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Ron Rivera on Combine interviews, Cam Newton

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The Scouting Combine gives teams an opportunity to meet face to face with plenty of incoming rookies.  Through the formal interview process, teams can talk to up to 60 players for 15 minutes at a time.

But there’s a lesser-known (and less formal) approach that occurs at Union Station, a gathering place in Indy that once served as the local train station.  Panthers coach Ron Rivera explained during a bonus segment of PFT Live that this less structured (and thus slightly more chaotic) interview process can result in fewer canned, prepared answers — and in turn a better chance at getting to the “real” guy.

Rivera addressed plenty of other topics, including the struggles of Cam Newton early in the 2012 season, working with a new G.M., and strategies for improving the league’s recently poor performance when it comes to minority hiring.

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49ers say they’ll try to extend both Michael Crabtree and Mike Iupati

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The 49ers appear willing to do business with those who will do business with them.

According to Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com, 49ers General Manager Trent Baalke said the team wanted to try to extend both guard Mike Iupati and wide receiver Michael Crabtree before they become unrestricted free agents next spring.

We’re going to try,” Baalke said. “We’re going to work at it, certainly. But at some point, you got to stop negotiating deals and let these guys concentrate on playing football. I don’t know what point that is. We’ll make that determination as a club.

“But we’re certainly going to work toward that goal. Those are two very good football players, and guys we’d love to have in this organization for the long term.”

They can tag one or the other next offseason if they choose, buying time. Then again, Maiocco points out they’re not particularly close to deals for either Crabtree or Iupati, so at this point it’s just talk.

But talking about extending good players is also a way of extending a finger, perhaps the one in the middle, toward holdout guard Alex Boone.

 

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MRI reveals bone bruise for Kelvin Benjamin

Kelvin Benjamin AP

The Panthers were optimistic that wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin would avoid bad news from the MRI on his left knee that was scheduled after Benjamin banged knees with another player during Sunday’s practice.

Benjamin didn’t get a totally clear bill of health after his trip into the tube, but the diagnosis fell well short of the worst case scenario.

Joseph Person of the Charlotte Observer reports that coach Ron Rivera said that the tests showed a bone bruise and that the timetable for his return to the field would be measured in terms of days rather than weeks. Rivera added that there is still some swelling around the knee, but that it is structurally stable.

The news is good for the Panthers offense, which looks like it will be relying heavily on the first-round pick to make plays for Cam Newton this season. Benjamin will need all the practice time he can get in order to make a quick enough transition to the professional ranks for that to happen, so the news will be even better if it is just a couple of days before he’s back in action.

 

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Lions table Suh contract talks until end of season

Ndamukong Suh AP

Lions coach Jim Caldwell thinks that the team will be able to get a deal done that keeps defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh in Detroit, but it won’t happen before the start of the regular season.

It won’t come during the regular season, either. Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press reports that Lions president Tom Lewand said on Monday that the team was putting contract talks with Suh on hold until after the end of the regular season.

Lewand and General Manager Martin Mayhew both said they thought a deal could still get done, although the timing has obviously changed and the decision to call off talks for now suggests the two sides weren’t particularly close to reaching an agreement. The window to get an extension done at the end of the season will be short. One deadline they will face is the one governing the use of the franchise tag, something that neither man ruled out despite Suh’s price under the tag standing at a massive $26.9 million for the 2015 season.

That won’t be a factor if Suh doesn’t have a good season or if he gets hurt, but another strong year will make for some tough calls in Detroit come next winter. And those calls could lead Suh to another uniform for the 2015 season.

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Mario Manningham still lacking confidence in knee

Mario Manningham AP

Wide receiver Mario Manningham tore his ACL late in the 2012 season with the 49ers and finished last season on injured reserve because of continued knee troubles that still haven’t resolved themselves.

Manningham returned to the Giants this offseason as a free agent and said Monday that he’s not feeling as confident in the condition of his knee as he’d like to feel. He had the knee scoped in January and is “just trying to get back to where I was” while testing it out during camp.

“I know my knee [is] fixed,” Manningham said, via the New York Daily News. “It’s just confidence. It’s just me sticking the foot in the ground and going. So that’s like I say: every day it gets better and better.”

