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Falcons testing young corners every day

Falcons Football AP

The Falcons went from having an experienced and expensive secondary to a younger and cheaper one.

And how those kids hold up will determine in part whether or how much the Falcons improve as a defense.

Last year, the Falcons went with the veteran trio Brent Grimes, Dunta Robinson and Asante Samuel and the paychecks that went with them. Only Samuel remains of the trio of veteran corners.

The Falcons used their first two picks this year on cornerbacks Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford, and they’re going to test them early.

“I think our two corners, they’ve got the skill-sets to be very good players for us,” Falcons coach Mike Smith said, via the team’s official website. “They’re going to get a chance to get lots of reps early on in the preseason.”

Of course, the biggest tests they’ll get might come in practice. Working against wide receivers Julio Jones and Roddy White will represent as tough an assignment as they’ll see anywhere else.

“It’s a learning lesson each time they go against them,” Smith said.

Both the rookies are rotating reps with the first defense. Samuel and Robert McClain are also getting looks, but if the Falcons can trust the kids through the week, they should be able to hold up on Sundays.

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Texans look to be the choice for Hard Knocks

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Their head coach may not want it, but he’s apparently going to get it.

With all signs pointing to the Texans being the team that serves as the focal point for Hard Knocks in 2015, John McClain of the Houston Chronicle says via Twitter that he expects the Texans to officially get the assignment.

Coach Bill O’Brien, who comes from the Bill Belichick School of Absolute and Total Secrecy, probably isn’t happy about it. And as McClain noted during a Tuesday visit to PFT Live on NBC Sports Radio, O’Brien may have to watch his language with the NFL Films microphones littering the practice field. (Then again, that didn’t affect Rex Ryan.)

The Texans may not be the most popular choice, but they’ll have some intriguing story lines, including a quarterback competition, a star running back who has a history of being standoffish and obtuse with the local media, one of the very best defensive players in the game, and a No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 draft who is trying to regain his form after microfracture surgery. Plus, profane or not, O’Brien likely will be an engaging, entertaining, and compelling figure.

So while NFL Films and HBO could have done better, they also could have done a lot worse. The fact that they’ll be doing this year’s show with a team whose coach likely would have preferred to pass the baton suggests that maybe more teams coached by men who would be inclined to find a way out of the assignment will accept the fact that, eventually, every team will be doing it.

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FIFA indictments are a warning to other sports leagues, including NFL

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After years of being widely regarded as a thoroughly corrupt organization, the international body that runs the sport of soccer has been targeted aggressively by the U.S. government.

“Two generations of soccer officials abused their positions of trust for personal gain,” the U.S. Department of Justice said in a press release, “frequently through an alliance with unscrupulous sports marketing executives who shut out competitors and kept highly lucrative contracts for themselves through the systematic payment of bribes and kickbacks.”

Regardless of how this plays out for the nine FIFA executives who have been indicted and for FIFA president Sepp Blatter, who has not been indicted yet but could be once the nine indicted FIFA executives begin clamoring to cut deals with prosecutors, it’s a warning to every other sports league, including the NFL. If you become big enough and sufficiently controversial and notorious, the feds eventually will start poking around your business. And your business had better be in proper order, or the feds will keep poking around your business until there’s enough evidence to begin to present facts about your business to a grand jury.

Let’s be clear on this. There’s no specific reason to believe that the NFL or anyone connected to it currently is doing anything that would attract a full-blown federal prosecution. But enough issues and problems have arisen in recent months and years to possibly spark general curiosity regarding whether a crime or two may be lurking behind certain aspects of the NFL’s great fortune.

During his recent appearing on ESPN’s Outside the Lines, former federal prosecutor turned NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith pointed out the difference in treatment experienced by players who get in trouble and by owners who get in trouble.

“You have the cases of Mr. Irsay, where somebody unfortunately overdosed to death in his house, you have the case involving the owner in Cleveland where the business that he was connected with was found to be in violation of federal law, and you have the case of the [Wilfs] where a state court judge ruled that the owners of the Minnesota Vikings engaged in fraud,” Smith said. “One one hand you have a Commissioner who was overturned three times” in disciplining Saints players for the bounty scandal, Ray Rice, and Adrian Peterson, “and on the other hand you have a Commissioner who has looked the other way three times.”

In recent years, Congress has become the political body most commonly mentioned as potentially inclined to not look the other way when an NFL controversy goes mainstream. But the work of Congress typically occurs in public. Privately, prosecutors can scratch the surface and peel the onion and systematically compile the evidence that may or may not ever lead to an affirmative attack on what has become a very large American target.

