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Preseason Power Rankings No. 12: Chicago Bears

Alshon Jeffery, Brandon Marshall AP

The 2013 Bears scored the second-most points in franchise history (445). Only the 1985 Bears tallied more in regular season play, putting up 456 in their bulldozing of all non-Dan Marino-led competition in a 15-1 season.

But for all of their skill on offense, the 2013 Bears were overmatched on defense, surrendering 478 points, 57 points more than any previous Chicago club had given up.

Long before the Packers’ Randall Cobb sprinted through the Chicago secondary en route to the division-clinching touchdown in the regular season finale, the Bears’ defense was broken. Chicago surrendered at least 28 points in half of its games, including 54 to Philadelphia, 45 to Washington, 42 to St. Louis and 40 to Detroit. No team allowed more yards per play than the Bears, and no team was worse against the run.

In the offseason, the Bears set out to bolster that “D,” signing two of the best available defensive ends (Lamarr Houston, Jared Allen) and drafting defensive players with four of their first five picks. On offense, the Bears tried to build continuity. They re-committed to quarterback Jay Cutler, signing him to a seven-year contract worth up to $126.7 million in January. In May, they signed wide receiver Brandon Marshall to a four-year deal worth as much as $40 million.

These were logical moves for Chicago. For once, it was the offense didn’t need much work. Now, the focus turns to whether the defense can provide more resistance in head coach Marc Trestman’s second season on the job.

Strengths.

The Bears’ 2014 offense could be one of the best the franchise has ever fielded. Marshall (100 catches, 1,295 yards, 12 TDs in 2013) and fellow starting wideout Alshon Jeffery (89-1,421-7) were Pro Bowlers a season ago, as were tailback Matt Forte (1,933 combined rushing-receiving yards) and right guard Kyle Long.

Cutler — now in sixth season in Chicago — appears to have taken well to Trestman’s scheme. The strong-armed Cutler connected on 63.1 percent of his throws a season ago, his best completion percentage in six years. He’s quite capable of being the first Bears quarterback to make a Pro Bowl since Jim McMahon 29 years ago.

If Cutler gets an all-star nod, he’ll be aided by strength of his pass catching corps. Marshall and Jeffery form an outstanding tandem. Forte is one of the game’s best receivers out of the backfield. Tight end Martellus Bennett is solid, too.

In Trestman’s inaugural campaign, the Bears’ passing attempts rose nearly 20 percent, but total sacks were down more than 30 percent. Moreover, the club’s completion percentage was up more than five percent. In short, the 2013 Bears threw it more and threw it better — and their quarterbacks hit the ground less. That’s testament to Trestman’s scheme, but it also reflects well on the offensive line, which the club overhauled last year, drafting Long and right tackle Jordan Mills and signing left tackle Jermon Bushrod and left guard Matt Slauson.

The Bears can only hope their offseason D-line investment will pay similar dividends. And Allen, Houston and ex-Lions end Willie Young should strengthen a defense that got just 20 sacks from its front four a season ago.

Finally, in Robbie Gould, the Bears have one of the NFL’s most reliable kickers. He hit 26-of-29 field goals in 2013, including 9-of-11 from 40 yards and beyond.

Weaknesses.

Even with an upgraded defensive line, the Bears’ defense looms a major concern. The top player in the LB corps, Lance Briggs, will be 34 in November. Shea McClellin, the Bears’ 2012 first-round pick, could get reps at strong-side and middle linebacker in an attempt to jump-start his career. More is also needed from second-year pro Jon Bostic, whether at middle or outside linebacker.

The Bears’ secondary also looks shaky. Per Pro Football Focus grades, the club had two of the four worst starting safeties in 2013 (SS Major Wright, FS Chris Conte). Wright departed in free agency, and Conte comes off shoulder surgery. The Bears added four veterans and a draft pick at safety, which at least gives them some options as they try to craft a workable solution on the back end.

