Devin Hester: Injury was 'a little more than just regular turf toe'

And now, the truth comes out.

Fans of the Atlanta Falcons have anxiously awaited the return of Devin Hester, but turf toe had kept him sidelined. While turf toe can be a pretty rough injury it seems, he had been sidelined for longer than many expected.

According to Vaughn McClure of ESPN, the reason for that is because Hester was actually dealing with more than just turf toe.

"It was a little more than just a regular turf toe," Hester told ESPN. "Two parts were torn a little bit. It just flared up. I tore a little piece on the outside and in the middle.

"We did the MRI and everything and decided it wasn't something we needed surgery on," Hester said. "And we just went from there."

So Hester was dealing with torn ligaments in his toe, which makes a whole lot of sense at this point. Regardless, fans are hoping to see the playmaker out there in Week 13 when he's first eligible to return.

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Ereck Flowers makes ESPN's All-Rookie Team

Two of the New York Giants’ first-year players found themselves on Mel Kiper’s Midseason All-Rookie Team, released this week.

Tackle Ereck Flowers and safety Landon Collins were among the 29 players added to Kiper’s list.

Both Flowers and Collins have been starters for the Giants since Week 1, and both, despite some visible mistakes at inopportune times, have played well in their respective positions; Flowers, in his protection of Eli Manning’s blindside and Collins in his athletic play against the pass on a team that leads the NFL in takeaways.

Collins leads the team with 44 total tackles and 61 combined tackles and has one interception. He nearly had a second on what could have been the game-clinching drive on Sunday when he had Tom Brady’s pass in his hands, but dropped it as he fell awkwardly to the turf.

“Collins has dealt with growing pains, but he was asked to take on a big role immediately, something we knew would happen when they drafted him,” Kiper said in his analysis of the rookie from Alabama. “He has plenty of promise.”

Kiper added that Flowers has impressed particularly because of his being forced early into the role after injuries opened holes in their offensive production, as they did for Collins in the secondary.

“They didn’t expect Flowers to be thrust into the role he’s in, and while he’s struggled in spots, I think they’re happier with him than they expected to be at this stage. The biggest question is whether Collins and Flowers can make strides and stay healthy? Get that from both, and you’re pretty pleased with this class.”

Flowers has started eight games and Collins nine for the 5-5 Giants. Flowers has the attitude and the athleticism to be a starter in this league, and Collins, as the analysts predicted ahead of the draft, plays his best at or near the line of scrimmage. He has been a very good tackler since his college days and can race any ball carrier to the sideline with ease.

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Allen Hurns epitomizes Jacksonville Jaguars' inspired approach

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- As Jaguars wide receiver Allen Hurns caught a sweet pass in the center of the field Sunday, a Ravens defender in tight coverage nailed him with a crushing blow to his right arm.

Hurns held on, his body crashing toward the ground, but not without yet another aching consequence. Two days after he shed a walking boot from a foot injury -- and one day before he'd visit a specialist for a lingering sports hernia -- the rising star ran off the field with yet another body part dangling in pain.

"The way I see it, I'm going to get hit regardless," Hurns said Tuesday, quietly seated at his locker after practice. "Might as well reward myself by still making the catch."

As the Jaguars prepare for "Thursday Night Football" against the Titans, still only one game back in the underwhelming AFC South despite having just three wins on the season, Hurns says he will be out on the field even though eventual surgery to repair his groin injury is still likely. This, for those unaware, is among the reasons why the Jaguars remain a team to watch.

Maybe you still don't care right now. Maybe you'll have little reason to care for the rest of this season. But even if the notion continues to fall on deaf and uninterested ears for the time being, Jacksonville is ascending. And Hurns is a perfect symbol of the rise. Young and quiet -- but tough and talented. Largely underrated -- but up-and-coming.

Despite all of the pain, Hurns (an undrafted free-agent signing last year) has a touchdown in each of the last seven games. He's the youngest player to put together a streak this lengthy since Randy Moss did it in 1998. And he's still only the second-best receiver on the team, behind Allen Robinson.

Some around the Jaguars building say Hurns and Robinson are truly special, two players with work ethic and commitment that is up there, as one source put it, with the "top one percent in the NFL." Wide receivers coach Jerry Sullivan, who has been a football coach for 42 years, said Wednesday that Hurns' work ethic and toughness compare very closely to a rookie receiver he drilled 12 years ago: Anquan Boldin. In terms of compliments from people with experience and knowledge, you won't get much better than that.

What would it take to keep Hurns off the field? According to quarterback Blake Bortles, "Some bone would definitely have to break."

But this isn't merely about the talent of one player -- it takes 52 more guys to field a successful team. No, this is about the future, and it is about the precedent that's being set.
This offseason, the Jaguars considered signing Greg Jennings because their wide receivers room was so young, and thus, could benefit from a veteran's potential teachings. Then they realized something: Hurns and Robinson already approach the job like seasoned vets. And other players, like Rashad Greene and Marqise Lee, are following that lead.

In a different position room, rookie running back T.J. Yeldon has been playing through pain, as well. And he's doing it as a first-year pro who has successfully assumed a role as a three-down back far earlier than anyone could have expected. The result? Only one rookie running back -- Todd Gurley -- has more yards.

Yes, this is the identity of the Jaguars. This is the reason, while skeptics merely see a three-win bunch in a bad division, why those who are around the team feel like the sun isn't very far from peeking over the horizon. Young players are rallying around one another, toughing it out and creating an environment of consistency.

"It means a lot, seeing guys in the huddle every play," Bortles said. "Guys see that. Guys recognize that."

For now, this is still a team that has lost bad games this year, games that people will use as ammunition against it. The Jaguars can't lose three consecutive games to teams like the Colts, Bucs and Texans, as they did earlier this season. Sure, they also have wins against the Dolphins and Bills. But this team ultimately needs to turn more games into wins.

How will they do it? Well, it starts with creating an environment of accountability and toughness combined with talent and execution. It starts with young players like Hurns and Robinson and Yeldon and Bortles.

Then, it's about getting wins in games like the one coming up Thursday against Tennessee -- a prospect that is at least much brighter with players like Hurns taking big hits and turning them into big plays.

Has Hurns, who just visited a groin specialist in Philadelphia on Monday, even considered not playing on Thursday night? "Not at all," he said.

And that's exactly why the Jaguars still have a chance this season -- and, more importantly, beyond.

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Browns RBs coach concerned about disappearing Duke Johnson

Browns running back coach Wilbert Montgomery, who’s coached the likes of Hall of Famer Marshall Faulk, was at a loss Tuesday to explain the disappearance of Duke Johnson in the second half of games.

“I can’t,” he said. “That’s a question that you’d have to ask Flip (offensive coordinator John DeFilippo) because I don’t call the plays. I put guys in the game based upon our personnel groupings.”

Johnson, the Browns third-round pick out of Miami, had one touch in the second half of the 34-20 loss to the Cardinals game despite the Browns being up 20-10 at the half. The next game, the 31-10 loss to the Bengals, Johnson didn’t touch the ball at all in the second half despite the Browns trailing only 14-10 at the half and 17-10 in the third. During Sunday’s 30-9 loss in Pittsburgh, Johnson had only two second-half touches after the Browns fell behind 21-3 at the break.

Overall, Johnson is 58th in the NFL with only 189 yards and tied for 161st with a 3.0-yard average. But he’s being used primarily as a receiver out of the backfield, and has more than twice as many receiving yards (387) as rushing yards.

Try as he might, Montgomery couldn’t hide the fact that he’s unhappy with the Browns’ lack of a running game and their tumble to 31st in the league.
“It’s frustrating for everyone,” he said.

Asked if he’s satisfied with the commitment to the run, he said, “I can’t answer that one. I can’t answer that question because if you look at the history of guys that I had, they got the ball.”

Montgomery is also dismayed by the fact that none of his backs has become the bellcow like an Adrian Peterson in Minnesota or a rookie Todd Gurley in St. Louis. He’s accustomed to coaching stars like Faulk, who’s currently 10th on the NFL’s all-time rushing list, and Steven Jackson, who’s 17th.

“We don’t have that,” he said. “We don’t have guys that have been drafted that high that can do that. So you got a list of young guys that are trying to play their roles in whatever the role calls. There are things that Duke is good at doing that Isaiah Crowell is not good at doing. There’s things Crow is good at that Duke is not.”

He hoped one of his backs would emerge, but it hasn’t happened, in part because the Browns are much more pass-oriented this year, throwing 382 times against 226 runs. What’s more, they’ve fallen behind and have had to abandon the run in the second half.

“It’s hard when you don’t get opportunities to carry the ball,” he said. “You have to give (Crowell) the opportunity to be Crowell just like you have to give Duke the opportunity to be Duke.”

With six games left in the season, Crowell is 38th in the NFL with 328 yards and 157th with a 3.1-yard average. Johnson is all the way down the list, behind quarterbacks such as Aaron Rodgers and Andrew Luck. But Crowell has averaged only about 10 carries a game and Johnson, 6.

“Everything you do as a runner, you have to get a rhythm and the way we’ve been playing and how we’ve been playing hasn’t allowed the running backs to do what they can do and to showcase their abilities out there on the field,” said Montgomery. “The rhythm is after you have touched the ball a certain number of times so you get a feel for what the defense is presenting to you. You get to understand the blocking scheme a little bit more, you can make your reads off the blocking scheme.”

He acknowledged that falling behind hasn’t helped.

“When you’re playing from behind and you make a lot of mistakes on early downs, jump offsides, miscues, now you’re playing behind the downs. you’ve got to stay ahead of downs in order to be effective in the run game,” he said. “The running backs have to get more yards when they have an opportunity, and the line has to do a better job and the tight ends have to do a better job on holding up their end of the bargain as well, and that’s blocking.”

The running game reached a new low in Pittsburgh, where the Browns rushed for only 15 yards on 14 carries and went backwards more than they went forward. They lost yards on five of 14 runs, and on eight of their 11 handoffs, they either gained 1 yard, were stopped cold or driven into the backfield for a loss.

