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Schaap tells Te’o’s story, who admits he never met fake, dead girlfriend

Manti Te'o, Jeremy Schaap AP

Under the guise of a “get,” ESPN’s Jeremy Schaap has been enlisted as an unofficial P.R. agent for linebacker Manti Te’o.  And Schaap spent extensive time on SportsCenter presenting Te’o’s side of the story, serving as the indirect mouthpiece for a man who claims no involvement in a hoax but who after months of talking freely and loosely on camera suddenly has no desire to do so.

Schaap opened his extensive on-air monologue by vouching for Te’o’s credibility.

“He answered every question I asked,” Schaap said.  “He didn’t seem nervous.  He seemed to be able to communicate clearly about everything that had happened over the course of several years in his relationship with Lennay Kekua.  To my ears, he made a very convincing witness in his own defense.  I’m sure people will form their own judgments when we have a chance to put out more of what he said.  I don’t know how many questions were asked, but as I said he answered all of them, really unflinchingly.  If he’s making up his side of the story, he’s a very convincing actor.  Of course, there were suggestions over the last couple of days — more than suggestions, theories posited — about whether he was a party to this hoax, if he just helped perpetuate this hoax.  He adamantly denies having anything to do with it, and I asked him directly about that.”

After Schaap explained the situation for roughly 10 minutes, he was asked about Te’o’s demeanor.

“He was very composed, he was very collected,” Schaap said.  “There wasn’t any hemming or hawing.  He certainly seemed to have his timeline down straight.  I did not detect any inconsistencies.  And I think, you know, significantly from his point of view anyway, when it was over he was relieved.  He said he was very relieved to have unburdened himself of this.”

Schaap vouched for Te’o’s  credibility once again in explaining why Te’o didn’t want to do the interview on camera.

“Obviously we would have preferred to do this on camera,” Schaap said.  “He felt more comfortable in a setting without cameras, felt he could be more relaxed without a lot of people in the room.  Wanted this to be as natural a setting as possible.  I think it would have been beneficial to him to do this on camera because as I said he was very composed and collected but that’s not what he wanted to do.  It’s not the first time somebody hasn’t wanted to do an interview on camera.”

Schaap is right, but it’s the first time the otherwise camera-eager Te’o has spurned a camera.  And so instead of giving the audience at large an opportunity to watch him explain himself, the conduit to Te’o’s overall credibility is the guy who was granted an interview that Te’o didn’t have to give at all.  That fact naturally will make the interviewer — whoever it is — more inclined to paint the subject of the interview in a positive light.

Indeed, a questioner less friendly to Te’o’s predicament could have led the report with this statement:  “Te’o admitted that he never met the fake dead girlfriend, and that he lied to his family about meeting her.”  Choosing to focus on that aspect of the interview at the outset of the report would have prompted many to instantly wonder whether, if he lied to his family about meeting her, he’s lying to the rest of us about his lack of involvement in the hoax.

“I knew that — I even knew, that it was crazy that I was with somebody that I didn’t meet, and that alone — people find out that this girl who died, I was so invested in, I didn’t meet her, as well,” Te’o told Schaap.  “So I kind of tailored my stories to have people think that, yeah, he met her before she passed away, so that people wouldn’t think that I was some crazy dude.”

In a court of law, having someone admit to a lie is powerful, because it gives the lawyer more than enough ammunition to argue that everything the person says shouldn’t be taken at face value, and possibly shouldn’t be believed at all.

And while Schaap claimed he detected no inconsistencies, Schaap’s explanation of Te’o’s ongoing references in the media to his dead girlfriend after learning that she wasn’t dead speaks to a stew of potential inconsistencies that, if fully and completely probed, could expose a flaw that would be fatal to Te’o’s entire story.

“[Notre Dame Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick] said that on December 6, Te’o got a phone call from a person who he believed to be Lennay Kekua, who he thought had died on September 12,” Schaap explained.  “Te’o says he did get that phone call on December 6, but that did not convince him that this had all been a hoax.  That took longer to get around to.  But between December 6 and December 26, when he went to Notre Dame to tell them about the problem, he continued to talk about Lennay Kekua, his girlfiend, in several interviews, including an interview with our Chris Fowler during the Heisman Trophy presentation on December 8th.  And [Te'o] explained why that happened, because he said he wasn’t convinced that Lennay Kekua hadn’t died, that she was a hoax, now he was thinking maybe she was alive.  She had given him some story about drug dealers.”