Again, there’s no specific reason to believe that the NFL or anyone connected to it currently is doing anything that would attract a full-blown federal prosecution. But the FIFA case should serve as a warning to all sports leagues that the smoke of perceived incompetence could result in someone with subpoena power choosing to search for the fire of actual corruption.

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Mariota showing off his speed at Titans’ OTAs

Mariota AP

Titans rookie quarterback Marcus Mariota is making an impression at Organized Team Activities. Not with his arm so much as with his feet.

After practicing against Mariota for the first time, Titans linebacker Zach Brown was surprised by what he saw.

He is faster than I thought,” Brown told the Tennessean. “He is an athletic quarterback. He didn’t win the Heisman for nothing. One time he took off – I was guarding Delanie [Walker] – and I turned around and I was like, ‘Where is he?’ He is fast. He impressed me. He is still a rookie and he has to learn, but he is a cool guy. I haven’t seen him get frustrated yet.”

Brown, who ran track at North Carolina, is one of the NFL’s fastest linebackers. He knows speed when he sees it. And he’s impressed with the speed displayed by Mariota.

Still, Titans coach Ken Whisenhunt cautions that it’s way too early to get overly excited about Mariota.

“It’s a process. That’s why you want to give him as many reps as you can, to get him more comfortable, get him prepared,” Whisenhunt said. “I guess the best assessment would be some good, some bad, probably probably what you’d expect.”

It’s nice that Mariota has impressed as a runner, but Whisenhunt will only be happy when Mariota impresses as a passer.

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Derek Carr taking snaps, but isn’t throwing

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Raiders quarterback Derek Carr was held out of last week’s practices because of a right ring finger injury that coach Jack Del Rio and Carr’s agent both suggested was a relatively minor concern.

Carr wasn’t a full participant in Tuesday’s practice, but he looks like he’s on the road to proving them correct. Carr didn’t throw the ball during the session, but handed it off while taking part in individual drills.

“Derek was able to take some snaps,” Del Rio said, via Scott Bair of CSNBayArea.com. “We’ll bring him along. Things with him are progressing.”

Bair reports there’s “some hope” that Carr will resume throwing by next month’s minicamp and a stronger belief that all will be well for training camp, an outlook supported by the fact that the team is comfortable enough with Carr’s condition to have him on the field at all this week.

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Wednesday morning one-liners

NFL Draft Football AP

The Bills want to run as many plays as possible at OTAs.

Dolphins coach Joe Philbin wants to see how his players finish. (If they don’t finish in the playoffs, Philbin may be finished.)

Here’s a look at the Patriots’ rookie class.

The Jets hired seven new scouts.

Ex-Ravens DT Terrance Cody has an August court date on felony animal cruelty charges.

The Bengals demand versatility from their linebackers.

Browns coach Mike Pettine saw some sloppiness on the first day of OTAs.

Steelers RB Le’Veon Bell says he has no one to blame but himself for his suspension at the start of the season.

After canceling yesterday’s OTA due to severe weather, the Texans’ OTA schedule now features practices today and tomorrow, plus June 1-2, 4, 8-9 and 11-12.

Colts DT Art Jones says last season was “frustrating as hell.”

Jaguars coach Gus Bradley isn’t thrilled that DE Chris Clemons has chosen to skip voluntary offseason work.

There’s really no quarterback competition in Tennessee, where the job is Marcus Mariota’s.

Broncos offensive coordinator Rick Dennison loves the give and take with Peyton Manning.

Justin Houston is staying away from the Chiefs, but teammate Tamba Hali says they’re in touch.

Raiders rookie TE Clive Walford is standing out at OTAs.

In San Diego, Melvin Gordon is trying to get No. 25 from Darrell Stuckey.

Here’s a look at the top players on the Cowboys’ roster.

Tom Coughlin has shied away from joint practices in the past, but the Giants have agreed to hold one with the Bengals.

Did the Cowboys’ line make DeMarco Murray, and if so, what kind of player will he be in Philadelphia?

DeSean Jackson skipped OTAs to watch basketball.

Ex-Bear Marcus Spears is ripping his former team.

Lions backup QB Dan Orlovsky says RB Theo Riddick is too good not to put on the field.

Here are some of the questions facing the Packers at the start of OTAs.

What can the Vikings expect from rookie LB Eric Kendricks?

Falcons coach Dan Quinn is taking a hands-on approach to the team’s pass rush.

The Panthers want to see what they have from rookie WR Devin Funchess.

Saints rookie Hau’oli Kikaha was one of the best pass rushers in college football history.

