03 August 2014

LaRon Byrd getting back in football mode

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OXNARD, Calif. -- LaRon Byrd was on injured reserve last season with the Arizona Cardinals because of a concussion. He might as well have disappeared.

"It's mentally frustrating because you want to play football," Byrd said. "This is what you do. This is what you dream of being and being home watching it, that's the hardest part. But in a way it helps you because it regains your focus and it just shows how bad you want it and how bad you're going to come for it. I busted my tail in the weight room, busted my tail in the offseason, got back in shape, got my weight down and I feel good again."

His NFL experience is not a ton, but it shows through in practice.

The Cardinals released Byrd in April. The Cowboys signed him on May 1. Through the early part of training camp Byrd has inserted himself into the conversation with his play. He is big (6-4, 225 pounds). He can make contested catches, like his touchdown in red zone drills between defensive backs while going to the ground. He can go up and get the ball.

Jason Garrett likes to call receivers like Byrd, "quarterback friendly." In other words, the pass does not have to be perfect for Byrd to make the catch.

"Finally getting back into the mode of football," he said.

Byrd made the Cardinals as an undrafted free agent in 2012 and caught one pass for 8 yards in four games. He also contributed two special teams' tackles. In that preseason he led the Cardinals with 12 catches to go with 148 yards.

The road to the Cowboys' final roster will not be an easy one for Byrd. Five receivers are penciled in -- Dez Bryant, Terrance Williams, Cole Beasley, Dwayne Harris and Devin Street -- and they would have to go lighter at another position to carry a sixth.

Byrd has learned not to play the numbers' game.

"At the end of the day it's football," Byrd said. "You can only do what you can control. What you control is you coming out here and working hard and doing what you got to do. Everything else, that's the front office and the coaches' job. As far as me, I have confidence in myself."

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Olivier Vernon (back) adds to injury list

DAVIE, Fla. -- The injury list continues to grow for the Miami Dolphins. The team announced Tuesday morning that starting defensive end and 2013 sack leader Olivier Vernon has a back injury and is expected to miss multiple practices. Vernon suffered the injury during Monday's practice and didn't finish the session.

Vernon was the biggest name added to Miami's injury list Tuesday. However, backup running back Daniel Thomas (hamstring) and backup tight ends Michael Egnew (concussion) and Gator Hoskins (hamstring) also will miss multiple practices.

Do not expect any of these aforementioned players to participate in Friday's preseason opener against the Atlanta Falcons.

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Lighter Wilfork looking good at NT for Patriots

RICHMOND, Va. — Nose tackle Vince Wilfork was an impressive force on the New England Patroits defensive line in joint practices with the Washington Redskins. The Patriots captain missed all but four games last season with a torn Achilles tendon, but has been at full health throughout training camp and seems to have no limitations coming back from the injury.

“I feel fine. To me, that’s in the past. I don’t even think about it,” Wilfork said.

“From the first day, I stepped on the field with full pads back at Gillette, I knew I could move around and play on it. I really didn’t think much of it after that. It’s an afterthought to me right now.”

Wilfork also added an interesting nugget, saying that he shed some pounds off his massive 325-pound frame with the idea of helping his rehab.
So far, so good.

“My training camp began a long time ago — in March,” Wilfork said. “I’ve been working for a long, long time and there’s a reason I feel good and a reason I have the confidence to play. It won’t stop. Every year I always try to work on something and one of the things (this year) was, with an Achilles the more weight you can try to take off the better your body feels. I tried that and it went well. That might be something in the long run where if I feel that helped me, it might be something I have to stick with.

“For the most part, everything is good right now. It’s just maintaining. That’s the main goal, to be able to continue to work at things, where I know I can get better, whether it’s on the field or off the field with my body. I think that’s what is going to keep me around as long as I want to be around and not getting pushed out the door. As long as I want to be around, I’ll be around.”

Patriots coach Bill Belichick learned much from joint practices in recent years. The Redskins became the fifth team to hold the combined summer workouts with the Patriots since 2010. While many previous workouts came against teams and coaches that had longstanding ties or relationships with Belichick, that’s not quite the situation with Washington and first-year head coach Jay Gruden.

“Once the preseason schedule came out and we saw that we opened in Washington, Jay — well (Redskins President/General Manager) Bruce (Allen) and then Jay and I all made contact,” Belichick said. “We talked about the opportunity of working against each other. We talked about it. We felt like we could make it work based on what our goals were and talking about our philosophy and how we work and so forth. As we got into more specifics, the actual drills and how they would be done and who would work against whom it seemed very workable.