The Bears’ cornerback play should also be monitored. The club added some much-needed youth and depth in the draft, taking Kyle Fuller in Round One. Fuller, veterans Tim Jennings and Charles Tillman figure as the top three corners. If the 33-year-old Tillman stays healthy and returns to form, and if Fuller is a quick study, the Bears should be just fine at this key position. But if Tillman misses time, and if Fuller isn’t quite ready for prime time, the Bears could have a problem.

The worries don’t stop there. The Bears’ special teams are quite unsettled entering training camp. The club will have a new punter, holder, long-snapper, punt returner and kickoff returner. And backup quarterback could be a trouble spot after the departure of Josh McCown. Veterans Jimmy Clausen and Jordan Palmer and sixth-round rookie David Fales will vie to back up Cutler. Clausen and Palmer have generally struggled against NFL competition, but Trestman is masterful with quarterbacks.

Changes.

The defensive depth chart got a makeover. The Bears released defensive end Julius Peppers and didn’t bring back defensive tackle Henry Melton, defensive end Corey Wootton or linebacker James Anderson. The Bears’ most expensive free agent signings — Houston and Allen — are defensive ends, a nod to the premium that ready-made pass rushers command. To bolster the defensive tackle depth, the Bears turned to the draft, selecting Ego Ferguson and Will Sutton in the second and third rounds, respectively.

The Bears took a value shopping approach at safety. Free agent additions Ryan Mundy, M.D. Jennings, Danny McCray and Adrian Wilson are all slated to make less than $1 million in salary this season, per NFLPA records.

On offense, the changes were reserved to backup spots. McCown left to be the Buccaneers’ starter, while tailback Michael Bush and Earl Bennett were released. Rookie Ka’Deem Carey could help replace Bush, while former Washington wideout Josh Morgan was signed to bolster the WR depth.

The Bears underwent several major shakeups in the kicking game. Long-time star returner Devin Hester signed with Atlanta. Punter Adam Podlesh was released, and the club spent a draft pick on a potential replacement (Pat O’Donnell, Round Six). Then, late in the offseason, 16-year long-snapper Patrick Mannelly retired, adding another layer of uncertainty to the special teams.

Camp battles.

Here are the positions and players to watch:

— Safety: Ex-Giant Mundy might have the edge at strong safety, but Wilson is a wild card if he has something left after missing the 2013 season with an Achilles injury. Rookie Vereen is the biggest threat to the incumbent Conte at free safety.

— Cornerback: The progress of Fuller must be monitored. There are plenty of snaps to be had in this secondary if he’s up to it.

— Defensive tackle: Can Ferguson or Sutton push starters Jay Ratliff and Stephen Paea? If not, can the rookies at least prove capable rotation players?

— Linebacker: Will Bostic, McClellin and second-year outside linebacker Khaseem Greene step up their play? The Bears didn’t draft a linebacker and added only veteran backup Jordan Senn in free agency.

— Wide receiver: Morgan and second-year pro Marquess Wilson appear the favorites to replace Bennett as the third receiver.

— Running back: Carey and second-year pro Michael Ford will compete for the little work that won’t go to Forte, a true three-down back.

— Quarterback: Palmer, Clausen and Fales will compete for no more than two reserve roles. The question is, which of this trio most quickly applies Trestman’s lessons?

— Returner: Eric Weems is the most experienced option in the competition to return kickoffs and punts.

— Punter: O’Donnell will try to hold off veteran Tress Way.

— Long-snapper: First-year pro Brandon Hartson and CFL veteran Chad Rempel will battle it out.

Prospects.

The Bears must hang tough early. Six of their first nine games are on the road, including trips to visit the 49ers (Week Two), Falcons (Week Six), Patriots (Week Eight) and Packers (Week 10).

If Chicago can get through that nine-pack in decent order, there’s a real chance to close with gusto. From November 16 through December 21, the Bears play five home games and take just one road trip — Detroit on Thanksgiving Day. The Bears end their season at Minnesota — no picnic, yes, but not the worst draw ever.

