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Marcus Lattimore to begin practicing next week

Marcus Lattimore AP

The 49ers, with a wealth of draft picks, were able to use one on former South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore knowing he might not help them this year.

And while returning to a game after his horrific college knee injury is still a long shot, he’s at least getting on the practice field.

According to Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com, Lattimore will begin practicing next week. He was placed on the non-football injury list at the beginning of the year, and the 49ers didn’t expect anything from him this season.

If nothing else, some football-like action serves as a carrot for his rehab, giving him a target to shoot for. The 49ers already had more backs than they could keep happy with the action they’re getting, so it’s not as if he’s a need.

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Tim Tebow getting more comfortable “had a blast” last night

Tim Tebow AP

The difference in their post-game quotes was nearly as vast as the game’s they turned in last night.

And if you read between the lines, it’s almost as if Tim Tebow and Matt Barkley sense how this is going.

The two alternated quarters last night for the Eagles as they competed for the third quarterback job there, and Tebow had a decidedly better night on the stat sheet.

“I think I’m getting more and more comfortable,” Tebow said, via Reuben Frank of CSNPhilly.com. “More and more comfortable with the offense. Getting into more of a rhythm, especially on first down, kind of getting things going, getting the first first down, which is big in this offense, and trying to get it rolling a little bit.”

And asked about the possibility of returning to the league after two years out of it, Tebow shrugged it off.

“That’s not up to me,” he said. “I just try to go out there and do what I’m coached and try to improve every day and compete.

“I’ve said this a lot of times to you guys and I really genuinely mean it: I’m not going to worry about what I can’t control. It’s a blessing being able to come out here and play the game I love. It was a lot of fun out there tonight. I had a blast.”

For Barkley, not so much. He played well in the opener, but hasn’t matched that as the preseason wore on, going 15-of-32 for 159 yards and an interception the last three games. He also grumbled a bit about alternating quarters (“I never liked it”), but said that wasn’t the reason for his only putting up three points to Tebow’s 17.

“I don’t know if tonight was the deciding factor,” Barkley said. “We’ll see if that’s what it comes down to, but over the course of this camp I’ve shown that I can play quarterback for this team.

“Over the course of this whole camp, through training camp, practices and preseason, I think it’s hard to really say [we’ll make a decision] out of those preseason games because it’s really a small sampling and what I have shown through practices I think I’ve done a good job and improved in a lot of areas. I’m happy with how I’ve played throughout camp.”

If cut, Barkley will likely get a chance elsewhere. But after watching him play better as the preseason wore on, it’s looking more and more like the Eagles want to give Tebow a chance there and now.

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Marcus Mariota delivers early, so the Titans get him out of there

Marcus Mariota, Scott Crichton AP

The Titans needed to see something in a hurry out of their offense in general, and Marcus Mariota in particular.

So when they delivered quickly Thursday night, the second overall pick in the draft was able to escape to the safety of the bench.

Via Jason Wolf of the Tennesseean, Mariota played a single series in Thursday’s preseason finale, but it was a good one.

His first touchdown pass as a Titan was a 59-yarder to Harry Douglas, allowing him to leave the game and the exhibition season on a positive note.

It’s really exciting to be a part of this offense,” Mariota said. “Guys are continuing to get better, and I feel that we built a solid foundation throughout the preseason. Now it’s time to go.”

Now he has nine days to get ready to face No. 1 pick Jameis Winston and the Buccaneers, after a solid enough showing in four games.

Mariota was 21-of-30 passing for 326 yards, a touchdown, an interception and a 102.9 passer rating. It was solid enough showing, though it lacked a signature moment until last night.

“We accomplished what we wanted to do,” Whisenhunt said. “We got our guys in there, we eliminated that bad taste in our mouth from last week, and we did some things we really like doing. It was a good start for us.”

Most other starting quarterbacks didn’t take part last night, but Mariota still needed the reps. And by closing on a positive note, sends the Titans into the season feeling more hope than they’ve had in years.

