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When it comes to leaking draft picks, networks should give audience what it wants

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With the draft approaching, the now-annual debate has emerged regarding whether the networks that broadcast the proceedings — ESPN and NFL Network — should avoid tipping picks.

It’s a philosophical question that both networks should resolve by asking this simple question:  What does the audience want?

Last year, a poll on PFT revealed that more than 78 percent of the 11,500 who responded don’t want the picks to be tipped.  We’re starting that same poll from scratch below, in order to get a fresh reading.

The challenge for the networks comes from the unique nature of the draft.  While on one hand ESPN and NFLN have hired a small army of news gatherers, the draft represents pro football’s equivalent of the Oscars.  And for the same reasons that audience doesn’t want George Stephanopoulous scurrying around trying to find out what it written inside the envelopes, the NFL draft audience doesn’t want to know whose name is one the card in the hands of the Commissioner until the Commissioner announces its contents from the stage at Radio City Music Hall.

The wishes of the audience apply both to reporting picks and predicting them.  While ESPN producer Seth Markman continues to insist that the advance information regarding the identity of each pick that makes its way to the production truck isn’t shared with the on-air talent, anyone who has worked in live television knows that good producers want to give their on-air talent the best possible information so that the on-air talent can be prepared to say intelligent things.  So if Markman is a good producer (and we assume he is), Markman presses his “all call” button and lets the guys at the desk know who they will be talking about.

And then Chris Berman often feels compelled to create the false impression with the audience that he is clairvoyant.

Even if Berman somehow is merely guessing, he guesses right often enough to undermine the audience experience.  Which is what this all comes back to.  Networks that care about the audience give the audience what the audience wants.  Networks that care only about the network give the audience what the network thinks the audience should want.

When it comes to the first round of the draft, the audience doesn’t want to know who the pick will be, via a tip or a guess or a camera placed in the player’s home, before the Commissioner announces it.  The sooner ESPN and NFLN figure that out and act accordingly, the more enjoyable the draft will be for those watching it on television.

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Redskins will put Jason Hatcher, Stephen Bowen on PUP

Jim Haslett, Jason Hatcher AP


The Redskins are going to be short on defensive linemen when they open camp tomorrow.

According to ESPN 980 (via, defensive ends Jason Hatcher and Stephen Bowen will be placed on the physically unable to perform list to open camp.

Hatcher had an arthroscopic procedure after minicamp, and is in the middle of the four- to six-week recovery time.

Bowen, however, is coming off microfracture surgery, which makes his return harder to figure.

Hatcher signed a deal with $10.5 million guaranteed to come over from Dallas this offseason.

That will stretch a defensive line that was already old, with most of its key contributors over 30.


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Five questions: New York Giants

Eli Manning,  Tom Coughlin AP

In four of the last five years, the Giants haven’t qualified for the playoffs.  A championship win during that lone postseason appearance takes some of the sting out of it, but Lombardi Trophies cam lose their luster pretty quickly.

With two straight subpar seasons since the most recent Super Bowl victory, the Giants could be teetering toward significant change if they go three years without a playoff appearance for the first time since 1994 through 1996.  Which could be good news; the last two times coach Tom Coughlin was clearly on the hot seat, he took the team to the top of the mountain.

Here are five questions for the team unrelated to the coach’s potentially tenuous job status.

1.  Which Eli Manning will show up?

The Giants quarterback recently admitted that he’s a “little nervous” in the team’s new offense.  He should be.

Whatever the offense, Eli Manning’s career has arrived at an unexpected crossroads, at the age of 33 and with a pair of Super Bowl pelts on his wall.  Wrapped around that second NFL title are four failed seasons, with 2013 featuring a career-high 27 interceptions.

Eli’s older brother has a reputation for performing incredibly well during the regular season and then failing to meet expectations in the playoffs.  Eli has a knack for thriving in the postseason, but not being able to get there often enough.

After the second championship, Eli had seemed to be a lock for the Hall of Fame.  Now, his candidacy depends on what happens over the balance of his career.  Starting now, in a new offense with plenty of jobs riding on Eli’s ability to thrive in it.

