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Robert Quinn, Rams’ D step up again in win over Buccaneers

zacstacy AP

The St. Louis Rams aren’t going to the playoffs. But they’re playing good football as the season winds down.

The Rams’ defense held the Buccaneers to just 170 yards on Sunday, and St. Louis won 23-13. The win improves the Rams’ record to 7-8, including 4-2 in their last six games.

Rams defensive end Robert Quinn strengthened his case for the defensive player of the year award by recording three more sacks, giving him a total of 18 this season. And the Rams’ defense dominated the game throughout.

The Rams also got a big-time performance from their special teams: In the second half, Rams kicker Greg Zuerlein went 3-for-3 on field goals, making from 54, 25 and 48 yards. And although the offense didn’t play great, Zac Stacy did gain 104 yards, on 33 carries, including a one-yard touchdown.

The news wasn’t all good for the Rams, however, as left tackle Jake Long was carted off the field with what the team fears is a torn ACL. Long is one of the Rams’ most important players, and that’s an injury that could threaten his ability for the start of next season.

So a strong finish to this season does have that dark injury cloud over it. Still, the Rams have to feel good about where they’re going. They’re not a winning team, but they’re a tough team to beat.

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Heat sends pair of Bills to the hospital

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Nearly 13 years ago, Korey Stringer died from the heat at Vikings training camp.  Since then, the NFL and NFLPA have become more and more careful about exposing players to unsafe temperatures.  (Highs, not lows.  Yet.)

And so it’s a surprise, to say the least, to see that a pair of Bills players ended up in the hospital due to the heat.

Via Mike Rodak of ESPN.com, tight end Chris Gragg and fullback Evan Rodriguez weren’t at practice on Wednesday due to heat-related illness.  Both went to the hospital, and Gragg (as of Rodak’s last tweet) remains there.

It’s a problem most thought had been conclusively solved in the aftermath of Stringer’s passing.  And while it’s not entirely out of the ordinary for a player here or there to experience health-related consequences to practicing in the heat, a pair of hospitalized NFL athletes becomes a red flag that both the league and the union should immediately explore.

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Race car delivers a healthy Reggie Wayne to Colts camp

Reggie Wayne AP

Colts wide receiver Reggie Wayne has been waiting quite a while to get back on the football field after tearing his ACL last season, so it is understandable that he wanted the first day of training camp to get here as soon as possible.

And it’s just as understandable that he wouldn’t want to waste a minute commuting when that day arrived on Wednesday. The Colts shared a video of Wayne making his first appearance of the summer as a passenger in an Indy Car driven by race car driver Ed Carpenter.

Wayne was wearing a modified Colts helmet during his ride to camp, but he’ll be trading it in for the more traditional headgear. The team also announced that Wayne has been cleared to take part in practice and continue preparing to make his game return in the first week of the regular season.

Running back Vick Ballard also has the green light in his return from an ACL injury, giving the Colts back two key members of the offense who were absent as the team won the AFC South and advanced to the second round of the playoffs. With tight end Dwayne Allen also back and Hakeem Nicks joining the club, the Indy offense is primed for another strong season.

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Dungy discusses his Michael Sam comments

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On Monday, the Tampa Tribune published 38 words from Tony Dungy regarding whether he’d draft Michael Sam.  On Tuesday, Dungy issued a statement clarifying his thoughts on the issue.

On Wednesday, Dungy talked at length about the situation on The Dan Patrick Show.

Dungy reiterated, as explained in his statement, that the comments were made in the aftermath of the draft, when it became known for the first time that Sam was planning to turn his experiences into a TV series.

“I think the actual first quotes were from an interview with a gentlemen at the Tampa Tribune right after the draft,” Dungy said.  “We were talking about draft and distractions and it was when the Oprah Winfrey show was talking about doing a reality show on Michael Sam and that’s when the discussion came out about distractions as related to draft choices. . . .  We were talking about the show, and I think that was something people didn’t anticipate.  And those things were going to happen and are going to happen, and that’s what I was discussing and what we’re talking about.”

Dungy compared the Sam situation to the controversy surrounding former Dolphins (current 49ers) tackle Jonathan Martin, who quit the team after being bullied.  Both bring a distraction of some type to an NFL locker room.  The question is whether either are good enough from a talent standpoint to overcome those non-football issues.