It all looks fairly cut-and-dried with the Bears. If their defense is better, and if their offense hums along, they are serious contenders for a playoff spot. But if the defense remains a sieve, and if the offense regresses, they are vulnerable.

The Bears aren’t the youngest of teams. Tillman and Briggs don’t have many NFL years left. Cutler and Marshall aren’t kids, either, and Forte is approaching 2,000 career touches. There ought to be a real sense of urgency to get into the playoffs with an offense this talented. As Bears observers with any sense of history would tell you, scoring points traditionally hasn’t been a Chicago strength.

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Manziel says he’s “on the same page” with Browns, admits “rookie mistakes”

Johnny Manziel AP

As he begins his first NFL training camp after an offseason filled with chatter about his off-field habits, Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel admitted Friday he has made some “rookie mistakes” early in his pro career.

However, the Browns’ first-round pick also made it clear he doesn’t see a problem having a good time once in a while.

“I don’t think there’s anything wrong with me going out and having a nightlife and having a social life,” Manziel said at a press conference. “I mean, I am 21 years old, and I do like going out.

“It was the offseason. It’s free time for us, and if I want to go out and hang out with my friends or go to nightclubs or do things like that, then I think that’s within my rights to being doing that, and I think there’s other guys throughout the league that are going that. And I’m not trying to compare myself to anybody else, but I think that’s within my rights to be doing that.”

While not specifically addressing what he considered to be missteps, Manziel noted he had communicated with coach Mike Pettine and G.M. Ray Farmer and that all was well entering camp.

“Me and Coach Pettine and Ray Farmer have really talked about a lot of things that have transpired over the course of the offseason, and for me, my main thing is, people within this building, my teammates, coaching staff, the higher-ups in this organization, we’ve all been on the same page, we’ve all been good, and very eager to be moving forward,” Manziel said.

Of his “rookie mistakes,” Manziel said: “There’s some things I wish I could have gone back and done a little differently, but (I’m) continuing to move forward and try to represent this organization and this team in a positive manner and in a positive light.”

The 2012 Heisman Trophy winner added he was “just very excited to be back in camp, when it’s football 24-7. That’s what I love doing, that’s what I live for, and it’s what my job is.”

As to be expected, Manziel was asked early in his press conference about the controversial photo of him appearing to roll a dollar bill.

“I’ve talked about that with Coach Pettine,” Manziel said. “I’ve talked about it with Ray Farmer and the people that I need to talk about that with. And moving forward, they’re good with everything, and I’ve told them everything that I need to, and everything’s been good.”

Manziel’s remarks came on the same day that the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported that some in the organization were “alarmed” by a few of his off-field actions in the offseason.

The Browns’ first training camp practice is Saturday.

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Doug Baldwin, Pete Carroll have different views on contracts

dougbaldwin AP

Seahawks coach Pete Carroll and Seahawks wide receiver Doug Baldwin do not agree about the holdout of running back Marshawn Lynch.

Carroll says Lynch needs to get to camp because Lynch signed a contract and needs to honor it. But shortly after Carroll made those comments, Baldwin took to Twitter and said he hates hearing from NFL teams about how players have to honor their contracts, because teams routinely cut players who have years left on their contracts.

“I hate the ‘but you signed the contract’ argument,” Baldwin wrote. “Players can’t say that s–t when organizations cut them.”

Baldwin’s view is a common one among NFL players, who often complain that their contracts don’t have the same guarantees of their colleagues in professional baseball and basketball. Lynch’s holdout may not be exposing a rift within the Super Bowl champions’ locker room, but it is at the very least demonstrating that players and coaches often have very different views about what it means to live up to a contract.

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Report: Vick Ballard tore his Achilles

Vick Ballard AP

The Colts saw running back Vick Ballard get carted off the field at practice on Friday and initial reports are that Ballard has suffered a severe injury for the second straight season.

Chris Mortensen of ESPN reports that Ballard tore his Achilles tendon during the workout. That sets up another lost season for Ballard, who tore his ACL in the first week of the 2013 season and missed the remainder of the season.

