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Steve Smith says Cam Newton has gone “from playing checkers to playing chess”

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After a breakout rookie season, Cam Newton has struggled to find consistency over the past two seasons.

After a 1-3 start to the season, it didn’t appear as though much had changed for the Panthers’ offense with Newton at the helm. However, after two victories and two strong outings from Netwon, there is optimism that Newton may have finally turned the corner.

Newton completed 35 of 43 passes for 446 yards over the past two weeks with four touchdowns and no interception in victories over the Minnesota Vikings and St. Louis Rams.

Receiver Steve Smith says Newton has taken a step forward with his understanding of the game.

“He’s gone from playing checkers to playing chess,” Smith said, via Rich Hollenberg of the NFL Network.

Smith has been one of the beneficiaries of Newton’s performances. He’s caught 10 passes for 90 yards over the past two weeks and caught a touchdown pass in each game.

Newton has always has the physical tools to be a star at the quarterback position. He’s completed 81-percent of his passes over the last two games and carried 19 times for 56 yards and a touchdown as well. If he can continue to make strides with the mental aspect of the game, the Panthers may be able to find themselves playing in January.


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Bengals cut Trevor Robinson

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In Cincinnati, the roster includes only two players identified as centers.  One of them has been cut.

Gone is Trevor Robinson, per a league source.  Robinson, who made the team as an undrafted free agent in 2012, started seven games as a rookie.  Last year, he appeared in six regular-season games.

Russell Bodine is the only other center on the roster.  The Bengals traded up in the draft — something they rarely do — to land Bodine in round four of the 2014 selection process.

Kyle Cook, the full-season starter at center a year ago, was cut in March.

Robinson will be exposed to waivers.  If unclaimed, he becomes a free agent.

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Dolphins finally give up on running back Daniel Thomas

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The Dolphins kept giving Daniel Thomas chances to be their lead running back, and he kept refusing to take them.

So today, they’re giving up on the former second-round pick, according to Andrew Abramson of the Palm Beach Post.

The Dolphins have also released return man Marcus Thigpen, tight end Kyle Miller and cornerback Kevin Fogg.

Thomas never gained 600 yards in a season, and never averaged more than 3.7 yards per carry.

With Knowshon Moreno coming on board this year, there was simply no room or time to wait for him to deliver on his potential.

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Kelvin Sheppard out in Indy

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The Colts’ cuts to 53 players include a guy who started seven regular-season games a year ago.

Gone, per a league source, is linebacker Kelvin Sheppard.  He appeared in 15 regular-season games, and he started both postseason games for Indianapolis.

A third-round pick in 2011, Sheppard started 15 games for the Bills in 2012.  He was traded in 2013 to Indy for defensive end Jerry Hughes.

Sheppard, who is in his fourth season, will be subject to waivers.  Don’t be shocked if someone claims him.

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Broncos roll on without Vinston Painter

Painter AP

It’s been a bad weekend to be a Painter.

Quarterback Curtis has been cut by the Giants.  Now, offensive lineman Vinston, a sixth-round pick in 2013, has been waived by the Broncos, per a league source.

Painter has been down this road before.  Last year, he was cut and then signed to the team’s practice squad, which means he cleared waivers.  He was elevated to the active roster in the postseason, after the 49ers tried to sign him for the NFC title game.  He was on the roster for the AFC title game and Super Bowl XLVIII.

Now, Painter will hit the waiver wire again.  He has remaining eligibility for the 10-man practice squad.

Unless the 49ers claim him on waivers.

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Report: Jets waiving Stephen Hill, confirm three other cuts

Stephen Hill AP

Wide receiver Stephen Hill’s tenure with the Jets appears to be coming to a close.

The club will be waiving Hill, their 2012 second-round pick, Brian Costello of the New York Post reported Saturday.

The Jets have yet to announce the move.

The 23-year-old Hill struggled to meet expectations in New York, catching 45 passes for 594 yards and four touchdowns in two seasons. He showed major promise right off the bat, catching two TDs in his NFL regular season debut. But sustained success has eluded the Georgia Tech product.

However, the 6-foot-4, 215-pound Hill seems tailor-made to be picked up by a club hoping a change of scenery is what he needs. Hill was clocked at 4.36 seconds in the 40-yard dash in the 2012 NFL Scouting Combine, and he has the size clubs crave in their receivers.

For the Jets, the pending release of Hill could be the final chapter in one of the club’s most notable personnel missteps in recent years. Two picks after the Jets selected Hill, the Bears took wideout Alshon Jeffery, who has become a Pro Bowler.

In other roster moves confirmed by the Jets on Saturday, the team released tailback Daryl Richardson, cornerback Johnny Patrick and linebaker A.J. Edds. Richardson, the ex-Ram, could be a candidate to land elsewhere as a backup.

