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Deion Sanders says he’s playing in the Pro Bowl

Deion Sanders AP

Saddle up the high horses, and make righteous your indignation.

They’re about to make a mockery of the Pro Bowl.

Hall of Fame cornerback Deion Sanders just tweeted that he “WILL SUIT UP IN HAWAII,” pressuring fellow team captain Jerry Rice to do the same.

He also send a message to Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson, telling him that 21 may not be available to him.

Having Sanders and Rice out there running around does exactly zero to diminish the sanctity of the game (there was none prior), and might actually make it more interesting.

While ripping off the NHL’s fantasy draft idea might not have been enough to generate interest, having Sanders involved will at least make some casual fans tune in.

At least until they beat the commercials into the ground the way they did with Leon Sandcastle’s Combine appearance.

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Sankey knows running back position has less value in today’s NFL

Sankey AP

The ongoing devaluation of the running back position could prompt highly-talented athletes to gravitate toward other positions.  Until then, highly-talented athletes who have chosen to play running back will be relegated to making chicken salad out of their NFL prospects.

Washington running back Bishop Sankey realizes that the game is changing.  But he still embraces the challenge of playing running back at the NFL level.

“Obviously last year with there being no running back going in the first round, I think there has just been a bigger emphasis on the pass in the NFL and maybe I’m biased but I feel like running back are just as valuable as anybody else on the field especially on the offense,” Sankey told NBCSN’s Pro Football Talk this week.  “We not only contribute on the ground but we also pass protect, protect the quarterback and we can also be used as an asset out of the backfield catching the ball.

“Not only that I think a lot of running backs contribute a lot on special teams as well with kick returns, punt returns.  Not even being a returner but also blocking for those guys and it’s kind of the direction the league’s going in now, but for me it’s just like I want to go out there every time I get a chance and eliminate all the questions that the NFL coaches have and really just try and put my best foot forward to give me a good opportunity come draft day.”

This year, there likely will be no running backs taken in round one.  If given the choice between being a first-round pick or the first running back taken, Sankey would take being the first running back selected.

“I think it just speaks high if you’re the first guy to go at your position,” Sankey said.  “It speaks high of what teams think about you and the work that you’ve put in up to this point.”

While it’s highly unlikely any running back will go in the first round, Sankey has a good shot of being the first running back whose name is called.  And then he’ll get a fair chance to show what he can do in September, when his number is called.

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Northwestern union vote coming in six days

Northwestern AP

The question of whether the Northwestern football team can have a union won’t matter unless the players want a union.  The latter question will be resolved soon.

The vote will be conducted on April 25.  For the yes-or-no proposition, a simple majority wins.

As recently explained by Alejandra Cancino of the Chicago Tribune, the vote possibly will be delayed pending full resolution of the question of whether the student-athletes are also employees.  The more likely outcome will be a sealing of the ballots until the legal issue has made its way through the court system.

So it’s possible that, after months of appeals resulting in a decision that the players can have a union, the votes will be counted and it will be determined that the players choose not to unionize.

Still, a ruling permitting unionization will allow other student-athletes at other private colleges to attempt to organize.  And the mere threat of union drives should prompt the NCAA to make changes that would make players less likely to choose against a union.

Those changes could eventually impact the NFL’s free farm system in ways that could make the farm system something other than free.  Or which could prompt the NFL to launch its own developmental league.

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Saturday morning one-liners

Morris Getty Images

The Bills secured preliminary approval for a $3 million class-action settlement arising from allegations that the team’s mobile alert service sent out more texts than the recipients had agreed to receive.

RB Chris Johnson says the Jets told him Geno Smith and Mike Vick will battle it out for the quarterback job.

Count Northern Colorado QB Seth Lobato among the many signal-callers whom the Patriots have examined this year.

The Dolphins seem to have a real interest in Miami QB Stephen Morris.

Ravens DT Terrence Cody says LB Rolando McClain has “humbled himself” and is “ready to play football.”

Steelers DE Nick Williams is working his way back from a knee injury that wiped out his 2013 season.

Bengals strength coach Chip Morton is looking forward to the expansion of the weight room.

Browns QB Brian Hoyer participated in a celebrity cooking competition.

Jaguars LS Carson Tinker wrote a book about his experience in the Tuscaloosa tornado of 2011, which claimed the life of his girlfriend.

