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Lions president apologizes to Wisconsin band

Dominic Raiola, Rob Sims AP

Detroit Lions president Tom Lewand apologized on behalf of the team to the University of Wisconsin Marching Band Monday after center Dominic Raiola was accused of verbally abusing members of the band before the Lions game with the Green Bay Packers on Sunday.

According to Rob Schultz and Dan Simmons of the Wisconsin State Journal, Lewand apologized to director Mike Leckrone after the team released a statement Monday saying they were investigating the incident.

Raiola was accused by members of the band for verbal abuse after he allegedly hurled insults at the band that contained profanities and even questioned the sexuality of some members of the group. The Lions are still investigating the altercation but Lewand felt the need to reach out to the band.

“He said that he hadn’t fully investigated but he knew enough that an apology was due,” Leckrone said. “I thought it was a heartfelt and welcomed gesture.”

Leckrone intended to relay the Lewand’s apology to the band on Tuesday.

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Kelvin Benjamin to miss some OTA time with hamstring injury

CHARLOTTE, NC - SEPTEMBER 21:  Kelvin Benjamin #13 of the Carolina Panthers during the game at Bank of America Stadium on September 21, 2014 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images) Getty Images

When the Panthers take the field for OTAs next week, they’ll do it without last year’s first-round pick.

Via Jonathan Jones of the Charlotte Observer, wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin is nursing a hamstring injury and won’t participate next week.

Benjamin had a solid rookie season, with 73 catches for 1,008 yards and nine touchdowns. His numbers tapered off late in the season, but they hope the addition of second-rounder Devin Funchess will help, giving quarterback Cam Newton a pair of big targets to help the offense develop.

While Benjamin’s hamstring’s not a major concern, the time lost is still at least an inconvenience. The Panthers have traditionally been slow starters, and Newton missed all of last year’s OTA season while recovering from ankle surgery, which may or may not have contributed to that.

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Dante Fowler set for ACL surgery next week

Dante Fowler Jr. AP

It’s been a couple of weeks since Jaguars first-round pick Dante Fowler tore his ACL while taking part in his first NFL practice and that means it is just about time for Fowler to have surgery to repair the injury.

Ryan O’Halloran of the Florida Times-Union reports that Fowler’s surgery has been scheduled for next week.

The Jaguars ruled Fowler out for the season a day after he suffered the injury, leaving him with almost a full year before the team will start their preparations for the 2016 season. The plan is for Fowler to spend much of that time rehabbing at the team’s facility while also taking part in meetings with the rest of the defensive linemen in order to keep him mentally in the mix while he recovers physically.

Fowler is optimistic about his ability to bounce back to form after the injury, a feeling that’s supported by the similar recoveries we’ve seen from a lot of other players in recent years. That doesn’t make the loss of his rookie season any easier to swallow, but the long view still holds promise for the Jaguars and Fowler.

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Dang, even Bud Grant’s making #DeflateGate jokes now

CANADA - DECEMBER 03:  Bombers' Bud Grant looks as if he just swallowed the canary. He had just won his fourth Grey Cup in six years of coaching Winnipeg.   (Photo by Barry Philp/Toronto Star via Getty Images) Getty Images

Bud Grant might be old school, and he might be old, but he’s certainly got the hang of this social media thing.

Specifically, the former Vikings coach has learned how to troll folks on Twitter.

While promoting his latest garage sale, Grant sent out of photo of some autographed footballs, which appear more probable than not to not be inflated to a range between 12.5 and 13.5 PSI.

A sticky note is attached to one which reads: “These balls are not from New England (Air pump broken :( ).”

So not only is the 88-year-old Grant making #DeflateGate jokes, he also dropped a frowny face at the end of it.

We may have reached the end of the internet, or perhaps a glorious new beginning.

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League to share survey results with St. Louis, San Diego, Oakland

Questionnaire Getty Images

Now that the NFL’s 32 business partners have seen the information, it’s time to share it with the people trying to throw money and new buildings at them.

According to Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the league’s home market studies of St. Louis, San Diego and Oakland were given to owners this week, and will now go to the groups trying to keep the Rams, Chargers and Raiders where they are.

