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Ryan Clark gets pragmatic, spiritual about illegal hits

Clark AP

Washington coach Jay Gruden has vowed to suspend safety Brandon Meriweather for two practices if he hits teammates higher than he should.  Could new teammate Ryan Clark help Meriweather stay on the right side of the rules?

“I don’t know if you have ever watched any film of me, you know what I mean?” Clark told reporters on Sunday regarding whether he has talked to Meriweather about his style of play.  “It would be like the pot calling the kettle black. You’re supposed to play this game with reckless abandon. I think when you don’t play it full speed, when you don’t play it as physical as you could possibly play it, you leave yourself at a disadvantage. You put yourself in harm’s way.”

Clark said he eventually plans to share some of the wisdom that comes from playing the game for a long time with Meriweather.

“What I will tell him is ‘Keep your money,’” Clark said.  “You want to keep your money.  You want to not hurt other guys.  We never want to go out there and injure people, but I’ve been a part of some of the biggest collisions in the last 10 years of football at some of the biggest times.  I’ve been laid out on the field with other guys.  I want him to stay healthy and I changed my game in that sense in order to not hurt the team.  You don’t want to give up 15 yards when you stop the team.  We’ve talked about it in the sense of him keeping his money and a sense of him staying on the field but some of us understand the risk we take when we play this game.”

It’s nevertheless a fine balance, especially with Clark now a member of the NFLPA Executive Commitee and former players now suing the NFLPA, using past public complaints from union leadership regarding the league office’s efforts to make the game safer against the NFLPA.

“I was asked, would I change the way I played or would I decide not to play it because of what I know now?” Clark said.  “And I wouldn’t.  It’s a dream and this is what we decide to do and if you love it, you do it.  The stuff you deal with in the end, you deal with, and that’s the way God planned it.  God gave us these talents and He put us in this position, and who I am to question where God has put me?”

If, as it seems, Clark believes that the injuries players suffer as a result of playing football are part of a broader, Divine plan, he shouldn’t argue (as he has in the past) about efforts from the league office to make the game safer.  Whether inspired by a Higher Power or the legal system (or both), the NFL has been trying to compel players to play the game more safely.  The notion that players play the game because God has given them the talent to play it and thus the injuries are simply a product of the talent God has given them overlooks the role that the players, the league office, and NFLPA leadership (of which Clark is now a member) can have in finding ways to allow an inherently dangerous game to be played as safely as it can be played.

It’s a delicate balance for any player to strike.  It becomes even more delicate when a player with a track record of criticizing the league’s efforts to make the game safer now serves on the body with a legal duty to protect the health and safety of all players.

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Greg Hardy hates that he’s been a “distraction”

Greg Hardy AP

Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy spoke for the first time since being convicted of assaulting his former girlfriend, but didn’t have much to say.

According to Bill Voth of Black and Blue Review, Hardy’s brief talk was arranged by the team’s PR staff, which told reporters he couldn’t talk about his legal situation, since he’s appealing his conviction.

Thus, Hardy offered several “I can’t answer that question” responses.

Asked if he had apologized to the team, he said: “I hate that I’ve been a distraction.”

There was then some attempt to market himself, which is as ridiculous as minimizing an arrest for hitting a woman and throwing her onto a bed full of guns to the catch-all category of “distractions.” Of course, Hardy also followed up his court appearance with a clumsy attempt at rapping in a Charlotte nightclub before camp, so that shouldn’t be a surprise. (The full transcript of the interview is here).

If there’s any remorse, there was no apparent sign of it. Frankly, the Panthers won’t have to worry about anything other than his ability to play, since they’re leaving any potential suspension to the league, and the league’s unlikely to act until he goes to a jury trial which will drag out beyond this season.

Thus, they get to pay him $13.1 million for the season, and then he’ll hit free agency again.

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Jace Amaro joins Calvin Pryor on Jets sideline

Jace Amaro AP

It has not been a banner weekend for the Jets’ 2014 draft class.

The Jets saw their first-round pick leave Saturday’s practice with a head injury after safety Calvin Pryor was involved in a collision during special teams drills and their second-round pick joined Pryor on the sideline during Sunday’s session.

