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Early starts haven’t been a problem for 49ers

San Francisco 49ers v Tampa Bay Buccaneers Getty Images

Yes, the 49ers have to adjust their schedule this week.

But their track record shows that they do it as well as anyone.

Via Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com, the 49ers have been tweaking their normal routine all week to prepare for Sunday’s 1 p.m. ET kickoff against the Panthers, which will feel like a 10 a.m. start for them.

The 49ers bumped Thursday’s practice ahead 30 minutes, but will go two hours earlier than normal today before boarding their charter flight to Charlotte this afternoon..

The time difference is normally a problem for West Coast teams, but it hasn’t been lately for the 49ers.

Since coach Jim Harbaugh took over, they’re 5-0 in 1 p.m. ET starts.

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Davante Adams won’t practice until late in the week

ARLINGTON, TX - JANUARY 15:  Davante Adams #17 of the Green Bay Packers catches a pass during the first quarter against the Dallas Cowboys in the NFC Divisional Playoff game at AT&T Stadium on January 15, 2017 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images) Getty Images

Last week, Packers coach Mike McCarthy said his injured wide receiver wouldn’t practice until Saturday, seeming to know it was unlikely he’d play.

So the fact he set the same timetable for another injured wide receiver isn’t a good sign.

Via Jason Wilde of ESPN.com, McCarthy said Davante Adams‘ left ankle injury was sufficiently worrisome that they’d hold him out until the end of the week.

“Curious to see him move,” McCarthy said. “I don’t think he’ll practice until Saturday.”

That’s the same early prognosis he set for Jordy Nelson last week after Nelson suffered broken ribs in the Wild Card win over the Giants. But Nelson didn’t make it to Saturday, as he was ruled out the Friday before the Divisional Round win over the Cowboys.

Adams was able to come back and play Sunday, but his absence would further deplete a receiving corps short on options. He started last week. Nelson’s not practicing today either, and getting him back on the field this week still seems like a long-shot.

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Bills hire Kelly Skipper as running backs coach

OAKLAND, CA - CIRCA 2011: In this handout image provided by the NFL, Kelly Skipper of the Oakland Raiders poses for his NFL headshot circa 2011 in Oakland, California. (Photo by NFL via Getty Images)

The Bills on Wednesday announced the hiring of Kelly Skipper as their new running backs coach.

Skipper held the same job the last two seasons with the Jaguars. Prior to that he coached in the college ranks and spent eight seasons with the Raiders.

Skipper becomes the third assistant officially hired since the Bills introduced Sean McDermott as their new head coach last week.

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Bill Belichick on home field advantage helping: Go ask Dallas and Kansas City

FOXBORO, MA - JANUARY 14: Bill Belichick head coach of the New England Patriots greets Bill O'Brien head coach ofthe Houston Texans after the Patriots defeated theTexans 34-16 in the AFC Divisional Playoff Game at Gillette Stadium on January 14, 2017 in Foxboro, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Patriots finished with the top seed in the AFC playoffs, which assured they wouldn’t have to play games anywhere other than Gillette Stadium in order to make it to Houston for the Super Bowl.

That’s seen as significant accomplishment for teams and a boost to their chances of advancing out of the conference. Patriots coach Bill Belichick isn’t overly convinced about that being the case, however.

Belichick was asked at Wednesday’s press conference about how much help the team gets from playing at home and noted that two teams who were at home last weekend aren’t playing this time around.

“I don’t know,” Belichick said. “Go ask Dallas and Kansas City … the game is won by the players on the field. That’s who wins football games — the players. And they’ll decide it Sunday night.”

The Patriots have played in 10 conference title games under Belichick. They are 4-1 at home and 2-3 on the road in those games, so history would say that being at home gives them a bit of a boost.

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Louis Riddick out, 49ers G.M. list reportedly down to four

San Diego Chargers v San Francisco 49ers Getty Images

The 49ers are narrowing their search for a new General Manager, and it appears the list is down to four.

According to Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com, the team has informed a number of candidates they were no longer in the mix, leaving four possibilities among the previously reported candidates to work with new coach Kyle Shanahan.

They’re seeking second interviews with Green Bay executives Brian Gutekunst and Eliot Wolf, along with Minnesota assistant G.M. George Paton, with Arizona vice president of player personnel Terry McDonough still a possibility as well.

