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Scott Tolzien impressing Packers with his preparation

Mike McCarthy, Scott Tolzien AP

When now-Packers starting quarterback Scott Tolzien was trying to stick as an undrafted rookie with the 49ers, he actually lived at the team facility for a few weeks, since he was unsure of his future and putting in long hours anyway.

While he hasn’t taken it to that extreme in Green Bay, coach Mike McCarthy did have to send him home Tuesday night around 9:30 p.m., after a day of cramming to learn the offense for his new role.

“He tells me he sleeps well. I’ll take his word for that,” McCarthy said, via Jason Wilde of ESPNWisconsin.com. “He’s getting his proper rest. He eats well because he’s here all the time. So I’m not worried about him. The man loves it, and you’ve got to appreciate his work ethic. It’s refreshing, and it’s good for everybody. He’s going about it the right way.”

For players such as Tolzien, opportunities like this one are rare. The Packers bad luck in losing Aaron Rodgers to a broken collarbone is his open door, and he’s not going to cheat himself of the opportunity.

“The most important thing is that the preparation is where you make your hay. You have to win the week first,” Tolzien said. “That’s where a lot of the wins and losses come, how do you approach the week leading up to the game. The best way to combat pressure is to prepare the right way.

“I think you build your confidence through your preparation through the week. It’s Wednesday right now. Hopefully as the week goes on your confidence builds more and more with your comfort level and your preparation and your plan.”

That kind of attitude has made him a quick favorite among the Packers, and Rodgers compared him to another former backup who capitalized on a chance start, and put a lot of capital in his bank account as a result.

“But Scott reminds me of a young Matt [Flynn],” Rodgers said. “I said that before Matt was here – and I don’t like to make a ton of comparisons – but it is a compliment. When Matt came in, you saw a lot of growth in the way he was throwing it and in his approach. And I think Scott, he’s been throwing it better since the first day he got here, and his approach has been very solid, he’s very detail-oriented.

“It’s been impressive to see him make plays on the scout team, and I’ve always said it, whether it’s the young guys (on the 53-man roster) or guys who are trying to get activated off the practice squad, the way to get people’s attention is to make plays in practice. The way you’re going to have confidence in the game is making those plays in practice, whether it’s the first team or the scout team. And Scott’s been making a lot of plays on the scout team, whether it’s throwing the ball in tight windows, throwing the ball deep, moving in the pocket, a lot of stuff you saw on Sunday.”

If Tolzien can hold them over and win a game or two in Rodgers’ absence, he’ll have a place in the hearts of Packers fans forever. And he’ll certainly have to get a place of his own.

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Art Rooney II hopes NFL will soon hold games in Mexico and Germany

Art Rooney II AP

One of the members of the NFL’s International Committee is optimistic the league will soon stage games in two countries in which it has shown interest.

In an interview with his club’s website, Steelers president Art Rooney II said he “would be disappointed” if the NFL wasn’t holding games in Germany and Mexico “within the next five years.”

Said Rooney, according to Steelers.com: “The audience in those two countries — there are enough NFL fans in both to support a game, and so it’s really a matter of being able to put together a stadium situation that would work well for us, as well as being able to put together a broadcasting and digital media-style programming so the games can be broadcast in those countries as well being played there.”

On Thursday, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said the league would “evaluate” Germany, Mexico and Brazil as game sites. However, as Rooney told Steelers.com, Germany and Mexico are more likely to host a game before Brazil.

Said Rooney: “Brazil is the one I would say is the newest discussion, and my guess is there will have to be a little longer lead time in developing that.”

The NFL will hold three regular season games in London in 2015. Overall, the league has scheduled 14 games in London in 2007.

At some point, the league would figure to play a game elsewhere, whether in Europe or somewhere else outside North America. And as Rooney sees it, Germany and Mexico are at the head of the line.

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Doug Whaley: All our quarterbacks are on equal footing

EJ Manuel AP

Last week, Bills offensive coordinator Greg Roman denied a report that the Bills were thinking about parting ways with third-year quarterback EJ Manuel before the start of the 2015 season.

