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Chris Johnson says he can break Eric Dickerson’s record

Chris Johnson, Vince Wilfork AP

Vikings running back Adrian Peterson fell just short of Eric Dickerson’s single-season record of 2,105 yards last season. Now Titans running back Chris Johnson is saying he thinks he can be the one to break Dickerson’s record this season.

Johnson told Andrew Siciliano on NFL Network that he believes he can top the all-time record that Dickerson set in 1984.

“Every running back’s goal is to break that record,” Johnson said. “You want to break the 2,105. I believe I can do it.”

Johnson ran for 2,006 yards in 2009, but he’s been maddeningly inconsistent since then. Last season he had five different games in which he topped 120 yards, but he also had five different games in which he failed to reach 30 yards. (Peterson was never held under 60 yards in any game last year.) If Johnson is going to have any hope of breaking Dickerson’s record, he’s going to need to cut out those too-frequent games when he disappears.

And if Johnson is going to have any hope of breaking Dickerson’s record, he’s also going to need to get a lot of carries, and that may be a problem. Titans coach Mike Munchak told Mike Florio on NBC Sports Network that the Titans may change the way they use Johnson, getting him more touches as a receiver out of the backfield but adding another running back who can carry more of the rushing load, especially in short-yardage situations. If that means Johnson will have fewer carries this season than the 276 he had last season, then it’s pretty much impossible for Johnson to break the record.

But Johnson doesn’t think anything is impossible. He thinks he could be poised to have the greatest season any running back has ever had.

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Browns, Falcons penalties likely won’t be relevant to #DeflateGate

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The punishments imposed Monday on the Browns and Falcons for their violations of game-integrity provisions suggested a surprising degree of lenience from the league.  Sure, the teams will pay a combined $600,000 into the NFL’s coffers (fine money typically is used for charitable endeavors), but between them only one draft pick was lost — a fifth-round selection in 2016.

So this is good news for the Patriots, who still face potential punishment for allegedly tampering with the air pressure in footballs during the AFC championship, right?

Maybe not.  The Browns and Falcons admitted guilt quickly, allowing the situations to be resolved without further fattening Ted Wells’ fees.  The Patriots, in contrast, have strongly and vehemently denied wrongdoing.

And the Patriots very well may face no punishment at all, if Wells concludes they did nothing wrong.  But if Wells eventually finds a smoking gun or concludes based on the circumstantial evidence that the infraction occurred, the league may go harder on the Patriots, relatively speaking, since the Patriots failed to acknowledge their misconduct.

Regardless of how it plays out, the Patriots aren’t likely to get a slap on the wrist.  Either they’re innocent and there will be no punishment, or they’re guilty (which would make their strong denials hollow at best, false at worst) and there will be a significant punishment.

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Chiefs visit with Brandon Tate

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The Chiefs didn’t get any touchdown catches from their wide receivers in 2014, which left the position as an obvious area to look for help this offseason.

Kansas City signed Jeremy Maclin away from the Chiefs and re-signed Jason Avant to continue the veteran’s long relationship with Andy Reid, but that doesn’t appear to have quenched their thirst for other options at the position. Ian Rapoport of NFL Media reports the team visited with Brandon Tate recently.

Tate caught 17 passes for 193 yards and a touchdown in 16 appearances for the Bengals last season, modest totals that represented a big jump over the 14 catches he mustered while playing every game in the three previous seasons. Speed has been his calling card in the NFL, but those catch totals illustrate how rarely it has led to big plays on offense.

Tate’s main role in Cincinnati came as a punt and kickoff returner, but the Chiefs are well stocked at those spots with De’Antony Thomas and Knile Davis. Tate would give them some depth to go with an option in the passing game if he signs, but his addition would hardly erase the need for receiver help in Kansas City.

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Mike Tomlin has a “coaching brother” in Pittsburgh, with Pirates

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For a young coach who has run off a few veteran mentors, it’s good to know Mike Tomlin still has a sounding board in town.

While visiting the Pirates’ spring training camp in Florida, the Steelers boss talked about his relationship with Pirates manager Clint Hurdle.