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Lions’ Zach Zenner is the preseason’s leading rusher

Bacarri Rambo, Zach Zenner AP

When Lions running back Zach Zenner arrived in Detroit as an undrafted rookie in May, he appeared to be a long shot to make the roster. Zenner was an excellent college player, with three 2,000-yard seasons, but that was at South Dakota State, which isn’t exactly known for producing NFL talent.

But the way Zenner has played in the preseason, it would be tough for the Lions to justify cutting him — and he probably wouldn’t clear waivers if they tried to stash him on the practice squad. Zenner finished the preseason as the NFL’s leading rusher, with 183 yards on 35 carries.

In last night’s preseason finale, Zenner scored the game-winning touchdown in the fourth quarter, and he said afterward that he sees his preseason performance as proof that he can make it in the NFL.

“Every preseason game is very important, especially for a guy like me as an undrafted free agent,” Zenner said, via the Associated Press. “Those opportunities, not everyone gets them.”

One person who isn’t surprised by the way Zenner played in the preseason is his fellow Lions rookie running back, Ameer Abdullah. South Dakota State played Abdullah’s Nebraska team in 2013, and Zenner finished that game with 21 carries for 202 yards and two touchdowns, plus a 21-yard reception. Although Abdullah ran for 139 yards in that game and Nebraska won in a blowout, he said he and his teammates left that game with a lot of respect for Zenner, and when Abdullah found out they were going to be NFL teammates, he figured Zenner was going to prove himself on the next level, too.

“I expected it,” Abdullah said. “We played South Dakota State in 2013 and his first run was like a 50-yard touchdown. I think he ran for like 220 on us. At that point, I knew what kind of player he was going to be.”

Abdullah was ahead of the curve: Most people didn’t know what kind of player Zenner was until this preseason. Now everyone who’s been paying attention knows that Zenner is for real.

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Ex-quarterback Pryor debuts as receiver, plays quarterback

Terrelle Pryor AP

The Terrelle Pryor Experiment finally made the game stage Thursday night as the Browns closed the preseason in Chicago.

After missing the first three preseason games and much of camp due to a hamstring issue Pryor, who’s trying to convert from quarterback to receiver and make the 53-man roster, played quarterback.

Really. He played wide receiver, too, in the second half, but he got in the box score only on read-option plays as a quarterback. He ran for five yards on the first and four on the second. He didn’t have an opportunity to catch a pass, was flagged for an illegal formation penalty when he covered up a tight end while lining up out wide and played on the punt team.

Pryor might make the Browns because he’s big (6’5) and fast and is worth some patience and lots of work in making him a receiver. Given the lack of explosive playmakers the Browns have, his ability to come in at quarterback and other positions, too, can challenge defenses. He’s probably not ready to play wide receiver right away, but the Browns might keep him this weekend when they trim the roster to 53.

“We had a list of things we wanted to take a look at with Terrelle,” Browns coach Mike Pettine said after the game. “There were a couple times that we had some routes called for him and whether it was protection or the quarterback came off too fast, we didn’t get a chance to see him make a play.”

Now, he’ll play the waiting game before knowing if the experiment will continue with the Browns.

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Belichick mum on Brady ruling

Bill Belichick AP

The last time Patriots coach Bill Belichick faced the media on a day of significance in the Tom Brady case, Belichick was able to rattle off “it’s already been addressed” several times, because he spoke after Patriots owner Robert Kraft issued a blistering statement expressing frustration with the league’s decision to uphold the four-game suspension. On the day that a federal judge scrapped the suspension, Belichick had no opening act.

But that still didn’t mean he’d say anything.

Asked after the preseason finale against the Giants to address his level of relief to the absence of uncertainty regarding the team’s quarterback for the season opener, Belichick said, “I’ll just talk about the game – any questions about the game?”

And the rest of the questions were about the game, and not about Brady’s situation.

Still, Belichick and the rest of the organization have to be privately thrilled with the outcome, as Rodney Harrison explained on Thursday’s Pro Football Talk on NBCSN.

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Rams say sign policy not a response to potential move

Jared Cook, Stan Kroenke AP

The Rams’ policy of banning fans from displaying signs that the team deems inappropriate is not aimed at those who protest a potential move to Los Angeles.