Rich Cimini of ESPNNewYork.com reports that Amaro hurt his right knee during 7-on-7 drills and received attention from the team’s trainers. He had the knee wrapped with ice and, per Cimini, “struggled to put weight” on the knee when trying to jog and attempt a few cuts after leaving practice.

The team hopes Amaro can add a reliable target in the passing game, but Amaro has a lot of work to do after playing almost entirely as a receiver in Texas Tech’s offense. Any absence during camp would make that transition more difficult, even if the team could use every boost in can get in the passing game.

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Panthers sign safety Tom Nelson

San Diego Chargers v Chicago Bears Getty Images

The Panthers added some veteran safety depth on Sunday, signing third-year pro Tom Nelson, the club said.

The move gives the Panthers six healthy safeties. A seventh safety, rookie Tre Boston, is on the active/physically unable to perform list.

The 27-year-old Nelson has played in 24 regular season games, with the bulk of his experience coming in 2009 and 2010 with Cincinnati, with whom he signed as an undrafted free agent five years ago. Nelson’s most extensive work came in 2009, when he recorded 25 tackles in 12 games (three starts) for the AFC North-winning Bengals.

In addition to his time with the Bengals (2009-2011), Nelson has had stints with the Eagles (2011-2012) and Bears (2013). Chicago released him at the end of the 2013 preseason.

The Panthers are at the 90-player roster limit.

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Tim Hightower looking for another chance

Tim Hightower AP

It has been a long time since we’ve seen running back Tim Hightower in an NFL game.

Hightower tore his ACL during the 2011 season and failed to make the Redskins roster out of camp in 2012 while still struggling with issues in his surgically-repaired knee. Hightower later discovered that he had an infection that was standing in the way of a full recovery.

The pace of his recovery picked up from there and Hightower was fully cleared to make a return to action a couple of months ago. Now he’s just looking for a team willing to take a shot on him.

“There’s curiosity [by teams]. ‘It’s been two years, if he’s healthy we’ll give him a physical and give him a workout and see where he is,’” Hightower said, via John Keim of ESPN.com. “That’s all I ask.”

Hightower was at Redskins camp on Saturday and said that there have been informal discussions with the team about a return. Hightower will wait until he gets something more formal from Washington or elsewhere as he tries to jumpstart his career this summer.

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Teammate says Matt Schaub is “getting his mojo back”

Matt Schaub, James Jones AP

Once upon a time, Matt Schaub was a perfectly functional quarterback, good even.

But after last year’s confidence-shattering pick-six-a-thon for the Texans, getting a fresh start in Oakland is apparently good for him.

Defensive tackle Antonio Smith, who came from Houston to Oakland alongside Schaub  this offseason, said he can tell his quarterback looks like a new man.

Schaubby’s getting his mojo back,” Smith said, via Vic Tafur of the San Francisco Chronicle. “He’s getting his confidence back. He’s starting to believe in himself again. He is starting to throw with confidence. You would be surprised just how much your mind-set is important in this league.”

Last year was such an abject disaster for Schaub that it’s easy to forget he made two Pro Bowls, and was better than average for an extended stretch of time.

At 33, he won’t get many more chances, but the Raiders are fully behind him, and if that mojo is indeed back, they might have a shot to improve this year.

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Cordarrelle Patterson’s foot injury “improving every day”

Cordarrelle Patterson AP

Vikings wide receiver Jarius Wright considers teammate Cordarrelle Patterson a “talker,” but Patterson didn’t have much to say on Saturday about the foot injury that’s kept him off the field during the first two days of the team’s training camp.

Patterson hurt the foot last week, although he’s offering up no details about how he injured it or what the exact diagnosis might be. The Vikings aren’t saying much, either, but coach Mike Zimmer is willing to say that he doesn’t expect Patterson, who didn’t take the team’s conditioning test on Thursday, to miss much more time as a result.

“He’s improving every day,” Zimmer said, via the Pioneer Press. “I saw him do some stuff [Saturday]. … I’ll be surprised if it’s long.”