If he’s only a “little nervous,” he’s not nearly nervous enough.

2.  Can the offensive line get the job done?

The Giants’ 2007 Super Bowl run was fueled by great performances from both the offensive and defensive lines.  Last year, the offensive line wasn’t great.  This year, with the retirements of David Diehl and Chris Snee, the offensive line could be even worse.

The primary goal of training camp and the preseason will be to find the best combination of five starters and hope they can find a way to stay healthy.  A good offensive line works in seamless harmony, opening running lanes and keeping the quarterback from getting hurried, hit, and/or sacked.

The offensive live never gets enough credit when things go well, balanced by never getting enough blame when things don’t.  Things need to go well for the offensive line this year, or plenty of offensive linemen and other employees could be going away.

3.  What happened to the pass rush?

In 2007, the Giants figured out how to beat the Patriots and Tom Brady.  Specifically by knocking him down early and making him worried about getting knocked down for the rest of the game.

Four years later, the Giants showed that they still knew that the best way to win on a big stage is to throw the opposing quarterback off it.

Three years after the fact, who’s left?  Michael Strahan gets his ugly mustard jacket in less than two weeks, Osi Umenyiora can soon be seen on Hard Knocks as a member of the Falcons, and Justin Tuck has taken his 11.0 sacks to Oakland after allegedly being lowballed by the Giants.

Mathias Kiwakuna and his six sacks and restructured deal that has left him with a stick in a place where sticks don’t normally go is back, and the team hopes that the once-promising Jason Pierre-Paul can improve on his paltry sum of two sacks in 2013.  With Pierre-Paul in a contract year, he has plenty of millions of reasons to get back to being the guy who had 16.5 sacks in 2011.

4.  Who plays tight end?

Maybe Pierre-Paul should ask to play offense.  He’d have a good chance to play tight end.  Possibly as the starter.

Look at the depth chart.  The five tight ends currently on the roster are Kellen Davis, Larry Donnell, Daniel Fells, Adrien Robinson, and Xavier Grimble, who sounds like the antagonist in a Dickens novel.  That quintet combined for six total NFL catches last year.

It’s hard not to imagine the Giants making moves at the position, even if they merely pounce on a tight end cut by another team.  Or, ideally, if Jermichael Finley is cleared by the Giants and decides to keep playing football.

5.  Will they be able to run the ball?

Speaking of guys with neck injuries whose futures were in doubt, running back David Wilson has been cleared to play.  The next question becomes whether Wilson, a first-round pick in 2012, can get back to the top of the depth chart, or whether he’ll play second fiddle to newcomer Rashad Jennings, whom G.M. Jerry Reese has called a “bell cow” type.

Former Madden cover boy Peyton Hillis is also on the roster, and it remains to be seen whether former Packers assistant Ben McAdoo will play the hot hand or use a revolving door at tailback.

Whoever gets the ball needs to do something with it, which could be difficult if the offensive line and/or Eli Manning don’t play well.  But that could be the key to opening up the passing game.  Which will take a lot of pressure off the defense.

Which will make the team better.  Which could keep Tom Coughlin around for at least another year.

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Mike Pouncey now expected to miss two months of season

Miami Dolphins Training Camp Getty Images

Despite some early optimism, it looks like Dolphins center Mike Pouncey’s absence will be a lengthy one.

According to Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald, Pouncey is now expected to need four months to recover from his June hip surgery, which would extend his rehab into late October.

“Eight weeks is probably what we’re looking at,” a source said of the time Pouncey was expected to miss.

The Dolphins have an early bye week, so he might just miss seven games if that timetable holds up.

The Dolphins open camp Friday, and Pouncey will be placed on the physically unable to perform list at that time. The more interesting call will come at roster cuts. They can save a roster spot by using the regular season PUP designation, which would mean he’d miss at least six games.

The Dolphins had plenty of upheaval anyway, with an overhaul of their offensive line at every other spot. Now, they’re looking for a center for the first few months.

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Jets agree to terms with Jason Babin

Jason Babin, Paul Posluszny, C.J. Mosley AP

The Jets are adding a veteran pass rusher to Rex Ryan’s defense.

