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Twelve intriguing regular-season games

Denver Broncos v New England Patriots Getty Images

Schedule-release day! It’s one of the sneaky-good pro football events of the year.

When I ponder the schedule, I look for clues for where a team may soar, wobble or plummet. The following 12 games all look like they could teach us something important about the teams on the field. I generally focused on games earlier in the season than later; it’s tough enough to speculate on how a team could play in September, but projecting a team’s late-December form is even more challenging.

Here are 12 games that particularly interest me:

49ers at Seahawks (Sept. 15) — Appointment viewing. End of story. To paraphrase Mike Mayock, put on the tape of Russell Wilson and Colin Kaepernick from the postseason. Just do it. I’ll be watching for many reasons, but mainly to see whether either West power looks significantly better than the other.

Giants at Panthers (Sept. 22) — This is the sort of game the upstart Panthers will win if they are going anywhere. And it’s precisely the sort of game Tom Coughlin’s team pulls out when in top form.

Lions at Packers (Oct. 6) — The Lions have the offensive might to give any defense fits and were a legitimate playoff entrant two years ago. Can they bounce back after a disappointing 2012 performance? This looks like a big class test for them.

Seahawks at Colts (Oct. 6) — I love out-of-conference battles between two talented clubs. A win for either team is a real nice item to have on the résumé. The Seahawks are capable of winning in a tough venue, but the Colts were very, very tough at home a season go.

Redskins at Cowboys (Oct. 13) — Dallas did not fare well in its first two tries against Robert Griffin III and Alfred Morris.

Eagles at Buccaneers (Oct. 13) — The Buccaneers had a strong run defense a season ago, and the Eagles’ Chip Kelly-designed offense is talent- and potential-laden. This should be fun.

Ravens at Steelers (Oct. 20) — For years, this has been one of the NFL’s compelling rivalries, and doesn’t figure to change in 2013, not with Baltimore the depending champion and Pittsburgh trying to regain its footing among the AFC elite. The Steelers won in Baltimore last season, one of the highlights of a disappointing campaign.

Dolphins at Patriots (Oct. 27) — Last year, the Bills were the chic pick to make a run at New England’s AFC East supremacy. This year, the Dolphins are the East sleeper. Can Miami live up to the hype? The Dolphins are likely to be underdogs in Foxborough; if that’s the case, how the Dolphins play may trump whether they win or lose, in my view. If the Dolphins give a strong Patriots team a game, it’s a good sign for Miami.

Colts at Texans (Nov. 3) — For the Texans, getting to the playoffs doesn’t constitute great success anymore. For the Colts, a step backwards after a surprising 2012 season would be a big disappointment.

Chiefs at Broncos (Nov. 17) — Who’s going to push Denver in the AFC West? Kansas City might have the best shot. Let’s see how the Chiefs measure up.

Saints at Falcons (Nov. 21) — A weakened Saints team managed to split the season series in 2012. Now, Sean Payton is back, and New Orleans could be ready to seriously contend once again in the NFC South. With both teams again likely to field strong offenses, the play of the defenses could tell the tale.

Broncos at Patriots (Nov. 24) — Including the playoffs, this is the fourth meeting between the teams in the last three seasons — and Denver has had no good answers for New England’s powerful offense. The Patriots have won all three meetings, averaging 39 points in the victories. The Broncos have the ability to be strong contenders, but their problems with the Patriots can’t be overlooked.

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Siemian back throwing after quasi-day off

DENVER, CO - AUGUST 20:  Quarterback Trevor Siemian of the Denver Broncos throws a first quarter pass under pressure by outside linebacker Ahmad Brooks of the San Francisco 49ers a preseason NFL game at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on August 20, 2016 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images) Getty Images

Broncos quarterback Trevor Siemian was throwing as the Broncos opened practice Wednesday.

That’s notable not just because throwing is an important part of Siemian’s job description. On Tuesday, he didn’t throw during practice despite being suited up and otherwise participating.