“I talked to some General Managers,” Dungy said regarding work that was done during the 2013 football season, “and they said that Jonathan definitely has the talent to play in the league, but would they want the distraction of everybody’s following the story, and people asking their players over and over, ‘How are things are going?’, ‘What’s going on with Jonathan?’, ‘Who’s saying what to him?’  And because of the fact that they didn’t view him as a difference maker, they probably wouldn’t want the distractions.  And I guess that’s my point in the whole thing.  If we substitute Jonathan Martin for Michael Sam and have the same quotes and the same comments, nobody’s gonna replay those quotes two months and three months later, and try to say that there’s any more to it than what was actually said.”

Dan asked Dungy about his position on the distractions created by Sam and the distractions created by signing Mike Vick after he spent time in prison for dogfighting, a common comparison that has been made in the aftermath of Dungy’s remarks.

“People have to make their own decisions, and a lot of people made decisions that they didn’t want to accept that,” Dungy said regarding Vick.  “And if Philadelphia said that same thing to Michael, I don’t think he could be mad, I couldn’t be mad.  That’s a decision that they make for their team, and I’m sure they had discussions about it.  And that was my only point, that those things are discussed.  And people asked my personal opinion, and I gave the gentleman my opinion.  But it wasn’t anything to attack Michael Sam or it wasn’t to come out the day before they report to camp and say he shouldn’t be there.  I don’t believe that at all.  I do believe he should be there, and I’m glad he is.”

Dungy said he was caught off guard by the timing of the publication of his past comments.

“I was very surprised, because as I say I’ve been out here in Oregon six or seven weeks and haven’t heard anything about it and hadn’t talked to anybody in the media in two months, so I was shocked when I read Mike Florio’s [website] and that was the headline, ‘Tony Dungy wouldn’t have drafted Michael Sam.’  And I know a lot of people are trying to make this about my Christian faith, and that’s not something I’m going to back down from ever.  And I do have my Christian beliefs.

“But I think people should recognize that when you go into coaching, you have a responsibility to deliver a good football team to your owner, so you’re going to do everything you can to do that.  So I would not, and I’ve said that many times and been on record when asked about Michael Sam specifically.  No, I wouldn’t have a problem coaching him and I would not have a problem [with] him being on the team, and you make those decisions based on what people bring to the table athletically, and what they can do to make your team better.”

Dan asked about whether Dungy’s Christian beliefs come into play.

“I think it always does,” Dungy said.  “And I think that’s part of walking as a Christian, and I accept that part of it.  People are always going to have their views, I don’t expect everybody to agree with me.  But I don’t think people should expect me to back down on my views about faith.  But again, this was not a discussion about that.  This was a discussion about a particular situation at a particular time and a particular player.  And I think for people to take it into, ‘Well, this means he hates this group of people’ or ‘He wouldn’t do this,’ those are things I’ve been reading in the past day that really surprised me.”

Dungy takes issue with the idea that his position on Sam arises from Dungy’s views on homosexuality or gay marriage, as advanced by Bob Kravitz of the Indianapolis Star.

“Gay marriage and who should be on a football team have nothing to do with each other,” Dungy said.  “Bob Kravitz . . . knows the type of locker room that we had, the type of players.  Not everybody on that team was a Christian, not everybody believed the same things I did.  Not everybody had the same political views.  And that’s fine.  That’s good.  That’s what a football locker room is all about.  But to equate this to gay marriage to me is really silly.”

Dan also asked Dungy whether he plans to reach out to Sam.

“I hadn’t thought about it, but I think it might be a good idea I’ve love to do that, and hopefully I get the chance,” Dungy said.  “I would want to wish him the best and let him know I have no bitterness or animosity toward him.  Even though I don’t agree with his lifestyle, I love him.  And I wish him the best, and I’d love to say that to him.”

Chances are that discussion will happen sooner than later.  Whenever it occurs, the debate regarding what Dungy said and what he meant will linger, with some being fair about the assessment of Dungy’s words and some being unfair about it.  Which is pretty much how it works on any subject that is even remotely controversial.

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Jason Babin visited the Jets this week

Jason Babin AP

The Jets continue to look for ways to make a good defense better.