General Manager Doug Whaley was on the same page during an appearance on The Jim Rome Show. Whaley called the report “just someone trying to get something stirred” during the offseason and said that the team remains excited about Manuel’s future in the NFL. That excitement wasn’t enough to stop the team from acquiring Matt Cassel and it isn’t enough to lift Manuel ahead of Tyrod Taylor or Jeff Tuel in the pecking order at this point in the offseason, however.

“I look for him to come in and compete and try to take the job,” Whaley said. “Everybody has got an equal footing. It’s a clean slate for all four of our quarterbacks. We’re not tied to anybody. We just want the best man to start. It’s exciting for us.”

The Bills may not be making any plans to cut Manuel at this point and there isn’t much reason for them to be in that mode. If all four quarterbacks really are on equal footing, though, then Manuel can end up fourth on the depth chart at the end of August and leave the Bills with a decision to make.

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A.J. McCarron sees himself and Andy Dalton as two future stars

Andy Dalton, AJ McCarron AP

At the moment, A.J. McCarron is stuck behind Andy Dalton on the quarterback depth chart in Cincinnati. But McCarron doesn’t see himself as a backup for long

McCarron told the Cincinnati Enquirer that he is OK with being behind Dalton on the depth chart for now, but he thinks he and Dalton will both be stars in the future.

“If you’re not going to dream big, then why dream?” he said. “I want to compete. Andy’s our starter, I know that. I love Andy to death. Andy’s always been there for me. He’s been like a big brother to me. But I’m going to compete and try to push him the best I can and have his back — always. He’s our starter, I know that, but I want to make him better in every way that I can. Like I told him, hopefully one day me and him can be retired and look back on it and we’re both 100 million-dollar guys. That’s my dream. And I’ll always be that way. So that’s what I want to do.”

McCarron won two national championships as the starting quarterback at Alabama, but he spent his rookie season on the sideline after the Bengals drafted him in the fifth round last year. He’s got a long way to go before he’s a $100 million guy. But it’s good to dream big.

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John Madden: Super Bowl call will “torment” Pete Carroll forever

GLENDALE, AZ - FEBRUARY 01:  Head coach Pete Carroll of the Seattle Seahawks looks dejected after defeat to the New England Patriots during Super Bowl XLIX at University of Phoenix Stadium on February 1, 2015 in Glendale, Arizona. The Patriots defeated the Seahawks 28-24.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images) Getty Images

Seahawks Pete Carroll acknowledged after the Super Bowl that he’d always regret the decision to pass at the goal line rather than run.

That’s almost easy to say now, at a time when he’s trying to insulate the coordinator who called the play, and the quarterback who threw the game-losing interception.

But one of the best coaches the game has ever known said the memory won’t get any easier with time.

That will torment him forever,” Hall of Famer John Madden told Sam Farmer of the Los Angeles Times. “Winning one game is hard. Getting to the Super Bowl is hard. Then getting that close and losing has to be tough, because we only remember the winners of the Super Bowl.

“One of the biggest gaps in sports is the difference between the winning and losing teams of the Super Bowl. They don’t invite the losing team to the White House. They don’t have parades for them. They don’t throw confetti on them.

“Does it haunt you? Hell yes, it haunts you. I’m still haunted by some championship games.”

Madden’s Raiders lost five conference championship games in seven years, nearly taking the pleasure out of finally winning one.

But he doubts that Carroll having won one will take the sting away from the chance at a second.

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Kraft tells Larry King he hopes he helped Brady’s appeal

larryking AP

There’s been plenty of talk around the NFL that Patriots owner Robert Kraft decided not to fight the NFL’s Deflategate penalties because the NFL has given a quiet assurance that Tom Brady will get a favorable ruling on the appeal of his four-game suspension. Now a report from Larry King (of all people) indicates that Kraft was thinking along those lines when he decided to accept the NFL’s punishment.

King wrote on Twitter that he talked to Kraft today, and that Kraft told him he’s hoping that accepting the NFL’s penalties will help Brady in his own fight against his four-game suspension.