Their leading rusher was Johnny Manziel, who gained 17 yards on his three carries. Crowell rushed for minus-5 yards on six carries and Johnson managed 10 yards on four carries.

“I was shocked at Pittsburgh because Pittsburgh was never a penetrating defense,” said Montgomery. “They were always a key read defense, they’re a two-gap defense, they saw where you were going and then they would run and make tackles. They played fast. Well, this Pittsburgh defense was different. They penetrated and that was the difference in the ballgame.

“You’re working something that you thought they were. Then you get in a game and they’re doing something totally different. Those guys were big and strong and explosive and they were getting up field on us.”

He explained that Manziel had a little more success than the backs that game because “he has the opportunity. He has more freedom. He has an open field when he’s out of the pocket. He’s scrambling. The lanes are there for him when he’s scrambling out. It’s not there for the running backs so that’s different.”

He acknowledged that it’s a passing league, but that it’s still important to run.

“I know everyone wants to see pass, pass, pass and the running game is what it is,” he said. “You just want to win. The biggest question is to win however you choose to win. You have to find a balance in it and then live with whatever you choose to do.”

Crowell noted that the Browns ran the ball a lot more last year under Kyle Shanahan, who ran the wide zone scheme.

“That’s why I guess it looks like we had a lot of success comparing the two seasons,” he said. “I feel like we’ve still got the players and talent to do it. I feel like we just gotta keep working and I feel like it will all come together.”

He’s also surprised the Browns go away from the run in the second half.

“I feel the same way you feel,” he told reporters. “But I just listen to the coaches, go by what they say, and just listen to them because they’re in control. I’m just going along with what they want.”

Montgomery explained that running back Robert Turbin, who was recently cut and picked up Wednesday weeks with a sprained ankle. Turbin was let go after he dropped two handoffs against the Cardinals.

“Turbin never was 100 percent,” Montgomery said. “It’s hard to play guys when you put the ball on the ground. Not only do you let the team down, you let the city down, you let the organization down and it’s a nasty feeling when you fumble the ball. He understands that. And he hadn’t been hit, so I would take the blame on that, because I don’t think the timing was there.

“He hadn’t been in the camps. I didn’t know anything about Turbin, we picked him up and I didn’t get a chance to work with him, so therefore it was new to me to putting him in there. We talk about his problems, because he carried the ball low. When you carry the ball low, you’re going to have that fumbling problem.”

Regardless of who’s running the ball, it takes a village to churn out the yards.

“It takes 11 guys to make it work, and it’s not on the runner,” said Montgomery. “Everybody has to do their job and it starts with the running back. We’ve got to win our individual battles. We’ve got to win our individual wars up there. And then the running backs have to make people miss at times and they have to break tackles in order to get going. But you just like to get started. That’s the key to running the ball.”

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Colts taking the reins off Frank Gore

Frank Gore hadn’t had 28 carries in an NFL game since 2011, back when he was a mere 28 years old and in his seventh pro season.

He did it again last week against the Denver Broncos, the Indianapolis Colts running back finishing with 83 hard-earned yards against one of the NFL’s stoutest and hardest-hitting defenses.

So, naturally, several questions had to be asked: How did it feel? How deep was the bruising? How painful was the soreness? How long was the recovery? Gore politely interrupts.

“I don’t get hit,” he said, practically amused by the line of questioning. “They can’t really hit me (with) a clean shot. I guess I’ve just been blessed.”

This is one of the things Gore sees as a secret to his success, his uncanny ability to avoid the kind of frequent, bone-crushing hits that ensure running backs have maybe the shortest life spans of NFL players. Atlanta Falcons coach Dan Quinn, whose team hosts the Colts on Sunday (1 p.m., CBS), said it’s a product of Gore’s unbelievable vision.

This is also, perhaps, the reason the Colts can entertain the idea of unleashing Gore a bit. He’s been restricted to this point by what coach Chuck Pagano has described as a pitch count, an undisclosed number of carries the Colts would like to limit Gore to this season.

But circumstances have changed. The Colts are 4-5. They’re barely holding onto first place in their terrible division. And, by the way, their franchise quarterback, Andrew Luck, is out for an undetermined length of time with a lacerated kidney.

This does not feel like the time to place limitations on one of the team’s most productive offensive players. Prudence is an admirable quality – and it’s what led the Colts to institute modest workload limits on their 32-year-old runner in the first place.

Then again, what’s that saying about desperate times and desperate measures?

“If he’s rolling like that,” Pagano said Wednesday, “and we’re staying balanced and he feels good, we’re going to do what we have to do to win the ball game.”

That’s a clear indication the Colts are willing to break with their adherence to the limits initially placed on Gore. It’s also a direct contradiction of Pagano’s earlier statements on this topic.

Here’s what he said on the subject days before the season opener in September: “We’ve got to be smart with the amount of carries. He’s going to want to play every snap… I think we all know that we can’t do that. We need him. It’s a marathon. It’s not a sprint. So, we’ve got him on a pitch count and we’re going to stick to it.”

The addition of backup running back Ahmad Bradshaw to the roster last month reduces some of the load on Gore, so the Colts don’t necessarily have to get too far out of proportion with Gore’s carries. Bradshaw is operating as the third-down back right now, giving the Colts good pass protection but also reliable hands as a receiver, if needed.

But the Colts’ running game starts and ends with Gore. The lack of a consistent running game the past couple of seasons prompted General Manager Ryan Grigson to make Gore a prime free agent target, and the move is paying off. Gore, with 599 yards through nine games, is on pace to become the team’s first 1,000-yard rusher since Joseph Addai in 2007. It would be Gore’s fifth consecutive season achieving the 1,000-yard threshold.

But Gore doesn’t come off as the sort of guy who knows his numbers. He’s more interested in winning. If you don’t believe that, you should have a conversation with him in the locker room after a loss, when his emotions are at their rawest.

What Gore is aware of, however, is that the Colts had their most balanced offensive performance of the season before their bye last weekend. Against the Broncos, the Colts had 34 called runs versus 43 pass dropbacks. Their 40 total rushing attempts were a season high.

“I think playing the game of football should be like that,” Gore said. “It helps the defense control the clock, puts us in better situations, puts the passing game in a better situation, so I think that probably was (our) best offensive game.”

Across the locker room, Bradshaw joined in the chorus.

“I believe in setting the tone every game,” he said. “When I was raised up, we played smash-mouth, power football. Know what I mean? That’s what I try to do when I touch the ball. I feel like the running backs can take a lot of pressure off the quarterback.”

Speaking of which, 40-year-old Matt Hasselbeck could use the help. He hasn’t made more than two consecutive starts since 2012. Now, he faces the potential of starting an undetermined number of games because Luck’s absence could last as long as six weeks.

“There’s a bigger role for everybody considering the circumstances,” Pagano said.

Especially Gore. And he’s ready. Remember, they can’t hit him. He feels just fine.

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Orlando Franklin Looking To Return

Even if the Chargers (2-7) are going nowhere, it's important that players such as guard Orlando Franklin go somewhere in the final seven games.

Franklin, the most expensive outside free agent the Chargers signed last offseason, has gone down with a high ankle sprain and a knee sprain but may return to the lineup this Sunday against the Kansas City Chiefs.

If Franklin can begin to live up to the $16. 5 million in guaranteed money he received, the Chargers are more apt to untrack rookie back Melvin Gordon and solidify their blocking unit going into next year. At the least, a seven-game stretch would allow the team to find out what it has in Franklin, who has compiled only 228 snaps and so far looks like a classic buy-high addition.

"I've missed five games, and that's crazy," Franklin said this week. "I've missed one game in my career (before) I've been here. It's definitely been a frustrating year, and I definitely look forward to these next seven weeks and just being able to be consistent, being able to take every snap on offense."

A durable player with the Denver Broncos, who drafted him 46th in the 2011 draft, Franklin appeared in 67 of 68 games plus all seven postseason contests.

He looked fairly fit when the joined the Chargers last May, but once the pads came on this summer, he struggled to get into a flow.

Perhaps an omen came in the first padded practice, when Franklin and a linemate tangled feet, allowing Corey Liuget to shoot a gap and blast Gordon in the backfield.

A leg injury hampered the left guard for a few days in August, but he worked in the season opener and the first road game. Then he was carted out of the Week 3 game in Minnesota after getting hit from behind at the end of a play. When Franklin returned against Oakland in Week 7, he suffered an MCL sprain, leaving him at a loss to explain why he suddenly can't stay on the field.

"I don't think I could have done anything differently on those plays," he said. "I've been rolled up before, and I've had a high ankle before, and that's what I had. I never had an MCL injury before. But it's football. It's a 100 percent injury rate; unfortunately, guys are going to get hurt."

Even if the injuries clear up, Franklin's ability to help the Chargers is far from clear.

Long-armed Kenny Wiggins, his primary replacement, has looked as capable as a pass blocker. The more powerful run blocker is Franklin, who has strong hands and a mean streak, but as his games mounted in Denver, more stiffness was evident in his movements. Also, for all his NFL experience, Franklin is still learning to play guard, having spent his first three NFL year at right tackle. So, he's learning not only new linemates but the intricacies of a faster-paced position.

The way Franklin sees it, not only does he have a lot to gain between now and early January, so do the Chargers.

"We play five division games in these next seven weeks," he said. "Everybody knows that you win the division, you're in. And I feel like our division is a great division, but our division doesn't really have a leader right now, especially with Kansas City going up there, being able to do what they did to Denver (beating the Broncos on Sunday, 29-13).

"So I feel like we've got a big opportunity this next couple of weeks. We've just got to come together as a team."

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How will Falcons reintegrate returner/wide receiver Devin Hester?

Atlanta Falcons returner extraordinaire Devin Hester is finally back on the practice field. But don't look for #17 on the playing field this Sunday. Don't look next Sunday either. Because, at best, he will make his long-awaited return against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday, December 6th. That's still almost three weeks away. Sad.

Hester's progress over those three weeks will obviously inform how the coaching staff reintegrates him. In his absence, Nick Williams has emerged as Mr. Reliable. Justin Hardy has debuted, performing adequately. Then there's Eric Weems, who has shown that he's more than a gunner. If both Hester and Leonard Hankerson are healthy in a week or two, something will have to give, unless the Falcons intend to carry 7 receivers.

