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Another week, another poor first half for the Oakland Raiders

Matt Forte, Nick Roach AP

It was an ugly first half for the Oakland Raiders last week when they fell into a 23-7 first half deficit against the New Orleans Saints. Quarterback Matt Flynn was sacked five times and the Saints had no problems moving the football against a porous Raiders defense.

The Raiders’ performance Friday against the Chicago Bears may have been even worse.

The Bears scored on each of their first four possessions of the game, including three touchdown drives in taking a 27-3 lead into halftime. Matt Forte scored on a 32-yard pass from Jay Cutler and Michael Bush carried for two scores on 10- and 1-yard touchdown runs, respectively. The Raiders only points of the half came on a 58-yard field goal by Sebastian Janikowski to end the half.

Flynn was just 3 for 6 for 19 yards before being replaced by Terrelle Pryor late in the second quarter. The Raiders had just 92 yards offensively heading into the break.

The debut of D.J. Hayden appears to be the only bright spot for the Raiders tonight. It is still just the preseason but the last two weeks for the Raiders have been anything but encouraging.

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D.J. Hayden starts for the Raiders in preseason debut

D.J. Hayden AP

D.J. Hayden is officially playing football again.

The Oakland Raiders first-round draft pick started at right cornerback against the Chicago Bears on Friday night.

The Bears tested him early with passes to Alshon Jeffery, Martellus Bennett and Brandon Marshall all headed Hayden’s direction.

Jeffery and Bennett each hauled in passes for sizable gains but Hayden managed to break up a pass from Jay Cutler to Marshall that was nearly intercepted by defensive end Jason Hunter. He’s got a tackle and a pass defensed through his first defensive series,

For someone who nearly died on the practice fields of the University of Houston because of an injury to his heart last November, it’s a great sight to see.

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HGH population study pool is about to start shrinking

HGH AP

The absence of a final agreement on HGH testing has delayed the implementation of a population study.  And the total number of players to be included in the population study is about to shrink.

When the tentative deal for a population study first was reached, the league and the union agreed that all players in every camp would give a blood sample for the purposes of determining the naturally-occurring levels of HGH in men who play pro football.  With up to 90 players per team, that’s a maximum pool of 2,880 test subjects.

In four days, that amount drops by 15 per team, with a new limit of 2,400.

Four days after that, the size of the pool drops to 53 active players plus up to eight members of the practice squad per team, for a maximum of 1,952.

Thus, by next Saturday, more than 900 potential participants in the population study will be gone.

It’s unclear whether that helps or hurts the players who’ll participate in the population study.  If the fringe players are more likely to use HGH, their absence would drive down the detected average HGH reading per player.  If, on the other hand, guys who are using HGH are more likely to make the team, the number will be higher.

Regardless, the number necessarily will be based on a smaller pool of players — by more than 32 percent.  The fewer the participants in the pool, the less accurate the total number possibly will be.

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DuJuan Harris exits game with apparent knee injury

DuJuan Harris AP

Aaron Rodgers and DuJuan Harris both exited Friday night’s preseason game against the Seattle Seahawks early but for very different reasons.

Where Rodgers left the game voluntarily after playing just one series for the Green Bay Packers, Harris slowly walked off the field after getting hurt after picking up 11 yards on a screen pass from Graham Harrell with 10 minutes left in the second quarter.

According to Jason Wilde of ESPNMilwaukee.com, Harris had his right knee wrapped with ice on the Packers’ sideline. Harris started the game for Green Bay for his first preseason action since coming off the physically unable to perform list on Aug. 12. A knee injury was the reason Harris began training camp on the PUP list for Green Bay.

Harris was replaced by Eddie Lacy in the Packers’ backfield. If the injury is serious enough to impact Harris’ availability for the start of the regular season, Lacy could find himself getting the starting nod against the San Francisco 49ers in Week One.

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Aaron Rodgers goes just one series for Green Bay

Aaron Rodgers AP

The third preseason game is usually considered the biggest test of the preseason for starters as first-team units typically play into the second half.

But if you’re Aaron Rodgers and you’ve thrown for at least 3,900 yards and 28 touchdowns in each of the last five seasons, getting extensive work in the third preseason game probably isn’t all that vital.

Rodgers played just one series for the Green Bay Packers in their match-up with the Seattle Seahawks on Friday night. Rodgers finished 4 for 7 for 41 yards on a drive that ended in a 38-yard field goal from Mason Crosby.

