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Drew Brees plans to play this week

AP

Saints quarterback Drew Brees was a full participant in practice on Sunday for the first time since his oblique strain and he plans to add another first when the Saints face the Colts on Saturday.

Brees said he has been targeting the third preseason game as a return to game action since getting hurt in early August and the return to practice on Sunday puts him firmly on track to make that happen.

“Today was my first day to be full-go. I’ve been taking it very slow,” Brees said, via the New Orleans Times-Picayune. “I wanted to make sure it was all good. I’m still not 100 percent, but I hope by Saturday I am.”

One way that the Saints hope Brees’ return helps the team is with the penalty problem that led to 22 flags in Thursday’s game against the Titans. Brees said that coach Sean Payton told the team it was up to them to fix the problem and Brees said the team’s “leaders take control of the team.” The Saints will likely have their offensive leader back on Saturday, so we’ll find out if that helps keep them from hurting themselves all over again.

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Kenneth Dixon having knee surgery, Ravens signing Bobby Rainey

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The Ravens knew they weren’t going to have running back Kenneth Dixon for the first four games of the regular season due to a suspension for a PED policy violation, but that won’t be the reason why he isn’t on the field for practices at training camp.

According to multiple reports, Dixon suffered a torn meniscus in his knee while training ahead of camp and will be having surgery to repair the injury on Tuesday. Dixon, who also dealt with knee issues last season, is expected to miss 6-8 weeks while recovering from the operation.

With Dixon out of action, those same reports have the Ravens signing Bobby Rainey to flesh out their running back corps. Rainey signed with the Ravens as an undrafted free agent in 2012, but never saw regular season action with the team. He has played for the Browns, Buccaneers and Giants and has 266 carries for 1,053 yards and six touchdowns over the course of his career.

Terrance West and Danny Woodhead are considered sure things for the 53-man roster with Buck Allen and Lorenzo Taliaferro (who is seeing time at fullback as well) also in the mix.

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Greg Olsen says he doesn’t want to be a distraction

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Greg Olsen wanted a raise. But with two years left on his contract and the potential of $40,000-a-day fines, he didn’t exactly have the kind of leverage to convince the Panthers to give him one.

So when the Pro Bowl tight end reported to camp Tuesday (#asexpected) he did his very best to calm the waters he stirred this summer.

Via Bill Voth of the team’s official website, Olsen said: “I didn’t feel like it was right to add fuel to the fire and be a distraction.”

Ignoring the fact he lit the fire himself in June, and was willing to stoke it along the way, Olsen did the only thing he could do.

While the threat to withhold services is the only real leverage players under contract have, he apparently wasn’t willing to exercise it, even though he may be underpaid relative to other tight ends considering his recent production.

So now, the Panthers get to have a peaceful reporting day. At least until they fire somebody else, though they’re running a little short on bodies at the moment.

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Duane Brown prepares to hold out

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Good news, Texans fans: Receiver DeAndre Hopkins will be showing up for training camp. Bad news, Texans fans: Tackle Duane Brown apparently won’t be.

Per a league source, Brown is planning to boycott training camp when it opens later this week in West Virginia.

Brown already has skipped the full offseason program, including a mandatory minicamp that exposed him to roughly $80,000 in fines. Ditching training camp comes with a potential cost of $40,000 per day.

The 31-year-old left tackle has two years left on his contract, at non-guaranteed salaries of $9.4 million and $9.75 million, respectively. He received a $12.5 million signing bonus in 2012, along with total salaries of more than $23 million in the five seasons since then.

So he can easily afford to pay the fines, and (if it comes to it) to skip game checks. The question is whether withholding services will result in the Texans ripping up the last two years of the deal and giving Brown a raise.

And before anyone climbs on to the “honor thy contract” soapbox, don’t forget that these contracts are one-way streets. Teams can rip up the deal at any time without consequence, but players can’t. Players can, however, choose to not perform within the confines of the rules that apply to refusing to work while under contract.

If Brown is willing to pay the fines, he has every right to dig in and hold out.

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Dak Prescott aims to get the ball downfield more

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For Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott, a sophomore slump could happen not because of anything he does, but because of what opposing defenses do in an effort to stop him. With the benefit of seven months to study film of his 2016 performances, defenses will try to take away the things Prescott does well, and to force him to do things he doesn’t like to do.

As it specifically relates to Prescott, that could mean forcing him to throw the ball down the field more frequently. In a recent (relatively speaking) interview with PFT Live, Prescott said that the team will indeed be trying to get more balls in the air vertically.

“It’s definitely important for us to attack downfield and show that we’ve got that threat,” Prescott said. “That’s something that we want to do is go down the field and make the defenses respect that, make sure they’re deep and they’re being honest in their coverage so we can have everything underneath. It’s about having that balance. Not only in the deep and the short and the intermediate pass game, but as in the run [game] as well. To me, it’s important just to kind of look back at last year and to see what I struggled against and then kind of to think that may be what the defenses are going to do this year. It’s been important for me this offseason to get better at those things, to be ready for next year in case that is what it is.”

