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Eddie Lacy returns to practice

Eddie Lacy, Nick Hayden AP

While the Packers won’t have starting quarterback Aaron Rodgers for Sunday’s game against Pittsburgh, it looks like they will have their leading rusher in the lineup.

Rookie tailback Eddie Lacy, who missed Wednesday and Thursday with an ankle injury, returned to practice on Friday, Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.

The Packers’ official Twitter feed indicated that Lacy will be listed as probable on the final injury report.

Lacy, 23, has rushed for 1,028 yards and eight TDs on 248 carries this season. He has carried at least 20 times in 9-of-13 games this season. The second-round pick from Alabama has also contributed in the passing game, catching 31 passes for 236 yards.

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Ndamukong Suh won’t talk about 2015

Green Bay Packers v Detroit Lions Getty Images

Defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh can become a free agent after the season and a report last weekend indicated that Suh was unlikely to remain with the Lions once the offseason does arrive.

That report had New York, Chicago and Dallas listed as preferred destinations, but Suh didn’t stick around to answer any questions about it or anything else after Detroit’s victory over the Jets. Suh reportedly was in such a hurry that he wore the same undershirt he wore during the game onto the team bus, but Suh said that wasn’t true when he met the media on Wednesday.

Suh said he that he “always” takes a shower after games and that it would be “bad hygiene” to do anything else. Attempts to turn the discussion toward his 2015 plans were less successful, however. Suh said he was happy to answer questions about this week’s matchup with the Bills, but only about the matchup with the Bills.

“I cannot address that [report] just from the simple fact that I have not spoken to any reporter about it or any reporters about supposedly what has come out,” Suh said, via the Detroit Free Press.

Suh and the Lions have tabled talks on a new deal until after the season, which doesn’t leave Suh much to talk about on the 2015 front at the moment. That won’t stop speculation or questions from bubbling to the surface, but it does seem they’ll go unanswered for a few more months.

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2015 NFL Draft set for April 30-May 2

cd0ymzcznguwzdbhnduynddiytjhm2yyzthlmtjjotqwyyznpty0mge5ytk3yti5ntexnmfindazzjywm2i4ogq1ztiz AP

The NFL still hasn’t decided where the 2015 draft will take place, but the date is set.

The first round of the draft will take place on Thursday, April 30, with the second and third rounds set for May 1 and the fourth through seventh rounds for May 2, according to Adam Schefter of ESPN.

Last year the NFL moved the draft back two weeks from its usual late April start, prompting some complaints that it was too late in the year. This year the draft has been bumped up a week earlier in the offseason than last.

We still don’t know where next year’s draft will be. The NFL has been weighing the options of moving the draft to Chicago or Los Angeles for months.

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Thursday morning one-liners

Tennessee Titans v Atlanta Falcons Getty Images

Bills QB Kyle Orton brings a sense of calm.

The Dolphins are getting a good return out of their rookie class.

The return of Patriots CB Brandon Browner should be a big boost.

Jets FB John Conner thinks he might have a bigger role this time around.

Ravens rookie LB C.J. Mosley has made them better against the run.

The Bengals have a good matchup this week with their defensive line against the Patriots.

Browns WR Travis Benjamin’s ready to “showcase my skills” this week.

Steelers S Mike Mitchell knows the team has to reduce penalties.

The Texans added some CB depth to the practice squad.

Colts S Sergio Brown will get the first chance to replace LaRon Landry.

Upon return from his suspension, Jaguars WR Ace Sanders said he’s ready to step up.

Titans backup QB Charlie Whitehurst, aka Clipboard Jesus, was named one of the 25 most beautiful people in Nashville.

Broncos QB Peyton Manning is approaching another passing milestone.

Chiefs T Donald Stephenson returned from suspension.

Stanford’s David Shaw shot down any interest in the Raiders job.

The Chargers are still at risk, even without blackout rule.

The Cowboys have no regrets drafting LT Tyron Smith over J.J. Watt.

Giants WR Odell Beckham is apparently wowing people in in practice.

Eagles C Jason Kelce is hoping for a quick recovery from sports hernia surgery.

Washington is trying to keep the focus inward.

Bears DE Jared Allen is on track to play this week.

The Lions are 0-4 all-time against Kyle Orton.

The Packers going shotgun so often has slowed down RB Eddie Lacy.

The Vikings made a significant investment in nickel CB Captain Munnerlyn.

Falcons DE Osi Umenyiora tries not to look back on his time in New York with regrets.

It’s been kind of a busy week for the Panthers, at least off the field and in the trainers room.