Graham Harrell replaced Rodgers at quarterback and the Packers promptly went three-and-out on their first possession with Harrell at the helm.

The Packers and Seahawks currently are tied at 3-3 midway through the second quarter.

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All five 49ers quarterbacks will play on Sunday

Harbaugh AP

This week, the 49ers expanded their roster of quarterbacks to five with the addition of Seneca Wallace.  Coach Jim Harbaugh said Friday that all five will play on Sunday night, when the 49ers host the Vikings on Sunday Night Football.

“Yeah, you split it up, you split it up five ways,” Harbaugh told reporters, via quotes distributed by the team.

Asked for clarification, Harbaugh said that, yes, Colin Kaepernick, Colt McCoy, Scott Tolzien, B.J. Daniels, and Wallace will play on Sunday.

“I anticipate that,” Harbaugh said.  “We’ll see how  Scott does today in practice after an off day.  He had something that he was working through and wasn’t able to, wasn’t at full speed Wednesday, Tuesday, and Monday or since the ballgame in Kansas City.  We’ll see where he’s at today, and if he’s good to go and at 100 percent or close to it then we’ll split it up after Kap four ways.”

Harbaugh said McCoy will go second after Kaepernick.

The head coach also explained that the addition of Wallace doesn’t mean that the team lacks confidence in the current backups to Kaepernick.

“The fact that you could get an experienced quarterback like Seneca Wallace at this stage when you have seven-to-ten days ‘til there’s a final cut down to the final roster then a chance to bring him in to do more than just a workout,” Harbaugh said.  “You get a chance to actually practice and play in a preseason game or two. So, I felt like there was no downside to doing that.”

If Kaepernick plays an entire half, as starters usually do in the third preseason game, that’ll leave roughly half of a quarter for each of the other four.  Whichever of the five are left after Tuesday’s cut from 90 to 75 presumably will split the reps in the final preseason game.

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Jets remove Santonio Holmes from PUP list

New York Jets v Miami Dolphins Getty Images

The Jets’ top receiver is back on their active roster.

Santonio Holmes, who has missed all of training camp and the first two exhibition games with a foot injury, has been taken off the active/physically-unable-to-perform list, the Jets announced Friday on their website.

Now, the focus turns to whether the 29-year-old Holmes can get ready in time for the club’s regular-season opener vs. Tampa Bay in 16 days.

Holmes caught 20 passes for 272 yards and a touchdown in just four games a season ago. He suffered the season-ending Lisfranc foot injury in the Jets’ Sept. 30 loss to San Francisco. The previous week, he hauled in nine catches for 147 yards in the Jets’ overtime win at Miami.

Holmes’ activation is a boost to an offense that lacks a great deal of depth in its receiving corps. At his best, Holmes can be a go-to target. However, the matter of whom Holmes could be catching passes from this season remains unsettled, with Geno Smith and Mark Sanchez still competing for the starting quarterback role.

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Yates to serve as No. 2 in Texans third preseason game

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The biggest quarterback competition for a non-starting quarterback position is happening in Houston, where second-year third-stringer Case Keenum is trying to pass third-year second-stringer T.J. Yates.

Coach Gary Kubiak said Friday that Yates will be the quarterback off the bench when the Texans host the Saints on Sunday.

“T.J. will go second in this game,” Kubiak said.  “What I hope to do is, when Matt [Schaub] does leave the game, whatever is left, I hope to split the time.  But T.J. will be the second guy to go.”

The decision apparently doesn’t mean that Yates, who led the Texans to the first playoff win in franchise history, has won the job.

“T.J. did it the first week and then Case will probably start the game next Thursday depending on how we come out of this,” Kubiak said.  “I just think it’s important that we look at equal reps and that’s what we’re doing.  They’ve almost got equal throws.  They’ve almost got equal plays.  That’s what we want to be able to do.”

In the end, it’s a good problem for the Texans to have, assuming that Kubiak plans to carry three quarterbacks on the 53-man roster.

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Rams to honor Deacon Jones with helmet decal

decal

Deacon Jones, the Hall of Famer who died in June at the age of 74, will be honored throughout the 2013 season with a helmet decal with his No. 75 that all Rams players will wear.

The Rams will also recognize members of Jones’s family at their opener on September 8.