That’s likely what it will be. A year ago, teams had no NFL film on Prescott. Now, they have plenty. And they’ve surely broken it down every way possible in order to figure out how Prescott can be confused and confounded.

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Dolphins working out cornerbacks before camp starts

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The Dolphins want to kick the tires on some cornerbacks before training camp starts this weekend.

According to Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network, the Dolphins are taking a look at former Bucs corner Alterraun Verner and former Broncos cornerbacck Tony Carter today.

The Bucs parted ways with Verner early this offseason, admitting an expensive free agent mistake.

The Dolphins didn’t add any significant pieces at the position this offseason beyond third-rounder Coredrea Tankersley.

Both players have experience in the slot, and they could be gauging their depth at the position Bobby McCain has held.

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Malik Hooker to open Colts camp on PUP list

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A day ago, Colts General Manager Chris Ballard said he expected rookie safety Malik Hooker to be ready for the start of training camp after offseason hernia surgery.

Apparently, he’s not.

The Colts just announced that the first-round pick would start camp on the physically unable to perform list, along with quarterback Andrew Luck and safety Clayton Geathers.

Hooker was coming off hip surgeries and sports hernia procedures on both sides, forcing him to urge doctors to be careful with him back at the Scouting Combine. But the team said this was related to a hamstring problem which surfaced during conditioning tests, and not related to the previous surgeries, according to Stephen Holder of the Indianapolis Star.

If he’s healthy, they think he can have an immediate impact for a defense which could use such players. He picked off seven passes at Ohio State last year, and returned three of them for touchdowns.

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PFT preseason power rankings No. 2: Atlanta Falcons

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The thing people will remember about the 2016 Falcons is that they blew a 28-3 lead in the Super Bowl.

That’s reality, but also a shame, because there was so much positive about their season and what it portends for the future.

The Falcons have traditionally had skill-position talent, but they pushed it to another level last year, leading the league in scoring (33.8 points per game). Much of that hinged on improvements up front, as their addition of center Alex Mack was one of the hidden keys to the season. Quarterback Matt Ryan has always been good. With time to process, he was surgical, which helped him win an MVP.

They’re also young and talented on defense, and will get boosts this year. Remember, they played the latter portion of last season without their top cornerback (Desmond Trufant, who was lost to a pectoral injury midway through the year) and added another pass-rusher in first-rounder Takk McKinley in the first round.

Coupled with their new state-of-the-art stadium, there’s plenty to be excited about for the long-term trajectory of the team.
But that one thing will continue to linger in the background.

Biggest positive change: The Falcons should be deeper on defense, and they could use that.

Veteran defensive tackle Dontari Poe was a good piece of business on a one-year deal, giving them a solid interior rusher.

And if McKinley emerges to help Vic Beasley (who looked like a bust after his rookie year, then looked like a star last year, perhaps the fault is with making premature judgments), they could be even better on that side of the ball.

Biggest negative change: Losing offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan is going to take a minute to work through.

They were playing at such a high level last year that even a slight disruption is a big deal, and taking their play-caller out is definitely not just a slight disruption. We’ll see if Steve Sarkisian can keep things going, because he was given the gift of personnel to work with.

Coaching thermometer: Cool for now, but the Super Bowl collapse will raise the heat on Dan Quinn if they can’t continue playing at a high level. The Falcons coach has been unfailingly upbeat this offseason when discussing the elephant in the room, but it will never truly go away. The challenge will be keeping it out of his guys’ minds when an individual game turns south, because wondering if they’re about to fold again.

We’d like to crack a beer with . . . It almost doesn’t matter, because the beers are cheap enough at their new stadium you can have more than one without taking out a home equity line.

Owner Arthur Blank has done some interesting things within the context of the league, and his cut-rate concessions (two-dollar hot dogs and five bucks for a beer) will make him more popular with fans — if not his business partners who are still gouging for snacks and beverages at their games.

Blank’s been willing to go against the grain, and that makes him one of the more interesting members of his club of 32.

How they can prove us wrong: It’s not foolproof, and a return to the playoffs is likely but far from a guarantee.

One of the first steps is making sure Devonta Freeman stays happy. The running back’s contract talks have had some rough spots, and the Falcons have kept the petty stuff at arm’s length. But if they can’t get a deal done before the season, there will be a lingering worry that an integral part of the offense is thinking about his post-Falcons years.

And while Quinn’s attitude is key to keeping the bad thoughts at bay, a run of bad luck (injuries or otherwise) could lead to flashbacks, and denying their existence doesn’t make them go away.