It also leaves the Colts looking a bit shaky at running back heading into the preseason. Trent Richardson did not impress anyone after arriving in Indianapolis in a trade with the Browns after Ballard got hurt last season and Ahmad Bradshaw ended last season on injured reserve with a neck injury. Bradshaw has also dealt with foot troubles throughout his career, which creates further reason to worry about their depth.

Dan Herron, Chris Rainey and Zurlon Tipton round out the running back group, which makes it seem likely that the Colts will be looking for help outside the organization if and when they confirm Ballard’s diagnosis. Michael Bush, Felix Jones, Ronnie Brown and Willis McGahee are some unsigned veteran options that could be of interest to the Colts.

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Pete Carroll on Marshawn Lynch: It’s called a contract for a reason

Marshawn Lynch, Pete Carroll AP

Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch is unhappy with his contract and expressing that displeasure by staying away from training camp, an approach that General Manager John Schneider says that the team isn’t planning to give him another one with two years to go on the current pact.

Coach Pete Carroll echoed Schneider’s comments on Friday, saying that the deal they gave Lynch in 2012 was part of the organization’s long-term plan to build a winning team and that they expect Lynch to hold up his end of that contract.

“It’s a contract for a reason. We made a decision and it was signed, by us and by them,” Carroll said, via USA Today. “We expect them to honor their contract just as we will. We’re going to honor it and we expect them to do the same.”

Red Bryant, Chris Clemons and other players released by the Seahawks with time and money left on their contract would probably be interested to know that the Seahawks’ policy is to honor every contract until the moment it expires, especially since they were doing Lynch one better and showing up for work before they were cut loose. USC might feel the same way about Carroll leaving the school for the Seahawks while still under contract.

Carroll’s skewed view of the way contracts work is beside the point when it comes to the Lynch situation, though. Right now, the Seahawks have made it clear that they’ll move on with Robert Turbin and Christine Michael before giving Lynch any more money and Lynch has made it clear he won’t show up until he gets more money. Someone is going to have to change their mind if Beast Mode is going to run again this season.

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Patriots release TE Nate Byham

Nate Byham, Haruki Nakamura AP

Less than a week after signing tight end Nate Byham, the Patriots have let him go.

The club released Byham on Friday, five days after adding the ex-Buccaneers tight end to their roster.

The move leaves the Patriots with one open roster spot. They have five tight ends: Rob Gronkowski, Michael Hoomanawanui, Justin Jones, Asa Watson and D.J. Williams.

A fourth-year pro from Pittsburgh, Byham (6-4, 265) is a vested veteran, leaving him free to immediately sign elsewhere. He has played 29 NFL regular season games, catching 11 passes for 83 yards and a touchdowns. After beginning his career with San Francisco (2010-2011), Byham spent the last two seasons with Tampa Bay.

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Steelers place Mike Mitchell on PUP list to start camp

Mike Mitchell AP

The Steelers will open camp without a pair of players, including one of their rare free agent splurges.

The team announced that safety Mike Mitchell and running back Alvester Alexander would begin training camp on the physically unable to perform list.

Mitchell parlayed a solid season with the Panthers into some security, with the Steelers stepping out of form with a five-year, $25 million deal.

He showed last year he’s not averse to coming up and making big hits (though he thinks Roger Goodell is targeting him for fines), but will have to play more of a coverage role paired with Troy Polamalu.

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Tyrann Mathieu says he’s 6-8 weeks away from returning

Tyrann Mathieu AP

The Cardinals placed safety Tyann Mathieu on the Physically Unable to Perform list earlier this week, a procedural move that confirms he’s not ready to start practicing after last year’s torn ACL.

The team can remove the designation and allow Mathieu to practice at any point during camp, but it doesn’t sound like that’s imminent. And it might not happen at all.

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic reports that Mathieu said Friday that he thinks he is 6-8 weeks away from playing, a time frame that fits with coach Bruce Arians’ earlier comment that he wasn’t expecting to have Mathieu back before October 1.