Will the Glazers pony up to get Tampa a Super Bowl?

The Cardinals need their running game to take a step forward.

Former Rams G Davin Joseph and LB Will Herring remain unrestricted free agents, the only two players from the Rams’ free agent pool who haven’t signed contracts yet.

After 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick made a mess on social media on Tuesday, former Packers TE Tom Crabtree called him “#7tupid.”

There’s still no progress on a new contract for Seahawks QB Russell Wilson.

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Steelers putting an early emphasis on two-point conversions

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It might not be the biggest play they run this season, but it’s the first, and that might mean something.

When the Steelers opened the offensive team drill portions of yesterday’s OTAs, they didn’t start at the 20 as they normally do. They moved to the 2-yard line, where they practiced two-point conversions to begin the day’s work.

“Coach told me we were going to do it, and I was a little prepared for it,” quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said, via Mark Kaboly of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “It was a little surprising knowing that we haven’t put in red zone yet and they haven’t put in red-zone defense yet. That’s going to be a big part of the game now: teams consciously going for two or at least debating it.”

Tomlin talked to his players about it before the drill, but didn’t expound afterward, saying: “We are not going to talk about it. We are just going to do it.”

With extra point attempts moved back to the 15, there will be more incentive for teams to go for two. But while many coaches will stick with the routines that they’re used to, some coaches will be more daring.

Tomlin’s 10-of-13 on two-pointers as Steelers coach, making all four of their attempts last year. Since 2001, the Steelers have a league-best 72.7 percent conversion rate on two-pointers.

And with an offense that’s so prolific in every area of the field, getting some early work on the new plays only makes sense.

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DeVante Parker draws rave reviews for early OTA work

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With most of the NFL conducting OTA sessions on Tuesday, it was hard for any one player to stand out. Dolphins rookie receiver DeVante Parker did.

Praise popped up for Parker on Twitter throughout the team’s practice session. Afterward, quarterback Ryan Tannehill added his two cents.

DeVante was great today,” Tannehill said, via the team’s official website. “We’ve been seeing [it] for the past few weeks just working on air, but today against the defense you got to see him make some tough catches with defenders on his back in traffic, and that’s what you want to see. You’ve got a guy with a big body who’s able to make strong catches with his hands in traffic. That’s when you’re able to cut it loose.”

Via Omar Kelly and Chris Perkings of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, Parker was “catching everything thrown his way,” and he was “impressive” against veteran defenders like cornerback Brent Grimes.

Parker still has a long way to go before he’s making those plays in pads against full contact, and an even longer way to go before getting it done in games against guys like Darrelle Revis. But at a time when this is the closest thing to football we’ve seen since football season ended, it’s encouraging for Dolphins fans that they may have used the 14th overall pick in the draft on a player who is poised to become a difference maker — especially since they got him for a lot less than what they paid to get Ndamukong Suh.

It was also smart of the Dolphins to unload disgruntled wideout Mike Wallace onto the Vikings. If Minnesota hadn’t acquired him before the draft, the Vikings may have used pick No. 11 to reunite Parker with fellow former Louisville standout Teddy Bridgewater.

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Blake Bortles sees “big difference” after offseason work

Blake Bortles AP

Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles set out to refine his game this offseason by working with quarterback guru Tom House and others in California.

His tutors were pleased with the results of Bortles’s labor and the reviews from Jacksonville are positive as well. Tight end Marcedes Lewis said he noticed a positive change in Bortles’s footwork, coach Gus Bradley said “we’ve seen really good improvement” and Bortles is pleased with where his mechanics are after the offseason attention.

“To me, it’s a big difference,” Bortles said, via ESPN.com. “To the guys that I worked with it’s a big difference. It’s just more efficient. It’s better. It’s something when I was able to talk to [offensive coordinator Greg Olson] a while back, there were things we wanted to work on to fix. It was good because we were on the same page with things I was trying to fix anyways.”

Bradley also said that he “appreciates” the work Bortles put in on his own this offseason and it’s certainly a good development for the team that their 2014 first-rounder is doing what he can to improve his game. As always, though, the effort will have to be matched with execution for Bortles and the Jacksonville offense to take the strides necessary for a climb toward a winning record.

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Adrian Peterson set to show up, for Adrian Peterson Day

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Some things are just bigger than OTAs.

Vikings running back Adrian Peterson, who is staying away from the team’s practices, will make his first extended public appearance next month.

What’s the occasion? Well, none other than Adrian Peterson Day in his hometown of Palestine, Texas.

According to Chris Tomasson of the St. Paul Pioneer Press, Peterson is expected to attend the June 13 shindig, which has been held each year since 2007.