There's only a few possibilities. One possibility is sending Williams to the practice squad. That's risky, because it gives every NFL team a chance to add him to their active rosters. Another possibility is the Falcons parting ways with Weems. I'd call that highly unlikely, if only because of his special teams acumen. (In fact, one could make an argument that he doesn't really count as a wide receiver.) The last possibility is the Falcons letting Hardy go inactive again. The final possibility is the most likely. Hardy can continue to develop and everyone benefits.

No matter how the Falcons reintegrate Hester, fans should temper their expectations. Hester is coming off a pretty serious injury. He may take a while to get back up to speed.

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Jon Beason is still making an impact for the Giants, even from the sideline

EAST RUTHERFORD — The undisputed leader of the Giants' defense is no longer on the field. But linebacker Jon Beason is still making an impact, even after being placed on season-ending injured reserve 11 days ago. 

"He's still with us, and he helps. He's tremendous. He's a great leader," linebackers coach Jim Herrmann said Monday. "I love him as a person. He's so competitive. Just to have him out there, my eyes might be on this guy over there, and he can watch someone else. It helps."

So, it's almost like Beason is a coach now?

"Don't tell him that," Herrmann said with a laugh. "But the motivation point that he brings, is great for the whole group, the whole defense."

But still, the notion of Beason in a coaching capacity, or something akin to that, is bound to cause intrigue. 

Beason is universally loved by his coaches and teammates, and respected the media that covers the Giants. But the facts are the facts: Beason is 30-years-old, and his body has failed him over the last four years.

Beason has played more than five games just once in that span, and has been unavailable for a total of 51 regular season contests. And if the Giants cut Beason in the offseason, they can save over $5 million against the cap. 

All of that adds up to a murky on-field future going forward. Herrmann said he has not discussed the future with Beason, and he is not sure what his plans will be going forward.

But one thing is certain to Herrmann: Having Beason around is nothing but a positive.

"I think he's doing what he's always done," Herrmann said. "He's always been a great leader and an example to the younger guys throughout his whole career. He's doing that, just not out on the field (as a player)."

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Leonard Hankerson limited as Matt Ryan speaks of receiver's value

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Leonard Hankerson, who missed the last two games with a hamstring injury, was limited during Wednesday's practice in preparation for the Indianapolis Colts.

At the start of practice, Hankerson worked on a side field alone, trying to work out the kinks. After practice, quarterback Matt Ryan raved about what having Hankerson back would mean for a struggling offense.

"Hank has had a great year for us when he's been able to go," Ryan said, "and I think having him back opens up a lot of things for everybody. It makes us a better offense. And so, certainly good to have him out there practicing today."

Hankerson is fourth on the team in receptions with 22 for 291 yards and two touchdowns. He has the team's longest pass play of the season on a 55-yard catch and run. He also leads the team with five drops.

It will be interesting to see what happens with Roddy White upon Hankerson's return. White wants more touches and coach Dan Quinn has talked about White's role being important moving forward.

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Shane Larkin hands out six dimes in road loss

Shane Larkin dished out six assists to go along with six points and one steal in 20 minutes vs. the Hornets on Wednesday.

He had a career-high-tying eight dimes on opening night but has been quiet ever since, and we're not reading into tonight's solid performance. He's not worth owning while averaging 15-18 minutes behind Jarrett Jack.

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Phillies Sign Ryan Jackson

Ryan Jackson, INF – The 27-year-old spent the majority of 2015 in Triple-A, where he hit .305 in 19 games with Omaha and .293 in 85 games with Salt Lake. He also appeared in 22 games with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in August and September.  Jackson was originally selected by the St. Louis Cardinals in the fifth round of the June 2009 draft, and has played in 42 major league games in parts of three seasons with the Cardinals (2012-13) and Angels (2015).  In 680 career minor league games, he is a .272 hitter with a .343 on-base percentage.

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TD Streak Extended - 3 TDs Scored

THREE #‎proCane TDs were scored in Week 11 of the NFL!

#‎Dolphins RB Lamar Miller, #Raiders TE Clive Walford, #Jags WR Allen Hurns,

Lamar Miller’s TD extended the streak to 16 straight weeks a #proCane has scored a TD in the #‎NFL. Allen Hurns has now scored a TD in SEVEN straight weeks!

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Chase Ford: Signed by Ravens

ChaseFordVikingsFord was signed by the Ravens on Tuesday.

The Ravens must hold Ford in high regard, as tight end is one of the few positions on the roster that appears to be in good shape. Ford still doesn't figure to have much of a role in the offense.

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Allen Hurns back on practice field after seeing sports hernia doctor

The Jaguars got some good news on the injury front Tuesday, which they needed.

According to Hays Carlyon of the Florida Times-Union, wide receiver Allen Hurns was back on the practice field, a day after seeing a sports hernia specialist.

Hurns traveled to Philadelphia to see Dr. William Meyers Monday. He has made a number of visits there, but it hasn’t kept him off the field. He has caught a touchdown pass in seven straight games, and is second on the team with 41 catches for 697 yards.

He’s also been playing through a foot injury, but is expected to continue to play Thursday night against the Titans.

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WATCH: Devin Hester Jr. does a great impression of his father

Like father, like son. At least that's how it apparently works in the Hester family. Devin Hester Jr., son of Atlanta Falcons wide receiver/kick returner Devin Hester, showed off his moves with a sweet touchdown on Saturday, looking very much like his old man in the process. Look at that spin move! And the stiff-arm! And the speed! If there's anything the older Hester is known for, it's his ability to criss-cross the field, change direction and avoid being tackled on his way to long touchdowns, and it sure seems like he has passed that trait on to the next generation.

DJ stunt'n like my daddy with a 80yds TD 😎😂😂😎👏🏾

A video posted by Devin Hester (@devin_anytime_hester_17) on

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Sean Spence Hopes To Be Ready To Practice After Bye

During his post-game press conference following the Sunday win over the Cleveland Browns, Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin indicated that inside linebacker Sean Spence had inured a hamstring during the contest.

Being as the team is currently on their bye week, Tomlin won’t be updating the health of the team until next week. However, according to Ray Fittipaldo of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Spence said on Tuesday that he hopes to be ready for practice next week.

According to the tape from Sunday’s game, Spence was on the field for the Steelers final kickoff of the game and there was no real visible sign of him getting injured on that play. That, however, was the final time he saw the field after playing a total of 12 defensive snaps and 16 special team snaps.

With starting inside linebacker Ryan Shazier now back in action, there’s a good chance he’ll see his snaps start increasing again following the team’s bye. While Spence is a heavy contributor on special teams, there’s probably a good chance that fellow reserve inside linebacker and special teams ace Terence Garvin might be able to be resume playing in Week 12 after missing the last four games due to a knee injury.

Garvin, who has registered 4 total special teams tackles so far this season, was able to practice on a limited basis all three days last week.

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Giants OL coach tells a great story about Ereck Flowers

One of the reasons why the New York Giants selected offensive tackle Ereck Flowers in the first round of the 2015 NFL Draft was because of his nasty-streak and overall toughness. Giants offensive line coach Pat Flaherty has experienced that first hand during Flowers' rookie season.

"I'll tell you a funny story," Flaherty said Monday, per ESPN's Dan Graziano . "Do you know he got mad at me when I worked him out before the Buffalo game?"

Flowers felt like he was ready to in Week 4 against the Buffalo Bills, but the Giants wanted to put him through a pre-game warmup to make sure. He was not happy with that decision.

"He said, 'I'm fine. I'm playing'," Flaherty recalled. "So I said, 'That's great, but the procedure is that we take you out on the field, the trainers watch you do some drills and they decide whether you're OK to play.'"

Flowers given the go ahead to play after the workout, but that didn't make him any happier with Flaherty.

"He just stared at me," Flaherty said. "But wait! It gets better."

Flowers got injured on the first play of the Giants' first offensive possession and he was pulled for the game. That's when Flaherty finally delivered him the first good news he had heard that day.

"So I sat down next to him and I said, 'We didn't activate you to play one play. Your ass is going back in there the next series,'" Flaherty said. "And he perked right up. First time all day he smiled."

Flowers finished the game and has played every snap for the Giants at left tackle since. He is still not 100 percent healthy, but he is playing through his ankle injury anyway. He has had his ups and downs on the field, but no one can question his toughness.

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The debate continues on how the Seahawks use Jimmy Graham

Here’s one call Seattle Seahawks offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell made this year no one can disagree with.

Early in the season, when a reporter again brought up the name of Jimmy Graham, Bevell smiled and said “it’s always going to be a question for us, I know that.”
Indeed it is.

The latest to wonder about how the Seahawks are using Graham is Arizona’s Tyrann Mathieu, who was quoted this week as saying “I don’t think they use him quite as creatively as the Saints used him. I played against Jimmy in 2013 when he was with the Saints, and I mean he was all over the field. The biggest thing with them was [they] created mismatches for him, and [Sunday] he wasn’t really in a position where we felt like it was a mismatch. We felt like we had great cover guys on him all the time, and those two weeks we had to prepare for them, it really helped us a whole lot.”

Those comments came after a game in which Graham had three receptions for 40 yards but could have maybe doubled those numbers had he been able to control every pass that came his way. In the 2013 game Mathieu is referring to Graham had nine catches for 134 yards and two touchdowns, a contest won by the Saints 31-7.

Creativity may in some ways be in the eye of the beholder. What we do know is that Graham was always going to be used differently by the Seahawks due to the nature of their offense, and that he has been.

According to numbers from Pro Football Focus, Graham has lined up as an in-line tight end roughly 60 percent of the time this season. That compares to about 37 percent of the time with the Saints.

But some of that figured to come with the territory of playing for a Seattle team that runs it on 47 percent of snaps (which is down from the 52 of last season) compared to only about 37 for the Saints last season.

