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Five questions: Seattle Seahawks

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The defending Super Bowl champions are quickly closing in on the start of their 2014 season Thursday night against the Green Bay Packers.

The Seahawks were able to keep most of their young core in place this offseason and were able to sign Michael Bennett, Earl Thomas, Richard Sherman and Doug Baldwin to contract extensions as well. While they did lose some key contributors off their championship team, an inevitability for any team in the salary cap age, Seattle has kept a roster together every bit as a talented as the one the won the title last year.

There aren’t many areas that remain in doubt for the Seahawks as the season gets set to begin. However, we take a look at five questions that could determine if Seattle is able to repeat as champion this season.

1. Could the Seahawks be even better than last season?

If the offense can translate its production from this preseason over to the regular season, they almost certainly will be better.

In 13 offensive drives led by Russell Wilson this preseason, Seattle scored on 11 of them with nine touchdowns, two field goals, a missed field goal and just a single punt. Richard Sherman said Monday that Wilson is being more decisive this season. Head coach Pete Carroll said Wilson has had a near-perfect offseason. With Percy Harvin fully healthy, the Seahawks offense looks much more explosive.

With a defense that looks to still be a force and a special teams unit that is strong as well, if Seattle’s offense can take several steps forward they could be tremendously difficult to beat this year.

2. Will Seattle’s offensive line hold them back?

The Seahawks offensive line was the one area of the team that underperformed consistently last season. Tackles Russell Okung and Breno Giacomini missed a combined 15 games. Center Max Unger missed three more and the depleted unit struggled mightily in their absence.

This year, Seattle is going to start a rookie at right tackle in second-round pick Justin Britt and Okung is still working into game shape after missing most of the offseason following foot surgery.

On the positive side, left guard James Carpenter has lost a considerable amount of weight and looks more capable of moving adequately this year. Right guard J.R. Sweezy has appeared to take his game up another level as well.

The unit is much more adept at run blocking, which is still going to be the main focus of the team with Marshawn Lynch in the backfield and Percy Harvin potentially being used as a rusher at times as well. If they can adequately provide protection for Russell Wilson in the passing game, the offense should be able to accomplish much more this season.

3. Can the Seahawks get 16 games out of Percy Harvin?

Percy Harvin is noticeably exhausted about answering questions about his health. However, when you miss most of the last two seasons due to injury, it’s one of the only things to ask about.

Harvin has missed 22 regular season games over the last two years due to ankle and hip injuries. He’s only played all 16 games of an NFL season once in his career in 2011 with the Minnesota Vikings. But it’s already evident this preseason that the dynamic athlete that was firmly in the MVP conversation in 2012 is back.

Harvin says he’s as healthy now as he’s been since even before he got to college at the University of Florida. His presence on the field expands the field both horizontally and vertically for Seattle’s offense. The Seahawks are counting on Harvin being a big part of their offense. It’s now on Harvin to see if he can put all those questions about his health in the past.

4. Will the Seahawks run defense take a step back?

The Seahawks cut defensive ends Red Bryant and Chris Clemons this offseason for salary cap reasons. However, both players had been important pieces of Seattle’s run defense the last few seasons.

In their absence, Seattle has toyed with moving tackle Tony McDaniel to end in rushing situations with Kevin Williams replacing McDaniel along the line. There are also some new young cogs in their defensive line rotation as well that will be called upon for increased roles.

The Seahawks allowed Tampa Bay and St. Louis to rush for 200 yards against them in consecutive weeks last season before making an adjustment and getting the run defense righted. With key pieces such as Bryant and Clemons gone, it remains to be seen if they can find similar performance up front against opposing rushing games.

5. How does Seattle handle being the team on top?

It’s a position the franchise has never been in before. Several key players got big paydays this offseason as well.

But Russell Wilson and Earl Thomas swear they will be able to keep the focus in the right direction this season. The two talk about how they are competing on a daily basis to see which one of them is the last player to leave the team’s facility each day. Both players obsess over every minute detail they can find on tape in hopes of being completely prepared for games.

That focus trickles down to the rest of the team and the players and coaches are convinced they have turned the page on last season. The only way to truly know now is to play the games.

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Seahawks waive five players

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The Seahawks waived five veteran backups on Tuesday, including fullback/linebacker Mike Zimmer, defensive end Julius Warmsley and offensive tackle Justin Renfrow, each of whom had stints on the Seattle practice squad last season.

The transactions were announced in the NFL personnel notice.

