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Breaking from childhood friends easier said than done

Allen Getty Images

Colts tight end Dwayne Allen drew rave reviews last week for his frank warning to this year’s rookies regarding the dangers of not separating from pre-NFL friends who could get the rookies in to trouble.

While Allen makes plenty of sense, it’s far from easy for a pro athlete to turn his back on the people he knows and trusts.

Warts or not, a pro athlete’s friends often trace back to the days long before fame and money arrived at the front door.  They’ve been there through the good times and bad, and the athlete usually has a strong emotional attachment to them.

“A lot of people are afraid of the words, ‘Oh man, you different,'” Allen told the rookies.  And Allen is right, because those words typically are a sign that the friendship is in jeopardy.  Most people don’t want to lose friendships they value, and they don’t want to create the impression that they’ve abandoned people they love like brothers.

Making things even harder for a pro athlete who decides to sever ties with his childhood friends is the prospect of replacing them when fame and money may attract new friends who don’t really care about the player, but who want to sit in the splash zone of the money and the fame.

Then there’s the fact that rookies are still kids, in many ways.  Naive, gullible, inexperienced kids.  Telling them to abandon their friends is like telling them to ditch their families.

For plenty of  players, friends and family are intertwined, making it even harder to get away.

Ultimately, there’s a fine line between an athlete protecting himself and behaving selfishly.  Players whose childhood friends could be bad influences basically need to be selfish enough to tolerate being accused of selfishness, and sufficiently cold hearted to walk away from people they care about.

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Browns say Brian Hoyer will start, Johnny Manziel will sit

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Brian Hoyer is the Browns’ starting quarterback.

Browns coach Mike Pettine announced this morning that Hoyer will start the Week One game against the Steelers, and Johnny Manziel will be the backup.

“He was the clear leader from the beginning,” Pettine said of Hoyer. “We’ve maintained all along that if it was close, I would prefer to go with the more experienced player. Brian has done a great job in the meeting rooms and with his teammates on the practice field and in the locker room.”

Neither Hoyer nor Manziel has played particularly well in the preseason, but Pettine suggested that Hoyer is the safer, more stable pick.

“I think Brian’s been very poised,” Pettine said. “I think he’s handled the situation well. He’s had a lot of things going on.”

Manziel may be the Browns’ quarterback of the future, but he hasn’t done enough to prove he deserves to be the quarterback of the present. For right now, Hoyer is the quarterback of the Cleveland Browns.

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Von Miller: If I had to take my pick of 2011 draft class, I’d pick myself

Von Miller AP

There were several star players in the 2011 draft class, including Cam Newton, Von Miller, Patrick Peterson, A.J. Green, J.J. Watt and Richard Sherman.

That makes for an interesting barroom debate about which player you’d take first if you could have your pick of all the players selected that spring with the knowledge of how they’ve developed once they hit the NFL. Miller was the second pick in the draft, but the Broncos linebacker said Tuesday that he’d bump himself up a slot if he was given the chance to make such a selection.

“I spend a lot of time with myself, and I am most familiar with myself,” Miller said, via Mark Kiszla of the Denver Post. “If I had to make a pick, it would be me.”

Kiszla writes that Miller was laughing as he said it and it’s hardly a shock to hear a professional athlete express confidence in himself even if last year’s suspension and torn ACL make it difficult to see Miller as having provided the most return on investment from his selection.

With DeMarcus Ware now installed across from him, Miller could put up a strong counterargument to that this season and it would come at a very advantageous time. Like Watt, Miller is looking for a contract extension that boosts him to a bigger paycheck and a full return to form this year would be an excellent way to do that.

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Vikings coaches see value in keeping Christian Ponder

Christian Ponder AP

Apparently the Vikings have not been overwhelmed with trade offers for former first-rounder Christian Ponder.

So now they’re talking him up, and trying to salvage his value to their organization.

Clearly buried behind Matt Cassel and the latest savior Teddy Bridgewater, Ponder didn’t even play in Saturday’s preseason game against the Cardinals. But that doesn’t mean they don’t have a plan for him.

I don’t think there will be just two quarterbacks,” Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said, via Matt Vensel of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.

Offensive coordinator Norv Turner knows — after blowing through Brandon Weeden, Brian Hoyer and Jason Campbell last year in Cleveland — how quickly things can change.

“I was obviously very disappointed in the opening game the way our fans reacted to Christian because I think he’s done everything he can do,” Turner said. “He’s working his butt off. I think he’s a guy who is going to be valuable to our team.”