It’s not often that NFL news is broken by Larry King, but this seems plausible. Even as Kraft has given up the fight against the Patriots’ sanctions, he still steadfastly supports Brady. It would make sense that Kraft would give up the fight against the league primarily because he wants to help Brady.

Although if that is Kraft’s intention, he probably would have preferred that King not tweet about it.

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“Free Tom Brady” rally set for Sunday outside Gillette Stadium

The Destruction Of Tea In Boston Getty Images

Those aggrieved by Tom Brady’s four-game suspension are invited to a rally at a parking lot outside of Gillette Stadium on Sunday, per an announcement on Facebook.

The “Free Tom Brady rally” will be held from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Eastern on Sunday and will “protest the unjust football arrest of half God half man Tom Brady.”

There is no indication the team has any connection to the rally.

The gathering, according to the announcement, will be “peaceful.”

As of this writing, 375 fans had indicated on Facebook that they would be attending.

One fan wrote: “Can’t be there but best wishes from England!”

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Tyrann Mathieu finally feels “free” after dealing with injuries

ATLANTA, GA - NOVEMBER 30:  Tyrann Mathieu #32 of the Arizona Cardinals stands on the field during warm ups prior to the game against the Atlanta Falcons at the Georgia Dome on November 30, 2014 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images) Getty Images

Cardinals safety Tyrann Mathieu had to overcome a lot just to stick in the NFL.

But once he got there, stuff kept happening which kept him from doing what he does best.

But after a series of injuries that limited him, he’s finally well and ready to get back to the player he was in 2013 before a late-season knee injury, which was followed by a broken thumb last year.

It just feels good to be free,” Mathieu said, via Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic.

“He has a gleam in his eye that I didn’t see at all last year,” coach Bruce Arians said.

That’s saying something, because Mathieu was a playmaker on a good defense as a rookie, before the injuries took a toll on him. He admitted he was tentative last year, not confident in his own health.

“You try to stay as optimistic as possible,” Mathieu said. “But there is a reality to it, too. It’s kind of hard to keep telling yourself it’s going to be all right, especially when we got into the thick of everything last year, thinking that if I was 100 percent, I’d probably be able to help my team a whole lot more than I’m doing right now.”

So instead of playing freely, he worried about making mistakes.

“You play scared because you don’t want to give up a touchdown,” Mathieu said. “Or you play too aggressive because you don’t want to be singled out as if you’re not giving the effort. It’s kind of like the worst of both worlds.

“I’ve never thought about it as hard as I did last year. I was always thinking about something, rather than just going out there to play.”

So the fact he’s out there now, running around in OTAs, is a positive sign. Because when the Honey Badger doesn’t care about making mistakes, he’s at his most dangerous.

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Marcus Mariota has the NFL’s best-selling jersey in May

Marcus Mariota AP

Titans fans are eager to throw their support behind new quarterback Marcus Mariota.

Mariota has the NFL’s best-selling jersey for the month of May, Titans director of finance Stuart Spears told Paul Kuharsky of ESPN.

A study by a sports marketing company also found that Mariota ranks as the 39th most marketable athlete in the world. That may sound rather shocking for a player who hasn’t played a professional game yet, but Mariota was a popular Heisman Trophy winner at Oregon who enters the NFL with a significant fan base. It also helps that Mariota (unlike the only player drafted ahead of him, Jameis Winston) has a squeaky-clean image off the field.

So for now, Mariota is among the NFL’s top stars. But that popularity won’t last long unless he can prove himself on the field.

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On this day in 1985, the NFL ramped up its overseas efforts

2005 American Bowl in Tokyo - NFL Party - August 4, 2005 Getty Images

The NFL’s push to expand its international reach is no secret. Three regular season games are set for London in 2015, and the league has studied Brazil, Germany and Mexico as potential future game sites.

However, the league’s desire to grow its influence beyond the United States isn’t a new development. In fact, we’ve now reached the 30-year mark of the NFL’s serious concerted efforts to go international.