According to PFF’s numbers, Graham has been sent out on routes on 60 percent of his snaps. He has been used as a run blocker 35 percent of time and as a pass blocker 5 percent of the time (the pass blocking basically the same as in New Orleans). The run blocking is more, but as Seattle’s coaches have pointed out, a team can’t simply just pass every time he is in the game or teams would figure that out. There’s also the fact that many plays can be changed at the line of scrimmage, with the play sent in having a run-pass option.

Graham has 41 catches for 491 yards, each numbers that lead the Seahawks, on track for 73 receptions and 873 yards. Those numbers are down from his New Orleans days — he had at least 85 catches and 889 yards each of the last four seasons. But given Seattle’s run-pass ratio, it’s not really that out of line percentage-wise from his numbers in New Orleans.

Graham is averaging almost seven targets per game (62 in nine games). He averaged 7.75 last year with the Saints — so, basically getting one fewer target per game and with a team that throws it roughly 10 percent less.

Another way to look at it is the percentage of Graham’s targets of his team’s total passes. As we detailed earlier this year, Graham was targeted on 22.3 percent of his passes in 2011, his best season with the Saints.

Last year, Graham got 18.8 percent of the Saints’ targets (124 of 659). This year with the Seahawks, Graham is being targeted on 23 percent of Seattle’s attempts (62 of 266).

What is down — and may be doing the most to color the perception of how Graham is being used — are touchdowns. Graham has just two with the Seahawks after having nine or more each of the last four years with the Saints,including 16 in 2013.

How creatively —or simply how — the Seahawks are using Graham will be a subject of debate all season. But the numbers indicate the team can’t really be accused of ignoring him.

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Lamar Miller still on top with Jay Ajayi's role growing

Despite whispers earlier in the week that rookie Jay Ajayi was going to siphon significant playing time away from 2015 fantasy stud Lamar Miller, the Dolphins rolled out their best running back on 82 percent of the team's offensive snaps. Miller's 22 touches against the Eagles is his highest mark of the season to this point, and while Ajayi may have out-produced him on the ground, Miller made up for it with 50 yards through the air and a receiving touchdown. Miller was also second on Miami with eight receiving targets and hauled in 75 percent of the passes that came his way.

There's really no reason for Miller owners to be alarmed of Ajay's 28 percent share of the offensive snaps. It's clear that the team is dedicated to feeding Miller the ball and he'll continue to be an RB1 in fantasy until further notice. His 840 yards from scrimmage and seven total touchdowns are enough to rank him as fantasy's fourth highest scoring running back of the season. The Dolphins are at home in Week 11 and face the Cowboys who have had trouble stopping running backs, so lock Miller into your lineup and keep Ajayi stashed as a handcuff.

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Leonard Hankerson: Returns to practice

Hankerson (hamstring) returned to practice Monday, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports.

Hankerson's hamstring injury prevented him from practicing for two weeks heading into the Falcons' recent bye week. Coming off that rest period, Hankerson has returned to the fold as Atlanta reconvenes this week, making his status worthwhile to monitor ahead of Sunday's game against the Colts.

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Antrel Rolle Has Solid Game on Sunday

Antrel Rolle had a decent game against the Rams. He finished with five solo tackles and one pass deflection.

Fantasy Impact: Rolle has been solid since returning from injury three weeks ago. Rolle usually finished with a decent amount of tackles and has been strong against the pass. If you need a fill-in option for a bye week, Rolle could be that guy.

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Edgerrin James' nephew Jeff James Jr., being chased by Miami

The University of Miami may not have a permanent head football coach, but that isn’t holding the Hurricanes back from extending an offer to a relative of a Miami legend.

As reported by the Orlando Sentinel, Jeff James Jr., the nephew of legendary running back Edgerrin James, was handed a scholarship offer by the Hurricanes. James Jr. is senior defensive back and wide receiver at Olympia High in Florida, but has largely flown under the radar of most top programs. Of course, there’s a good reason why: He didn’t play high school football before his senior season.

That’s right. Miami is chasing — and it sure sounds like it might land — a player who didn’t compete in his first three high school years. Despite his relative inexperience, he excelled on the field, grabbing nine interceptions and racking up more than 1,000 all purpose yards, not to mention five touchdowns.

“I surprised myself a lot. I knew I could be good, but I didn’t know I was going to be this good,” James told the Sentinel. “I’m a sleeper. I’m a late bloomer.”

James Jr. knows that he’s caught lightning in a bottle just in time. He told the Sentinel that he was a classic “problem child”, but insisted he has been straightened out in part by his uncle, who has played a significant role in his life.

“A short while after I broke my collar bone, I was like, ‘I gotta really do this. I gotta play football. It’s the only way out for me,’ ” James told the Sentinel. “My situation was good, but I was trying to make it better. I had to keep working and keep doing the right things. …

“He’s been to all of my games and he’s always keeping me on the right page, gives me good advice,” James Jr. said. “He just talks to me a lot and tells me I gotta get things right, like when I wasn’t doing things right. It helps knowing he’s been there before.”

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Ed Reed To Be Inducted Into Ravens Ring Of Honor

Ed Reed returned to Baltimore in May of 2015 to sign a one-day contract with the Ravens to officially retired as a Baltimore Ravens at the end of his 12-year career. As part of the retirement ceremony, the Ravens also announced that he will be inducted into the team’s Ring of Honor.

Well, the week is upon us and on Sunday, Nov. 22, during the game against the St. Louis Rams, Ed Reed will return to M & T Bank Stadium.

“He’s going to be a great addition to the Ring of Honor,” Team President Dick Cass said.

Returning to M&T Bank Stadium will be a homecoming for Reed, who was a long-time fan favorite in Baltimore.

“Home is here. Home has always been Baltimore,” he said. “My heart has always been in Baltimore. It will always be in Baltimore and at M&T Bank Stadium.”

The nine-time Pro Bowler will be featured on the ticket stock for that game. The tickets this season have honored the franchise’s best players as voted on by the
fans as part of the team’s 20th season celebration.

Reed will be the ninth Raven to get inducted into the Ring of Honor, joining Ray Lewis, Todd Heap, Jamal Lewis, Matt Stover, Peter Boulware, Michael McCray and Earnest Byner.

It just happened to work out that No. 20 will be inducted during the Ravens 20th season.

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Clive Walford finds the end zone in Week 10 loss

Clive Walford reeled in two of three targets for 18 yards and a touchdown in the Raiders' Week 10 loss to the Vikings.

He did a nice job to secure his lone touchdown, keeping his feet in bounds for a 10-yard catch in the second quarter. The one missed connection was a drop that might have been influenced by a deflection. Walford has caught a touchdown in three of his last four games but only has seven receptions for 74 yards. Until his volume increases, he won’t be a fantasy option.

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Jonathan Vilma, Vinny Testaverde to coaching search

The University of Miami has taken the next step towards a new coach after firing Al Golden by creating a search committee. Athletic director Blake James announced the search committee members in a press release on Monday, which includes two former Canes in ex-linebacker Jonathan Vilma and Heisman winning quarterback Vinny Testaverde.

Miami will retain search firm Korn Ferry to assist in the process, along with a six-person committee made up of Board of Trustee members, former players and the athletics staffers.

Korn Ferry is among the most used search firms in the country and has been part of many coaching searches, including Texas' hiring of Charlie Strong in 2014.
The six-person committee, which will provide thoughts and input on the candidates, includes Board of Trustees members Hilarie Bass, David Epstein and Steve Saiontz; Deputy Director of Athletics Jennifer Strawley along with Vilma and Testaverde.

"We are well underway in our search process," said James, "and, as expected, there is already a tremendous amount of interest in The U. Additionally, we are reaching out to a number of UM constituencies to engage in dialogue and to hear their thoughts and vision. We will work diligently to find a great fit for Miami and I want to thank in advance the members of the advisory committee for their dedication to our University.”

Miami, being a private university, does not release salaries to public records, but the Hurricanes will reportedly have a budget of around $3 million to find a new head coach.

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WATCH: Greg Olsen needs just one hand to snag Cam Newton's laser

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Allen Hurns setting Jags records as team finds star power

Lost in the calamitous ending of Sunday's Jaguars-Ravens game was the fact that Jacksonville wideout Allen Hurns caught yet another touchdown pass, extending his streak to seven games in a row.

The mark is a franchise record and is the best in the NFL since Dez Bryant's seven-game run in 2012. He is now past the halfway point of breaking the league's all-time record set by Jerry Rice back in 1986-87.

"He's unbelievable," Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles told Sunday. "He was a little banged up and played his tail off. He's as tough as they come. It's an honor and privilege to be on a team with him and guys like him."

Bortles isn't kidding. Hurns had to test his injured foot before the game and was very much questionable before hitting the field on Sunday morning to work out. Once the clock started, he also went over the middle twice and was blasted both times in an effort to help the Jaguars score a touchdown.

During the Jaguars' time in London, we did a piece on general manager Dave Caldwell and the massive challenges he's faced in building this roster. Hurns and running mate Allen Robinson -- Robinson was drafted in the second round of the 2014 draft and Hurns was an undrafted steal -- are two of his best building blocks and biggest sources of pride.

Throughout the summer they caught passes from Blake Bortles instead of going home.

More than that, though, Hurns and Robinson -- and Bortles for that matter -- are giving this roster a semblance of star power for the first time since Mark Brunell and Fred Taylor. In the dead period between, it was essentially punters, kickers and wild mascots.

Jaguars fans often groan at the sound of the word "patience," but just take a look at where this team was in terms of top-to-bottom roster talent three years ago and where they are now. Next year, they'll get another first-round pick in addition to the debut of Dante Fowler, who tore his ACL shortly after the 2015 draft.

Thanks to Hurns -- and Bortles, and Robinson -- the payoff may even come a little sooner. A Texans loss on Monday night gives second-place Houston the same record as Jacksonville. The Jaguars also have games against the Titans (2), Colts and Texans still on tap to finish the season.

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Andre Johnson has no issues with reduced role in Indy

Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Andre Johnson may not be having the type of season many envisioned when he signed as a free agent after 12 standout seasons with the Houston Texans, but that doesn't bother Johnson.

