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Niners fear “slight fracture” in hand for Patrick Willis

Willis AP

The good news for the 49ers is that, per a league source, 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis feels fine after injuring his right hand during practice on Wednesday.  The bad news is that Willis nevertheless may have a “slight fracture” in his hand.

Willis will have an X-ray on Thursday, a development first reported by Matt Maiocco of

As Maiocco explains, Willis has suffered two fractures in his hand during his NFL career.

Linebacker NaVorro Bowman also missed a portion of Wednesday’s practice after sustaining a groin strain on Tuesday.

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Hard Knocks is coming, but does it really benefit a team?

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Many (including me) think the Jets broke the Hard Knocks mold in 2010, and that every year since then the show has been trying to live up to something that won’t be recaptured until another Rex Ryan-coached team enters the spotlight again.

Before the Texans were selected as this year’s Hard Knocks guinea pig, Ryan danced around the possibility for doing in his first year with the Bills what he did in his second year with the Jets. Maybe he was being uncharacteristically coy. Or maybe he now realizes that his team didn’t really benefit from the assignment.

As the Texans prepare for the first episode of their turn under the Hard Knocks microscope, that’s the biggest question: Does it really help?

The Dolphins thought it would help. And it didn’t.

“When I see Bill Belichick allowing the Hard Knocks cameras into his organization, then I’ll believe the experience might be a good thing for the team,” Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald tells Richard Deitsch of “I do not think it serves the teams and I do not think it helped the Dolphins. Indeed, it made multiple players upset with coaches when they heard how some coaches spoke about them in private. It created some embarrassment for the players and fostered some distrust of the coaches. This from what players told me.”

It also didn’t help the Dolphins from a strategic standpoint, given that one opponent said he picked up the Miami snap count from watching the show. That opponent’s name is J.J. Watt, whose Texans will risk having their snap count picked up by opponents who watch this year’s show.

The late Steve Sabol, who like his father, Ed, should be in the Hall of Fame, routinely defended the Hard Knocks approach by pointing out that former Packers coach Vince Lombardi loved it when cameras were at practice, because it made his guys go at it harder. Steve Sabol said on many occasions that Lombardi would direct the NFL Films crews to pretend they were shooting practice even when the cameras didn’t have film in them.

But it’s one thing for a snippet or a sound bite to be edited into a broader package that would show up weeks if not months after the fact through a rabbit-eared TV set that had no way to record the information. Today, every frame and every can be captured and dissected.

From the perspective of fans, the scenes that get dissected the most involve the termination of a player’s employment. During the otherwise forgettable 2012 version of the show, the only memorable moments involved coach Joe Philbin cutting receiver Chad Ochocinco and G.M. Jeff Ireland telling cornerback Vontae Davis he’d been traded to the Colts.

The following May, Commissioner Roger Goodell said the league wants to make the process of cutting players more “humane.” The best place to start would be to not put those moments on HBO every year.

That’s why some teams will never do it, at least not willingly. Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said in 2013 that he’d fight a Hard Knocks assignment “tooth and nail.”

I think it’s a total distraction, and I think it’s an embarrassment to players,” Arians said at the time.  “I think when players are released, some of the things that are said between coaches and players are too personal, and nobody else’s business.”

There’s another potential drawback that I hadn’t previously considered. The special access given to Hard Knocks potentially undermines the important relationship between the team and the non-league-or-team-owned media that covers it.

“I’ve watched every Hard Knocks for the exact reason I didn’t want the series showing the team I cover: They get access I don’t, so they get storylines I don’t get,” John McClain of the Houston Chronicle tells Deitsch. “They get information I don’t have a chance to get before they do. As a reporter, I don’t like it when anybody gets something I don’t have, but Hard Knocks gets access that isn’t fair to media who cover a team. . . . The Hard Knocks impact is behind the scenes, when the cameras shoot injuries and players being released. That’s where Hard Knocks will impact my job, and I won’t know it until I watch the series, which I would never miss, anyway. Watching in the past, I’ve always felt bad for the media who regularly cover the team.”