Injuries hit the Texans harder in 2013 than in 2012.

Colts DE Bjoern Werner recently visited practice at Kentucky.

Titans LB Shaun Phillips strongly prefers the 3-4 to the 4-3.

The Raiders have finalized their exhibition schedule, which includes a nationally-televised game against the Packers.

Former Chargers QB Jesse Freitas, 62, will spend up to three years in a locked mental-health facility after a history of setting fires and other crimes.

The Chiefs use iPad playbooks during the regular season; they may experiment with using them in the offseason, too.

Broncos defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio visited Oregon State practice to watch his son, Luke.

Eagles QB Nick Foles will serve as honorary captain for the home opener of the Philadelphia Soul.

Redskins WR DeSean Jackson reportedly celebrated his arrival in D.C. this week with a $20,000 bottle of champagne.  (Who says he doesn’t get it?)

Giants P Steve Weatherford accepted a high-school prom invitation via Twitter.

Cowboys fans aren’t happy that DL Jason Hatcher left for Washington.

The Vikings are kicking in another $1.2 million to get bigger and better video screens at their new stadium.

The Bears are sniffing around former Lindenwood CB Pierre Desir.

The failure of Lions DT Ndamukong Suh to show up for the offseason program is bad; the team’s apathy about his absence is worse.

Should Packers Hall of Famer Bart Starr gotten more of a chance when coaching the team?

After undergoing back surgery last August, Panthers DT Linden Gaydosh couldn’t sit for a month.

Buccaneers S Keith Tandy will host a football camp this summer in his hometown of Hopkinsville, Kentucky.

The Atlanta Journal Constitution has a new mock draft that predicts the Falcons will trade up to No. 2 for OT Greg Robinson.

Saints CB Champ Bailey will make his public debut Tuesday at a local celebrity golf tournament.

The turf has been installed at the 49ers new stadium.

The Seahawks will be keeping a close eye on the development of RB Christine Michael this offseason.

Rams LB Jo-Lonn Dunbar calls 2013 a “wacky year.”

The new video boards being installed at the Cardinals stadium will be triple the size of the original screens.

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Patriots continue showing interest in quarterback prospects

Seth Lobato AP

The Patriots don’t have an immediate need at quarterback, but they’re continuing to show interest in drafting one.

Our list of pre-draft visits shows that the Patriots have spent time with Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger, Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray and Virginia Tech quarterback Logan Thomas. According to Boston.com, the list of quarterbacks the Patriots have spent time with at Pro Day workouts also includes Eastern Illinois’s Jimmy Garoppolo, Ohio State’s Kenny Guiton, Alabama’s A.J. McCarron, South Carolina’s Connor Shaw and Ball State’s Keith Wenning.

And the latest name to the list of quarterbacks the Patriots have been linked to is Northern Colorado’s Seth Lobato, a raw, 6-foot-6 former basketball player.

The Patriots might be thinking now about what they’ll do at quarterback when Tom Brady retires. Or they could be trying to light a fire under Brady. Or they could be trying to pick the brains of as many quarterbacks as they can, as offensive schemes increasingly migrate from college to the NFL. Whatever the reasons, by the time of the draft in three weeks, it appears that the Patriots will have talked to just about every available quarterback.

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Mike Tice’s Midnight Hawk the 4-5 favorite in $500,000 Illinois Derby

Sham Stakes Horse Race AP

Midnight Hawk, a three-year-old colt co-owned by Falcons offensive line coach Mike Tice, is the heavy favorite to capture Saturday’s $500,000 Illinois Derby at Hawthorne Race Course in Cicero.

Midnight Hawk has been installed as the 4-5 favorite on the track’s morning line, which is an estimate of how the race will be bet. No other horse in the eight-horse field is lower than 5-1.

The winner’s share of the purse is $300,000. A gray horse, Midnight Hawk will break from post position No. 3.

Chicago Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville, whose team plays the St. Louis Blues at 3 p.m. Eastern on Saturday in a game televised on NBC, is another co-owner of Midnight Hawk.

Midnight Hawk has won 2-of-5 career races, with two second-place finishes and one third-place finish. He finished second in his lone other try at the 1 1/8-mile distance of the Illinois Derby.