The seven-time Pro Bowler has caught 24 passes for 288 yards and three touchdowns thus far, and is on pace for the worst statistical season of his career. In last Sunday's win over the Broncos, Johnson failed to record a catch for the third time this season.

“Anybody would like to go out and catch six, seven balls a game, but that’s not what it is,” Johnson said, per ESPN. “Like I said before, it could be my day today, somebody else’s day tomorrow. The biggest thing about when you’re trying to achieve that ultimate goal, you have to do things that have never been done before. I was out there run blocking. But it’s part of it. I’m embracing every part of it. It’s different for me, but I don’t have a problem with it.”

The 34-year-old's best game of this season came in his October return to Houston when he caught six passes for 77 yards and two touchdowns. It was the only time this year Johnson has caught more than four passes in a game.

Johnson, though, said he has no issue accepting a smaller role if it helps the team win.

“I think now people are so caught up in fantasy football,” Johnson said. “We hear it all the time. (Fans) get upset with you when you don’t catch a pass. People can say whatever they want or feel however they want to feel. I sleep good at night. I’m not really caught up with people have to say. I’ve had a great career. I’ve got a lot of passes and gained a lot of yards. I don’t really get caught up in what the outside people have to say.”

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Ray Lewis' New Rap Song

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Frank Gore leads former 49ers on offense toiling elsewhere

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- The San Francisco 49ers' roster was decimated this offseason by retirements and free agency, let alone the 49ers themselves parting ways with a player or two.

So with San Francisco on their bye week, what better time to check in on some of those high-profile players?

It is interesting to note that while only two of those who left are with teams boasting winning records, their combined winning percentage of .440 is still better than the 49ers' .333 that comes with a 3-6 mark.

Courtesy of my NFL Nation brethren, here are some thoughts on the more offensively-minded players now toiling elsewhere (the defensive players will be posted later this afternoon):

RB Frank Gore (Indianapolis Colts): Gore has exceeded expectations during his first season in Indianapolis. He leads the team in rushing with 599 yards and four touchdowns. Gore's ability to still burst through holes has him on pace for his ninth season of at least 1,000 yards rushing. "I don't feel like I'm 32 [years old]," Gore said. "My body has me feeling like I'm in my 20's still." -- Mike Wells

LG Mike Iupati (Arizona Cardinals): He's been a major reason why the Cardinals' running game has improved from 3.29 yards per carry last season to 4.5 this year. When Iupati is on the field, Arizona averages 4.86 yards per carry. The Cardinals have also run for 261 yards behind him, the most for any offensive line position this season.-- Josh Weinfuss

WR Michael Crabtree (Oakland Raiders): Crabtree has been fantastic. He is on pace for 94 catches, 1,182 yards and 10 touchdowns. All would be career highs. He will be attractive on the free-agent market. The Raiders want him back. -- Bill Williamson

WR Stevie Johnson (San Diego Chargers): In his first season with the Chargers, Johnson's been effective and had an impact when healthy. Johnson's third on the team in targets (45) and catches (31), and fourth in receiving yards (351). He also has two receiving touchdowns on the year. Johnson missed two games this season with a hamstring injury. -- Eric Williams

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Travis Benjamin: Team-high 113 yards in loss

Benjamin had seven catches on 11 targets for a team-high 113 yards Sunday against the Steelers.

Benjamin has shown great chemistry with quarterback Johnny Manziel, who started Sunday in place of the injured Josh McCown (ribs), as he had 115 yards and two touchdowns back in Week 2 when Manziel was under center. Benjamin has reached double-digit targets five times this season, though Sunday's activity was his first time over 10 since Week 6. Browns head coach Mike Pettine said earlier this week that McCown would start as long as he is healthy, which means he could be under center in Week 12 against the Ravens, following the Browns' Week 11 bye.

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Duke Johnson: 28 yards in loss

Johnson rushed four times for 10 yards and caught all four targets for 18 receiving yards Sunday against the Steelers.

Johnson led the Browns' backfield in rushing yards despite the low total, as starter Isaiah Crowell rushed six times for minus-5 yards. Johnson's ability to contribute in the passing game keeps him in the fantasy conversation, though his upside continues to be limited because of Crowell. Next up is a Week 12 trip to Baltimore following the Browns' Week 11 bye.

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Lamar Miller totals 93 yards versus Eagles

Lamar Miller rushed 16 times for just 43 yards in Miami's Week 10 win over the Eagles, but added a 6/50/1 line as a receiver.

Miller once again got fantasy owners their touchdown, but ceded six carries to Jay Ajayi, who actually out-rushed Miller 48-43. Miller has been a bankable RB1 since Dan Campbell took over as head coach, but will be more of an RB2 for Week 11. Ajayi will get more looks, and the Cowboys' run defense is solid.

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Ed Reed wouldn't have wanted to know if he had CTE during NFL career

Ed Reed has some potentially controversial thoughts on the topic of chronic traumatic encephalopathy.

During a "60 Minutes" segment titled "Football and the Brain" that aired Sunday, the retired NFL safety discussed the three or four concussions he could remember during his 13-year career with correspondent Steve Kroft. When asked if he would have been willing to undergo tests during his career that could diagnose CTE in living players, the nine-time Pro Bowler and Super Bowl champion said no.

"If they're going to give me this test and this test is going to be a negative towards me as a player and I gotta go home now and I can't play this game anymore, no," Reed said. "I don't wanna know till after. I don't wanna know until when I'm retired. No guy would want that. No player would want it."

Researchers at the Department of Veterans Affairs and Boston University told PBS's Frontline in September that 96 percent of deceased NFL players and 79 percent of all football players they studied exhibited CTE. The study had examined brain tissue of 165 individuals who played football in high school or college as well as at the professional and semi-pro levels.

Despite a number of former players being diagnosed with the degenerative brain disease after repeated blows to the head, Reed chooses to see the positive outcomes as a result of his successful career and claims he wouldn't change a thing if he could do it all over again.

"Now that I know the dangers? Yes, I still would do it again," Reed said. "Why? 'Cause look at me. Look at my family. They're able to eat, they're able to have food and shelter over their head. Would I play football again? Yes."

Although CTE can only be diagnosed after death, Robert Stern, director of clinical research for the BU CTE Center, told Kroft that he believes a test to identify the disease while the individual is alive could be available in the next five to 10 years.

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Aubrey Huff on comeback trail

Aubrey Huff last wore a jersey in the major leagues as part of the San Francisco Giants in 2012, celebrating with his teammates after sweeping the Detroit Tigers in the World Series. 

Only deep down, Huff wasn't celebrating at all. He was fighting with anxiety and depression every day at 35 years old. 

In a video with Gillette World Sport, Huff opens up about both issues and how now that he's able to hone them much better, he is attempting to come back to the majors at 38 years old. He will be 39 in December. 

"The biggest thing for me is to inspire people, because millions and millions of people live with anxiety and depression throughout their life," says Huff. 

Huff arrived in San Francisco in 2010 and had one of his best seasons of his career. In 157 games played, the powerful lefty hit .290/.385/.506 with 26 home runs and 86 RBI. He finished seventh in National League MVP voting and was a key to the Giants bringing home their first World Series trophy in the San Francisco era. 

The Giants awarded him with a two-year $22 million contract after the season, but he couldn't produce to the same standards. His last season with the club, he only played in 52 regular season games -- losing his job to a 24-year-old Brandon Belt -- and the Giants declined his $10 million option for a third year. 

For Huff, his comeback attempt isn't just to suit up in the bigs again, but get back to the player he was for the Giants in 2010. 

"Not only do I want to come back, I don't want to sit the bench, but have the best season I've ever had in my life." 

One of the biggest reasons Huff believes he can play the way he once did again is the training he's been doing. Instead of traditional weight lifting, Huff has been going through isometric training, meaning he focuses less on weight and more on multiple timed holds and movements. 

This unique way of training is credited to Huff's trainer Jason Huntley at Velocity Sports Performance in San Diego. Huff refers to him as the "Mad Scientist." 

"I believe so deeply, when I go back this year, I'm going to be better than I ever have because I'm doing things that nobody else is doing," Huff said on his training regiment. 

Huntley saw Huff as an out of shape athlete that needed to slowly increase how hard he trains. But, quickly he realized there's much more to the man. 

"There's something more driving Aubrey, this ultimate picture he has to be the greatest version of Aubrey Huff he's ever been in his life," Huntley explains.

Huff wants to go out the way he intended to. Once the 2012 season ended and his option was declined, he felt anxiety and depression won the battle and it was time for him to move on. 

Now, he's moving in a different direction that is completely rejuvenating him. 

"I believe in hard work, I believe in the grind. If you're not facing fears, if you're not grinding it out every day and not really embracing a challenge, then you're dying inside. And to me, that's where I was. 

"After baseball was over, I was dying." 

Now, more healthy mentally and physically, Huff is just waiting for an MLB club to bring the 13-year veteran back to life on the diamond.

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Shane Larkin: Scores 14 points in Tuesday's win

Larkin scored 14 points and hit four shots from downtown over 14 minutes in Tuesday's 90-88 win against the Hawks.

Larkin set a career high with the four treys and was pretty much the only contributor off the Nets' bench, scoring all but two of its points. The former Miami Hurricane may be worth adding to your watch list in deeper formats.

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Anthony Chickillo Earning His Keep On Special Teams

The Pittsburgh Steelers earlier in the season elected to promote rookie draft pick Anthony Chickillo from the practice squad to the 53-man roster, first, possibly, because of an injured thumb for James Harrison, but also because his special teams capability made him more valuable than Caushaud Lyons, the seventh defensive lineman.

The two essentially switched places, with Lyons never seeing a helmet during any of the games on which he was on the 53-man roster. Since the call-up six weeks ago, Chickillo has spent the last four games with a helmet during games, contributing on special teams.

Since that time, the sixth-round outside linebacker has accounted for two special teams tackles, but more importantly, he made the Roosevelt Nix tackle on the Raiders returner count by being the one to recover the fumble after the first-year fullback was able to jar the ball loose.

Chickillo was not the first player to the ball, nor the first Steelers player to have the opportunity to recover it, but he was the one who displayed the best awareness and the instinct to secure the ball first and foremost.