I’ve always felt bad for the players who have no say at all in the assignment, but who are the ones most directly affected by it. They’re trying to work, to compete, to earn a job or to keep a job. And they all have to deal with the presence of cameras and microphones that capture everything they do and say — and that capture everything said about them or done to them.

And even though the team has final say over what gets aired, there’s always a chance the team will make things even worse for a player by not removing an embarrassing exchange — like when former (and now current again) Jets cornerback Antonio Cromartie had trouble rattling off the names of his children.

So, no, it’s not a benefit for teams. But with the NFL making a long-term commitment to the project, it doesn’t matter whether the teams like it. If the arrangement lasts long enough, they’ll all eventually have to do it.

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Lions linebacker DeAndre Levy will apparently try anything once


With the contract he’s eventually going to get (but isn’t worried about), Lions linebacker DeAndre Levy can buy just about anything he wants to eat.

But because he travels the world extensively during the offseason, he has the chance to make some interesting choices. This offseason, he went to Chile and the Easter Islands, and went sledding down an active volcano and walked on the wings of a moving airplane. And that might be the safe part.

Via Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press, previous adventures led him to eat rats and frogs, but this year was more subtle.

“Nah,” Levy said if he went that route again. “Chile’s pretty chill. I ate a llama, but that’s not really like [anything]. . . .

“[It’s] actually healthy. It’s lean. It’s like a dry steak. It’s like a lean, dry steak. It’s really lean.”

And if you eat it on your death bed —which you end up on from eating too many rats and frogs — you’ll receive total consciousness.

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Hakeem Nicks: “My style of play” didn’t fit with Colts

Hakeem Nicks AP

Wide receiver Hakeem Nicks looked like he was on the cusp of stardom after catching 155 passes for 2,244 yards during the 2010 and 2011 seasons with the Giants, but things haven’t played out that way.

Nicks pouted about his contract and hurt his foot and ankle during his final two years with the Giants and saw his numbers drop to the point that he signed a one-year deal with the Colts in 2014 in hopes of restoring his value. Andrew Luck’s presence seemed to make that a wise choice, but 2014 saw Nicks catch just 38 passes for 405 yards and signed another one-year deal with the Titans this offseason that guarantees him just $100,000.

While Nicks thinks returning from injury too soon hampered him in New Jersey, he pins last year’s struggles on the Colts’ offensive scheme.

“I wanted to win a Super Bowl, and I felt like that was giving me the best opportunity, going to the Colts,” Nicks said, via John Glennon of the Tennessean. “But it wasn’t really my style of play.”

Nicks says the Titans’ style is a better fit for him and Glennon reports Nicks has made a “string of impressive plays” early in training camp as he has played alongside Kendall Wright with the first team. If Nicks can keep it up through the summer, he should get chances to show he can still thrive in the NFL. If not, it may be three strikes and out for a player who is running out of excuses for his drop in productivity.

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DeMarco Murray doesn’t know why he didn’t practice on first day of camp

Murray AP

The rivalry Cowboys and Eagles reached new heights this year when Philadelphia pilfered the 2014 NFL rushing champion from Dallas. Which puts plenty of pressure on tailback DeMarco Murray to do the things for his new team that he did last year for his old one.

So, on the first day of training camp, Murray . . . didn’t practice at all.

He addressed the situation on Monday (when he did indeed practice), but Murray had no explanation for his absence from the prior day.

Via Zach Berman of the Philadelphia Inquirer, Murray said he wasn’t injured, and that the absence was the coach’s decision.

“You’re always upset when you don’t get the chance to go out there and compete and take the pressure off the other guys,” Murray said. “Obviously, as a competitor I want to be out there, but it didn’t happen.”

While there surely is a reason, Murray doesn’t know, because he didn’t ask coach Chip Kelly or running backs coach Duce Staley.

“I just do what I’m told,” Murray said.

It’s possible Murray was a little banged up from offseason workouts or working out on his own, and that the Eagles wanted to go easy with him out of the gates without inviting critics to say, “That’s what you get for signing a guy who couldn’t stay healthy until he was in a contract year.”

