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Archives for: August 29, 2016

Eric Ebron taking recovery slowly, unsure for Week 1

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ALLEN PARK, Mich. — For the past three weeks, Eric Ebron has watched from the sidelines. The Detroit Lions tight end hasn’t practiced. He hasn’t played in games. He has been doing some mentoring of younger tight ends, and that’s about it.

All the while, he has had one thing in his head as he has watched the Lions play without him.

Harbaugh has talked with Kaepernick two or three times over the years and knows him through his brother Jim, who drafted Kaepernick in 2011 and coached him for four seasons with the San Francisco 49ers. He mentioned Kaepernick comes from a great family and was raised the right way, which “reflects in how successful he’s been.”

But Harbaugh said it’s a fine line between standing up for what you believe in and not becoming a distraction to the team. He tells his players that you have to make sure you believe what you say publicly because you have to own it.

“You respect our team, our organization and the other players,” Harbaugh said. “You respect the mission that we’re on and what we’re trying to accomplish. None of us ever want us to detract or disrespect the efforts of all the other players on the football team. That’s the balance that all of us have to strike when we speak out about something like that.”

What’s the best team this year’s salary cap can buy? This is my third year building a roster that answers that very question.

Martin Halloran, the San Francisco Police Officers Association president, sent a letter Monday to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and 49ers CEO Jed York denouncing Kaepernick’s “ill-advised” statements and a “naivete” and “total lack of sensitivity” toward police, along with an “incredible lack of knowledge” about officer-involved shootings.

The police union invited Kaepernick or anyone else from the league to visit the San Francisco police academy to build communication and understanding about the profession.

“I only wish Mr. Kaepernick could see the emotional and psychological challenges that our officers face following a fatal encounter,” Halloran wrote. “Some are so affected they never return to the streets. In short, Mr. Kaepernick has embarrassed himself, the 49er organization, and the NFL based on a false narrative and misinformation that lacks any factual basis.”

Kaepernick, who has sat through the anthem at all three 49ers preseason games so far, is prepared to keep fighting for what he believes in, even alone.

“The fact that it has blown up like this, I think it’s a good thing. It brings awareness,” Kaepernick said Sunday. “Now, I think people are really talking about it. Having conversations about how to make change. What’s really going on in this country. And we can move forward. …There is police brutality. People of color have been targeted by police. So that’s a large part of it and they’re government officials. They are put in place by the government. So that’s something that this country has to change. There’s things we can do to hold them more accountable. Make those standards higher.”

Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy said Monday that he meets with his players every year to discuss the national anthem.

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Dolphins RB Arian Foster turns back clock against Falcons

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ORLANDO, Fla. — Former Pro Bowl running back Arian Foster turned 30 on Wednesday. That usually is an age when players at his position go downhill fast in the NFL.

However, Foster celebrated his birthday by turning back the clock Thursday night and showing the Miami Dolphins — his new team — that he still has more to offer. Foster looked impressive in limited snaps with 30 total yards (10 rushing, 20 receiving), which included a 2-yard touchdown run and a fourth-down reception to move the chains.

Who got hurt: Defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh had a monster first quarter with four tackles. But he suffered an ankle injury and didn’t return. Starting linebacker Jelani Jenkins also suffered an ankle injury in the second quarter, and running back Isaiah Pead injured his hamstring in the third quarter. Backup defensive ends Terrence Fede (knee) and Chris McCain (shoulder) also were injured.

“It’s just a journey,” Michael said. “Being drafted here so high and then going to Dallas and then Redskins and then back here, it’s just an opportunity. It’s just a blessing to even be back here. Most guys, you get rid of them, and they go out of the NFL. But they gave me an opportunity to come back, and I’m just trying to make the best of it. I’m trying not to let these guys down.”

Pete Carroll was asked if he’s ever seen a player show a more dramatic turnaround than Michael.

“This is a really dramatic one,” Carroll said. “He had to go somewhere else. He had to get cut. He had to get released from the practice squad. We were fortunate to get him back, and he comes back with all of the lessons at hand that you could learn, and he learned them.

“He’s turned it around, and it’s a beautiful turnaround for him and for us. I’m thrilled for the kid. He’s playing so confidently right now.”

The Ravens must get down to 53 players by Sept. 3. In terms of wide receiver, there are five players who have earned a spot: Steve Smith Sr., Mike Wallace, Kamar Aiken, Breshad Perriman, and Chris Moore.