Those marketing surveys in St. Louis included fan questionnaires and focus groups which asked about ticket preferences, PSLs and premium seats, and whether they’d support a different team. Local business leaders were also polled to see the interest in buying luxury suites and premium seating or sponsorships.

The basic studies have been completed,” NFL Los Angeles point-man Eric Grubman said. “The information we’ve gotten, we’ve shared it with the clubs. We’re getting ready to share it with representatives from the markets. We wanted the clubs to be able to digest it before we gave it to the markets.”

St. Louis leaders Dave Peacock and Bob Blitz are expected to share whatever they learn from the league with the public once they know it, but at the moment they haven’t received the package.

Once they have the data, civic leaders can presumably adjust their plan (i.e. try to shake the money tree and see what else might fall out). But Grubman said in each of the markets, he’s gathered there are plenty of people eager to keep the teams.

“I’ve got to tell you, in each of these three markets there is not a time when I’m there that I don’t sense the tremendous support and appreciation of the fans for the team,” Grubman said.

Now they just have to see if those fans are sufficiently committed to doing what it takes to keep the teams, and at what level.

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Reggie Bush wants to return punts this year

Reggie Bush

Early in Reggie Bush’s NFL career, he returned punts in addition to his offensive duties and he showed a knack for it while returning four punts for touchdowns in his first three seasons with the Saints.

Bush continued returning punts through the end of his tenure in New Orleans, but six 2011 opportunities with the Dolphins are the last time he’s been seen in that role. Bush signed with the 49ers this offseason and he may get a chance to turn back the clock. Bush was fielding punts at Thursday’s practice and said it was his idea to get back on special teams.

“It was my idea,” Bush said, via CSNBayArea.com. “I told the coaches I wanted to return punts again. And they were excited about it. We’re still working at it, still chipping away. And we look forward to being an all-around great special teams.”

Bush said he didn’t think he’d “gotten rusty” after several years of leaving punt return duties to other players and that he’s looking forward to having another avenue to getting the ball in his hands.

Carlos Hyde is expected to be the No. 1 back for the Niners this year, leaving Bush and Kendall Hunter to pick up complementary touches out of the backfield. However that works out for Bush, returning punts would offer him another chance for him to impact games and for the 49ers to maximize their return on investment in Bush’s services.

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Chargers’ Nick Novak thinks new rule makes kickers more valuable

Nick Novak AP

NFL kickers have been split on the league’s new rule moving extra points back 13 yards, with some saying it’s an unnecessary attempt to make them less relevant, while others say it will reward the league’s better kickers.

Count Chargers kicker Nick Novak in the latter camp.

“I think it makes my job that much more exciting,” Novak told U-T San Diego. “There could be games where I may not get any work, just lighting up the scoreboard and scoring touchdowns, which is a good thing. Now, I have the privilege of kicking 33-yard field goals, maybe four of five a game — I call them field goals because they’re from 33 yards. And I may kick four or five field goals. My workload is going to go up. It’s exciting to showcase what I can do. I think it increases the value of a kicker, too.”

Novak may be right, although the reality is that a 33-yard extra point is still an easy kick for every NFL kicker. A kicker who would struggle with the longer extra point wouldn’t be in the NFL in the first place, and so this new rule won’t change kickers’ jobs much one way or the other.

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Dennis Hickey: “Reasonable expectation” Branden Albert is ready for regular season

Branden Albert Getty Images

In February, Miami Dolphins tackle Branden Albert was uncertain if he would be ready to play in time for the team’s 2015 season opener after tearing his ACL and MCL last November.

However, Miami general manager Dennis Hickey now believes that Albert has a decent chance to be ready to play in time for the Dolphins’ Week 1 game at Washington.

In an interview with Alex Marvez and Mark Dominik on Sirius XM NFL Radio, Hickey said there is a “reasonable expectation” Albert will be good to go.

“It’s been a long rehab but he’s really attacked it every day,” Hickey said. “Reasonable expectation is for him to play opening day and so, still a lot of rehab to go but we really like his progress. He’s out there with him team working out and we’re really encouraged by what we’re seeing with him.