So why did he keep referring to her as being dead?

There are more tidbits that appeared not in Schaap’s on-air report (or in the original ESPN.com story that contained only 32 words from Te’o regarding his denial of involvement) that make us wonder how Te’o could have been oblivious to the existence of a hoax, which based on his admission that he lied to his father would cause a reasonable person to wonder whether he’s lying to the rest of us now.

First, the latest ESPN.com article says that “T’eo tried to speak with Kekua via Skype and FaceTime on several occasions, but the person at the other end of the line was in what he called a ‘black box’ and wasn’t seen.”  Second, the ESPN.com article says that Te’o “planned to meet Kekua in person several times, including in Los Angeles and Hawaii, but on each occasion she called off the meeting or sent others in her place.”  Third, the ESPN.com article explains that “Kekua once requested his checking account number in order to send him money,” but that “Te’o did not provide his account number.”  Fourth, the ESPN.com article says that Te’o didn’t go see her in the hospital when she was recovering from a car accident or battling leukemia because “it never crossed my mind” to do so.  Fifth, the ESPN.com article says that Te’o didn’t attend Kekua’s funeral because “her mom didn’t want me to come.”

Perhaps the strangest question arises from Te’o’s claim to Schaap that, as explained by Schaap on air, “[r]ight up until a few hours before the Deadspin story broke two days ago [Te'o] wasn’t quite sure what happened but at that time he got a phone call from Ronaiah Tuiasospo in which he admitted that he had perpetrated this hoax and in a series of communications also apologized for it.”  The notion that Te’o “wasn’t quite sure what happened” until “a few hours before” the story broke doesn’t mesh with the very clear picture painted Wednesday night by Swarbrick of extensive meetings and a private investigation with a comprehensive report, or with the reported plan by Te’o to go public with the hoax two days before the story broke.

The only conclusion that we draw from any of this is that it’s still too early to draw any conclusions.  Te’o’s uncle has raised a potential financial incentive via raising funds for leukemia victims hasn’t been explored and wasn’t even mentioned anywhere in the on-air or online ESPN reports.

If Tuiasosopo used the fake dead girlfriend as a way to raise money, with or without the knowledge or assistance of Te’o, the appropriate authorities should look into the situation.  Indeed, the request for checking account numbers could be enough to green light a criminal investigation.  A high-profile case like this one would, if any laws were broken, send a strong message of deterrence to anyone who is tempted to “catfish” not for sport, but for profit.

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A.J. Green sits out practice on Thursday

Andy Dalton, A.J. Green AP

The Bengals’ top receiver sat out yet another practice Thursday as he tries to come back from a toe injury.

Pro Bowler A.J. Green, who hasn’t played since the Bengals’ Oct. 5 loss at New England, did not participate in his second straight workout of the week. He has not practiced in 15 days, sitting out seven practices in a row for Cincinnati, which has lost twice and tied once after a 3-0 start. The Bengals host the Ravens on Sunday.

The 6-foot-4, 207-pound Green has caught 17 passes for 314 yards and two touchdowns this season. Were he to miss another game, Mohamed Sanu would be the Bengals’ top receiver, with Brandon Tate the other starter.

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Panthers hope DeAngelo Williams can return in Week Nine

Carolina Panthers v Baltimore Ravens Getty Images

It will be another week without running back DeAngelo Williams for the Panthers.

Coach Ron Rivera said Thursday that Williams is not sufficiently healed from his ankle injury to play against the Seahawks this Sunday. That will make four straight games on the sideline for Williams, who also missed two games earlier in the season.

Rivera also said that the team hoped Williams would be able to return for their Week Nine game against the Saints and intimated that the decision to hold him back was so that the team was sure he’s ready to return.

