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Paul Ryan visits Browns practice

Paul Ryan, Condoleezza Rice AP

On Tuesday, Jimmy Haslam officially became the new owner of the Browns.  On Wednesday, Haslam dipped his toe into a potential political morass by inviting Republican Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan to practice.

According to multiple media reports, Ryan and former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (a big Browns fan) are present for the first official day of Browns practice in the Haslam regime.

Haslam has every right to invite whoever he wants to practice, but there may be some Browns fans who also are Democrats who are put off by the overlap between partisan politics and football.  Indeed, plenty of Republicans who are Browns fans would chafe at the presence of Barack Obama or Joe Biden or other prominent Democrats at practice.

The issue takes on a higher profile given that, by all appearances, Ohio is the only state in which voting will be conducted next month.

It remains to be seen whether Ryan challenged any of the Browns players to a footrace.

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Report: Hernandez expected to play in limited role Sunday

Aaron Hernandez Pic Getty Images

The Week Six availability of Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez, who is listed as questionable with an ankle injury, has been an ongoing mystery all week. Until now.

Greg Bedard of the Boston Globe reports that Hernandez is expected to be active for Sunday’s game against the Seattle Seahawks, but he’ll likely play in a limited role.

Per Bedard, the specifics of Hernandez’s role will be determined “based on how he feels on Sunday,” although he’ll likely be a platoon-type tight end, perhaps rotating with Daniel Fells behind Rob Gronkowski.

Bedard suggests Hernandez might only play 15-20 snaps.

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Aaron Hernandez’s Week Six status remains a mystery

Aaron Hernandez Pic Getty Images

The New England Patriots have been vague and noncommittal on the Week Seven availability of tight end Aaron Hernandez, who’s been sidelined since Week Two with a high ankle sprain. The Patriots are vague and noncommittal without fail when it comes to injury situations, so this is no departure from their standard operating procedure.

Hernandez is listed as questionable on the Week Six injury report. He was limited in Wednesday and Thursday’s practices, but did not practice on Friday.

According to Jeff Howe of the Boston Herald, though, Hernandez’s travel bag was all packed up on Friday to make the team flight to Seattle for Sunday’s clash with the Seahawks. Howe suggests Hernandez was held out of Friday’s practice because the Patriots’ practice field was wet, and he’s trying to come back from a tricky ankle injury.

Howe also surmises that Hernandez could be available for a limited role at Seattle.

We’ll have more updates in Hernandez on Sunday. For now, it looks like his status could go either way. The Patriots may not decide whether to let Hernandez play until a pre-game workout to see how he’s getting around.

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Report: Mendenhall’s Achilles’ just got “tight,” injury “minor”

Rashard Mendenhall Pic Getty Images

The outlook for players who exit games due to injury and do not return is often ominous. Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall exited Thursday night’s game against the Titans with an Achilles’ injury, and did not return.

Mendenhall was in just his second game back returning from reconstructive knee surgery, however, and it appears the Steelers were being cautious with him. Citing a person who’s spoken to Pittsburgh’s running back, Ian Rapoport of NFL Network reports Mendenhall’s Achilles’ injury is “minor,” and just “tightened up” on Thursday night.

Per Rapoport, Mendenhall’s status for Week Seven will be determined by how his Achilles’ responds over the weekend. The ten-day layoff between Pittsburgh’s Week Six and Seven games should theoretically bode well for Mendenhall’s chances of avoiding missed time.

The Steelers play the division rival Bengals next.

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As Rams put on the pads, who’s running the defense?

Father-and-Son

With defensive coordinator Gregg Williams suspended indefinitely and no other person holding the title even on an interim basis and with the Rams putting on the pads Sunday for the first time in the Jeff Fisher era, an important question remains.

Who’s running the defense?

The coaching staff has three men who have held the “defensive coordinator” title at the NFL level:  Fisher, assistant head coach Dave McGinnis, and secondary coach Chuck Cecil.

But the defense being installed is the Gregg Williams defense.  So who’s in best position to actually implement it?

It’s possibly linebackers coach Blake Williams.  As in the son of Gregg Williams.

Linebacker James Laurinaitis recently explained that, to date, it’s been a committee approach when it comes to coaching the defense.  But the only coach Laurinaitis mentioned by name was Blake Williams.

“A different [day] in practice it’ll be a different guy calling the plays,” Laurinaitis told 92.3 The Fan in Cleveland, via SportsRadioInterviews.com.  “We have Blake Williams, Gregg Williams’ son, and he kind of grew up in this defense.  It’s safe to say that on some of the modifications of Gregg Williams’ defense over the years has been because of Blake and his intelligence.”

And here’s where a cynic would wonder, as some in league circles have, whether Blake Williams will be serving as a surrogate for Gregg Williams in 2012.  Yeah, Gregg Williams is suspended and he can’t talk to anyone from the team.  But he surely can talk to his own son — and unless the league office will be monitoring those communications, Gregg Williams can share thoughts with his son regarding how his son is doing his job.

In theory, father and son also can get together from time to time.  Dinner, for example, once or twice a week.  Absent supervision from 345 Park Avenue, what’s to keep them from working to put together a game plan for the upcoming game?