The hope for Patterson this summer is that he can further polish his skills so that the team can make even more use of his ample athletic abilities on offense this season. That makes any injury less than ideal, but a quick return to the field should leave Patterson with plenty of time to refine his skills before the start of the regular season.

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Jags unveil new video boards before crowd of more than 52,000

Boards AP

Jacksonville ain’t Oxnard.

With the Cowboys struggling — and ultimately unable — to get 5,000 fans to show up for training camp in California, the Jaguars lured 52,961 to EverBank Field for the unveiling of video screens even larger than the Close Encounters mother ship that hovers over the surface where Jerry Jones’ team plays.

It wasn’t just about the video boards.  Fulham F.C., the English soccer team owned by Jaguars owner Shad Khan, thumped D.C. United 3-0 in an exhibition match, followed by a free concert from Carrie Underwood.

But the real star of the night was the gigantic new screens, one at each end of the venue and both larger than a football field.  (The picture accompanying this blurb shows an image that filled the prior video screen inside its much larger successor.)

It’s the latest one-up move in an era featuring NFL teams trying to outdo each other in the hopes of enticing fans to choose attendance in person over watching games at home.  Eventually, look for the top of an entire stadium to be capped and wrapped with a 360-degree drive-in theater screen.

Other amenities that wouldn’t be practical in northern climates include the pools that have been installed at EverBank Field, giving fans an experience that definitely would be difficult to duplicate at home.  Especially if they don’t have a pool.

Ultimately, the way to keep a stadium packed is to develop a team that contends for postseason berths on a consistent basis.  Quietly, the Jaguars are working on that project, too.

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Colts sign a running back

Ahmad Bradshaw, Davin Meggett AP

The Colts have added a running back to the roster in the wake of Vick Ballard’s Achilles injury.

The team announced Sunday that they have signed Davin Meggett to their 90-man roster. Meggett is the son of former NFL running back Dave Meggett and spent time on the team’s practice squad in 2012. He didn’t make the team last summer and went on to stints on practice squads in Dallas and Washington without playing in any regular season games.

Meggett is unlikely to climb to the top of the depth chart even with Ballard out of the lineup, but his arrival may signal that the Colts plan to give Chris Rainey or Dan Herron a chance to expand on their limited professional experience behind Trent Richardson and Ahmad Bradshaw. There are other veteran options on the open market. For now, though, it seems the Colts will be giving the in-house options the first crack at playing time.

The Colts also announced that linebacker Aaron Morgan is headed to injured reserve. Morgan has played 18 games for the Jaguars and Buccaneers over the last three seasons.

 

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Cowboys not generating much interest at training camp

Jerry AP

The Cowboys may still be America’s Team, but they’re currently not Oxnard’s.

Charean Williams of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram has been mentioning the attendance at training camp.  As pointed out in Saturday’s one-liners, only 3,503 total fans showed up in the first two days.

When reporting that number on Twitter, Charean predicted that the Cowboys “should have a big crowd at the kickoff Saturday.”

And only 4,279 showed up.

That’s a total (abacus engaged) of 7,782 fans in three days.  Washington, in contrast, drew more than 11,000 on Saturday alone at training camp in Richmond.

While the Cowboys technically shouldn’t care about how many Californians show up to watch an NFL team based in Texas practice, at a certain level, Jerry Jones and company need to be concerned that the camp attendance may be a barometer of overall, sea-to-shining-sea interest in the NFL’s official even-Steven franchise, 8-8 for each of the last three years and .500 on the nose dating back to 1997.

While Charean’s tweets don’t mention attendance in past years, she clearly regards the numbers as alarming — and she notes that, if camp were held in San Antonio, 10,000 would have been there.  The trend bears watching in other national metrics, from TV ratings in prime-time games to jersey and merchandise sales, to attendance when the Cowboys take the show on the road to cities where the home team can’t fill up a stadium without having a truly national team paying a visit.

It could be that America’s Team no longer is.  If it ever really was.

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Chiefs tight end Sean McGrath retires

Sean McGrath AP

Sean McGrath led Chiefs tight ends in receptions last season, but he isn’t going to hold onto that status this season.