The Saints changed their practice schedule to make it more competitive.

Bucs QB Josh McCown still isn’t about to throw, which is a problem.

Cardinals assistant Tom Moore knows Peyton Manning well, but deflects credit.

Rams WR Tavon Austin was back to work on a limited basis.

CB Tramaine Brock is beginning rehab on a sore toe, and not expected to play this week.

The Seahawks thrive in prime time environments.

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Nick Foles has problems, but they’re not physical

Nick Foles AP

Nick Foles doesn’t look like Nick Foles any more.

But Eagles coach Chip Kelly insisted there was nothing physically wrong with his quarterback.

According to Geoff Mosher of CSNPhilly.com, Kelly said his quarterback hasn’t missed any time, and hasn’t had any MRIs.

He hasn’t had any of that,” Kelly said. “He just got banged in the shoulder. He hasn’t missed a day of practice [and] hasn’t missed a rep throwing.”

That’s not for a lack of trying by his opponents. The hit he took from Washington’s Chris Baker two weeks ago probably still has some teeth loose, and Foles followed with an uncharacteristic performance against the 49ers last week.

Completing fewer than 50 percent of his passes and throwing two picks, it wasn’t the kind of clean performance we’re accustomed to, and there were more hard shots.

But he wasn’t on the injury report Wednesday, and Kelly said he had no examinations scheduled. So it must be something else.

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Cam Newton’s ankle surgery more complicated than he thought

Terrell Suggs, Cam Newton AP

Cam Newton’s still not himself, still not able to run pain-free because of his offseason ankle surgery.

That was an expected part of the process, but Newton said Wednesday he might have been unclear about the expectations going in.

“We kind of teased about it a couple weeks ago, how the doctor kind of downplayed how the surgery was going to go,” Newton said, via Bill Voth of Black and Blue Review. “I just thought this was a surgery just to clean up the ligaments and what not. But after reading a lot of reports from you guys, hearing about so much of ligament repair and this major ankle surgery that may hold Cam Newton off for a couple months, that’s when I started scratching my head like, man, this may be bigger than I thought. And something I thought may have a cast on for a couple weeks end up to be a couple months. I’m still in that mode where I’m trying to realize that I’m still trying to recover from a major ankle surgery that was displayed to me originally as just a regular little cleanup.”

It’s entirely possible that Newton heard what he wanted to hear rather than he was misled, since he’s never had to rehab a major injury. So when doctors told him it would be a year before he was fully pain-free, he might have shrugged it off.

Either way, it’s kept him from being himself, and the shot to the ribs in the preseason which kept him out of the opener didn’t help. He has just eight rushing attempts on the season, and his inability to run has caused the Panthers as a whole to lag behind in the run game.

“My body is mending up, slowly but surely,” Newton said. “That’s giving me a lot of confidence when I am thinking about running the football and throwing the football as well.”

He’s actually throwing it better than ever, with career highs in completion percentage (63.8) and passer rating (98.2), and hasn’t thrown a pick yet.

Yet he hasn’t been himself, and until he’s able or willing to run the way he can, he won’t be.

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Rich Gannon blasts Raiders organization and culture of losing

GANNON AP

To say Rich Gannon isn’t happy with the Oakland Raiders would be a massive understatement.

Gannon – who won the NFL MVP award in 2002 while leading the Raiders to a Super Bowl appearance against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers – took his radio show Wednesday on Sirius XM NFL Radio to blast the Raiders organization and their “commitment to mediocrity” after the firing of Dennis Allen as head coach Monday night.

“You’re not winning because you have players and coaches and people in the building that have become comfortable with the process of losing,” Gannon said, via CSNBayArea.com. “It’s okay to lose out there, it’s okay. It’s not a big deal. In other places, it’s simply not tolerated. And when it gets to the point where they don’t tolerate it anymore, it’s unacceptable, and we run people out of the building who haven’t figured that out…and then bring in players who care, and players who work and players who aren’t going to tolerate that, then you’ll get the results you so long desire.

“But they don’t know how to do it and it drives me crazy.”

The Raiders fired Allen and replaced him with Tony Sparano as their interim head coach. Sparano is the eighth head coach to lead the team since 2002. Oakland doesn’t have a single winning season and just two 8-8 seasons in the 11 years since their last Super Bowl appearance.

The continued struggles of the franchise that Gannon led to three playoff appearances in four seasons pushed Gannon to blast the team and the people employed by the organization.

“There’s people out in Oakland, in that building, players, coaches, front office, people in business, accounting: stealing!” Gannon said. “They ought to give the check back. The product on the field is terrible. And when you lose like that, how can you go to the bank and cash the check? You should be embarrassed.”

