Malcolm Mitchell’s availability appears up in the air

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Malcolm Mitchell‘s spot on the roster appears safe, but when can the Patriots count on him to play? That’s a question that even they might not be able to answer yet.

Mitchell continues to manage right knee issues, according to Mike Reiss of ESPN. Mitchell missed practice for a second consecutive day and isn’t expected to play in Friday’s preseason game against Detroit. It creates uncertainty about his availability for the Sept. 7 season opener.

Mitchell, caught six passes for 70 yards in the the Patriots’ Super Bowl comeback, missed all of the spring. He was limited in training camp, spending more time rehabbing than practicing, and missed the preseason opener.

The 2016 fourth-round draft pick returned to team drills Aug. 14, but during 15 snaps in Saturday’s game against Houston when he made two catches for 13 yards, he appeared to tweak his knee. He has missed time since.

The Patriots have plenty of receiver depth with Julian Edelman, Brandin Cooks, Chris Hogan and Danny Amendola as well as special teams captain Matthew Slater, who occasionally takes reps at the position. But Mitchell’s availability remains a “moving target,” as Reiss puts it.

Hue Jackson: I owe it to team to give DeShone Kizer this shot

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Browns coach Hue Jackson said in a statement announcing that DeShone Kizer will start at quarterback against the Buccaneers on Saturday that Kizer is “certainly positioning himself” to be the team’s quarterback in Week One as well.

During a press conference on Wednesday, Jackson didn’t go any further than that when it came to Kizer’s status but agreed that Kizer would probably have to be a total flop against Tampa in order for the team to turn in a different direction against the Steelers to open the year.

Jackson said that Kizer has come a long way over the last month of practice and “keeps passing every test.” As a result, he feels he owes it to the entire team to give Kizer this opportunity to start because he feels Kizer could give the team their best chance to win.

“There’s nothing in my mind that says he’s not going to do well,” Jackson said. “I expect him to do well, the organization expects him to do well and his teammates expect him to do well.”

Jackson also confirmed that Brock Osweiler will not play against the Buccaneers because Jackson wants to look at younger players and said that he expects Osweiler to be part of the team during the regular season. If all goes according to plan and hope with Kizer, that would only be in a backup role.

Talk in Jacksonville that Jaguars may look to trade Allen Hurns

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A year ago, the Jaguars were so high on wide receiver Allen Hurns that they signed him to a four-year, $40 million contract extension. This year, the team’s view of Hurns appears to have changed.

There’s talk in Jacksonville that Hurns could be traded, with Jaguars beat writer Ryan O’Hallaran guessing that’s what the team wants to do.

An undrafted rookie in 2014, Hurns had a breakout season in 2015, catching 64 passes for 1,031 yards and 10 touchdowns. But last year his production declined significantly, and new Jaguars boss Tom Coughlin may think the team erred in giving Hurns such a big contract after just two seasons.

Hurns is due a base salary of $7 million this season, and it remains to be seen whether any team wants to trade for that salary. Hurns hasn’t played yet in the preseason, perhaps because the Jaguars want to keep him healthy and attractive to potential trade partners.

Jordan Reed, Junior Galette are back on the practice field

AP

Tight end Jordan Reed got his first practice of the summer in on Wednesday and another Redskins player resumed practicing after a shorter layoff.

Linebacker Junior Galette went through practice for the first time since injuring his hamstring before the team’s first preseason game. Galette is trying to make it back into action after tearing his Achilles in each of the last two seasons.

Coach Jay Gruden said after practice, via J.P. Finley of CSN Mid-Atlantic, that there is a “fine line” to straddle when it comes to letting Galette loose in a preseason game. On the one hand, it has been a long time since Galette played in a game while they also want to keep him healthy, especially after losing Trent Murphy for the season to a torn ACL.

Reed’s game status is also unknown, but the team will likely slant more toward caution for a player who hasn’t missed the same amount of time as Galette but has shown a propensity for getting hurt. That includes the toe injury that landed Reed on the PUP list to open camp this summer. Reed remained on that list until last Sunday, when he was activated and cleared to resume practicing with the team.

Devonta Freeman running full speed, but won’t play Saturday

AP

Devonta Freeman is back to full speed, but he’s not ready to take the field yet.

The Falcons running back remains in the concussion protocol, and coach Dan Quinn said he would not be available this weekend when the Falcons open their new stadium against the Cardinals.

“He has a visit with the independent part of the protocol coming up here soon,” Quinn said, via D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “He won’t play in this ball game. He won’t practice today. He’s back up to full speed running. But it’s soon that he’ll be back to full speed in practice. But you won’t see him suited up this weekend.”