Jason Babin, the 34-year-old defensive end who visited the Jets this week, has agreed to terms. Babin’s agents announced the deal on Twitter.

Babin started all 16 games for the Jaguars last year and recorded 7.5 sacks. That was his highest total since 2011, when he had a phenomenal season in Philadelphia and finished with 18 sacks for the Eagles.

Babin was a first-round draft pick of the Texans in 2004 and has also played for the Seahawks, Chiefs and Titans. Although he’s not the All-Pro caliber player he was a few years ago, he’ll provide some solid depth as a situational pass rusher for the Jets.

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Vernon Davis reports to 49ers training camp

Britain 49ers Football AP

The question has now been answered.

Vernon Davis is reporting to 49ers training camp after all.

The news was broken by teammate C.J. Spillman, who posted a video on Instagram of Davis in the locker room. He’s even greeted by teammates teasing him for making a “cameo appearance.”

The Pro Bowl tight end has been clear in his desire for a new contract, and the 49ers have been equally clear about not negotiating with anyone who isn’t there.

So while Joe Staley showed up and got paid, Davis and Alex Boone got nowhere (so far) by staying away.

Plus, a camp holdout costs $30,000 a day and the team can go after any previously paid signing bonuses, making it an expensive decision.

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Heat sends pair of Bills to the hospital

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Nearly 13 years ago, Korey Stringer died from the heat at Vikings training camp.  Since then, the NFL and NFLPA have become more and more careful about exposing players to unsafe temperatures.  (Highs, not lows.  Yet.)

And so it’s a surprise, to say the least, to see that a pair of Bills players ended up in the hospital due to the heat.

Via Mike Rodak of, tight end Chris Gragg and fullback Evan Rodriguez weren’t at practice on Wednesday due to heat-related illness.  Both went to the hospital, and Gragg (as of Rodak’s last tweet) remains there.

It’s a problem most thought had been conclusively solved in the aftermath of Stringer’s passing.  And while it’s not entirely out of the ordinary for a player here or there to experience health-related consequences to practicing in the heat, a pair of hospitalized NFL athletes becomes a red flag that both the league and the union should immediately explore.

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Race car delivers a healthy Reggie Wayne to Colts camp

Reggie Wayne AP

Colts wide receiver Reggie Wayne has been waiting quite a while to get back on the football field after tearing his ACL last season, so it is understandable that he wanted the first day of training camp to get here as soon as possible.

And it’s just as understandable that he wouldn’t want to waste a minute commuting when that day arrived on Wednesday. The Colts shared a video of Wayne making his first appearance of the summer as a passenger in an Indy Car driven by race car driver Ed Carpenter.

Wayne was wearing a modified Colts helmet during his ride to camp, but he’ll be trading it in for the more traditional headgear. The team also announced that Wayne has been cleared to take part in practice and continue preparing to make his game return in the first week of the regular season.

Running back Vick Ballard also has the green light in his return from an ACL injury, giving the Colts back two key members of the offense who were absent as the team won the AFC South and advanced to the second round of the playoffs. With tight end Dwayne Allen also back and Hakeem Nicks joining the club, the Indy offense is primed for another strong season.

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Dungy discusses his Michael Sam comments

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On Monday, the Tampa Tribune published 38 words from Tony Dungy regarding whether he’d draft Michael Sam.  On Tuesday, Dungy issued a statement clarifying his thoughts on the issue.

On Wednesday, Dungy talked at length about the situation on The Dan Patrick Show.

Dungy reiterated, as explained in his statement, that the comments were made in the aftermath of the draft, when it became known for the first time that Sam was planning to turn his experiences into a TV series.

“I think the actual first quotes were from an interview with a gentlemen at the Tampa Tribune right after the draft,” Dungy said.  “We were talking about draft and distractions and it was when the Oprah Winfrey show was talking about doing a reality show on Michael Sam and that’s when the discussion came out about distractions as related to draft choices. . . .  We were talking about the show, and I think that was something people didn’t anticipate.  And those things were going to happen and are going to happen, and that’s what I was discussing and what we’re talking about.”