ESPN analyst Louis Riddick is among the candidates no longer under consideration, though he was thought to be linked to their pursuit of Josh McDaniels as head coach.

“The 49ers pared down its list of general manager candidates Tuesday morning and thanked those who will not be included in the second round of interviews,” 49ers spokeman Bob Lange said in a statement. “Upcoming interviews will be announced as they were in the first round.”

Other personnel men who have been told they won’t get a second interview include Jimmy Raye III of the Colts, Seattle’s Scott Fitterer, and Panthers assistant G.M. Brandon Beane. Seahawks exec Trent Kirchner had previously pulled his name from consideration.

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Falcons owner Arthur Blank admits Kyle Shanahan is “a big loss”

ATLANTA, GA - JANUARY 14:  Atlanta Falcons Owner Arthur Blank stands on the field prior to the game against the Seattle Seahawks at the Georgia Dome on January 14, 2017 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Falcons spent the year nailing opponents with their offense. So it stands to reason they might lose the manager of the hardware department.

Falcons owner Arthur Blank admitted it would be difficult for his team to lose offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan to the 49ers, but understands it’s also the cost of running the league’s highest-scoring offense.

“Well, I think Kyle would be a big loss,” Blank told Vaughn McClure of ESPN.com. “But great coaches and great teams, that’s what happens in the National Football League, unlike when I was running [Home Depot]. When we had somebody who was ready to run a large division, it wasn’t a problem. You’d take [him] and move him out of his division and give him his own division. In the NFL, you only have one NFL team. And unless we’re going to put Kyle in charge of our soccer team — and we already have a good coach there — that’s it. We only have one great football coach.

“Great coaches like Bill Belichick and Bill Parcells in the past, Coach [Joe] Gibbs and Andy Reid — and the list goes on and on — are great NFL coaches who have produced over time, and they lose their coordinators. Same with Mike Tomlin.”

Of course, there’s still business to attend to, and the 49ers can’t officially hire Shanahan until the Falcons are finished playing this season. But he could sit for a second interview/first date with his prospective General Manager next week even if the Falcons advance to the Super Bowl.

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Morgan Cox added to AFC Pro Bowl team

NEW ORLEANS, LA - FEBRUARY 03:  Morgan Cox #46 of the Baltimore Ravens celebrates after the Ravens won 34-31 against the San Francisco 49ers during Super Bowl XLVII at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on February 3, 2013 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images) Getty Images

There have been a fair number of players added to the Pro Bowl rosters the last couple of weeks as players have dropped out, but the latest addition to the AFC team didn’t come with a corresponding departure.

The Ravens announced that long snapper Morgan Cox has been named to the team by Chiefs coach Andy Reid as a need pick. Long snappers are not voted onto the team like players at other positions and this marks the second year in a row that Reid has tabbed Cox to do the snapping.

Cox will be joining three other Ravens at the game in Orlando. Kicker Justin Tucker, fullback Kyle Juszcyzk and linebacker C.J. Mosley will also be participating. Guard Marshal Yanda was elected to the team, but will not play due to a shoulder injury.

Cox has been the long snapper for the Ravens since the 2010 season and has played in all but 10 games over that span.

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As 49ers candidates fled, Kyle Shanahan won big

Kyle Shanahan AP

Not long ago, the interest of Kyle Shanahan in the head-coaching job in San Francisco was lukewarm at best. It has heated up considerably this week.

Shanahan’s spike in interest in the job resulted from the lack of interest that multiple others had, either in coaching the team or in taking the G.M. job.

It began with Chiefs director of player personnel Chris Ballard. Regarded as the team’s first, second, and third choice for the job, Ballard wasn’t interested. He asked the team to deny the request for permission to interview him for the job, apparently in order to avoid the impression that he generally isn’t interested in an opportunity for advancement.

Next came Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio, who didn’t want the job, either. Other candidates for the G.M. job either declined an invitation to interview or withdrew after interviewing.

The decision of Ballard and Caserio to pass on the job apparently contributed to the shift in agenda from hiring a G.M. first to hiring a coach and G.M. who will work together well. As potential members of a tag team began to bow out (starting most prominently with Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels), that plan changed as well. When Seahawks offensive line coach Tom Cable withdrew, it left Shanahan as the only candidate.

