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Lamar Miller looks better as a pass blocker

Lamar Miller, Chandler Jones AP

With Reggie Bush giving the Lions visions of a revved-up offense, the Dolphins are handing the running back job to the combination of Lamar Miller, Daniel Thomas and Mike Gillislee.

Miller, a fourth-round pick last year, has been installed as the favorite to lead any rotation in the Miami backfield, but he’s coming off a rookie year that saw him used sparingly on third downs. Part of that was Bush’s presence, of course, but there was also a question of whether he could handle the pass protection responsibilities needed on passing downs. Based on word out of Miami, that issue is fading from view.

Coach Joe Philbin praised Miller’s improvement as a pass blocker earlier this month and quarterback Ryan Tannehill has also hopped aboard that train. Tannehill cited the same thing when asked what impresses him the most about Miller.

“He’s picking up pass protections a lot better,” Tannehill said, via Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald. “Now that he’s got that, he’s going to be a great player.”

He’s also going to be a player that can stay on the field for all three downs, giving him a much better chance of becoming the feature back in a Miami offense that should be improved this season with the arrival of wide receiver Mike Wallace and tight end Dustin Keller.

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Rolando McClain has charges from 2013 arrest dismissed

Dallas Cowboys v Philadelphia Eagles Getty Images

Cowboys linebacker Rolando McClain was convicted on misdemeanor charges of resisting arrest and disorderly conduct in Decatur, Alabama last year, but appealed to have another trial in state court.

That trial was set for a May 18 start, but it won’t take place. The Associated Press reports that court records showed that prosecutors asked a judge to dismiss the charges on Monday.

There was no specific reason given for the dismissal request. McClain was accused of cursing at police officers while they were trying to clear a crowd away from a softball game in April 2013 and McClain’s lawyer argued that it isn’t clearly McClain using the offending language in a tape of the incident that has been used as evidence.

McClain signed a one-year, $3 million contract with the Cowboys this offseason after turning in a strong first year in Dallas that rescued his career from the scrap heap that his 2013 arrest helped to create.

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Jimmy Clausen’s excited about reunion with John Fox

Detroit Lions v Chicago Bears Getty Images

The last time John Fox and Jimmy Clausen worked together, it didn’t work out well for either of them.

Both are hoping their reunion goes better.

Clausen said he was encouraged about coming back to the Bears this offseason, even though the coach and General Manager who resurrected his career are gone. He sat down with new G.M. Ryan Pace, Fox and offensive coordinator Adam Gase, and felt good about re-signing with the Bears after Phil Emery and Marc Trestman were fired.

“Obviously, if I didn’t like what they envisioned for me and the offense, I wouldn’t be here right now,” Clausen said, via Patrick Finley of the Chicago Sun-Times. “I like what they have planned for us moving forward, and I’m really excited about this upcoming season.

“I just felt comfortable with them and just wanted to come back.”

Comfort was something neither Clausen nor Fox had last time through.

Clausen was drafted prior to Fox’s lame-duck season with the Panthers, a kid the coach didn’t have a vested interest in developing since he wasn’t going to be there for the finished product. The rookie-averse Fox only played Clausen because of an injury to Matt Moore, and Clausen was pounded into the ground during a 2-14 season, a record which he wasn’t responsible for or able to prevent.

That led to the Panthers drafting Cam Newton and Clausen not throwing another pass until last season.

“I’ve seen him develop,” Fox said. “You know I’ve seen him grow, even personally and, you know, that’s what we do. Hopefully as we age we grow up some.

“So I’ve seen him grow as a football player and as a man — and I’m excited to work with him.”

Clausen’s role is important, given the way the Bears tried to get out from under Jay Cutler’s contract this offseason, including attempts to trade him on draft day. The only other quarterbacks on the roster are second-year David Fales and undrafted rookie Shane Carden, so there’s a burden on Clausen to be stable and trustworthy.