Albert suffered the knee injury in a game against the Detroit Lions in early November and missed the rest of the season. Ja’Wuan James started the final seven games for Miami in place of Albert last season.

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Virtual reality trainer arrives

Arnold

In February, Saints coach Sean Payton said that virtual reality training for quarterbacks could be coming. It’s now here, and not just for quarterbacks.

As explained by Stephanie Loh of U-T San Diego, former Stanford kicker Derek Belch has developed a goggles-and-headset system that immerses the user in a game situation, based not on a video game presentation but actual football video.

Five major college programs already have begun using the product of Belch’s STRIVR labs, and Arkansas coach Bret Bielema is very impressed.

“It was one of the few times in your coaching career when you’re watching something and you think, ‘This is a game-changer. This is gonna change the way we teach young men,'” Bielema said.

Belch, who left his job as a graduate assistant with Stanford to focus on the STRIVR project. His partner is former Stanford and NFL quarterback Trent Edwards.

And it’s not just a tool for training quarterbacks. After an NFL head coach tried it out, Belch and Edwards decided to make it into a defensive trainer, too.

“Pete Carroll was one of the last guys to see it,” Belch told Loh. “He put it on right away, and as soon as he looked around, the first thing he said was, ‘You could do this for defense.’ After Pete said that, we thought, ‘We have to find a way to use this for defense before the next person sees it.'”

For coaches who have restricted access to players, the system allows for built-in coaching that doesn’t run afoul of applicable limitations.

“During the summer, NCAA rules become very limiting on how much time you can spend with kids and how much football you can talk,” Bielema told Loh. “This, here’s what it is: You can hear us talking and speaking [during a play] and take reps with no countable hours. [Y]ou’re looking at hundreds of different snaps, and it’s like they’ve just been through a practice, but it’s also saving their legs.

“It’s of incredible value to incoming and younger players that need to see the reps to escalate their learning curve. It’s worth its weight in gold.”

It’s as expensive as plenty of gold. Per Loh, the entry-level package costs $250,000. They hope to eventually make it cheaper, so that every college and high school can eventually afford it.

The next step is other sports, from hockey to basketball to baseball. Which means that Belch and Edwards could end up making a lot of money.

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Report: Cowboys put Daniel Thomas through a workout

Miami Dolphins v Denver Broncos Getty Images

The Cowboys, who must replace departed feature back DeMarco Murray, have taken a look at a tailback selected nine picks before Murray in the 2011 NFL Draft.

Daniel Thomas, a Dolphins reserve for the last four seasons, went through a workout with Dallas on Thursday, Aaron Wilson of the Baltimore Sun and National Football Post reported.

Thomas (6-1, 235) has rushed for 1,480 yards and 10 touchdowns on 409 carries in 52 regular season games, all with Miami, which picked him near the end of Round Two four years ago (No. 62 overall).

Then, early in Round Three, Murray was the next back off the board, landing with the Cowboys. But after four productive seasons highlighted by a superb and rugged 2014 campaign, Murray signed with Philadelphia. The Cowboys didn’t draft a running back last month, which suggests they are confident they can get by with holdovers Joseph Randle, Lance Dunbar and Ryan Williams as well as ex-Raiders tailback Darren McFadden, their lone free agent signee at the position to date.

If signed, Thomas would likely compete for a reserve role, with the same said for Felix Jones and Ben Tate, who also worked out for Dallas on Thursday.

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Raiders sign fifth-round pick Neiron Ball

Neiron Ball AP

The Raiders have finished another contract with a drafted rookie, signing Florida linebacker Neiron Ball, the club announced Thursday.

A fifth-round pick, Ball (6-2, 236) notched 49 tackles (33 solo) and two sacks last season for the Gators. After the draft, Raiders coach Jack Del Rio described him as a linebacker capable of lining up “on the line or off the ball,” per a transcript from the club.

Oakland has reached deals with 7-of-10 draft selections. The Raiders’ lone unsigned draft picks are Florida State defensive tackle Mario Edwards Jr. (Round Two), Miami (Fla.) tight end Clive Walford (Round Three) and Kansas cornerback Dexter McDonald (Round Seven).