The question for the Cardinals, then, will be whether they activate Mathieu from the PUP list at all or if they will have him remain on the list into the regular season. If they opt for the latter route, Mathieu will not be allowed to play or practice for the first six weeks of the season and the Cardinals could fill his roster spot with another player.

It’s premature to make any assumptions about which way they’ll go, but it is certainly a possibility if Mathieu is going to miss the first month of the season.

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Carl Nicks, Buccaneers part ways

Carl Nicks AP

Two years ago, the Buccaneers pilfered free-agent guard Carl Nicks from the Saints with a five-year, $47.5 million contract.  Now, Nicks is a free agent again.

Jay Glazer of FOX reports that the Bucs and Nicks have struck a deal to end his time in Tampa.  Glazer calls the situation an “amicable settlement,” which implies that something other than an outright release happened.

It’s possible Nicks has given back some of the $25 million he has received for appearing in only nine games.  It’s possible that the Bucs gave him a little more money to resolve any potential claims arising from the staph infection he contracted last year.

Either way, Nicks will be able to continue his career with another team, if/when he has fully recovered from last year’s illness.

Nicks was due to earn a base salary of $7 million in 2014.

UPDATE 5:03 p.m. ET:  The Buccaneers have announced the move, and Nicks’ comments create the impression that he will not be continuing his NFL career.

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New Vikings stadium raises bird concerns

Birds Getty Images

The new Vikings stadium will resemble in many respects a gigantic terrarium, with plenty of glass under which humans will be potentially baking.  But that’s still better than what it may do to the birds.

Deadspin recently pointed out a press release from Audubon Minnesota, which accuses the Vikings of creating a “death trap” for our fine, feathered friends (except when one of those bastards craps on my toupee).

“We’re talking about a billion dollar stadium here, and the cost to save perhaps thousands of migratory birds –- and make the Vikings a global leader in green stadium design — is about one-tenth of one percent of that,” Audubon Minnesota Executive Director Matthew Anderson said.  “Hundreds of millions of dollars of public money is going to build this stadium, and we know the people of Minnesota do not want their money killing birds.  The Vikings recently approved spending millions and millions of additional dollars to make sure the stadium is ‘iconic’ – surely they also want to make sure it’s not a death trap.  We’re asking them to change their minds and do the right thing.”

The issue isn’t a new one.  For months, concerns have been raised regarding the importance of making sure that birds won’t fly into what they believe to not be a giant slab of glass.

Per the release, Audubon Minnesota “communicated regularly with stadium developers until April 2014, when they were told that another meeting would be scheduled before a July 15 decision on the type of glass to be used.”  The meeting allegedly was canceled, and on July 17 Audubon Minnesota was told that there would be no change in the stadium glass.

Apparently, someone decided it would be cheaper to pay someone to pick up all those dead birds from the stadium grounds over the next 30 or 40 years than it will be to fix the glass.  Those costs may go up when dead birds start landing on toupees.

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Falcons waive Darius Johnson

Darius Johnson AP

The Falcons have waived a wide receiver who started a pair of games for Atlanta a season ago.

The club announced Friday it had released second-year pro Darius Johnson, who hauled in 22 passes for 210 yards and a touchdown in 10 games after being promoted from the practice squad October 19.

According to Pro Football Focus, the 23-year-old Johnson played 412 regular season offensive snaps for Atlanta. However, PFF gave him the lowest rating of any of the club’s wide receivers. Johnson (5-10, 175) was targeted 43 times, according to NFL statistics.

The roster move leaves the Falcons with 89 players, including 12 wide receivers.

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Drew Brees wants to play until he’s 45

Buffalo Bills v New Orleans Saints Getty Images

No one in New Orleans is talking about a future without Drew Brees at quarterback just yet and it will be a good while before anyone starts the conversation if Brees gets his way.

Brees has seen quarterbacks like Peyton Manning and Brett Favre remain productive into their late 30s and believes that he can follow in their footsteps. In fact, Brees, who turns 36 in January, thinks he can last even longer than Favre, who turned 41 during his final season with the Vikings.

