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Dez Bryant getting back to his old self

ARLINGTON, TX - DECEMBER 19:  Dez Bryant #88 of the Dallas Cowboys prepares to take on the New York Jets at AT&T Stadium on December 19, 2015 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images) Getty Images

Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant isn’t working in full at OTAs this week as the team continues to bring him along slowly after January foot and ankle surgeries, but he’s catching passes and doing individual work while waiting for full clearance.

Bryant hopes to get that after another round of X-rays in the near future, but said Wednesday that even his limited workload leaves him feeling ahead of where he was while mired in a contract standoff with the Cowboys at this time last year. Bryant eventually signed a long-term deal, but a broken foot in the season opener set the tone for a disappointing season all around in Dallas.

The injuries have healed now, though, and Bryant said Tuesday that he feels like he’s rounding into form bit by bit.

“I feel fine; I’ve been working out real good,” Bryant said, via the team’s website. “I’m getting back to my old self. … It feels good. I’m right on time. I actually feel a little ahead of the game. But I’m going to stay patient.”

The Bryant of 2015 wasn’t the one that earned that big contract and it isn’t one that’s going to help the Cowboys moving back in a positive direction this season. The same could be said of quarterback Tony Romo, leaving little doubt about the players that the team will be counting on to lead them back to the right side of .500.

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Chip Kelly back at it with up-tempo practicing in 49ers OTAs

SANTA CLARA, CA - JANUARY 20:  Chip Kelly speaks to the media during a press conference where he announced as the new head coach of the San Francisco 49ers at Levi's Stadium on January 20, 2016 in Santa Clara, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images) Getty Images

The 49ers are getting a crash course in Chip Kelly during OTAs, learning in a hurry about the kind of pace he wants to keep.

According to Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com, the 49ers ran 24 offensive plays during an eight-minute team period today.

That’s an average of one snap every 20 seconds (#math).

If that sounds familiar, it should, as his first days with the Eagles were also about establishing his tempo, which is usually charming in the first days of any regime. Of course, when the results stopped showing his Eagles players quickly got tired of it (and tired).

Tackle Lane Johnson was among the loudest, saying keeping up such a pace from OTAs through the season left players exhausted by the end of the season.

If it works, the 49ers might be able to gain some kind of advantage on offense. But considering their quarterbacks are either Colin Kaepernick or Blaine Gabbert, it could also mean a lot of long days for their defense.

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Jerome Cunningham claimed off waivers by Titans

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - NOVEMBER 15:  Jerome Cunningham #86 of the New York Giants runs against  Jonathan Freeny #55 of the New England Patriots during their game at MetLife Stadium on November 15, 2015 in East Rutherford, New Jersey.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images) Getty Images

The first time that tight end Jerome Cunningham was waived this offseason, he didn’t have to move far to join his new team.

He’ll get a few frequent flier miles the second time around, though. The Titans announced on Wednesday that they used their top spot on the league’s waiver list to add Cunningham to their 90-man roster. Tennessee only had 89 players under contract so they didn’t need to make a corresponding roster move.

Cunningham was waived by the Jets on Tuesday when they signed running back Romar Morris. He joined the team earlier this month after being dropped by the Giants, who he played nine games for during the 2015 season.

Cunningham joins Delanie Walker, Craig Stevens, Anthony Fasano, Phillip Supernaw and Alex Ellis at tight end in Tennessee.

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Bengals sign fourth-rounder Billings

WACO, TX - SEPTEMBER 26:  Driphus Jackson #6 of the Rice Owls carries the ball against Andrew Billings #75 of the Baylor Bears in the first quarter at McLane Stadium on September 26, 2015 in Waco, Texas.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images) Getty Images

Fourth-round defensive tackle Andrew Billings has signed his rookie contract with the Bengals.

A first-team AP All-American last season at Baylor, the 311-pound Billings was also named the Big 12’s co-Defensive Player of the Year. He should immediately see some snaps in the Bengals’ talented defensive line rotation.

The signing of Billings leaves only first-round cornerback William Jackson III unsigned among the team’s seven draft choices.

