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Kenyan Drake says hamstring will be fine for camp

ARLINGTON, TX - DECEMBER 31:  Running back Kenyan Drake #17 of the Alabama Crimson Tide runs for 58-yards in the fourth quarter against the Michigan State Spartans during the Goodyear Cotton Bowl at AT&T Stadium on December 31, 2015 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Dolphins took running back Kenyan Drake in the third round of this year’s draft in hopes that he’ll be an option behind Jay Ajayi in the backfield.

Those prospects would be dimmed by an injury that keeps Drake off the field when he should be making the transition to the professional ranks, which made it a bit of a concern that Drake had to leave a minicamp practice with a hamstring injury last week. It doesn’t look like that concern will linger into training camp, however.

Drake said, via Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald, that he is “feeling great” and will be ready to do everything when the Dolphins start camp next month. Drake also dealt with a variety of injuries at Alabama, including a broken ankle, but he played 13 games last season and says that he’s been there when his team needs him.

“You’re going to get hurt as a football player,” Drake said. “It’s about how fast you recover and get back on the field. It’s not about how many times you get injured. It’s about are you able to play in critical moments of the season when the team needs you to.”

If the Dolphins don’t sign a veteran, their depth chart at running back sets up well for Drake to be the No. 2 with a strong camp. Being healthy is a must for that to happen and Drake believes he’ll be all systems go come July.

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Jim Harbaugh believes football is getting stronger among America’s youth

ANN ARBOR, MI - APRIL 01: Head coach Jim Harbaugh of the Michigan Wolverines looks on prior to the Michigan Football Spring Game on April 1, 2016 at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor, Michigan.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images) Getty Images

If there’s a “War on Football,” at least one prominent coach believes football is winning.

Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh, whose brother John offered up a passionate defense of the sport in March, tells Albert Breer of TheMMQB.com that, basically, no defense is needed.

“[T]he game is so much stronger than it was five years ago, when I was at Stanford,” Jim Harbaugh said. “Now, I’m out traveling the country, seeing the love these guys have for the game of football. They really like football. And they’re so much better.”

The love cuts through a broad swath of America’s youth, in Jim Harbaugh’s assessment.

“We’ve coached and taught Grade Four up to Grade Twelve,” Jim Harbaugh said. “These youngsters like football! They’re not scared. There’s been some element out there — football’s too rough, too tough. Being unaggressive and afraid is not a good template to take out into the world. Football will teach you to be aggressive, and it will teach you not to be scared. The youth of America, young boys get it, and like it, and want more of it.”

One specific subset of “young boys” wants it the most.

“Football has always been for the biggest, strongest, fastest, smartest, most athletic kids,” Jim Harbaugh said. “There’s a game out there for them, and it’s football and they see it, and they enjoy it and they love it. The game is not weakening, the game is strengthening, from what I’ve observed the last two summers.”

Those experiences need to be reconciled with the fact that, unlike at the NFL level, kids sometimes die playing football. And while plenty of activities present the potential for life-ending accidents, NFL players very rarely die while playing. It last happened nearly 15 years ago, when Vikings tackle Korey Stringer succumbed to heat stroke.

In September 2009, less than two months before Congress forced the NFL to take seriously the issue of head injuries, quarterback Carson Palmer made a morbid prediction.

“The truth of the matter is . . . somebody is going to die here in the NFL,” Palmer told Peter King. “It’s going to happen. . . . Guys are getting so big, so fast, so explosive. The game’s so violent.  Now that they’re cutting out the wedge deal on kickoff returns, those guys [are] coming free, and at some point somebody is going to die in football.  And I hope it’s not anyone at this table, and I hope it doesn’t happen, obviously.  Everyone talks about the good old days, when guys were tough and quarterbacks got crushed all the time, but back in the day, there weren’t defensive ends that were Mario Williams — 6-7, 300 pounds, 10 percent body fat, running a 4.7 40.”