That value might not be tangible, but Ponder has at least handled this the right way, and hasn’t turned into a distraction such that they’ll be glad to get rid of him. And while his prospects are dim, he did lead (or handed them off) them to the playoffs two years ago, so they may be hoping they can find that spark of acceptability again.

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Odell Beckham says no setback with hamstring, but he won’t play this week

Odell Beckham AP

Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham missed practice on Tuesday, keeping his string of not completing a full training camp practice alive.

After the session, Beckham and the Giants said that the wide receivers injured hamstring was sore but they insisted that he didn’t suffer a setback in his recovery from the initial injury. He has, however, been ruled out

“We have progressively built up my workload. I was sore this morning, and I didn’t work today because we didn’t want a setback, and I don’t consider this a setback. I see it as another step in getting back to full strength,” Beckham said, via the team’s website.

Coach Tom Coughlin said something similar regarding it not being a setback, although Beckham was making progress toward his preseason debut after returning to practice in a limited fashion last week so it seems like a setback to have that taken off the table. Semantic quibbles aside, Beckham’s extended absence seems certain to have a negative impact on what he’s able to do during his rookie season even if he’s healed up in time to join the team for the start of the regular season. For a team with a scuffling offense, that’s not good news however you choose to frame it.

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Joe Flacco on Johnny Manziel: I think we’ve all seen the middle finger before

Johnny Manziel AP

Titans safety Bernard Pollard’s sensibilities were offended by Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel unleashing his middle finger at the Redskins bench during Monday night’s game, but one of Pollard’s former teammates with the Ravens thinks Pollard and other critics of Manziel’s gesture are making much ado about nothing.

Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco said he has flashed the offending digit over the course of his career, including at Terrell Suggs during a recent practice, because people react emotionally when they’re hearing trash talk on the field. While Flacco says “you want to limit to the point where no one else sees it,” he also thinks that those expressing outrage about Manziel’s gesture should take a deep breath.

“I think we’ve all seen the middle finger before,” Flacco said, via “We should get over it.”

Manziel’s use of the finger would have been a story regardless of how he played against Washington and there’s no doubt that a quarterback has to keep his composure under fire, but the reaction would have been a lot less intense if Manziel had played well during the game. Then the majority of the discussion would have been on giving Manziel the starting job, which suggests that Manziel’s immediate focus should be on performing better rather than questions of on-field decorum.

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Panthers settle on Byron Bell as their new left tackle

Byron Bell AP

The Panthers appear to have settled their most pressing preseason competition, and head coach Ron Rivera might have picked up a little French this summer.

According to Bill Voth of Black and Blue Review, Byron Bell has distanced himself from the competition, and made the left tackle job his own.

“He’s done such a good job. I’m going to say it; it’s a fait accompli,” Rivera said. “He and I will sit down and have a conversation about it. I’m going to sit down and talk with the coaches and make sure we’re all set, confident and comfortable.”

Comfortable might be a relative term, since that position was manned by the rock steady Jordan Gross for the last decade. But as shaky as Bell looked on the right (where he started the last three years), he seems more comfortable himself on the left.

“He’s done some things on the left side that he didn’t do on the right side that have been impressive,” Rivera said. “But the biggest thing we keep forgetting is, he’s a natural left-hander.

“His punch is a lot better, and his first step is a little bit better. Again that’s because he’s working off his left side. Having seen that, I have confidence that he can do the job for us.”

Now all the Panthers have to do is find a right tackle. They began looking at converted defensive tackle Nate Chandler there, but he’s struggled with a knee problem and has looked mostly like a guard in his time there. They subbed in always injured Garry Williams there last week, and Williams might end up winning that job if Chandler can’t get well and improve.

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Tony Gonzalez: Temptation will be there if a contender calls during season

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Tony Gonzalez has taken a job with CBS for the coming season and he’s making the transition from being on the field to being in the studio.

He’s making big predictions for 2014, including a possible undefeated season for the Broncos and a victory for Denver in a Super Bowl rematch, but none of them include a return to playing at the moment. Gonzalez said that he’s already heard from teams interested in a comeback and said no while acknowledging that it would be more difficult to turn down overtures from a contender during the season.

“The temptation would be there, but I don’t know what the gain would be,” Gonzalez said, via Newsday. “I’ve always wanted a ring. That’s been my main goal as a player over the last 15 years of my career. You’re really trying to get that ultimate goal. But I’d be a mercenary to come in and get a Super Bowl ring, play with a team for, what, six, seven weeks? And even if I got the ring, it wouldn’t be the same as going through the fight with the team from the beginning to the end. I don’t think that will happen. The temptation will be there, but I’m 100 percent happy with my decision.”