This means Reynolds, Campanaro, Jeremy Butler, and Chris Matthews are fighting for one spot or possibly two openings. Reynolds has looked like a practice squad candidate (if he clears waivers) by his slow development as a receiver and return man. What Reynolds has working for him is his versatility.

“As I’ve described before, our returners need to be able to do something more than just be a returner, and he really demonstrated that the other night,” Rosburg said. “He’s improving in his catching skills. You know he can run the ball when he has it, so he continues to develop. Positive progress.”

And most of the time he ends up talking about Goff anyway.

“I’m still batting a thousand,” Keenum said. “Every interview has had Jared Goff come up. I don’t know if that will ever stop. That’s the situation. When I step on the football field, though, all of that goes away.”

Stepping onto the field has become the only time Keenum is actually treated like a starting quarterback. It’ll happen again in Denver on Saturday, when the Los Angeles Rams take on the reigning-champion Denver Broncos at 9 pm ET. Keenum will start and will probably play three or four series. Goff will take over thereafter, taking a handful of snaps with members of the first-team offense before the rest of the backups come in.

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Sean Payton’s fantasy advice on Michael Thomas: ‘Shoot, I’d try to have him’

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As I wrote last week in my Saints WR projections, fantasy owners still need to temper their expectations for Thomas, because he is a rookie and because New Orleans has so many options in the passing game (Brandin Cooks, Willie Snead and Coby Fleener, among others).

But clearly Thomas has a ton of upside.

He took part in limited portions of Dallas’ final two practices in California and has done more the past two days since the team’s return to Texas. The Cowboys’ final practice before heading to Seattle will be Tuesday.

“Well, it’s important for all players to practice and get their work in,” coach Jason Garrett said. “That’s what we would like for everybody on our team, regardless if they’re a first-year player or have played for 15 years, but unfortunately that’s not always the case. Some guys get hurt or for different reasons are not able to practice, so what you do is try to focus on the task at hand and do what you need to do. He’s done a really good job with his rehab getting himself back, staying engaged with the team; he picked things up quickly. He’s had a good couple of days of practice.”

The lack of practice time might hurt in terms of cohesion with the offensive line. The Cowboys’ running game is built on angles and launch points. Elliott has specific reads he must make off the hip of a tight end, tackle or guard.

Perriman doesn’t know why he decided to clip off his signature dreadlocks, which hung below his shoulders. He just woke up one morning and got rid of them.

“I feel much lighter,” Perriman said. “Once I cut it, I weighed myself, and I lost three or four pounds. It was crazy.”

Perriman caused a buzz on Twitter late last month when he posted a picture that showed he had shaved his head and now sported a bald look.

The Ravens hope Perriman’s trim brings similar results to the last time one of their wide receivers said goodbye to his dreadlocks. Before the 2013 season, Torrey Smith went with a shorter hairstyle and produced career numbers. He caught 65 passes that season for 1,128 yards and four touchdowns.

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Broncos DE Vance Walker has torn ACL, likely to miss season

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Jared Crick, a free-agent acquisition from Houston, and rookie Adam Gotsis, the Broncos’ second-round pick out of Georgia Tech, both figure to see increased time at defensive end in the absence of Walker.

Gotsis, the highest-drafted Australian-born player, had his senior season at Georgia Tech cut short by a knee injury but has been having a solid camp.

“He’s getting in better physical condition,” Kubiak said. “I think it took a while, coming off his knee. So you see him improving his physical conditioning and practice. He’s still got a long ways to go. He’s a young player, but obviously we are counting on him big time.”

OXNARD, Calif. — Dallas Cowboys rookie running back Ezekiel Elliott is looking at a possible return to practice as soon as Tuesday as he works his way through a sore hamstring.

Coach Jason Garrett said Elliott could do some individual work in the early portion of Monday’s practice but when the team drills start he would continue to do rehab. In Monday’s walk-through Elliott took the first-team snaps for the first time since getting hurt.

“Just taking his situation day by day,” Garrett said. “He’s closer and closer and we do anticipate him practicing here fairly soon.”

By not practicing Monday, Elliott will miss eight padded practices. The Cowboys are scheduled to practice Tuesday and Wednesday and hold a walk-through Thursday before returning home to take on the Miami Dolphins on Friday at AT&T Stadium.

The French entered Sunday’s play as the second-rated defensive team in the tournament. They certainly haven’t been flowing at the other end like Australia or Serbia, yet managed to make a run at triple digits despite the fact that Parker was forced to watch the whole game from the bench in a white team hoody, held out as a precaution after a toe bruise he suffered Friday night against Venezuela.