“Deacon Jones was a legend who was cherished by generations of NFL fans and players,” Rams COO Kevin Demoff said in a statement. “Our team is proud to wear his number on our helmets throughout the season to honor his meaning to this organization.”

Jones was drafted by the Los Angeles Rams in 1961 and played 11 years for the franchise. Widely regarded as one of the best players in NFL history, Jones was the first person to use the term “sack” to mean tackling the quarterback; he compared his role in rushing the passer to the role of destroyers sacking a vanquished land.

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Vikings claim stadium remains on course

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The stakes continue to rise in the eleventh-hour stare down over the new Vikings stadium.

The Vikings have pressed “pause” on negotiations with the Metropolitan Sports Facility Administration regarding the final details of a stadium deal, pending the resolution of a sudden investigation of team ownership following findings of fraud and civil racketeering in an unrelated New Jersey lawsuit.  Obviously, a delay in the finalization of the documents could delay the commencement of stadium construction, which in turn could delay the completion of the project.

The Vikings have issued a statement dressed as an article that explains the situation from the team’s perspective.  In it, Director of Corporate Communications Jeff Anderson writes that the project “remains on time and on budget.”

He’s right.  For now.  Eventually, however, the delay necessarily will impact the project, if the final agreements aren’t negotiated and executed.

Anderson explains that the Vikings have suspended the negotiations because the agreements at issue “are fundamental documents to this public-private partnership and should not be entered into lightly,” and that “the MSFA must feel entirely confident about the Wilfs’ ability to fulfill their stadium obligations” before moving forward.

Again, he’s right.  But this isn’t about signing the agreements.  It’s about continuing with negotiations aimed at finalizing the agreements so that they eventually can be signed.  Why not continue the negotiations so that pens can be put to paper the moment the pending investigation of the Wilfs results in an all clear?

Perhaps the Vikings fear that they’ll be squeezed into making concessions during negotiations that occur while the review of the Wilfs proceeds.  By waiting until the review has ended, the MSFA won’t be able to say, for example, “We have one lingering concern about X, and if you yield on point Y we’ll forget about it.”

Or maybe the Vikings want to force the powers-that-be to get the examination concluded quickly.  While there’s currently no reason to believe that anything tangible will be found to suggest that the deal should be unraveled, the more time the investigators have the greater the chance someone will try to justify his or her fee by making an issue out of something that shouldn’t be an issue.

Regardless, the Vikings have taken a fairly aggressive position in response to a fairly aggressive ploy from the MSFA.  It easily could devolve into a game of chicken, with the Vikings eventually flying the coop.

That’s still a long way from happening.  But it’s a lot closer than it was a month ago.

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Gary Crowton’s CFL stint lasts less than two seasons

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The Canadian Football League can be a place for former prominent NFL and college football figures to jump-start their careers.

The most recent example is now-Bears head coach Marc Trestman, who led the Montreal Alouettes to two CFL championships before landing with Chicago.

However, plenty of stories don’t end like Trestman’s. The CFL’s training-camp transactions are usually peppered with the departures of well-known U.S. players who couldn’t make Canadian rosters. The CFL game is no surefire springboard to Canadian success nor a one-way ticket back onto the radar of American football’s top decision-makers.

We come to the case of now-former Blue Bombers offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Gary Crowton, whom the club dismissed on Sunday. Crowton, who was the Bears’ offensive coordinator from 1999-2000 before moving on to BYU (head coach), Oregon, LSU and Maryland (offensive coordinator/QB coach), oversaw an offense that produced just five passing touchdowns in a 1-6 start before his dismissal.

The Bombers replaced Crowton with Marcel Bellefeuille, who has CFL coaching experience. Crowton didn’t have any upon taking the Winnipeg job. However, neither did Trestman upon taking Montreal’s coaching job. What did Trestman did have, however, was a franchise quarterback in Anthony Calvillo. The Bombers, meanwhile, have had uncertainty at quarterback throughout this season, and they lost starter Buck Pierce to injury early in 2012, too.

Would CFL experience help a coach in that league? Certainly. Could a lack of experience become a hurdle? It’s an interesting question; the Winnipeg Free Press, in a story published Wednesday, seemed to indicate that a lack of CFL seasoning was a factor with a couple of the Blue Bombers’ recent coaches.

The question now is what’s next for Crowton. Another collegiate coaching job would seem within his scope, but with the season right around the corner, that may have to wait until 2014.