We’re not saying it will happen.  And we take no position on whether it would be justified by the league’s arguable overreaction to the Saints’ pay-for-performance system.

The point is that, with no one identified as the interim defensive coordinator and with the son of the defensive coordinator on the coaching staff, the Rams (if everyone is discreet) can still find a way to get the benefit of Gregg Williams’ insights, ideas, and strategies.

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Cris Carter: “I can’t blame the NFL for every issue that every former player has”

2-4-11-Cris-Carter-250x200 Getty Images

During the first installment in a five-part series of ESPN’s Outside The Lines, former NFL receiver Cris Carter made a point that will continue to echo through the months and years in which the concussion litigation unfolds.

“I can’t blame the NFL for every issue that every former player in the NFL has,” Carter said.

That’s the challenge, ultimately.  If liability exists for concealing evidence regarding concussion risks or failing to take steps to protect players, it’s important that only those players whose circumstances trace to injuries associated with that liability share in the settlement or verdict.

It’s highly unlikely that Carter will ever join the growing throng of concussions plaintiffs.  He says he may have had one concussion, and that, for the most part, “I was trying to avoid contact.”

Carter also repeated something that applies to former and current players:  “I signed up to be in the NFL.  It wasn’t like someone had to force me.  I kinda knew what I was signing up for.”

And he tried to sign up for it even before he was old enough to do it.

“I doctored up my birth certificate when I was seven years old.  They told me to come back in a year,” Carter said.  “I was born to play the game.  A lot of us were born to play the game.  Make the game safer, because there’s a lot of other kids who are born to play the game, also.”

I probably have agreed with Carter as many times as Carter has had concussions, but I agree with everything he said today.  If you do, or if you don’t, sound off in the comments.

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Julius Thomas undergoes ankle surgery

Richard Smith, Julius Thomas AP

Broncos fourth-round pick Julius Thomas, a basketball player turned tight end, struggled to get on the field during his rookie season. With Denver adding Jacob Tamme and Joel Dreessen at his position this offseason, Thomas is facing long odds for playing time in 2012.

Thomas hit another roadblock last week when he underwent surgery to repair ligaments in his ankle, according to Jeff Legwold of the Denver Post. The surgery figures to sideline, or at least limit Thomas during post-draft Organized Team Activities.

Thomas finished his first NFL season with one reception for five yards, appearing in just five games. He should make the Broncos’ 53-man roster, but will be hard pressed for significant snaps.

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Terrance Knighton needs surgery after eye injury

Jacksonville Jaguars v Houston Texans Getty Images

Tania Ganguli of the Florida Times-Union reports that Jaguars defensive tackle Terrance Knighton required eye surgery after an “incident” that occurred early Sunday morning. Per Ganguli, Knighton sustained the injury at a Jacksonville nightclub.

Further details are unavailable.

Knighton, who’s entering the last year of his rookie contract, has spent the offseason slimming down in an effort to earn a big-money extension. Jaguars G.M. Gene Smith has assured Knighton that he’ll be “set for life” if he gets his conditioning under control and plays to the level the club expects.

The eye injury is an obstacle Knighton will now have to overcome in his pursuit of a long-term deal.

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Healthy Tannehill to run forty-yard dash at Pro Day

Ryan Tannehill AP

Quarterback prospect Ryan Tannehill will hold his personal Pro Day Thursday on Texas A&M’s school campus. Per CBS Sports’ Dane Brugler, Tannehill will run the forty-yard dash, which should allay most remaining concerns about his January foot surgery.

Tannehill had the fifth metatarsal in his foot surgically repaired in late January.

Tannehill’s workout will begin at 10:30 a.m. Thursday. The forty will be the only timing-based drill in which Tannehill participates. He’ll then throw for “approximately 30-45 minutes,” per Brugler. Texas A&M wide receiver Jeff Fuller and running back Cyrus Gray will catch passes during Tannehill’s throwing session.

Though opinions of Tannehill are mixed around the draftnik community, Tannehill is highly regarded by NFL evaluators for his ideal size, strong arm, plus athleticism, and elite ability to make throws on the run.

He could go as high as No. 4 to the Browns, and isn’t expected to get past the Dolphins at No. 8. New Fins offensive coordinator Mike Sherman was Tannehill’s head coach in college.

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Top cornerback prospect Claiborne needs wrist surgery

Morris Claiborne AP

Morris Claiborne of LSU is the consensus top cornerback in the 2012 draft. An unexpected medical issue may give some teams pause about drafting him in the top five.

According to the New Orleans Times-Picayune, Claiborne revealed after the Tigers’ Thursday Pro Day that he will undergo wrist surgery on Friday. The procedure will repair a torn ligament in Claiborne’s left wrist.

He suffered the injury in LSU’s 9-6 regular-season overtime win against Alabama, but played through torn ligament the rest of the way. Claiborne had an interception against the Crimson Tide, and two more in the Tigers’ final five games.

Assuming the surgery isn’t serious, we ultimately wouldn’t expect Claiborne’s draft stock to be affected. Claiborne was the No. 4 overall pick in PFT’s first 2012 mock draft.