Kyrie Irving (12 assists, zero turnovers) was clearly more intent on getting teammates involved Sunday — especially after Durant mustered just four field-goal attempts Friday night against Serbia — while Klay Thompson busted out of his hard-to-believe shooting slump in a vintage Klay way. But we’ve seen precious little progress from the Americans over these past three games, starting with the Australia scare.

That’s the worry.

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Jay Cutler calls the Bears ‘a dumb team’ after repeated training camp fights

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That’s probably the last thing Cutler and his coaches wanted to see. The Bears are already down center Hroniss Grasu, who tore his ACL last week, so they can’t really afford to lose any more offensive linemen — much less, their best one — before the season starts.

“He’s got to be smarter than that,” Cutler said of Long. “We’ve talked to him. He’s better than that. He’s smarter than that. He has come a long way in his years here. I know he’s protecting his teammates and doing everything possible, but some things we just can’t do.”

The banged-up Buffalo Bills can hardly afford to lose another player. Especially at the most important position in sports.

Coach Rex Ryan was nonplussed to see starting passer Tyrod Taylor sacrifice his body on Monday for a practice-session touchdown. Scurrying on a quarterback draw inside the 10-yard line, Taylor “hurdled” two defenders and flipped in midair for the score, per ESPN’s Mike Rodak.

“Are you kidding me?” Ryan later told reporters, according to Rodak. “Please don’t do that. … He’s got to take care of himself.”

Ryan acknowledged that he “literally” held his breath watching Taylor soar through the air. He wasn’t alone:

One teammate yelled, “Ty! What are you doing?!” #Bills

Cleveland Browns

The Browns have made it clear that Robert Griffin III being named the starting quarterback is a beginning, not an end. “I think he gets it,” coach Hue Jackson said. “It’s not a big moment to celebrate. It’s a moment to buckle down and understand the demands of the position.” — Pat McManamon

Pittsburgh Steelers

The Steelers come off a rest day and straight into joint practices with the Lions, and Pittsburgh’s last two first-round picks could use a productive week. Linebacker Bud Dupree and cornerback Artie Burns spent most of last week in street clothes. Dupree has been dealing with a minor groin injury, and Burns has an undisclosed minor injury. Going up against Lions receivers Marvin Jones and Golden Tate in the open field would help Burns bridge the learning curve. He has had a few rough moments covering Antonio Brown, though that’s to be expected. Dupree is eyeing a double-digit sack season and is eager to hit the field. — Jeremy Fowler

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Seating pinch to limit NFL scouting presence at ND-Texas

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While the Alabama-USC game played a role in the crowded seating arrangement, it’s not the first time it’s happened. Bianco said the measure has been necessary for some Texas-Oklahoma games at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas in the past, as well.

Bianco said the stadium press box at UT has seating for 112 people.

For general managers who attend, Texas LB Malik Jefferson will be one of the top attractions. He was the Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year in 2015. As a sophomore this fall, he won’t be eligible to be drafted until 2018 or 2019. Among Notre Dame’s top draft prospects are OT Mike McGlinchey, a fourth-year junior, and RB Tarean Folston, who will make his return from a season-ending knee injury suffered last September.

Buffalo Bills

1-10 percent: LeSean McCoy made it to the Pro Bowl despite running for just 895 yards last season, which made it his fourth, but he will need to produce at least two more dominant seasons like the one he rolled off in 2013 before seriously forming a Hall of Fame case. … Space-eating nose tackles like Kyle Williams don’t do well in Hall voting, unfortunately.

Marcell Dareus is an impactful enough interior disruptor to accrue the sort of sack totals HOF voters will look for, especially among players of this generation, but with one All-Pro nod in five years, he will need a sustained run to push his way into serious consideration. 15 percent

Marcus Mariota’s most impressive attribute through one NFL season has been the nonchalant recognition by teammates and coaches that the Tennessee Titans already boast a bona fide franchise quarterback and special talent as the face of the organization.

Appearing on Friday’s edition of Inside Training Camp Live with Charley Casserly and Rhett Lewis, new Titans running back DeMarco Murray was asked about his first impression of Mariota.

“I just think it’s his release,” Murray said. “His release is by far the fastest I’ve ever seen.”

It’s high praise considering Murray played with Tony Romo, owner of a trigger timed at 0.26 seconds versus Dan Marino’s gold standard of 0.30 seconds. Mariota’s release already rivals those of Romo, Aaron Rodgers and perhaps even Patriots stand-in Jimmy Garoppolo on the lightning-flash scale.