It hasn’t happened yet, and it may not happen for a long time based on the ongoing efforts to make the game safer. But it is happening at the lower levels. Although the percentage is very small in light of the total participants, one is too many. And that’s why the stewards of the sport who  promote and defend and revel in the sport, also need to advocate for efforts to ensure that no young boy will love football so much that he gives up his life for it.

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Corey Graham says Bills defense is on same page now

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The Bills defense was a major disappointment last season and several members of the unit shared their thoughts on what was wrong, including safety Corey Graham’s feeling that the defense was “all over the place” and that players didn’t know what was “going on half the time.”

Bills coach Rex Ryan responded to the defensive failings by saying that he tried to combine aspects of the 2014 scheme with his own last year and that 2016 will be all his scheme. Graham said that the offseason work putting that scheme in place has left the team in a better place than they were last year.

“We weren’t on the same page and that starts with me,” Graham said, via the Buffalo News. “That starts for a lot of guys. We have to put in more time studying, preparing and it has definitely paid off. Guys are focused now. Guys are studying. For me, learning a defense has never been hard for me. I don’t care what the defense is. I’d like to think I’m a pretty smart guy who can pick up any defense. Rex Ryan’s defense is serious. I can pick it up. I’m not going to say I can’t. But it’s not the same for everyone and we have to make sure we’re all on the same page. And that was the problem we had. We were not on the same page. Right now, we are.”

Expectations were high heading into last season and Graham knows that they “have to be special” on defense to avoid missing them again this year. Knowing what they’re doing on the field is certainly a prerequisite for a better fate.

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Merton Hanks lands college commissioner job

GLENDALE, AZ - FEBRUARY 01: NFL Vice President of Operations Merton Hanks looks on prior to Super Bowl XLIX between the New England Patriots and the Seattle Seahawks at University of Phoenix Stadium on February 1, 2015 in Glendale, Arizona.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images) Getty Images

A few months after departing from his role as the NFL’s vice president of football operations, Merton Hanks has landed another gig.

Conference USA announced Thursday that Hanks is the conference’s new senior associate commissioner and will oversee the league’s football and baseball operations.

Hanks worked for the NFL for 13 seasons and had been a VP since 2011. He oversaw player discipline, including uniform and equipment inspection.

He spent eight of his nine seasons as a player with the 49ers and was a four-time Pro Bowler.

Hanks qualifies as a big-name hire for Conference USA at a time when the conference needs some good PR. TV revenue has plummeted, and the conference that stretches from Virginia to Texas has been hit hard by defections during the last couple rounds of realignment.

Conference USA’s release on the hiring of Hanks said his duties will include overseeing officiating, scheduling, game operations, player conduct and safety and the league’s public affairs activities, including media, public and community relations.

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John Elway wins PFWA’s Jack Horrigan Award

ENGLEWOOD, CO - MARCH 07:  Denver Broncos Executive Vice President of Football Operations and General Manager John Elway addresses the media during Peyton Manning's NFL retirement press conference at the UCHealth Training Center on March 7, 2016 in Englewood, Colorado.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images) Getty Images

It may not be at quite the same level as the Lombardi Trophy, but Broncos General Manager John Elway has added another prize to his case in 2016.

Elway has been named the winner of the Jack Horrigan Award by the Professional Football Writers of America. The award is named after the late sportswriter and Bills exec and is given to a team or league official for their “qualities and professional style in helping the pro football writers do their job.”

In a statement from PFWA president Jeff Legwold, Elway was praised for his openness with the media while dealing with things like last year’s head coaching change and the many twists at quarterback both before and after the team’s Super Bowl victory.

“Since John Elway returned to the Broncos in 2011, he had been in the uncommon position as a Hall of Fame player who was now a team’s chief football decision-maker,” Legwold said. “And after the 2015 season, he is the only person to have started at quarterback for a Super Bowl winner and then returned as a team’s top football executive to win another. Elway was cited by the PFWA membership for his willingness to offer perspective on what’s happening in the league as well as candid, honest assessments of events surrounding the Broncos in both good and difficult times.”

With a deadline looming to get a long-term deal done with Von Miller and a starting quarterback to name, Elway should have plenty of opportunities to offer candid assessments in the coming months as well.