He wasn’t ready for that in 2010 with Fox, but for both their sakes, he better be now.

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Report: Patriots to release Alfonzo Dennard

Alfonzo Dennard AP

The Patriots didn’t draft a cornerback until the seventh round of the draft, which seemed to indicate they were content with the group of corners they already had on hand to compete for roles this season.

That may be the case in general, but that group is reportedly about to get a little bit smaller. Ian Rapoport of NFL Media reports that the team will release cornerback Alfonzo Dennard.

Dennard joined the team as a seventh-round pick in 2012 — he was projected to go earlier before a pre-draft arrest –and played in six games for the team last season. Four of those games were starts, but his playing time was infrequent over the second half of the season and he ended the year on injured reserve with a hamstring injury.

With Dennard sliding out of the depth chart, the Patriots have Malcolm Butler, Kyle Arrington and Logan Ryan back from last year with rookie Darryl Roberts joining Bradley Fletcher, Robert McClain and Chimdi Chekwa as new arrivals.

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Winston’s no-baseball clause isn’t rare

Winston AP

Yes, the Buccaneers have added a no-baseball clause to quarterback Jameis Winston’s contract.  No, the presence of a no-baseball clause in NFL contracts isn’t rare.

Per a league source, the contract signed last year by Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel has similar language. And it’s believed that more than 100 current contracts have a term specifically restricting a football player’s ability to play baseball.

According to another source, the contract signed in 2012 by Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson does not include such language.  Whether his next deal will have that language remains to be seen.

The Standard Player Contract already contains language that prohibits a player from engaging “in any activity other than football which may involve a significant risk of personal injury.” Baseball isn’t specifically listed, and a straight-faced argument could be made that baseball doesn’t entail a “significant” risk of personal injury.

More importantly, the Standard Player Contract merely allows a player’s team to block such activities via legal action.  Winston’s expressly links baseball to his guaranteed money, nullifying any remaining guarantees if he violates the term.

Per a source with knowledge of the situation, the term can be violated in a wide range of ways, from playing in a game to attending training-camp practices to working out with players to doing anything baseball related short of throwing out the first pitch at a baseball game.

This doesn’t mean he can never play baseball. He just can’t play both. He can give up football, pay back any unearned signing bonus money, and then take up baseball.

For now, that’s extremely unlikely. But if Winston somehow ends up being the Ryan Leaf of 2015’s one-two quarterback draft class, Winston could decide in a couple of years that he really misses baseball now that he’s been away from it, that he realizes it’s his true passion, and that he’s going back.

This assumes he’s good enough to play baseball at the Major League level. If he were, that would have been the better career choice from an earnings, longevity, and long-term health and well-being standpoint.

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Seahawks scrutinized for drafting Frank Clark despite domestic violence accusation

frankclark

The Seahawks used their first pick in this year’s draft on Frank Clark, a defensive end who was kicked off the team at Michigan after he was accused of domestic violence. Now they’re facing some scrutiny in Seattle.

The Seattle Times has a report out today noting that while the Seahawks claim they conducted a thorough investigation before deciding to pick Clark, the two witnesses who called police to report the incident say they never heard from the Seahawks.

Kristie Colie, who was staying in the hotel room next to one being used by Clark and his then-girlfriend, says she saw a woman who “was definitely beat up.”

“She looked unconscious,’’ Colie said. “She looked like she was knocked out, and then she started to move slowly.’’

The police report describes the victim as saying Clark punched her in the face. It also quotes the victim’s brothers as saying they witnessed Clark punch her. According to the brothers, when the victim tried to defend herself, Clark “grabbed her by the throat, picked her up off the ground and slammed her to the ground while also landing on top of her.’’

The domestic violence incident wasn’t Clark’s first run-in with the law. In 2012 he was convicted of a felony charge of second-degree home invasion. On the domestic violence charge, prosecutors allowed Clark to plead guilty to a reduced charge of persistent disorderly conduct and get off with a $250 fine.