According to Kimberly Jones of the NFL Network, veteran defensive end Jason Babin visited the Jets this week.

Babin had an on-again/off-again offseason with the Jaguars, eventually being cut in June. But he was productive for them last year, leading the team with 7.5 sacks.

He’s 34 years old, and perhaps no more than a situational player at this point, but he’d lend depth to their pass-rush.

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Marqise Lee, Allen Robinson say they’re healthy for camp

Marqise Lee AP

The Jaguars took a pair of wide receivers in the second round of May’s draft, but they didn’t get a lot of time to work with them this spring.

Marqise Lee suffered an ankle injury and Allen Robinson hurt his hamstring, which led to both rookies being limited participants during the team’s offseason work. Robinson said that he’s been cleared to practice when training camp gets underway on Friday and Lee says he’s healthy as well, although it doesn’t sound like he’ll be going full speed right away.

“Everything’s good,” Lee said, via the team’s website. “I’m pretty much cleared. They still want me to take it slow as far as right now. During camp, that’s when I pick it up. We’ve got a while before we actually put on pads, so by that time pads come on, I should be OK.”

The Jaguars need both players to quickly make up for lost time. Ace Sanders said Tuesday that he will not participate in training camp while dealing with undisclosed issues related to a four-game suspension that Sanders said he faces to start the season. With Justin Blackmon also out of the picture, the Jags are left with Cecil Shorts, Denard Robinson, Tandon Doss and Mike Brown to go with the two rookies.

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Bernard Pierce cleared to practice without restrictions

Bernard Pierce AP

The Ravens are expecting the league to be fair when it comes to discipline for running back Ray Rice in the wake of his offseason arrest for assaulting his wife in Atlantic City, but there aren’t many people who expect that Rice will be available for use in the opening weeks of the season.

Assuming that’s the case, there’s a big job waiting for Bernard Pierce if he’s healthy enough to take it after offseason shoulder surgery. Pierce made good progress during the offseason and that has continued into the summer with Pierce announcing that he’s been cleared to take part in practice without any restrictions.

“My shoulder definitely got a lot better,” Pierce said, via the Baltimore Sun. “I know that this is when the real grind starts. It was strenuous today, but overall it was definitely helpful.”

Pierce’s 2013 season was a nightmare of injuries and ineffectiveness, but he sounded optimistic that the change in offensive coordinators will pay off with better results this time around. Pierce said he has “a knack” for the “simpler” zone scheme that Gary Kubiak prefers to run. After the Ravens offense failed to catch fire last season, the team will be hoping that Pierce’s knack for the offense translates to the kind of results they’ll need to return to the playoffs.

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Falcons place Corey Peters, Zeke Motta on PUP list

Cam Newton, Corey Peters AP

Wide receiver Julio Jones has been cleared to practice in at least a limited fashion, but the Falcons will wait a little longer before giving two defensive players returning from injuries the green light to hit the practice field.

The Falcons announced that defensive tackle Corey Peters and safety Zeke Motta have been placed on the Physically Unable to Perform list to start training camp.

Peters re-signed with the Falcons this offseason on a one-year deal after an Achilles injury ended his 2013 season after 15 games. Peters said this offseason that he expects to be healthy in time for the start of the regular season, but putting him on the PUP list gives the Falcons the option of giving him more time to get ready in the event that things develop more slowly.

Motta suffered a cervical fracture in his neck in December and his status for the coming season is in doubt as a result. The Falcons announced earlier this month that wide receiver Drew Davis will also start camp on the PUP list after having foot surgery.

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Fisher says Sam hasn’t been a distraction

Fisher AP

With Tony Dungy explaining that he wouldn’t have drafted Michael Sam because of the distractions that go along with having him on the team, the coach who drafted Sam has addressed whether and to what extent Sam has been a distraction.

“Absolutely not,” Jeff Fisher told ESPN Radio’s Mike & Mike in the Morning on Wednesday.   “Let’s define distraction.  There were a couple of extra cameras during early OTAs.  There may have been an extra camera yesterday as rookies reported and went on the field the first time.  Mike’s a very passionate athlete.  He’s very focused on trying to make this football team. . . . He worked really hard during the summer, and he’s doing a good job.”

