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Alabama’s Dee Milliner, Eddie Lacy, D.J. Fluker enter NFL draft

Dee Milliner, DaVaris Daniels AP

Three members of the national champion Alabama Crimson Tide are leaving school early to enter the 2013 NFL draft.

Alabama confirmed today that cornerback Dee Milliner, running back Eddie Lacy and offensive tackle D.J. Fluker have all decided to turn pro.

The 6-foot-1, 199-pound Milliner looks like the best pro prospect of that bunch, and a likely Top 10 pick. Milliner was a first-team All-American and is likely to be the first defensive back to hear Roger Goodell call his name on April 25.

Lacy is coming off an excellent performance against Notre Dame in which he was named offensive MVP of the BCS National Championship Game. Alabama has had the first running back selected in each of the last two drafts (Trent Richardson in 2012 and Mark Ingram in 2011) and Lacy could make it three in a row in 2013.

The 6-foot-6, 335-pound Fluker looks like he’s ready to step onto an NFL field right now, and he’ll benefit from Taylor Lewan’s decision to return to Michigan — that could make Fluker the No. 2 tackle in the draft, after Luke Joeckel of Texas A&M.

Last year Alabama had five of the first 35 players drafted, and today’s news means Alabama will be shipping another talented group of players to the NFL again this year.

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Brady appeal hearing set for June 23

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The deadline for setting Tom Brady’s appeal hearing came and went on Wednesday without a date being set. A date has now been set.

PFT has confirmed that the appeal hearing will commence on June 23, and that it will continue if necessary on June 25. The news was first reported by Adam Schefter of ESPN.

On Thursday, a source with knowledge of the situation told PFT that the NFL and NFL Players Association had agreed to extend the Wednesday deadline, and that the NFL had offered a pair of dates that weren’t ideal for the union. The NFLPA had responded with a pair of weeks that worked, and the NFLPA was waiting for the league to respond.

Brady and the NFLPA wanted the hearing to be conducted in June, in order to ensure that sufficient time will be available to go to court and challenge the outcome of the internal appeal process.

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Browns unveil four-tiered variable pricing

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With the blackout policy suspended for 2015 (i.e., dead as a doorknob . . . or is it doornail? I never know), teams need to find a way to attract customer to pay for tickets to game. The Browns are doing that by utilizing a four-tiered system of variable pricing.

The first tier consists of the Broncos and Titans. Yes, the Titans, because that’s the regular-season home opener.

Tier Two has the Ravens and Steelers. Tier Three consists of the Raiders, Cardinals, 49ers, and Bengals.

Tier Four has the two preseason games, against Washington and Buffalo.

The decision not to put the Ravens and Steelers in the top tier and the decision to put the Bengals in a tier lower than the other division rivals seem odd. But even in a league where coaches look for any ammunition to motivate players, it’s hard to envision Bengals coach Marvin Lewis firing up the troops by pointing out that the Browns saw fit to put the team that has made it to the playoffs four straight years in the third of four pricing tiers, only one click above games that don’t count at all.

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Falcons cut linebacker/alleged dog-killer Prince Shembo

NEW ORLEANS, LA - DECEMBER 21:  Prince Shembo #53 celebrates with Robert McClain #27 of the Atlanta Falcons following an interception against the New Orleans Saints during a game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on December 21, 2014 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images) Getty Images

That didn’t take long.

Within hours of charges being filed accusing him of kicking and killing his then-girlfriend’s small dog, the Falcons have released linebacker Prince Shembo, according to Zach Klein of WSB. The Falcons have since announced the move themselves.

“We are aware of the charges that have been filed against Prince Shembo,” the team said in a statement. “We are extremely disappointed that one of our players is involved in something like this. Accordingly, we have decided to waive Prince Shembo.”

Shembo was charged with felony aggravated cruelty to animals, for allegedly kicking a Yorkshire terrier named Dior, causing massive internal injuries.

The Falcons were willing to stick up for Shembo after they chose him in the fourth round of the 2014 NFL Draft, despite an incident during his college years at Notre Dame. He was accused of sexually assaulting a female student at nearby St. Mary’s College, who later committed suicide.

No charges were filed in that case, and the Falcons said they were “very comfortable” with him in regards to it.

They’re apparently less comfortable now, and moved quickly to distance themselves.

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Bills claim quarterback Matt Simms off waivers from Jets

Miami Dolphins v New York Jets Getty Images

The Bills decided to freshen up their four-headed quarterback competition, by grabbing a guy from their own division.

According to Howard Balzer of the Sports Xchange, the Bills claimed former Jets quarterback Matt Simms off waivers.