It’s good to have a coaching brother,” Tomlin said of Hurdle, via Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “He’s a guy who’s right-minded. We share a lot of philosophical thoughts on how to lead men. It’s been fun to watch him develop these groups over the years, and I’m excited to watch him do it again this year.”

Hurdle said the two discuss every aspect of the coaching business, including building relationships with players and coaches. That’s particularly interesting since the Steelers farmed out longtime defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau this offseason (sending him out to pasture in Tennessee). It’s not completely unlike when Tomlin pushed out an offensive coordinator he thought was too old, who has won a couple of coach of the year awards since (Bruce Arians).

Hurdle said he and Tomlin discussed the LeBeau situation specifically.

“Mike said, ‘Man, it’s hard, but you have to do it. I miss him every day,’ ” Hurdle said. “We talk about different challenges that we have in leadership positions. It’s great that he’ll listen and he reaches out to me. I really like the opportunity to pick up the phone every now and then and say, ‘Hey, have you ever dealt with this?’ ”

The Steelers had Keith Butler waiting in the wings, and there might never have been a good time for the organization to move away from LeBeau. So it’s good to know that Tomlin’s at least talking it over with someone.

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Kevin White: I bring a lot more to the table than Amari Cooper

Kevin White AP

Two wide receivers appear to have established themselves at the top of the position heading into the draft, leaving the big question at the position as whether Alabama’s Amari Cooper or West Virginia’s Kevin White will be the first wideout off the board on April 30.

During an appearance on Monday’s edition of PFT on NBCSN, White was asked to make the case that his name should be called first. After mentioning his speed, size and catching ability, White explained that he saw the biggest difference between him and Cooper being the amount White was asked to do on a less talented offense than the one Cooper played in at Alabama.

“Amari Cooper is a great receiver, a great competitor, but I think I bring a lot more to the table. He’s at Alabama with Nick Saban. They have a whole bunch of other tools that help him out where he’s not getting double covered. A lot of attention is not just strictly on Amari Cooper…On West Virginia it’s just ‘OK, let’s shut Kevin White down.’ They have a lot of attention toward me.”

Elsewhere in the interview, White also mentioned his JUCO background and limited time at college football’s top level in comparison to Cooper’s three years with the Crimson Tide. White dazzled in 2014 and at the combine, but Cooper has more polish at this point in his career and teams picking early will choose between that experience and the chance that White is just tapping into his abilities.

The consolation for whichever player winds up going second will be a short wait to hear their name called as it is unlikely that either player will be around once the draft gets past the top 10 picks.

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No word on Wes Welker as March comes to a close

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Free agency dominates the month of March in the NFL, and by the end of the month, if a player hasn’t signed with anyone, that’s usually a pretty good indication that the player isn’t drawing much interest.

In the case of Wes Welker, there’s been no talk at all about any team trying to sign him. A recent Denver Post report saying it would be a surprise if the Broncos brought him back is just about the only thing anyone has said about him since free agency started.

It’s not hard to see why there’s not a lot of interest in Welker: He turns 34 years old this year and his production has steadily declined, from 1,569 receiving yards in 2011 to 1,354 yards in 2012 to 778 yards in 2013 to 464 yards in 2014. Last year he averaged a career-low 9.5 yards a catch.

Welker was once among the best receivers in the NFL. He led the league in catches three times and was a first-team All-Pro twice. In his six seasons with the Patriots, he topped 110 catches in five of them, falling short only in 2010, when he was recovering from a torn ACL.

But those days are long past. Now Welker is aging, and NFL teams aren’t showing interest. Perhaps he’ll sign with some team for a low-priced deal, or perhaps he’ll decide to take the lack of interest as a hint that it’s time to retire.

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Dorial Green-Beckham, Marcus Peters to visit Vikings

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The Minnesota Vikings are set to take a closer look at a pair of draft prospects with a record of troubling off-field issues.

According to Darren Wolfson of KSTP-TV, Missouri/Oklahoma receiver Dorial Green-Beckham and Washington cornerback Marcus Peters are both scheduled to visit the Vikings during the draft process.