Siemian landed on his throwing shoulder while trying to make a tackle after throwing an interception in last weekend’s preseason game. Broncos Coach Gary Kubiak had previously announced that Siemian would start this week’s third — and generally most important — preseason game

Siemian and Mark Sanchez have basically split the No. 1 reps while competing for the starting job. That Siemian has been tabbed to start for a second consecutive week is a sign he’s leading the race as it enters the home stretch.

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Giants owner on Brown: “A big difference between allegations and convictions”

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - OCTOBER 21:  Kicker Josh Brown #3 of the New York Giants looks on after an extra point against the Minnesota Vikings during a game at MetLife Stadium on October 21, 2013 in East Rutherford, New Jersey.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images) Getty Images

In finally coming out to discuss the Josh Brown situation, Giants owner John Mara defended his team’s handling of kicker Josh Brown, saying they did enough research to make them have a degree of trust in their kicker.

And in doing so, he suggested there was enough conflicting information to make it a complicated decision.

“A lot times there’s a tendency to try to make these cases black and white, they are very rarely black and white, very rarely have a Ray Rice video,’’ Mara said, via Paul Schwartz of the New York Post. “There are allegations made, you try to sort through the facts and try to make an informed decision. That’s what we did here.’’

The absence of a video also allows a lot more opportunity for leniency than Rice ever received, and Brown’s one-game suspension is well less than the six-game baseline the league had previously mandated.

Brown was initially charged with domestic violence in 2015, but charges were later dropped. His ex-wife accused him of more than 20 acts of violence against her and her teenage son. There were also incident reports from New Jersey saying she kicked him in the ribs, but no charges were filed there.

The very nature of the he-said/she-said allegations gave Mara pause, and he said that contributed to him waiting this long to speak.

“I’m not going to get into whether they were valid or invalid,’’ Mara said. “We did do some due diligence on this. We had a number of conversations with a number of different people. Again, we’re comfortable with the decision we made.

“That’s one of the reasons I hesitated, quite frankly, in addressing all of you because you get into discussions like that, and I don’t think it’s fair or appropriate. There are privacy issues here. There are sensitive, emotional issues that affect families, and it’s very difficult to discuss things in public and make a situation even worse than it already is.’’

But it’s clear that Mara had a degree of doubt about what he heard from the other side of the family.

“One thing that you learn when you’re dealing with these issues is that there’s a big difference between allegations and convictions, or indictments,” he said. “It’s very difficult sometimes to sort through all that and make informed decisions. We attempted to make an informed decision here. We’ll live with the results of that decision and we move forward.’’

And they’ll do so with Brown, once he serves his one-game suspension.

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Teddy Bridgewater feels good after return to throwing on Tuesday

Minnesota Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater (5) throws to wide receiver Charles Johnson for a touchdown during the first half of an NFL preseason football game against the Cincinnati Bengals, Friday, Aug. 12, 2016, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Frank Victores) AP

Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater’s late scratch from last week’s game against the Seahawks was followed by a report that Bridgewater had a sore shoulder and two days of practice that saw Bridgewater held out of throwing drills.

Tuesday saw Bridgewater return to throwing passes at practice and offensive coordinator Norv Turner said that Bridgewater made all the throws the team needed to see when asked about sticking to shorter throws during the session. Bridgewater didn’t answer most of the questions about his shoulder, deferring to coach Mike Zimmer, but said, via the Minneapolis Star Tribune, he feels “very good” physically.

Zimmer didn’t provide too many details about Bridgewater’s condition when asked on Tuesday, but did say that he would “err on the side of caution” if Bridgewater had any issue with his shoulder.

Bridgewater doesn’t expect to be a scratch again this Sunday, saying “of course” he’ll play in the first Vikings game at U.S. Bank Stadium when they take on the Chargers.

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Colin Kapernick “on track” to play Friday, no call on who starts

San Francisco 49ers' quarterback Colin Kaepernick throws a pass during NFL football training practice, Wednesday, Aug. 10, 2016, at Kezar Stadium in San Francisco. (AP Photo/Ben Margot) AP

The plan coming into the week was for 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick to practice without restrictions and then play in Friday’s preseason game against the Packers.