Practice or no practice on Sunday, that continues to be the biggest question for Murray: Can he stay healthy when not chasing a contract?

The Eagles were willing to bet that he can; the Cowboys weren’t.

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Tuesday morning one-liners

Gio Bernard AP

Bills WR Sammy Watkins showed off his explosiveness in Monday night’s practice.

S Michael Thomas continues to “scratch and claw” in an effort to play a role in the Dolphins secondary.

The Patriots continued shuffling their roster on Monday.

S Calvin Pryor is looking for better results in his second Jets season.

WR Steve Smith and CB Kyle Arrington exchanged words during Ravens practice.

RB Gio Bernard is ready to play whatever role the Bengals have in mind.

The Browns added two running backs with injuries limiting their numbers at the position.

Steelers C Maurkice Pouncey is back on the practice field.

The Texans are experimenting with camera glasses to see what their quarterbacks are seeing on the field.

The Colts hope that some of the same players from last year can provide better run defense.

DE Andre Branch is doing what he can to seize an opportunity on the Jaguars defensive line.

Titans S Michael Griffin says he’s healthy after offseason knee surgery.

DT Sylvester Williams drew praise from Broncos coaches.

An ESPN film about late Chiefs RB Joe Delaney screened for fans.

Said Raiders G.M. Reggie McKenzie, “I’m anxiously waiting for preseason games now. I want to see how they jell and come together. I feel pretty good about this team. Really good.”

Chargers CB Brandon Flowers is rooting for former Chiefs teammate Eric Berry.

RB Darren McFadden’s hamstring injury doesn’t worry Cowboys owner Jerry Jones.

The Giants say S Landon Collins isn’t guaranteed a starting job.

Eagles LB DeMeco Ryans is working himself back into football shape after a torn Achilles.

CB David Amerson left Redskins practice with a shoulder injury.

The Bears defense has gotten more aggressive.

Lions LB DeAndre Levy dined on llama meat this offseason.

DL Datone Jones apologized to the Packers for his one-game suspension.

Brandon Fusco is settling in at left guard for the Vikings.

Falcons QB Matt Ryan wants to get the ball into WR Devin Hester’s hands.

LB Thomas Davis got a day off at Panthers practice.

Rookie LB Stephone Anthony’s maturity has caught the eye of Saints coaches.

Buccaneers TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins needs to cut down on mistakes.

The Cardinals are happy with their depth on the defensive line.

LB Daren Bates has become a core special teamer for the Rams.

Quinton Dial is trying to step up at defensive end with Justin Smith’s 49ers career over.

Seahawks offensive line coach Tom Cable indicated the team would make a decision at center soon.

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Eagles, Bradford discussing short-term contract extension

Sam Bradford AP

The Eagles and quarterback Sam Bradford are discussing a contract extension that would keep him in Philadelphia at least through 2016.

Ed Werder of ESPN reports that the two sides are talking about a short-term deal that would keep him in Philadelphia beyond just this season.

Bradford’s current contract, the $78 million rookie deal that he signed as the first overall pick of the Rams in the 2010 draft, expires after this season. That means the Eagles would be faced with the choice in March of either signing Bradford to an extension, letting him walk, or putting the franchise tag on him. The franchise tag next year will likely be in the $25 million range.

Bradford has said he’s willing to play for the $13 million he’s owed this year and hit free agency next year, betting on himself that he can get a more lucrative deal after a good season in Philadelphia. The risk to Bradford of that approach is that if he gets injured again, he’s not going to command much money on the free market in 2016.

Eagles coach Chip Kelly has said he believes in Bradford as the team’s franchise quarterback, so it makes sense that Kelly would try to get Bradford locked up beyond this season. Of course, Kelly has also said that Mark Sanchez will get every opportunity to win the starting job, so it seems a little premature to give Bradford an extension now, if he might be the backup in Week One.

That may be why both sides are talking about the short term. An extension through 2016 would give both Bradford and the Eagles more time to see if they’re a good fit, and more time to work out a long-term deal if he does prove to be the Eagles’ long-term answer.