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NFL players return to Celebrity Family Feud

UNITED STATES - APRIL 16:  FAMILY FEUD - 4/16/81, Show coverage. Pictured: host Richard Dawson,  (Photo by ABC Photo Archives/ABC via Getty Images) Getty Images

I’ll admit it: I like Family Feud. And not just because Family Feud provides the backdrop for one of the best moments in Family Guy history. I’ve liked the show from the first time the guy from Hogan’s Heroes launched into a career that would prompt people watching Hogan’s Heroes to forever says, “Hey, there’s the guy from Family Feud.”

And so, even though it won’t be on NBC, I’ll give some free publicity to this year’s prime-time Celebrity Family Feud featuring NFL players. In a pair of shows to be televised July 3 on ABC at 8:00 p.m. ET, 20 total players will square off.

The first show pits five AFC offensive players (Jets receiver Brandon Marshall, Patriots tackle Marcus Cannon, Raiders receiver Amari Cooper, Bengals running back Jeremy Hill, and Ravens receiver Steve Smith) against five NFC defensive players (Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis, Seahawks defensive end Cliff Avril, Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins, former Washington defensive lineman Terrance Knighton, and Cardinals defensive back Tyrann Mathieu).

The second show has five AFC defensive players (former Bengals linebacker A.J. Hawk, Chiefs linebacker Tamba Hali, Chargers running back Melvin Ingram, Broncos linebacker Von Miller, and Raiders linebacker Malcolm Smith) facing five NFC offensive players (49ers tackle Joe Staley, Lions receiver Marvin Jones, Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, Washington receiver Pierre Garςon, and Cardinals running back David Johnson).

The teams will be eligible to win up to $25,000 for charity. Which really isn’t all that much.

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Luke Kuechly: We have to keep same mindset we had entering last season

Luke Kuechly AP

During Pat Riley’s run as the coach of the Los Angeles Lakers in the 1980’s, he wrote a book that featured a concept he called the “Disease of More” to explain why it is hard for teams to remain at the top of the mountain after attaining success.

Riley’s theory was centered on the idea that players start wanting more playing time, more money or more of something else the next year and that works against a team’s chances of staying at a high level. Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly didn’t describe it exactly that way during an appearance with Alex Marvez and Ovie Mughelli of Sirius XM NFL Radio, but he was in the same ballpark when talking about the team’s need to keep the same mindset they had before last year’s run to the Super Bowl.

“It’s even more important that we believe in the same mindset that we had after the ’14 season of, ‘This is where we are, this is where we’ve got to get to,'” Kuechly said. “We can’t have the mindset of, ‘Well, we went to the Super Bowl last year, we’re already here, we don’t have to get that far.”

The Panthers didn’t win the Super Bowl, of course, and that untaken step should be a significant piece of motivation. In addition to keeping the right frame of mind, the Panthers will also have to keep an eye on any toll that their extended 2015 season and the resulting shorter offseason has on players as they try to do what the Broncos did in February.

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Panthers G.M. admits contracts a factor to be considered on draft day

CHICAGO, IL - APRIL 28:  Draftee Vernon Butler of Louisiana Tech arrives at the 2016 NFL Draft on April 28, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Kena Krutsinger/Getty Images) Getty Images

Panthers General Manager Dave Gettleman can’t come right out and say he drafted defensive tackle Vernon Butler as insurance against the Kawann Short’s contract talks going south.

But he can’t deny it didn’t cross his mind, when he drafted to one of the deepest positions on his roster in the middle of  a negotiation that has become complicated.

Asked by Bill Voth of Black and Blue Review whether he considers the contract status of his current roster when weighing his draft board, Gettleman replied: “Sometimes. Yes and no.”

Gettleman insisted that Butler “was too good” to bypass with the 30th overall pick, comparing it to selecting linebacker Shaq Thompson last year as a bit player/eventual replacement for Thomas Davis despite other positional needs.