That’s what a team official told Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The Rams say the policy was enacted late last season in response to fans waving signs related to the situation in Ferguson, Missouri.

Still, the team reserves the right to remove any signs for reasons including “message content.” It will be interesting to see if the Rams remove signs that criticize owner Stan Kroenke for his efforts to remove the team from St. Louis.

If the Rams begin the process of moving to Los Angeles this year, while they still have games to play in St. Louis, expect those games to be filled with fans who have plenty to say about Kroenke.

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Three injured after roof bolt falls at Lucas Oil Stadium

460x AP

At a time when the NFL hopes to give fans more reasons to show up at games, the NFL has given fans more reasons to stay home.

According to the Associated Press, three people suffered injuries when a bolt from the roof at Lucas Oil Stadium struck them during Thursday night’s preseason game between the Bengals and Colts.

The AP report calls the injuries both “minor” and “non-life threatening”; the latter description makes the injuries sound something more than minor. The fact that two of the three people were taken to a hospital for further evaluation suggests something more than minor, too. (The third victim was treated and released.)

“A bolt from the fixed structure sheared and dropped into seating section 248,” a stadium official said in a statement. “The movement of the roof was stopped immediately and stadium authorities were notified.”

Whatever the reason, objects shouldn’t be falling on people who paid to watch a football game. And fewer people may now be willing to pay to watch a football game at Lucas Oil Stadium.

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Tim Tebow out-plays Matt Barkley in battle for Eagles roster spot

Tim Tebow AP

If the fourth and final preseason game was the deciding factor in the Eagles’ third-string quarterback competition, then Tim Tebow won. And it wasn’t even close.

Tebow played very well tonight against the Jets, completing 11 of 17 passes for 189 yards, with two touchdowns and one interception, plus 32 yards rushing on four carries. Matt Barkley, who started tonight’s game, did not play nearly as well, going just 4-for-9 for 45 yards, with no touchdowns and one interception. Barkley did not run the ball.

However, it’s unclear whether tonight’s preseason game will be the difference. Barkley has been ahead of Tebow on the depth chart to date, and Tebow still has flaws as a passer. Chip Kelly might decide that Tebow just doesn’t throw the ball well enough to make the 53-player roster.

Kelly didn’t show his hand after the game, saying that both quarterbacks showed some strengths and some weaknesses tonight. But there’s little doubt that Tebow showed more than Barkley.

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Tevin Coleman makes his case for playing time

Tevin Coleman AP

The preseason finale is generally the most meaningless of the meaningless preseason games, but Falcons rookie running back Tevin Coleman used his chance Thursday night to put himself at least in the conversation and probably in the rotation when the regular season begins.

Coleman missed much of August with a hamstring issue and carried four times for two yards last weekend in his preseason debut. But he carried eight times for 56 yards Thursday vs. the Ravens, sparked by a 26-yard run in the first quarter.

A third-round pick, Coleman missed much of August with a hamstring issue but was drafted to be an immediate contributor and push projected starter Devonta Freeman.

Freeman sat out the entire preseason but returned to practice this week for the first time since Aug 6.

It was awesome to see him,” Falcons coach Dan Quinn said.

The Falcons open the season Sept. 14 vs. the Eagles.

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Buccaneers sign Tim Jennings

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Chicago Bears Getty Images

We noted this week that it was likely, and now it has happened: Tim Jennings is a Tampa Bay Buccaneer.

Jennings, the veteran cornerback who was cut by the Bears, signed with the Bucs today.

The signing reunites Jennings with Buccaneers coach Lovie Smith, who previously coached him in Chicago. During their last season together, in 2012, Jennings was a Pro Bowler.

In Tampa Bay, Jennings will likely be the third cornerback on the depth chart, behind starters Alterraun Verner and Johnthan Banks.

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Judge Berman’s ruling may contain a warning for the NFL

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When reviewing a written ruling from a court, lawyers have a habit of going to the last page and working backwards. Judge Richard M. Berman surely knows that this happens, which means there’s a chance he included a specific message for the league’s lawyers at the very end of Thursday’s ruling in the Tom Brady case.