Gonzalez says he wouldn’t want to go back on his “good luck” to retire on his own terms, although nothing he said will stop teams from making a call to see if Gonzalez feels differently in a couple of months. It seems like a long shot that there will be any change, but the opportunity to increase your chances of winning a Super Bowl can lead teams to try such shots.

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Peyton Manning thought the Broncos “stunk” against Texans

Peyton Manning AP

Listening to Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning yesterday, you’d think his teammates tried to buy Gatorade without breaking a sweat.

Manning was not pleased with the way his team worked during their joint practice with the Texans, and made that clear afterward.

I thought our offense stunk today. I thought their defense kicked our butt,” Manning said, via Troy Renck of the Denver Post. “We will learn from the film, and hopefully we come out tomorrow and do a better job from a players standpoint and execute.”

(You can hear Broncos coach John Fox’s opinion by tuning into to the Dan Patrick Show at 9:30 a.m. ET, since our own Mike Florio’s hosting this week. Steal us something good, Mike.)

Manning said the Texans defense “kicked our butt,” in the shorts-and-shells practice.

Asked what upset him, Manning replied: “”Were you watching? Bad.”

“I kind of call it like I see it,” he said. “When you have a pretty below-average practice, you have to call it a below-average practice. I think this team does a good job of being even-keeled. I don’t think we are overexcited about beating a San Francisco team that didn’t blitz us one time and played a vanilla scheme. I think we have a humble attitude about what we have done so far.”

Maintaining that kind of edge, and keeping that kind of perfection in front of him is what drives Manning. And he’s not going to hold his teammates to a different standard.

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Kaepernick’s 2013 foot injury was more serious than he let on

Kaepernick Getty Images

For much of last season, Colin Kaepernick’s foot put him on the 49ers’ injury report. But Kaepernick always played through it, and he said at the time that it wasn’t a big deal, joking that it was just a hangnail. Now Kaepernick says it was much more serious than that.

In fact, Kaepernick told the Sacramento Bee that he actually suffered a chipped bone on his forefoot and a ruptured capsule in the ball of his foot during a Week Two game against the Seahawks. Kaepernick said that slowed him down for most of the rest of the season.

“It was something that was always there,” he said. “Never spoke about it, never said anything about it because you’re a football player; you play through pain. Unless you’re being carted off, you should be on the field. If it’s something you can play through, that’s what you do.”

Kaepernick said he views the injury as just part of football.

“I think that’s the kind of players we have on this team: You’re not going to let something that’s minor, that’s not a true injury, keep you off of the field,” he said. “You’re going to hurt, yes. You’re going to have tweaks and problems. But you’re a football player; you can play through those.”

Kaepernicke played through the injury last year, and played well.

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Wednesday morning one-liners

NFC Championship - San Francisco 49ers v Seattle Seahawks Getty Images

Said Bills DT Marcell Dareus of the team’s response to his off-field problems, “It’s been great. The team has been so supportive. The coach has been outstanding. This is a great atmosphere to be around.”

Dolphins coach Joe Philbin says his team needs to block better.

Patriots coach Bill Belichick shared some thoughts about the NFL expanding practice squads.

Here’s the Jets’ guide for fans attending this week’s preseason game.

Ravens QB Joe Flacco says critics of Browns QB Johnny Manziel should “get over it.”

Among Manziel’s critics is former Bengals QB Boomer Esiason.

In the Bengals’ weight room, the most important exercise is the squat.

Said Steelers G.M. Kevin Colbert of experimenting with cameras in players’ helmets, “When we tape football, we do it from an end zone, the sideline and a high angle, and none of that is what a player sees. To be able to tell a quarterback where he should be, to be able to show a defense what an offense looks like at ground level would be great. That would be more realistic.”

The Texans’ defense made things difficult for Peyton Manning during a joint practice with the Broncos.

Colts coach Chuck Pagano says his defense is better now than it’s been at any point in the last two years.

The Jaguars may put QB Ricky Stanzi on the practice squad.

The Titans want to put more pressure on opposing quarterbacks.

The Broncos’ website says LT Ryan Clady handled Jadeveon Clowneywith relative ease” in the joint practice with the Texans.

Chiefs RBs Knile Davis and Cyrus Gray got a chance to show what they can do while Jamaal Charles was held out of practice.

The Raiders are still waiting on CB D.J. Hayden to get healthy.

Chargers CB Jason Verrett is getting healthy at the right time.

Cowboys QB Brandon Weeden is still viewed as a work in progress.

Giants WR Marcus Harris is standing out in training camp.

Training like Navy SEALs has made a difference for the Eagles.