“No doubt. There’s no question,” Brees said, via Albert Breer of NFL Network. “I’m not getting ahead myself, like it’s a pipe dream, at 45. I understand the challenges that come along with that. But why not? If I can stay healthy, and I’m having fun and playing at a high level, why wouldn’t I wanna do that? The biggest challenge is physically, the maintenance, the recovery, the way you train. You gotta hope that you stay healthy, but why not?”

Odds are that Brees’ luck on the health front won’t be charmed enough for him to play another 10 years, but there’s no reason to think he can’t continue to play at a high level through the end of his current deal with the Saints. The team seems to agree, moving to add players like Jairus Byrd, Brandin Cooks and Champ Bailey this offseason in hopes of maximizing the championship window opened by having an elite quarterback that has already brought one title to town.

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Evan Mathis feels he had leverage, but didn’t want to strong-arm team

Howard Mudd, Evan Mathis AP

Eagles guard Evan Mathis reported for camp this week despite his desire for a new contract and his feeling that he was well-positioned to force the team’s hand because of right tackle Lane Johnson’s four-game suspension.

Had Mathis held out, the Eagles would have faced the possibility of replacing two starting offensive linemen on the fly and that could have softened their stance against reworking Mathis’ deal. Mathis, who is set to make $5 million this year in the third year of a five-year deal, still wants a new deal but said that he didn’t want to do so by potentially hurting the team at a moment when they were already missing a starter.

“It gave me plenty of leverage, if I was to hold out. The fines had nothing to do with it. But what I’d be doing to my teammates and coaches — that’s the ultimate reason,” Mathis said, via CSNPhilly.com. “I’m not trying to strong-arm the team. I’m not trying to put them in a bad situation to get what I want. I’m trying to do the right thing. I’m not really worried about it. Hopefully it works out. If it doesn’t, I’m still going to be the same football player.”

Mathis’ presence will make it easier for the Eagles offense to succeed while Johnson is out of the lineup and it could help get things moving with the Eagles if they feel Mathis needs to be in camp to talk about a revised deal, but the two remaining years beyond this one on the contract give them plenty of reason to wait with Mathis giving up whatever leverage he may have had.

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Pounceys sued by three people after alleged incident at nightclub

Pouncey Getty Images

Somehow, the Pouncey twins’ birthday party featuring the “Free Hernandez” hats ended up being less eventful than this year’s self-celebration of survival for another 365 days.

Andy Slater of 940 WINZ in Miami has obtained a copy of the civil complaint filed by Riquan James, Brantley Williams, and Niya Pickett against Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey and Dolphins center Mike Pouncey over an incident that allegedly occurred at their 2014 birthday party at the Cameo nightclub in Miami.

James alleges in the lawsuit filed Friday in the Circuit Court of the 11th Judicial Circuit in and for Miami-Dade County Florida that the Pounceys and their security detail addressed him with “derogatory and homophobic remarks and anti-gay slurs,” and that the Pounceys “began to push and shove” James. When James asked them to stop, Maurkice allegedly “struck James in the face several times” before the Pounceys and their security detail began “to punch, hit and kick James while he was laying in a fetal position.”

Pickett allegedly tried to intervene, but Maurkice “punched her in the face and knocked her unconscious.” (Two-game suspension, anyone?)  Williams was a bystander into whom James and/or Pickett were thrown.

The alleged injuries to James and Pickett include “blunt force trauma to the head, neck, chest and back” and “multiple contusions and bruises over a great extent of their bodies.” Pickett allegedly suffered an eye injury, and James allegedly suffered broken teeth. Williams allegedly suffered “contusions and bruises over the great extent of her body and a laceration to her right leg, which required several stitches.”

The Pounceys have been sued for their own alleged conduct and for the alleged misconduct of their security personnel. The nightclub has been added to the suit, based on the claim that management failed to protect patrons from foreseeable criminal activity.