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Seahawks pass on waivers claim for Lockette

Lockette AP

The arms race between the Seahawks and 49ers apparently applies only to players who can, you know, play.

On Thursday, the 49ers cut receiver Ricardo Lockette, a former Seahawk who became so close to 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick that Lockette described them during the offseason as “inseparable.”  But the opportunity to pick Lockette’s brain about Kaepernick wasn’t enough to entice the Seahawks to add Lockette to the team.

Per Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com, the Seahawks didn’t make a waivers claim for Lockette.  None of the other 30 teams did, either.

And so Lockette becomes a free agent, with only a few days to land on a 90-man roster before all rosters shrink to a limit of 75, which comes only a few days before all rosters shrink to 53.

The bad news for Lockette is that, by getting cut now, the 49ers may not be inclined to sign him back to the practice squad, where he spent time in 2012.  If they viewed him as being worthy as one of the eight spots above the 53-man roster, logic suggests he would have made it at least to the final 75.

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Chaz Schilens among five Lions cuts

Chaz Schilens AP

Before the Lions played the Jets in the opening preseason game for each team, Lions wide receiver Chaz Schilens said that he thought one of the reasons he didn’t stay with the Jets was because the team scapegoated everyone but quarterback Mark Sanchez for their poor season in 2012.

Schilens will have another chance to air his thoughts on leaving a team after the Lions announced he was being released on Friday. Schilens was one of five players let go as Detroit got a jump on paring their roster down to 75 players.

Schilens played for the Lions against the Patriots on Thursday night, but didn’t have a catch for the third straight preseason game. The Lions also released veteran cornerback D.J. Johnson, who played seven games for the Redskins last season, and offensive lineman Derek Hardman, who played in 15 games for the Buccaneers over the last three seasons.

The Lions also waived/injured defensive tackle John Drew and cornerback Ross Weaver. The moves leave the Lions at 84 players after they previously parted ways with wide receiver Mike Thomas.

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The Bill Belichick media training seminar, in two questions

Belichick Getty Images

On Thursday night, the Patriots played the Lions.  Defensive tackle Vince Wilfork dressed for the game, but he didn’t play.  Joe Vellano, an undrafted free agent from Maryland, got the start in place of Wilfork.

And so when members of the New England media had a chance to question coach Bill Belichick on Friday regarding Wilfork’s absence from the game, they did.  And when Belichick answered, he provided perhaps the most extreme example yet on how to answer a question without answering a question.

Here’s the excerpt, from the transcript distributed by the team.

Q:  For those of us who weren’t there last night, can you update us on why Vince Wifork didn’t play?

BB:  We just didn’t put him in.  That’s why.

Q:  Because?

BB:  Because there were other players who played.

Technically, the answers are accurate.  Wilfork didn’t play because the Patriots didn’t put him in the game, and they didn’t put him in the game because they used other players.

The overriding message is this:  “None of your damn business.”  So why not just say, “None of your damn business”?

The reality is that, if Wilfork is injured, Belichick has no obligation in the preseason to say so.  And he never has any obligation to explain why an otherwise healthy guy doesn’t play.

Still, if he doesn’t want to answer a question, why not just say, “I prefer not to get into that”?  It’s basically what he said, but in a way that will do nothing to make those already inclined to think he’s a jerk think he’s anything but a jerk.  And it also could prompt any who may be on the fence about Belichick to conclude, “Wow, this guy is a jerk.”

Ultimately, Belichick doesn’t care what anyone thinks.  At a certain level, that’s admirable.  But it’s also pointless, especially when there’s a way to answer questions that lets him say nothing without coming off as a jerk.

We’ve heard from many league insiders over the years that Belichick actually isn’t a jerk.  It would be harder to convince anyone of that based on his answers to Friday’s questions about Wilfork.

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Marcus Lattimore will begin season on PUP

Marcus Lattimore AP

Marcus Lattimore thinks he could practice now.

The 49ers, wisely, aren’t going to let him.

According to Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network, 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said the rookie running back will begin the season on the PUP list, making him ineligible for at least the first six games.

Lattimore was as explosive a back as in the college game in recent years, until a grotesque knee injury which many feared could be caerer-ending. The 49ers were able to take a flier on him in the fourth round because of their stockpile of draft picks, and with a deep backfield, they (and he) can afford to wait.

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