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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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Bucs claim WR Krause

Tampa Bay Bucaneers v New England Patriots Getty Images

The Buccaneers claimed wide receiver Jonathan Krause off waivers from the Eagles Saturday.

Krause has bounced around the league the last two seasons, spending time with the Browns, Patriots and Eagles. He broke into the NFL as an undrafted rookie with the Browns in 2014 and played his first two regular-season games with the Eagles last season, catching two passes for 11 yards.

The Bucs made room on the roster for Krause by designating offensive lineman Dominique Robertson as waived with a non-football injury. Robertson is an undrafted rookie out of West Georgia.

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McCoy says he’s not bothered by “opinions” or perceptions

LANDOVER, MD - DECEMBER 20: Running back LeSean McCoy #25 of the Buffalo Bills in action against the Washington Redskins at FedExField on December 20, 2015 in Landover, Maryland. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images) Getty Images

Bills running back LeSean McCoy wasn’t charged for his role in a February nightclub incident involving McCoy and some off-duty police officers, but the story made headlines.

If McCoy’s reputation took a hit from the alleged fight, he doesn’t seem to mind.

I know what type of person I am and what I do for my community, what type of father I am,” McCoy said Saturday during a hometown charity event. “People always have their own opinions. You can’t change them. And I’m fine with that.”

The NFL has decided not to discipline McCoy for his role in the alleged February incident. He hasn’t given many — if any — interviews in the meantime, so his deciding to talk to Harrisburg area reporters Saturday counts as a big deal.

The Eagles traded McCoy to the Bills before the 2015 season. He’s been involved in his share of controversies over the last several seasons, but he’s said he’s not bothered by “what the media gives” people.

“If the media only paints a picture of a player as this or whatever that may be, then that’s what the people see,” McCoy said. “So I don’t really go back and forth about that.”

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Bengals cut Taylor Mays

Carolina Panthers v Cincinnati Bengals Getty Images

The Bengals released veteran safety Taylor Mays Saturday, just a few months after bringing him back on a one-year deal.

Mays played for the Bengals from 2011-14. He played 14 games and started five last season for the Raiders after being cut by the Vikings and Lions. A second-round pick of the 49ers in 2010, Mays has played in 80 career games and started 15.

In March, Mays was suspended for four games for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy.

The Bengals had added Mays in April but released him just before the start of training camp.

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Still unsigned, Ryan Fitzpatrick is golfing as camp approaches

ORCHARD PARK, NY - JANUARY 03:   Ryan Fitzpatrick #14 of the New York Jets watches the game against the Buffalo Bills from the sidelines during the second half at Ralph Wilson Stadium on January 3, 2016 in Orchard Park, New York. Buffalo Bills beat the New York Jets 22-17 (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images) Getty Images

Free agent quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick remains unsigned as NFL training camps begin to open, and when last we heard about him he was declining to talk about his contract status.

But Fitzpatrick will talk about golf, telling NBC he found teeing off at the American Century Championship “nerve wracking.”

“It’s easier to play in front of a crowd when you’re good at something and comfortable doing it,” he said. “Football is easy to play in front of a crowd. Golf, you have to think about.”

Fitzpatrick doesn’t sound like he’s ready to start thinking about Jets camp just yet.

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Ravens place six on PUP; Flacco not among them

Divisional Playoffs - Baltimore Ravens v New England Patriots Getty Images

The Ravens placed six players, many of them regulars and notable names, on the active-physically unable to perform list Saturday, meaning those players won’t be ready to participate in the start of training camp.

The six players the Ravens placed on PUP Saturday were wide receivers Steve Smith and Breshad Perriman, linebackers Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil, running back Trent Richardson and cornerback Jumal Rolle.

The Ravens placing those players on PUP means quarterback Joe Flacco, cornerback Jimmy Smith and tight end Dennis Pitta are among the players who have received clearance to participate in the start of camp. Flacco suffered a torn ACL last November, so his availability for the start of camp — even if the team limits his work — is a positive sign both for his rehab and for his potential ability to play in the season opener.

The active-PUP designation for the start of camp is fairly common and means the players can be activated if and when they’re cleared to practice. The PUP designation protects the team in case the players aren’t cleared, keeping them eligible for the reserve-PUP list when the regular season begins.

None of the PUP designations come as a surprise. Suggs and Smith are both trying to come back from torn Achilles tendons, while Perriman has battled multiple injuries. Dumervil had offseason foot surgery, Richardson has had a lingering hamstring issue and Rolle is expected to miss all of 2016 with a torn Achilles.

Injured players reported to Ravens camp on Friday. The full team reports July 27, and full camp opens July 28.