“Looking at the roster, did we need another defensive tackle? People can argue ‘no.’ But you know how much I believe in the front. You know how much I believe it’s a big man’s game and [coach] Ron [Rivera] is right there with me.”

So whether Short and the Panthers can agree on a long-term deal or not, in the short term, they’ve added a potential difference-maker inside, who will work with Short and Star Lotulelei and veteran Paul Soliai to give the Panthers one of the deepest interiors in the game.

“If you look at the Super Bowl teams, the fronts on both sides of the ball are pretty damn good. You aren’t getting there with a crappy front on either side of the ball. At some point in time, you’re going to get caught,” Gettleman said. “You can fool people for a while, but when you get into the playoffs, it’s a whole different game.

“If you can believe it — it’s faster, it’s quicker, it’s more violent, it’s all those things. And if you don’t have big, powerful men on both sides of the ball, you’re gonna go home. You’re gonna go home sad.”

But by drafting Butler, Gettleman also gave himself some cover in case his discussions about money with Short leaves someone disappointed — which is likely to be Short since Gettleman has dug in about his perception of value.

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Laremy Tunsil isn’t guaranteed a starting job (but it’ll be a surprise if he doesn’t earn one)

laremy-tunsil-043016-getty-ftrjpg_eew1er5nb0st195g0tzwlft07 Getty Images

The Dolphins plan to use tackle Laremy Tunsil at guard this year, since they already have a pair of starting tackles. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that Tunsil will be a starting guard.

Andrew Abramson of the Palm Beach Post explains that Tunsil hasn’t been guaranteed a starting job.

“That’s how we’re rolling. You have to earn your spot,” coach Adam Gase said regarding Tunsil, via Abramson. “I don’t think you’ve really seen anybody get plugged in and get anointed anything. Everybody is battling. That’s what we want. We want competition and we want guys to earn their spots.”

It’s a good approach. Rookies who get handed things often struggle to justify themselves. Forcing a rookie to work his way up the depth chart removes the sense of entitlement, and also can give the player a sense of confidence — as long as he believes that the competition he won was genuine.

Tunsil should be able to win a genuine competition with Dallas Thomas, who wasn’t good last year. If Tunsil can’t fairly and squarely beat out Thomas, the Dolphins and Tunsil may have a real problem.

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Seahawks excited by their options in the running game this season

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - DECEMBER 6:  Darrell Bevell congratulates Doug Baldwin #89 of the Seattle Seahawks after scoring a touchdown in the fourth quarter on December 6, 2015 at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Adam Bettcher/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Seahawks got a glimpse of life without Marshawn Lynch last year, and offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell admitted it was going to be “different” without the enigmatic and retired running back.

But that’s not to say they’re not excited about the possibilities.

“He’s such a great player, but toward the end of the year last year we didn’t have him, as well,” Bevell said, via Gregg Bell of the Tacoma News Tribune. “But we have so many more pieces now.”

Thomas Rawls ran well in Lynch’s stead last year, and when he returns from a broken ankle he’ll likely resume the bell-cow role in the backfield. But Bevell was high on the fleet of newcomers, including the three draft picks at the position as the Seahawks reloaded.

Coach Pete Carroll said the team had “a big plan” for third-rounder C.J. Prosise, and the early returns on Alex Collins and Zac Brooks are positive as well.

“The running back thing, as young as it is, it’s going to be a great spot to watch,” Carroll said. “There’s a lot of diversity there in the styles that the guys bring. I’m really excited about that one.”

Of course, the progress quarterback Russell Wilson made running a more well-rounded offense last year will probably be the biggest factor for the Seahawks this year, but they’ll still need to run, and they think they’ll be able to do it differently.

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Matt Ryan using mirror to brush up on his footwork

ATLANTA, GA - NOVEMBER 01:  Matt Ryan #2 of the Atlanta Falcons reacts to a play during the second half against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at the Georgia Dome on November 1, 2015 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images) Getty Images

Mirror, mirror on the wall, who has room for improvement on his footwork before the fall?

Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan, for one.