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Texans and Saints will work out together this offseason

2014 Pro Bowl Getty Images

The Texans and Saints are scheduled to play a preseason game at the Superdome on August 30, but the two teams will have plenty of time to get familiar with one another before it kicks off.

According to multiple reports, there will be two days of joint practices between the teams before they face off in their third exhibition contest of the year. It’s the first time the Saints have practiced with another team since 2012, but it looks like it is going to be a tradition for the Texans under Bill O’Brien.

They practiced with both the Broncos and Falcons before preseason games last summer in O’Brien’s first year as the team’s head coach. O’Brien worked for Bill Belichick with the Patriots and Belichick has also been fond of the summer work with other teams over the course of his tenure.

The two teams have held joint practices several times in the past and had a memorable session in 2009 that featured a fight between former Saints tight end Jeremy Shockey and former Texans linebacker DeMeco Ryans.

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Caldwell hints that Jaguars are done with Blackmon

Blackmon Getty Images

Before the 2015 draft, the Jaguars didn’t close the door on receiver Justin Blackmon, the fifth overall pick three years ago.  After the 2015 draft, G.M. Dave Caldwell provided a more definitive assessment of Blackmon’s future with the franchise.

Via Hays Carlyon of the Florida Times-Union, Caldwell told Sirius XM NFL Radio on Monday that the team’s decision to draft two more receivers should provide an indication of the situation.

The Jaguars added Florida State receiver Rashad Greene in the fifth round, and Monmouth receiver Neal Sterling in the seventh.  There’s a chance that one, or both, won’t make the 53-man roster.  Regardless, the message via the selection of two receivers is that the Jaguars are no longer holding a spot for Blackmon.

And for good reason.  He last played in October 2013, and there’s no indication that he has remained clean long enough to get reinstated.  There’s no indication, as recently noted by Big Cat Country, that Blackmon even wants to be reinstated.

It’s another reminder that plenty of those 32 guys about whom draft experts have been raving for the past few months will end up washing out of the league, for one or more of many possible reasons.

Making Blackmon’s situation even more unfortunate is the fact that he doesn’t lack the talent.  His brief NFL tenure includes a 236-yard game in November 2012 and 326 total yards in his first two games from his most recent — and quite possibly final — NFL season.

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Tuesday morning one-liners

Alabama Spring Game Getty Images

LB Preston Brown wants to step up as a leader for the Bills.

Breaking down the Dolphins’ offensive depth chart after the draft.

Said DE Geneo Grissom of getting drafted by the Patriots near the end of the third round, “I had family members that were calling it a night and everybody was about to go to bed, and I get a phone call and I saw that it was from Foxboro. I kept telling myself I wasn’t going to cry, I wasn’t going to cry and I ended up crying like a baby.”

What will the Jets work out with DE Muhammad Wilkerson?

The Ravens are hosting an event for local youth football coaches.

Bengals CB Darqueze Dennard wasn’t surprised to see the team draft a cornerback.

A critique of the Browns’ approach to skill position players in the draft.

There will be 51 players taking part in the Steelers’ rookie minicamp.

Texans DT Vince Wilfork gave the commencement address at the New England Institute of Technology.

Plenty of competition is expected at wide receiver for the Colts.

Interest in the Jaguars draft appeared to be high for local television viewers.

S Da’Norris Searcy is settling into the Titans Defense.

Breaking down the Tulane twosome that the Broncos added at cornerback.

Chiefs General Manager John Dorsey said the team’s draft “peeled off” like they hoped.

Former Raiders fullback Marv Hubbard died at 68.

RB Melvin Gordon and LB Melvin Ingram are popular guys in Chargers camp.

The Cowboys’ faith in their offensive line informed their draft decisions.

Nick Saban dismissed any critiques of Giants S Landon Collins’s play.

Wondering if their offseason maneuvering has left the Eagles with a better team.