On this day in 1985, league owners approved a plan to play at least one overseas preseason game beginning in 1986, per the NFL’s Record and Fact Book. And beginning with a Bears-Cowboys matchup in London in ’86, the NFL scheduled at least one exhibition in another country for 18 consecutive years, according to footballgeography.com.

The NFL had previously staged preseason games outside of the United States, with a Cardinals-Chargers game in Tokyo in 1976 the first played outside of North America. However, they were not annual events.

But as the 1980s went on, the NFL’s international ambitions broadened. In 1989, the NFL would found and fund the World League of American Football, which lasted 15 seasons before the league decided to focus on staging regular season games outside of the United States.

Now, the NFL International Series has a foothold on the league calendar. The next logical question is whether an internationally based team will follow.

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Pats fan takes belief in Brady’s innocence to the grave

Tom Brady AP

Deflategate has taken a lot out of Tom Brady’s reputation across most of America. But in New England, Brady is as beloved as ever.

In fact, the extent to which some in New England are rallying around Brady has reached new highs — or lows, depending on your perspective.

We now have the late Patricia Shong of Auburn, Massachusetts, who passed away on Monday at the age of 72. Shong’s obituary ran in the local paper and told the story of her life, her family, her career and her favorite activities. And then it included a line about Shong’s continuing support of Brady.

“She would also like us to set the record straight for her: Brady is innocent!!” the obituary says.

That’s a popular sentiment in New England. But this is the first time we’ve heard it expressed from beyond the grave.

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Stephen Ross told Dolphins’ execs to go into win-now mode

Baltimore Ravens v Miami Dolphins Getty Images

Dolphins owner Stephen Ross is tired of building for the future. He wants to win now.

That’s the message Ross has given his front office staff from Day One — and even before Day One. Dolphins G.M. Dennis Hickey says that when he was interviewing for the job, Ross said the time to win is now — and Ross vowed to pony up the money to make that happen.

Hickey said on 104.3 The Ticket that everyone in the front office and the coaching staff has been on the same page about the way to build the Dolphins, and that starts from the top, with Ross making clear from the beginning where his expectations were.

We’re a process-driven organization,” Hickey said, via Adam Beasley of the Miami Herald. “Part of the process is collaboration, getting our coaches together with our scouts and getting them together to do their due diligence. The process is about making good, sound decisions that make sense.”

The Dolphins spent a fortune to sign Ndamukong Suh, and they’ve also spent a lot on players including Ryan Tannehill, Mike Pouncey, Cameron Wake, Branden Albert, Brent Grimes and Jordan Cameron. Those moves may help the Dolphins win now, but a day of reckoning is coming. Next year, the Dolphins are projected to be $17 million over the cap — putting them in by far the worst cap shape for 2016 of any team in the NFL. If the Dolphins don’t win now, they may regret the way they’ve structured their salary cap — because all those expensive contracts are going to make it harder to make more big moves in the future.

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Staubach on Hardy: I wouldn’t want an abuser as a teammate

Staubach Getty Images

If it were up to Hall of Fame Cowboys quarterback Roger Staubach, Greg Hardy wouldn’t be in Dallas.

Staubach said on KTCK-AM that while he admires the way Cowboys Executive Vice President Charlotte Jones Anderson has taken a leadership role in the NFL’s efforts on domestic violence, he still has a hard time justifying allowing a player like Hardy on the team.

“Well, it depends on getting a chance to understand the red flags . . . like the Hardy situation,” Staubach said. “Charlotte Jones is fantastic. She’s involved with the NFL on the committees. I think she had a hand in trying to understand that this guy deserves a second chance. I don’t have any tolerance toward domestic violence. If I was making the decision, it probably wouldn’t have been good for the Cowboys.”

Hardy missed 15 games last year and is suspended for 10 games this year for a domestic violence incident. Staubach said that’s not the kind of person he’d want as a teammate.

