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NFL morning after: Don’t overlook the Packers

Tennessee Titans v Green Bay Packers Getty Images

With 11 NFL games played simultaneously early Sunday afternoon, there were half a dozen big ones with playoff implications. The Vikings pounded the Texans. The Bengals snatched the final AFC playoff spot away from the Steelers. The Redskins held on to beat the Eagles. The Cowboys lost a thriller to the Saints. The Colts clinched a return to the playoffs in Kansas City. The Patriots struggled to put away the pesky Jaguars.

Those were all good games, so you can be forgiven if you overlooked the Packers’ 55-7 blowout of the Titans, a snoozer that was over a few minutes after it began. But for my money, the Packers made a stronger statement about their status as a Super Bowl contender than any of the teams in those other games I mentioned.

Yes, the Titans are a bad team, but even against the bad teams, you can be impressed with the way a good team plays. And I have to be impressed when I see Aaron Rodgers go 27-for-38 for 342 yards, with three touchdowns and no interceptions. I have to be impressed when I see three wide receivers — James Jones, Randall Cobb and Greg Jennings — all catch touchdown passes, while tight end Jermichael Finley had his best game of the season, with 70 receiving yards. I have to be impressed when running back Ryan Grant, last year’s starter who just re-signed in Green Bay three weeks ago, gained 80 yards and scored two touchdowns.

But we already knew the Packers would be fine on offense, as long as Rodgers is around. Even more importantly, I was impressed with a Green Bay defense that saw six different players — A.J. Hawk, Brad Jones, Clay Matthews, Mike Neal, Dezman Moses and Sam Shields — sack Titans quarterback Jake Locker. And I was even impressed by the special teams — which had been the biggest weakness of the Packers this season — stepping up on Sunday. Jeremy Ross had a 58-yard punt return, while Mason Crosby finally settled down and made both of his field goal attempts, although his 48-yarder bounced off the upright before falling through.

Does all that add up to the Packers being the best team in the NFL right now? I don’t know. If I had to pick a best team right now I’d probably go with Seattle, which pounded San Francisco on Sunday night for its third straight blowout win. But I’m not sure how relevant the title of “best team” is at this time of year. We often see that the universally recognized best team in the league in late December isn’t still standing in early February — as the Packers found out the hard way last year.

What I do think that is that if I were a fan of a playoff team, the Packers — who have now won four straight and nine of their last 10 — are the team I’d least want to be playing when the postseason starts. This Green Bay team is really, really good, and remember: If we have a rematch of that Seahawks-Packers “Fail Mary” replacement ref debacle in the postseason, the rematch will most likely be at Lambeau Field. A Seahawks-Packers playoff rematch would be a matchup of the two NFC teams that are playing their best football right now, and in Green Bay, I’d pick the Packers.

That 55-7 Packers score was what really made me sit up and take notice on Sunday. Here are the other items that caught my eye:

The NFL’s schedule makers dropped the ball with Sunday afternoon’s slate. Putting 11 games in the 1 o’clock kickoff slot and only three games in the 4 o’clock kickoff slot is a dumb way to divide up the afternoon games. With a bunch of good games in the early window, it was hard to follow all the action. And with three lousy games in the late window, the end of the day felt like a letdown.

Jamaal Charles tops Jim Brown. Charles didn’t just rush for 226 yards in the Chiefs’ loss to the Colts. He also broke Jim Brown’s half-century old record for the highest career yards per carry average for a running back. In the official NFL Record and Fact Book, a player needs 750 career carries to qualify for the all-time record, and among running backs, Jim Brown’s career average of 5.22 yards per carry has always been the gold standard. But on Sunday, Charles got his 750th career carry and jumped ahead of Brown in the record book. Charles now has 770 career carries for 4,483 yards, an incredible career average of 5.82 yards a carry. Any time a running back tops Jim Brown, he has done something special. To top Jim Brown’s longstanding record average by more than half a yard per carry is stunning.