Zimmer (6-2, 239) has played offense and defense in his NFL career, with Seattle employing him as a practice squad fullback in the latter stages of the 2014 season. Zimmer is not related to Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer.

Warmsley (6-2, 269) was on the Seahawks’ practice squad from September through November 11, when he was placed on practice squad injured reserve.

Renfrow (6-6, 310) was a defensive lineman at Miami (Fla.).

The Seahawks also waived linebacker Mike Taylor (failed physical) and center Jared Wheeler.

The Seahawks’ online roster currently lists 91 players, which could mean more transactions may have to occur.

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Bears sign RB Jeremy Langford

Langford Getty Images

And now they’re up to three.

Not long after announcing deals with fifth-round safety Adrian Amos and sixth-round tackle Tayo Fabuluje, the Bears announced a four-year contract with fourth-round running back Jeremy Langford.

It could be that the Bears already have struck deals with most of their draft picks, and that they’ll be bleeding out the announcements every 30 to 60 minutes, throughout the evening.

Langford was the 106th overall choice in the draft.  He scored 22 rushing touchdowns in 2014, and added 1,522 rushing yards.

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Second Hernandez murder case returns to court on May 21

Hernandez AP

Last month, a jury in Bristol County, Massachusetts convicted former Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez of murdering Odin Lloyd.  Later this month, a court in Suffolk County, Massachusetts will move closer toward setting a trial date in connection with the allegation that Hernandez killed two men in Boston, 11 months earlier.

Per multiple reports, a status hearing will be held on May 21 for the murder case arising from the shooting deaths of Safiro Furtado and Daniel de Abreu.  Hernandez will not be present for the hearing.

Presumably, a trial date will be set at that time.  The trial at one point was scheduled to begin in late May.  An indefinite postponement occurred, in deference to the trial arising from the Lloyd murder.

Hernandez currently is serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole, subject to appeal of the verdict.  In multiple respects, the second case against him is even stronger.

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Bears start signing draft picks

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Even with a new coach and a new General Manger, the Chicago Bears continue to do one of the things that has become their signature in recent years:  Sign draft picks earlier than anyone.

The Bears have announced four-year contracts with a pair of rookies selected on Saturday.  Fifth-round safety Adrian Amos and sixth-round tackle Tayo Fabuluje are under contract.

The Buccaneers signed quarterback Jameis Winston, the first overall pick in the draft, on Friday.  The Bears presumably will continue to sign pick after pick until signing all of their class.

On the other end of the spectrum, the Rams typically wait until the end of the offseason program, signing all rookies in one fell swoop.

Regardless, the 2011 labor deal makes it easier than ever to get these deals negotiated quickly.

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Raiders waive TE Nick Kasa

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The Raiders have let go of a recent draft pick, waiving tight end Nick Kasa with a failed physical designation on Tuesday, per the NFL’s personnel notice.

A sixth-round pick in 2013, Kasa played all 16 games as a rookie, catching a nine-yard TD pass in the season finale. However, he missed the 2014 season with an ACL tear suffered in August.

In addition to parting ways with Kasa, the Raiders waived linebacker Bojay Filimoeatu, linebacker Justin Jackson, defensive tackle Kona Schwenke and defensive back Jansen Watson on Tuesday.

Also disclosed by the NFL were the previously reported departures of wide receiver James Jones, offensive guard Kevin Boothe and linebacker Miles Burris.

The transactions leave the Raiders with 76 players on the roster, including the team’s 2015 draft picks.

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Bears claim Paul Cornick off waivers

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Paul Cornick will continue playing for John Fox and Adam Gase.

Cornick, an offensive lineman who was waived by the Broncos yesterday, was claimed by the Bears today.

Last year Cornick played in 12 games for the Broncos, starting six. Fox coached the Broncos and Gase was their offensive coordinator last year, and now Fox and Gase have those roles in Chicago.

With the Bears, Cornick likely won’t start but provides depth at offensive tackle.

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Manziel moves from Downtown Cleveland to the suburbs

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As Cleveland Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel tries to put a disastrous rookie season behind him, he’s putting Cleveland in his rear-view mirror. Sort of.

Via Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com, Manziel has moved from an apartment in Downtown Cleveland to a suburban community surrounding a golf course.

The lobby of Manziel’s building was the scene of one of the various Manziel-related incidents in 2014 — a scuffle involving a zealous fan and one of Manziel’s associates.

Per Fowler, Manziel has embraced golf as part of his recovery from issues that landed him in rehab for 10 weeks earlier this year. He continues to have a long way to go to become the starter in Cleveland, but it’s clear that he’s making the changes that could lay the foundation for success.