McGrath has decided to retire from the NFL after two seasons. McGrath, who had 26 catches last season after playing two games for the Seahawks in 2012, is dealing with some personal issues, according to Chiefs head coach Andy Reid.

“McGrath is gonna retire, that’s what we’ve been told by him,” Reid said, via the Kansas City Star. “I wish him the best. He’s a good kid. It’s a personal decision he made.”

With the 26-year-old hanging up the cleats, the Chiefs will look to Travis Kelce and Anthony Fasano to be their top tight ends in 2014. That was the plan last year as well but injuries led the team to turn to McGrath, an option that won’t be available should injury strike again this season.

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Panthers rookie Tyler Gaffney lost for season to knee injury

Tyler Gaffney AP

The Panthers are waiting for running back Jonathan Stewart to return to action after tweaking his hamstring, but he’s not the only injured member of the backfield.

Coach Ron Rivera announced that sixth-round pick Tyler Gaffney will spend his rookie season recovering from a knee injury. Gaffney injured his knee during Friday night’s practice and doctors determined he needs season-ending surgery long before the season even gets underway.

“It’s disappointing because the young man’s a solid football player,” Rivera said, via the Charlotte Observer. “He’s had a history of being a workhorse, and unfortunately in practice [Friday] he got his knee in a bad position and something popped.”

Stewart expects to miss 2-4 weeks while recovering from his latest injury, leaving DeAngelo Williams and Mike Tolbert sat the two main cogs in the running game. 2013 sixth-rounder Kenjon Barner is also on a thinner depth chart than the Panthers had a week ago.

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Texans sign a pair of linebackers

Buffalo Bills v Atlanta Falcons Getty Images

The Texans added some veteran depth at linebacker on Saturday.

John McClain of the Houston Chronicle reports that Quentin Groves and Lawrence Sidbury both signed with the team after working out for them at training camp. The moves shore up a thin group at outside linebacker.

Groves, who also worked out for the Jets recently, will be playing for his fifth team after previous stints with the Jaguars, Raiders, Cardinals and Browns. He had two sacks in four games with Cleveland last season.

Sidbury was a fourth-round pick in Atlanta in 2009 and spent last year with the Colts after spending four years on the Falcons defense.

Whitney Mercilus and Jadeveon Clowney are expected to start on the outside for the Texans, who didn’t have any experienced reserves behind them before the signings.

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Calvin Pryor suffers head injury at Jets practice

Calvin Pryor AP

The Jets hope first-round pick Calvin Pryor can become a fixture at safety after years of a revolving door at the position, but he’ll need to recover from a head injury first.

Pryor got hurt during a special teams portion of Saturday’s practice when he was involved in a collision while serving as the personal protector for the punter. Coach Rex Ryan said after the practice that the team didn’t know the severity of the injury.

“You know the new protocol is that if we know there is a concussion, you guys will know about it immediately,” Ryan said, via the Newark Star-Ledger. “So don’t think we’re covering something up. As of right now, we don’t know if it’s a concussion or not. But it was a head injury, and obviously, when those things happen, you’re always going to side on being cautious. So that’s what we’re doing. Whether it’s a concussion or not, I’m not sure. We’ll see how that progresses.”

Pryor tweeted later in the day that he was fine, although the team should still proceed cautiously to be sure that Pryor actually is fine and that they aren’t taking any undue risks with his health when they put him back on the field.

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Green-Ellis sliding into obscurity in Cincinnati

GreenEllis AP

With the Bengals spending a second-round pick in each of the last two years on tailbacks, a free-agent arrival from 2012 has moved closer to becoming the odd man out.

And with injuries and (in Seattle) a holdout popping up throughout the NFL, don’t be shocked if a market emerges for BenJarvus Green-Ellis.

After gaining 1,094 yards on 278 carries in 2012, the arrival of Giovani Bernard dropped the veteran’s attempts from 278 to 220, with only 754 yards (3.4 per carry).

Now, with the Bengals devoting another second-round pick to former LSU tailback Jeremy Hill, Green-Ellis may not be in position to justify his $2.3 million salary.  Before cutting him, though, the Bengals could try to move him.

Especially if guys like Kendall Hunter keep getting hurt and if Marshawn Lynch’s holdout continues.

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