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Jags coach Gus Bradley says he still trusts Justin Blackmon

Gus Bradley AP

Picking up a four-game suspension for a substance abuse violation less than four months after a new head coach has taken over isn’t the best way to make a first impression.

Yet, that’s exactly the situation Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver Justin Blackmon has found himself in after getting a four-game suspension handed down by the league this week. It’s not exactly the best first step to take in building a relationship with your new head coach. However, Jaguars head coach Gus Bradley is willing to give Blackmon some benefit of the doubt.

According to Ryan O’Halloran of the Florida Times-Union, Bradley still trusts the second-year wide out. He said he’s had “six or seven conversations” with Blackmon already since the suspension was levied earlier this week.

I told Justin I do trust him,” Bradley said. ““We both have to earn each other’s trust and I don’t want trust to be mistaken for being naïve.”

“He understands we’re disappointed in what took place. I really try to maintain my focus on making sure he has a clear vision of what we expect from him. We’ve had great conversations since this came out.”

Bradley intends on using the issue with Blackmon as a barometer to set the discipline for the team going forward. With a four-game suspension, Blackmon is now just one more offense away from a full season suspension. The Jaguars will need to hope Bradley’s trust in Blackmon will be rewarded or they could be playing without their former first-round pick for an extensive amount time.

“That’s the challenge that’s been placed in front of him,” Bradley said. “I have confidence in Justin. He knows our expectations and he has those same expectations. It’s a process for him and for us, but we’re looking forward to the challenge.”

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Lawyer claims Shembo didn’t mean to kill dog

Shembo Getty Images

Every criminal defendant has a lawyer, and every lawyer for every criminal defendant says the criminal defendant didn’t do it.

In the case of former Falcons linebacker Prince Shembo, then, his lawyer claims Shembo is innocent.

Froelich added that Shembo owns a dog, and that Shembo has never injured the dog.

It’s unclear whether the Christopher Moltisante defense will work for Shembo. On one hand, there were no witnesses to Shembo’s alleged crime. On the other hand, the injuries to the dog were extensive, which means that Shembo had better have a pretty good explanation for how those injuries happened.

Then there’s the fact that Shembo’s ex will testify that Shembo admitted to killing the dog. Shembo may claim that he said he killed the dog accidentally, which makes the dog owner’s testimony regarding what Shembo actually said and his demeanor while saying it critical.

Regardless, every criminal defendant in America is entitled to broad protections aimed at ensuring innocent people aren’t sent to jail. And plenty of guilty people have successfully taken advantage of those protections over the years.

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Rams’ picks are all unsigned, with financial counseling coming first

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Most of this year’s NFL draft picks have already signed their contracts. But none of the Rams’ picks have.

That’s because the Rams’ policy is to give each player financial counseling before anyone signs a contract.

In each of the last two years, the Rams have signed all their picks en masse, after gathering the rookie class together and giving the players a course on financial management. Players are instructed on what the team calls “Financial Planning 101,” with information about how to invest and how not to go broke.

The Rams’ rookies will get signing bonuses of anywhere from $70,000 for seventh-round pick Martin Ifedi, all the way up to more than $8 million for first-round pick Todd Gurley. The Rams want to give those players the money they need to use that money wisely.

The Collective Bargaining Agreement agreed upon in 2011 makes rookie contracts so straightforward that there’s little to negotiate, and little reason not to sign immediately. Except for the reason the Rams have found: Making sure players have some information about how to invest their money before they receive it.

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Matt Barkley: Tim Tebow’s an arm, he’s not taking my reps

tebow AP

When the Eagles signed Tim Tebow, fellow quarterback Mark Sanchez dismissed Tebow as a camp arm. Coach Chip Kelly disagreed.

Eagles third-string quarterback Matt Barkley agrees with Sanchez, suggesting that Tebow was brought in so the Eagles would have another guy to throw to the receivers after GJ Kinne switched from quarterback to wide receiver.

“He’s not taking my reps on the field,” Barkley said, via NJ.com. “He’s an arm we need for the team, with G.J. making the move to receiver. Tim’s just one of us. He’s trying to make the team just like we all are. It hasn’t effected my approach to how I feel the team thinks of me or how I’m going out to compete every day.”

But while the other quarterbacks seem to see Tebow as a camp arm, it’s up to Kelly, who insists that Tebow is on the team to be a quarterback.