Green-Beckham was dismissed from Missouri after repeated violations due to marijuana and following an incident where he allegedly forced entry to an apartment and threw a woman down several stairs. Green-Beckham was never charged in regards to the incident.

Peters was also dismissed by Washington after multiple suspensions and violations of team rules.

Both players are immensely talented but carry significant baggage of NFL teams to vet. The Vikings are in need of help at both positions and could benefit from adding either player in the draft, if they are able to keep from making any further missteps as professionals.

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Shane Wynn shows off speed at Pro Day

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Shunned from the Scouting Combine, Indiana receiver Shane Wynn made up for it on Monday.

The undersized wideout, who stands a mere five feet, six inches, ran the 40-yard dash in a blazing 4.29 seconds, according to David Woods of the Indianapolis Star.

Pro Day workouts often occur on a track faster than the turf at the Scouting Combine, prompting scouts to adjust the time. Regardless, Wynn’s official time shows that he can move.

The question becomes whether he’s big enough to make it at the next level.  Trindon Holliday, who is an inch shorter and ran at 4.34-second 40 at the Combine in 2010, became an effective kick returner for a few years.

As a senior with the Hoosiers, Wynn caught 56 passes for 708 yards, scoring three touchdowns through the air.  He aded two rushing touchdowns and 138 yards.  He also returned 11 kickoffs for 244 yards (a 22.2-yard average per return) and 13 punts for 69 yards (a 5.3-yard average per return).

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Guard Dan Connolly visiting Buccaneers

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Veteran guard Dan Connolly is drawing interest from a handful of teams in free agency.

The former New England Patriots lineman is set to visit the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Tuesday, according to Ross Jones of FOXSports.com.

Connolly has also visited the Seattle Seahawks and continues to draw interest from the Patriots as well.

Connolly has started 67 games for New England over the past five seasons at both guard and center. If signed by Tampa Bay, Connolly would rejoin former Patriots lineman Logan Mankins.

 

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Jonathan Martin: I no longer think about the Dolphins bullying case

Jonathan Martin AP

Jonathan Martin may always be best known for leaving the Dolphins after he was bullied by teammates, but he says he no longer thinks about that.

“You know, honestly I haven’t given it much thought,” Martin said, via ESPN. “I’ve just been looking forward to each day. And now, getting here, I’m looking forward to being a member of the Panthers and to compete and play in this great game, and do whatever I can to help this team win.”

Asked about Richie Incognito and the situation in Miami, Martin said it’s behind him.

“That is a situation for the past,” Martin said. “I don’t think about it. I try not to catch the headlines, positive or negative. I’m focused on what I can do for my career moving forward.”

Martin, who was waived by the 49ers and claimed by the Panthers last week, said he’s expecting a much better experience in Carolina.

“I’ve only heard good things about the organization,” Martin said. “They’ve had success these past two years. There’s some things they want to do on the O-line, so it’s a good opportunity for me.”

It may be Martin’s last opportunity to show he can make it in the NFL. He wants all of his focus to be on the field.

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Rams agree to terms with center Tim Barnes

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The St. Louis Rams have agreed to terms on a new deal with center Tim Barnes.

According to Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Barnes is expected to sign the one-year, $1 million deal with the Rams on Tuesday.

Barnes was not tendered as a restricted free agent by the Rams and allowed to hit the market. After a visit with the Kansas City Chiefs, Barnes elected to stay in St. Louis.

Barnes started four games in place of an injured Scott Wells at center at the end of the 2013 season. Barnes has appeared in 45 games for the Rams over the last three seasons while serving primarily on special teams.

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Falcons penalty doesn’t seem to provide much deterrence

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The Falcons admittedly used artificial crowd noise throughout the 2013 season and into the 2014 season, until they were caught in November.  Ultimately, they were fined and stripped of a fifth-round pick in 2016.

The fine ($350,000) really isn’t all that much for a billion-dollar business.  The draft pick carries far more value, but since it was deferred until 2016 it’s roughly equivalent to a sixth-round pick in 2015.

Given that there’s a chance a team can use false crowd noise and manage to conceal their activities indefinitely, the punishment for getting caught doesn’t exactly operate as a major deterrent — especially since fake crowd noise can have a major benefit.