Fisher, who said that there will be no limits placed on Sam’s media availability during training camp, nevertheless has no issue with Dungy’s view on the matter.

“I’m gonna assume some that maybe things were taken out of context,” Fisher said.  “But everybody’s entitled to their own opinion.  Coaches are going to have differences of opinion during the draft. . . .  I’m not concerned.  Tony’s entitled to his opinion as everybody is and so are and right now we think we have a pretty good thing going.”

The Rams may have such a good thing going that Sam won’t be good enough to make the roster.  Fisher has said in the past that cutting Sam would be as normal a part of the broader process as drafting him.  Fisher hinted during Wednesday’s interview that, even as Sam improves as a player, he ultimately may not be regarded as being good enough.

“Unfortunately, one part of this business is releasing players and upgrading the roster and so on and so forth,” Fisher said.  “We let three players go yesterday who really have only been here for probably a month.  They’re better football players than when we signed them, and that’s where Mike is right now.  He’s a better football player because he’s committed himself to making this football team.”

Even with no distractions to date, scrutiny will arise if Fisher ultimately cuts Sam — especially with all those Rams jerseys bearing his name already being purchased.  And that’s surely one of the distractions Dungy would have been concerned about, even if his initial comments on the matter were omitted from Ira Kaufman’s article in the Tampa Tribune or if Kaufman opted not to ask the follow-up questions that would have drawn a more complete explanation from Dungy.

Dungy will be able to give a more complete explanation soon.  He’s scheduled to join The Dan Patrick Show in the 9:00 a.m. ET hour.

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Pat Bowlen’s wife says plan is to keep team in the family

Pat Bowlen AP

Even though Broncos owner Pat Bowlen is stepping away from the day-to-day operations of his team because of his Alzheimer’s disease, his wife said Wednesday the goal is to keep the team in the family.
“As many in the Denver community and around the National Football League have speculated, my husband, Pat, has very bravely and quietly battled Alzheimer’s disease for the last few years,” said his wife Annabel Bowlen. “He has elected to keep his condition private because he has strongly believed, and often said, ‘It’s not about me.’

“Pat has always wanted the focus to be solely on the Denver Broncos and the great fans who have supported this team with such passion during his 30 years as owner. My family is deeply saddened that Pat’s health no longer allows him to oversee the Broncos, which has led to this public acknowledgment of such a personal health condition.
“Alzheimer’s has taken so much from Pat, but it will never take away his love for the Denver Broncos and his sincere appreciation for the fans.

His wife said that a plan was put in place years ago to keep the team in the family, a plan that is being implemented by team president Joe Ellis.

“My family will stand strong with Pat as he continues his courageous fight against a disease that is unfortunately all too common. One in nine people age 65 and older has Alzheimer’s, and my family is experiencing the same difficult emotions that so many have felt when someone they love and respect is afflicted with this condition.”

Our thoughts are with the Bowlen family as they fight through the terrible disease.

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Rob Gronkowski good to go at Patriots camp

Rob Gronkowski AP

Less than eight months after suffering a torn ACL, Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski is ready to go.

Patriots coach Bill Belichick confirmed this morning that Gronkowski has been cleared by the team’s medical staff and will not be placed on the physically unable to perform list at the start of camp.

That’s great news for the Patriots and Gronkowski, who has been plagued by injuries the last two years. Gronkowski played just seven games last year, but he recently said he expects to play 16 games this year.

The Patriots may take it easy on Gronkowski during training camp and the preseason in order to ensure that he’s 100 percent when Week One rolls around. But taking it easy on him is a choice, not a necessity. Gronkowski is ready to play.

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Buccaneers cut veteran corner D.J. Moore

D.J. Moore AP

Veteran cornerback D.J. Moore signed with the Buccaneers this offseason hoping to win their nickel job.

As it turns out, he won’t be winning any job.

The Bucs announced they cut Moore, and signed journeyman tackle J.B. Shugarts and undrafted linebacker Jeremy Grable.

Moore was a fourth-rounder by the Bears under coach Lovie Smith’s watch, and that was thought to give him an edge with Smith’s new team. But they also added free agents Alterraun Verner and Mike Jenkins to go with last year’s second-rounder Johnthan Banks, and think Leonard Johnson can play there as well.