The results speak for themselves. No playoff appearances in 11 seasons (and firmly on their way to making that 12 straight) and an average of fewer than five victories per season over that span. There doesn’t appear to be a light at the end of the tunnel either at this point for the Raiders.

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Week Five skill position injury report — Wednesday

Joique Bell AP

For fantasy football players, here’s a rundown of the skill position players listed on Wednesday’s injury report as furnished by the NFL. Key fantasy starters are bolded. The final injury report for Sunday games is released Friday, with the final Monday-night injury report released on Saturday

(Week Five byes: Raiders, Dolphins).

FULL

Cowboys WR Dez Bryant (shoulder).

Bengals RB Rex Burkhead (knee).

Eagles TE Trey Burton (Achilles).

Browns TE Jordan Cameron (shoulder).

Eagles TE James Casey (knee).

49ers RB Michael Crabtree (foot).

Vikings RB Jerome Felton (knee). — PROBABLE

Bills WR Marquise Goodwin (concussion).

49ers RB Frank Gore (back).

Broncos TE Virgil Green (concussion).

Patriots TE Rob Gronkowski (knee).

Cardinals TE Rob Housler (hip).

Eagles WR Josh Huff (shoulder).

Jets RB Chris Johnson (ankle).

Titans QB Jake Locker (right wrist).

Eagles WR Jeremy Maclin (hamstring).

Bears WR Brandon Marshall (ankle).

Vikings RB Jerick McKinnon (ankle). — PROBABLE

Broncos PK Brandon McManus (right groin).

Ravens RB Bernard Pierce (thigh).

Eagles WR Brad Smith (groin).

Vikings WR Rodney Smith (hamstring). — PROBABLE

Chiefs RB De’Anthony Thomas (hamstring).

Bills WR Sammy Watkins (ribs).

Saints TE Benjamin Watson (groin).

LIMITED

Rams WR Tavon Austin (knee).

Giants WR Odell Beckham (hamstring).

Vikings QB Teddy Bridgewater (ankle) — QUESTIONABLE.

Chiefs RB Jamaal Charles (ankle).

Jets WR Eric Decker (hamstring).

Cardinals RB Andre Ellington (foot).

Chargers TE Ladarius Green (hamstring).

Falcons WR Devin Hester (ankle).

Texans WR Damaris Johnson (foot).

Chargers WR TE David Johnson (shoulder).

Falcons WR Julio Jones (ankle).

49ers TE Vance McDonald (knee).

Panthers RB Jonathan Stewart (thigh).

Browns RB Ben Tate (knee).

Titans TE Delanie Walker (shoulder).

Steelers WR Markus Wheaton (groin).

DID NOT PRACTICE

Chiefs WR Donnie Avery (groin).

Lions RB Joique Bell (concussion).

Packers WR Jarrett Boykin (groin). — OUT

Colts RB Ahmad Bradshaw (not injury related).

Panthers TE Richie Brockel (ankle).

Steelers WR Martavis Bryant (illness).

49ers TE Vernon Davis (back).

Bills WR Marcus Easley (knee).

Buccaneers WR Mike Evans (groin).

Falcons WR Harry Douglas (foot).

Lions TE Joseph Fauria (ankle).

Chargers WR Malcom Floyd (illness).

Texans RB Arian Foster (hamstring).

Rams QB Shaun Hill (thigh).

Saints RB Mark Ingram (hand).

Texans WR Andre Johnson (ankle).

Lions WR Calvin Johnson (ankle).

Bengals WR Marvin Jones (ankle).

Saints RB Erik Lorig (ankle).

Chargers RB Ryan Mathews (knee).

Buccaneers QB Josh McCown (thumb).

Steelers TE Heath Miller (not injury related).

Browns WR Marlon Moore (illness).

Jets WR David Nelson (ankle).

Cardinals QB Carson Palmer (right shoulder).

Lions RB Theo Riddick (hamstring).

Cowboys QB Tony Romo (back).

Vikings TE Kyle Rudolph (abdomen, groin) — OUT.

Buccaneers TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins (ankle).

Titans TE Taylor Thompson (knee).

Colts WR Reggie Wayne (not injury related).

Panthers RB Fozzy Whittaker (thigh).

Panthers RB DeAngelo Williams (ankle).

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Justin Blackmon working through voluntary treatment program

Justin Blackmon, Chris Harris AP

Receiver Justin Blackmon has missed an entire calendar year’s worth of games after being suspended indefinitely by the league for repeated violations of the league’s substance-abuse policy.