The results of the Brandon Scherff pick will provide the ultimate judgment on the Redskins draft.

QB Jimmy Clausen explained why he wanted to return to the Bears.

Having a bowl game at Ford Field helped FB Michael Burton land with the Lions.

The Packers hope they landed a pair of playmaking cornerbacks in the draft.

Which Vikings draft picks are good bets to play early?

The Falcons signed fullback Colin Mooney to their 90-man roster.

Panthers RB Cameron Artis-Payne is looking forward to being known as Cam, although that didn’t work out for him at Auburn because of the shadow cast by his Carolina teammate Cam Newton.

Defense was the focus for the Saints during the draft.

The Buccaneers have decided to let RB Doug Martin play out his contract this year.

Former Arizona State QB Taylor Kelly will try out for the Cardinals.

A wish for more additions to the Rams offensive line.

The 49ers officially put LB Chris Borland on the reserve/retired list.

Which undrafted rookies might pan out for the Seahawks?

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Philip Rivers says trade talk didn’t come from his side

Philip Rivers AP

With the 2015 NFL Draft come and gone, any window that ever existed for the Chargers to move Philip Rivers has closed. And now that they’re talking about a contract extension again, Rivers insists he’s not the one who suggested the idea of a trade.

Of course, there are multiple sides to every story, but looking back at this saga, it does appear more and more like an elaborate way to spark contract talks with the Chargers.

Rivers texted back and forth with an apparently skeptical Jim Trotter of ESPN, and insisted he wasn’t the originator of reports that he wanted a trade, to Tennessee or anywhere else.

“I not once, nor did Jimmy [Sexton, his agent], ever say anything about [wanting to be] traded,” Rivers said. “I don’t know what the story is. I’m here. And glad that I am. … I’m willing to listen to an extension. I am willing to play it out. What’s so wrong about that approach? . . .

“I didn’t start anything. I’m under contract for 2015. How can I comment on my future beyond that?”

Of course, Rivers did comment about his future, fairly clearly. And he did start it.

He got the ball rolling on this saga by saying he didn’t plan to sign an extension with the Chargers, and that he was comfortable going into 2015 as the final year of his deal. The suggestion was clear that a possible move to Los Angeles was a factor, and that Rivers wasn’t wild about the idea of taking his family there.

But he told Trotter over the weekend that talk about his next contract was premature.

“It’s May 2nd,” Rivers texted. “It’s not the day before free agency starts next year. It’s business as usual for me around here. Not trying to be difficult. Just feel that it’s a dead story.”

Hardly.

Until Rivers either gets a new long-term contract or doesn’t, and until the Chargers move to L.A. or don’t, and until they sit on Rivers with the franchise tag or don’t, there are plenty of more stories to be written about this one.

Whether Rivers thinks it’s a story or not, or contributes further to them.

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Patriots converting another quarterback to wide receiver

Devin Gardner AP

The Patriots have had pretty good luck with converting college quarterbacks, as Julian Edelman has proven to be a valuable part for them.

So why not try it again, with someone bigger and stronger.

According to Jeff Howe of the Boston Herald, the Patriots have signed undrafted Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner, with plans to make him a wide receiver.

Unlike Edelman, Gardner has legitimate NFL size, at 6-foot-4, 216 pounds. Of course, he’s also slow-ish, running a 4.65 40, which will make it harder.

But Gardner also has that leadership/work ethic vibe the Patriots dig on, so they might be able to find a role for him.

Michigan used Gardner as a receiver in 2012, but he settled in at quarterback for the Wolverines, the last two seasons.

Now he’ll get to catch passes from another Michigan man, while learning to convert from a Kent State quarterback who did pretty well with it.

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Winston will have “every opportunity” to start Week One

Buccaneers AP

As expected, the Buccaneers made quarterback Jameis Winston the first pick in the 2015 NFL draft. As assumed, it appears he’ll be installed right away as the starter.