Kaepernick had missed practice time last week while dealing with a tired arm, but has been on the practice field this week without a “pitch count” governing the number of throws he’s making. Coach Chip Kelly said that Kaepernick has been splitting the first-team reps with Blaine Gabbert, but that no determination has been made at this point about who will take the first snap on Friday.

“We haven’t discussed it, yet,” Kelly said, via CSNBayArea.com. “We got two days of training to go through. We’ll see. He’s on track. We’re excited and we’re hopeful he will be ready to go. But I’m not going to put the cart before the horse. We have a system. When we get to Friday, we’ll know exactly from [head athletic trainer Jeff Ferguson] who’s up and who’s down. If he’s up, he’s going to play.”

Kaepernick last played in a game last November and spent the offseason recovering from multiple surgeries, but Kelly said the quarterback has been “sharp with all the things mentally” the last few days. A sharp physical outing on Friday would be a big next step in Kaepernick’s bid to return to the lineup.

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Jay Feely’s advice to Roberto Aguayo: “Don’t read PFT” (hey)

Dallas Cowboys v Arizona Cardinals Getty Images

With rookie kicker Roberto Aguayo consistently failing to put the football between the uprights and above the crossbar, he’s getting plenty of advice. But is he getting good advice?

If he follows the sage advice provided on Wednesday’s PFT Live on NBC Sports Radio and NBCSN by former NFL kicker Jay Feely, Aguayo won’t know about the advice. Which is a conundrum, to say the least.

 “Don’t watch TV, don’t listen to talk radio, don’t read PFT, don’t do any of this garbage that’s going to distract you from what you’re doing,” Feely said. “The only thing that’s going to help him is focusing on his technique, and that’s the battle in kicking. You have to focus on the process, not the product. You can’t worry about the end result, about making the field goal. You have to worry about the process that’s actually going to help you. You focus on your fundamentals: Head down, chest down, ankle locked, follow straight through.
“Before every kick I would try and tell myself that. I would say, ‘Head down, lock your ankle, follow through,’ because I knew if I did those three things I was going to make the kick every time.  But there’s all those distractions, there’s all those mental battles going on inside your head that distract you from focusing on the things that actually matter. And you start thinking about the implications of what you’re doing. On your job security, on your next contract, on the season, whether your team makes the playoffs, all that kind of stuff. Those things just distract you from actually focusing on the things that are going to help you. So that’s what he needs to do. Put his head down, metaphorically and physically, and just go out there and kick and not worry about all the distractions. He’s on a guaranteed contract for the next two years, that’s what he signed. He is their kicker, and he has to find a way, and they have to find a way, of getting him in the right mental frame. And to do it the way he’s done it the last three years at Florida State.”
For Feely, who spent more than a decade in the NFL, what was the hardest part of the adjustment to the pro game?
“I think the hardest part for me was convincing myself that I really belong,” Feely said. “I had kicked at Michigan and we had won a national championship, but then I had spent two years out of football. Not even in training camp trying to get an opportunity, trying to get somebody to bring me in and give me a chance. When I all of a sudden got into camp and won a job, I remember [thinking], ‘Now I’m kicking in the NFL.’ There’s a part of you, and I think most guys go through this in college, and I’ve heard a number of guys talk about this privately, where they don’t really know if they belong. They don’t really know if they’re good enough, and I think for me that lasted a couple of years. Finally, you get to the point where I don’t look at an Adam Vinatieri and think, ‘Wow, I can’t believe I am kicking and doing what he is doing!’ You look at him as a peer. And I think every guy has to go through that process of the mental battle of, ‘Do I really belong? Am I really good enough to be here?’ And when you go through failure and you overcome it, and it doesn’t break you, can you come back and you make a kick and you make a game-winner, that goes a long way in helping you to overcome that battle.”
Aguayo may be thinking he doesn’t belong, even though he was a second-round pick. He needs to act like he belongs before enough other people start concluded that he doesn’t belong.
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Browns expect Corey Coleman, Josh Gordon to play Friday

Cleveland Browns wide receiver Corey Coleman walks off the field at the NFL football team's training camp Tuesday, Aug. 9, 2016, in Berea, Ohio. (AP Photo/Ron Schwane) AP

Wide receiver Josh Gordon hopes there’s nothing to reports of trade chatter involving his name that cropped up this week, but if the Browns did want to move Gordon to another team it probably wouldn’t hurt if prospective suitors saw him play well in a game.

