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Brian Cushing “ahead of schedule” in rehab from ACL injury

AP

The Houston Texans lost a significant piece to their defense in October when linebacker Brian Cushing tore his ACL in a game against the New York Jets. Though they still finished as the seventh-ranked defense in the league, the Texans lost some of their explosiveness with Cushing.

It appears as though Cushing is well on his way to getting back in time for next season.

According to the team’s official website, Texans owner Bob McNair is very pleased with the progress Cushing is making in rehabilitating his injured knee.

McNair said Cushing is “ahead of schedule” in his recovery.

Cushing had surgery a couple of weeks following the injury in late October. It will be a full nine months after the surgery when training camp opens for the Texans in late July and another six weeks before the regular season begins in September. If Cushing is on track, or even ahead of schedule as McNair suggests, it’s possible he’ll be ready to return to the field by the start of the season.

Cushing played in five games for Houston this season and recorded 30 tackles, an interception and a forced fumble.

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Jared Goff learning new offense, trying to become a leader

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The Rams have a new coach and a new offense and a still-kind-of-new quarterback who’s still trying to figure out how to play in the NFL. On Monday, Jared Goff addressed his adjustment to Sean McVay’s system.

“It’s way different,” Goff told reporters. “It’s a way different offense. Personally, from my brief experience with it. I’ve had a quicker time learning it, easier time learning it. I don’t know whether that’s scheme or the way it’s taught or whatnot, but I’ve enjoyed spending time with the coaches and picking it up pretty quickly.”

Goff agrees that McVay is trying to make the quarterback position the easiest to play on the field.

“[Y]ou can definitely tell,” Goff said. “There’s a lot of things that may have been on our plate before aren’t now. But there’s also some things that are. It goes back and forth. . . . He’s taken a lot off of our plate.”

As he learns how to play quarterback, he also needs to learn how to lead. Goff understands the importance of that aspect of his role.

“The quarterback is the leader of the team, and again, that’s something that’s always evolving,” Goff said. “It’s just like you work on your passes, you work on being a leader. It’s something that you try to be the best teammate and everything you can be every day. Just trying to be the best you can be.”

McVay separately offered up a more pragmatic look at the situation.

“It’s a one day at a time approach,” McVay said of Goff’s leadership skills. “I think it’s really just him getting comfortable with whatever is true to his personality. I think there’s different types of ways that guys lead, but what resonates with players is if you’re genuine and authentic about it. I think he’s got a nice way of just being himself and guys naturally gravitate towards him from what I’ve seen so far.”

It’s an important facet of the overall quarterback experience; as former NFL offensive coordinator and college head coach Charlie Weis said after the draft on PFT Live, leadership is the primary quality that determines whether a college quarterback will succeed at the next level. For Goff, then, learning how to run the offense is equally important to learning how to lead the team.

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Report: Branden Albert not expected to be at Jags OTAs

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It looks like the wait for tackle Branden Albert to report for work with the Jaguars will continue.

There was word last week that the Jaguars and Albert have reopened communications after coach Doug Marrone said earlier in the offseason that the veteran acquired in a trade with the Dolphins had not been in touch with the team. Albert has not been at any of the team’s voluntary workouts as he pushes for a new contract.

While the lines of communication may be open, it doesn’t appear that will change this week. Ian Rapoport of NFL Media reports that Albert is not expected to report for the start of the team’s Organized Team Activities on Tuesday.

Second-round pick Cam Robinson has been working at left tackle since being drafted in April and will presumably continue to be in that spot for this phase of the offseason schedule. If Robinson does well, the Jaguars will have much cause to consider a revised deal with Albert before the start of the season.

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Odell Beckham expected to report to OTAs on Thursday

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Giants receiver Odell Beckham Jr. was a no-show for the first day of voluntary Organized Team Activities, but he’s not boycotting OTAs entirely.

Beckham is likely to be at OTAs on Thursday, Jordan Raanan of ESPN reports.

There’s been no word from Beckham about why he is absent from the start of OTAs. It may be a matter of wanting a new contract, which is the reason Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald didn’t participate in his team’s OTAs yesterday.

Beckham also didn’t join Eli Manning and other teammates for their annual workouts at Duke last month, which he said was because he was having oral surgery.

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Look for overtime rule change to be a one-year experiment

I hate the idea of reducing preseason and regular-season overtime from 15 minutes to 10. I hate it because: (1) it likely will lead to unintended consequences; (2) it definitely will lead to more ties; and (3) it seems to be motivated primarily if not solely by a desire to eliminate one of the potential complaints about short-week football.