“We could put him out there and say, ‘Well, we were 95 percent close,’ and all a sudden something bad happens and now you’re back to 65 percent. DeAngelo is the same way. We’re being very smart with this, very calculated,” Rivera said, via ESPN.com.

On the banged-up offensive line, the Panthers expect left tackle Byron Bell and right tackle Nate Chandler to play but the outlook is less rosy for guards Trai Turner and Amini Silatolu.

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Vincent Jackson hears trade talk, but wants to stay in Tampa

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v New Orleans Saints Getty Images

Because the trade deadline is coming up, and because the Buccaneers are in flux, and because Vincent Jackson is 31, it’s reasonable to think he’ll make phones ring.

But the veteran wide receiver said Thursday he wants to stay put, and fix things with the Bucs.

“In this business, those kind of things get talked about quite often. Each and every year, there’s going to be guys moved around to different teams,” Jackson said, via Greg Auman of the Tampa Bay Times. “I’m not surprised by it. Obviously I appreciate teams’ interest, but I’m happy here in Tampa. I’ve heard nothing here that would suggest I’m going anywhere. I’m going to let that pass on and keep doing my job.”

Jackson leads the team in receptions, and has value despite his contract (two years at $10 million each). But he said he wants to stay and continue to the building project coach Lovie Smith has begun.

“That’s exactly what I want to do here,” Jackson said. “Bringing Lovie (Smith) in and the staff that he’s brought, his mentality and his goals are aligned with mine and a lot of guys in this locker room. I hope for us to start the tradition here of winning football in Tampa Bay and to stay in this uniform and this jersey and help bring that here.”

Now the only question is whether the Bucs think Jackson could be a bigger part of that than whatever pick they’d get in return.

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Russell Wilson: Percy Harvin and I had no differences, media blew it up

Russell Wilson, Percy Harvin AP

Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson denies that he and Percy Harvin had a rift.

Wilson said that Harvin, who was traded from the Seahawks to the Jets last week, is a lot like him. And Wilson said he thinks reporters were trying to make a big deal out of Harvin supposedly clashing with teammates.

“Percy and I never had differences,” Wilson said. “He’s a guy that, you know, we had a lot of similarities, probably, if anything. You know, guys that want to compete at the highest level, want to win every single time you step on the field. Want the ball in our hands, to make the big play and everything. So I’m not sure why the media tries to blow everything out of proportion, it’s part of it, I guess. You have to deal with it. But you also ignore it, too. Like I always tell you guys, ignore the noise. You know, Percy’s a Virginia guy and I wish nothing but the best for him.”

Wilson may claim this is a media creation, but that’s awfully hard to believe, given all the stories that have come out of Seattle in the six days since Harvin was traded. There’s just too much smoke to believe there isn’t any fire.

But Wilson has a well-crafted image as a good guy, and he’s saying all the right things to preserve that image.

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Whisenhunt says he’s going with Mettenberger and sticking with him

whisenhuntmettenberger AP

Titans coach Ken Whisenhunt says Zach Mettenberger is his starting quarterback, and that’s not about to change.

“We’re going with Zach and we’re going to stay with Zach,” Whisenhunt said today.

The injury-prone Jake Locker, who has missed three of the last four games, is expected to be healthy enough to play on Sunday against the Texans but has been demoted to second string. Charlie Whitehurst, who has started the games Locker missed, is now No. 3 on the depth chart.

For the Titans, it really only makes sense to go with Mettenberger. This team is 2-5 and going nowhere with either Locker or Whitehurst. They might find out that Mettenberger is the quarterback of the future. Or they might find out that Mettenberger simply isn’t good enough — which they’d rather find out now so they can find another quarterback in the offseason.

Whisenhunt has a history of struggling to make the right decision at the quarterback position, most notably during his tenure as head coach of the Cardinals when he took far too long to realize that Kurt Warner was a better player than Matt Leinart. But this feels like the right decision for the Titans. Mettenberger might turn out not be the answer, but Locker and Whitehurst definitely aren’t.