The Steelers have constructed their roster in 2015 in such a way that they have wound up for most of the season with an anomalous 10 linebackers amongst the 53 eligible to dress for games, something that they had only briefly 20 years ago, and not at any point since.

Of course, Chickillo is decidedly 10th on that list, though not without a purpose for the future. After all, Harrison, at 37 years of age, is very near the end of his career, which may have as few as seven games remaining. And 2012 first-round draft pick Jarvis Jones could be playing his final season in Pittsburgh in 2016. Hypothetically at the moment, of course.

But part of the reason that the Steelers chose to call up Chickillo from the practice squad is unquestionably because they believe that he can be an asset to the team in the future in an aspect that includes contributions on the defensive side of the ball.

In fact, by the way that he answered certain questions, or rather declined to answer, after he was originally called up suggested that there were teams showing interest in the former college defensive end. The Steelers may have ended up promoting him anyway.

But he has gotten the opportunity to see the field due to injuries sustained by Ryan Shazier and Terence Garvin, both key special teams contributors. At least one of them has missed each of the last four games, during which Chickillo has been active.

Shazier has been back for a couple of games now, but Garvin has remained out. He may be held out another game, especially considering the Steelers have a week off after Sunday’s contest.

Regardless of whether or not the rookie goes back to the inactive list, he has shown in his brief stint that he is deserving of the roster spot, a view that many of us held during the preseason. He has contributed positively to the team’s success on special teams after they force-fed him virtually every snap they could in the preseason, and it has paid off.

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Allen Hurns plans to play through injury, hopes to extend TD streak

JACKSONVILLE, Florida — Jaguars receiver Allen Hurns has one streak on his mind this week:

Consecutive games played.

Hurns has played in all 24 games during his two years in Jacksonville (2-6), and he doesn't expect a sprained left foot to keep him off the field Sunday at Baltimore (2-6).

"I don't want to let anyone down," said Hurns, who missed practice Wednesday as a precaution. "I'll fight through anything to make sure I'm out there."

With Hurns planning to play, the Jaguars surely would like to see him extend his other streak.

Hurns has a touchdown catch is six consecutive games. It's a franchise record, the longest active streak in the NFL and tied for the longest such scoring streak in the league over the last three seasons. Chicago's Alshon Jeffery (2014), Green Bay's Randall Cobb (2014) and New England's Wes Welker (2013) also accomplished the feat.

The last player to catch a TD pass in seven consecutive games was Dallas' Dez Bryant in 2012.

"It feels good after the game when people are talking about it," Hurns said. "But during the game and preparing for the week, I'm not really thinking about it at all. The main thing for me is staying consistent and continuing to do what I do each day. As long as I stay consistent and be available every game, I think those kinds of opportunities will present themselves."

Hurns has 36 receptions for 635 yards and six touchdowns this season, including a go-ahead, diving, twisting, staying-in-bounds, 31-yarder with 2:16 to play against Buffalo in London last month.

He followed that with a five-catch, 122-yard performance at the New York Jets last week.

And he's done it despite missing practices with ankle, thigh and now foot injuries.

"He's as tough as they come, for sure," quarterback Blake Bortles said. "No doubt about that. Mentally and physically, he's one of the tougher guys I've ever been around. ... If he can go, there's no doubt that he'll go play."

Hurns has come a long way since going undrafted last season. The former Miami standout went to training camp last season without the nearly as much fanfare as second-round picks Marqise Lee and Allen Robinson. But when Lee and Robinson missed games, Hurns stepped up. And when Lee missed all of the 2015 offseason as well as most of camp and the entire preseason, Hurns stepped into a starting role.

It's his spot now, one he won't relinquish even if Lee returns this week from a nagging hamstring injury or when rookie Rashad Greene (thumb) returns next week from short-term injured reserve.

"There was a lot of doubt (about me) coming in," Hurns said. "Being able to do things consistently, people started recognizing. It feels good. But at the end of the day, people need to know that me and Allen Robinson are just getting started. We've still got a lot of time to improve. That's what's exciting about it. We're just in Year 2 and look at the things we're doing. The main thing is to just stay consistent."

And stay on the field.

"It comes down to mental toughness," Hurns said. "Once I'm out there on the field I'm not really thinking about me. I'm thinking about the people around people as far as just being out there for my teammates. I know they're counting on me."

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Vikings Activate CB Josh Robinson from PUP, Waive TE Chase Ford

On Wednesday the Vikings announced that the club has activated CB Josh Robinson from the Reserve/Physically Unable to Perform list. Robinson will take the place of TE Chase Ford, who was waived, on the 53-man roster.

Robinson started practicing with the team three weeks ago after suffering a pectoral injury during the club's offseason program.

The fourth-year cornerback had 40 tackles and three interceptions a season ago.

He has played 42 regular season games, including 21 starts, since he was selected in the third round of the 2012 NFL Draft. Robinson has 160 tackles, five interceptions, 28 passes defensed, 5.0 tackles for loss and 12 tackles on special teams.

Ford has 34 career receptions for 391 yards (20 catches for 258 yards) and a touchdown in 20 career games played.

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Vilma: Ex-Saints coach Gregg Williams deserves ‘dirty’ reputation

Former New Orleans Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma told SI’s Pro Football Now that St. Louis Rams defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, a former Saints assistant coach, deserves his “dirty” reputation.

Rams cornerback Lamarcus Joyner knocked Minnesota Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater out of Sunday’s game with a hit in the fourth quarter, leaving him on the ground face down. Bridgewater sustained a concussion on the play, but is expected to play in Week 10.

After the game, Vikings coach Mike Zimmer did not say the hit was intentional, but brought up Williams' reputation as an aggressive defensive coach.

“I do know that there’s a history there with their defensive coordinator,” Zimmer said. “I’ll leave it at that.”

Williams served as the defensive coordinator for the Saints from 2009 to 2011, and played a role in the bounty scandal that allegedly paid Saints players bonuses for targeting opponents and knocking them out of games. Vilma played under Williams for those three seasons.

“I do think he deserves the reputation and I’m speaking objectively because I played for him for three years,” Vilma said. “And frankly, he’s been in the league for over 20 years. The things that he practices, he coaches and preaches is an old-school mentality.”

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Sam Shields making progress, hopes to play against Detroit

Green Bay—Packers cornerback Sam Shields said he was able to move around well in practice Wednesday and felt that his injured shoulder was improving enough that he could play Sunday against Detroit.

Shields suffered a shoulder sprain in the first quarter of the Denver game two weeks ago and did not play against Carolina.

Practice Wednesday was not conducted in pads, but Shields said progress is being made.

"I feel pretty good today," Shields said. "I did a lot of moving. Things I thought I wasn't able to do, I was able to do it, going up and getting the ball and things like that. Everything felt good. But I'm still taking it one day at a time."

The next step for Shields will be to practice in pads Thursday and see how the shoulder responds to being banged around a little. A bigger concern than that, however, appears to be his ability to reach out or extend upward with his arm.

He said that if he were able to play against Detroit, he would wear a brace on his shoulder to help keep it from opening too far and causing a recurrence of the injury. His former teammate, Tramon Williams, was able to play through almost an entire season with a harness.

"It's just something to protect it," Shields said. "Just like an ankle brace or a knee brace."

Shields said it's been difficult to watch the last two games knowing he could have helped cover some of the opposition's receivers and contributed to a better performance. From the sideline he said he was able to get a feel for some of the things that have been going wrong, and he doesn't think the solution is that difficult.
"It's just everybody has to get on the same page," Shields said. "That's just any sport. Communication, being on the same page, doing what you're supposed to do, being in the right spot. It wasn't nothing big. A lot of minor things we can correct and that's what we're doing this week.

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Duke Johnson is evidence the Cleveland Browns do get it right sometimes

BEREA, Ohio – As Johnny Manziel stood in the center of the locker room Wednesday defending his right to enjoy himself away the training facility, Andrew Hawkins spoke about the importance of professionalism.

The subject was the team's youngest player. The assessment was glowing.

"I think Duke (Johnson) is a great player and he's just scratching the surface," the veteran receiver said. "He works hard and he's a good pro, which is something I look for with rookies coming in. Do they understand the business of football? Do they come in and do their jobs to the best of their abilities? That's what I see Duke doing."

Browns fans have grown conditioned in recent seasons to expect the worst from their draft picks. They either Play Like a (Charlie) Brown on the field or act like a knucklehead away from it. The special ones, no names please, hit with power to both fields.

In a season where so much appears lost, it's worth remembering the organization sometimes gets it right. That's certainly the case with Johnson, who doesn't turn 23 until next September.

The University of Miami product is a rarity around these parts – a bona fide playmaker who arrived as advertised.

The third-round pick is not yet making a significant impact in the rushing attack (who is?) but the versatile back is a weapon in the pass game. It's that facet the Browns hyped on draft night and all through OTAs.

Imagine that, a youngster playing to expectation. Maybe it's not big news in some NFL precincts, but it's a welcome change in Berea, where rookies often depreciate in value the moment they leave their introductory news conference.

Among all league backs, Johnson ranks fourth in receiving yards (369) and receiving touchdowns (two) and sixth in catches (35).

"He has certainly shown in his rookie year that it is not too big for him and he can be very productive," coach Mike Pettine said. "There are a lot of graduate level details that he needs to get cleaned up, but ... we are very pleased with where Duke is."

Some contend using the 77th pick on a running back who's essentially a wide receiver is a bit high. Fair point. The counter argument is: Have you seen the Browns' receiving corps?

Johnson lines up all over the formation and is arguably the toughest matchup for opposing defensive coordinators. Since Week 4, he's caught passes for 34, 27, 21, 52 and 26 yards. Only tight end Gary Barnidge can better those big-play sums since the season's opening month.

"I was down there at his pro day and saw him run routes and catch the ball and do some of those things so I'm not surprised by some of the things he's been able to do," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said on a Wednesday conference call. "I think it was quite evident for those of us who were on hand at his pro day."

A concussion and hamstring injury forced him to miss virtually the entire training camp. Johnson didn't resemble the dynamic player the Browns described in the season's first two games. Then, he caught a short pass late in the 27-20 loss to the Raiders, made a couple defenders miss and gained 19 yards.