Janoris Jenkins has had a remarkable rookie season. Jenkins entered this year’s NFL draft widely regarded as one of the most talented players available, but also as an off-field problem child who could turn out to be more trouble than he’s worth. Well, the Rams drafted Jenkins in the second round, and he has had some off-field trouble — Rams coach Jeff Fisher benched him for one game for missing curfew — but no one could possibly argue that Jenkins is more trouble than he’s worth anymore. Jenkins has been a fantastic cornerback on an improving St. Louis defense, and on Sunday he scored his fourth defensive touchdown of the season. Do you know how hard that is to do? Deion Sanders is the best defensive player I ever saw at making plays after turnovers, and even Deion never scored four defensive touchdowns in a season. Jenkins is one of only three players in NFL history to have three interception returns for a touchdown in his rookie season, and the other two — Lem Barney and Ronnie Lott — are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. If Jenkins can steer clear of off-field trouble, then Fisher is going to look back on drafting Jenkins as the single most important decision he made in his first year as the Rams’ coach.

Blair Walsh has had a remarkable rookie season, too. Never before in NFL history had anyone kicked more than eight 50-yard field goals in a season. Walsh, Minnesota’s rookie kicker, booted his ninth field goal of 50 yards or longer when he connected from 56 yards against the Texans on Sunday. Everyone knows the Vikings are playoff contenders because they have the NFL’s best running back in Adrian Peterson. But don’t overlook the importance of having the NFL’s best kicker in Walsh.

The Broncos are doing it at the right time. We that the six AFC playoff teams will be the Texans, Broncos, Patriots, Ravens, Colts and Bengals. But the only one of those six teams that really looks like it’s playing its best football late in the season is Denver. The Texans got pushed around by the Vikings on Sunday, the Patriots followed a loss to the 49ers last week with an ugly win over the Jaguars this week, the Ravens played well on Sunday but have struggled through most of the last month, and the Bengals and Colts barely squeaked by in their wild-card clinching wins on Sunday. I see big question marks about those five AFC playoff teams, but no major questions about the Broncos, who played great offense and great defense in pounding the Browns on Sunday. How does Peyton Manning leading the Broncos to the Super Bowl against Aaron Rodgers and the Packers sound?

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The NFL’s scientific consultant has bigger problems than the Wells report

Judge Getty Images

After the NFL hired outside investigator Ted Wells to handle the #DeflateGate probe, Wells retained a firm known as Exponent to provide scientific and mathematical support.

Initially, Columbia University was mentioned as a potential consultant for Wells, but that never materialized — possibly because Columbia wouldn’t reach the conclusion Wells wanted Columbia to reach. Instead, Wells picked Exponent, litigation-support firm that once concluded second-hand smoke doesn’t cause cancer in exchange for a likely sizable fee from one or more tobacco companies.

“Exponent’s research has come under fire from critics, including engineers, attorneys and academics who say the company tends to deliver to clients the reports they need to mount a public defense,” the Los Angeles Times wrote in 2010. (Exponent predictably denied the allegation.)

Most recently, Exponent has come under fire not for what it delivered but for what it didn’t deliver. Via WEEI.com, a court order entered earlier this month in Illinois found Exponent to be in violation of a court order requiring the company to produce certain documents in a civil lawsuit. Exponent tried to advance a couple of flimsy legal privileges for failing to comply, but the court ultimately found Exponent to be in violation of a prior court order — and the violation of a court order is a big deal in any form of litigation.

“[T]he Court cannot allow Exponent to stand in violation of a valid Court order compelling the production of documents which were demanded pursuant to a lawful subpoena and found relevant by the Court,” Judge Stephen A. Stobbs wrote in the June 2, 2015 order. “Methodologically sound science has nothing to fear from full and open disclosure.”

The last part makes a lot of sense, and it bolster our prior argument that the NFL should release all communications between Wells and Exponent, in order to allow the Patriots, Tom Brady, and the media to scrutinize whether Exponent provided an honest and objective analysis to Wells or whether Exponent gave Wells precisely what Wells was buying — a finding that the Patriots tampered with the air pressure in the footballs used in the AFC title game.

In the Illinois case, Exponent was required to reimburse the party seeking the documents for all legal fees relating to the pursuit of the materials, along with a $1,000 fine for each day that the company failed to deliver the documents, if the documents weren’t produced by June 23, 2015.

In this case, Exponent is facing no financial liability. But Exponent is facing a significant potential blow to its credibility. If it had any remaining credibility after claiming that second-hand smoke doesn’t cause cancer.