The Jacksonville Jaguars have stuck by Blackmon despite his issues but fully expect to not have him be available this season.

Whether he will ever be reinstated remains to be seen as well, but Blackmon is at least attempting to take steps needed to give himself the chance to return to his NFL career in the future.

According to Mark Long of the Associated Press, Blackmon has checked into a voluntary treatment facility and is about halfway through the 90-day program.

“He’s healing and taking time for himself,” head coach Gus Bradley said. “The great thing is he has chosen this for himself. It’s awesome to hear about.”

This isn’t the first time Blackmon has sought out treatment for his problems. He also planned to enter rehab last year after the suspension was handed down by the league. But Blackmon was arrested again in July for possession of marijuana in Oklahoma, which essentially closed the door on any chance that he could return to the field this year.

Blackmon showed great potential as a rookie in 2012 when he caught 64 passes for 865 yards and five touchdowns for the Jaguars. After serving a four-game suspension to begin the 2013 season, Blackmon also had a standout performance in Denver with 14 catches for 190 yards before he was suspended indefinitely in November.

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Cowboys player allegedly involved in a sexual assault

Cowboys Getty Images

Despite unprecedented sensitivity to the issue of domestic violence and sexual assault in the NFL, incidents involving NFL players continue.

The latest allegedly happened on the evening of September 20.

According to the New York Daily News, defensive back C.J. Spillman has been accused of sexually assaulting a female at the team’s hotel.

“We have a sexual assault report we are investigating at this time, and it does involve C.J. Spillman,” a police spokesman told the Daily News.  “He is involved in the investigation.  We are looking into the matter.”

Spillman played on September 21 at St. Louis, and again on September 28 against the Saints.  On September 26, the alleged victim’s lawyer, Gloria Allred, alerted Commissioner Roger Goodell to the allegations.

It’s unclear whether the team or the league previously knew about it.  It’s also unclear why Spillman has not yet been placed on the rabbit-from-a-hat Commissioner’s Permission list.

Now that the situation has become publicly known, chances are that Spillman will land on paid suspension until the charges are resolved.  Or maybe the Cowboys will simply cut him, since he’s not a key player.

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Alexander says suspension arises from violation “many months ago”

Alexander Getty Images

The four-game suspension imposed on Panthers defensive end Frank Alexander has become a 10-game suspension.  Alexander has issued a statement expressing regret for the incident that, according to Alexander, happened a long time ago.

“I’m very sorry to the Panthers organization, my teammates, and Panthers fans that my mistakes from many months ago will prevent me from contributing for several more weeks,” Alexander said in a statement.  “This discipline arose from a violation that occurred many months ago.  Since that violation, I have continued to grow, and I will continue to work hard, as I have been doing, to stay in shape and be a major contributor upon my return.   Through God’s favor, I will continue to show through my behavior that I have learned some valuable life lessons.”

While the violation triggering the 10-game suspension may have happened many months ago, it wasn’t only one violation that resulted in the suspension.  But for the revision to the substance-abuse policy, the latest violation would have resulted in Alexander missing an entire year, at a minimum.

A fourth-round pick in 2012, Alexander will be eligible to return after Week 15, barring another violation.

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Report: Aaron Dobson benched after he “mouthed off” to McDaniels

Aaron Dobson AP

The Patriots scratched wide receiver Aaron Dobson in each of the last two games.

We now reportedly have an idea why.

According to Shalise Manza Young of the Boston Globe, the Patriots benched Dobson for the Sept. 21 win vs. Oakland and the Sept. 29 loss at Kansas City after the second-year wide receiver “mouthed off” to offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels.

A second-round pick in the 2013 draft, the 23-year-old Dobson showed potential as a rookie, hauling in 37 passes for 519 yards and four touchdowns. He’s appeared in one game this season, catching one pass for 13 yards.

The question now is whether Dobson can earn his way back onto the active roster for Sunday’s matchup vs. Cincinnati. This much is certain: team and player figure to be asked about the subject this week.

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Derek Carr could be the key to luring Gruden

Carr Getty Images

As the 2014 draft approached, Raiders owner Mark Davis developed a strong desire to draft quarterback Derek Carr.  On the afternoon before the draft began, chatter emerged that Davis was pushing for Carr to be taken with the fifth overall pick in round one.

The Raiders passed, as did each of the next 32 teams.  Then, with the fifth pick in round two, the Raiders pounced on Carr.