And the message may have been, “Appeal this decision at your own peril.”

Appearing at the top of the last full page of the 40-page ruling is the list of claims from Brady and the NFL Players Association that Judge Berman saw no need to address, including: (1) whether Commissioner Roger Goodell was “evidently partial” in presiding over the appeal of Brady’s suspension; (2) whether Goodell’s conclusions regarding Brady’s knowledge of and involvement in the alleged deflation scheme exceeded the findings of the Ted Wells report; and (3) whether Goodell undermined his competency to serve as arbitrator by publicly praising the work of Ted Wells.

So if the NFL, which already has filed a notice of appeal, pursues the appeal, wins the appeal, and forces the case back to Judge Berman for proceedings consistent with the decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, Judge Berman can take up those issues — and once again scrap the suspension. Or, at a minimum, he can order that a second appeal hearing occur.

Which means that the case could be tied up even longer in the courts, and that the eventual ruling (if the NFL wins its appeal) could directly undermine the Commissioner’s powers in future suspensions.

The NFL may not have thought of this. Frankly, I hadn’t thought of it until someone smarter than me (it’s a low bar) alerted me to the angle.

The more I think about it, the more sense it makes. The NFL should consider the situation carefully before deciding whether it makes sense to continue with its appeal.

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On Brady ruling, Jerry Jones is simply ready for some football

Jerry Jones AP

Regarding Tom Brady’s suspension, some believed that the owners pushing for Commissioner Roger Goodell to stick with four games included Cowboys owner Jerry Jones. On Thursday night, Jones didn’t have much to say about the outcome from federal court.

“I really hadn’t let my guard down about playing the Patriots [in Week Five], whether [Brady] was playing or not,” Jones said Thursday night, via 105.3 The Fan in Dallas. “[Bill] Belichick and that organization are tough competition no matter what. And so I expected all we could handle, one way or the other, Brady or not. So from that standpoint it didn’t change anything.

“I’m ready for us to play football. Certainly I understood many sides of the issue, but as far as I’m concerned let’s keep that over in the courtroom and get to the football field and play some ball.”

Many would agree. Many more would prefer that the courtroom festivities end, too. But the league opted to prolong the case by filing an immediate appeal.

In the next item to be posted, I’ll explain why the league could eventually regret that decision.

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Falcons owner says it might be time to look at commissioner’s power

Roger Goodell, Arthur Blank AP

In the wake of today’s Tom Brady ruling, many of the questions that remain surround how the NFL moves forward, and with whom at the helm of its discipline.

And at least one owner seems willing to consider that the best person for that job might not be commissioner Roger Goodell.

According to D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Falcons owner Arthur Blank admitted that Thursday’s ruling by Judge Richard Berman vacating Brady’s suspension was bad for the league.

It’s not healthy for the NFL to be in the kind of litigious position that it’s been for last several years,” Blank said. “I think that the commissioner is working hard to hold up the respect and integrity of the game, the competitive balance of the game and the shield. Having said that, I think we have to find ways to get to a better place sooner with the NFLPA than the process that we’ve gone through.”

Even if that means something other than Goodell having final say.

“This Deflategate thing which isn’t about Deflategate any longer, it’s about what has been collectively negotiated for decades in terms of the commissioner’s responsibility in terms of disciplining players,” Blank said. “If we have to look at that differently in today’s light, in today’s environment, as an ownership group we should be prepared to do that. The commissioner should be prepared to do that.”

And while the league retains the right to appeal the ruling, Blank sounded like many fans who just want the matter put to rest.

“I would have rather seen it end with a positive ruling for the NFL,” Blank said. “I understand why the commissioner and the league feel as strongly as it does about trying to protect the rights that for decades have been collectively bargained. I think that is important.

“I don’t think they should be re-bargained in a federal court. Having said that, I think the commissioner and the ownership around the league have to be prepared to look at things, look at change and change may be appropriate.”