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Fredi Gonzalez should have been fired by the Braves these three other times

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If Gonzalez were given another chance, the 2014 season should have sealed his fate. Coming off the 96 wins and his playoff debacle, his Braves led the NL East for most of April and May. They were tied for first as late as July 20. After a win on July 28, they were 10 games over .500 and holding the top NL wild card spot.

They then lost eight straight.

Things temporarily got back on track, as they won seven of eight soon thereafter and inched to within 1.5 games of a wild card spot, but they would go an awful 11-22 the rest of the way. Going back to July 28, the Braves went 21-35 after that point in the season. Only Arizona was worse among all 30 MLB teams.

That is unacceptable under the circumstances.

The Braves were eliminated from playoff contention on Sunday, Sept. 21. Firing Gonzalez the following morning would have been fine timing.

The Braves went through a rebuilding season in 2015 and finished 67-95. If Gonzalez wasn’t in the plans to be the manager of the future and Braves don’t mind firing him on Tuesday, why didn’t they just do it the day after last season and start the process anew in 2016 with a new manager? They haven’t yet promoted many of the youngsters, but there are a few (Mallex Smith and several pitchers).

The timing is just a bit of a head-scratcher. The Braves had to know they were going to be terrible this season. If they didn’t like Gonzalez, why did they start the season with him? It’s weird, that’s all.

Still, plenty of Braves fans are likely happy right now. Gonzalez should have already been gone and I count at least three specific dates going back to the Kimbrel incident in L.A.

The Braves on Tuesday parted ways with manager Fredi Gonzalez, who’d been on the job since 2011. The Braves, who are in the midst of a deep rebuild, were expected to be a bad team in 2016, but a 9-28 start has “surpassed” even the most bearish of forecasts. As the team gets set to reboot in a new suburban ballpark starting in 2017, they’re likely ready to enter the next phase of the cycle and, ideally, move toward contention, possibly as soon as 2018. The question for the front office is thus: Who best to lead them in the dugout?

Let’s take a look at some potential candidates to fill the job in Atlanta on a permanent basis …

Brian Snitker

Snitker, 60, was named interim manager on Tuesday and reportedly will manage the team for the remainder of the 2016 season. He’s been the manager of Triple-A Gwinnett since the start of the 2014 season. Prior to that, Snitker spent seven seasons as the Braves’ third base coach. Snitker knows the system, obviously — including many players presently on the roster — and as a minor-league manager in that very same system, he’s accustomed to handling young and untested talents. On that point, the Braves have a lot of young and untested talents on the way. The next permanent manager’s most important job will be helping all these high-ceiling prospects that the Braves have compiled transition to the highest level. Snitker for the rest of 2016 has a chance to prove he can do that. Maybe he’s not the favorite, but let’s recall that Pete Mackanin recently rose from interim to permanent choice in Philadelphia under similar circumstances.

Bud Black
Given where we are in the season, there are certain to be more pitchers set to regress than those who look primed to maintain an extremely low or high BABIP. Yet there are a few who have the defensive backing (or lack thereof) to defy the gravitational pull of a .300ish BABIP. We will get to those select few pitchers, but not before we first direct our attention to pitchers whose BABIP rates are out of whack with the level of help they are getting from their defenses.
Due for Better Times

The Giants, Mets and Twins are below-average defensively, but each staff has a composite BABIP above .320 that is worse than what their UZR/150s would suggest. Johnny Cueto is having a fine season, but his .342 BABIP and 1.16 WHIP are suspiciously high for someone who has excelled at avoiding hits on balls in play over the years. Neither Matt Harvey nor Steven Matz are known for pitching to contact, but both have been penalized by BABIP rates above .330. While Matz’s mark looks fluky, Harvey’s .384 BABIP has been inflated by a 34 percent line drive rate, so owners should be cautious about expecting a full rebound. On the other hand, as long as Matz can put his elbow issues behind him, he could be set to improve on an already strong season.

Ervin Santana has done a good job of getting strikeouts and inducing soft contact, but a .341 BABIP has left him with a 1.50 WHIP. That mark should shrink with time, though whether he can get more run support is another question.

Only the Rangers have a higher outfield UZR/150 than the Astros, yet batters have been hitting .222 against Collin McHugh on flyballs in play. In each of the previous two seasons, McHugh has posted rates below .090, which put him more in line with the major league norm. Especially since McHugh has been pitching to contact more often this season, he has been particularly hurt by his high BABIP, but it also makes him an excellent buy-low candidate.
Rough Roads Ahead

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