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Offensive tackle Nate Chandler retires

CHARLOTTE, NC - SEPTEMBER 14:  Jonathan Stewart #28 and Nate Chandler #78 of the Carolina Panthers celebrate a 4th quarter touchdown against the Detroit Lions during the game at Bank of America Stadium on September 14, 2014 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Bears announced Saturday that offensive lineman Nate Chandler has been placed on the reserve-retired list.

Chandler signed with the Bears last month. He had played 37 games, starting 19, with the Panthers from 2012-14. Chandler, 27, spent last season on the Panthers’ injured-reserve list after he re-injured knee he had surgically repaired in 2014.

The Panthers released Chandler in March. He started 11 games at right tackle in 2014 and eight games in 2013 while playing both guard and tackle. The Bears had signed Chandler over Jake Long after both worked out for the team, so it’s possible that the team will revisit the possibility of signing Long.

The announcement of Chandler’s retirement came at the same time the team announced that cornerback Charles “Peanut” Tillman had also been placed on reserve-retired. Tillman had used social media to announce his retirement early last week, then signed a one-day contract to retire as a member of the Bears on Friday.

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Ezekiel Elliott says “evil never prevails” in wake of domestic violence allegations

during the College Football Playoff National Championship Game at AT&T Stadium on January 12, 2015 in Arlington, Texas. Getty Images

In the aftermath of Friday’s claim that Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott had assaulted a former girlfriend, multiple people had denied the allegations on Elliott’s behalf, including Michael Irvin and Elliott’s father. Eventually, Elliott provided a three-word assessment of the situation on Twitter: “Evil NEVER prevails.”

He followed that message a few hours later by thanking everyone for the birthday wishes on what was his 21st birthday.

Elliott’s aggressive message in response to the allegation will surely do little to weaken the resolve of the person alleging that he committed violence against her. The question now becomes whether the claims are proven or debunked when the authorities and the NFL conduct separate investigations — applying very different standards of proof.

Elliott faces criminal sanctions only if a jury finds proof beyond a reasonable doubt. He could be punished by the league if an investigation shows the claim is more likely than not to have occurred.

Elliott seems confident that the evidence will vindicate him.

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Drew Brees: I haven’t heard from the Saints on a contract in 3 months

ATLANTA, GA - JANUARY 03:  Drew Brees #9 of the New Orleans Saints signals to his teammates at the line of scrimmage during the first half against the Atlanta Falcons at the Georgia Dome on January 3, 2016 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images) Getty Images

Early in the offseason, there was widespread talk that the Saints and quarterback Drew Brees would come to an agreement on a long-term contract extension that would make Brees the franchise quarterback for the remainder of his career. That hasn’t happened.

Instead, Brees says he has heard nothing from the Saints since an exchange of proposals three months ago.

Not sure why things have not progressed,” Brees told ESPN. “They made an offer in March, we made an offer shortly thereafter. And besides the Josh Norman deal [when the Saints and Brees talked about a deal to clear cap space], there has been no talk about a contract since.”

Brees, who is heading into the final year of his contract, said he views the start of the regular season as the deadline to get a deal done. Without a long-term deal, the Saints really don’t have a realistic option of using the franchise tag on Brees next year: Because Brees has already been franchised twice in his career, the Saints would have to guarantee him a 44 percent raise to franchise him next year, which would mean a franchise tag of $43.2 million. It’s just not realistic to think the Saints would devote that kind of cap space to Brees next year.

If nothing does get done, Brees becomes a free agent in March.

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Farewell, Minnesota

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Before Wednesday, I’d never been to Minnesota. I kind of don’t want to leave.

But leave I must, back home to West Virginia to get ready for the looming launch of training camps. Over the next couple of days, I’ll post quotes from some of the interviews we did during two days of PFT Live at U.S. Bank Stadium, where guests included Vikings owner Mark Wilf, Vikings G.M. Rick Spielman, Vikings defensive end Everson Griffen, Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph, Vikings defensive tackle Linval Joseph, Vikings linebacker Chad Greenway, and brand-new Vikings guard Alex Boone.

The trip was capped by a visit to the legendary Mancini’s Char House in St. Paul, where the Mancini brothers took good care of us — and filled me with enough fat and calories that I won’t need to eat until Thanksgiving. I’ll eat before then anyway.

For now, you feast on all episodes (fat and calorie-free) of PFT Live from the week that was at iTunes or audioBoom.

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Report: Le’Veon Bell missed “several” drug tests

Le'Veon Bell AP

Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell claimed last month that he never missed a drug test. He reportedly missed more than one.

Ian Rapoport reported on NFL Network that Bell missed “several” drug tests.

Bell was already in the NFL’s substance-abuse program and was suspended for the first two games of last season in connection with a 2014 arrest for marijuana possession and DUI. Players who have never violated the policy are generally only tested for drugs of abuse once a year, but players who are already in the policy, like Bell, are subject to many tests.