While there is a general sense that Goodell has the support of many owners, few have spoken out in the wake of today’s ruling. And without more of them talking, it’s impossible to know if Blank (who chairs the committee of owners who determine how much Goodell is paid) is an outlier or a prophet.

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Kurt Warner calls Patriots cheating speculation “unfortunate” for everyone

Super Bowl X Warner Getty Images

The Patriots won their first Super Bowl against the Rams in early 2002. From time to time over the past several years, members of the Rams have discussed the question of whether the New England win resulted in any way from cheating.

Much of that talk was sparked by a Boston Herald report from 2008, which alleged that the Patriots secretly videotaped a Rams’ walk-through practice prior to Super Bowl XXXVI. The Herald later retracted it, but people continue to believe it — as evidenced by a recent ESPN apology for stating the withdrawn allegations as fact.

Quarterback Kurt Warner addressed the topic again on Thursday’s PFT Live on NBC Sports Radio, after Judge Berman’s ruling was issued on Thursday. Specifically, I asked whether Warner ever wonders whether something fishy may have occurred.

“You know what I really don’t,” Warner said. “I don’t think there was any wrongdoing I don’t have any reason to think that other than the reports and knowing that the Patriots were engaged in some of those things along the way. When, where, how much, I don’t really know.

“All I always say is that I think it’s unfortunate because there’s no question on that Super Bowl Sunday that the Patriots outplayed us and deserved to be Super Bowl champs. But I think anytime you have someone or an organization that’s caught doing something outside the rules, all it does is it gives reason for, I don’t even want to say doubt, but for speculation of what happened, when did it happen, how did it affect them and all of those things, and I think it’s unfortunate. I think it’s unfortunate for both sides. It’s unfortunate for the Patriots if it had absolutely nothing to do with them winning that we even have to talk about that. I think it’s unfortunate for the teams that maybe they beat along the way because now it makes those teams and those players and those fans go, ‘Well I wonder if they did and that’s why they beat us.’

“So I think it’s unfortunate all the way around, but I think it’s human nature that when somebody’s caught or it looks like they may have done something outside the rules. It’s going to always lend itself to if something else happens with that person or organization them saying, ‘Well, see.  Here you go. It’s a history of it.’ And I think that’s the unfortunate part to this whole thing you know, but it’s unfortunate that when you do something like that that pushes the envelope it’s always going to keep people talking and it’s always going to be in the back of people’s minds.”

What was in the front of everyone’s mind on Thursday was the scrapping of the suspension.

“I’ll say first I was very surprised,” Warner said. “Simply because I felt like the issue became more about Roger Goodell’s authority to be able to lay down this punishment as opposed to was the punishment warranted? So I thought based on the CBA and what I understood of the CBA that this was in the realm of what Roger Goodell could do, whether you agreed with it or not, and I believed that the courts were going to uphold that because it was in the agreement. So I was very surprised from that standpoint that they nullified the suspension.

“From the other side I definitely understand if you’re looking at it from a legal standpoint and for me from day one I’ve really felt like everything that I know and I don’t know everything was very circumstantial. It was very hard for me to see a man’s character attacked and to see a guy punished for four games because he likely knew about something but we had nothing extremely credible to say that he was involved in anything. So from that standpoint and the legal standpoint I definitely understand and not surprised if you were going from that standpoint that this was nullified.”

The full interview with Warner appears below.

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Reggie Wayne looking good in a Patriots uniform

Reggie Wayne AP

For the most part, the fourth and final game of the preseason features backups and scrubs. So it’s notable any time a recognizable player is on the field.

In New England, a very recognizable player is on the field: Reggie Wayne, the veteran receiver who has now caught his first passes in a Patriots uniform.

Wayne made an excellent play to catch an 18-yard pass from Ryan Lindley along the sideline and also picked up a six-yard gain. He repeatedly did a good job of getting open against the backups in the Giants’ secondary, although Lindley missed him a couple times.

Patriots coach Bill Belichick has said that when Wayne played for the Colts, he was the best receiver the Patriots played against every year. Belichick has to like the look of Wayne as a Patriot.

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