The Bengals also announced the signing of undrafted rookie fullback Andrew Bonnet, who signed with the Panthers after the draft and was released last week. To make room on the roster for Bonnet, kicker Jonathan Brown was waived-injured.

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Geno Smith just trying to take advantage of his opportunity

OAKLAND, CA - NOVEMBER 01:  Geno Smith #7 of the New York Jets in action against the Oakland Raiders at O.co Coliseum on November 1, 2015 in Oakland, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images) Getty Images

Jets quarterback Geno Smith has heard teammates like Eric Decker and Brandon Marshall talk about their desire to see Ryan Fitzpatrick back with the team for the 2016 season, but says that he doesn’t “really pay much attention to it” because he doesn’t think they’ve said anything negative about him.

In fact, Marshall said recently that the Jets will “be OK” if Fitzpatrick doesn’t return and Smith heads into the regular season as the starter. On Wednesday, Smith made it clear that his focus is on preparing himself for that possibility and not on watching to see if Fitzpatrick and the Jets bridge their gap and agree on a deal for this year.

“I believe that I do have an opportunity here, and I’ve just got to take advantage of it,” Smith said, via NJ.com. “If anyone has watched football over the years, it’s always been a process with quarterbacks. Every single quarterback has a different learning curve. Some come right in and blow it away. Some come in and struggle a little bit, and then they get it. For me, my confidence has always been there. I think the knowledge of the game, execution, having the game slow down for me, is something that will continue to grow.”

With no other teams sniffing around Fitzpatrick and the quarterback saying this week that he’ll be playing this season, it continues to look like he and the Jets will find their way back to one another. That will mean either a trip to the bench or the waiver wire for Smith, although there’s not much reason for him to worry about crossing that bridge until the Jets put him at the edge of it.

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Ifo Ekpre-Olomu’s doctor calls his knee “perfectly fine”

Ifo Ekpre-Olomu AP

Few college football players have suffered an injury as devastating to their NFL prospects as former Oregon cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, who was viewed as a first-round prospect before blowing out his knee in December of 2014 and ultimately fell all the way to the seventh round. Ekpre-Olomu hasn’t played in an NFL game yet, but he says he’s now been given a clean bill of health.

Ekpre-Olomu told the Miami Herald that his doctor “said I’m perfectly fine.”

The Browns waived Ekpre-Olomu this offseason, suggesting that the new regime in Cleveland doesn’t believe his knee is ever going to be perfectly fine. But he was claimed by the Dolphins on waivers and says he’s happy where he is.

“It was something with new management; they wanted to go in a different direction,” Ekpre-Olomu said of the Browns. “And I guess I wasn’t in that direction. I’m happy I’m here.”

If Ekpre-Olomu ever returns to the form that he showed at Oregon, the Dolphins will be happy to have him in Miami, too.

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Broncos sign second-round pick Adam Gotsis

ATLANTA, GA - OCTOBER 3: Marquise Williams #12 of the North Carolina Tar Heels takes a hit from Adam Gotsis #96 of the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets on October 3, 2015 in Atlanta, Georgia. Gotsis would be penalized and ejected from the game for the hit. Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Broncos are down to one unsigned draft pick.

Second-round defensive tackle Adam Gotsis agreed to a four-year deal with the team on Wednesday, leaving quarterback Paxton Lynch as the only one of the team’s eight picks without a contract. Gotsis was born in Australia and became the highest drafted Australian in league history when the Broncos tabbed him with the 63rd overall pick.

Gotsis will be in the mix of players vying for playing time up front on defense after the departure of Malik Jackson as a free agent this offseason. His attempt to nail down that playing time will be delayed until training camp as Gotsis is going to be on the sideline until training camp as a result of a torn ACL he suffered while at Georgia Tech last year.

Jared Crick, Vance Walker and Kenny Anunike will be Gotsis’ chief competition for playing time once he’s fully recovered.