Midnight Hawk has 52 qualifying points toward running in the Kentucky Derby and would make the field if trainer Bob Baffert and ownership elected to run. However, the Kentucky Derby is in just two weeks, which makes Midnight Hawk’s participation perhaps questionable. The Preakness, which is run on Saturday, May 17, could be another logical next race for Midnight Hawk if he performs well at Hawthorne, which is about 10 miles to the southwest of downtown Chicago.

Tice told the Chicago Tribune that the Illinois Derby was a logical spot for Midnight Hawk, who has been competitive throughout his career but has yet to win beyond a mile.

“Joel and I are coaches and when you’re a coach you look for the best matchups. You should take a horse and look at it the same way, which is what Bob Baffert did,” Tice told the Tribune.

Post time for the Illinois Derby is 6:42 p.m. Eastern on Saturday.

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Report: Dolphins targeting Cyrus Kouandjio in the first round

Cyrus Kouandjio

Alabama offensive tackle Cyrus Kouandjio is the target of the Dolphins in the first round of the draft, if one local report is to be believed.

The Palm Beach Post reports that Dolphins General Manager Dennis Hickey prefers Kouandjio to the other offensive tackles who are expected to be available with the Dolphins’ first-round pick, No. 19 overall. Notre Dame’s Zack Martin, Virginia’s Morgan Moses and Michigan’s Taylor Lewan are among the other offensive tackles who have been projected as potential Dolphins picks.

Dennis has got a love for Kouandjio and he should be sitting there for them,” a source told the paper.

As with all reports of this nature, it’s fair to ask whether it’s just a smokescreen. If the Dolphins really are high on Kouandjio, they should be keeping that a secret so some other team that loves Kouandjio doesn’t move ahead of them in the first round.

What is clear is that the Dolphins aren’t done rebuilding their dysfunctional offensive line. And of the offensive linemen they’re considering, Hickey reportedly thinks Martin makes a better guard than a tackle, Moses reportedly has a less-than-stellar relationship with Dolphins offensive coordinator Bill Lazor (who coached Moses at Virginia) and Lewan may not be available for the Dolphins at No. 19. By process of elimination, that would leave Miami with Koundjio.

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Saban claims Manning and Gase visits were separate

Nick Saban AP

When Alabama coach Nick Saban revealed that Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning and Broncos offensive coordinator Adam Gase had visited the Crimson Tide, it raised eyebrows as a potential violation of the NFL rules preventing players and coaches from meeting before the start of the offseason program. But now Saban says Manning and Gase didn’t meet together.

I am surprised to hear that anyone thought that what they were doing was in any way wrong. That’s what people get for assuming,” Saban told the Denver Post. “We did not talk Broncos football at all, other than Peyton asking questions about how he could get better as a player.”

Asked if Manning and Gase were in a meeting at the same time, Saban said, “Only to say hello.”

Gase got his start in coaching as a graduate assistant for Saban at LSU, and Saban characterized their meeting as personal, not professional.

“I only talked to Adam about his family. He talked to our assistant coaches,” Saban said.

The Denver Post story suggests that it’s not an issue because “Manning’s idea of vacation is talking football,” and so Manning won’t complain about it. But the rule doesn’t only exist to protect players from being forced by their coaches to do extra offseason work. It also exists to provide a level playing field for all 32 NFL teams. If Manning and Gase are permitted to travel together to study defenses during what’s supposed to be the players’ time off, they’re getting an unfair advantage over the teams that strictly obey the rules prohibiting any coaching from taking place at this point in the offseason.

Saban says that’s not how it happened. Saban is saying exactly what he needs to say to clear Manning and Gase of any wrongdoing, but the NFL has said it will look into the matter.

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Peyton gets paid $105,000 to speak at Oklahoma State

Peyton AP

Alabama coach Nick Saban got Peyton Manning’s time for free.  Oklahoma State had to pay a bit more.

According to the Tulsa World, Manning received $105,000 for a 30-minute speech and a 30-minute question-and-answer session in Stillwater.  The money was paid by the OSU Speakers Board.

So what did they get in return?  Apparently, a laundry list of fairly obvious lines that appear in any of the various motivational books that can be purchased for 99 cents on the clearance shelf.

“I challenge each of you in this arena tonight to invest your time to become a game-changer.  A game-changer looks deeper and senses something others don’t and then acts on it.”

“You either get better or worse every day.  You don’t stay the same.”

“Enjoy the journey, not the destination.”