Dungy compared the Sam situation to the controversy surrounding former Dolphins (current 49ers) tackle Jonathan Martin, who quit the team after being bullied.  Both bring a distraction of some type to an NFL locker room.  The question is whether either are good enough from a talent standpoint to overcome those non-football issues.

“I talked to some General Managers,” Dungy said regarding work that was done during the 2013 football season, “and they said that Jonathan definitely has the talent to play in the league, but would they want the distraction of everybody’s following the story, and people asking their players over and over, ‘How are things are going?’, ‘What’s going on with Jonathan?’, ‘Who’s saying what to him?’  And because of the fact that they didn’t view him as a difference maker, they probably wouldn’t want the distractions.  And I guess that’s my point in the whole thing.  If we substitute Jonathan Martin for Michael Sam and have the same quotes and the same comments, nobody’s gonna replay those quotes two months and three months later, and try to say that there’s any more to it than what was actually said.”

Dan asked Dungy about his position on the distractions created by Sam and the distractions created by signing Mike Vick after he spent time in prison for dogfighting, a common comparison that has been made in the aftermath of Dungy’s remarks.

“People have to make their own decisions, and a lot of people made decisions that they didn’t want to accept that,” Dungy said regarding Vick.  “And if Philadelphia said that same thing to Michael, I don’t think he could be mad, I couldn’t be mad.  That’s a decision that they make for their team, and I’m sure they had discussions about it.  And that was my only point, that those things are discussed.  And people asked my personal opinion, and I gave the gentleman my opinion.  But it wasn’t anything to attack Michael Sam or it wasn’t to come out the day before they report to camp and say he shouldn’t be there.  I don’t believe that at all.  I do believe he should be there, and I’m glad he is.”

Dungy said he was caught off guard by the timing of the publication of his past comments.

“I was very surprised, because as I say I’ve been out here in Oregon six or seven weeks and haven’t heard anything about it and hadn’t talked to anybody in the media in two months, so I was shocked when I read Mike Florio’s [website] and that was the headline, ‘Tony Dungy wouldn’t have drafted Michael Sam.’  And I know a lot of people are trying to make this about my Christian faith, and that’s not something I’m going to back down from ever.  And I do have my Christian beliefs.

“But I think people should recognize that when you go into coaching, you have a responsibility to deliver a good football team to your owner, so you’re going to do everything you can to do that.  So I would not, and I’ve said that many times and been on record when asked about Michael Sam specifically.  No, I wouldn’t have a problem coaching him and I would not have a problem [with] him being on the team, and you make those decisions based on what people bring to the table athletically, and what they can do to make your team better.”

Dan asked about whether Dungy’s Christian beliefs come into play.

“I think it always does,” Dungy said.  “And I think that’s part of walking as a Christian, and I accept that part of it.  People are always going to have their views, I don’t expect everybody to agree with me.  But I don’t think people should expect me to back down on my views about faith.  But again, this was not a discussion about that.  This was a discussion about a particular situation at a particular time and a particular player.  And I think for people to take it into, ‘Well, this means he hates this group of people’ or ‘He wouldn’t do this,’ those are things I’ve been reading in the past day that really surprised me.”

Dungy takes issue with the idea that his position on Sam arises from Dungy’s views on homosexuality or gay marriage, as advanced by Bob Kravitz of the Indianapolis Star.

“Gay marriage and who should be on a football team have nothing to do with each other,” Dungy said.  “Bob Kravitz . . . knows the type of locker room that we had, the type of players.  Not everybody on that team was a Christian, not everybody believed the same things I did.  Not everybody had the same political views.  And that’s fine.  That’s good.  That’s what a football locker room is all about.  But to equate this to gay marriage to me is really silly.”

Dan also asked Dungy whether he plans to reach out to Sam.

“I hadn’t thought about it, but I think it might be a good idea I’ve love to do that, and hopefully I get the chance,” Dungy said.  “I would want to wish him the best and let him know I have no bitterness or animosity toward him.  Even though I don’t agree with his lifestyle, I love him.  And I wish him the best, and I’d love to say that to him.”