Ryan believes that the Falcons offense will be more effective in its second year under offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan because they have a higher comfort level in the scheme, but he’s doing what he can to clean up his own game ahead of the 2016 season. One area he’s focused on is his footwork and he’s using a low-tech method to help him get his timing down.

“Simple things like getting in front of a mirror, trying to get your feet into position to be able to drive the ball the way we want to and the timing of the play,” Ryan said, via the team’s website.

The Falcons started 6-1 last season, but slumped to an 8-8 record with Ryan throwing 10 of his 16 interceptions over their nine-game slide to close the year. In addition to his work with his mirror, Ryan also organized workouts with his receivers early in the offseason and anything that leads to better results this time around will be time well spent.

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Thursday morning one-liners

CHARLOTTE, NC - DECEMBER 13:  Head coach Dan Quinn of the Atlanta Falcons  looks up at the scoreboard during the fourth quarter of their game against the Carolina Panthers at Bank of America Stadium on December 13, 2015 in Charlotte, North Carolina. The Panthers won 38-0.  (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Bills are expanding their television presence in Buffalo.

Dolphins first-round OT Laremy Tunsil isn’t guaranteed a starting job.

Patriots K Stephen Gostkowski is set to appear on the television mystery “American Gothic.”

The Jets couldn’t find a match for a joint workout this year, but thought about it.

Taking a look at the Ravens RB situation.

Bengals WR Jake Kumerow has made a good impression.

Former Browns RB Earnest Byner said the Cavaliers’ championship helped him “heal.”

Steelers rookie CB Artie Burns knows he has to learn in a hurry.

Will the Texans’ additions of speed players fix their offensive problems?

Former Colts QB Matt Hasselbeck is selling his Indiana home (he should have installed a revolving door in it for last year’s backups).

The Jaguars upgraded several spots this offseason, but was it enough?

Titans RB Antonio Andrews isn’t backing down from competition.

When he isn’t negotiating through the media, Broncos OLB Von Miller is working his youth camp.

Taking a look at the possible 53-man roster for the Chiefs.

The Raiders think they have the potential for a top CB pairing.

Chargers S Darrell Stuckey loves going back home to teach football.

Cowboys CB Orlando Scandrick is trying to see his knee injury in a positive light.

Giants DE Owa Odighizuwa wants to learn from Justin Tuck.

Eagles long snapper Jon Dorenbos wowed the judges on “America’s Got Talent.”

Washington has a decided lack of drama going into training camp, which is a good thing.

Bears coach John Fox was satisfied with his team’s progress this offseason.

Lions QB Matthew Stafford’s wife will judge the team’s cheerleader tryouts.

Packers OLB Jayrone Elliott took a 220 mph ride — with Mario Andretti.

The new Vikings stadium is going to have many, many beers on hand.

Falcons coach Dan Quinn and some players are going to Guam on a USO tour.

Panthers QB Cam Newton hanging out with a supermodel, the usual.

Former Saints WR Marques Colston has found a job.

The Buccaneers should skew young this season.

Cardinals G.M. Steve Keim said the roster is competitive enough that players “can’t have a bad day.”

The Rams have a top-10 set of top-three defenders.

The 49ers lead the league in one thing — available cap room.

Taking a look at how the Seahawks draft class looks so far.

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Raiders see DeAndre Washington as an every-down back

LUBBOCK, TX - NOVEMBER 14: DeAndre Washington #21 of the Texas Tech Red Raiders carries the ball during the first quarter against the Kansas State Wildcats on November 14, 2015 at Jones AT&T Stadium in Lubbock, Texas. Texas Tech won the game 59-44. (Photo by John Weast/Getty Images) Getty Images

As a fifth-round draft pick, Raiders rookie running back DeAndre Washington isn’t guaranteed a roster spot. But a month before training camp, the Raiders think Washington can make a big impact on their offense.

Raiders offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave says Washington, who ran for 1,492 yards and added 385 receiving yards last year at Texas Tech, can be an every-down back in the Raiders’ offense.

“He’s really worked well for us thus far,” Musgrave said, via the East Bay Times. “So we’re putting him in different situations to get a feel for he’s strengths and how we can tailor plays, tailor situations so he can really flash for us. He’s going to be good in first, second or third down.”