The Pounceys’ lawyer previously has claimed that there was no altercation with James on the evening in question, and that “[i]f the accuser continues to perpetuate these lies, we will bring an action against him.”

Presumably, surveillance video will go a long way toward confirming or debunking the allegations. Regardless, the presence of two additional plaintiffs means that there will be testimony corroborating James’ version of the events.

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John Idzik maintains Jets quarterback competition isn’t tilted to Geno Smith

Michael Vick, Geno Smith AP

It wouldn’t be a Jets training camp without beat writers painstakingly counting first-team reps for the players aspiring to be the team’s starting quarterback and the practice has continued in 2014.

Geno Smith has taken 75 percent of the snaps with the first team in the early days of camp, which would seem to lend credence to the widely held belief that he has an edge over Michael Vick. It’s a belief held by Vick and one that many members of the Jets have also espoused since the start of camp, but General Manager John Idzik continues to insist that the team is not leaning in any direction.

“I don’t think it’s tilted at all,” Idzik said, via the New York Daily News. “It’s not just purely quantifiable like that and reading the playtime and the reps and drawing assumptions from that.”

Vick has a much longer track record than Smith and it is understandable that the Jets would feel less of a need to see him in action right now, especially since he has already played for offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg. When every other sign points to it being Smith’s job to lose, though, it points more to the Jets wanting Smith to avoid any complacency that could come with having the job than the kind of open competition that the team has said it is at other points this offseason.

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Ravens PR chief, owner rise to the defense of Ray Rice

images

After leading the league in offseason arrests, enduring the backlash that stemmed from a punishment which practically no one agrees is fair (and then signing a three-time violator of the league’s drug and PED policies), the Ravens have taken the obvious next step in a fabulous week for their image.

They’ve had their senior vice president of public relations write 1,200 words about what a great guy Ray Rice is.

No, really.

To his credit, longtime PR man Kevin Byrne understands that he’s not going to change many minds, but apparently felt compelled to share some personal reflections about all the good things Ray Rice has done.

Then again, he also oversees the messaging for a team that thought it would be a good idea to live-tweet Janay Rice’s apologizing for getting knocked out, bringing victim-blaming rushing into the 21st century with a deft social media flourish.

He also used his position to get a nice EXCLUSIVE with his boss, Ravens owner Steve Biscioitti, after asking if he thought this was a good idea.

“That’s your call,” Bisciotti said. “I don’t think Ray needs it, and I don’t think you’ll change the minds of those who don’t want to have anything to do with Ray. . . . How sad we all are that he tarnished his image. No one outside, I’ve learned, can understand how we look at these guys as our sons and close friends as opposed to just employees.

“I saw that clearly when we lost the AFC championship at New England [at the end of the 2011 season],” the owner continued. “I had friends tell me, ‘You must hate Lee Evans or Billy Cundiff. They cost you a trip to the Super Bowl.’ It was the opposite – we felt for Lee and Billy. I wished that they’d get another chance. I felt the need to protect them like I would one of my sons. It’s not like that in my other businesses.

“Don’t we all have days or moments or periods in our life we regret? Ray showed great character for the six years I’ve known him. He has shown remorse after a bad incident. It was out of character. I don’t think now is the time to abandon him. You say we are a Ravens’ family. I’ve come to believe that.”

This is followed by the kind of things you’d expect someone who likes Ray Rice to tell you, about his remorse and civic concern, and another affirmation from Bisciotti that taking care of their own was a good idea.

But it’s probably not, if only for the fact it underscores how tone-deaf the Ravens have been throughout this entire incident.

Having a press-conference with no questions allowed was a sham, a clumsy effort to divert attention on a Friday afternoon. Live-tweeting Rice’s wife trying to jump on a grenade for her husband that day was tasteless at best. John Harbaugh’s tone of mild annoyance in discussing Rice’s two-game absence was cringe-worthy.

And frankly, trying to explain away the negative reaction to domestic violence is beneath them.

Unless, of course, it isn’t.

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