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Tyrann Mathieu getting confidence back for “real important camp”

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Cardinals safety Tyrann Mathieu thinks he is the “best defensive player in the NFL” when he’s healthy, which suggests an overwhelming amount of confidence in his own ability.

His injury record doesn’t create the same kind of confidence about his ability to actually stay healthy, however, and playing in a career-low 10 games last season seems to have taken a toll on Mathieu’s belief in himself. Mathieu said on Monday that he is spending the early practices in training camp rediscovering the confidence he needs to thrive on the field.

“I feel good,” Mathieu said, via the Arizona Republic. “Just easing back into it, working back into it. Just gaining that confidence back, which is extremely important for me. Obviously, it’s a real important camp for me. Expectations are high for myself, so really I’m just going to take this time to work on fundamentals and like I said, get that confidence back.”

Coach Bruce Arians agreed that it is a “big year” for Mathieu, who he said needs to show that he can get back to being the player the Cardinals recognize from his best days in past seasons. Staying healthy will be crucial to that effort because another year with big chunks of time on the sideline will make it much harder to be confident that Mathieu can ever fully overcome the injury bug.

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Browns rookie Howard Wilson lands on PUP list

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Browns rookie Howard Wilson’s first NFL experience wasn’t a particularly good one as the cornerback broke his kneecap during the first practice of the team’s rookie minicamp.

He’s not ready for his second practice yet. Wilson was placed on the physically unable to perform list Monday as a result of the injury.

There was uncertainty at the time of the injury about whether Wilson would need surgery and Wilson said last month, via Cleveland.com, that it was still unclear if he’ll have an operation. As a result, the timeline for a return to the field is also unknown.

The Browns signed veteran corner Jason McCourty after Wilson’s injury and he’s expected to join Joe Haden and Jamar Taylor at the top of the depth chart in Cleveland.

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Koa Misi not ready to practice as he rehabs neck injury

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The Dolphins are still hoping to get linebacker Koa Misi back on the field, but it doesn’t appear that’s going to happen when they start camp this weekend.

According to Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald, the veteran linebacker hasn’t been cleared by doctors to return after neck surgery. That almost certainly means he’ll start camp on the physically unable to perform list.

The 30-year-old Misi hasn’t played 16 games in a season since his rookie year (2011), and some thought the neck injury might be a career-ender.

But he’s been encouraged by recent medical reports, and took a pay cut (again) to hang around.

If he’s not ready to play, the Dolphins will probably have to rely on second-round pick Raekwon McMillan as a starter.

 

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Cowboys suggest Lucky Whitehead release resulted from accumulation of mistakes

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The Cowboys have had a bizarre week of so, culminating in Monday’s news of a shoplifting arrest for receiver Lucky Whitehead, a clumsy “it wasn’t me” defense pushed to the infobots by Whitehead’s agent, and a swift decision by the team to reject the claim of mistaken identity and to cut Whitehead.

Regardless of whether there’s any merit to David Rich’s Eddie Murphy/Shaggy claim that Whitehead isn’t the guy who was arrested in Whitehead’s home county in Virginia, it’s clear that it wasn’t a one-strike, zero-tolerance move to move on from him.

“We evaluate the situation and how it was handled by the player after the incident and we evaluate the body of work,” coach Jason Garrett said Monday, via Clarence E. Hill Jr. of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. “When you have someone in your program in this environment and they don’t grow, and they make the same mistakes over and over again, it’s time to move on.”

Cowboys executive Stephen Jones insisted that the release of Whitehead wasn’t aimed at sending a message to the roster, and that it was driven only by his situation.

“We looked at it, we looked at his full body of work and we made a decision to move on,” Jones said, per Hill. “We feel like we’ve given Lucky a lot of different chances along the way going back to last year and I think just decided it was time to go in a different direction.”

Still, the question of whether Whitehead actually was arrested for shoplifting, and then failed to show up in court, remains unresolved. Regardless of any flight records that seem to show Whitehead wasn’t even in Manassas, Virginia at the time of the arrest, police typically gather, you know, photos and fingerprints of people who are arrested. And so if it wasn’t Whitehead who was arrested, that should be fairly easy to prove.

While it doesn’t matter for the Cowboys, it’s going to matter for anyone who may be considering claiming him on waivers. Because if Whitehead was indeed arrested and failed to show up in court on the charges and is now trying to suggest some sort of reverse fall guy situation, it’s all the more reason to avoid him.

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Tuesday morning one-liners

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How many new starters will the Bills field on their offensive line?

What will DE Charles Harris give the Dolphins in his rookie season?

The Patriots secondary looks well stocked this year.

A call for the Jets to give RB Bilal Powell more work.

Said Ravens TE Maxx Williams of his recovery from a knee injury, “I’m finally back where I want to be. Now I just have to prove that I can play football again and show why I’m here.”

A look at the Bengals’ kicking competition.