“This is your world.  Own it.”

Actually, this isn’t our world.  It’s Peyton’s world.  The rest of us are just paying the rent.  At $105,000 per hour.

Seriously, though, we’ll never complain about a guy finding a way to get paid for his time.  We’re all worth whatever someone will pay, and OSU’s Speakers Board decided Manning is worth $105,000 per hour.  There’s not a thing wrong with Peyton collecting the cash.

But here’s the bigger issue.  At a time when the NCAA and various member institutions are fretting about how to afford the inevitable obligation to pay student-athletes, the fact that $105,000 can be scraped together by Oklahoma State for 60 minutes of cliché and rah-rah reconfirms that, when the time comes to cough up fair market value to the kids who are bringing in millions, the schools will find a way.

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Newton in a boot, still recovering from ankle surgery

Newton AP

It’s been a month since the surprise announcement that Panthers quarterback Cam Newton needs ankle surgery.  So how’s he doing four-plus weeks after having the procedure?

Darin Gantt of PFT, who covered the Panthers 14 years before joining this establishment nearly two years ago, reported during Friday night’s edition of Pro Football Talk on NBCSN that Newton remains in a boot — and that the team remains hopeful Newton will be back to 100 percent in time for training camp.

Of course, Newton may still miss all of the practice reps of the offseason program, which becomes more critical as the Panthers break in a bunch of new receivers.

The next time we hear Newton’s name inevitably will be when the Panthers exercise the fifth-year option on his rookie contract, which will pay him $13 million for 2015.  It’s only a matter of time before the Panthers pay him a lot more than that.

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Dominik predicts a slide for Manziel

Manziel Getty Images

Teddy Bridgewater isn’t the only 2014 quarterback prospect who received a dire prognosis from former Buccaneers G.M. Mark Dominik on Friday.  Via Rotowold, Dominik also had some bad news for Johnny Manziel.

Dominik, who now works for ESPN, said on the air that Manziel “will fall a little more than people think” in the draft.

This assessment presumes that a consensus currently exists as to where Manziel will go.  It doesn’t.

As time passes, it seems less likely the Texans would use the first overall pick in the draft on Manziel.  After that, it gets fuzzy.  Could a team spring in front of Jacksonville (No. 3) and Cleveland (No. 4) to get Manziel with the No. 2 selection currently held by the Rams?  Possibly.

If he gets past No. 2 (and he likely will), the hot spots become Jacksonville, Cleveland, Oakland at No. 5 (very unlikely), Tampa Bay at No. 7, Minnesota at No. 8, and Tennessee at No. 11.

The Cowboys at No. 16 could be very intrigued by Manziel.  Perhaps sufficiently intrigued to trade up.

If Manziel makes it past the first half of the round, the question then becomes whether a team from round two would trade up in front of the Browns at No. 26, if the Browns don’t take a quarterback at No. 4.  After the Browns, it then becomes possible if not probable that a team springs into the first round, where a four-year contract and a one-year option would apply.

We’d be shocked if Manziel isn’t taken in the first round.  His actual placement in round one, whatever it may be, won’t be a surprise.

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Reggie Wayne: If you say I’m over the hill, I’ll prove you wrong

Reggie Wayne AP

As Colts receiver Reggie Wayne recovers from last season’s torn ACL, one thing is motivating him to work harder than ever: Knowing that people doubt he can do it.

Wayne told Mike Chappell of the Indianapolis Star that “naysayers” in the media are pushing him through his rehab.

“It’s you guys,” Wayne said. “You guys motivate me. You guys say that I can’t do it. I’m 35. I’m over the hill. No way I can come back the same. I wasn’t a big newspaper reader, but I’ve become one. Next time I read it maybe you’ll be saying I’ve found the fountain of youth.”

Wayne has previously said that he believes he’ll be ready to go full-speed during offseason workouts, but that Colts coach Chuck Pagano is telling him to take it easy and not to push himself too hard. Whenever Pagano is ready to let Wayne go, however, Wayne sounds ready to show that he still has a lot left in him.

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Colts sign two fullbacks from Super Regional Combine

Indianapolis Colts v Jacksonville Jaguars Getty Images

The Colts have added a pair of fullbacks who took part in last week’s NFL Super Regional Combine in Detroit.

The club said Thursday it had signed Stephen Campbell and Cameron White, each of whom was not in the NFL in 2013.