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Patriots to cut recent trade acquisition Jerel Worthy

Jerel Worthy AP

The Patriots didn’t need a long look at Jerel Worthy to decide they didn’t need him.

According to Shalise Manza Young of the Boston Globe, the Patriots have decided to release the defensive tackle.

The Patriots acquired him in a deal with the Packers two and a half weeks ago, in exchange for what was described as a late-round pick. If that was a conditional pick, it would mean the Patriots likely gave nothing up in the exchange.

Knee and back problems plagued the former second-round pick, part of the reason the Packers were willing to give up on him.

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Josina Anderson issues statement through ESPN

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The Labor Day weekend NFL bad news dump was highlighted by Aldon Smith’s nine-game suspension and a plea deal for Colts owner Jim Irsay.  Buried even deeper in the pre-three-day-weekend flurry of things everyone hopes we’ll forget about by Tuesday was a statement from ESPN’s Josina Anderson regarding the Michael Sam’s shower habits report.

Matt Yoder of Awful Announcing spotted the 5:08 p.m. ET statement on the ESPN P.R. site.

“I wanted to take this opportunity to say I understand the vast and varying perspectives regarding our Michael Sam report,” Anderson said.  “I’m particularly sensitive to those who feel the content therein worked to perpetuate stereotypes surrounding the LGBT community, or was just overall insensitive.  In all humility, I truly understand these viewpoints and have taken time to reflect on how our story had this unintended consequence.  To Michael Sam, I truly empathize with and respect your journey thus far on many different levels.  Ultimately, I’ve always believed making a professional sports roster should and will come down to production.

“In my role as reporter, it’s also important for me to emphasize that I highly value accuracy and in this case gathered facts using well-accepted journalistic standards. I can also appreciate that there are always lessons to be gained in any situation regardless of experience or tenure.

“As I move on, I look forward to leading off ESPN’s regular-season NFL coverage next week and I appreciate their continued support.”

Bristol has been suspension-happy in recent weeks, from the well-deserved Stephen A. Smith suspension to the possibly deserved Max Kellerman suspension to the completely unjustified Dan Le Batard suspension.  Per a source with knowledge of the situation, Anderson has not been suspended for her role in the report that left many bewildered and Rams coach Jeff Fisher pissed off.

While reasonable minds may differ on whether an apology is needed, the statement includes no apology to the Rams, to Fisher, or to Sam.  In fact, some (including Fisher) could interpret the portion of the statement defending the gathering of facts as an expression of defiance.

But the reporting isn’t the issue.  It’s the content.  Regardless of how the information was obtained and whether the information presented is accurate from a journalistic standpoint, the story isn’t a story unless the story is that Michael Sam truly is not comfortable in the locker room, supported by something far more tangible than scattered speculation that Sam may or may not be showering with teammates either because Same may or may not be doing something else at the time or because he may or may not be comfortable or because he may or may not want to make teammates uncomfortable.  Absent clear proof of actual discomfort for Sam or teammates in the locker room, “He’s one of the guys” is all anyone needs to report.

And that makes the first sentence of the statement a little confusing.  Are there “vast and varying perspectives” on the Michael Sam report?  Or is there only one perspective — the one that prompted ESPN to issue multiple apologies?

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Report: Patriots waiving Josh Boyce

Josh Boyce AP

The Patriots are releasing one of their draft picks from a season ago.

The club will waive wide receiver Josh Boyce, a 2013 fourth-round selection,’s Mike Reiss reported Saturday.

The 23-year-old Boyce appeared in nine games (three starts) for New England as a rookie, catching nine passes for 121 yards. A December ankle injury ended his season. He caught 7-87-0 in four 2014 preseason games.

Boyce (5-11, 205) can be added to the Patriots’ practice squad, but he will first have to clear waivers. The question now is whether he will land elsewhere by Sunday.

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James Harrison announces his retirement from football

James Harrison AP

Today’s news will be full of guys getting cut who will never play in the NFL again.

For James Harrison, it didn’t take getting cut.

The longtime Steelers linebacker announced on his Facebook page that he was retiring.

I have made the difficult decision to retire as of today,” he wrote. “My love for my family and the need to be there for them outweighs my desire to play the game. I have missed too many experiences with them because I devoted SO much time to my career. My love for the game isn’t strong enough to make up for missing one more birthday or first day of school. I am retiring as a man who is truly grateful for all of his blessings.”

Harrison recently worked out for the Cardinals, but nothing came of it, and now he’s decided to hang it up after 11 seasons.

He finished with 66.0 sacks, with 36.5 of them coming in a three-year span with the Steelers (2008-10).

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Reports: Leshoure out in Detroit

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With Joe Lombardi bringing the Saints’ offense to Detroit, a three-headed tailback monster could be a real possibility — which in theory gave former second-round draft pick Mikel Leshoure a spot in the rotation with Reggie Bush and Joique Bell.