That can’t happen in the regular season until Cleveland’s fifth game, but it looks like we’ll get a chance to see Gordon in a preseason game this week. Coach Hue Jackson said Wednesday, via Nate Ulrich of the Akron Beacon Journal, that he expects Gordon to play this Friday.

It would be the first game of any kind for Gordon since Week 16 of the 2014 season and Jackson also expects it will be rookie Corey Coleman’s first time in the team’s lineup. A hamstring injury has kept Coleman from playing in the team’s first two games of the summer, but he’s been practicing for a while without complications and is on track to get into the lineup.

Jackson said that center Cameron Erving is expected to play as well despite spraining his ankle in Wednesday’s practice.

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Is it Jared Abbrederis time in Green Bay?

OAKLAND, CA - DECEMBER 20:  Wide receiver Jared Abbrederis #84 of the Green Bay Packers brings in a 15-yard pass against safety Charles Woodson #24 of the Oakland Raiders in the third quarter on December 20, 2015 at O.co Coliseum in Oakland, California.  The Packers won 30-20. (Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images) Getty Images

With receiver Jeff Janis recuperating from a broken hand and otherwise having a lackluster camp, the door is open for someone else to step up. And that someone else could be receiver Jared Abbrederis.

Rob Demovsky of ESPN.com pegs Abbrederis as the team’s potential breakout player this year, and for good reason. He’s currently listed as a second-string receiver behind Randall Cobb. That puts him on potentially equal footing with Davante Adams, who didn’t perform the way many had expected after Jordy Nelson tore an ACL last year in the preseason.

Last year, Abbrederis caught nine passes for 111 yards in 10 games. This year, who knows? Abbrederis could end up being a name to watch, even if plenty won’t quite know how to pronounce it and possibly will end up just saying, “Abbacadabra.”

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H.B. Blades agrees to pay back money he was mistakenly paid

CINCINNATI - DECEMBER 14: H.B. Blades #54 of the Washington Redskins celebrates a defensive play during the NFL game against the Cincinnati Bengals on December 14, 2008 at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati, Ohio.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images) Getty Images

In February we learned of an odd lawsuit against former Washington linebacker H.B. Blades, who was accidentally overpaid by the team. That lawsuit has now been settled.

Blades has agreed to pay the team $20,658.88 to settle the matter, via attorney Daniel Wallach. The team had initially said Blades owed $40,000, but Blades said he should owe less because taxes were deducted from the $40,000 he was overpaid.

The team says it paid Blades $40,000 in 2013, long after he was done playing for the team, as a result of a clerical error.

Washington drafted Blades in the sixth round of the 2007 NFL draft and he spent four seasons with the team, playing in all 16 games every year from 2007 to 2010. He was cut at the end of the 2011 preseason.

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Giants owner says there’s no reason to cut kicker Josh Brown

PHILADELPHIA, PA - OCTOBER 19: John K. Mara President and Chief Executive officer of the New York Giants looks on during warms ups prior to the game against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field on October 19, 2015 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images) Getty Images

Giants owner John Mara decided Wednesday to not leave his first-year head coach as the organization’s sole spokesman on the topic of Josh Brown.

Mara stepped out to talk to reporters today, and said the team was aware of their kicker’s 2015 arrest in Washington for domestic violence when they signed him to a new contract this offseason.

We did our homework here,” Mara said, via Paul Schwartz of the New York Post.