“It’s pretty difficult to say with a straight face that we’re not going to give Jameis that opportunity to win it right away,” G.M. Jason Licht told PFT Live on NBC Sports Radio on Friday. “He’s the first overall pick. We think he’s very advanced in terms of his ability to play and pick up schemes and concepts and learn the playbook relative to most rookies, or any rookie we’ve scouted in recent history. So he’s gonna have every opportunity.”

The team’s willingness to make him the Week One starter (against the Titans and, most likely, No. 2 overall pick Marcus Mariota) becomes even more obvious when considering the strong conviction Licht and coach Lovie Smith developed regarding Winston. Peter King of TheMMQB.com recently detailed the team’s thought processes regarding the former Florida State quarterback.

Licht had his eyes on Winston a year ago, when the draft-day quarterback debate focused on Johnny Manziel and Teddy Bridgewater. By the Rose Bowl, even though Oregon blew out Florida State and Winston had a Garo Yepremian moment, Licht and Smith knew Winston was their guy.

And so they embarked on doing their homework regarding Winston’s off-field issues, a process that potentially was skewed by the joint desire of Licht and Smith to select Winston with the first overall pick that was secured over Tennessee in part by the decision to bench key players during the second half of a Week 17 game against the Saints.

King raised the question of potential confirmation bias with Licht, who denied that the team found what it wanted to find and ultimately concluded what it wanted to conclude with Winston

“This was a thorough investigation,” Licht said. “We were not going to mistake charisma for character.”

While most of Winston’s incidents that can be attributed to being young and rambunctious (at best) or entitled (at worst), the sexual assault allegation carries the greatest concern.  But the Bucs didn’t interview his accuser, Erica Kinsman.  Last month, she filed a civil lawsuit against Winston.

“That was investigated three times,” Smith told King. “No charges were filed. I understand something happened. But when do you get to the point where you say, ‘We have to let the courts decide, and we abide by their ruling?’ They did not charge Jameis with anything. And at that point, I am going to make the judgment that I am not going to hold this incident against him.”

There’s another ruling to be made, however. And this one will turn on a much lower standard of proof. Ultimately, if a jury accepts Kinsman’s story over Winston’s, her version will prevail.

Regarding the question of getting the facts/allegations directly from Kinsman before the draft, the Bucs were in a no-win situation. If they’d interviewed her and drafted Winston anyway, her lawyers undoubtedly would have issued a press release on Friday morning expressing confusion and outrage at the team’s decision to disregard her explanation.

Either way, that portion of Winston’s off-field portfolio has a long way to go, with Kinsman and Winston inevitably giving depositions with starkly conflicting versions of the events and — barring a settlement — both of them testifying in open court at a trial.

Absent a settlement that Winston’s camp vows won’t happen, the process will be at times a distraction for Winston and the Buccaneers. The outcome could potentially end up being a major distraction for the player and the team, especially if Winston loses and is required to pay a seven-figure judgment to Kinsman.

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Broncos waive Paul Cornick

St. Louis Rams v Denver Broncos Getty Images

The Broncos were busy when it came to acquiring offensive linemen in the last few days with two draft picks and four undrafted rookies joining the roster.

It’s not a big surprise that the Broncos would be adding new blockers with head coach Gary Kubiak installing a different style of offense than the team ran under John Fox and Adam Gase over the last three seasons. It’s also not surprising that all the new arrivals will lead to some departures from players who no longer fit the bill.

On Monday, the Broncos announced that they waived tackle Paul Cornick. Cornick spent two years on the Denver practice squad before landing a spot on the active roster for the 2014 season. Cornick played 12 games last year and made six starts on the right side of the offensive line in the middle of the season as the team shuffled their options in hopes of finding an effective unit.

Fox and Gase are now in Chicago, which could offer Cornick a landing spot as a free agent if the team is looking to increase their depth options up front on offense. The Broncos also waived wide receiver Jeremy Kelley on Monday.