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J.J. Watt wipes out fan at concert, with a tackle that likely was staged

Houston Texans v Indianapolis Colts Getty Images

Mike Curtis approves this message.

On Sunday night, a fan at a Zac Brown Band concert put his toes on the stage — and Texans defensive end J.J. Watt put his ass on the ground. Watt posted the video of the moment on his Twitter page with the message, “Nobody messes with @zacbrownband.”

Was it staged? As noted by Tania Ganguli of ESPN.com, the fan at the Milwaukee show was wearing an Alabama T-shirt, and Wisconsin (Watt’s alma mater) faces the Crimson Tide to launch the 2015 college football season. Which strongly suggests that the moment was staged.

Still, it was an impressive wipeout by the guy who recently slapped a hockey puck past a goalie who dove away from the goal just as the shot was coming.

Neither moment was as impressive as the knee-jerk shoulder slam from the Colts linebacker who in 1971 stopped a fan who stormed the field and tried to abscond with the football.

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Did Brady give up his phone to Goodell?

UNSPECIFIED - AUGUST 08:  Mobile cellular telephone, ?Star T-A-C', by Motorola, weighing approximately 0.75 kg.  (Photo by SSPL/Getty Images) Getty Images

With both sides of the Tom Brady appeal keeping mostly quiet about what did or didn’t happen at last week’s full-day hearing, a question remains regarding whether Brady accepted Commissioner Roger Goodell’s indirect invitation to give to Goodell what Brady refused to give to investigator Ted Wells: The contents of Brady’s phone.

“[H]e refused to permit us to review electronic data from his telephone or other instruments,” Wells said during a May 12 media conference call. “Most of the key evidence in this case as in most cases comes from people’s cell phones and he refused to let us review the phone. And I want to be crystal clear, I told Mr. Brady and his agents I was willing to not take possession of the phone, I don’t want to see any private communications, I said, ‘You keep the phone, you give me documents that are responsive to this investigation and I will take your word for it’ and they still refused.”

Twice since then, Goodell has invited Brady to provide “new information,” without mentioning the phone.

“As I have said publicly, I very much look forward to hearing from Mr. Brady and to considering any new information or evidence that he may bring to my attention,” Goodell said in the letter to the NFL Players Association explaining his decision not to step aside from the appeal.

It’s not known what, if anything, Brady gave to Goodell either before or during the appeal hearing. As one source with knowledge of the situation explained it to PFT, Brady likely did not surrender enough to prompt Goodell to conclude that Brady fully cooperated with the investigation on a belated basis.

But “full cooperation” and “reasonable cooperation” are two different things. Brady had a duty only to reasonably cooperate. He and Goodell may disagree on whether Brady’s cooperation was reasonable.

Ultimately, the question of whether Brady reasonably cooperated could be one for a federal court to consider, as part of the broader question of whether the outcome of his appeal hearing should be overturned.

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Report: Free agent linebacker Kyle Knox suspended four games

Kyle Knox Getty Images

Free agent linebacker Kyle Knox has been suspended for the first four games of the regular season, according to Howard Balzer of lockerdome.com.

Knox, 26, has spent time with the Seattle Seahawks, Jacksonville Jaguars, New Orleans Saints and Dallas Cowboys during his three seasons in the league. He was most recently signed by Dallas on June 2, only to be waived three days later.

Knox appeared in four games for Jacksonville in 2013 and 12 games last season for the Saints. He recorded three tackles for New Orleans while primarily serving on special teams duty.

The league policy Knox violated in order to incur the suspension was not stated in the report.

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Marcell Dareus is in his happy place, ready to play

Green Bay Packers v Buffalo Bills Getty Images

It’s not that Marcell Dareus didn’t play well last year, but he was nearly more trouble than he was worth on his way to that point.

And when you’re the third overall pick in the draft, and a Pro Bowler, that’s saying something.

But after years of being out of shape and dealing with off-field issues, Dareus rebounded last year, and credited his teammates and the organization for helping him to that point.

I’m in my Zen mode right now. Nothing’s bothering me,” Dareus said, via John Kryk of the Toronto Sun.