But, apparently, the powers-that-be who hope to fix something that isn’t broken in order to polish up the thing that Richard Sherman publicly dubbed a “poopfest” have finagled the 24 votes necessary to reduce overtime to 10 minutes. (For any of the 24 inclined to relent, there’s still time to stand up and say, “This is a dumb idea.”) If the rule is passed, look for it to be adopted on a one-year experimental basis.

Adopting the rule for one year only means that 24 votes would be required in 2018 to keep it. Making it a permanent change means that 24 votes would be needed to get rid of it.

Still, one year alone may not be enough of a sample size to bring all of the potentially unintended consequences to fruition. That’s why it will be smart to keep it on a one-year basis for two years or more before making it a permanent change. Eventually, the experiment will go the way of Peter Brady’s volcano, which will allow the league easily, and somewhat gracefully, move on from it.

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Retiring ref recalls a gesture of sportsmanship from Peyton Manning

AP

Longtime NFL official Butch Hannah has announced his retirement, and in an interview with his hometown paper he’s recalled one player whose sportsmanship stood out: Peyton Manning.

Hannah told the Chattanooga Times-Free Press about an on-field run-in he had with Manning, which had an unusual conclusion.

“Peyton’s next-to-last year, the Broncos were facing the Dolphins in Denver and the whole game was a struggle for them,” Hannah said. “I called back two Denver touchdowns. But they pulled it out by two or three points (39-36). But late in the game, the clock about to run out, Peyton mistimed a snap and they had to run one more play. Peyton said something off-color to me, which was not at all like him.

“I told him, ‘Peyton, you’re better than that.'”

Weeks later, Hannah received a letter in the mail from Manning.

“He said he wanted to apologize for his reaction to me that day against the Dolphins,” Hannah said. “Would I please accept his apology? That’s the only time that’s happened to me in all my years of officiating.”

The next year, Hannah worked a Broncos preseason game and Manning approached him beforehand.

“He asks me, ‘Did you get my card?’ I said, ‘Peyton, you’ve got to let this go.’ He says, ‘You have no idea how upset I was with myself.’ That’s the kind of son Archie and Olivia raised. Pretty impressive.”

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Cowboys will hold training camp in Oxnard through at least 2018

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The Cowboys opened a lavish new practice facility and headquarters in Frisco, Texas last year, but they will still be heading out of state for training camp.

The City of Oxnard approved a two-year extension of their deal with the Cowboys to hold training camp in California. The extension covers this year and 2018 and the city has an option for 2019 and 2020, so the summer trips to the coast could continue for quite a while.

This will be the 12th time since 2001 and sixth straight year that the Cowboys will train in Oxnard. This year’s camp will be cheaper to visit than in past years.

Per the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, parking has dropped from $20 a day to $10 on weekdays and $15 on weekends. The team is not expected to report to work in Oxnard until after they play in the Hall of Fame Game on August 4.

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Browns owner “highly confident” the turnaround starts now

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The Browns have been rebuilding since the moment they were rebuilt in Cleveland, but owner Jimmy Haslam thinks this time, for real, the winning is about to begin.

Via Nate Ulrich of the Akron Beacon Journal, Haslam thinks things are going to be much better this season (and they can’t really get worse after going 1-15).

“The difference between this year and last year in terms of feeling in the building is noticeably different,” Haslam said. “We were able to obviously to bring in some top-flight talent during the offseason, have what we believe to be a very successful draft and I’m highly confident that this will be the year when the Browns begin to turn around and perform at the level they should.

“I’m highly, highly confident we got the right guy to lead the ship, and that’s head coach Hue Jackson.”

The Browns sticking by Jackson is admirable, since they stuck him with a roster largely devoid of professional players last season. But Haslam said he’s been impressed with the way his coach has kept things positive, and Jackson didn’t have any interest in dwelling in the past.

“I don’t even want to talk about last year, what [foundation] was set, because a lot of stuff wasn’t set,” Jackson said. “I do feel better about [this year]. Our draft shows that we’ve put more quality talent on our team. I think it showed last year that our guys understood our process, and they worked hard. We just couldn’t seem to win because of it.

“Now, hopefully we have enough talent to where we can finish games and finish games better and finishing hopefully leads to winning. But at the end of day, all of this is about winning. It’s not about anything else. We need to see tangible wins in order for this organization to be moving forward.”

At least they have the confidence of ownership, because it’s likely to be a process that extends beyond the coming season.

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Tuesday morning one-liners

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Former G.M. Doug Whaley’s reflections on his Bills tenure didn’t impress everyone.

The hype train for Dolphins WR DeVante Parker is chugging right along.

The Patriots Hall of Fame’s newest member will be Raymond Clayborn.

WR Quincy Enunwa is on track for a big role in the Jets offense.