As former NFL offensive lineman Ross Tucker explained on Monday’s Pro Football Talk on NBCSN, crowd noise removes the advantage of knowing when the ball will be snapped, giving the blockers a split-second head start over the defensive players.  So the punishment doesn’t really seem to fit the crime, which could tempt others to commit the same crime.

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Heart attack preceded Armond Armstead’s retirement from Patriots

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The Patriots announced last summer that defensive lineman Armond Armstead was retiring at the age of 23, and Armstead has kept a low profile since then, never explaining what led him to walk away.

But now Armstead has confirmed in court papers that he suffered a heart attack in 2014, before announcing his retirement. The Sacramento Bee details that heart attack and other issues in a long story about Armstead’s lawsuit against USC. Armstead also had a heart attack in 2011, while he was a player at USC.

Armstead now believes his heart problems were caused by USC doctors giving him the painkiller Toradol. His lawsuit against the school will be closely watched throughout the football world, as hundreds of players in college football and the NFL have been given Toradol. Few players have had health problems as serious as multiple heart attacks before the age of 24, but several have expressed concerns about potential side effects.

Neither Armstead nor USC has commented publicly about the lawsuit.

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Technically, Brady’s cliff jump may violate his contract

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Unless the video was technologically enhanced, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady recently jumped off a cliff in Costa Rica.  Setting aside for now whether the national media would be reacting with a shrug if a quarterback perceived as being less committed to his craft were engaging in inherently risky behaviors, the conduct technically may violate Brady’s contract.

Paragraph 3 of the Standard Player Contract provides that the player cannot “engage in any activity other than football which may involve a significant risk of personal injury.”

No specific unsafe activities are listed in the standard player contract, but there’s some precedent.  In 2007, the Titans successfully kept cornerback Pacman Jones from taking up pro wrestling during his one-year suspension under the personal-conduct policy by flexing their legal muscles in court.  Likewise, Saints quarterback Drew Brees cited his contract during a 2014 marketing campaign for a three-wheeled motorcycle, the Can-Am Spyder.

“We knew the restrictions from the beginning, as did Can-Am,” Brees said at the time.  “Ultimately because I can’t ride it now doesn’t mean I won’t someday.  The first chance I have to ride it on a closed course, you can bet I’ll take advantage.”

If Brees really is prohibited from riding a motorcycle (and if it wasn’t just a marketing ploy), riding a motorcycle presumably is no more unsafe than jumping off a cliff.

Obviously, the Patriots won’t be doing anything about it.  But they’d surely prefer that Brady be a bit more careful with his body during those days of the year when large men in armor aren’t throwing themselves at his legs.

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Washington signs RB Michael Hill

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Michael Hill is back for a second stint with Washington.

Hill, a second-year tailback from Missouri Western, re-signed with Washington on Monday, according to the NFL’s personnel notice.

Hill (5-10, 210) was on Washington’s practice squad toward the end of last season. He was last with the Colts, who waived him in March.

The 25-year-old Hill has also played for San Diego (2013), Green Bay (2013, 2014) and Tampa Bay (2013-2014). Overall, he’s rushed for 23 yards on nine carries and caught two passes for 23 years in NFL regular season play, all in 2013 in stints with Green Bay and Tampa Bay.

Hill joins Silas Redd and exclusive-rights free agent Chris Thompson as reserve options behind starter Alfred Morris in Washington.

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Report: Miles Austin agrees to terms on deal with Eagles

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A visit to Philadelphia this week has resulted in a contract between receiver Miles Austin and the Eagles.

According to Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network, the former Dallas Cowboys wideout is set to return to the NFC East after agreeing on a one-year, $2.3 million deal with the Eagles.

Austin spent last year with the Cleveland Browns after playing the first eight seasons of his career in Dallas. Austin caught 47 passes for 568 yards and two touchdowns in 12 games for Cleveland before landing on injured reserve with a kidney injury.

In his last fully healthy season, Austin caught 66 passes for 943 yards and six touchdowns for the Cowboys in 2012. Austin has battled hamstring and kidney injuries the last two years.

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