Chances are that discussion will happen sooner than later.  Whenever it occurs, the debate regarding what Dungy said and what he meant will linger, with some being fair about the assessment of Dungy’s words and some being unfair about it.  Which is pretty much how it works on any subject that is even remotely controversial.

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Jason Babin visited the Jets this week

Jason Babin AP

The Jets continue to look for ways to make a good defense better.

According to Kimberly Jones of the NFL Network, veteran defensive end Jason Babin visited the Jets this week.

Babin had an on-again/off-again offseason with the Jaguars, eventually being cut in June. But he was productive for them last year, leading the team with 7.5 sacks.

He’s 34 years old, and perhaps no more than a situational player at this point, but he’d lend depth to their pass-rush.

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Marqise Lee, Allen Robinson say they’re healthy for camp

Marqise Lee AP

The Jaguars took a pair of wide receivers in the second round of May’s draft, but they didn’t get a lot of time to work with them this spring.

Marqise Lee suffered an ankle injury and Allen Robinson hurt his hamstring, which led to both rookies being limited participants during the team’s offseason work. Robinson said that he’s been cleared to practice when training camp gets underway on Friday and Lee says he’s healthy as well, although it doesn’t sound like he’ll be going full speed right away.

“Everything’s good,” Lee said, via the team’s website. “I’m pretty much cleared. They still want me to take it slow as far as right now. During camp, that’s when I pick it up. We’ve got a while before we actually put on pads, so by that time pads come on, I should be OK.”

The Jaguars need both players to quickly make up for lost time. Ace Sanders said Tuesday that he will not participate in training camp while dealing with undisclosed issues related to a four-game suspension that Sanders said he faces to start the season. With Justin Blackmon also out of the picture, the Jags are left with Cecil Shorts, Denard Robinson, Tandon Doss and Mike Brown to go with the two rookies.

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Bernard Pierce cleared to practice without restrictions

Bernard Pierce AP

The Ravens are expecting the league to be fair when it comes to discipline for running back Ray Rice in the wake of his offseason arrest for assaulting his wife in Atlantic City, but there aren’t many people who expect that Rice will be available for use in the opening weeks of the season.

Assuming that’s the case, there’s a big job waiting for Bernard Pierce if he’s healthy enough to take it after offseason shoulder surgery. Pierce made good progress during the offseason and that has continued into the summer with Pierce announcing that he’s been cleared to take part in practice without any restrictions.

“My shoulder definitely got a lot better,” Pierce said, via the Baltimore Sun. “I know that this is when the real grind starts. It was strenuous today, but overall it was definitely helpful.”

Pierce’s 2013 season was a nightmare of injuries and ineffectiveness, but he sounded optimistic that the change in offensive coordinators will pay off with better results this time around. Pierce said he has “a knack” for the “simpler” zone scheme that Gary Kubiak prefers to run. After the Ravens offense failed to catch fire last season, the team will be hoping that Pierce’s knack for the offense translates to the kind of results they’ll need to return to the playoffs.

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Falcons place Corey Peters, Zeke Motta on PUP list

Cam Newton, Corey Peters AP

Wide receiver Julio Jones has been cleared to practice in at least a limited fashion, but the Falcons will wait a little longer before giving two defensive players returning from injuries the green light to hit the practice field.

The Falcons announced that defensive tackle Corey Peters and safety Zeke Motta have been placed on the Physically Unable to Perform list to start training camp.

Peters re-signed with the Falcons this offseason on a one-year deal after an Achilles injury ended his 2013 season after 15 games. Peters said this offseason that he expects to be healthy in time for the start of the regular season, but putting him on the PUP list gives the Falcons the option of giving him more time to get ready in the event that things develop more slowly.

Motta suffered a cervical fracture in his neck in December and his status for the coming season is in doubt as a result. The Falcons announced earlier this month that wide receiver Drew Davis will also start camp on the PUP list after having foot surgery.

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Fisher says Sam hasn’t been a distraction

Fisher AP

With Tony Dungy explaining that he wouldn’t have drafted Michael Sam because of the distractions that go along with having him on the team, the coach who drafted Sam has addressed whether and to what extent Sam has been a distraction.