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Unlike Mariota, Dorsett didn’t get an apology

Dorsett Getty Images

On Thursday night, the Commissioner wasn’t 31 for 32.  He was 30 for 32.  Which is a great average when it comes to getting on base safely or putting a basketball through the hoop from a line painted 15 feet away.

It’s not a great average when it comes to properly pronouncing the names of the newest NFL employees.

In addition to pronouncing Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota’s name incorrectly (Marioto), Commissioner Roger Goodell said the name of Colts receiver Phillip Dorsett with the emphasis on the first syllable, a la Tony Dorsett before he made the move from Pitt to the Cowboys.

Mariota said Monday that he received a phone call from the Commissioner with an apology.  On Tuesday, Dorsett told PFT Live on NBC Sports Radio that he didn’t.  Dorsett also said he didn’t mind the incorrect announcement of his name.  (Mariota didn’t know his name had been butchered until the apology came.)

Dorsett also said he hadn’t heard from the Colts since the Scouting Combine, making their decision to select him even more of a surprise.  To hear everything Dorsett had to say, click here and select the “Big Name Guests” tab.

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Chiefs cut Terrelle Pryor

Terrelle Pryor AP

Terrelle Pryor’s tenure with the Chiefs didn’t last long.

Pryor, the former Raiders starter, was cut by the Chiefs today. He’s been with the Chiefs since January.

The Raiders spent a third-round pick in the 2011 supplemental draft on Pryor after his controversial career at Ohio State was cut short. He showed flashes of talent as the Raiders’ top quarterback for most of the 2013 season, but the team ultimately decided he simply wasn’t a good enough passer to make it as an NFL quarterback. He was traded to the Seahawks last year and then cut by Seattle at the end of the preseason.

Now that Pryor has been cut again by the Chiefs, he may be nearing the end of the run. Although he’s a gifted athlete who can make things happen with the ball in his hands, his chance with the Chiefs could have been his last chance.

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Oddsmaker gives 49ers longest odds to win NFC West

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In the last three seasons, the 49ers have gone from first to second to third place in the four-team NFC West.

Perhaps, then, it is not a surprise to see San Francisco as the longest shot to win the West in 2015 at one notable Nevada sports book.

As of Tuesday, the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook lists the 49ers as 9-to-1 to capture their division. The Cardinals and Rams are given 13-2 chances to win the NFC West behind Seattle, which is an overwhelming favorite at 2-to-7.

The 49ers’ odds seem to reflect the team’s sharp fade at the end of 2014. The club also took a perception hit after the departure of head coach Jim Harbaugh, who was 49-22-1 in four seasons in San Francisco.

While the 49ers are the biggest price to win the NFC West, they are the shortest-priced longest shots in any division, with the Browns (10-to-1), Bears (12-to-1), Jets (12-to-1), Buccaneers (12-to-1), Washington (15-to-1), Jaguars (20-to-1), Titans (25-to-1) and Raiders (25-to-1) all having higher odds.

Here are the SuperBook’s division-winning odds for all 32 teams:

AFC East: Patriots 4-to-9; Dolphins 4-to-1; Bills 5-to-1; Jets 12-to-1.

AFC North: Ravens 8-to-5; Steelers 2-to-1; Bengals 2-to-1; Browns 10-to-1.

AFC South: Colts 1-to-5; Texans 7-to-2; Jaguars 20-to-1; Titans 25-to-1.

AFC West: Broncos 5-to-12; Chiefs 7-to-2; Chargers 9-to-2; Raiders 25-to-1.

NFC East: Cowboys 13-to-10; Eagles 3-to-2; Giants 3-to-1; Washington 15-to-1.

NFC North: Packers 2-to-7; Lions 9-to-2; Vikings 8-to-1; Bears 12-to-1.

NFC South: Panthers 9-to-5; Saints 9-to-5; Falcons 9-to-5; Buccaneers 12-to-1.

NFC West: Seahawks 2-to-7; Cardinals 13-to-2; Rams 13-to-2; 49ers 9-to-1.

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Who will be the 2015 NFL offensive rookie of the year?

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Now that the draft has ended, we can start focusing on which of the players will be any good.  Especially those players who will end up generating a lot of yards and scoring a lot of points.

The poll question for Tuesday’s Pro Football Talk on NBCSN focuses on which rookie will become the 2015 NFL offensive rookie of the year.