Simms was released yesterday, as the writing was on the wall for him with the Jets when Bryce Petty was drafted. But now he lands with former head coach Rex Ryan and quarterbacks coach David Lee, which can’t hurt his chances.

To make room for Simms on the roster, the Bills got rid of Jeff Tuel, who was rotating among Matt Cassel, EJ Manuel and Tyrod Taylor.

While Simms might not change the bottom line for the Bills, he at least adds more competition at the bottom of the depth chart

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Kiko Alonso surprised by how good his knee feels

kikoalonso AP

Ten months ago, Kiko Alonso suffered a torn ACL that cost him the entire 2014 season with the Bills. In the time since then, Alonso has been traded to the Eagles — and has healed so fully that he surprises himself with how good he feels.

I honestly didn’t think I’d be doing this much,” Alonso told Philly.com at Eagles’ OTAs. “I’ve just been going on how I feel, and it’s feeling really good.”

Part of the reason Alonso feels good is that he’s running without a knee brace.

“I feel comfortable without it,” Alonso said. “I never really liked wearing the brace.”

Alonso played for Eagles coach Chip Kelly at Oregon and knew that Kelly does everything at a fast pace and has a demanding conditioning program. Still, Alsonso didn’t realize just how hard he’d be going this offseason.

“I knew what to expect, but I definitely thought I’d be more in shape, but I was wrong,” Alonso said. “I remember when I was in Buffalo, I was like I can’t imagine going against the Eagles and that pace. Because if you don’t practice like that and you go, it’s brutal.”

That brutal work in May will pay off for Alonso in September, when he finally gets back on the field after his knee injury cost him a season.

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Jason Kelce: Missing the playoffs “almost a good thing” in hindsight

Seattle Seahawks v Philadelphia Eagles Getty Images

The roster turnover of the Eagles (and the opinions about the reasons for it) have been a major topic of the NFL offseason and another member of the team has weighed in with his opinion.

Center Jason Kelce didn’t cite race, egos or anything other than the simple fact that the Eagles weren’t talented enough last year. Kelce said that he thought the team’s locker room was strong last year, but that “we were lacking in talent at a couple positions” and that failing to make the playoffs could almost be spun as a positive because it made the team address those needs.

“This might [tick] off a few people, but when we started off 9-3 … [but] we got lucky quite a few times to win games that we probably shouldn’t have been in,” Kelce said, via the Philadelphia Daily News. “I think that ending the season the way we did — didn’t make the playoffs — in hindsight is almost a good thing because it forced the coaches and the organization to reevaluate what we had. Guys all of the sudden that were on the bubble, [coaches now knew] that we need to make an upgrade there. We need to do this. We need to do that to improve the team as a whole.”

Kelce didn’t specify the areas, but the list of positions that the Eagles addressed this offseason is pretty much the list of positions on their roster as well as Chip Kelly’s move to the top of the personnel hierarchy. For a team that’s won 10 games in each of the last two seasons, it’s a major overhaul and one that’s going to be placed on Kelly’s shoulders however it plays out.

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Falcons linebacker accused of killing very small dog

dead-dog

Falcons linebacker Prince Shembo didn’t just allegedy kick a dog and kill it, he allegedly found one of the smallest dogs possible to kick and kill.

According to Alexis Stevens of the Atlanta Journal Constitution, police documents say Shembo killed his then-girlfriend’s pet Yorkie named Dior.

Yorkshire terriers, which top out around 7 pounds, are no match for 254-pound linebackers, it seems.

The Gwinnett County Police Cpl. Michele Pihera said Shembo was charged with aggravated cruelty to animals, following an April 15 incident.

According to the report, his then-girlfriend Denicia Williams told police she had taken Dior to Shembo’s apartment, and left the dog there. When she returned, the dog was unresponsive, and died a short time later at an animal hospital.

She said the next day, Shembo told her he killed the dog, at which point she broke up with him.

A necropsy was performed at the Gwinnett County Animal Shelter, where the cause of death was determined to be blunt force trauma.

According to the report, Dior had “a fractured rib, fractured liver, abdominal hemorrhage, thoracic hemorrhage, extensive bruising and hemorrhage in the muscles in her front leg and shoulders, head trauma, hemorrhage and edema in lungs, hemorrhage between the esophagus and trachea, and hemorrhage in the left eye with internal injuries.”

The Falcons drafted Shembo in the fourth round last year from Notre Dame.

Photo credit: Gwinnett Police.