Washington said he isn’t sure what his role will be.

“Right now, I’m just working, just competing,” Washington said. “I think we’ll worry about that down the line, but right now we’re just working and working every day to get better.”

Latavius Murray is entrenched as the starter in Oakland, but Washington may get significant playing time as the No. 2 running back, and play a bigger role than usual for a fifth-round rookie.

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For the Cardinals, going back to 0-0 won’t be easy

CHARLOTTE, NC - JANUARY 24:  Patrick Peterson #21 of the Arizona Cardinals reacts in the second half against the Carolina Panthers during the NFC Championship Game at Bank of America Stadium on January 24, 2016 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images) Getty Images

It’s one thing to forget about a devastating loss in a conference championship game. It’s another to reset the record to 0-0 and start the climb back to the latter stages of the postseason all over.

“Well, you know, that’s a very, very hard part, that’s very tough,” Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson said on Wednesday’s PFT Live on NBC Sports Radio. “But at the end of the day 31 other teams have to do it, too, and that’s the way I look at it. At the end of the day it wasn’t our time to be Super Bowl champs. Denver was the chosen team and they were the better team throughout the 2015 season. Now we have to find something within ourselves to make sure that we’re the better team coming into 2016, because like coach always says, talent’s not the issue.”

So what’s the issue?

“Now it’s all about staying healthy, it’s all about being accountable to the guy next to you, and that’s the toughest part,” Peterson said. “You know, staying healthy and being accountable for such a long season and I think that we have the guys here that had that taste of success and that they want it even more. I believe we definitely have what it takes to get back there. It’s just all about accountability, trust, loyalty and respect.”

There’s that three-word T-shirt slogan again, which on the surface is nearly as hokey as Buffalo’s “All In” but which can help a team of sufficiently talented players come together and achieve greatness.

The full interview with Peterson, including plenty of stuff that didn’t make it to the radio broadcast due to time constraints appears below. You also can hear (and see) plenty more from Peterson and the rest of the Cardinals on July 1, when all eight episodes of All or Nothing debut on Amazon.com.

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Khairi Fortt hoping to take advantage of chance with Seahawks

ST. LOUIS, MO - AUGUST 8: Khairi Fortt #54 of the New Orleans Saints warms up prior to a pre-season game against the St. Louis Rams at the Edward Jones Dome on August 8, 2013 in St. Louis, Missouri.  (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images) Getty Images

A fourth-round draft pick of the New Orleans Saints in 2014, linebacker Khairi Fortt bounced between three different teams and played in just three regular season games before finding himself out of a job last season.

Fortt is now trying to take advantage of another opportunity to play NFL with the Seattle Seahawks.

According to John Nash of the Stamford Advocate, Fortt isn’t taking this chance for granted.

I’m forever grateful to get this opportunity,” Fortt said. “It’s going to be great to be out there with a great group of guys and a coach who cares about his players more than the sport itself. That’s really what I love about the team and the environment around it.”

Seattle signed Fortt in May after undrafted free agent linebacker Christian French suffered an injury in practice and landed on injured reserve. Fortt has been limited in practice as well throughout OTAs and mini-camp due to a sore Achilles.

Fortt was placed on the reserve/designated to return injured list by the Saints at the conclusion of training camp in 2014. However, the Saints dumped him due to missing multiple team meetings and he never suited up in a regular season game for the franchise. After a stint on the Cincinnati Bengals’ practice squad, Fortt was signed the Jacksonville Jaguars active roster and appeared in three games.

Fortt believes he can still live up to the potential the Saints saw in him when they selected him in the second round out of California in 2014.

“I envision myself becoming a Pro Bowler and I have to take the necessary steps to do that,” Fortt said. “One step is getting back on the football field, not feeling sorry for myself and just going out there and putting in the effort to reach those milestones.”

Fortt has an uphill climb to make Seattle’s roster but few teams are as open to long shots making their roster and contributing as the Seahawks.

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