of Phoenix Stadium on January 11, 2016 in Glendale, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Colts continued the process of signing their 2016 draft picks to contracts on Monday by agreeing to terms with second-round safety T.J. Green.

Green was the 57th overall pick of the NFL draft and is the seventh of eight Colts selections to sign a contract with the team. It’s a four-year deal for Green, as it will be for third-round tackle Le’Raven Clark when the time comes for him to sign his name on the dotted line.

Green started his career at Clemson as a wide receiver before moving to safety for his final two seasons. He was only a starter for one full season (alongside Vikings seventh-rounder Jayron Kearse), but caught the eye of NFL teams because of the possibilities they saw in his mix of size (Green is 6’3″) and speed.

Mike Adams and Clayton Geathers are back at safety for the Colts, which should allow Green time to continue honing the finer points of playing the position without being on the front line of defense.

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Broncos don’t expect Mark Sanchez on field for start of OTAs

LOUISVILLE, KY - MAY 07:  Quarterback Mark Sanchez attends the 142nd Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs on May 07, 2016 in Louisville, Kentucky.  (Photo by Gustavo Caballero/Getty Images for Churchill Downs) Getty Images

Broncos quarterback Mark Sanchez had surgery on his left, non-throwing thumb a little more than a week ago, but expressed hope last week that he’d be on the field with the rest of the team for the start of organized team activities this week.

It doesn’t look like things are going to play out that way, however. According to Andrew Mason of the Broncos website, Sanchez is expected to miss the start of OTAs while recovering from the operation. That was the initial report when Sanchez’s injury went public.

It’s not clear when the team expects Sanchez will get the green light to resume football work, but his absence to kick off the final phase of offseason work will provide Paxton Lynch and Trevor Siemian with additional reps running the first team.

Those reps could conceivably lead to a rethinking of the pecking order at quarterback heading into training camp and the preseason, although it would stand to reason that those latter stages of the offseason will still provide the final determination of who leads the Broncos offense come September.

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Hopkins praises Osweiler, who praises O’Brien

HOUSTON, TX - MAY 16: Head coach Bill O'Brien of the Houston Texans looks over practice during rookie minicamp on May 16, 2014 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images) Getty Images

Football teams never get along better than they do when the record is 0-0. And the 0-0 Texans are currently getting along great.

On the first day of OTAs, receiver DeAndre Hopkins praised his new quarterback, who in turn praised his new coach.

“He operates like a pro’s pro,” Hopkins said regarding Brock Osweiler. “He comes out and he demands the best out of everybody, offensive line, fullbacks, even the guys that aren’t even in the huddle. He’s a natural leader.”

Osweiler, in turn, gushed about the man he didn’t even meet before committing to a four-year, $72 million contract.

“Today was my first experience in a practice environment with Coach O’Brien and I loved it,” Osweiler said. “I loved his energy, I loved his fire. He kept us on task and he expects a lot out of us which as a player you love. Sometimes he’s going to get on you, which he should. I had a couple turnovers today. I’m going to [chalk] those up as learning experiences. I’m going to make sure they don’t happen again, but I want him to be on me. I don’t want that to be acceptable. It’s a lot of fun being out there with Coach O’Brien. He’s a phenomenal football coach. He’s very smart and he’s a lot of fun to be around.”

Of course, not everything said on Monday was flowery. In response to a comment from a reporter regarding the value of entering the season knowing who the quarterback is, Hopkins said,  “[W]e thought we knew who our quarterback was going into last year.”

That’s a reference to the fact that Brian Hoyer was the starter for Week One but got a quick hook for Ryan Mallett, sparking a revolving door fueled by injuries and ineffectiveness. This year, it’s unclear what will happen with Osweiler and the Texans. It’s safe to say, however, that Osweiler won’t be benched during the first game of the regular season.

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