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Anthony Castonzo talking extension with Colts

Indianapolis Colts v Tennessee Titans Getty Images

Quarterback Andrew Luck’s going to need a new contract soon and wide receiver T.Y. Hilton hasn’t been shy about discussing his desire for a bigger deal with the Colts, but Indianapolis’s contract concerns on offense go beyond those two players.

Tight ends Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener are entering the final year of their pacts and so is left tackle Anthony Castonzo, who joined the team as a first-round pick a year before the other four players from the class of 2012 came on board. Castonzo said Monday that his representatives have been talking with the team about a long-term extension that would keep Castonzo on Luck’s blind side for years to come.

“If you play well, you get taken care of, that’s sort of the way I see it,” Castonzo said, via the Indianapolis Star. “If I was playing like garbage, I wouldn’t be here.”

The Colts haven’t built the strongest of lines in front of Luck over the last three years, but Castonzo has given them one player that they don’t need to think about replacing. While Luck’s next salary will eat up some of the cap space the team has had on hand, a chunk of what’s left should be devoted to making sure they don’t have to think about finding a new left tackle in the near future.

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Reggie McKenzie: “There’s a chance” Raiders sign Tony McDaniel

Super Bowl XLIX - New England Patriots v Seattle Seahawks Getty Images

Defensive tackle Tony McDaniel lost his job with the Seahawks in a move that was fueled by the need to rebalance the books in Seattle after handing out extensions to quarterback Russell Wilson and linebacker Bobby Wagner.

Coach Pete Carroll said the decision to release McDaniel “sucks” and held out hope that there would be a way to bring him back to the team, but a former member of Seattle’s staff may get a chance to coach McDaniel instead. Raiders General Manager Reggie McKenzie said, via Jerry McDonald of the Bay Area News Group, that “there’s a chance” that the team signs McDaniel and reunites him with former Seahawks assistant and current Raiders defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr.

Norton sounded like that would suit him fine, although he acknowledged he’s not the man making those decisions.

“I’ve had some good battles and good times with Tony,” Norton said. “Those decisions are made in another group but if they can do anything to help improve us, if there’s someone out there that can help us get better, let’s bring him in and give him a shot.”

McDaniel will likely have interest from other teams as well after a strong 2014 for the Seahawks, but the familiarity with Norton shouldn’t hurt the Raiders if a bidding war for his services should materialize. Their dismal record in recent years could have a less positive effect if McDaniel developed a taste for deep playoff runs the last couple of years.

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Justin Hunter’s attorney confident case will “end well”

Ken Whisenhunt, Justin Hunter AP

Titans wide receiver Justin Hunter faces a felonious assault charge in Virginia after a July fight that prosecutors say Hunter touched off by punching a man in the face at a bar.

Hunter’s alleged victim was left with a broken jaw and a cracked tooth, but Hunter’s attorney Toby Vick says that there are witnesses willing to corroborate that Hunter wasn’t the aggressor in the incident. Vick said that there are “significant” reasons to doubt the credibility of Hunter’s accuser and that he’s “confident that this is going to end well” for his client.

“There were a number of people involved and Justin is the only person that they identified,” Vick said, via the Tennessean. “Here you have an NFL player — with what they believe to have deep pockets — identified when lots of things were going on in there. I think it’s going to emerge that [Hunter and his friends] weren’t even the aggressors.”

There aren’t many lawyers who spend the time before their client’s case is resolved preaching their guilt from the rooftops, so there’s still a need to let things play out in court. Hunter is due there on September 3 for a hearing and the NFL has said they are reviewing the case as a possible matter for review under the personal conduct policy.

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Marcus Mariota hasn’t thrown an interception in Titans camp

Marcus Mariota AP

Sometimes you have to be very careful when interpreting training camp statistics.

But sometimes, the big round numbers — like zero — have a way of standing out.

According to John Glennon of the Tennesseean, Titans rookie Marcus Mariota has gone through four straight practices without an interception, making him the only Titans quarterback in camp to do so.