That wasn’t always the case, after offseasons marked by arrests and conditioning concerns. But last year, he looked like a new man, with 10.0 sacks, the most of any defensive tackle in the league.

He dealt with his share of personal tragedies, but also fell victim to some of the bad influences that remained in his life.

“I am gonna alter my life now, and alter my way of living — drastically,” Dareus said. “I’ve dropped a lot of friends that I thought were friends, just in the last couple of months. I don’t go around certain areas that I used to go around. I don’t hang with certain people. I don’t do certain things.”

He’s still suspended for the first week of the 2015 season for violating the league’s substance abuse policy, following his synthetic marijuana arrest. But he says he’s back on track after years of personal turmoil, and entering a contract year coming off his best performance, he’s just in time.

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Bills think they can have the greatest defense ever

Alex Smith, Marcell Dareus, Mario Williams

Confidence continues to pour out of Buffalo, as the arrival of Rex Ryan has made a major impact on the attitude of the Bills.

Multiple players on the Bills’ defense have said that they believe they can have the best defense in the history of the NFL this season.

We want to be the best in history — one of the greatest,” linebacker Nigel Bradham told the Toronto Sun. “That’s what we’re striving for … the greatest of all time, not just this year or last year.”

Asked about the defense’s goal for the season, Marcell Dareus answered, “Best ever. It’s so obtainable. All we have to do is continue to do what we want, and not what we can. If we do what we want, and do everything to head in that direction, why can’t we? Why can’t we?”

Dareus has bought into everything that Ryan is selling.

“We finally have a coach who will really lay it on the line for us,” he said. “I mean, Rex will make the tough calls and really put us in the position to win, regardless of whatever the stakes are. And he’s not going to be buddy-buddy. He’s like, ‘You’re a grown man and I’m going to tell it to you like it is.’ And that’s what we all need. We’re all grown men. To have somebody babying us, or somebody trying to micro-manage us — I mean, no man really wants to ever be under somebody’s thumb all the time. Rex is just that type of guy where he’s going to let you play ball, he’s going to put you in the best situations, and he’s going to do his best not to let you fail.”

Bills defensive tackle Kyle Williams echoed those sentiments.

“Yeah, I think big goals and big dreams produce pretty great things,” Williams said. “And if you’re not willing to put yourself out there and be held accountable to that, you’ll just be happy with any results that you get. That’s not what we want. We want to be the best.”

The Bills had one of the NFL’s best defenses last year and should have one of the NFL’s best defenses this year, too. But best ever? That’s a title often given to the 1985 Bears Defense coached by Rex’s father, Buddy Ryan. The Bills have a long way to go before they’re in that company.

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Lions fan fined for using laser pointer to distract Kyle Orton

laser

Then-Bills quarterback Kyle Orton said after last season’s game at Detroit that a fan had been distracting him on the field with a laser pointer. That fan has now been fined and sentenced to community service.

The Detroit Free Press reports that Marko Beslach, an 18-year-old from West Bloomfield, Michigan, paid a $235 fine and was sentenced to 80 hours of community service after he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of disorderly conduct in connection with the incident.

After last year’s game (which the Bills won), the Lions issued a statement saying that laser pointers were banned at the stadium and that the team was made aware that the Bills had complained. Beslach was caught in part because he bragged on Twitter that he had distracted Bills players with a laser.

Beslach has been banned from Ford Field. The Lions revoked the season tickets of the fan who brought Beslach to the game.

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Eric Winston: Don’t expect too much from Jake Fisher too soon

Jake Fisher, C.J. Uzomah AP

The Bengals took offensive linemen with each of their first two picks in this year’s draft, although first-round pick Cedric Ogbuehi is likely to have a delayed start to his pro career after tearing his ACL in Texas A&M’s bowl game after last season.

Second-round pick Jake Fisher has been much busier, however. Fisher saw time at left tackle, right tackle and left guard during spring work and drawn good reviews for his athleticism after playing in the high-tempo Oregon system. That system is different than what we’re used to seeing in the NFL and veteran tackle Eric Winston says Fisher’s going to need time before he’s able to handle life in the professional trenches.