With a front office and coaching staff in win-now mode and a roster laden with veterans, it didn’t make sense.  With coach Dennis Allen already gone and Davis apparently interested in bringing Jon Gruden back to the Bay Area, it suddenly does.

The current thinking is that Davis wanted Carr because Davis believes Carr’s presence will help lure Gruden back to town.  For any coach with options (and it’s still not clear how many options Gruden really has had or will have), the quarterback position becomes nearly as important as the salary.  Davis thinks that Gruden’s favorite quarterback in the 2014 class was Carr.  Which could help Gruden choose to return to the Black Hole at a time when the roster otherwise contains plenty of red flags.

Other terms will be compensation and power.  Or, at a minimum, the power to hire someone Gruden trusts to set the table from a personnel standpoint.

It’s not clear whether Gruden has any interest in leaving the friendly confines of the broadcast booth, but if he’s ready to jump and if Davis is ready to pay, Carr could be the guy who helps seal the deal.

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Geno gets testy over Vick questions

Smith AP

Well, at least he didn’t tell anyone to go f–k himself.

Jets quarterback Geno Smith, who lost his cool and yelled a pair of “F” bombs into the stands at the end of Sunday’s loss to the Lions, was in no mood on Wednesday to take questions about a guy who once shot a pair of middle fingers to hecklers in Atlanta.

Asked whether Smith sees the value in using Mike Vick to provide the offense with a spark when needed, the current starter bristled.

“I don’t know what you’re trying to lead to with that question,” Smith said, via Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News. “Maybe that’s your opinion.  What do you mean a spark?  We’ve already put him in.”

Asked if it would make sense to have Vick come in not for a cameo appearance but to jump-start the offense, Smith got even more testy.

“That doesn’t make sense,” Smith said.  “What team do you see doing that? . . .  That’s not a question. Next question.”

Actually, the Cardinals did that, seven years ago.  Coach Ken Whisenhunt routinely yanked second-year quarterback Matt Leinart for veteran backup Kurt Warner when the team fell behind, re-inserting Leinart once Warner evened things up again.  That continued until Leinart, who was getting frustrated with the technique, broke a collarbone.  The next year, Warner was the starter and the Cardinals were in the Super Bowl.

For his part, Vick opted to navigate around the topic far more diplomatically.

“[W]e don’t need any more distractions right now even though I don’t think I would be a distraction if I went in and played temporarily,” Vick said.  “We just need to focus on beating San Diego.”

Or, as coach Rex Ryan put it with a reference to Bill Belichick’s bizarre Cincinnati presser, the Jets are “on to San Diego.”

For Smith, the best news coming from the road game in California is that any heckling will come from fans who are supposed to be heckling him.

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Reche Caldwell faces prison time after guilty plea on drug charge

reche-caldwell Getty Images

Former NFL receiver Reche Caldwell could be sentenced to up to 20 years in prison after pleading guilty to a federal drug conspiracy.

Caldwell admitted to a scheme to distribute the drug “Molly,” prosecutors say.

According to the Tampa Tribune, Caldwell admits that he signed for and accepted a parcel from China containing 1.5 kilograms of Molly. A week later, investigators intercepted a package mailed by Caldwell that contained the drug.

A second-round pick of the Chargers in 2002, Caldwell spent seven years in the NFL in San Diego, New England, Washington and St. Louis.

Caldwell has been arrested three times this year. In addition to the arrest in connection with this case, he also was arrested in January on an accusation that he was running an illegal gambling operation, and in August on a charge of possession of marijuana and driving with a suspended license.

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Kaepernick avoids topic of locker-room turmoil

Kaepernick Getty Images

After non-reporter Deion Sanders reported that 49ers players want coach Jim Harbaugh to coach someone other than the 49ers, the team trotted out several players to debunk the report from the non-reporter.

But where were the team leaders?  Patrick Willis, Justin Smith, Frank Gore, Anquan Boldin, Colin Kaepernick were all silent on the topic in the aftermath of the report.

Kaepernick broke his silence on Wednesday, via the final question at his weekly Wednesday press conference.  But Kaepernick didn’t address the substance of Sanders’ non-reporter report.

“Well, I’d like to know who the source is,” Kaepernick said.  “So, when you get a source from that, then we can talk about that. Until then, that’s the media.”

It continues the dismissive tone that the 49ers have applied to Deion’s non-reporter report.  And it overlooks the fact that information from anonymous sources can be as reliable, and perhaps in some cases even more reliable, than information from on-the-record sources.

Still, it would be easier to dismiss Deion’s non-reporter report if team leaders were sounding off — not about the fact that the source isn’t named but the reality that the source is flat-out wrong.

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