And really, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to sign Tebow to be a camp arm because Tebow doesn’t have a good arm. Tebow’s strengths lie in his ability to improvise and make plays when things break down. If Kelly just wanted another passer to help work with the receivers in camp, he could have found a better passer than Tebow, who would have come with fewer distractions than Tebow. Kelly signed Tebow because sees something in Tebow’s potential to help the Eagles win in the fall, not just to work with the team in the summer.

Barkley should realize that because if Tebow makes the team, Barkley won’t.

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Kubiak wants Peyton practicing under center

peyton AP

In the latest sign that new Broncos coach Gary Kubiak will make significant changes to the offense, quarterback Peyton Manning has been spending his time under center at Organized Team Activities.

Kubiak said he knows Manning can run an offense in the shotgun, but he wants Manning to get work under center, and that’s the priority right now.

“That’s kind of the plan. We’re going to do that initially,” Kubiak said. “We know the other end of the stick (shotgun) is fine; that’s something that he’s been doing forever. So we’re going to spend a lot of time under center initially in our process and how we’re going to go about our teaching. We have a nine-day installation period that we have, so he’s going to be under [center] for a good three days before we move back, but he’s been very responsive, and he’s working extremely hard.”

Manning said he’s fine with making changes in Kubiak’s offense.

“Whatever they ask me to do, I feel like I can do it,” Manning said.

During his first three years in Denver, Manning was given free rein to run the show on the Broncos’ offense. But he won’t be given quite the same free rein this year. The Broncos are still Manning’s team. But even more, the Broncos are Kubiak’s team.

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Report: Chris Chester signs with Falcons

Chester Getty Images

Free-agent guard Chris Chester had lined up visits with the Falcons and Eagles. And he won’t be taking those visits.

Via Vaughn McClure of ESPN.com, Chester has signed with the Falcons. It’s a one-year, $2.8 million contract.

Washington released Chester earlier this week. In Atlanta, he’ll be reunited with offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan.

Chester signed with Washington in 2011, after five seasons with the Ravens. He started all 64 regular-season games in four seasons with D.C.

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Harbaugh “wouldn’t want any other quarterback” than “superstar” Flacco

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Is Joe Flacco elite? It’s a question that has become a punchline in some circles. And coach John Harbaugh seems to be ready to punch anyone who would ask that question.

Someone asked that question, with different and more words, during a Friday press conference. And Harbaugh defended Flacco aggressively.

Joe Flacco’s been a great quarterback from the day he got here,” Harbaugh said. “You wanna look back and say this has been the most talented offense in the NFL for the last seven years and they carried Joe Flacco, you can say that if you want, but it’s ridiculous. Joe Flacco is a great player, he’s only gonna get better. I think he’s hitting his stride, hitting the peak of his career. And I wouldn’t want any other quarterback in the National Football League. Period, end of story. So just write than and be done with it, because that’s the last I really want to hear about it.

“This guy is a superstar in the National Football League, and I’m thrilled to have him and I can’t wait to see what he does with all that young talent around him.”

They’ll need more young — and cheap — talent around Flacco in 2016, once his cap number shoots from $14.55 million to $28.55 million. With the head coach speaking of Flacco in such glowing terms, it’s going to be expensive to both knock down that cap number and to extend his stay indefinitely beyond the current season.

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NaVorro Bowman returns to team drills, doesn’t like knee brace

Bowman Getty Images

With multiple inside linebackers surprisingly retired, the 49ers need to get Navorro Bowman back. And they’re moving closer toward doing just that.

Bowman returned to team drills on Friday, joining the 49ers for an OTA practice session more than 16 months after tearing an ACL in the NFC title game at Seattle.

“It’s great having him back out on the field,” coach Jim Tomsula said regarding Bowman on Friday. “Then also the road he’s traveled here in the last year and a half. It’s just awesome to have him out there and I think he’s really enjoying himself.”

Bowman’s not enjoying one thing — wearing a brace on his surgically-repaired knee.

“He is not, they are not friends,” Tomsula said of Bowman and his brace. “But, we really want him to wear it. Just why not, that’s all. And you know what, he’s doing great with it, he is. But, you know Bo. He’s something else, just pushing, pushing, pushing.”

Patrick Willis and Chris Borland called it a career after the 2014 season, making Bowman a key component of a defense that is squarely in transition, especially with defensive lineman Justin Smith retired, too.