“Absolutely not,” Jeff Fisher told ESPN Radio’s Mike & Mike in the Morning on Wednesday.   “Let’s define distraction.  There were a couple of extra cameras during early OTAs.  There may have been an extra camera yesterday as rookies reported and went on the field the first time.  Mike’s a very passionate athlete.  He’s very focused on trying to make this football team. . . . He worked really hard during the summer, and he’s doing a good job.”

Fisher, who said that there will be no limits placed on Sam’s media availability during training camp, nevertheless has no issue with Dungy’s view on the matter.

“I’m gonna assume some that maybe things were taken out of context,” Fisher said.  “But everybody’s entitled to their own opinion.  Coaches are going to have differences of opinion during the draft. . . .  I’m not concerned.  Tony’s entitled to his opinion as everybody is and so are and right now we think we have a pretty good thing going.”

The Rams may have such a good thing going that Sam won’t be good enough to make the roster.  Fisher has said in the past that cutting Sam would be as normal a part of the broader process as drafting him.  Fisher hinted during Wednesday’s interview that, even as Sam improves as a player, he ultimately may not be regarded as being good enough.

“Unfortunately, one part of this business is releasing players and upgrading the roster and so on and so forth,” Fisher said.  “We let three players go yesterday who really have only been here for probably a month.  They’re better football players than when we signed them, and that’s where Mike is right now.  He’s a better football player because he’s committed himself to making this football team.”

Even with no distractions to date, scrutiny will arise if Fisher ultimately cuts Sam — especially with all those Rams jerseys bearing his name already being purchased.  And that’s surely one of the distractions Dungy would have been concerned about, even if his initial comments on the matter were omitted from Ira Kaufman’s article in the Tampa Tribune or if Kaufman opted not to ask the follow-up questions that would have drawn a more complete explanation from Dungy.

Dungy will be able to give a more complete explanation soon.  He’s scheduled to join The Dan Patrick Show in the 9:00 a.m. ET hour.

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Pat Bowlen’s wife says plan is to keep team in the family

Pat Bowlen AP

Even though Broncos owner Pat Bowlen is stepping away from the day-to-day operations of his team because of his Alzheimer’s disease, his wife said Wednesday the goal is to keep the team in the family.

“As many in the Denver community and around the National Football League have speculated, my husband, Pat, has very bravely and quietly battled Alzheimer’s disease for the last few years,” said his wife Annabel Bowlen. “He has elected to keep his condition private because he has strongly believed, and often said, ‘It’s not about me.’

“Pat has always wanted the focus to be solely on the Denver Broncos and the great fans who have supported this team with such passion during his 30 years as owner. My family is deeply saddened that Pat’s health no longer allows him to oversee the Broncos, which has led to this public acknowledgment of such a personal health condition.

“Alzheimer’s has taken so much from Pat, but it will never take away his love for the Denver Broncos and his sincere appreciation for the fans.”

His wife said that a plan was put in place years ago to keep the team in the family, a plan that is being implemented by team president Joe Ellis.

“My family will stand strong with Pat as he continues his courageous fight against a disease that is unfortunately all too common. One in nine people age 65 and older has Alzheimer’s, and my family is experiencing the same difficult emotions that so many have felt when someone they love and respect is afflicted with this condition.”

Our thoughts are with the Bowlen family as they fight through the terrible disease.

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Rob Gronkowski good to go at Patriots camp

Rob Gronkowski AP

Less than eight months after suffering a torn ACL, Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski is ready to go.

Patriots coach Bill Belichick confirmed this morning that Gronkowski has been cleared by the team’s medical staff and will not be placed on the physically unable to perform list at the start of camp.

That’s great news for the Patriots and Gronkowski, who has been plagued by injuries the last two years. Gronkowski played just seven games last year, but he recently said he expects to play 16 games this year.

The Patriots may take it easy on Gronkowski during training camp and the preseason in order to ensure that he’s 100 percent when Week One rolls around. But taking it easy on him is a choice, not a necessity. Gronkowski is ready to play.

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