Washington special teams coach Ben Kotwica draws on his military experience in his coaching.

The Bears think former first-round pick Shea McClellin is making strides after changing positions.

Said Lions coach Jim Caldwell of WR Calvin Johnson missing the first two preseason games, “I know he’s been itching to get in. Maybe the humblest individual that I’ve ever been around, and not only that, maybe the hardest worker. He’s a tremendous person, and he’s just tireless in terms of his efforts to get on the field and help his team.”

The Packers expect Julius Peppers to improve the run defense in addition to rushing the quarterback.

Former Vikings QB Todd Bouman is making an impression in his new career in coaching.

Falcons DT Corey Peters says he battled depression after suffering an Achilles injury last year.

Panthers S Anderson Russell is working to make a name for himself.

Here’s a look at some of the Saints’ female fans.

The Buccaneers’ offensive line seems to be making progress, but there’s plenty of work left to do.

Said Cardinals K Jay Feely of another training camp at age 38, “I’m grateful that I get another opportunity. I’m going to out there and keep getting better and get ready for September. That’s always my focus. I could care less how I kick in June; I’m always focused on the beginning of the season — that first game of the season.”

The Rams have Greg Robinson working double duty on the offensive line.

Said 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick of the team’s needs on offense, “Establish a rhythm. I think that’s the biggest thing we need to do right now.”

Erin Andrews regrets the abrupt way she ended her infamous interview with Seahawks CB Richard Sherman.

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Larry Fitzgerald says Cardinals must overcome injury to Darnell Dockett

Larry Fitzgerald AP

In the NFL, injuries are an unavoidable occurrence.

No matter how lucky a team gets on the injury front in a given year, they are bound to lose someone to injury at some point during the season.

The Arizona Cardinals lost defensive lineman Darnell Dockett to a torn ACL this week. Dockett has been a stalwart of Arizona’s defense for years and his loss will create a sizable void to be filled this season.

Receiver Larry Fitzgerald said it’s something the Cardinals still must be able to overcome.

“It’s something that happens far too often in our game and teams have to weather it,” Fitzgerald said, via “The Drive” on FOX Sports 910 in Phoenix. “Coach [Bruce] Arians talked about it yesterday in our night meeting that no team has even won a Super Bowl that starts the season with the same 11 or 22 guys that finish the season when they win the Super Bowl. Even when we made our Super Bowl run, there are guys that went down, there was guys that stepped up to the plate and we’re going to need guys to come in and perform and fill those big shoes that he’s leaving.”

The Cardinals defense was among the league’s best last season. Arizona ranked 6th in total defense and kept the Cardinals in every game they played over the final three months of the season.

If it was just the loss of Dockett, the Cardinals may have very well been able to overcome his injury. However, Arizona has also lost linebackers Karlos Dansby to the Cleveland Browns and Daryl Washington to suspension. Replacing that many pieces may be too much for the Cardinals to overcome.

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Malcolm Smith returns to Seahawks practice, makes one-handed INT for touchdown

Malcolm Smith AP

It was a good day back on the job for reigning Super Bowl MVP Malcolm Smith.

Smith missed all offseason workouts and the start of training camp for the Seattle Seahawks after having ankle surgery this spring. After a limited workload in his first practice on Monday, Smith was ramped up to full participation in practice on Tuesday. It didn’t take long for Smith to flash the form with which he finished the 2013 season.

Smith perfectly positioned himself in the throwing lane of quarterback Tarvaris Jackson and made a leaping one-handed interception that he returned 60 yards for a touchdown.

Safety Earl Thomas, linebacker K.J. Wright and other members of the Seahawks defense chased Smith into the endzone with shouts of “MVP! MVP!” trailing him for the score.

“Hopefully keep it rolling,” Smith said. “I don’t think one practice will do it all but just trying to stack some good days together.”

Smith became a key contributor on Seattle’s defense last season and became indispensable late in the year. Smith had four interceptions in the final five games the Seahawks played. His interception of a tipped pass by Richard Sherman for Michael Crabtree sealed the NFC Championship for Seattle, while his 69-yard interception of Peyton Manning and fumble recovery of Demaryius Thomas in the Super Bowl helped earn him most-valuable player honors.

Seattle has been without three of their top four linebackers for the majority of training camp. Smith is the first to return with Bruce Irvin and Bobby Wagner both expected back in the next couple weeks. Wagner and Irvin could both return to practice as soon as next week.

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Browns should have made Manziel the starter from Day One

Manziel AP

In an effort to not create a monster, the Browns may have made a mess.