Adrian will be there; that’s the plan,” family friend Kenneth Abrams said. “It will be business as usual. We’re a small town [of about 18,000] and everybody supports him, but I think it will be bigger this year.”

Peterson’s not busy with OTAs, as he’s still exerting whatever leverage he has (not much) to get loose from the Vikings. But they’ve got no real reason to let him go, and don’t seem particularly interested in doing so.

So it might be worth checking out the parade at Adrian Peterson Day, just to see who sponsors a float.

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Bills giving all their quarterbacks chances with the ones

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As the Bills begin installing their revolutionary offense-without-a-quarterback, they’re going to let all the guys on the roster have some degree of a shot at running it.

According to Vic Carucci of the Buffalo News, the Bills split reps evenly among the four passers in OTAS Tuesday.

Matt Cassel and EJ Manuel each took snaps with the starters, while Tyrod Taylor and Jeff Tuel worked with the backups.

The Bills are working on two fields at the same time, a plan designed to create maximum repetitions during the preseason work. And they plan to rotate, with Manuel and Taylor working with the starters today, with Cassel and Tuel with the reserves.

“You just keep rotating your guys like that,” Ryan said. “So they’re all going to get to work with each other. It’s not that big a deal right now. But the big thing is you want to evaluate all your players, not just the first team or second team. You want everybody and to give guys fair chances and a lot of times, the cream will rise to the top and you’ll see something.

“Some guy will pop off the tape that maybe you weren’t so sure of, and now you feel pretty good about him. And then, likewise, you might have somebody that you think you were counting on that really isn’t showing up.”

Ryan, as is his custom, praised a lot of guys, and said Manuel showed flashes that belie the idea that he might be on the bubble.

“The thing that stands out to me, it appears that EJ is getting a pretty good grasp of this system,” Ryan said. “He’s believing in what he’s seeing and he’s letting it rip. And that’s kind of what you want from the guy.

“Know what you’re seeing, believe in it, be right and pull the trigger. Let it fly. And I think that’s what we’re trying to do with all of these quarterbacks. It seems like it was pretty sharp.”

The Bills already have a good defense, and they’ve collected a bunch of impressive parts on offense. But until or unless they can get baseline competent play from any of their quarterbacks, it might not matter.

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Raiders sign seventh-rounder Dexter McDonald

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The Raiders waited until the seventh round to add a cornerback in this year’s draft, but they won’t have to wait any longer to get Dexter McDonald under contract.

The team announced that they have agreed to a four-year deal with McDonald. McDonald is the eighth member of the team’s draft class to agree to a contract, leaving second-round defensive lineman Mario Edwards Jr. and third-round tight end Clive Walford as the only members of the group without deals.

At 6-1, McDonald looks the part at corner and he has 4.42 speed in the 40 to go with that size, but, as you could probably guess from his spot in the draft, the play he put on tape at Kansas wasn’t quite as appealing as his physical traits. There’s other examples of that in Oakland’s draft history, although taking a flier in the seventh round is far better than banking on athletic ability alone in the early rounds.

D.J. Hayden is going to be at one cornerback spot for the Raiders, but things are pretty open as you move down a depth chart that skews young.

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Dolphins like what they’re seeing from Ndamukong Suh

DAVIE, FL - MAY 26: Ndamukong Suh #93 of the Miami Dolphins takes a break between drills during the teams first OTA's on May 26, 2015 at the Miami Dolphins training facility in Davie, Florida. (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Dolphins haven’t seen much of Ndamukong Suh so far, as he skipped offseason conditioning work.

But after their first day with him on the field for OTAs, they’re feeling better about their $114 million investment.

Suh made a quick impression, showing his burst and spending plenty of time in the backfield, but also a few false starts in his first day of work with his teammates.

That’s what he does, right?” center Mike Pouncey said, via Adam Beasley of the Miami Herald. “That’s why they gave him all that money. … He’s coming off that ball full speed every play. He’s a guy who really uses the snap count to his advantage. He gets off the ball really fast, and that’s part of his game.”

Of course, he’s doing it all without the workouts within the team structure. He’s always chosen to work out on his own, and coach Joe Philbin said his new star “seems to be in pretty good shape.”

Suh wouldn’t talk about why he stayed away this spring, saying OTA attendance: “was automatic. I never miss practice.”

And when he got there, they were able to line him up next to Cameron Wake, giving the Dolphins a pair of explosive players to build a defense around.