Freeman’s been out since Aug. 13, when he left practice with what was initially termed a heat-related issue. That was a week after he signed a contract extension that made him the highest-paid back in the league (at least until Le'Veon Bell shows up in Pittsburgh and signs his franchise tender).

Freeman will have to be cleared by an independent neurologist before he can return to action.

Bucs have heart-to-heart about social issues, national anthem

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Dirk Koetter turned a 20-minute team meeting Tuesday into a discussion about social issues and players’ stance in regard to the national anthem. Gerald McCoy and Clinton McDonald were among the players who spoke up, according to Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times.

Koetter brought it up a day after several Browns players knelt during the anthem Monday night.

“My personal view is I’ll be standing on the 50-yard line with my hand over my heart,” Koetter said, via Stroud. “That’s what I believe in. You got plenty of guys that believe in that but again, we’re not all the same.”

Bucs players said they were given no directives about what to do during the anthem.

“Coach opened it up about the national anthem and guys protesting and sitting down, letting us know that we can do what we want,” cornerback Vernon Hargreaves said. “He let us know how he felt, and then he opened up the whole team room to anyone who had anything to say: Stand up and preach your opinion.”

Tampa Bay’s three professional sports teams — the Bucs, Rays and Lightning — jointly announced a donation to help publicly fund the relocation of a Confederate statue to a private cemetery.

“This issue we’re dealing with in the world is bigger than football, it’s bigger than sports, and guys are trying to make stands,” McCoy said. “The thing I like about Dirk is he lets everybody be individuals. He lets you be you. And he opened for discussion, ‘Hey, if anybody has an opinion, let’s talk about it.’ And that’s the problem with society now. Everybody wants to get mad and fight. Immediately, everybody wants to fight. Nobody wants to talk about the situation no more because you don’t even know why a person thinks the way they think or feels the way they feel and they know how you feel. We just don’t have conversations and talk anymore as a society and that’s the problem, man.”

Saints sign Bryan Braman

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The Saints made a move Wednesday to bolster their linebacking corps and special teams units.

The agent for Bryan Braman announced, via multiple reports, that his client has signed with the Saints.

Braman spent the last three years with the Eagles and saw action in every game the team played over that span. He didn’t see much of that time on defense, but was on the field for most of the team’s special teams snaps. That was also the case during the first three years of Braman’s career when he was a member of the Texans and figures to be his path to playing time in New Orleans.

Saints coach Sean Payton also announced Wednesday that the team has signed defensive back Elijah Mitchell and waived center Jack Allen with an injury designation.

Browns sign DB Christian Bryant

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The Browns said good-bye to one Bryant on Tuesday. They welcomed another Wednesday.

Cleveland signed defensive back Christian Bryant, the team announced a day after releasing veteran defensive lineman Desmond Bryant.

Bryant officially is in his second NFL season out of Ohio State. The Rams originally selected him in the seventh round of the 2014 draft.

He has appeared in 12 career games, seeing action in nine games with the Rams in 2015 and three games with the Cardinals in 2016.

Bryant is a native of Cleveland, attending Glenville High School.
 

Robert Nkemdiche out this week with calf injury

AP

Cardinals defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche got praised by head coach Bruce Arians at the start of training camp and followed that up by playing well in each of the team’s third preseason games, but the 2016 first-round pick’s development heading into his second season hit a snag this week.

Nkemdiche left practice on Tuesday with a calf injury and Arians said on Wednesday that Nkemdiche will not play against the Falcons on Saturday night. Nkemdiche, who will be in a protective boot “for a minute,” was called day-to-day in terms of when he might return.

That’s a more positive outlook than Mike Jurecki of Arizona Sports 98.7 reported earlier in the day. Per Jurecki’s report, Nkemdiche is expected to miss 2-3 weeks, which would obviously leave him questionable to play in the season opener against the Lions if that’s how it plays out.

It will be something to watch as Week One draws closer as the Cardinals are looking for a big jump from Nkemdiche with Calais Campbell no longer anchoring their defensive front.

Hank Aaron thinks Colin Kaepernick is getting a “raw deal”

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Before he’d break baseball’s all-time home run record, Hank Aaron had to begin his career in the Negro Leagues, and he endured hatred and racism throughout his Major League career.

And with that as context, he thinks Colin Kaepernick is being treated rather unfairly.

During an interview with Roland Martin on The Tom Joyner Show, Aaron said Kaepernick was “getting a raw deal,” from NFL owners in the wake of last year’s national anthem protests.

“I wish somebody would open up and give him a chance,” Aaron said.

Aaron said he appreciated seeing the Browns’ group protest and others, but wishes more players would come to bat for the former 49ers quarterback.