Johnson has been an elusive presence ever since – sometimes even to his quarterbacks and offensive coordinator. Both Josh McCown and Manziel have missed the wide-open running back on multiple occasions. His 26-yard catch against the Bengals could have netted a huge gain had Manziel spotted him earlier in the route.

But the 5-foot-9, 210 pounder seldom complains. Not even when the Browns have failed to get him the ball in the second half of losses to the Cardinals and Bengals.

"I was out there (against Cincinnati)," Johnson said. "I just wasn't making plays."

John DeFilippo vowed to make more use of running backs in the pass game and Johnson has enabled the first-year coordinator to deliver on the promise.

Despite a strong start, the rookie hardly acts as though he has the game figured out.

"(I need to) improve every aspect of my game," he said. "I'm catching the ball well, but I could do it better. I'm running routes OK, but I could do it better. I'm running the ball average and I know I could do it better. ... (Same) with passing blocking."

Johnson also didn't duck answering a pointed question as to why the Browns have managed a combined three points after intermission in the past three games.
"We're leaving the offense in the locker room," he said. "I don't think we come out to play in the second half. First half we come out the way we want and the second half we come out and tell ourselves we're going to come out even better, but yet we don't do it."

No rookie-speak there. No "that's a better question for the coaches." Here is a player who expects more of himself and his team.

Johnson and the Browns need to get more out of him in the running game. He's carried the ball just 59 times for 179 yards. Johnson refuses to lobby for more carries, though.

"To me, touches are touches," he said. "However I get the ball in my hands is fine."

We spend lots of time analyzing what the Browns have gotten wrong in recent drafts. General Manager Ray Farmer and his staff got this one right.

Duke Johnson is a good pro and he's getting better.

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Ed Reed revisits Destrehan High, gives heavily to community

Sometimes its good to get back to your roots.

And the roots-- in this case, Destrehan High School, appreciate it.

St. Rose native and former NFL great Ed Reed returned to his alma mater recently as part of the NFL's Super Bowl High School Honor Roll initiative.

The initiative encourages all players who appeared in a Super Bowl game return to their alma mater.

Reed didn't come empty handed. He presented the school with a Wilson gold commemorative football. The future Hall of Famer helped lead the Baltimore Ravens to a 34-31 victory over the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl  XLVII.

Reed made his ninth post season interception in that bowl.

But memories of being back at Destrehan High also evoke emotion.

"Being back at Wildcat Stadium is an awesome thing," he said as he checked out the upgraded field house and the weight room.

Reed was enthused as he watched the current team play, adding that he saw future NFL players on the field.

Reed has always given to his community and his alma mater. He has done so much that many programs are attached to his name.

Even the River Parishes football Jamboree is called the Ed Reed Jamboree.

Then there's an Ed Reed Football Camp, an Ed Reed Golf Tournament along with the Ed Reed Foundation-- a community service outlet for youths.

While he was in Baltimore he held incentives for high school students in what proved to be a successful program according to the locals.

Yes, this ex-footballer player shows that he truly cares for people of all sorts.  Truly his name will continue to become a household one as his foundation will erect a park near the area that he was raised.

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TD Streak Extended - 7 TDs Scored

SEVEN #‎proCane TDs were scored in Week 10 of the NFL!

#Browns RB Duke Johnson, #‎Dolphins RB Lamar Miller (2), #Panthers TE Greg Olsen, #Raiders TE Clive Walford, #Jags WR Allen Hurns, #Colts RB Frank Gore.

Duke Johnson’s TD extended the streak to 15 straight weeks a #proCane has scored a TD in the #‎NFL. Greg Olsen’s TD was also the 500th reception of his career!

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Ray-Ray Armstrong investigated for K-9 taunt

PITTSBURGH -- The Allegheny County Sheriff's Office is investigating a Raiders player, which a source with direct knowledge of the situation identified as linebacker Ray-Ray Armstrong, for allegedly taunting a K-9 service dog before Oakland's game Sunday against the Steelers.

The alleged crime would be considered a third-degree felony in Pennsylvania. Armstrong could face charges by the end of the week, according to the source.

The Raiders player barked at the dog, lifted his shirt and pounded his chest between exiting the locker room and entering the field area for warm-ups, according to Chief Deputy Kevin Kraus. Kraus said the player also told the deputy holding the K-9 to "send the dog."

"The dog was going crazy," Kraus said. "The deputy was trying to control the dog the best she could."

The sheriff's office notified the Steelers, the NFL and the Raiders of the investigation. It interviewed witnesses and obtained video surveillance, which captured a portion of the incident, but did not interview Armstrong before he left town.

Armstrong had no comment when approached by reporters Tuesday.

The Steelers consider this a police matter and did not comment. ESPN left messages with the Raiders and Armstrong's agent, Tony Paige, seeking comment. Armstrong could be subject to league discipline if arrested.

The Raiders signed Armstrong in October 2014 after the Rams cut him for committing an excessive number of penalties. He was a starter for Oakland and is now mostly a special teamer.

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Ereck Flowers quiet man really a vocal leader in disguise

Ereck Flowers is a man of very few words with the media, but the Giants can’t get their impressive rookie left tackle to shut up when the tape recorders and camera lights are off.

“He talks all the time,” guard Justin Pugh said with a laugh Friday afternoon. “The other day I ended up having to tell him that he needed to just shut up because he was talking too much.”

When it comes to reporters, though, Flowers prefers to let his play speak for him. And that play lately has been speaking as loudly as his Big Blue teammates insist Flowers is in the locker room.

Pressed into starting duty right away at left tackle — the notorious “blind side” that is the NFL’s most difficult line position to play — by Will Beatty’s offseason pectoral injury, Flowers is looking like a potential cornerstone for the 4-4 Giants heading into Sunday’s matchup with the Buccaneers in Tampa.

The big first-round pick from Miami has started every game despite some nagging injuries and is considered a big reason the Giants are fifth in the NFL in scoring offense and 10th in passing offense while allowing Eli Manning to be sacked just 12 times.

Manning is on pace to be sacked 24 times, which would be his fewest since 2012 and the third lowest total over a full season in the quarterback’s 13-year pro career.

“He’s a big, strong kid who plays with good strength,” Pugh said of Flowers. “He just needs to keep working on his technique and getting better in that area. That’s the biggest transition for an offensive lineman on the pro level is handling [the level of technique required], and he’s getting it. He’s getting better every week.”

The Giants still can’t run the ball consistently or effectively in short-yardage situations (they rank in the bottom 10 in rushing yards, rushing touchdowns and average yards per carry), but that can’t be pinned on their 6-foot-5, 324-pound rookie tackle.

Don’t expect Flowers to break down his game or his feelings in great detail, either. Or in any detail, for that matter.

“The game has really slowed down for me, which is cool,” Flowers said Friday. “I feel like I belong and that I’ve made some really good strides with my game.”
Flowers then claimed he “forgot” what areas of his game he feels he has improved on and asked to end the interview after 90 seconds because, “I just want to go home, man.”

Flowers’ coaches and teammates are much more effusive with what they see from him on the field, which appears to be enough to force Beatty to move to right tackle when he is expected to come off injured reserve next week.

“He’s a great player who brings a lot to the table,” Pugh said about Flowers. “He’s going to continue to grow and continue to get better, so it’s definitely an exciting future for him, for sure.”

Flowers flashed that fiery side in the Giants’ ugly road loss to the Eagles last month, gathering teammates around him on the sideline after their second turnover and delivering an impassioned speech unusual for a rookie.

That’s a sign Flowers has matured and adapted to the NFL faster than anyone expected, as Manning noted recently.

“[The game] doesn’t seem too big for him,” Manning said. “He knows what’s going on, he’s handled everything, blocked guys and shown some toughness.

“He’s been banged up a little but shown toughness,” Manning added. “He wants to be out there. I’ve been impressed with how quickly he just knows everything that’s going on and knowing his assignments.”

Unless Flowers is alone with teammates, though, look for it to continue to be a case of show, not tell.

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Falcons Release LaRon Byrd, Redskins Sign Byrd

LaronByrd 2
LaRon Byrd

NFL debut: 10/14/12 (at BUF)... First reception: 12/23/12 (vs. CHI, 8 yards from Ryan Lindley)

Originally entered the NFL with the Arizona Cardinals as a college free agent on April 30, 2012... Waived by the Cardinals on April 4, 2014... Signed with the Dallas Cowboys on May 1, 2014... Waived by the Cowboys on August 30, 2014... Claimed off waivers by the Cleveland Browns on August 31, 2014... Waived by the Browns on October 3, 2014... Signed to the Cowboys’ practice squad on October 7, 2014... Released from the Cowboys’ practice squad on October 9, 2014... Signed to the Miami Dolphins’ practice squad on October 21, 2014... Released from the Dolphins’ practice squad on December 2, 2014... Re-signed with the Dolphins on April 15, 2015... Waived by the Dolphins on August 30, 2015... Signed to the Atlanta Falcons’ practice squad on September 16, 2015... Released from the Falcons’ practice squad on November 3, 2015... Signed to the Washington Redskins’ practice squad on November 9, 2015.

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Jon Beason placed on IR

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – To create room on the roster after activating DE Jason Pierre-Paul, the Giants placed linebacker Jon Beason on injured reserve. Beason has injuries to his knee and ankle. He played in five games, making this the second consecutive year the defensive captain’s season has been cut short by injury.

Beason missed the season’s first two games with a knee injury. He made his 2015 debut vs. Washington on Sept. 24, and had five tackles the following week in Buffalo.

On Oct. 11, Beason suffered a concussion in the first quarter of the Giants’ victory over San Francisco. Two weeks later, he had a season-high 11 tackles (seven solo) against Dallas. But he hurt his ankle in that game, and continues to have issues with his knee.

Last year, Beason hurt his toe during a workout in June. He played in four games before going on injured reserve on Oct. 29. Beason subsequently underwent surgery to repair his foot/toe injury.