“Whoever I line up next to, we always want to be somebody’s nightmare,” Suh said. “I’m a guy who’s always going to react, play off instincts. I think the best football players do that. I study the terminology in the classroom and when I’m at home. And, obviously, when I’m on the football field, if I hear something, I go with it. . . . Once I put my hand in the ground, it’s over.

“I was just going out there and playing as hard and as fast as I can. If I’m going to make mistakes, I’m going to do it full speed. Especially being in the backfield, if I make mistakes. That’s what I was brought here for. That’s the way I know how to play, that’s the way I’ve been playing the last five years.”

And now that they’ve finally gotten a chance to see it, the Dolphins are OK with that, too.

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Bryce Brown joins Bills practice

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Last week, Bills running backs coach Anthony Lynn said that he was concerned about running back Bryce Brown’s ability to catch up after missing the first weeks of the team’s offseason program while taking time to deal with family matters.

The message seems to have reached its target. Brown joined the Bills for Tuesday’s practice, which will give him a chance to jump into the scrum for spots behind LeSean McCoy on the team’s depth chart. With Fred Jackson, Anthony Dixon and rookie Karlos Williams all in the mix as well, it should be a spirited competition in Buffalo.

One player who hasn’t been swayed to get back to work with the team is guard Chris Williams. Williams, who started three games last year before hitting injured reserve with a back injury, hasn’t made a positive impression on coach Rex Ryan with his absence.

“I don’t know if he’s going to be planning on coming back or what; I haven’t seen him,” Ryan said. “I haven’t talked to him, I haven’t seen him. I don’t even know what he looks like. I know these are voluntary type things, so that’s fine. I don’t know if he’s better than all of the rest of these guys, because all the rest of them are here.”

The Bills aren’t settled on starters at guard, but Williams won’t be moving to the front of the class if he refuses to show up.

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LeBron’s guy Maverick Carter mentoring Johnny Manziel now

LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 5: Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel and Maverick Carter watch a game between the Miami Heat against the Los Angeles Clippers at Staples Center on February 5, 2014 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2014 NBAE (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images) Getty Images

LeBron James gave Cleveland a chance to celebrate last night, leading the Cavaliers to the NBA Finals with a cruise-control win over the Hawks.

But he’s providing another assist for the city’s football team as well.

As Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel tries to re-establish his career and life after a disastrous rookie year and stint in rehab, he’s enlisted the help of James’ consigliere, Maverick Carter.

He’s taken a big responsibility in making sure that Johnny’s doing all the right things,” Browns safety Donte Whitner said of Carter, via Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer. “[Manziel] has a mentor, somebody to talk to, certain things that he really didn’t have the ability [to do] or somebody to talk to before. It looks like it’s working out so far.”

Carter has been James’ longtime business partner/right-hand man, and given the close relationship between the two Cleveland celebrities, the link makes sense. Carter’s marketing firm LRMR represents Manziel, but the relationship runs deeper than that..

The two have been seen sitting court-side at Cavaliers playoff games, and spending time off the court with James, who has managed to become a global superstar without hitting the same potholes Manziel has.

Between Carter and Browns teammates Whitner and Joe Haden, there’s a support structure around Manziel now.

“We don’t really have to say anything,” Whitner said. “He’s been doing that any way. I remember last [year] they made a big fuss about Johnny being in Vegas for Memorial Day Weekend. Johnny was here in Cleveland for Memorial day weekend this year. So that’s another step that he’s taken.

“He understands that you can’t be in Vegas or Miami or any of these other places, you have to be here. If you have to come in a day or two extra for an hour or two per day, that’s what quarterbacks do. And no matter if you like it, you have to be here.”

Time and actions are what will fix things for Manziel now, but the fact he has a network in place to help him’s a solid step in that direction.

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Marqise Lee held out of practice with knee injury

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Jaguars wide receiver Marqise Lee had a hard time staying healthy during his rookie season and his second year isn’t getting off to a much better start.

Lee did not take part in the Jaguars’ first OTA session on Tuesday because of a knee injury he suffered during one of the team’s earlier workouts. After watching nagging injuries limit Lee last year, coach Gus Bradley said that the team would take a cautious route with the 2014 second-round pick.

“Marqise banged up his knee a little bit right in the middle of Phase Two,” Bradley said, via the Florida Times-Union. “He’s more day-to-day or week-to-week. I know he wants to get back here, but we’re being smart with him. We’ll see if he makes it back before the minicamp or not.”

In addition to injuries, Jaguars wide receiver coach Jerry Sullivan said recently that the team gave Lee too much too soon as a rookie. The knee injury will ensure that no one’s overloading Lee right now, although there’s not much substitute for the on-field work that Lee needs to do to grow as a player.

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