A projection of the Ravens’ offensive depth chart.

The Bengals hope to find out more about QB Jeff Driskel this offseason.

Browns coach Hue Jackson said he isn’t ranking his quarterbacks outside of installing Cody Kessler as the No. 1 in the rotation.

Storylines to watch during the Steelers’ OTAs.

The Texans are looking for big jumps from wide receivers Will Fuller and Braxton Miller in their second seasons.

It’s a “wide open” competition for playing time in the Colts secondary.

The Jaguars placed WR Bryan Walters on injured reserve.

The Titans head into OTAs with five of their nine draft picks under contract.

Quarterback isn’t the only position to watch during Broncos OTAs.

Chiefs T Jah Reid is suing his alma mater Central Florida for improper use of his likeness.

Raiders coach Jack Del Rio is happy the Warriors are back in the NBA Finals.

LB Melvin Ingram is “doing his negotiating thing” with Chargers OTAs getting started.

Cowboys TE Jason Witten has seen major improvement from TE Rico Gathers.

The Giants are continuing their search for defensive depth.

Eagles RB Donnel Pumphrey feels he constantly has to overcome doubts about his size.

Redskins coach Jay Gruden expects a better defensive effort this year.

QB Mike Glennon has worked quickly to build bonds with his Bears teammates.

A supportive take on Calvin Johnson’s issues with the way things ended with the Lions.

The Packers’ draft class sets up some battles for roster spots.

A video breakdown of Vikings rookie C Pat Elflein.

Looking forward to the Falcons’ new stadium.

Is there more shuffling to come in the Panthers’ front office?

The Saints are keeping their options open at linebacker.

TE O.J. Howard was the first pick that the Buccaneers made this year and he’s also the first pick to sign with the team.

QB Blaine Gabbert likes the stability he sees with the Cardinals.

Said Rams QB Jared Goff of the new offense, “It’s way different. It’s a way different offense. Personally, from my brief experience with it. I’ve had a quicker time learning it, easier time learning it. I don’t know whether that’s scheme or the way it’s taught or whatnot, but I’ve enjoyed spending time with the coaches and picking it up pretty quickly.”

49ers DL Solomon Thomas and WR Trent Taylor look very different on the outside, but the team thinks they have the same passion for the game.

DE Cliff Avril says that the Seahawks veterans still have something left in the tank.

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Larry Fitzgerald will talk post-2017 plans at training camp

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Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald spent a lot of time last year fielding questions about whether or not he planned to continue playing in 2017 and then took a little time after the end of the season before announcing that he’d return to the team.

The 2017 season hasn’t started yet, but the way last year played out makes it pretty likely that there are already plenty of people wondering about Fitzgerald’s plans for 2018. On Monday night, Fitzgerald said that the frequency of the questions last year grew tiresome and he plans to handle those queries differently than he did last season.

Fitzgerald said that he’ll discuss his future at training camp and only at training camp.

“I’m going to answer it one time, and I’m not even going to address it anymore,” Fitzgerald said, via Josh Weinfuss of ESPN.com.

It seems unlikely that Fitzgerald will field his final question on the topic in July unless his answer is unequivocal that he’s going to play in 2018. An answer that involves making a decision after the season will invite follow-ups as the season unfolds and a plan to retire would lead to questions about second thoughts along with weekly reminders that the end is getting close.

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Washington “getting close” to a plan for replacing former G.M.

AP

Washington may be close to backfilling its personnel department, even if that doesn’t mean hiring a General Manager.

According to Liz Clarke of the Washington Post, team president Bruce Allen said they had met with more than a dozen candidates plus some internal scouts, and were nearing a decision.

We’re getting close to having a final plan,” Allen said. “It has been a good period. We’ve learned a lot about other strategies and structures around the league.”

They’ve been short-handed since firing G.M. Scot McCloughan in March, with Allen presiding over the franchise-tagging of Kirk Cousins and the draft.

So it’s reasonable to suggest they don’t feel a pressing need to have someone with the title McCloughan used to have.

Considering they’ve gone this far without one (and have two more years of contract to pay for McCloughan to not be G.M.) they could be looking for some alternatives which don’t suggest anyone having the power to nudge Allen out of the top spot.

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Kentucky basketball hopeful has some NFL potential

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Usually the Kentucky basketball players are all first-rounders, and usually after their first year.

But in the case of senior guard Dominique Hawkins, he might have a shot to go pro in another sport.

According to Ben Roberts of the Lexington Herald-Leader, Hawkins might be a fringe NBA draft prospect whose basketball future lies overseas.

But the 6-foot- guard with a 44.5-inch vertical leap has also drawn some attention from NFL scouts, who are intrigued about his potential as a defensive back.