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Trey Watts suspended four games by NFL

Watts Getty Images

Rams running back Trey Watts, an undrafted free agent who made the team in 2014 and who appeared in 14 games last season, has been suspended for the first four games of the 2015 season for violating the NFL’s substance-abuse policy.

The NFL announced the suspension on Friday.

Watts, the son of former Oklahoma quarterback and Congressman J.C. Watts, played college football at Tulsa. He gained 30 yards on seven carries as a rookie.

Watts is eligible to continue to participate in all offseason activities, training camp, and the preseason. The suspension begins after the fourth preseason game.

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Falcons linebacker Prince Shembo charged with killing dog

FLOWERY BRANCH, GA - MAY 16:  Rookie linebacker Prince Shembo #53 of the Atlanta Falcons runs drills during rookie minicamp at the Atlanta Falcons Training Facility on May 16, 2014 in Flowery Branch, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images) Getty Images

Falcons fans didn’t need this kind of deja vu.

According to Tony Thomas of WSB in Atlanta, Falcons linebacker Prince Shembo has been accused of killing his girlfriend’s dog.

Gwinnett Police have filed animal cruelty charges, alleging that Shembo kicked and killed the animal.

Shembo was last year’s fourth-round pick from Notre Dame, and this isn’t the first time his name has been linked to an unseemly situation.

When he was at Notre Dame, he was accused of sexually assaulting a female student at nearby St. Mary’s College, who committed suicide. No charges were ever filed in the case, and Falcons General Manager Thomas Dimitroff said last spring he was “very comfortable” with Shembo after their pre-draft research.

Of course, the Falcons own history with animal abuse dates back to former quarterback Michael Vick, who was imprisoned on felony charges for his role in a dog-fighting ring.

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Brandon Spikes on Belichick: We kissed and made up

Buffalo Bills v New England Patriots Getty Images

Linebacker Brandon Spikes’s first stint with the Patriots didn’t come to a happy end.

Spikes finished the 2013 season on injured reserve after he missed a practice and Spikes later said that the Patriots filed false injury reports while he was a member of the team. Spikes also referred to his time with the Patriots as “4 years a slave,” which only added to the surprise when Spikes wound up re-signing with the Patriots this month after spending last season with the Bills.

It’s less surprising that Spikes had nothing bad to say about coach Bill Belichick or the Patriots on Friday. Spikes referred to Belichick as a “genius” and described himself as “honestly in awe to be standing here talking” to the media as a member of the Patriots while sticking to the company line that the past will remain in the past.

“I don’t want to talk about that. You can clearly see me and The Hoodie kissed and made up. I’m here, that’s in the past. I’m moving on,” Spikes said, via WEEI.com.

Spikes said his only focus now is on making the team and his chances will be greatly improved if Belichick decides the team needs to shore up their run defense in 2015.

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Belichick doesn’t say much about #DeflateGate

Belichick Getty Images

Patriots coach Bill Belichick met with the media on Friday, an unexpected press conference during an OTA session. And Belichick didn’t have much to say about the #DeflateGate situation. Which isn’t much of a surprise, because he usually doesn’t have much to say about pretty much anything.

Asked whether the football-inflation controversy takes away from the joy of winning the Super Bowl, Belichick said this, via a transcript distributed by the team: “That was a long time ago. We’re on to next year. It’s 2015. You can forget about last year; that was last year.”

But last year spills into this year as it relates to the availability of quarterback Tom Brady to play in the first four games of the season. Asked whether Belichick is preparing Jimmy Garoppolo to be the starter as of Week One, Belichick said, “We’re just going day by day right now. Everybody’s working hard trying to get better. That’s what we’re all doing.”

Asked whether it’s been tough to watch the events of the past few months, Belichick said this: “We’re just working hard every day to come out here and get better. Coaches, players, everybody in the organization, each day we’re trying to make it a little bit better than the day before. That’s where we’re at. That’s what we’re going to keep doing.”

Asked whether he agrees with owner Robert Kraft’s decision to accept the punishment imposed on the team, Belichick said this:  “He made a statement on it last week.”

But Belichick wasn’t only characteristically mum about the #DeflateGate situation. He also didn’t have much to say about the use of a drone to film practice.

Q: “What does that do for you?”

A: “Oh, I don’t know.”

I personally don’t know why Belichick would talk to the media and say nothing. He wasn’t required to speak today. So why even do it?

Maybe the goal was to present Belichick on short notice was to give the local media a chance to grill him about the Ted Wells report and the team’s reaction to it with minimum time to put together the best possible questions.

Or maybe it’s just Belichick being Belichick, and he wouldn’t have said anything of value or interest, no matter what the questions were or how much time the reporters had to formulate them.