Two years ago, Washington immediately installed quarterback Robert Griffin III as the team’s starter.  And Griffin, who instantly rose to superstardom in D.C., ended up being not quite as coachable as former offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan may have wanted.

With Shanahan now in Cleveland and the Browns taking the biggest celebrity quarterback in this year’s draft, the Browns may have consciously opted to do the opposite, humbling Johnny Manziel in the hopes that, as he earns the job, he’ll learn to listen to an offensive coordinator with a reputation for wanting the offense to be run the way he wants it.  Indeed, Coach Mike Pettine hinted at a desire to avoid Manziel Mania when defending in June the team’s decision not to install Manziel immediately as the starter.

“When people criticize how we handled it, what’s the alternative?” Pettine told USA Today at the time.  “Would it have been more prudent for us the night we drafted him to name him the starter?  And have him come in here and let the media have access to him every day and have a huge press conference for him?  Handle him that way?”

Time has shown that it doesn’t matter whether Manziel is the starter or merely competing for the job.  Media interest attaches naturally to his name, especially with the quarterback decision nudging toward a regular-season decision that hardly will be final.

And if the Browns opted to use a quarterback competition to humble Manziel, the splitting of first-team reps during practice and regular-season games has made it harder for Manziel or Brian Hoyer to be as prepared as the starter would be if the starter had been named right out of the gates.

Surely, it would have been Manziel.  Otherwise, the Browns wouldn’t have traded up from No. 26 to No. 22 to add a quarterback.  They would have opted to ride with Hoyer and use the pick on someone who could help the team at another position.

By trading up for Manziel, the Browns made their choice.  By not following through with it, the Browns have made it harder for Manziel to be ready for the job that they’d hoped to hand him as of Week One.  Now, they may have to go with an equally unprepared Brian Hoyer and hope he doesn’t play so well that it becomes impossible to use Manziel at any point in 2014, or to start 2015.

Browns fans know that dynamic all too well from seven years ago, when Derek Anderson made it impossible to use Brady Quinn in 2007, setting the stage for a controversy in 2008 from which the team still hasn’t fully recovered.

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Panthers trade RB Kenjon Barner to Eagles

Kenjon Barner AP

The Eagles have added a tailback who shouldn’t need much time to pick up Chip Kelly’s offense.

The club announced Tuesday night it had acquired Panthers running back Kenjon Barner for a conditional 2015 seventh-round pick.

The 25-year-old Barner played collegiately at Oregon under Kelly, rushing for 3,623 yards and 41 touchdowns. A 2013 sixth-round pick of the Panthers, Barner appeared in eight games as a rookie, rushing six times for seven yards, catching two passes for seven yards and returning two kickoffs for 17 yards.

“Kenjon will hopefully bring some depth to both our running back and return positions,” Eagles coach Chip Kelly said in a team-issued statement Tuesday night. “He’s obviously a guy I know really well from Oregon, where he had a very productive career. He has a lot of speed, explosiveness and had a knack for making some really big plays. But our plan with him right now is get him in Philadelphia as soon as we can and plug him in at running back and returner and let him compete.”

Barner’s addition gives the Eagles seven tailbacks. He’ll vie for a reserve role in the Philadelphia backfield. Darren Sproles, Chris Polk, Matthew Tucker, Henry Josey and David Fluellen are the other options behind starter LeSean McCoy. Polk is dealing with a hamstring injury.

Eagles rookie Josh Huff, who’s listed as the club’s second-team kickoff returner, will miss the Eagles’ third preseason game with a shoulder injury, which could lead to Barner getting some special teams work in his Philadelphia debut.

The Panthers, meanwhile, are left with just four tailbacks: DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart, Fozzy Whittaker and Darrin Reaves. However, fullback Mike Tolbert will also see some carries.

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Fairley squarley a second-stinger in Detroit

Fairley AP

The Lions opted not to pick up the fifth-year option on defensive tackle Nick Fairley’s rookie contract in order to give him extra incentive in what became a contract year.

So far, it hasn’t worked.

As coach Jim Caldwell recently explained, Fairley has officially become a second-team player, backing up C.J. Mosley, who now is the starter alongside Ndamukong Suh.  But that could still change.

“If you’re asking me whether or not Fairley is going to be a starter, he’s not starting right now,” Caldwell said, via  “He’s second team. . . .  But the rest of it, we’ll look.  It’s a long week.  We’ve got a lot of work to do in between and typically like most games, we’ll take a look at where we are and make an assessment on that toward the end of the week.”

In other words, if Fairley finally reaches the potential that made him a first-round draft choice on a consistent basis, he’ll return to the starting lineup.  If chasing a new contract won’t flip that switch, nothing ever will.

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