In other Claiborne news, he ran a 4.39 at LSU’s Pro Day, which was a big improvement on his 4.50 from last month’s Scouting Combine.

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Report: Logan Mankins played Super Bowl through torn ACL

Tom Brady AP

Mike Reiss of ESPN Boston reports Patriots All-Pro guard Logan Mankins is recovering from ACL surgery, after apparently tearing the knee ligament during New England’s Super Bowl XLVI loss to the New York Giants.

One source told Reiss that Mankins played through a torn ACL “without realizing it.”

In order to protect themselves against Mankins potentially missing the start of the 2012 season, the Patriots signed Robert Gallery on Monday.

It’s worth noting that Mankins was on the Patriots’ injury report throughout the playoffs after suffering what was then believed to be a sprained left MCL in Week Sixteen versus the Dolphins. Mankins sat out Week Seventeen, but he returned for the postseason.

Reiss’ report indicates that Mankins’ injury didn’t occur until an early hit in Super Bowl XLVI, but it doesn’t rule out the possibility that Mankins might have played all three of New England’s playoff games through an undiagnosed ACL tear.

Regardless, Mankins will miss all of the Patriots’ offseason program. While he “hopes” to be ready for training camp, the lateness of the injury and subsequent reconstructive surgery certainly jeopardizes that timeline.

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Arizona State’s Osweiler claims he has sprained foot

Arizona v Arizona State Getty Images

Brock Osweiler of Arizona State is not considered an elite quarterback prospect like Robert Griffin III or Andrew Luck, so he stood to benefit from participation in passing and athletic drills at this year’s Scouting Combine.

Osweiler is not participating, however, and he told reporters Saturday that it’s because of a sprained foot.

Osweiler alleges that the foot injury occurred during the Sun Devils’ Las Vegas Bowl loss to Boise State, according to Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic. This is the first we’ve heard of the injury.

Quarterbacks were permitted to bench press on Saturday, and Osweiler didn’t take part. He’s not going through a single drill in Indianapolis, not even the ones in which his performance would be affected in no way by the supposed foot ailment.

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Stanford wideout Owusu medically cleared after college concussions

Chris Owusu, Johnny Williams AP

Stanford wideout/return specialist Chris Owusu entered his senior season with second-day draft grades from NFL scouts, but suffered two concussions in 2011 and did not play in Stanford’s final four games. He suffered a previous concussion late in his junior year.

Owusu’s agent, Steve Caric of Caric Sports Management, revealed to PFT on Thursday that Owusu has been medically cleared to continue his football career. Owusu received a Combine invite and will participate fully with the wide receiver group in Indianapolis.

Per Caric, Owusu has been symptom free since November 6 of 2011, one day after his last concussion. A doctor with the NFL Head, Neck, and Spine Committee has diagnosed Owusu as “perfectly normal” and cleared Owusu “to play football now.” The doctor also determined that Owusu is not at greater risk of concussions due to his history.

Owusu was Andrew Luck’s top wide receiver in 2010. He averaged over 15 yards per reception in his career and returned three kickoffs for touchdowns. At 6-foot and about 200 pounds, Owusu is expected to run a forty time in the 4.3s at the Combine.

NFL teams, of course, will likely look at precedent in these kinds of cases. Like Owusu, Lions tailback Jahvid Best missed the final four games of his college career with a concussion. Best suffered two more concussions in 2011, one during the preseason and the second in Week Six. Best’s season was over.

A healthy Owusu is a top seven or eight receiver in the 2012 draft whose game-breaking return ability could conceivably push him into the top five. Receiving medical clearance from the NFL is the first step toward rehabbing his draft stock.

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Jake Ballard tore his ACL in the Super Bowl

Jake Ballard AP

The Giants are going to need to add a couple of tight ends this offseason.

While the team was wrapping up their dual celebrations in Manhattan and East Rutherford on Tuesday afternoon, they announced that tight end Jake Ballard tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee during the Super Bowl. Ballard was helped off the field and cameras caught him on the sideline as he tried to run, an attempt that ended with a spill into the arms of a member of the team’s medical staff. The team made the announcement via Twitter without any treatment details, but Ballard, who also has a partially torn PCL in his other knee, will have to have surgery and face a long rehab that will keep him out of action for quite a while.

The same is true of Ballard’s fellow tight end Travis Beckum, who also tore an ACL during the victory over the Patriots. Having the injury so late in the year means that the Giants can’t really count on either player for the start of next season. That should make tight end a priority for the champs during free agency and the draft as Bear Pascoe is the only other tight end currently on the roster.

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Giants tight end Travis Beckum tears ACL in Super Bowl

New York Giants Beckum celebrates with fans after they defeated the Green Bay Packers during their NFL NFC Divisional playoff football game in Green Bay Reuters

Giants tight end Travis Beckum tore his right ACL in the first half of Sunday’s Super Bowl game against the Patriots, NBC’s Michele Tafoya reported.

Known for his receiving skills, Beckum managed just five receptions during the regular season, though he’s caught seven balls so far in the postseason.

The Giants will roll with Jake Ballard and Bear Pascoe at the position for the rest of the game.

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