“He’s going to go through a lot of growing pains,” Winston said, via ESPN.com. “To anoint him or think he’s going to be able to step in Day 1 and be able to do it, hell, I can’t do that. There’s not a lot of guys that can do that and step in Day 1 and be a guy the team can rely on, especially at one of the tougher spots like the tackle position. It’s rough. It’s not easy.”

Ultimately, Winston thinks the struggles will be a necessary part of Fisher’s growth as a player because it will force him to figure out the right ways to approach difficult situations. It should also help that the Bengals have players on hand — tackles Winston, Andrew Whitworth and Andre Smith and guards Clint Boling and Kevin Zeitler — who should allow them to give Fisher time to grow before he’s thrust into the lineup.

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Eagles announce signing of John Moffitt

John Moffitt AP

The Eagles have officially added John Moffitt to their offensive line.

Moffitt, a guard who abruptly retired from the Broncos during the 2013 season, will now compete for a roster spot in Philadelphia, the team announced today.

The 28-year-old Moffitt has faced legal troubles and been charged with assault, public urination and possession of marijuana, cocaine and ecstasy. But he has reportedly gone to rehab and has worked to get his life back on track. Now he’ll hope to get his career back on track as well.

The Eagles released guard Cole Manhart to make room for Moffitt on the roster.

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Vernon Davis: Very good at football, less so at Family Feud

St Louis Rams v San Francisco 49ers Getty Images

New 49ers coach Jim Tomsula might be off the hook.

Tight end Vernon Davis may have created the most unintentionally hilarious video of their offseason, with one of the worst Family Feud answers in the history of the game.

Via The Diamondback, Davis was part of the celebrity version of the popular game show last night, in an episode pitting AFC players against NFC players, when he came up with his own version of the football follies.

When host Steve Harvey asked players to “Name something that follows the word strip,” Davis thought he had hit one out of the park.

“Pers,” he replied with a bit of a confused look, dropping a solid suffix but something less than a good answer.

“Club,” perhaps. “Mall,” even. “Steak,” makes sense. Heck, “mining” would have been a better answer than “pers.”

While that was the best of the night, it wasn’t his only memorable answer. Earlier in the show, he was asked: “If you’re good at reading body language, what part of a woman speaks the loudest?”

He replied “feet,” which may tell us something about the kind of pers Davis is into.

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Ron Jaworski likes the Jets’ future with Geno Smith

Geno Smith, Chris Ivory AP

Jets quarterback Geno Smith hasn’t found many admirers in his first two NFL seasons, but the Jets haven’t found a surefire replacement for the 2013 second-round pick which means that he’s the favorite to be under center when they start the 2015 season as well.

Some, including Smith’s teammate Willie Colon, have shared their opinion that Smith’s play could hold back a Jets team with a talented defense and improved group of offensive skill position players. Colon also said that he thought Smith was pushed into the lineup before he was ready to play, something that Ron Jaworski of ESPN agreed with while sharing his own positive take on Smith’s growth as a quarterback.

“I think Geno, when I’ve looked at him now for a couple of years in the NFL, I see a quarterback that’s getting better,” Jaworski said, via the team’s website. “He’s forgotten the mistakes and I still remember going to Morgantown, West Virginia for his Pro Day and outside of Robert Griffin III –- it was one of the best pro days I’ve seen. So he can make every throw, he can do everything it takes to be an NFL quarterback. It’s just about consistency. It’s now Year 3 and believe me we put these guys way before their time out there on the field and we expect a Peyton Manning performance. It doesn’t happen. I see a nice growth every single year in Geno and I like the future of the Jets with Geno Smith at quarterback.”

Greg Cosell of NFL Films wasn’t quite as bullish about Smith, but gave the Jets high marks at receiver and running back when he said “they have people in place” to help Smith be more successful in 2015. That cast won’t matter without the gains in consistency that Jaworski mentions, however, and the Jets won’t know until Smith is under fire whether or not he’s able to fix the problems of the past to be the leader the Jets need on offense.

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Report: Hyundai deal worth $50 million per year

SCHAUMBURG, IL - AUGUST 26:  A Hyundai logo is displayed outside Schaumburg Hyundai August 26, 2005 in Schaumburg, Illinois. Strike action by Hyundai workers in South Korea demanding higher pay, improved working conditions and greater say in management decisions has shut down vehicle production for a second day.  (Photo by Tim Boyle/Getty Images) Getty Images

If the NFL will be taking any heat for doing business with a non-American car company, it’ll be worth it.