This at least gives Moore a chance to catch on elsewhere. He had a cup of coffee with the Panthers last year, playing in two games.

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Henry Melton ready to go for Cowboys camp

Henry Melton AP

The Cowboys weren’t able to make wholesale changes to a bad defense, but they are getting one key piece back just in time.

According to David Moore of the Dallas Morning News, Melton will be cleared to take part in the first practice of training camp.

Melton hasn’t done any of the on-field OTAs after last year’s torn ACL, but he hasn’t missed any of his rehab sessions or suffered any setbacks. He has to pass his physical first, but that appears to be a non-issue.

Melton should be a significant part of any rebounding the Cowboys do. The former Bears franchise player fills the hole left by Jason Hatcher, and his back, and will need to anchor a young group under new coordinator Rod Marinelli.

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Brian Orakpo: Throw contract talk out the window

Brian Orakpo AP

Redskins linebacker Brian Orakpo did not reach agreement on a multiyear contract with the team before July 15, which means that he’ll be playing out the 2014 season under the terms of the franchise tag.

That will pay Orakpo $11.45 million and make him a free agent again at the end of the season, leaving him well-paid for now but without much security over the long term. Orakpo said that the uncertainty about the future won’t be an issue this season.

“You can talk about contracts and this and that. Throw all that out the window, man,” Orakpo said, via the Washington Times. “I’m signed for the 2014 season. I need to go out there and make plays. I need to go out there and be a force. That’s what I’ve been working extremely hard at because this defense relies on myself to go out there and make big plays so we can get off the field. I’m not really a pressure guy.”

Orakpo doesn’t have much choice other than getting out there and being a force for the Redskins on defense this season. If he turns in a strong season coming off the edge, someone will be willing to pay him well to do it again in 2015. It may or may not be the Redskins, but that’s not worth worrying about now since nothing that can happen in terms of a contract until after the year comes to an end anyway.

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Dareus returns to Bills with renewed focus, he claims

Dareus AP

He appeared in court on Monday and then was unable (due to the weather) to get back to the team on Tuesday. Now, Bills defensive lineman Marcell Dareus returned.  And he celebrated not by drag racing a teammate but issuing a statement.

“After dealing with a personal matter in Alabama, I am excited to return to training camp to rejoin my teammates in our preparations for the 2014 season,” Dareus said in a quote issued by the team. “Right now, my focus is on earning the trust of my teammates, coaches and the fans while continuing to improve as a football player. I have a passion for this game and I want to be here to help this organization achieve its goals. There are things I need to work on professionally and personally to make sure I can be accountable to myself, my family, this team and this community. My focus will remain on achieving that goal one day at a time. I want to thank the Bills organization, Coach Marrone and the coaching staff, my teammates and our fans for their continued support.”

One of those one-days-at-a-time presumably will include Dareus passing the pre-camp conditioning test, which he failed when he initially arrived at camp, drawing deserved criticism for failing to keep himself in a basic level of fitness at a time when football players find a way to stay in excellent shape throughout the year.

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Mike Brown says Marvin Lewis, Katie Blackburn now run the team

Marvin Lewis AP

Bengals owner Mike Brown, the son of team founder Paul Brown, has been so heavily involved in running the team that Mike Brown paid himself a $1 million General Manager bonus from 1991 through at least 2009. In the future, any such bonus could be going to someone else.

Brown tells Joe Danneman of FOX 19 that Brown no longer runs the show.

“They’re doing it now,” Brown said of his daughter, Katie Blackburn, and coach Marvin Lewis. “The ball’s been essentially handed off.”

Lewis told Danneman that Brown remains heavily involved, with Brown at the team facility “seven days a week.”

Even if Brown has handed off the ball, he deserves some of the praise for the team’s three consecutive playoff appearances. On that point, Brown opted for humility and self-deprecation.

“Do I take credit for that?” Brown said of the team’s success. “I wasn’t out there taking credit when it wasn’t going well, so maybe I ought to shut up and not take credit when it’s gone a little better.”

Even though things have improved, the Bengals still haven’t won a playoff game since the week before the January 1991 loss to the Raiders in a game far better known for a career-ending hip injury to one of the best running backs the game briefly saw.  This year, the Bengals hope to finally shed what very well could be the curse of Bo Jackson.

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