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Dwight Freeney expects to visit Falcons next week

GLENDALE, AZ - DECEMBER 27:  Linebacker Dwight Freeney #54 of the Arizona Cardinals walks off the field following the NFL game against the Green Bay Packers at the University of Phoenix Stadium on December 27, 2015 in Glendale, Arizona. The Cardinals defeatred the Packers 38-30.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) Getty Images

Dwight Freeney is in Cincinnati on Wednesday to meet with the Bengals, but it doesn’t look like that will be the end of his search for a home for the 2016 season.

Jim Trotter of ESPN reports that Freeney told him that he expects to visit with the Falcons next week.

The Falcons came into the offseason with a need to boost the pass rush provided by their front seven. They signed linebacker Courtney Upshaw and defensive end Derrick Shelby, drafted a couple of linebackers and are moving Vic Beasley from defensive end to linebacker.

Freeney had eight sacks in 11 games after signing with the Cardinals during the 2015 season. That led Arizona and it would have led Atlanta by a comfortable margin — Beasley topped the team with four sacks — which makes Freeney the kind of established pass rushing threat that the Falcons still don’t have on hand for the coming season.

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Scientists submit brief in support of Tom Brady

New England Patriots Training Camp Getty Images

On Monday, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and the NFL Players Association filed a petition for rehearing of the ruling that reinstated Brady’s four-game suspension. On Tuesday, a group of professors of physics and engineering submitted a brief in support of Brady’s position.

The eight-page document, filed by 21 professors at MIT, Cal, Michigan, USC, Stanford, Delaware, Purdue, Penn, Boston College, Minnesota, focuses on the application of the Ideal Gas Law to the footballs used by the Patriots during the AFC championship game played in January 2015. It strongly disputes the conclusions made by the NFL in the investigation that resulted in a finding that tampering with footballs had occurred.

The argument is fundamentally no different than the point PFT has made consistently since the official PSI numbers were released in May 2015: With the Ideal Gas Law necessarily causing the air pressure in the footballs to drop during the first half of the game, tampering with the footballs would have resulted in dramatically lower readings than the actual numbers measured by the NFL.

Included with the written presentation is a claim that the professors have obtained field-temperature date for more than 10,000 outdoor NFL games played since 1960, and that approximately 61 percent of all games would have included footballs that dropped in air pressure below the minimum of 12.5 PSI, if the footballs were inflated to 13.0 at kickoff. For footballs inflated (as the Patriots were) toward the low end of the range, roughly 82 percent of all games would have included footballs below the minimum.

“As professors, we cannot fathom how it is permissible to impose punishment for the possibility of a negligible increment of pressure loss, when underinflated footballs are common to NFL games, when laws of physics cause much larger pressure drops, and when the very possibility of an additional increment of pressure loss was generated from assumptions of the league’s choosing rather than data,” the brief concludes. “In the name of science, we support the petition for rehearing.”

Technically irrelevant to the issues pending before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, the brief contains the kind of commonsensical information that could persuade a judge to take a more favorable view of the overall case. And while footnote No. 1 to the brief points out that “[n]o party’s counsel authored this brief in whole or in part” and that “[n]o party, no counsel for any party, and no person other than [the professors] or their counsel contributed money that was intended to fund preparation or submission of this brief,” it’s a development that Brady and the NFLPA surely welcome. It also wouldn’t be surprising to learn that the legal team representing Brady and the NFLPA instigated the filing.

Why shouldn’t they? The scientific principles articulated in the brief are accurate, but those same principles haven’t received nearly the attention they deserve, at any stage of the disciplinary process or the litigation.

The numbers measured by the NFL were in line with what the science would have predicted. If air deliberately had been removed from the footballs, the PSI readings necessarily would have been much, much lower.

Thus, to the extent that Brady’s suspension arises from tampering with footballs used in the January 2015 AFC title game, the evidence of tampering remains inconclusive at best. Even if that dynamic is never mentioned by any judge serving on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in any further documents generated by these proceedings, the 13 judges who will be determining whether to grant the request for a rehearing need to process and digest the information provided by these 21 professors.

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Report: Falcons pass on signing Boykin

PITTSBURGH, PA - OCTOBER 18: Brandon Boykin #25 of the Pittsburgh Steelers carries the ball during the 1st half of the  game at Heinz Field on October 18, 2015 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images) Getty Images

Free agent cornerback Brandon Boykin will remain free for now, ESPN’s Vaughn McClure reported Wednesday.