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Browns’ offense appears to be moving on from Manziel

Manziel AP

Josh McCown is firmly entrenched as the starting quarterback in Cleveland, to the extent that Johnny Manziel, a first-round pick of the Browns last year, appears to be largely an afterthought at Organized Team Activities.

After reporting on the first week of OTAs, Tony Grossi of ESPN Cleveland describes Manziel as “a fish out of water” in the offense the Browns are installing. Grossi writes that the Browns don’t seem to be developing Manziel so much as they’re moving on from him.

At the practice the media were allowed to watch, Manziel seemed to eager to run and not confident enough in his passing. And Grossi reports that one source who witnessed another practice says Manziel was actually even worse in a session that the media didn’t see.

The bottom line is that 13 months after he was drafted, Manziel still hasn’t done anything to make the Browns think he’s ever going to be their franchise quarterback. McCown is the starter for now, and someone else will probably need to be found to be the long-term answer in the future.

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Brady appeal hearing set for June 23

Getty Images Getty Images

The deadline for setting Tom Brady’s appeal hearing came and went on Wednesday without a date being set. A date has now been set.

PFT has confirmed that the appeal hearing will commence on June 23, and that it will continue if necessary on June 25. The news was first reported by Adam Schefter of ESPN.

On Thursday, a source with knowledge of the situation told PFT that the NFL and NFL Players Association had agreed to extend the Wednesday deadline, and that the NFL had offered a pair of dates that weren’t ideal for the union. The NFLPA had responded with a pair of weeks that worked, and the NFLPA was waiting for the league to respond.

Brady and the NFLPA wanted the hearing to be conducted in June, in order to ensure that sufficient time will be available to go to court and challenge the outcome of the internal appeal process.

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Browns unveil four-tiered variable pricing

Tickets Getty Images

With the blackout policy suspended for 2015 (i.e., dead as a doorknob . . . or is it doornail? I never know), teams need to find a way to attract customer to pay for tickets to game. The Browns are doing that by utilizing a four-tiered system of variable pricing.

The first tier consists of the Broncos and Titans. Yes, the Titans, because that’s the regular-season home opener.

Tier Two has the Ravens and Steelers. Tier Three consists of the Raiders, Cardinals, 49ers, and Bengals.

Tier Four has the two preseason games, against Washington and Buffalo.

The decision not to put the Ravens and Steelers in the top tier and the decision to put the Bengals in a tier lower than the other division rivals seem odd. But even in a league where coaches look for any ammunition to motivate players, it’s hard to envision Bengals coach Marvin Lewis firing up the troops by pointing out that the Browns saw fit to put the team that has made it to the playoffs four straight years in the third of four pricing tiers, only one click above games that don’t count at all.

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Falcons cut linebacker/alleged dog-killer Prince Shembo

NEW ORLEANS, LA - DECEMBER 21:  Prince Shembo #53 celebrates with Robert McClain #27 of the Atlanta Falcons following an interception against the New Orleans Saints during a game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on December 21, 2014 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images) Getty Images

That didn’t take long.

Within hours of charges being filed accusing him of kicking and killing his then-girlfriend’s small dog, the Falcons have released linebacker Prince Shembo, according to Zach Klein of WSB. The Falcons have since announced the move themselves.

“We are aware of the charges that have been filed against Prince Shembo,” the team said in a statement. “We are extremely disappointed that one of our players is involved in something like this. Accordingly, we have decided to waive Prince Shembo.”

Shembo was charged with felony aggravated cruelty to animals, for allegedly kicking a Yorkshire terrier named Dior, causing massive internal injuries.

The Falcons were willing to stick up for Shembo after they chose him in the fourth round of the 2014 NFL Draft, despite an incident during his college years at Notre Dame. He was accused of sexually assaulting a female student at nearby St. Mary’s College, who later committed suicide.

No charges were filed in that case, and the Falcons said they were “very comfortable” with him in regards to it.

They’re apparently less comfortable now, and moved quickly to distance themselves.

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Bills claim quarterback Matt Simms off waivers from Jets

Miami Dolphins v New York Jets Getty Images

The Bills decided to freshen up their four-headed quarterback competition, by grabbing a guy from their own division.

According to Howard Balzer of the Sports Xchange, the Bills claimed former Jets quarterback Matt Simms off waivers.