Shanahan will benefit from that situation, significantly. He’s expected to be the highest-paid first time head coach in league history, and he’s expected to have final say over the roster and the draft. Next, he’ll be directly involved in the General Manager, which makes Shanahan the clear-cut captain of the S.S. 49er.

So how did it get to this point? Despite the widespread popular belief that the 49ers are currently the most dysfunctional team in football, the thinking in league circles is that, with some tweaks, the G.M. and coaching jobs could be desirable. The impediment to attracting their preferred candidates isn’t owner Jed York; apparently, it’s Chief Strategy Officer and EVP of Football Operations Paraag Marathe.

Marathe is, as a practical matter, the Russ Brandon of the 49ers. The only difference is that the 49ers make no secret of Marathe’s influence over the football operations.

From his online bio: “On the team side, Marathe reports directly to 49ers CEO Jed York and has a significant role in major strategic decisions for the club as Chief Strategy Officer. He also continues in his long-respected role as the team’s chief contract negotiator and salary cap architect, while overseeing the team’s football analytics department.”

Put simply, Marathe has influence, along with the ear of ownership. He’s been there for 16 years, and he has transcended the bubble of accountability in which coaches and General Managers reside. And that’s precisely the kind of dynamic coaches and General Managers try to avoid.

Shanahan is embracing it because, as his final package will demonstrate, he leveraged the team’s desperation to his full advantage. Moving forward, however, it’s an elephant in the room that may be serving as an oversized anchor.

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Julio Jones held out of practice Wednesday

ATLANTA, GA - JANUARY 14:    Julio Jones #11 of the Atlanta Falcons runs the ball against the Seattle Seahawks at the Georgia Dome on January 14, 2017 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images) Getty Images

Falcons coach Dan Quinn said there was “no concern” about wide receiver Julio Jones‘ toe injury after he left last Saturday’s win over the Seahawks, but added that the wideout might be limited in practice leading up to the NFC Championship Game.

The limitations will be total on Wednesday. Quinn announced at his press conference that Jones did not practice with the team as they begin their on-field preparations for the game against the Packers. He did take part in a walkthrough, however.

Quinn said that the plan is for Jones to do more as the week unfolds, but it’s a good bet that the Falcons aren’t going to push him too hard on the practice field if there’s any fear that it would make him less effective come Sunday.

Safety Keanu Neal, wide receiver Taylor Gabriel and defensive linemen Jonathan Babineaux were all limited participants for the Falcons.

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Jets hire Dennard Wilson as defensive backs coach

New York Jets v Buffalo Bills Getty Images

The Jets dispatched three defensive coaches after the end of the regular season and they’ve announced a new hire to replace one of them.

The team announced on Wednesday that Dennard Wilson will be the team’s new defensive backs coach. Joe Danna served as the defensive backs coach during Todd Bowles’ first two seasons as head coach.

Wilson spent the last five years with the Rams and was the team’s defensive backs coach for the last two seasons. He was the defensive quality control coach in his first three years with the club and served as a scout for the Bears for four years.

The Jets are still looking for a new defensive line coach and outside linebackers coach. There was a report that former Bears assistant Clint Hurtt would fill the linebackers role, but there’s been no official announcement and Rich Cimini of ESPN.com reported this week that there’s “no indication” that he’ll be joining Bowles’ staff.

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NCAA needs to do more to protect college football players

TALLAHASSEE, FL - SEPTEMBER 12: Head coach Willie Taggart of the South Florida Bulls looks on in the first half against the Florida State Seminoles at Doak Campbell Stadium on September 12, 2015 in Tallahassee, Florida. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images) Getty Images

Browns tackle Joe Thomas wisely wanted to see someone fired for the Oregon offseason workout debacle. It’s not happening, unfortunately.

Instead, the adult responsible for an exercise regimen that put three players in the hospital will be suspended for one month. And that’s that.

The punishment of Irele Oderinde has been announced by the school, and head coach Willie Taggart has said all the right things (even if he didn’t do the right thing) in response to the development.

“As the head football coach, I hold myself responsible for all of our football-related activities and the safety of our students must come first,” Taggart said in a statement that perhaps should have been followed by an explanation of the manner in which he’s being held responsible for the incident. “I have addressed the issue with our strength and conditioning staff, and I fully support the actions taken today by the university.”