With Odell Beckham struggling to get past a hamstring injury, the Giants are short on healthy depth behind Victor Cruz and Rueben Randle right now. Should both injury issues linger deeper into the summer, the Giants may need to think about looking at outside options to provide them with a bit more certainty in the receiving corps as they try to form a group that will help Eli Manning complete 70 percent of his passes.

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Ware out with bruised leg bone

Ware AP

Broncos defensive end DeMarcus Ware suffered a lower leg injury during practice on Sunday.  He was held out of practice on Monday, with coach John Fox calling it a bruised leg.

Per a source with knowledge of the situation, Ware actually has a bruised bone in his leg.  The source says that Ware nevertheless should be fine, and that the injury is not serious.

Ware has played through many injuries during his NFL career, which until this season had unfolded entirely with the Cowboys.  If healthy, Ware can make a big difference in the Denver defense.

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Raiders sign safety Jeremy Deering

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The Raiders added an extra safety on Monday, announcing the signing of rookie Jeremy Deering, an undrafted free agent from Rutgers.

Deering (6-1, 209) played 48 games (18 starts) for the Scarlet Knights, playing multiple positions. In 2013, he transitioned to free safety from wide receiver and started 10 games on defense. The 23-year-old Deering also has experience returning kickoffs.

Deering had a brief stint with the Patriots in May before being waived.

Deering is one of six available safeties on the Raiders’ roster. A seventh player at the position, Usama Young, is on the active/physically unable to perform list. Young has a quad injury.

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Jets’ Calvin Pace: We’re the best defense in the NFL

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Jets linebacker Calvin Pace says he’s part of the best defense in football.

“[Compared to] the rest of the defenses in the NFL? S—, man, we’re the best,” Pace told the New York Daily News. “You ask anybody around the league, we’re not the team you want to see coming in, even in a down year.”

A lot of people in Seattle (among several NFL locales) would disagree with that statement, but Pace believes opposing offenses fear coach Rex Ryan’s defense more than any other.

“There’s a certain type of aggression when we come . . . you know we’re going to come with a lot of stuff and teams don’t want to see that,” Pace said. “They want to see a vanilla defense, that just lines up and you know where they’re going to be. . . . I’ll take these guys and Rex and this system any day.”

If you’re keeping track of the Jets’ bold statements in training camp, Pace joins Dee Milliner proclaiming himself the best cornerback in the NFL, Ryan calling David Harris the most underrated linebacker in the NFL and Ryan describing himself as “a great coach.” (Ryan did modestly acknowledge that he may not be the best coach of all time.)

If the Jets are half as good as they think they are, they’ll be a playoff team.

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NFL paying attention to influence of high-stakes fantasy football leagues

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Risking money, whatever the amount, on the outcome of NFL games constitutes gambling.  Risking money, whatever the amount, on the outcome of the performance of specific players in NFL games does not constitute gambling.

Playing fantasy football for money isn’t gambling because Congress has decided that “an outcome that reflects the relative knowledge of the participants, or their skill at physical reaction or physical manipulation [but not chance], and, in the case of a fantasy or simulation sports game, has an outcome that is determined predominantly by accumulated statistical results of sporting events” isn’t gambling.

Obviously, the same kind of skill needed to predict the winners of NFL games applies when projecting the performances of individual players.  In many ways, a fantasy football team resembles a convoluted parlay card, where the non-gambling gambler tries to compile a roster of players who will “win” more yards and points than the team put together by an opposing non-gambling gambler.

The hair-splitting and nonsensical distinction from Congress has made gambling on fantasy football as legal as gambling on stocks, which has spawned an industry that includes some very high-stakes fantasy leagues, some of which undoubtedly include NFL players.  But while it’s only a matter of time before word emerges of the involvement of NFL players in six-figure fantasy leagues, another potential complication could emerge when it comes to the non-gambling gambling of large amounts of money on fantasy football.

Peter King of TheMMQB.com explains that, during his training-camp tour, he has caught wind of “undue pressure some players and coaches feel from big-money fantasy-football players.”  Writes King, “I had one coach tell me there’s so much money in some of these fantasy-football playoff pools that people who used to gamble with bookies illegally are now gambling in high-stakes fantasy-football leagues, which is not illegal.” King adds that the “NFL has its antennae up over this, and it’ll be interesting to see if the pressure escalates to more serious threats on players or coaches.”

Interesting, and incredibly alarming.  Although physical threats against those responsible for poor player performances are possible, it seems more likely that those who would consider breaking the law to express displeasure in losing large amounts of money would be far more inclined to break the law in order to win large amounts of money.