The initial charges against Brown were dropped, but his ex-wife told police of more than 20 incidents of violence against her and her teenage son. There were also reports that she kicked him in the ribs during an incident in New Jersey, but no charges were ever filed there.

The league suspended Brown for one game (rather than the new baseline of six) because his ex-wife did not cooperate with their investigation.

Mara said he wanted to give Brown a chance, saying that domestic violence “is such a complex and emotional decision.”

They’ve brought veteran Randy Bullock to cover them for a week, and Mara pointed out that the easy course of action would be to simply find a new kicker. But they’re apparently confident in Brown’s side of the story, and Mara is finally willing to attach his name to that endorsement.

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Bruce Arians, John Elway added to competition committee

CHARLOTTE, NC - JANUARY 24:  Head coach Bruce Arians of the Arizona Cardinals stands on the field prior to the NFC Championship Game between the Carolina Panthers and the Arizona Cardinals at Bank of America Stadium on January 24, 2016 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images) Getty Images

Rams coach Jeff Fisher said he was taking a “leave of absence” from the competition committee, but they may have filled the job on him.

According to Adam Schefter of ESPN.com, Cardinals coach Bruce Arians and Broncos executive John Elway have been added to the committee, which sets the agenda for rules changes.

Fisher said at the Scouting Combine that he wanted to step away from the committee to focus on his team’s move to Los Angeles. Committee chairman Rich McKay had been suspended after the Falcons’ fake crowd-noise scandal, but he had been reinstated a year ago.

It’s unclear if there was another departure to the committee to make room for the new guys.

The other members of the committee include Giants owner John Mara, Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones, Packers president Mark Murphy, Ravens General Manager Ozzie Newsome, Texans G.M. Rick Smith, Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis and Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin.

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Chargers owner’s plane in Florida, but not to pick up Joey Bosa

DENVER, CO - JULY 14:  A radar screen tracks incoming and outgoing flights for air traffic controllers at the Terminal Radar Approach Control center on July 14, 2011 at the Denver International Airport in Denver, Colorado. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), is marking 75 years of federal air traffic control in the United States today. Beginning with just 15 employees in 1936, the FAA now has some 15,000 air traffic controllers and technicians working nationwide. In 2010, the Denver International Airport was the 4th busiest airport in the world, with some 650,000 flights per year and 52 million passengers passing through the airport.  (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images) Getty Images

In the absence of news about Joey Bosa’s contract negotiations, Chargers fans are scrambling for anything to cling to.

But the latest shiny object should not be confused with a glimmer of hope.

According to Michael Gehlken of the San Diego Union-Tribune, Chargers fans were stirred up by reports that the Spanos family’s private plane was in Fort Lauderdale, which happens to be Bosa’s hometown.

But there’s no indication the negotiations have moved, and a team official said the plane was in Florida on unrelated business.

Thus, the last remaining unsigned rookie has effectively turned Chargers fans into a bunch of reporters chasing college coaching searches, tracking tail numbers in search of clues.

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Josh Gordon will be a restricted free agent after 2016 season

CLEVELAND, OH - NOVEMBER 24:  Wide receiver Josh Gordon #12 of the Cleveland Browns catches a touchdown pass over cornerback Ike Taylor #24 of the Pittsburgh Steelers at FirstEnergy Stadium on November 24, 2013 in Cleveland, Ohio.  (Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images) Getty Images

Why would another team want to trade for a receiver who is entering his fourth NFL season, will miss the first four games of it, and potentially will be hitting the open market next year? Because he won’t be hitting the open market.

Browns receiver Josh Gordon will be a restricted free agent in 2017, according to multiple league sources.

Gordon arrived in round two of the 2012 supplemental draft, and he obtained accrued seasons toward free agency in 2012 and 2013. In 2014, however, a 10-game league-imposed suspension coupled with a one-game suspension imposed by the team kept him from participating in six games — and from in turn obtaining a year of credit toward free agency.