It’s easy for Taggart to support the actions taken by the university when the actions weren’t taken against him. But why shouldn’t they be? While it may not be grounds for immediate termination or resignation, Taggart surely hopes to improve the performance of the team. In order to do that in September, the players need to be in great physical shape. He directly benefits from those efforts.

Mentally, the players also need to know that there’s a new sheriff in town, a new way of doing things. A break from the means and methods of the past. And there’s no better way to get their attention than to mimic Kurt-Russell-in-Miracle and go again and again and again and again until they realize they’re working (without pay) for a different boss.

The NCAA needs to intervene, providing real punishment when player health and safety is undermined and providing a reliable mechanism for players to register complaints about practice and workout abuses. The players have no protection; the NCAA needs to provide it.

If the NCAA can’t or won’t, someone else needs to step up and provide assistance and support for college football players who know misconduct is occurring but who have no way to efficiently have their concerns addressed without getting on the wrong side of the head coach.

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Browns, Jaguars, 49ers carrying over most money into 2017 cap

PHILADELPHIA, PA - SEPTEMBER 11: Head coach Hue Jackson of the Cleveland Browns looks on prior to the game against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field on September 11, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Eagles defeated the Browns 29-10. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images) Getty Images

When teams don’t spend the maximum amount allowed under the salary cap, NFL rules allow them to carry over unspent money and apply it to the next year’s cap.

The NFLPA announced the amounts of money each team will be carrying over into the 2017 season on Wednesday. The Browns rank at the top of the list.

Cleveland tore down their roster in 2016 and that left them with $50,123,269 in money to bring with them into the 2017 offseason. They also have two first-round picks, including the first overall pick, to use as they continue their long-lasting attempt to build a winning team.

Two other teams that finished near the bottom of the pack are next on the list. The Jaguars, owners of the No. 4 pick in the first round, will have over $39.3 million to add to their cap space while the 49ers, who have the second overall pick, have $38.7 million at their disposal.

The Chargers carry over the least money at just over $113,000 and the Rams, Jets, Vikings and Falcons are the other teams bringing less than $1 million with them into next year’s cap. The NFL told teams that the cap will rise $8-10 million from this year’s $155 million total, although official numbers won’t be set until closer to the start of the next league year.

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Report: Bears to hire Curtis Modkins as running backs coach

ROCHESTER, NY - CIRCA 2011: In this handout image provided by the NFL,  Curtis Modkins of the Buffalo Bills poses for his NFL headshot circa 2011 in Rochester, New York.  (Photo by NFL via Getty Images) Getty Images

The Bears need a new running backs coach with Stan Drayton taking a job at the University of Texas and they’ve reportedly found their man.

Adam Caplan of ESPN reports that the team is expected to hire Curtis Modkins to fill the position on John Fox’s staff.

Modkins spent the 2016 season as the offensive coordinator for the 49ers, but Chip Kelly’s dismissal after one year as the team’s head coach left him without a role in that organization. Modkins also spent three years as the offensive coordinator in Buffalo when Chan Gailey was the Bills’ head coach. He was also in charge of the running backs in Buffalo and has also spent time as a position coach with the Lions, Cardinals and Chiefs.

Modkins will get a chance to work with Jordan Howard, who finished second in the league in rushing yards as a rookie in 2016. Howard figures to play a prominent role in the offense again next season, although it’s less certain who will be handing the ball off in Chicago.

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Texans won’t hire an offensive coordinator, Bill O’Brien to call plays

Bill O'Brien AP

In the coaching shuffle the Texans are going through, it appears one spot is going unfilled.

According to John McClain of the Houston Chronicle, the Texans aren’t going to hire an offensive coordinator to replace the fired George Godsey, and head coach Bill O’Brien will call the plays next year.

They’re also shifting wide receivers coach Sean Ryan to quarterbacks coach, giving them a different voice for a group of passers who have underwhelmed. They’re sort of stuck with Brock Osweiler for another year, even though O’Brien has held off on ordaining the expensive free agent the starter for 2017.

The Texans have previously shifted defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel to an assistant head coach role so they can hang onto Mike Vrabel by making him the coordinator.