In what would be a bizarre twist on point shaving, coaches and players could in theory be bribed to ensure that certain players will generate significant production, or that certain players will be shut down.  Getting to coaches and assistant coaches who control the offensive game plan would be the most efficient approach.  It also would help to grease defenders who would be inclined to slip on an invisible banana peel, springing a specific player for a touchdown or two.  Or four.

The league, which generates significant profit and attention both directly and indirectly from fantasy football, should be concerned about the potential for corruption.  Even if playing fantasy football for significant amounts of money isn’t illegal, at a certain point the money in the balance will open the door for all sorts of illegal activity.

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Pierre Garçon leaves practice after hamstring tweak

Pierre Garcon AP

During wide receiver Pierre Garçon’s first season with the Redskins, he missed time with a foot injury that hampered him even after he returned to the lineup in the second half of the season.

Garçon knows about the problems caused by lingering injuries as a result and he’s trying to make sure he doesn’t have to deal with another one this year. Garçon reached for his right hamstring after making a catch in practice on Monday and then went to the sideline for the remainder of the session. After it was over, Garçon told reporters that he wasn’t sure when he would return but that he felt sure it wasn’t a major injury.

“Just being smart. There’s no real need to keep playing through it right now, early in the season. Just got to be smart and get it healed up,” Garçon said, via CSNWashington.com.  “No need to really rush it, or trying put everything to the wall right now. It is the first week of training camp.”

The Redskins don’t practice on Tuesday, so Wednesday would be the earliest return date for Garçon. Given his value to the offense and experience, an extra day or two to make sure that all is well might not be a bad idea.

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Raiders G.M.: Khalil Mack is like Clay Matthews

Khalil Mack AP

It’s early, obviously. And it might be wishful thinking.

But the Raiders clearly have high expectations for first-rounder Khalil Mack.

According to Vic Tafur of the San Francisco Chronicle, Raiders General Manager Reggie McKenzie is comparing his newest linebacker to one of the best pass-rushers in the game.

He’s reminded me of Clay Matthews from Day 1,” McKenzie said, referring to Clay III, the Packer, and not the long-time Browns linebacker. “He’s one of those guys that knows how to set the edge, and he has length and power and some tools to rush the passer.

“He’s got that first step, he can bend, he’s relentless.”

McKenize was working in Green Bay when the Packers drafted Matthews in the first round, and said that intensity is something they saw in Mack this year.

“That’s what Clay was, you don’t have tell him to go sic ‘em,” McKenzie said. “He just innately does that. Khalil is that same way.”

“It’s hard to find guys that are skillful that have that innate ability.”

If Mack has the same kind of instant impact (Matthews had 23.5 sacks his first two seasons, and 50.0 in five), the Raiders will be delighted. They out enough solid veterans into their defensive mix that adding that kind of spark could make them respectable quickly.

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Griffin says Titans are a “different team” now

Griffin Getty Images

After a failed 2013 season, Titans tight end Delanie Walker claimed that six or seven of his teammates were cancers, sparking a stream of reactions as people like coach Ken Whisenhunt said the concerns should have been kept in house, cornerback Jason McCourty and receiver Nate Washington said Walker should have called a team meeting, and now-former Titans running back Chris Johnson (who may have been one of the tumors to whom Walker was referring) said Walker should have named names.

Now, Titans safety Michael Griffin has voiced concerns similar to Walker’s, with slightly less inflammatory language — and slightly less flair than teammate Bernard Pollard, who has declared that the Titans “sucked butt” last year.

It’s a different team now,” Griffin said, via Terry McCormick of TitanInsider.com.  “It’s a different team in the fact that it’s different all the way around.  You see this team in a positive direction, aimed in the right direction. The guys we’ve brought in the last two years, the coaching staff — all of this you can see where this team can go. . . .  It’s a different mood when you come here.  You’re just excited and ready to play football.  [Before] you just had a lot of guys that had other things on their minds.  Other things were more important.  They were just happy to be here rather than more happy to win football games. That being said, the guys who are here [now] want to play football.”

Griffin didn’t say who those guys with “other things on their minds” were or what those “other things” were.  But his views mesh with Walker’s, and it’s good news for a franchise that by all appearances has struggled to find its way since blowing the No. 1 seed via a division-round home loss to the Ravens in January 2009.  If Griffin is right, the Titans may be finding their way again.