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Norv Turner: Teddy Bridgewater “a work in progress”

Minnesota Vikings v Buffalo Bills Getty Images

It’s just a few starts into his NFL career, but Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater already reminds offensive coordinator Norv Turner of one of the most accomplished quarterbacks he’s every coached.

Unfortunately for Bridgewater, he reminded Turner of Troy Aikman on an interception. Turner said that Bridgewater’s second interception against Buffalo last week reminded him of one Aikman threw to Cris Dishman of the Oilers during his rookie season with the Cowboys. The story helped underscore Turner’s point that Bridgewater is “a work in progress” that will do things that make you smile and make you scream over the course of a game.

One thing that Turner has liked is the way that Bridgewater dealt with the Buffalo pass rush.

“He’s had a lot of pressure, and I think he’s been unbelievable,” Turner said, via the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. “I get nervous in terms of the hits outside the pocket. Those are the ones where you get thrown to the ground and banged around pretty good. He’s got good sense in the pocket. He’s getting better at getting the ball out, and he threw the ball away a couple of times on Sunday when there was nowhere to throw it; whereas against Detroit on those plays, he took sacks.”

Given the play of the Vikings line this season, that’s a good skill for Bridgewater to have. The Vikings will have to hope that buys him enough time to work on a few of the other ones he’ll need to succeed in the NFL.

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Cowboys keep talking about giving DeMarco Murray fewer touches

Murray AP

Before this season, the Cowboys talked a lot about running the ball more.  But they never really did.

This year, the Cowboys finally are running the ball more.  So much more than running back DeMarco Murray is on pace to run the ball more times than anyone ever has in a single season.

As a result, the Cowboys are now talking about giving the ball to Murray less.  But they’re not doing it.

“Well there’s no doubt we look at it and there’s no doubt we’d like to get that cut back,” COO Stephen Jones told Adam Schein of SiriusXM Mad Dog Radio on Thursday.  “We’ve got to get our hands around having the ball 30 minutes versus having the ball 33, 34, 35, in some cases 36 minutes, even though you are giving Joe Randle and [Lance] Dunbar some carries when you keep the ball that long.  We need to even do it a little more.

“But we’re certainly aware of it.  We certainly know that when you touch the ball that many times you are exposing DeMarco to a difficult hit or something like that.  So we’re aware of it.  We want to do better in terms of reducing his touches.  Not by a ton but you’d like to see him get it less than 30 times a game.  Between his receiving and running I think he’s in the 35-36 range.  So we would like to get that down.”

Technically, Murray’s workload currently is under 30 touches per games; he’s a 29.8.  Still, he had only 17 per game for his career before 2014, and he never stayed healthy with that more limited workload.

So maybe the goal should be to get Murray under 25 touches per game.  If they don’t, it’s just a matter of time before Murray won’t be able to manage one touch for one or more consecutive games.

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Gerald McCoy: Bucs defense is “soft,” makes too many excuses

Baltimore Ravens v Tampa Bay Buccaneers Getty Images

Defensive tackle Gerald McCoy looks at the Buccaneers defense from a different vantage point from outside observers but he’s reached the same conclusion.

It’s not a good unit. The Bucs are allowing more yards per game than any team in the league and McCoy has diagnosed them as being too soft to stop opposing offenses.

“Yeah. I mean if you look out there on tape and you see a bunch of guys sitting on blocks, are you not earning the title of being soft?” McCoy said, via ESPN.com. “I mean, guys get so sensitive around the league, but we have to be men. This is a man’s league. This is a man’s league and we’re professionals. Guys have issues with criticism. I’ve been getting criticized since I’ve been in the NFL, and I don’t even feel it anymore. It is what it is.”

According to McCoy, part of the softness extends to the team making too many excuses for their shortcomings rather than just saying that they got beat and that they’ll win the next one. McCoy also acknowledged that talking about the issues hurting the team isn’t going to make a difference on the field because that talking has been going on since he got to Tampa.

“But it’s enough talking. We have to start playing, simple as that. The talking is not going to get it anymore,” McCoy said. “I’ve been hearing talking and speeches for five years. It’s time to start seeing action, simple as that.”

The words are strong, but McCoy’s probably right about the limitations of its impact. The limitations of the players and the scheme are likely to keep winning out until there are fewer of them holding the Buccaneers back.