He was the state of Kentucky’s Mr. Basketball in 2013 and a favorite of fans there, and Wildcats coach John Calipari called him “Old Reliable” during their tournament run (as opposed to all the “Young Temps” he usually recruits).

“He is a fierce competitor,” Calipari said of Hawkins in February. “He’s tough as nails. He will come up with [loose balls]. Any 50/50 ball, he’s getting. And offensively, he’s gotten better each year.”

Usually when an NFL team is thinking about conversion projects, it’s power forwards turned into tight ends. But while Hawkins might not be NBA caliber, football teams are going to turn over every rock in search of guys who can play.

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David Diehl visits the PFT Live studio on Tuesday

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Tuesday’s PFT Live includes one of the new twists that debuted last week — a current or former player spending a full hour in studio.

Last week, it was Willie Colon on Tuesday and Brian Westbrook on Wednesday. This week, two-time Super Bowl champion David Diehl, who played 11 years with the Giants, will visit the PFT Live studio for the final hour of the show.

For clarity, he’ll be in the Connecticut studio. If you saw any of Monday’s show, you know that the West Virginia studio barely fit Barstool Big Cat and PFT Commenter. There’s no way it would fit both me and Diehl. Or Diehl on his own.

We’ll be discussing a wide variety of topics, including a back-and-forth draft aimed at compiling our ideal offensive line. Join us at 8:00 a.m. ET on NBCSN for Diehl’s visit.

Actually, join us at 6:00 a.m. ET on NBC Sports Radio, and then on NBCSN at 7:00 a.m. ET.

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Owners discussing timing change for coaching hires

AP

If some owners have their way, future Dan Quinns and Kyle Shanahans might not have to spend a Super Bowl week lying (or at least awkwardly hedging) about their plans for the following week.

According to Adam Schefter of ESPN, owners will discuss a change to the timing of head-coaching hires, which would allow teams to agree to terms with a new coach after a second interview but not announce the hiring.

It’s actually a box of leftovers from the March meeting, when the needed rules change was proposed by the competition committee but not voted on. Atlanta has also sponsored the rule, having been on both sides of it.

Ostensibly, that would give teams more of a chance to rebuild coaching staffs in the wake of late departures caused by their own success. In recent years, the Seahawks and Falcons have had to wait before replacing Dan Quinn (to Atlanta) and Kyle Shanahan (to San Francisco) until their teams were finished with the Super Bowl.

But if it’s as simple agree-don’t-announce, that doesn’t really seem to change much, since both hirings were the worst-kept secrets of the Super Bowl weeks in question, and both hirings were foregone conclusions.

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Jay Gruden thinks Chris Thompson is the NFL’s best third-down back

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Washington coach Jay Gruden thinks he has the NFL’s best third-down back on his roster.

Chris Thompson, who had 68 carries for 356 yards and three touchdowns last season and added 49 catches for 349 yards and two touchdowns, is as good as it gets in the third-down role, according to Gruden.

“I think Chris Thompson’s role is big,” Gruden said, via CSNMidAtlantic.com. “When you’re talking about third downs, that’s the most important down in football. There’s nobody better as a third-down back in my opinion than Chris. He’s got a huge role on this football team.”

With rookie Samaje Perine joining last year’s top two rushers, Rob Kelley and Matt Jones, it would be easy to envision Thompson’s role being reduced. But Gruden sees Thompson having a key role.

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CBS producer believes Tony Romo will be the next John Madden

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CBS is obviously quite excited about the addition of former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo to their broadcast booth.

The network is so happy to have him that Romo is going to get his first appearance in the booth during this weekend’s PGA Tour stop at the Dean and DeLuca Invitational at Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth, Texas.

According to Clarence Hill of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, CBS producer Lance Barrow announced at a gala for the tournament Monday night that Romo would make his CBS debut this week in the booth at the 18th hole.

In addition to announcing Romo’s foray on the network’s golf broadcast this weekend, Barrow made a lofty comparison in likening Romo to an NFL broadcasting legend.

I think he is going to be great,” Barrow said. “I think we have the next John Madden on your hands.”

Romo has yet to work a single NFL game, but in comparing Romo to Madden he’s setting an incredibly high standard for the newest member of the network’s announcing team.

After his coaching career was complete, Madden became the most recognizable NFL analyst on TV. Madden paired with Pat Summerall to form the No. 1 crew in NFL broadcasting, first working for CBS before moving to FOX in the mid-1990’s. His popularity continued to grow with the introduction of the Madden NFL game franchise.

Whether Romo could potentially ever reach Madden territory as a broadcaster is yet to be seen, but clearly CBS is incredibly bullish on their addition to their staff.

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