Cast a vote now, and then tune in at 5:30 p.m. ET to see the results.  Along with everything else we’ll be talking about, with the involvement of Paul Burmeister, Ross Tucker, and Jason Taylor.

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Cardinals sign 14 undrafted free agents

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The unexpected retirement of tight end John Carlson might have caught the Cardinals unaware on Tuesday, but they didn’t have to wait long to fill his roster spot.

The team announced the signing of 14 undrafted rookies to round out their roster for the rest of offseason and training camp. They also announced that cornerback Roc Carmichael and running back Zach Bauman have been released.

Among the new additions is wide receiver Jaxon Shipley, who followed in his brother Jordan’s footsteps as a productive wideout at the University of Texas. Like his brother, he’s also best suited for the slot on offense and has experience as a returner.

The rest of the new Cardinals are Adams State cornerback Cariel Brooks, N.C. State tackle Rob Crisp, BYU linebacker Alani Fua, Shippensburg wide receiver Trevor Harman, Georgia Southern linebacker Edwin Jackson, Florida Atlantic linebacker Andrae Kirk, BYU running back Paul Lasike, Bowling Green linebacker Gabe Martin, Iowa wide receiver Damond Powell, Colorado State-Pueblo cornerback C.J. Roberts, Missouri State tight end Gannon Sinclair, Montana linebacker Zack Wagenmann and Northern Iowa nose tackle Xavier Williams.

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Mike Wallace: Nobody in the NFL can run with me

Mike Wallace, Harrison Smith AP

Speed has long been Vikings wide receiver Mike Wallace’s calling card, although it was hard to tell at times in Miami.

Whether because of scheme, chemistry with Ryan Tannehill or something else, Wallace wasn’t the deep threat for the Dolphins that he was earlier in his career with the Steelers. On Tuesday, Wallace made it clear that he doesn’t think it was because the league has caught up to his fleet feet.

“Without a doubt, I’m the fastest player in the NFL,’’ Wallace said, via the Pioneer Press. “If somebody feels foggy about that, we can (race). I’m never going to back down from competition. “I’ve run a lot of routes and I’ve got a lot of miles on my legs, but I still feel that there’s nobody (in the NFL) who can run with me. I might have slowed down a little but I could still run 4.25.”

Wallace didn’t point the finger at Tannehill, saying that there were things that both he and his Dolphins teammates could have done better over the last two years. He also said that “when you separate, you still have to connect” and that he’s “positive” he’ll be able to “showcase” his ability to get free of defenders in Minnesota.

The Vikings likely have the same optimism after trading for Wallace and planting him at the top of their receiver depth chart this offseason. If they’re right, the offense in Minnesota should be more explosive this time around.

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Panthers hire Russ Purnell to fill in for Bruce DeHaven during leave

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The Panthers suffered a football and a personal blow Tuesday, with the news that special teams coach Bruce DeHaven was taking a medical leave of absence.

But they’ve also lined up someone to fill his role until he’s ready to return.

The team confirmed the news of DeHaven’s undisclosed illness, but offered no other details.

“Our thoughts are with Bruce and his family, and we wish him a quick recovery,” coach Ron Rivera said in a statement. “Out of respect for Bruce and his family’s privacy, no additional information will be disclosed.”

They also announced that Russ Purnell would coach their special teams while DeHaven was out.

Purnell has 26 years of NFL experience, with the Seahawks, Oilers, Ravens, Colts and Jaguars, with a pair of Super Bowl rings with Indianapolis in 2006 and Baltimore in 2000.

He’s been out of coaching since working in the UFL in 2012.

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Quarterback, five WRs among 49ers’ undrafted free agents

Dylan Thompson AP

Though the 49ers did not draft a quarterback, they have added a rookie free agent at the position.

San Francisco has signed South Carolina’s Dylan Thompson, the team said Tuesday. Thompson is the lone quarterback among the 49ers’ nine undrafted free agent signees.

Thompson (6-3, 218) connected on about 60 percent of his pass attempts in 2014, throwing for 3,564 yards with 26 TDs and 11 interceptions. Thompson and Blaine Gabbert are the lone backups to Colin Kaepernick on the San Francisco roster.

Of the 49ers’ other eight undrafted free agents, five are wide receivers: Dres Anderson (Utah), Isaac Blakeney (Duke), DiAndre Campbell (Washington), Darius Davis (Henderson State) and DeAndrew White (Alabama).

Other undrafted free agents signed were Auburn offensive lineman Patrick Miller and Michigan State defensive lineman Marcus Rush.

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