Bell is appealing the suspension, but realistically, it’s hard to see why he would win an appeal: The NFL’s drug-testing policy makes clear that players are required to make themselves available to drug testing, and a player who misses several tests has clearly violated the policy. Missing one test could be a miscommunication. Missing several tests is a lot harder to explain away.

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Making sense of the Arthur Jones PED suspension

FOXBORO, MA - JANUARY 18:  Arthur Jones #97 of the Indianapolis Colts looks on before the 2015 AFC Championship Game against the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium on January 18, 2015 in Foxboro, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images) Getty Images

With Colts defensive lineman Arthur Jones suspended four games under the PED policy, some may think that he committed multiple violations before triggering a suspension, because that’s how suspensions work under the substance-abuse policy (which encompasses marijuana and other non-PED-type drugs). Under the PED policy, however, the first positive test results in a suspension.

In 2014, the formula changed to impose a two-game suspension if the player tests positive for a diuretic or masking agent, a four-game suspension if the player tests positive for a stimulant or anabolic agent, and a six-game suspension if he tests positive for a both  a “prohibited substance” and a diuretic or masking agent, or if the player attempted to substitute, dilute, or adulterate a specimen, if the player attempted to manipulate a test result, or if the player committed a violation of the law or other documented violation based on credible evidence.

A second violation triggers a 10-game suspension, and a third violation results in a banishment for at least two full seasons.

Jones joined the Colts in 2014 after spending his first four seasons with the Ravens. In two years with the Colts, Jones has appeared in only nine games with three starts.

As explained by Zak Keefer of the Indianapolis Star, the ineffectiveness, injury history, and suspension could combine to prompt the Colts to dump Jones sooner than later.

Jones signed a five-year, $33 million deal in 2014. Cutting him now would result in a $1.1 million cap charge for 2016, and a $2.2 million cap charge for 2017.

But with Jones previously agreeing to reduce his salary from $4.5 million to $2.5 million for 2016, the Colts may decide to see whether Jones provides any evidence of an ability and willingness to step up before they tell him to step off.

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Hue Jackson has drawn up plays specifically for Terrelle Pryor

SEATTLE, WA - DECEMBER 20:  Wide receiver Terrelle Pryor #17 of the Cleveland Browns rushes against cornerback Richard Sherman #25 and outside linebacker K.J. Wright #50 of the Seattle Seahawks at CenturyLink Field on December 20, 2015 in Seattle, Washington. The Seahawks defeated the Browns 30-13.  (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images) Getty Images

The guy who once drew up plays for Terrelle Pryor the quarterback is now doing the same thing for Terrelle Pryor the receiver.

As explained by Terry Pluto of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Browns coach Hue Jackson has devised specific ways to get the ball into Pryor’s hands so that he then can use his size and speed to do good things for the offense. It’ll happen via short, quick passes and reverses.

Five years ago, Hue Jackson was the coach in Oakland, and Pryor was a quarterback who arrived via the supplemental draft.

As Pryor continues to learn the receiver position, plays aimed specifically at letting him do what he does best will increase his confidence, justify his roster spot, and ultimately help the team win games.

Pryor isn’t the only weapon who will be used creatively by Jackson, according to Pluto. Running back Duke Johnson will be  used at times as a receiver, because Jackson wants to find different ways to throw passes to him.

Ultimately, the player throwing the passes will have the biggest impact on the offense. The more Jackson can get out of the options available to quarterback Robert Griffin III (or, if there’s a true competition, perhaps Josh McCown), the better the quarterback will look.

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Dennis Green’s success with any quarterback may be his greatest legacy

Bears v Vikings Getty Images

After news broke that longtime NFL coach Dennis Green had died at the age of 67, Hall of Fame quarterback John Elway paid tribute to Green.

“My heart and prayers go out to Dennis Green and his family. Had the pleasure of playing for Dennis at Stanford for 2 years. Great Coach!” Elway wrote on Twitter.

But the single most impressive accomplishment of Green’s career may be that he didn’t need a great quarterback like Elway. In fact, Green could take just about any quarterback, plug him into Green’s offense, and get to the playoffs. Green took the Vikings to the playoffs eight times in his 11 seasons as head coach, in 1992, 1993, 1994, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, and 2000. Just take a look at the quarterbacks Green had in those seasons:

1992: The Vikings went 8-4 with Rich Gannon as their starter and 3-1 with Sean Salisbury as their starter. Although Gannon would later become a very good quarterback with the Raiders, he was viewed at the time as a nobody — and Salisbury was viewed as worse. And yet Green rode them to the playoffs in his first season as head coach.

1993: Jim McMahon was viewed as old and washed up and just a backup at that point in his career, but Green brought him to Minnesota and rode him to the playoffs.