Boykin worked out for the Falcons earlier this week. A source indicated to McClure that Boykin is healthy and that the Falcons choosing not to sign him is a football decision, not one based on any outside factors.

The Panthers released Boykin earlier this month after signing him in March. He became a free agent after playing last season with the Steelers, who acquired him in a preseason trade with the Eagles.

Boykin, 26, had six of his eight career interceptions in 2013 with the Eagles. He played in all 16 games for the Steelers last season, mostly in nickel packages.

The Falcons will likely stay active in their search for cornerback help. Second-year cornerback Jalen Collins is facing a four-game suspension to start the 2016 season, and the Falcons did not address the position in this year’s draft.

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Blair Walsh: Missed field goal won’t define me

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - JANUARY 10:  Blair Walsh #3 of the Minnesota Vikings misses a 27-yard field goal in the fourth quarter against the Seattle Seahawks during the NFC Wild Card Playoff game at TCFBank Stadium on January 10, 2016 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The Seattle Seahawks defeat the Minnesota Vikings with a score of 10 to 9.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images) Getty Images

Vikings kicker Blair Walsh spoke to the media after Wednesday’s OTA session and one of the topics that came up was the team’s move indoors at their new stadium.

Walsh said it’s “always easier to kick indoors,” but added that he felt he “had one of my better years as a pro” while the Vikings were playing their home games outdoors in 2015. That was true for much of the season, although Walsh’s final kick at TCF Bank Stadium is the one that most people remember.

That was the 27-yard field goal that he hooked wide left with 22 seconds left in the team’s 10-9 playoff loss to the Seahawks. Walsh says the kick was one moment in his career that he “won’t define me” as a player.

“I’m way past the point of being upset about it or, you know, to the point where it bothers you like that,” Walsh said, via the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. “It’s something I’ve already dealt with and gone through. On a day-to-day basis, no, I don’t think about it. I really don’t use it like that. That initial month or so period, I definitely looked at it as motivation for me. But, like I said before, I had a good year. That was enough motivation for me going into this year.”

Any high-pressure kicks that Walsh has to take this year will come with some added intrigue and any misses in those spots will surely lead some to conclude that he wilts in those situations. If Walsh makes them all, though, the definition of his career will include more than one bad kick on a cold January afternoon in Minneapolis.

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Miami nearly was shut out of Super Bowls 53, 54, 55

MIAMI GARDENS, FL - SEPTEMBER 5: A general view of Sun Life Stadium prior to the game between the Miami Hurricanes and the Bethune-Cookman Wildcats on September 5, 2015 in Miami Gardens, Florida. Sun Life Stadium ins in the middle of a two year renovation. (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images) Getty Images

It was no secret that Miami wouldn’t get another Super Bowl without significant renovations to the football stadium in which the Dolphins play. However, the renovations hardly guaranteed a return of the NFL’s title game to South Florida.

Per a source with knowledge of the situation, the Dolphins nearly failed to secure the right to host any of the three Super Bowls awarded by NFL owners on Tuesday.

The Super Bowl LIII vote included Miami, Atlanta, New Orleans, and Tampa. After the first ballot, all four cities remained viable. After the second ballot, Tampa exited. Next, Miami was out — leaving Atlanta and New Orleans as the two finalists.

New Orleans nearly pulled it out, according to the source, thanks to a much more impressive than expected presentation from Gayle Benson, the wife of Saints owner Tom Benson. And if New Orleans had secured the rights to Super Bowl LIII, it’s believed Atlanta would have easily beaten Miami for Super Bowl LIV. (New Orleans did not bid on Super Bowls LIV or LV.)

Even without New Orleans or Atlanta to contend with, Miami nearly lost the Super Bowl LIV competition with Tampa. As the source said, it should have been an easy win for Miami, but it wasn’t.

While the ultimate selection of Atlanta, Miami, and L.A. surprised few, the point is that it wasn’t the slam dunk that many had envisioned. Which likely doesn’t provide much consolation for Tampa and New Orleans.