According to the unofficial tally, Mariota is 49-of-73 in combined drills over four days of camp, a solid 67 percent.

Again, camp stats have to be taken with a grain of salt sometimes, as they don’t always (or never) provide for context of who the drills are against and with, the plays being worked on that day and a million other factors. But hey, it’s a number.

(By the way, camp stats are awesome. Those degenerates who cover the Jets mastered the calculation of passer rating during the Tim Tebow era, and a few sick individuals who cover the Packers break out stop watches to document hang time during punt drills. You’re all twisted, and we all love you.)

But as it pertains to the second overall pick in the draft, the news is good. Mariota is a careful quarterback by nature (only four interceptions against 42 touchdowns), and he’ll need to continue that with the Titans if they’re going to have a chance to progress.

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Suh becomes mentor to rookie Jordan Phillips

In this Thursday, July 30, 2015 photo, Miami Dolphins defensive tackles Jordan Phillips (97) Earl Mitchell (90) and Ndamukong Suh (93) prepare to run drills at the teams NFL football training camp in Davie, Fla. For about three weeks preceding the start of Dolphins training camp, rookie Phillips and his fiancee were on a vacation in Oregon. That is, except for the two hours a day where Phillips was learning from Suh. When the new defensive leader of the Dolphins asked Phillips to join him for what essentially was a training camp before training camp, the rookie didn't hesitate before accepting the invitation. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee) AP

Ever since the Dolphins broke the bank for defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, the football-following world has been looking for signs that Miami made a mistake.

There will be no such evidence found in this article.

Via David J. Neal of the Miami Herald, Suh took an active role following offseason workouts in mentoring rookie second-round defensive lineman Jordan Phillips.

“One thing he did is he encouraged Jordan Phillips to come out and train with him,” coach Joe Philbin said. “That’s an example of leadership — of taking a young player, showing him obviously from a physical standpoint and a professionalism standpoint, a preparation standpoint, some of the things that he’s done to get himself ready.”

So how did it happen?

“Came up to me one day and asked if I wanted to train with him and see how he works,” Phillips said. “It felt good because it seemed like he believed in me and wanted me to do well.”

Neal explains that Phillips went to Oregon following the Rookie Symposium and spent two hours per day for 22 days working out with Suh, from running to lifting to yoga to flexibility exercises.
“It’s incredible,” Phillips said. “I’ve never seen anybody work the way he does. That’s something I want to resemble.”
The effort has continued during training camp, with Suh giving Phillips constant feedback. Which has to give the Dolphins and their fans encouragement that Suh isn’t going to take his foot off the gas now that he has a contract paying him $60 million in fully-guaranteed money at signing.
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Bucs look to Doug Martin as “lead guy” in backfield

Doug Martin AP

When the Buccaneers opted not to exercise the fifth-year option on running back Doug Martin’s contract, it seemed like the natural progression of things for a player who hasn’t impressed since his rookie season.

Martin ran the ball 319 times for 1,454 yards and 11 touchdowns as a rookie in 2012, but injuries and ineffectiveness have limited him to just 261 carries over the last two seasons. Bobby Rainey looked better last year, the team drafted Charles Sims in the third round last year and brought in a new offensive coordinator this season, so the time seemed ripe to move on from Martin as the main man in the backfield.

That’s not how things are playing out, however. Martin’s offseason work garnered good reviews and coach Lovie Smith says he’s the top man in the backfield again this year.

“Definitely a key for us,” Lovie Smith said, via the Tampa Bay Times. “We talked about being able to establish the run. Doug will be the lead guy doing that, so it’s very important that we open up some holes and let him do his thing. I don’t know about 2012 and, last year, none of us performed the way we needed to. I just know Doug has been great through the offseason program. Seems like he is running hard out there right now. No complaints. Again, he, like the rest of us, plans on performing a lot better this year and he’ll get an opportunity to.”

The lack of the option makes this a contract year for Martin, so there’s much to be gained if he can turn the clock back to his rookie season and a very uncertain future in the NFL if the trends of the last two seasons continue in 2015.