Via Darren Rovell of ESPN.com, Hyundai will be paying the NFL $50 million per year for the new four-year sponsorship deal. That’s twice the amount General Motors had been paying.

And there’s more. Or, technically, less. Hyundai didn’t obtain total exclusivity; per Rovell, the NFL can (and surely will) sell the truck category separately, giving that vehicle to the Super Bowl MVP.

In other words, the one time per year that the NFL has a link to an automobile manufacturer, Hyundai’s $50 million per year won’t be getting anything.

In other words, the Kanye lyric “win a Super Bowl and drive off in a Hyundai” still won’t relate to something good.

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What a great idea: NFL looking for someone to find stuff in cell phones

Pinkpanthersellers

You think you can get a peek at Tom Brady’s cell phone? If so, the NFL wants to talk to you.

According to Christian Red of the New York Daily News, the league has placed an ad looking for a director of investigations.

After the debacle that was the Ray Rice investigation and the subsequent shame, the league has taken steps to be taken seriously in terms of internal investigations, or at least more seriously than just waiting for TMZ to post the videotape.

The job posting for a “Director of Digital Forensic Investigations” sounds like something that might have come in handy while they were shoveling money Ted Wells’ way during the #DeflateGate investigation.

The job posting says the individual: “is responsible for a wide variety of duties in the Security Department, including but not limited to: conducting or coordinating, supervising and managing detailed and complex investigations involving alleged impropriety or criminal conduct by League and Club personnel, conducting or coordinating, supervising and managing detailed and complex investigations of alleged impropriety or criminal conduct in which League or Club personnel are victims, background investigations for League and select Club personnel, liaison and support for other League and Club departments such as Compliance, Internal Audit and Legal. This role will have an emphasis on properly investigating and handling evidence related to social media, computers, telephones and mobile devices.”

Yeah, they definitely could have used one of those about six months ago (even if it meant booting the Director of Excessive Capitalization out of his Corner Office).

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Devin Funchess: I don’t care about the Combine, I’m fast on the field

Devin Funchess

Add Panthers rookie receiver Devin Funchess to the list of those who don’t think 40-yard dash times at the Scouting Combine are meaningful.

Funchess told Josh Katzenstein of the Detroit News that when he ran a 4.7-second 40, making him the slowest receiver at this year’s Combine, he didn’t allow it to bother him.

“You don’t let people bring you down,” Funchess said. “I proved it to everybody at the pro day. It wasn’t open, as open as I wanted, but there were videos and film. And you can ask any scout there about what I ran. So, I don’t really care about what I ran at the Combine. I know what I know, and my game speed is faster than what most can run.”

Funchess makes a fair point. The fastest receivers at the Combine rarely pan out, and there have been good receivers like Anquan Boldin who ran slow times at the Combine. Speed isn’t everything for an NFL receiver. Especially speed in shorts and a T-shirt.

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Rookies get a primer on college vs. NFL rules at symposium

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This year’s NFL draft class has been taught at the annual rookie symposium about the differences between NFL rules and college rules.

NFL V.P. of Officiating Dean Blandino said on SiriusXM NFL Radio that there are subtle differences between college and pro rules, especially player safety rules, that a lot of rookies don’t know.

“What we try to do is give the rookie players a basis, a foundation for the rules,” he said. “The rules are different from college to the pros. Some of the basic stuff that everybody knows — two feet vs. one foot and down by contact and those differences — but there are some differences that they have to know in terms of the chop block, what chop blocks are legal in the NFL that are not legal in the college game. We try to give them that background, revolving mainly around protection of the player, things like that, a lot of our safety rules and defenseless players.”

And, of course, it wouldn’t be a discussion of NFL rules if Dez Bryant’s playoff non-catch didn’t rear its ugly head.

“It is well received,” Blandino said. “I made the mistake yesterday with the rookies of showing the Dez Bryant play too early in the presentation so that was all anybody wanted to talk about.”

So add the rookie class of 2015 to the long list of people who can’t figure out what is and isn’t a catch in the NFL.

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