1994: Warren Moon is a Hall of Fame quarterback, but he was seen as way past his prime when the Vikings acquired him in a trade with the Houston Oilers. And yet with Moon as the starter, the Vikings made the playoffs again.

1996: Moon was injured at the start of the season, so Brad Johnson — who had never started a game in a four-year NFL career up to that point — stepped in and led the Vikings to a 4-0 start. Moon would eventually return, he and Johnson would flip-flop on the depth chart, and it would ultimately be Johnson who led the Vikings to the playoffs.

1997: Johnson shared the job with Randall Cunningham, who had been viewed as so far past his prime that he wasn’t even in the league the year before. Again, Green led the Vikings to the playoffs.

1998: With Cunningham supplanting Johnson as the starter, the Vikings had their best season of the Green era, going 15-1 and falling in the NFC Championship Game.

1999: Green benched Cunningham for Jeff George, another past-his-prime quarterback, and once again found a winning touch, as the Vikings went 8-2 in George’s 10 starts and made the playoffs again.

2000: Green started Daunte Culpepper and saw him put together an incredible season, with 3,937 passing yards, 33 passing touchdowns, 470 rushing yards and seven rushing touchdowns. The Vikings lost the NFC Championship Game, which would be the last playoff game Green coached.

That revolving door of quarterbacks is worth repeating: Rich Gannon, Sean Salisbury, Jim McMahon, Warren Moon, Brad Johnson, Randall Cunningham, Jeff George and Daunte Culpepper. Green never had one franchise quarterback he could count on year after year. Instead, Green found a new quarterback year after year. And he kept finding ways to win. That was a great piece of coaching.

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Gabbert seen as better fit than Kaepernick in Kelly’s offense

SANTA CLARA, CA - NOVEMBER 08:  Blaine Gabbert #2 of the San Francisco 49ers reacts after being tackled close to the goal line during the first half of their game against the Atlanta Falcons at Levi's Stadium on November 8, 2015 in Santa Clara, California. The ball was ruled down on the 1-yard line and the 49ers scored on the next play.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Blaine GabbertColin Kaepernick quarterback competition has an early leader, and it’s the guy who was once viewed as a draft bust, not the guy who was once viewed as a future superstar.

That’s the word from ESPN, which reports that Gabbert has picked up new coach Chip Kelly’s offense, is seen inside the organization as a better fit than Kaepernick, and has the edge heading into training camp.

Although Kelly and 49ers General Manager Trent Baalke have said publicly that they like Kaepernick and still think he can succeed, virtually all the talk coming out of San Francisco this offseason has indicated that Gabbert is leading in the quarterback competition. In fact, it’s fair to wonder if the only reason Kaepernick is even on the roster is that the 49ers misjudged the trade market and thought when they picked up his guaranteed $11.9 million salary this season that they’d be able to unload him for a draft pick.

When Kaepernick led the 49ers to the Super Bowl after the 2012 season and to the NFC Championship Game after the 2013 season, he was widely viewed as one of the league’s up-and-coming stars. At the same time, Gabbert was struggling mightily in Jacksonville as a No. 10 overall pick who appeared to be a massive mistake in the draft. At the time, it would have been unthinkable that Gabbert and Kaepernick could compete for a job and Gabbert would win. But from all indications, that’s what’s expected to happen in San Francisco this summer.

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Ameer Abdullah: NFL can’t take the kickoff away

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Lions running back Ameer Abdullah led the league in kickoff return yards as a rookie last year. But he’s worried that by the time his career ends, there will be no such thing as a kickoff.

Abdullah told MLive.com he knows the NFL has talked about eliminating the kickoff, but he doesn’t believe there’s any real evidence that it’s too dangerous, and he doesn’t want to change a play that has been so fundamental to the sport of football for as long as the sport has existed.

They can’t take the kickoff away . . . I have to see the numbers to believe it’s too dangerous,” Abdullah said. “I return kicks. I watch the film. What I see is what I see, and I think there are more dangerous plays out there. You can only have two-man wedges now too, so it’s basically just one-on-one blocks. I just don’t think it’s dangerous enough to eliminate.”

Abdullah likes kickoffs not only because returning them is part of his job but because they’re exciting. And he correctly points out that eliminating the possibility of an onside kick would fundamentally change football.

“It’s one of the most exciting plays in football,” Abdullah said. “It’s a play that changes the game, especially if you have a game where the offenses and defenses are matching each other. The kickoff return makes a difference. And what happens with onside kicks? Do they take that away too?”

The onside kick is probably the strongest reason to keep the kickoff: Without the onside kick, a game with more than a one-possession lead in the fourth quarter becomes a lot less exciting. But if the NFL can figure out a way to ditch the kickoff while preserving the opportunity for a team to get the ball back after scoring, the kickoff may go away. No matter how much Abdullah and other players want to keep it.

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