“I wouldn’t really enjoy being in the locker room with someone I knew was a domestic violence person. That’s how I feel,” Staubach said. “Today you know more about the personal lives of players. Back in the old days, there were some issues. But we never really had a domestic violence, smoking marijuana or . . . I’m sure it happened though, we just didn’t know about it. I would have really had a hard time with a teammate that you look at as a courageous, tough guy on the football field . . . to abuse a women in any shape or form, there’s just no excuse for it.”

The Cowboys have taken a lot of criticism for signing Hardy, but this criticism may sting the most. Few people are more respected in Dallas than Staubach, and Staubach doesn’t think Hardy belongs in the Cowboys’ locker room.

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Alouettes welcome Michael Sam, hope he becomes a football story

michaelsam AP

The Montreal Alouettes know there’s a social statement being made, with the signing of Michael Sam.

And while they’re clearly fine with being viewed as progressive, they’re also expecting what football teams expect from football players — production.

Alouettes president Mark Weightman, suddenly in the middle of an international story, said  he hopes the focus soon turns to what kind of player Sam can be.

We’re very excited because we have a very good football player on our hands. That needs to be the opening statement. We’re excited to see what he can do on the field,” Weightman said, via Herb Zurkowsky of the Montreal Gazette. “I think we all see it as a positive thing. We, as a league, have always been very open to all players — regardless of race, background, religious beliefs or sexual orientation. This is just another example of it. And it’s a great opportunity for us to show that leadership with a guy like Michael.

“We got ourselves a fantastic football player who has a lot of strength of character, who demonstrated a heck of a lot of courage to do what he did by coming out before the [NFL] draft, before his professional career. I think that shows a strength of character and a strong . . . moral belief system. Those are the kinds of people that are good leaders. You want leaders on your team.”

Sam is slated to be in Montreal Monday, and will meet the media there Tuesday morning. And then when camp begins Wednesday, he can begin the path to showing he’s a football player and not just a guy hoping to become the first openly gay football player in the NFL.

If all he was interested in was celebrity, the CFL probably wouldn’t have been his destination. But if he’s serious about proving himself as a player, he has his opportunity, and he’s found a place which will welcome him.

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Houston “Hard Knocks” lets NFL put Watt front and center

Watt AP

J.J. Watt is just the kind of player the NFL wants to market, a fierce warrior on the field who turns into an easygoing, likable guy as soon as the game ends. So with process of elimination seeming to leave the Texans as the team that will be featured on this year’s Hard Knocks, it’s a good bet that NFL Films will put Watt front and center.

Watt is the NFL’s best defensive player but is not as well known to a mass audience as some of the league’s biggest stars. Hard Knocks is a way for the league to humanize Watt and bolster his popularity.

Hard Knocks also needs Watt because the Texans are, frankly, not as compelling a team as some of the past teams featured on the show. Coach Bill O’Brien isn’t made for reality TV the way Rex Ryan is, and although the Texans’ quarterback competition will be a major element of training camp, Brian Hoyer and Ryan Mallett don’t exactly make for appointment television.

So it will be Watt around whom the upcoming season of Hard Knocks will be featured. At a time when many well-known players are getting attention for the wrong reasons, the NFL will like that.

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Moss shows up for high school graduation of fan in Minnesota

Moss Getty Images

In 1998, then-Vikings rookie Randy Moss made good on his vow to rip up the league. Along the way, he befriended a toddler named Kassi Spier.

Kassi fought leukemia as a four-year-old in 2000. In 2004, her father died in a car accident. In 2013, Kassi learned that she had a brain tumor.

On Friday, Kassi Spier graduated from high school. And her friend Randy Moss was there for it.

Via inforum.com, Moss traveled to Pelican Rapids, Minnesota, a 2,500-resident town 45 miles southeast of Fargo, to hand Kassi Spier her high school diploma at Friday’s commencement ceremony.

Moss last played in the NFL in 2012, appearing in Super Bowl XLVII with the 49ers. He started his career with the Vikings, spending 1998 through 2004 in Minnesota. He returned to the Vikings for a brief stretch in 2010.

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