While the Lions may still use three tailbacks on a consistent basis, Leshoure won’t be one of them.  According to multiple reports, the Lions will cut Leshoure.

Drafted in 2011, Leshoure’s rookie year ended before it began, with a torn Achilles tendon.  In 2012, he started 14 games, gaining 798 yard.  Last year, however, he played in only three games, getting the ball twice for nine yards.

The departure of Leshoure could be good news for Theo Riddick or George Winn, or both.  They’re the next two tailbacks on the roster after Leshoure.

The move makes the team’s 2011 draft officially a disaster, given that the Lions took soon-to-be-gone defensive tackle Nick Fairley in the first round and spent another second-round selection on long-gone receiver Titus Young.

Leshoure and his non-guaranteed salary of $645,000 will now hit the waiver wire, since he doesn’t have four years of service.

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Buccaneers run Jeff Demps off the 53-man roster

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The Buccaneers might want to use a committee of running backs, but that committee won’t include Jeff Demps.

According to Greg Auman of the Tampa Bay Times, the Bucs have decided to release the world class sprinter and Florida running back.

Demps had vowed this spring to focus only on football, but his track career might come calling again.

With the diminishing importance of kickoff returns, such singular talents such as Demps are having a harder time finding a role in the NFL, if they can’t do something else. And he was never able to show that.

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Browns releasing Chris Ogbonnaya

Chris Ogbonnaya AP

The Browns are set to part ways with a recent mainstay in their RB corps.

The club will release tailback Chris Ogbonnaya, according to Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

PFT has confirmed Ogbonnaya’s departure.

A fifth-year pro, the 28-year-old Ogbonnaya has appeared in 42 regular season games since joining Cleveland in 2011, rushing for 604 yards on 130 carries (4.6 yards per rush) and catching 95 passes for 695 yards and two TDs (7.3 yards per catch). Ogbonnaya (6-0, 225) has played fullback and tailback and can contribute in the passing game, all of which could help him garner interest elsewhere.

With Ogbonnaya and Dion Lewis set to be released, the Browns could be ready to keep rookie Isaiah Crowell as their third back behind Ben Tate and Terrance West.

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Aldon Smith apologizes for his suspension

Smith Getty Images

On Friday, the NFL announced the nine-game suspension that has been imposed on 49ers linebacker Aldon Smith, for multiple violations of the personal-conduct policy and substance-abuse policy.  On Saturday, the NFLPA issued a statement on Smith’s behalf.

“I apologize to my teammates, coaches, the entire 49ers organization and 49ers fans for not being able to contribute on the field for the next several weeks,” Smith said.  “Over the last year, I have learned a lot and I’’m working hard to grow from my experiences. I want to thank my family and friends, my teammates, my union and the 49ers for supporting me during this process. I will be at work daily to participate in all permitted work activities, and to support my teammates, just as they have supported me.””

Smith largely has stayed out of trouble since his September 2013 DUI incident, but for that whole fake bomb threat thing at LAX.  He’ll need to stay out of trouble going forward, or he’ll get suspended again — possibly even longer than nine games.

Speaking of nine games, we (or at least I) continue to believe that, with good behavior and given that Smith apparently waived his appeal rights under both policies, he possibly will be reinstated in fewer than nine games, if he can stay out of trouble and otherwise do what is expected of him.

It’ll be much easier for Smith to do that, given that he’s permitted to be around the team.  The outcome remains confusing, since if he’d been suspended only under the personal-conduct policy, he would have been frozen out.  Again, the apparent waiver of his appeal rights may have had something to do with that decision.

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Report: Packers expected to keep just one backup for Rodgers

Scott Tolzien, Aaron Rodgers, Matt Flynn AP

The Packers are looking likely to enter the season with just one backup for Aaron Rodgers.

The club isn’t expected to keep both Scott Tolzien or Matt Flynn on the 53-player roster, Rob Demovsky of reported Saturday. In short, the Packers are likely to decide between Flynn and Tolzien.

The 26-year-old Tolzien would be subject to waivers. He has practice squad eligibility. Flynn, 29, would be free to immediately sign elsewhere if released.

Tolzien had a strong preseason, completing 38-of-56 passes for 477 yards and three TDs with no interceptions. However, Flynn has risen to the occasion in relief of Rodgers throughout his career. What’s more, Flynn outplayed Tolzien in the 2013 regular season.

In all, both quarterbacks could very well end up on NFL rosters this season. But both won’t be on Green Bay’s 53-player roster, it appears.

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Panthers cut guard Chris Scott

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The Panthers’ offensive line has gone several changes in the offseason due to retirement.  On Saturday, the Panthers opted to make a change via termination of employment.

Per a league source, guard Chris Scott has been released.

In 2013, his first year with the team, Scott appeared in 10 regular-season games, with eight starts.  Rookie Trai Turner is expected to start at right guard for the Panthers in 2014.

Scott has four years of service, so he’ll instantly become a free agent.

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