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Jimmy Garoppolo says he’s not changing his approach

Jimmy Garoppolo AP

As it stands now, the first month of the season will be quite different for Jimmy Garoppolo.

But that doesn’t mean this month has to be.

The Patriots backup quarterback, who would be the starter for the first four games if Tom Brady’s suspension is upheld following his appeal, said today he wasn’t changing much.

Asked if he followed the #DeflateGate saga more closely because of the immediate impact it would have on him, Garoppolo gave as perfect a Patriots answer as he could.

No different than I usually would,” he said, via Mike Reiss of ESPNBoston.com. I just went about my business, tried to get prepared for this season, got in the playbook a lot, got out there with some of the guys and threw it around, so it was a good offseason.”

He took a few more reps than normal, splitting them close to 50-50 with Brady. And while said he spent some time training in California with some of his receivers, he otherwise seemed unmoved by the attention coming his way.

“It’s nice to be back out here, I missed the guys and missed the team,” he said. “I just have the mindset I’m trying to get better. That’s all you can control at the end of the day.”

I’m not sure what the OTA rules are for brainwashing, but that’s about as Belichickian as it gets, without saying he’s “on to Cincinnati.”

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Teddy Bridgewater getting more comfortable as a leader

<> at Barnstable Brown House on May 1, 2015 in Louisville, Kentucky. Getty Images

Once the pre-draft hype subsided and he got on the field, Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater made plenty of noise last year.

But this year, he may make even more, of a different kind.

The second-year quarterback seems ready to assert himself as the Vikings’ leader even more, as teammates are expecting him to take a larger and louder role.

Guys kind of push you into that leadership role,” Bridgewater said, via Chris Tomasson of the St. Paul Pioneer Press. “I’m a young guy still on the team, but guys are pushing me forward to say something in the huddle, or break the team down, or break the offense down.

“That just gives you that confidence in yourself, confidence in your leadership — and I’ve been extremely comfortable doing that.”

Bridgewater is a soft-spoken kid, who showed impressive poise once he took over the starting job four games into last season. But with an offseason under his belt to grow, he’s apparently more comfortable in a forward role.

“[He’s] becoming more of a leader, and you can tell that this is more of his team as we continue to go,” Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said. “He’s a lot more vocal with the guys, as far as telling them where to go and what routes they should be running. He obviously has a better command of the offense, as well.”

While the Vikings are in the midst of a mess with running back Adrian Peterson, it helps having someone else on the offense who has enough credibility to lead the group. And having that player be your quarterback is better yet.

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Chris Chester scheduled to visit Eagles, Falcons

The St. Louis Rams play the Washington Redskins Getty Images

Guard Chris Chester lost his job in Washington earlier this week, but he may not be unemployed for long.

Adam Caplan of ESPN reports that Chester has lined up visits with the Eagles and Falcons.

The Eagles know Chester well after facing the Redskins eight times in Chester’s four seasons with his old team. They released Todd Herremans early in the offseason and gave Evan Mathis the chance to shop himself in a trade, so they’re clearly open to making some changes on the interior of their offensive line. Mathis remains on the roster, but isn’t taking part in the team’s offseason work.

There’s familiarity with Chester in Atlanta as well. Offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan held the same job in Washington during Chester’s first three years with the Redskins and Chester could provide an upgrade on some of the current players vying for spots on the depth chart with the Falcons.

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Andre Johnson rejuvenated after frustrating final years in Houston

Jacksonville Jaguars v Houston Texans AP

Wide receiver Andre Johnson was released by the Texans in March, but he felt the end coming a few months before that.

Johnson said that he knew “deep down inside” that he wouldn’t be back with the Texans after the final game of the 2014 season even though he told reporters the opposite and those feelings became fact when he asked Houston to move him after coach Bill O’Brien laid out a limited role in the offense for the 2015 season. It was the last beat in a frustrating end to Johnson’s long and successful run with the team that took him third overall in the 2003 draft.

“Everyone saw the frustration the last few years,” Johnson said, via Zak Keefer of the Indianapolis Star. “Not only in me, but in my play on the field.”

It didn’t take long for Johnson to focus on the Colts as his next destination. He knew coach Chuck Pagano from the University of Miami and he spoke to running back Frank Gore about their shared belief that they could win a Super Bowl with Andrew Luck at quarterback.

Nothing’s changed since then other than Johnson’s renewed zest for the game. His mother and uncle both told Keefer that Johnson is happier now that he’s with the Colts and the hope in Indy is that the restoration of Johnson’s passion for football helps them make it to Santa Clara next February.

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