Per the sources, the grievance filed by Gordon challenging the suspension was eventually dropped, which means that 2016 will be his third accrued year for free agency purposes. His four-year contract will expire, but he won’t be eligible for unrestricted free agency.

So whoever holds his rights after the season will be able to keep him in place another year under one of the various RFA tenders. Which would make him a little more valuable as a potential trade target.

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Norv Turner sees no signs Adrian Peterson is slowing down

Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson (3) is greeted by Minnesota Vikings' Adrian Peterson after a preseason NFL football game, Thursday, Aug. 18, 2016, in Seattle. The Vikings won 18-11. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson) AP

Vikings running back Adrian Peterson led the league in rushing attempts last season with 327, marking the first time he’s led the league in that metric and the fourth time that he’s run the ball at least 314 times in a season.

Only a handful of running backs 30 or older have run the ball that many times in a season and many of them saw their production drop in subsequent seasons. Peterson showed no signs that such a drop was in his immediate future in 2015 and offensive coordinator Norv Turner says that none have presented themselves during training camp either.

“From this camp, I have not seen anything,” Turner said, via the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. “He’s got burst. He’s got such a quick start and we know he’s powerful in breaking tackles and running through. He finishes runs out here. We’ve all seen him take off and run the length of the field. … Obviously, it’s training camp. But he keeps such good care of himself. And we did a good job last year of taking care of him through the season. He doesn’t look like he’s slowing down to me.”

Turner said earlier this summer that he expects to get Peterson about 20 carries a game, which is right on line from last season and would provide plenty of opportunities to test whether time is taking a toll on a player poised to move into the all-time top 10 in rushing yards.

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Shoulder injury keeping Kyle Long out of practice

Chicago Bears tackle Kyle Long, left, speaks to his brother, New England Patriots defensive end Chris Long, right, at midfield after a preseason NFL football game Thursday, Aug. 18, 2016, in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola) AP

When training camp opened, Bears guard Kyle Long missed a bit of time with a calf injury but he returned well ahead of the start of the preseason schedule.

The Bears are hoping that the same will be true of a shoulder injury that has kept him out of the last three practices. Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune reports that it is a labrum issue and that the team is evaluating how serious an issue it is. Biggs quotes one source as being “not optimistic” while another expressed confidence that Long will be ready for the regular season.

Coach John Fox wasn’t breaking any ties on Tuesday.

“It doesn’t really matter what I think,” Fox said. “There are medical people involved and when he’s cleared, he’ll play.”

The Bears have already lost center Hroniss Grasu for the season to a torn ACL, forcing them to move Ted Larsen to the pivot. Larsen kicked back over to guard to replace Long in a recent practice with Cornelius Edison playing center and the Bears also have Khaled Holmes and Amini Silatolu as interior depth should they need to fill in for Long in the coming weeks.

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Ali Marpet in walking boot at Bucs practice

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - AUGUST 15: Ali Marpet #74 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers looks on during the preseason game against the Minnesota Vikings on August 15, 2015 at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The Vikings defeated the Buccaneers 26-16. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images) Getty Images

Buccaneers coach Dirk Koetter wasn’t happy with the way his offense performed in Tuesday’s joint practice with the Browns and his mood probably didn’t get any better once he got word of an injury to right guard Ali Marpet.

Marpet has his right foot a walking boot at Wednesday’s practice for the two teams after showing no obvious signs of an injury when Tuesday’s practice concluded. At that point, Marpet told JoeBucsFan.com that his biggest concern was getting experience against Cleveland’s 3-4 front as he rarely saw them in college and had a hard time when facing them in his rookie season.

There’s no word on the severity of Marpet’s issue at this point, but it comes at an inopportune time for the Bucs as they are already missing prospective left guard J.R. Sweezy due to a back injury. Recent reports have pointed to Sweezy starting the regular season on the PUP list, so any extended absence for Marpet would leave the team thin on the interior of the line.

Kevin Pamphile has been in Sweezy’s spot and backup center Evan Smith is a likely replacement for Marpet with inexperienced options behind them on the depth chart.

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