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Talk persists of an NFL team moving to London

Osborne Getty Images

If one or two NFL teams move to Los Angeles, the NFL will need a new potential destination to which an owner can threaten to move his franchise if/when efforts to finance a new stadium with public money fail.

Playing the role of Los Angeles once the NFL returns there could be London.

Despite many logistical issues that would seem to make it ultimately impractical, talk persists of a team moving to London.  According to the London Evening Standard, Chancellor George Osborne says he has pledged full backing of the British government to a potential franchise move.

“This is primarily a decision for the owners of the clubs and the NFL organisation but I’ve said to the NFL that anything the Government can do to make this happen we will do, because I think it would be a huge boost to London,” Osborne said.  “We could have not just the Star Spangled Banner at the beginning of NFL games but also God Save The Queen.”

So when could it happen?

“I think that there’s a chance in the next few years to get an NFL team for London,” Osborne said.  “There are 32 teams in America — and one of them could be a London team.  That’s a serious prospect.”

“We warmly welcome the Chancellor’s strong support for the possibility of an NFL team in London and look forward to welcoming him to a game at Wembley over the next few weeks,” the league said in response to Osborne’s remarks.  “Our key priority is to continue to build our fan base in the UK so that there is strong demand for any future plans in London.  We will do this by ensuring that we are able to offer top class action on the field and brilliant events — which include the fan rally at Trafalgar Square on Saturday — off it.  We are looking forward to two exciting upcoming games in London and are committed to further strengthening the links between the NFL and our UK fans.”

The NFL began its London series in 2007, with one game per year.  Last year, the NFL increased to two.  This year, the total inventory has increased to three.

An alternative to moving a team to London continues to be playing up to eight games per year there, each involving different teams.  The primary challenge to that approach comes from persuading enough teams to give up periodic home games.  Recently, the NFL moved a step in that direction by requiring all Super Bowl host teams to give up a home game to London.

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Buccaneers sign linebacker Orie Lemon away from Chiefs

Orie+Lemon+St+Louis+Rams+v+Dallas+Cowboys+VeX7j_1zoB7l Getty Images

The Bucs filled an unexpected roster spot Thursday, finding another defensive player to take the spot created by Da’Quan Bowers‘ two-week PED suspension.

The team announced they had signed linebacker Orie Lemon off the Chiefs practice squad.

Lemon has bounced around, doing two stints each with the Cowboys and Chiefs, along with going to camp with the Cardinals last summer.

The former Oklahoma State standout was waived/injured by the Cowboys this year, prior to hooking up with the Chiefs again.

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Calvin Johnson ramping up his practice work in London

Britain Lions Football AP

The Lions might not have Reggie Bush available Sunday morning in London, but it’s looking like there’s at least a chance that Calvin Johnson will be back on the field.

According to Tim Twentyman of the team’s official website, Johnson did more in practice Thursday than he has recently, planting and cutting on his high right ankle sprain.

Lions coach Jim Caldwell still sounded cautious, but the trend is good after he was limited Wednesday.

“The big thing is, typically when they ramp up their activity that way, the most important thing is what they feel like the following day,” Caldwell said.

“And today he came back feeling good, so that’s encouraging. We knew he was coming along and to have him have an opportunity to take part in a little bit of practice [Wednesday] was good. As they see it, they’ll ramp him up a little bit more today and see how he looks tomorrow. We’ll go from there.”
Johnson said things were “moving in a positive direction,” but he’ll probably still be a game-time decision Sunday.

“Like I said, it gets better and better, like right now it’s getting better on a daily basis,” Johnson said. “As long as we can keep up with that progression, we’ll see.

“We haven’t pushed it too much, we don’t want to get to that point where we get a setback. Like I said, it’s getting better and better. I want to push it, but we are just trying to be smart about it. I’m trying to take good advice from our training staff that they’re giving me and go with that.”

Caution is wise with guys coming off injury, and the temptation to give him another week is reasonable, given this week’s opponent.