“I’d love to see some other players stand up,” Aaron said. “I think it would help him.”

While some players have risen to Kaepernick’s defense, it’s going to fall on a group of owners who have been so far unwilling to take a chance. And even with teams such as the Ravens and Seahawks showing some degree of interest, no one has been willing to do that yet.

Marty Mornhinweg: We think we know when Joe Flacco will be back

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When Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco‘s back injury first came to light, Flacco downplayed the severity of it and said that he hoped he would be back on the field in a week.

It’s been a lot more than a week since he said that and the clearest answer about when Flacco will return to football activities came last week when the team said that they plan to have Flacco in the lineup for the first week of the regular season. Offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg’s answer when asked about a return date on Wednesday didn’t veer from that plan, but it didn’t clear anything up either.

“I think I know,” Mornhinweg said, via ESPN.com. “At least, Joe thinks he knows when this will happen. So that way, I think I know. So, we think we know. Look it, if it’s before that or a little bit before — it probably not going to be much before — or a little bit after, we’ll adjust the plan. As long he’s back in a reasonable amount of time to prepare, I think we’ll just be fine there.”

Ryan Mallett hasn’t played well in the preseason, but that hasn’t intensified the Ravens’ hunt for more quarterback help. That suggests they have a pretty strong level of confidence that they’ll have Flacco for the first week of the regular season. Or that they think they do.

49ers add Sen’Derrick Marks

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As the 49ers try to turn around a team that won only two games in 2016, they’ve added a veteran who has accomplished plenty during his career.

The 49ers has announced a one-year deal with defensive lineman Sen'Derrick Marks. A second-round pick in 2009, Marks spent four years with the Titans before joining the Jaguars. Jacksonville cut him on March 9.

Marks has appeared in 103 games, with 61 starts. He has 19 career sacks and five forced fumbles.

He’s the latest new arrival in an extensive overhaul launched by new G.M. John Lynch and new coach Kyle Shanahan. And Marks has roughly 10 days to secure a spot on the 53-man roster.

Saints expecting to play Drew Brees and Adrian Peterson this week

AP

The Saints are going to look a little more like the Saints this week, even if it’s only for a little while.

Saints coach Sean Payton said they were likely to play quarterback Drew Brees, running backs Adrian Peterson and Mark Ingram, and defensive end Cameron Jordan in Saturday’s preseason game.

None of those guys played the first two games, and Peterson hasn’t played in the preseason at all since 2013.

I’m sure we’re gonna want to see them play some,” Payton said, via Mike Triplett of ESPN.com. “How much, we’ll see,”

They’re also hoping to see center Mx Unger either this week or next, or perhaps both. Unger has just returned after offseason foot surgery.

Having those guys on the field will give a better indication of what the Saints are actually going to look like this season, as the balancing act of Peterson and Ingram’s one of the more interesting subplots this year.

Romo “anxious and excited” for TV debut

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Tony Romo’s first stint as a network-TV broadcaster comes at the same location of his biggest network-televised gaffe.

More than 10 years ago, Romo’s botched hold of a field goal try in Seattle cost the Cowboys a playoff win, and helped propel Bill Parcells into permanent retirement. Now retired himself (but maybe not permanently), Romo returns to Seattle for his debut as the No. 1 analyst at CBS.

I’m anxious and excited,” Romo said regarding Friday night’s Chiefs-Seahawks game, via the Dallas Morning News. “It’s like my first start in the NFL. I want to see if I’m good enough.”

At every turn, CBS has set the bar ridiculously high for Romo. From the clumsy manner in which Phil Simms was kicked to the curb to the endless flow of Romo superlatives, the former Cowboys quarterback will have to be absolutely great to be deemed “good enough” under the standard CBS has set.

It will help that he’s working with Jim Nantz, who manages to remain smooth and calm in the eye of whatever storm blows his way. On Friday night, Romo and Nantz will get a peek at the storm of scrutiny that could be looming for every game the duo works in 2017.

Katie Sowers becomes the NFL’s first openly gay coach

49ers.com

Katie Sowers became the second woman to have a full-time NFL coaching gig last month when the 49ers added her to their staff as an offensive assistant. She has also become the NFL’s first openly gay coach.

Sowers told Outsports she thought it would be helpful to others for her to make her sexual orientation public.

“There are so many people who identify as LGBT in the NFL, as in any business, that do not feel comfortable being public about their sexual orientation,” she said. “The more we can create an environment that welcomes all types of people, no matter their race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, the more we can help ease the pain and burden that many carry every day.”

An offensive assistant with the 49ers’ receivers who spent last year as an intern with the Falcons, Sowers is the first openly gay coach not only in the NFL, but in any major American men’s professional team sport.