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Tannehill knows he’s not a franchise quarterback, yet

Tannehill Getty Images

Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill signed a contract this week that, in “new money” average, puts him at No. 6 among all quarterbacks. Which suggests that he’s a franchise quarterback.

But Tannehill realizes that the new contract doesn’t make him a franchise quarterback, just yet.

“I think it’s a step in that direction for sure,” Tannehill said on Thursday’s PFT Live on NBC Sports Radio. “It shows that the team believes in me, the organization believes in me, the ownership believes in me.”

That belief could be enough to help Tannehill get to the proverbial next level. Because now he knows what they think of him. They think that they’ve got a bird in the hand — which is why they offered him a bird-in-the-hand contract. And if he becomes the proverbial two in the bush, the Dolphins will have him at a much lower rate than what a true franchise quarterback currently commands.

Which eventually will make Tannehill want contract that pays him accordingly. Which will be a good problem for the Dolphins to have.

For more from Tannehill, click the thing in the thing below.

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Zimmer says he has an idea when Peterson will show up

Adrian Peterson AP

Vikings running back Adrian Peterson still hasn’t participated in any offseason work, but coach Mike Zimmer thinks he has an idea when Peterson will show up.

Zimmer declined to give a specific date he’s expecting to see Peterson, but he told 1500 ESPN that he does have a sense for when Peterson will get to work.

“I think I do have an indication,” Zimmer said. “It’s up to Adrian, really. He’s the guy you should ask. . . . We’d like all our players here. It’s the voluntary time of year right now and it’s his decision in what he wants to do.”

Offseason work stops being voluntary on June 16, when the Vikings open their mandatory minicamp. If Peterson skips that, the Vikings can fine him $70,000. Which might mean June 16 is when Zimmer expects to see Peterson.

And if Peterson doesn’t show up to the mandatory minicamp, there’s no telling when Zimmer might see Peterson. If Peterson is so disgruntled that he’s willing to cost himself money to stay away, this already uncomfortable situation could get really ugly.

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Packers sign rookie cornerback Travis Manning

Seattle Seahawks v Green Bay Packers Getty Images

The Packers have added a little more cornerback depth in advance of next week’s OTAs, signing undrafted rookie Travis Manning, the club said Thursday.

The 24-year-old Manning intercepted 10 passes over four seasons at Division II Northwest Missouri State (2011-2014). He also competed in track and field in 2010 and 2011.

The Packers now have eight cornerbacks under contract. A ninth potential cornerback, first-round pick Damarious Randall, has yet to sign with the club.

The Packers have one open roster spot.

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Antonio Smith child abuse investigation is “sexual in nature”

Smith Getty Images

Earlier on Thursday, multiple reports emerged regarding an investigation of Broncos defensive lineman Antonio Smith for child abuse. According to the Associated Press, the investigation involves a more ominous element.

Fort Bend County (Texas) Sheriff Troy Nehls told the AP that a complaint was made against Smith in November 2014, and that it is “sexual in nature.” Nehls investigated the case, and he forwarded the findings to the Fort Bend County district attorney in February 2015.

The NFL has not yet responded to a request for confirmation that the mere existence of the investigation will trigger a league investigation under the Personal Conduct Policy. If Smith eventually is charged, he presumably will be placed on the Commissioner Exempt list until the case is resolved.

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Hernandez shows up in court with ironic new tattoo

proxy AP

Former Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez returned to court on Thursday, for the first time since he was convicted last month for killing Odin Lloyd in June 2013. And when Hernandez returned to court, his collection of tattoos that previously crept below the cuffs of his dress shirt has now migrated above the collar.

The word “LIFETIME” can be seen on the right side of Hernandez’s neck, above the rest of a design that may have other words below it.

(You know, a word like “SENTENCE.”)

Hernandez pleaded not guilty on Thursday on charges of witness intimidation that arises from the allegation that he shot Alexander Bradley in the face and left him for dead in Florida several months after the drive-by shooting in Boston that left two men dead. Hernandez is awaiting trial in that double murder, with no date set yet.

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