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Martin situation exposes ugly underbelly of football

Incognito AP

At a time when the NFL frets about parents keeping their children out of football due to the potential long-term impact of concussions, the league also should at least be a bit concerned about the possible fallout of the still-unfolding situation in Miami — and the manner in which some current players, former players, and personnel executives are reacting to it.

Football is premised on the commission of violence in controlled circumstances. Football celebrates those who will commit violence on demand. Football tolerates, at times, those who can’t quite flip the switch back to off.

Consider this comment from an unnamed personnel executive to Jim Trotter of SI.com: “Incognito is an A-Hole, however I’m pretty sure you would want him beside you if you are in a bar fight. Tough as nails.”

The message? It’s better to have a guy who will be an “A-Hole” on and off the field than a guy who is neither.

Football coaches at every level, whether they admit it or not, want their players to be mean. The goal seems to be to make them mean on the field, and to deal separately with the manner in which being mean on the field can spill over to their lives away from the field if/when it becomes a problem.

Most players are capable of being mean on the field and not mean off the field. Still, football craves players who will be mean on the field, and football prefers both to neither.

The Jonathan Martin/Richie Incognito saga could prompt some parents to ensure that their children remain in the neither category by keeping them away from a sport that ultimately could put them in both.

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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

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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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Super Bowl 51 set for February 5, 2017

Reliant Stadium Makes Preperations For Super Bowl XXXVIII Getty Images

You can begin to send out the “Save the Date” cards for Super Bowl 51 in Houston.

The game will be held on Sunday, February 5, 2017, the league said Thursday, according to the Houston Super Bowl Host Committee.

NRG Stadium, home of the Texans, is the game site for Super Bowl 51. Reliant Stadium’s lone other Super Bowl was one of the wildest in game history, with the Patriots knocking off the Panthers 32-29 in Super Bowl XXXVIII. (We’ll have to see if the roof will be closed this time.)

Super Bowl 50 will be held at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California on February 7, 2016.

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Texans release Tyson Clabo

Ryan Fitzpatrick, Tyson Clabo AP

Veteran tackle Tyson Clabo saw action in all 16 games as a reserve for the Texans last year after being signed during training camp, but it doesn’t look like he’ll be playing any for the team this year.

The Texans announced Clabo’s release on Thursday. He was set to make $900,000 this season in the second year of the two-year deal he signed last summer.

Clabo last started a game for the Dolphins in 2013 as part of one of the league’s leakiest offensive lines. Clabo started 15 games for Miami that year and struggled in the early weeks of the season before putting up a better effort down the stretch. He was also a regular starter for the Falcons for seven years and will likely be in the market for another reserve role for the 2015 season.

Derek Newton started every game at right tackle for Houston last season and should be back in the spot this year after re-signing with the team in March.

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Falcons linebacker gets suspension reduced to $50,000 fine

bartu Getty Images

Falcons linebacker Joplo Bartu slid his paperwork in under the deadline, and saved himself a couple of games.

According to Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network, Bartu had a two-game suspension turned into a $50,000 fine for an alcohol-related offense last season.

Last year, Bartu pleaded no contest to a DUI, and got a two-day suspended sentence and a year of probation, and in March the league suspended him for two games.

But the league changed its policy last year, calling for two-game suspensions for DUIs which weren’t resolved before Nov. 1.

Bartu reached the plea agreement in late October, but didn’t appear before the judge until November. He was able to provide the league documentation of the deal before the deadline, so they circled back and amended his punishment.

See, the league is willing to work with punished players when “new information” comes to light.

Wonder if it will catch on?

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Former players file 2nd lawsuit claiming teams pushed painkillers to mask pain

FRANCE-MEDICINE Getty Images

In December, Judge William Alsup dismissed a lawsuit brought by former players against the NFL claiming that team doctors urged players to use prescription painkillers to mask pain that might have kept them on the field without proper explanation of the risks involved with such medication.

Alsup ruled that the Collective Bargaining Agreement covered such a grievance and that “these benefits may not have been perfect but they have been uniform across all clubs and not left to the vagaries of state common law.” Alsup also suggested that the claims should be made against teams and not the league. That decision has been appealed and now a group of former players has filed another lawsuit against the 32 NFL teams on similar grounds.

The Associated Press reports “hundreds of former players” have filed suit in the U.S. Northern District of Maryland claiming that team doctors and trainers provided painkillers, sometimes illegally, “as part of a decades-long conspiracy to keep them on the field without regard for their long-term health.”

“This lawsuit alleges intentional activity by the teams, not negligence,” plaintiffs’ attorney Steve Silverman said. “It’s another part of a unified effort to provide health care and compensation to the thousands of former players who have been permanently injured or died as a result of playing professional football.”

The lawsuit also claims that several coaches, including Don Shula, Mike Holmgren and Wayne Fontes, told players that their jobs were in jeopardy if they didn’t take painkillers in order to return to the field. Players also allege that prescriptions for the medication were filled out without in their names without their knowledge.

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NFL suspends Marcell Dareus for Week 1

Marcell Dareus AP

Bills defensive tackle Marcell Dareus will miss the season opener against the Colts.

The NFL announced today that Dareus has been suspended without pay for the first game of the regular season for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy. Dareus can participate in the offseason and preseason, but he won’t be able to practice or play during Week One.

Dareus, who was arrested last year on charges of possession of a controlled substance and possession of drug paraphernalia, acknowledged that the suspension was warranted.

“Last year, I made a mistake involving possession of a banned substance,” Dareus said in a statement. “The NFL’s discipline for this conduct is part of the drug policy, and I apologize to my family, my teammates, the entire Bills organization and Bills fans that I will miss one game as a result of my mistake. I will work intensely that week and will be extremely happy to contribute to a win in week two for the Bills.”

Dareus has been to the Pro Bowl the last two years. He’ll be missed by the Bills in the first game of the season.

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