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Carson Palmer was on field with Cardinals on Monday

Arizona Cardinals v Dallas Cowboys Getty Images

The Cardinals started the second phase of their offseason workouts on Monday, which means that they are permitted to start running plays on the field without helmets or pads.

Among the Cardinals doing that with the first team was quarterback Carson Palmer, who took part in all of the team’s drills in his first practice work since tearing his ACL last season. Palmer said it was hard to remain patient during his rehab, especially since he feels like he has to “start over from scratch” mechanically as a result of the injury.

“I’m always competing against other quarterbacks in the league in my head, and there are a lot of guys not coming off injuries,” Palmer said, via the team’s website. “I have to work that much harder, spend that much more time on it. But that part’s easy for me. I like the work. I like the feeling I have when I go home, just knowing, ‘Man, I’m done. I couldn’t have done any more reps today. I don’t even want my kids to tackle me when I walk in the door today because I’m so tired.’ I enjoy that feeling. That part’s not an issue for me.”

Palmer will have some limitations when the team starts their OTA work, but all signs point to a full return for training camp that puts Palmer on track for a long-awaited return to the starting lineup.

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Steelers line coach admits he was “spoiled” by his stability

Ravens quarterback Flacco  throws despite pass pressure by the Steelers Cameron Heyward during their NFL football game in Baltimore Reuters

The Steelers have needed to get younger on defense for some time.

But having such a veteran core also has obvious benefits, though Steelers defensive line coach John Mitchell admits he was “spoiled.”

Having the trio of Aaron Smith, Casey Hampton and Brett Keisel for so long was the foundation of a very good defense for a very long time, which isn’t lost on them as they rebuild.

You are talking about fans and other people — I was spoiled,” Mitchell said, via Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “How often do you get a Casey Hampton, Brett Keisel, and Aaron Smith who play for you for 10 or more years? I was spoiled.

“It made my job very easy. I was spoiled. That doesn’t happen. You guys write about sports. How many teams can you write about that had three guys that played that well for that long of a period of time year in and year out? It made my job easy.”

The end of that era was final in March, when Keisel was released. They continued on the rebuild by using a sixth-rounder on Leterrius Walton from Central Michigan, to go with 2014 draft picks Stephon Tuitt and Daniel McCullers, along with Cam Heyward and Steve McLendon.

“I’m looking for that. I think we are going to have that here again,” Mitchell said. “We are still a little young. Cam Heyward is going to be a heck of a football player. I think Tuitt’s best football is ahead of him. I think Steven McLendon is a guy that stayed in here, worked hard day in and day out. We cut him about four times. He had a never-say-never attitude.

“I think the same thing with Dan McCullers. . . . He’s in great shape right now, he understands what we are going to do and he’s here. I’m excited about this football team. I’m excited about the defensive line.”

It might not be a group that spoils him the way his old group did, but it had become clear the time for change had come.

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Joe Barksdale works out for Falcons

Dallas Cowboys v St. Louis Rams Getty Images

The Falcons added one tackle to the roster in the draft and it looks like they have thoughts of adding some more experienced help to their offensive line as well.

Field Yates of ESPN.com reports that the team had veteran tackle Joe Barksdale in for a workout. Barksdale has started 29 games as a right tackle for the Rams over the last two years and represents a potential upgrade over Atlanta’s incumbent at the position Ryan Schraeder.

Barksdale has drawn interest from the Titans and he’s also been linked to a return to the Rams, something St. Louis coach Jeff Fisher said remained a possibility when he spoke to the media during the draft. That hasn’t led to a deal, though, and the trip to Atlanta could result in an improved offer from the Rams if they think the Falcons will wind up signing him away in the coming days.

The Falcons drafted tackle Jake Rodgers in the seventh round last Saturday and signed Mike Person as a free agent, but things have otherwise been quiet on the acquisition front on Atlanta’s offensive line.

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