This is the fifth time in six seasons dating back to when he was with Carolina in 2011 that Beason will play no more than five games. The exception was 2013, the year he was acquired by the Giants in a trade, when he played in 12 games.

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WATCH: Greg Olsen’s 500th Career Reception is a Touchdown

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Allen Hurns: Sprains left foot

Allen Hurns , who sprained his left foot against the Jets on Sunday, was sporting a walking boot Monday, the Associated Press reports.

Per the report, Hurns -- who evidently hurt his foot on Jacksonville's final offensive play Sunday -- underwent an X-ray and a MRI, but neither revealed any major issues. With that in mind, Hurns maintains hopes of playing Sunday against the Ravens, while acknowledging "it's kind of tender right now. I'm not sure how it will play out...but it's going to take an awful lot for me not to be out there. I'll fight through anything to make sure I'm out there."

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Greg Olsen hadn't seen anything like Talib's eye poke

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Clive Walford: Catches a touchdown

Walford caught one of his five targets for one yard and a touchdown in Sunday's loss to the Steelers.

Although Walford only secured one-of-five looks, it was an important catch as he hauled in a one yard score on a day where the Raiders' offense picked apart the Steelers. The rookie tight end received more targets than either of the other two tight ends, which is a good sign moving forward. It looks as if Walford will continue to be a part of the passing game through the second half, and he should have a decent matchup at home against the Vikings next week.

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Allen Hurns leads Jags with 122 yards in Week 9

Allen Hurns snagged five of eight targets for 122 yards and a touchdown in the Jaguars' Week 9 loss to the Jets.

Hurns looked like a man possessed on Sunday. He drew Antonio Cromartie in coverage and routinely dusted him. Some of the highlights included a nice toe tap along the sideline and a 30-yard touchdown on a double move that juked Cromartie out of his shoes late in the first half. He was a consistent problem for the Jets’ secondary. Hurns is quietly developing into an every-week WR2. Expect him to have another big game next week in Baltimore.

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Lamar Miller: Two TDs in loss

Lamar Miller rushed 12 times for 44 yards and two touchdowns (both from one-yard out) and caught all seven targets for a team-high 97 receiving yards Sunday against the Bills.

Miller has now failed to reach even 15 carries in all but one game this season, but he has been getting in the end zone of late, scoring six touchdowns in the last four games. Up next is a Week 10 matchup against the Eagles, who have allowed just three rushing touchdowns all season.

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Frank Gore: Tallies 102 total yards against Denver

Gore rushed for 83 yards and a touchdown on 28 carries in Sunday's win over Denver. He added a 19-yard reception on the day.

The stats don't necessarily do Gore's performance justice as he paced Indy's offense in the first half as the Colts piled up a 17-0 lead. His 102 all-purpose yards and 29 touches were both season highs and with a new offensive coordinator, Rob Chudzinski, calling the shots it wil be interesting to see whether the Colts lean more heavily on the run as a means of taking pressure, and hits, off of Andrew Luck.

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Rob Chudzinski simplified offensive scheme

New Colts OC Rob Chudzinski simplified the offense ahead of the Week 9 win over the Broncos.

"I think that was probably the difference. We scaled back a lot," Andre Johnson said. "Guys were just flying around out there, playing as hard as possible, trying to make plays." Chud will likely add more wrinkles over the bye week, but the streamlined approach led to Andrew Luck's best game of the season against possibly the best defense he has faced. With Luck finally looking decisive in the pared-down attacked, the Colts should look to keep the offense as simple as possible moving forward.

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Calais Campbell plans to take game up a notch in second half

As the Arizona Cardinals prepare to start the second half of the season, defensive tackle Calais Campbell is ready to heed his coach's advice.

A lackluster performance by Campbell against the Cleveland Browns prior to last week's bye prompted a critique from Cardinals coach Bruce Arians, who told an Arizona radio station that the massive tackle "needs to be dominating the game."

Campbell, who was limited to three tackles versus the Browns, addressed Arians' comments days later and admitted he couldn't disagree with the assessment.

“I have high standards for myself, and there are a lot of plays out there — especially in the first half of the season — that I feel I’ve missed out on,” Campbell said. “Each week, you just want to play your best game and, you know, (Arians) is right. I could play better. He wants to see me play better."

Slow starts to the season have become somewhat commonplace for the 6-foor-8, 300-pound Campbell. He registered six of his seven sacks over the final eight games last season and notched five sacks over the last seven games in 2013.

“There is definitely another level there, and I’m ready to hit it,” Campbell said. “The second half of the season is really when you want to play your best football. Some guys peak too soon, they’ll start playing too well, too early and they’ll fizzle out at the end of the season.

“I’m expecting to play my best football moving forward and hopefully deep into the playoffs.”

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Andre Johnson opens up on his new reality

He's on pace for, by far, the least productive season of his esteemed 13-year NFL career, but Andre Johnson is still smiling.

Family and friends want to know why he's not putting up bigger numbers, but Johnson isn't fazed.

The reactions to Johnson's underwhelming season range from "told ya so" to utter surprise. Either way, it seems others are more consumed with evaluating the Colts' 7-time Pro Bowl receiver than Johnson himself is.

"People can say whatever they want and feel how they want," said Johnson, on pace for 43 catches and 512 yards. "I sleep good at night. I'm not really caught up in what people have to say. I've had a great career. I've caught a lot of passes and gained a lot of yards. I don't really get caught up in what outside people have to say."

That's not intended as a mean-spirited comment. Hardly. It was Johnson's way of expressing that he's content with his diminishing role in the Colts' offense (he played just 41 percent of the snaps in Sunday's win over the Denver Broncos).

You can ask him forward and backward, over and over, whether he entertains any second thoughts about joining the Colts as a free agent in March, and you'll get the same uninteresting and repetitive answer: I'm here to win.

There's just one conclusion: It's true.

Johnson was targeted three times Sunday and finished without a catch for the third time this season. In his 169 games with the Houston Texans, with whom he spent the previous 12 seasons before he was released in March, Johnson finished without a catch one time.

Now, he's giving way to the likes of Griff Whalen in the fourth quarter of a huge game. At other times, instead of being the featured receiver, he's run blocking for close friend Frank Gore. Imagine the adjustment this must require for a guy who is the best player in Texans history and has five seasons with 100 or more receptions.

And yet, Johnson is happily accepting this new reality.

"Like I've said before, you just have to do your part," Johnson said. "You have to put your pride to the side. Yeah, anybody would like to have six, seven balls a game. But that's not what it is. I've said before, it can be my day today and somebody else's day tomorrow. I'm sure nobody thought Griff was going to get in and catch the balls that he did. That's the biggest thing when you're trying to achieve that ultimate goal: You have to do things that you haven't done before."

There seems to be resignation both with Johnson and his coaches that he's not the player he once was. In fact, he's very clearly not the player the Colts thought he'd currently be considering they handed him a 3-year, $21 million contract before this season.

You can question the wisdom of the investment. But you cannot question Johnson's attitude – as well as its far-reaching impact on those around him.

The Colts' receivers are a young group. T.Y. Hilton and Whalen, both 25, are the senior members of the unit aside from the 34-year old Johnson. There is no better team-first example than what they're seeing from Johnson.

"We're a very young unit," receivers coach Jim Hostler said. "There's only one guy that's had a little bit of success, which is T.Y. But if you compare his success to Andre, it's not even close. So, when you have that kind of guy, even guys who have had success when they're young have to take notice of it. They have to actually understand that they're in the presence of a guy who has done this not just for three or four years, but for 10… This is a once-in-a-lifetime guy that's sitting in that room, taking a back seat and doing whatever he can. Things that he's never been asked to do, he's doing."

Interestingly, Johnson didn't need a talking to when he arrived, Hostler said. He arrived with the understanding that this would be a different situation than any he's experienced. And that has made his coaches' jobs easier. There's no need to massage his ego. And there's no unnecessary pressure to ensure Johnson gets the ball, lest he express his dissatisfaction and affect the delicate balance of the unit.

"He wasn't going to come in here and take over what T.Y. had already established with the quarterback," Hostler said. "You knew his focus was not about the money or the catches or getting to a certain level and trying to get to the Pro Bowl. His mindset was to come in here and help us in any way he could.

"Each week is different and he knows that. Some weeks we will ask a little bit more of him. Some weeks, his matchup might be a little bit better. But he also understands he might also have to do some other things to help us."

And when those times come, Johnson predictably, and quietly, does as he's asked.

"I'm embracing every part of it," he said. "Yeah, it's different for me. But I don't have a problem with it."

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Duke Johnson scores in loss to Cincinnati

Duke Johnson rushed three times for no yards and caught two of four targets for 38 yards and a touchdown in the Browns' Week 9 loss to the Bengals.

The touchdown came late in the first half on a play where Vontaze Burfict lost him in coverage. Johnson also produced a 26-yard catch on a running throw by Johnny Manziel. That was Cleveland’s longest play of the night. Even with little involvement in the running game, Johnson is a good enough receiver to warrant flex consideration most weeks. He'll get the Steelers in Week 10.

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Rob Chudzinski: Ultimately, Andrew Luck has to make those plays

New Colts offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski knows that the Colts’ offense will succeed less because of his play calling than because of Andrew Luck’s execution.

Chudzinski said that he and Luck talked after Pep Hamilton was fired and Chudzinski was promoted this week. Chudzinski came away impressed with Luck’s understanding of what he needs to do.

“Obviously we talked afterwards,” Chudzinski said. “I think Andrew wants to win. That’s what I get out of any conversation with him. He’s a special player and person, really unique. He has a plan for everything that he does, always working to improve and the goal of winning. He’s taken this thing, the bull by the horns and he’s working to get better every day himself.”

Chudzinski said the key for Luck is consistency.

“I see that there’s been times where he’s on fire, and there’s been times where not so much. Again, he knows and he’s worked on and talked about being consistent. Hopefully again, by design, there’s some things you can do to put him in that position where he is. Ultimately he has to go make those plays, and I’m confident he will,” Chudzinski said.

If Luck turns things around, the Colts can turn things around. If he doesn’t, there’s not much of anything Chudzinski can do to change the Colts’ fortunes.

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