Still, the close-but-no-cigar outcome should give both cities hope for landing a Super Bowl the next time Super Bowls are awarded. Which is good for the NFL, since it could keep Tampa and New Orleans from saying, “Screw it” and opting out of the Super Bowl bidding process.

It ultimately could be bad for Miami when it comes to securing what would be the city’s 12th Super Bowl. Chances are that New Orleans will match Miami with 11 Super Bowls before Miami gets its next one after Super Bowl LIV.

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Steelers’ Ladarius Green out of OTAs after ankle surgery

San Diego Chargers tight end Ladarius Green (89) runs past Kansas City Chiefs defensive back Quintin Demps (35) for a touchdown during the second half of an NFL football game at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Mo., Sunday, Nov. 24, 2013. (AP Photo/Ed Zurga) AP

Ladarius Green’s 2015 season with the Chargers was cut short by an ankle injury, and the ankle continues to hold him back now in Pittsburgh.

Green, a tight end who signed with the Steelers in March, is missing the start of Organized Team Activities because of surgery on the ankle. Green said he isn’t sure when he’ll be back, but he is expected to participate in training camp.

“I just want to see if I can prove it to myself that I can go out there and be the best,” Green told ESPN.

The Steelers presumably knew the status of Green’s injured ankle when they signed him, and so this is likely not a major concern. But it bears watching to see how long into training camp they’ll have to wait for their offense to be at full strength.

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DeSean Jackson not on hand for Washington OTAs

PHILADELPHIA, PA - DECEMBER 26: DeSean Jackson #11 of the Washington Redskins tells the crowd to be quiet after a touchdown catch by Jordan Reed #86 of the Washington Redskins against the Philadelphia Eagles on December 26, 2015 at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images) Getty Images

In some precincts, teams are surprised by guys who are able to practice during OTAs.

In Washington, they can’t be surprised by one of the guys who isn’t.

Via Tarik El-Bashir of CSNMidAtlantic.com, wide receiver DeSean Jackson wasn’t on hand for today’s work.

This one gets the trusty #asexpected hashtag, because Jackson has never been what you’d call a regular attendee during the offseason.

The 29-year-old Jackson only played nine games last year because of injuries, and is carrying a $9.25 million cap number in the final year of his deal.

But Washington seems intent on hanging onto him, to go with Pierre Garcon and first-round pick Josh Doctson this year. Quarterback Kirk Cousins was recently bragging about his many targets, but he’s short one today.

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Corey Coleman may return punts for Browns

WACO, TX - DECEMBER 5: Corey Coleman #1 of the Baylor Bears runs the ball down field against the Texas Longhorns in the fourth quarter at McLane Stadium on December 5, 2015 in Waco, Texas. (Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images) Getty Images

When we last heard from the Browns about first-round pick Corey Coleman, coach Hue Jackson was discussing the wideout’s need to get into better physical condition after finding it lacking it early practices.

The latest word on Coleman is more positive. The topic on Wednesday was the possibility that Coleman will return kicks for the team this season. Coleman returned kickoffs at Baylor early in his career and returned just three three punts, but special teams coordinator Chris Tabor said neither that nor the fact that Coleman is expected to play a major role as a receiver stands in the way of him landing the job.

“He can do both,” Tabor said, via Cleveland.com. “He’s an explosive player and he’s developing right now so we’re working on all of those things. He obviously has great speed. He has some really good short-area quickness, a make-you-miss type guy and then has a good burst to go. He’s doing a nice job for us and we’ve just got to keep developing him. … If it’s going to help you win, that’s what we want to do. I don’t get caught up in where a guy’s at just from this standpoint: Antonio Brown for the Steelers might be regarded as one of the best players in the NFL, and he’s their punt returner.”

Antonio Brown comparisons are probably best kept in reserve until Coleman has actually taken a few hundred snaps in the NFL, but that lack of experience as a pro is also why the team should see what he can do in a variety of roles. Offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton said he’s fine with the idea because “we know that [Coleman will] score the ball” however it gets into his hands, so that’s all the more reason to find as many ways as possible to get it to him.

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