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Panthers will reevaluate Star Lotulelei in a few weeks

Detroit Lions v Carolina Panthers Getty Images

Panthers defensive tackle Star Lotulelei was in a walking boot after injuring his right foot at Monday’s practice and a report from Ed Werder of ESPN indicated that the team didn’t believe the injury was a serious one.

The Panthers offered their own update on Monday evening and it fell more into the “ask again later” category. It’s the same foot that Lotulelei broke a bone in while practicing during the playoffs last season and team trainer Ryan Vermillion said that the team would be taking their time to make sure that the defensive tackle was healthy before getting him back on the field.

“Star has a stress reaction in his foot. We are going to be cautious. He is in a walking boot and we will reevaluate his foot in a few weeks,” Vermillion said in a statement on the team’s website.

That timeline would put Lotulelei at risk of missing the preseason since it’s hard to imagine he’ll start going 100 percent the first day back on the practice field. That’s not ideal, perhaps, but it should be fine with Carolina if it means he’ll be in the lineup for the start of the regular season.

The team is also waiting on defensive tackle Kawann Short, who is dealing with back soreness. Coach Ron Rivera said he’ll be evaluated on Tuesday, but that “everything looks positive” for the team’s other starter up front.

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Ted Ginn admits leaving Carolina was “going out and chasing a check”

New Orleans Saints v Carolina Panthers Getty Images

Among our favorite kinds of football players, right up there with the ones who overcome long odds or do inspirational things, we have a soft spot for those with a little self-awareness.

So it was a great relief to hear one of them admit that yes, in fact, it was about the money.

According to Bill Voth of Black and Blue Review, Panthers wideout Ted Ginn admitting that leaving for Arizona last year was about nothing more than “going out and chasing a check.”

Ginn appeared to have hit free agency at the right time, after catching five touchdown passes (one short of what he had done the six previous years) for the Panthers in 2013 while working on a one-year deal. So when the Cardinals gave him a three-year, $9.75 million contract, he had to go.

“You only have a short window in this league, so you just gotta go and do what’s good for your family,” Ginn said. “At the end of the day, I don’t think going out there was best for my family. I think being here was the best thing for me. It’s only a short window to go out and get what you can get, so I just praise God that they had their hands open for me to be able to return. Now that I’m here I have to put all that I can do in, and show what I have on and off the field to be a Panther.”

When the Cardinals got tired of him after a year (he caught 14 balls and made minimal impact, other than a playoff fumble), the Panthers were happy to bring him back. For whatever reason, he looks like an NFL wide receiver when he’s with them, as he’s made numerous deep play connections with Cam Newton already in camp.

So while he doesn’t regret trying to capitalize on his good season, he’s also aware that the Panthers seem to work for him.

“No, not at all,” he said. “Like I said, you gotta do what you do for your family. The best thing about the whole situation is coming back somewhere where somebody likes you.”

And with the way Ginn’s career has gone, finding that place has been tough, so he’s hanging on now.

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Tom Coughlin cranky about first training camp fight of the year

Tom Coughlin AP

In case you haven’t heard, the Giants have a guy who is dealing with a bit of a hand issue at the moment.

So they are perhaps more sensitive to the possibility of having another one at the same time.

Via the New York Daily News, Giants coach Tom Coughlin reacted grumpily to the first camp fight of the year, when offensive lineman Justin Pugh and defensive end Damontre Moore threw punches before being separated.

“I had a problem with that one, because they’re out there swinging,” Coughlin said. “I’ve been hurt first-hand by a guy who broke his hand in a fight, . . . In the old days, they used to wrap it up and play. But they don’t do that anymore.

“I was upset about the fight, losing their temper and all that stuff, but the bottom line is you can’t afford to do it and lose a guy.”

It’s especially true at the two positions in question, as they’ve already lost left tackle Will Beatty for the year to a pectoral injury and defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul for who knows how long (though they did finally talk) after he blew a finger off in a fireworks accident.

So while Pugh and Moore got the “get off my lawn” treatment from Coughlin, his frustration is likely as cumulative as anything else.

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