It would help to find an answer at quarterback.

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Adrian Peterson may not play in the preseason

Adrian Peterson AP

On Monday, Vikings running back Adrian Peterson promised that the Vikings offense will be less predictable than it has been in the past few seasons.

Peterson said, via the Minneapolis Star Tribune, that “you won’t be able to write” the same stories about the lack of versatility in the Vikings’ offense. Based on coach Mike Zimmer’s own comments Monday, the team won’t be providing many hints about Peterson’s role in the new scheme until the regular season.

Ian Rapoport of NFL Network reports that Zimmer said there is “nothing to see” from Peterson in the preseason that the team needs to prepare for the season. Zimmer allowed that Peterson may make a cameo appearance if the running back feels it will benefit him to see action in a preseason game, but it doesn’t look like the coaching staff views it as any kind of a priority.

Whatever the Vikings offense winds up looking like this season, Peterson is going to be playing a major role in it. The injury risks involved with playing Peterson, then, are pretty great when the rewards for preseason reps are going to be low for a player of his stature. There are more rewards to be found in giving the rest of the offensive players work, though, and that sounds like the priority in Minnesota this summer.

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Looney becomes the wildcard in Alex Boone holdout

Looney Reuters

As the holdout of 49ers guard Alex Boone lingers, the team’s resolve or lack thereof will hinge on the performance of his replacement, Joe Looney.

So far, so good.  So the 49ers say.

Coach Jim Harbaugh told reporters on Sunday that Looney has had “some ‘wow’ moments” in practice.

“One in particular, I was like, ‘Wow.’  He pulled, he was on a track, he was square, he delivered a blow,” Harbaugh said.  “Good things.”

Boone’s ongoing no-show isn’t a good thing, but there’s no obvious middle ground for player and team.  The team wants Boone to show up before they’ll talk to him about a new contract.  He doesn’t want to show up until he gets the new contract.

A fourth-round pick in 2012, Looney is perhaps best known for a low hit in a preseason game last year on former Vikings defensive tackle Kevin Williams.  Looney claimed in the aftermath of the incident that he’s not a dirty player.

Now the 49ers need him to be a good player, clean or dirty or otherwise.

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Panthers optimistic about Kelvin Benjamin’s MRI

Kelvin Benjamin AP

Losing Kelvin Benjamin would be a potential disaster for the Panthers.

So the fact they’re not freaking out about his “precautionary MRI” is probably a good sign.

Benjamin was sent back to Charlotte for tests after banging knees with a teammate Sunday afternoon. He finished practice and signed autographs afterward, so there was no early sign of panic.

“It could just be one of those things where if he had iced it right away and not finished [Sunday’s] practice, maybe it would have been better,” Panthers coach Ron Rivera said, via Black and Blue Review. “If it’s negative we’ll just keep on rolling. I’m optimistic that is what it’s going to be.”

There’s also some video of Benjamin riding around campus on a comically small minibike (or maybe he’s just so big it looks like something a clown would ride in the circus).

“We want to be smart with it,” Rivera said. “He came in this morning and [head trainer Ryan Vermillion] just wanted to be careful with him.”

They need to be, since he’s got the most potential to become a big-play threat of any of the Panthers’ odd lot of receivers.

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Giants want Eli Manning to complete 70 percent of his passes

eli AP

The Giants are setting a high goal for Eli Manning’s completion percentage this season. A very high goal.

Giants quarterbacks coach Danny Langsdorf told reporters today that he wants Manning to reach a 70 percent completion rate this season.

Frankly, that’s preposterous. Manning completed just 57.5 percent of his passes last season, and his career completion percentage is 58.5 percent. The highest rate he’s ever had in any season was 2010, when he completed 62.9 percent of his passes. Unless the Giants are planning an offense that consists of nothing more than dump-offs to running backs, the idea that a career 58.5 percent passer is suddenly going to become a 70 percent passer is silly.

A 70 percent completion rate has only been reached five times in NFL history: Twice by Drew Brees and once each by Ken Anderson, Steve Young and Joe Montana. It’s less common than a 5,000-yard passing season or a 2,000-yard rushing season.

Maybe the Giants also have a goal for Rashad Jennings to rush for 2,000 yards this year. But that goal wouldn’t be any more unrealistic than Manning completing 70 percent of his passes.

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