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Ultimately, De Smith may decide to question Goodell

Executive director of the NFL Players Association Smith and NFL Commissioner Goodell speak outside the NFL Players Association Headquarters in Washington Reuters

We know that Commissioner Roger Goodell will testify in the Ray Rice appeal hearing.  We still don’t know with certainty who will ask the questions.

One source with knowledge of the situation says it will be NFLPA outside counsel Jeffrey Kessler.  Another source says Rice’s lawyer, Peter Ginsberg, also will pose questions to Goodell.

And now comes the curve ball.  Yet another source tells PFT that NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith has not yet ruled out handling the questioning himself.

Smith, a practicing lawyer before becoming the NFLPA executive director, routinely adds his own name to the roster of lawyers handling a given case.  It allows Smith to directly participate as an advocate, if he so chooses.

Given the broader relationship between Smith and Goodell, it probably makes sense for Smith to defer to Kessler or Ginsberg.  Either would be capable of asking the right questions without undermining the ability of Smith and Goodell to work productively and cooperatively in the future.

If Smith decides to question Goodell, it would represent a belated turning of the tables, sort of.  In 1981, Paul Tagliabue cross examined NFLPA executive director Gene Upshaw in the Raiders’ lawsuit against the NFL, nine years before Tagliabue became the NFL’s Commissioner.

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Taylor Lewan not set for trial after all

Green Bay Packers v Tennessee Titans Getty Images

Titans offensive tackle Taylor Lewan will not have to spend his bye week on trial after all.

Lewan, the Titans’ first-round draft pick this year, had a trial on an assault charge scheduled for next week. But Lewan’s lawyer said today that the trial is off. Lewan apparently reached some type of settlement with the two people who accused him of assault, and they no longer wish to pursue criminal charges.

“We asked the judge to cancel next week’s trial with anticipation of putting that resolution on the record a week from today. That’s where things stand as of today,” attorney John Shea said, via the Tennessean. “Still some final steps being taken, but the parties anticipate the case will officially and on the record be resolved a week from today.”

Lewan has played in all seven games this season and started the last two. The alleged assault took place last year, before Lewan was an NFL player, and is not expected to result in a suspension.

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Reggie Wayne misses practice for second straight day

Reggie Wayne AP

When the Colts held wide receiver Reggie Wayne out of practice on Wednesday, it was difficult to know how much of a role his injured elbow played in their decision.

Wayne typically gets a veteran’s rest day on Wednesday and both he and coach Chuck Pagano downplayed the significance of the injury after he sat out the session. Still, the team was concerned enough to send Wayne for an MRI early on the week and even a relatively insignificant injury can be enough to keep a player out for one week.

The possibility of that outcome seems a bit likelier now that Wayne has missed practice on Thursday as well. Tom James of the Terre Haute Tribune-Star reports that Wayne watched his teammates go through practice from the field and that he didn’t have a wrap or anything other than a compression sleeve on the injured elbow.

If Wayne doesn’t play, it could mean an expanded role for Hakeem Nicks. Nicks signed as a free agent in the offseason after a disappointing year with the Giants in 2013 and has 17 catches for 141 yards and two touchdowns so far this season.

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Jadeveon Clowney will be surprised if he doesn’t play this week

Jadeveon Clowney AP

Texans linebacker Jadeveon Clowney has been out since the first week of the regular season because of a knee injury, but he’s been drawing closer and closer to making his return in the last couple of weeks.

Clowney was listed as questionable heading into last Monday’s game against the Steelers, but the team opted to leave him inactive when they took the field in Pittsburgh. Clowney said Thursday, via John McClain of the Houston Chronicle, that he would be surprised if things played out that way again this week.

While his knee remains sore, Clowney said that he feels ready to “push through it” and return to the lineup against the Titans this weekend.

Coach Bill O’Brien termed Clowney’s chances of playing “decent” earlier this week and also said that it wasn’t a guarantee that Clowney would take a spot with the starters upon his return to week. That makes sense since Whitney Mercilus has played well and it’s been a long layoff, but first overall picks don’t remain on the bench long so we’d expect to see a healthy amount of Clowney if the Texans deem him healthy enough to play.

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