But this moves puts a lot more pressure on O’Brien to change what has become a perennial 9-7 team which is held back by mediocre-to-poor quarterback play — more than was already there.

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Ronald Leary prepared to move on from Cowboys

ARLINGTON, TX - SEPTEMBER 13:  Ronald Leary #65 of the Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium on September 13, 2015 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images) Getty Images

Ronald Leary wanted to leave the Cowboys before the start of the 2016 season as his run in the starting lineup came to an end with the arrival of La’El Collins in 2015, but the Cowboys held onto him as insurance against an injury.

That proved wise as Collins suffered a toe injury early in the season and Leary stepped in at left guard for an offensive line that didn’t miss a beat with the change in personnel. Leary is set to be a free agent this offseason, and the combination of Collins’ return and the heavy investment the Cowboys have already made on the offensive line leave him pretty sure about how things will play out.

“I thought about it a lot after the game,” Leary said, via ESPN.com. “I kind of stayed on the field a little bit because I’ve been here the last five years of my life. That’s just as long as you’re in college, so I’ve grown close to a lot of players here, a lot of staff. It’s tough to think about, because you don’t know the future when you hit the market like that. It’s tough, but it’s part of the game.”

The Jets signed guard Brian Winters to a four-year deal with $15 million in guaranteed money earlier this week and Leary has started six more games over the last four years. That may be a sign of what Leary can expect on the market and an offer in that neighborhood will likely result in him moving on from Dallas.

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How much credit should Paul Tagliabue get for the Rooney Rule?

3100746-commissioner-paul-tagliabue-at-the-press-gettyimages Getty Images

As the annual Hall of Fame vote approaches, it’s time for plenty of the media members who will or, in my case for example, won’t be casting ballots to begin to push their agendas, either directly or more subtly.

A new item from Alex Marvez of SportingNews.com does little to hide the point of view in its self-explanatory headline: “Paul Tagliabue’s Hall of Fame case much stronger with Rooney Rule getting results.”

The article, the product of a radio interview Marvez and Bill Polian conducted with Tagliabue, contends that the “positive results” from the rule that requires at least one minority candidate to be interviewed for every head-coaching vacancy “will be a cornerstone of Tagliabue’s case for the Hall of Fame.” But are the results really all that positive?

Consider this observation, from December 2016: “I don’t think the Rooney Rule has done as much as anyone hoped it would.”

Who said that? Paul Tagliabue, of course.

All that’s changed since then is the addition of two minority head coaches out of five who have been hired in the current cycle. (Six, assuming the 49ers hire Kyle Shanahan.)

While Tagliabue deserves credit for putting the rule in place, it happened not as an act of altruism but in response to a clear warning from Cyrus Mehri and the late Johnnie Cochran regarding the very real potential for litigation if things didn’t improve. Tagliabue, a lawyer before becoming Commissioner, opted not to hunker down and gird for a fight but to offer a half-measure that would force teams to tap the brakes before ultimately hiring whoever they wanted to hire.

That process has indeed helped minority candidates enter the pipeline of candidates who get attention when owners are figuring out who they want to hire before deciding to fire the guy they currently have (e.g., the current posture of the Colts). Coaches like Mike Tomlin and Vance Joseph may have never gotten serious consideration to become head coaches without the rule mandating their interviews.

Still, it’s not clear how much of that becomes a feather in Tagliabue’s Hall of Fame cap, given that only little more than a month ago Tagliabue expressed concern that the rule hasn’t worked as hoped.

Then there’s the fact that, for the first 13 years of Tagliabue’s tenure, the NFL didn’t have a Rooney Rule and did have a grossly disproportionate underrepresentation of minority coaches. Also, when considered against other issues like the formation on Tagliabue’s watch of the controversial Mild Traumatic Brain Injury Committee, which worked actively (and shamefully) to deny and downplay the risks of head trauma, a 2017 uptick in minority coaching hires may not be enough to get Tagliabue the votes he needs.

Ultimately, he needs 80 percent (not 51 percent) of the voters to say yes. Having 33 percent of this year’s coaching class filled by minority hires is only one piece of a much larger puzzle that may or may not result in Tagliabue receiving the highest honor the sport can bestow. There’s a good chance that, regardless of any other considerations, at least one out of every five voters will find Tagliabue’s role in the concussion crisis to be a disqualifying factor.

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