Campbell (6-1, 245) played for West Virginia Wesleyan from 2009 through 2012. He participated in the NFL’s New York/New Jersey Regional Combine on February 15, then was invited to the Super Regional Combine.

White took part in the Chicago Regional Combine on March 15 before moving on to the Super Regional Combine. He is a Hillsdale (Mich.) College product (2009-2012).

Both rookie fullbacks have shown they can catch the ball; White hauled in 94 passes in his collegiate career, while Campbell recorded 65 receptions.

The Colts now have three fullbacks on the roster, with veteran Stanley Havili the club’s other blocking back.

The Colts’ willingness to explore all available outlets for talent has been one of the trademarks of G.M. Ryan Grigson’s tenure.

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Report: League installing real-time fiber optics for replay review

Eagles Cowboys Football AP

One of the key ingredients for a centralized replay function is the latest in real-time fiber optic technology.  The NHL has it.

According to John Kryk of the Toronto Sun, the NFL will soon have it, too.

Per Kryk, the league will have the ability this year in the league office to view the games as they happen, which will allow V.P. of officiating Dean Blandino to better assist the referees as they engage in the formal replay review.

With the technology in place to see things happen as they happen, it could be that the ability of Blandino to guide the referees through the review process in 2014 ultimately becomes Blandino and company actually conducting the replay reviews from New York City.

That’s the way we’d prefer it to be.  The process could be much more efficient if the referee were removed from the process and the review happened quickly at the proverbial situation room.

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Ex-Jag Richard Collier is “on cloud nine” nearly six years after being paralyzed

Jacksonville Jaguars Training Camp Getty Images

It’s a slow Friday in the football world, which gives us a bit of time to catch up on some stories that don’t have to do with the draft or the coming season.

Vito Stellino wrote one of them in the Florida Times Union about former Jaguars offensive tackle Richard Collier. Collier’s NFL career came to an end after just nine games when he was paralyzed after being shot 14 times by a man who has since been sentenced to life in prison.

Collier went on to have part of one leg amputated as a result of the 2008 shooting, but told Stellino that he has forgiven the shooter while forging ahead with a fulfilling life that no longer includes football. Collier speaks against gun violence, runs a foundation called The Spirit Strong, rehabs diligently and plays father to twin sons he had with his wife earlier this month. It’s all part of a life that Collier says “keeps getting better” almost six years after his football career and much more were cruelly taken away from him.

“It was a bad situation, but no one can ever take away my joy. I am still smiling, just enjoying life,” Collier said. “It was hard at first, but I got around to smelling the roses. I take every day and appreciate it. I could have died. Somebody was looking over me. I don’t take it for granted. Life is great. No matter what the situation is, I’m on cloud nine. Everything I want, I have right in front of me.”

Collier remains hopeful that medical advances will help him make even more progress and we share that hope for him and anyone else in a similar position, but remains positive that everything will work out even if they don’t. After reading Stellino’s profile, it’s hard not to share that feeling.

 

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Mark Dominik: Teddy Bridgewater’s problems go beyond Pro Day

Teddy Bridgewater AP

Former Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater’s draft stock has appeared to decline dramatically in recent weeks, as a disappointing Pro Day has led to talk that he’s not the potential No. 1 overall pick that he was proclaimed to be during the 2013 season. But one NFL personnel man says that in reality, Bridgewater’s stock was never that high to begin with.

Mark Dominik, the former Buccaneers general manager who now serves as an analyst for ESPN, said on NFL Live that he doesn’t believe Bridgewater’s Pro Day is a problem so much as his skinny frame, as well as the fact that Bridgewater didn’t always look like an elite passer on tape.

“There were things you saw on tape when you watched him,” Dominik said. “Something that scouts internally, we talked about it in Tampa with Teddy Bridgewater last year. Is he really the premiere quarterback? I like the young man, I think he’s a quality individual, he’s got character and leadership and those things. But this is a quarterback, and you’re judged by what quarterback you draft, and I think Teddy Bridgewater might not have all the pieces you’re looking for.

Dominik indicated that if teams with Top 5 picks like the Texans, Jaguars and Browns are interested in Bridgewater, their interest is in hoping Bridgewater falls all the way out of the first round and is still available early in the second round. That’s a long fall from where most people thought Bridgewater would be drafted.

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