Simms was released yesterday, as the writing was on the wall for him with the Jets when Bryce Petty was drafted. But now he lands with former head coach Rex Ryan and quarterbacks coach David Lee, which can’t hurt his chances.

To make room for Simms on the roster, the Bills got rid of Jeff Tuel, who was rotating among Matt Cassel, EJ Manuel and Tyrod Taylor.

While Simms might not change the bottom line for the Bills, he at least adds more competition at the bottom of the depth chart

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Kiko Alonso surprised by how good his knee feels

kikoalonso AP

Ten months ago, Kiko Alonso suffered a torn ACL that cost him the entire 2014 season with the Bills. In the time since then, Alonso has been traded to the Eagles — and has healed so fully that he surprises himself with how good he feels.

I honestly didn’t think I’d be doing this much,” Alonso told Philly.com at Eagles’ OTAs. “I’ve just been going on how I feel, and it’s feeling really good.”

Part of the reason Alonso feels good is that he’s running without a knee brace.

“I feel comfortable without it,” Alonso said. “I never really liked wearing the brace.”

Alonso played for Eagles coach Chip Kelly at Oregon and knew that Kelly does everything at a fast pace and has a demanding conditioning program. Still, Alsonso didn’t realize just how hard he’d be going this offseason.

“I knew what to expect, but I definitely thought I’d be more in shape, but I was wrong,” Alonso said. “I remember when I was in Buffalo, I was like I can’t imagine going against the Eagles and that pace. Because if you don’t practice like that and you go, it’s brutal.”

That brutal work in May will pay off for Alonso in September, when he finally gets back on the field after his knee injury cost him a season.

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Jason Kelce: Missing the playoffs “almost a good thing” in hindsight

Seattle Seahawks v Philadelphia Eagles Getty Images

The roster turnover of the Eagles (and the opinions about the reasons for it) have been a major topic of the NFL offseason and another member of the team has weighed in with his opinion.

Center Jason Kelce didn’t cite race, egos or anything other than the simple fact that the Eagles weren’t talented enough last year. Kelce said that he thought the team’s locker room was strong last year, but that “we were lacking in talent at a couple positions” and that failing to make the playoffs could almost be spun as a positive because it made the team address those needs.

“This might [tick] off a few people, but when we started off 9-3 … [but] we got lucky quite a few times to win games that we probably shouldn’t have been in,” Kelce said, via the Philadelphia Daily News. “I think that ending the season the way we did — didn’t make the playoffs — in hindsight is almost a good thing because it forced the coaches and the organization to reevaluate what we had. Guys all of the sudden that were on the bubble, [coaches now knew] that we need to make an upgrade there. We need to do this. We need to do that to improve the team as a whole.”

Kelce didn’t specify the areas, but the list of positions that the Eagles addressed this offseason is pretty much the list of positions on their roster as well as Chip Kelly’s move to the top of the personnel hierarchy. For a team that’s won 10 games in each of the last two seasons, it’s a major overhaul and one that’s going to be placed on Kelly’s shoulders however it plays out.

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Falcons linebacker accused of killing very small dog

dead-dog

Falcons linebacker Prince Shembo didn’t just allegedy kick a dog and kill it, he allegedly found one of the smallest dogs possible to kick and kill.

According to Alexis Stevens of the Atlanta Journal Constitution, police documents say Shembo killed his then-girlfriend’s pet Yorkie named Dior.

Yorkshire terriers, which top out around 7 pounds, are no match for 254-pound linebackers, it seems.

The Gwinnett County Police Cpl. Michele Pihera said Shembo was charged with aggravated cruelty to animals, following an April 15 incident.

According to the report, his then-girlfriend Denicia Williams told police she had taken Dior to Shembo’s apartment, and left the dog there. When she returned, the dog was unresponsive, and died a short time later at an animal hospital.

She said the next day, Shembo told her he killed the dog, at which point she broke up with him.

A necropsy was performed at the Gwinnett County Animal Shelter, where the cause of death was determined to be blunt force trauma.

According to the report, Dior had “a fractured rib, fractured liver, abdominal hemorrhage, thoracic hemorrhage, extensive bruising and hemorrhage in the muscles in her front leg and shoulders, head trauma, hemorrhage and edema in lungs, hemorrhage between the esophagus and trachea, and hemorrhage in the left eye with internal injuries.”

The Falcons drafted Shembo in the fourth round last year from Notre Dame.

Photo credit: Gwinnett Police.

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