The Browns have made a lot of changes to the roster since this time last year.

Steelers LB Keion Adams is heading into his first NFL training camp.

Texans RB Akeem Hunt believes he’ll surprise a lot of people this season.

Projecting playing time for the Colts rookies.

The Jaguars have used free agency and high draft picks to stock their defensive line.

CB Logan Ryan likes his new teammates in the Titans secondary.

The Broncos announced themes for their 2017 home games.

Chiefs coach Andy Reid discussed the recent changes to the team’s front office.

Raiders DE Khalil Mack wants a spot on HBO.

A look at what might interest the Chargers about QB Robert Griffin III.

WR Lucky Whitehead’s release was the big story for the Cowboys on Monday.

Former Giants players offered some advice to this year’s team.

Rookie CB Rasul Douglas is working through growing pains at Eagles practices.

The glory days for the Redskins are moving further into the past.

WR Victor Cruz said having former Giants teammates around helps his transition to the Bears.

A store in Michigan was selling t-shirts commemorating the Lions’ non-existent 2016 division title.

The Packers would like to have a Wisconsin-Notre Dame game at Lambeau Field.

Vikings CB Antone Exum is happy to be healthy.

Falcons G.M. Thomas Dimitroff hopes rookie DE Takkarist McKinley is ready for the final preseason games.

The Panthers defense is looking for a little anger.

TE Josh Hill looks set to open Saints training camp on the active roster.

Will the Buccaneers defense keep forcing turnovers?

Cardinals rookies are looking to veterans for the right approach to training camp.

More hits in the draft would help the Rams turn things around.

A 49ers roster projection shows how much they’ve changed this offseason.

Previewing the competition for Seahawks cornerback spots.

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Former Jet sues Jeff Sessions over marijuana laws

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At a time when the Attorney General wants to crack down rather than relax marijuana laws, a former Jets player is part of a lawsuit naming Jeff Sessions, the Department of Justice and the Drug Enforcement Agency.

According to Julia Marsh of the New York Post, former Jets defensive lineman Marvin Washington is one of five plaintiffs suing to decriminalize marijuana. Other of the plaintiffs include an 11-year-old epilepsy patient who needs medical marijuana treatment and a disabled military veteran using the drug to control his post traumatic stress syndrome.

Washington is suing because the law prevents him from receiving federal grants to open a medical marijuana business, in hopes of allowing football players to find a pain management path without opioids.

The suit challenges the constitutionality of the 1970 Controlled Substance Act, which lists marijuana as a Schedule I drug along with heroin and LSD, while meth and cocaine are more benignly listed as Schedule II drugs.

“The record makes clear that the CSA doesn’t make any rational sense and the federal government knows it,” attorney Michael Hiller said.

Washington played eight seasons with the Jets, won a Super Bowl ring with the Broncos in 1998 and spent two years with the 49ers.

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Bruce Arians praises former first-rounder Robert Nkemdiche

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Robert Nkemdiche’s 2016 started by going out the window. Once he got to Arizona, he was more often under the bus.

But after an utterly disappointing rookie season in which he appeared in only five games and collected three tackles, the Cardinals are encouraged by what they’ve seen so far from the mammoth defensive tackle.

Via Bob McManaman of the Arizona Republic, Cardinals coach Bruce Arians praised Nkemdiche for being “disruptive” (which is a good thing in this context) and said there was a good reason for it.

He just had to learn what pro football is all about,” Arians said. “When you’re the No.1 high school recruit in the country and you kicked everybody’s ass in high school, and you did it in college, you just showed up and did it.

“That doesn’t work here, especially when you’ve got guys that have children and are paying bills. This is a whole different level here. . . . Guys that were highly recruited sometimes have such an entitlement that it doesn’t work here.”

The physical talent was never a question. But his pro career that began with the bizarre story of his falling out an Atlanta hotel window while under the influence of something. The police said drugs, Nkemdiche said he was just drunk (such that that makes it better when you’re flying, somewhere between window and Earth). His rookie season made little more sense. He was openly criticized by Arians last year and routinely made inactive.

If he has truly learned how to work like a pro, it will go a long way toward helping the Cardinals replace Calais Campbell, who left for the free agency dollars in Jacksonville.

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Falcons feel good about Julio Jones’ recovery from foot surgery

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Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones may face a limited rep count when he returns to the field in training camp on Thursday, but the team feels good about his progress from foot surgery.

Atlanta General Manager Thomas Dimitroff said Jones is doing well, although the Falcons don’t know how much they’ll have to limit him.

“He’s healed up very, very well,” Dimitroff said, via the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “We are ready for him to jump into camp. I’m don’t know the exact rep count, but as you know Julio will do what he feels he can do. . . . He’s so competitive when he gets back on the field. We’ll continue to monitor him.”

Jones had the surgery in March and was given a recovery time of 4-5 months.

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