“I know the members of our coaching staff have also worked closely with their guys. (Patriots defensive coordinator) Matt (Patricia) on our end and (Redskins offensive coordinator) Sean (McVay) or (Patriots offensive coordinator) Josh (McDaniels) and (Redskins defensive coordinator) Jim Haslett and so forth, just coordinate some things there. I feel like things are in place from the logistical standpoint. We just need to go out there and have a good practice.”

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Brandon Meriweather: ‘This is Work, Man. I’m a Professional’

RICHMOND, Va. (CBSDC) — If the uniform fazed Redskins safety Brandon Meriweather, he would not let on.

A first-round draft pick and two-time Pro Bowler while with the New England Patriots, Meriweather was cut by the club in 2011. Monday, he saw old friends when New England arrived in Richmond for three days of joint practices with Washington. “This is work, man. I’m a professional,” Meriweather said. “But it’s just another team. I’m a Washington Redskin now and that’s all that matters.”

That didn’t stop him from jawing with former teammate Tom Brady as the Patriots quarterback efficiently moved his team downfield during 11-on-11 work. That’s just Meriweather’s personality.

“Yes! Every day, man,” Meriweather said. “I talk junk to my own teammates, you don’t think I’m gonna talk junk to everybody else?”

Another former teammate, Patriots defensive lineman Vince Wilfork, just chuckled when told Meriweather’s comments.

“Some people run their mouth, some people just play,” Wilfork said. “He do both. You just have to know what you’re dealing with when you’re dealing with Brandon.”

But at 30 now, this is a serious season for Meriweather. He is on a one-year contract. Last year he spent the majority of his time at free safety, a  position he’d played before, but didn’t always seem comfortable in. This year, with veteran Ryan Clark added at that spot, Meriweather can stay exclusively a strong safety. That means more time helping stop the run, more chances to blitz and cause havoc.

“I never was in the box last year. At all. I was always deep middle,” Meriweather said. “This year it’ll be a lot more fun because now I get to do a little bit of both. You can’t pinpoint and tell us where I’m gonna be at every play so it’s gonna be fun….It wasn’t uncomfortable. It was just hard for me to get into the game plan because I’m always deep. I’m never blitzing. I wasn’t never doing anything.”

He’s exaggerating some there. Meriweather saw time at both safety spots, though not as much as he wanted. But to play that new role full time he has to keep himself on the field. There was much talk last week about the NFL’s crackdown on illegal contact by defensive back. But the league has already tried to punish repeat offenders for illegal hits to the head.

Meriweather earned a one-game suspension last season for a pair of Oct. 20 hits on Chicago wide receivers. He’d been fined earlier in the season $42,000 for an illegal hit that knocked Green Bay running back Eddie Lacy from a game on Sept. 15. “Brandon, he plays a very physical style of football. That’s all he knows. But there is a rule now, obviously, and he’s had to pay the price for it,” Redskins coach Jay Gruden said. “And he understands the next one is going to be a longer suspension.”

Gruden told Meriweather early in camp that he’d get a two-practice suspension if he doesn’t find a way to lower his target when hitting opponents.

“[Meriweather is] tough, he’s physical, he wants to do the right thing, but sometimes at that position the ball is in the air, he’s trying to knock the ball out and sometimes they unfortunately make contact head-to-head and it’s not intentional,” Gruden said. “I don’t think he has the intent to injure people. I think he has the intent to get the player down and get the ball out. Sometimes those instances look worse than they are, but he does have to really watch his area of target and hopefully we will keep him on the field for 16 weeks because he is much needed in the secondary.”

Meriweather credited new teammate Ryan Clark, a veteran safety, for showing him new ways to approach the game. Everything from diet to how he watches film to how he carries himself in meetings.  But one thing Clark did not address was Meriweather’s style of play.

“I tell Brandon to keep playing, we’re going to try and save him some money,” Clark said. “I’m going to try to talk him out of as many fines as I can this year, but I don’t want him to change his game. I want him to lower his strike zone the best he can because that’s the rule. But other than that, man, just keep playing football.”

It remains to be seen if Meriweather can do that. His track record in that area isn’t good and the NFL is vigilant about fining and suspending repeat offenders. But he can still play. And with Clark along side him and promising, healthy Phillip Thomas ready to step into a reserve role, the Redskins feel far more comfortable at safety than they did at any point last season. Meriweather, back at a more natural spot on the field, is a big part of that.

“I feel great. But, for me, it’s me getting better every day,” Meriweather said. “I’m not trying to worry about the one-year deal. I’m not worried about the deal. I’m not worried about anything. I’m just worried about me getting better every day.”

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Why Ed Reed had the best Miami season

Ed Reed had heart. He had swagger. He had leadership. He had emotion. He had a cool-under-pressure temperament. He had a knack for making big plays. He had key interceptions. He had major touchdown returns.

He had the tangibles, and he had the intangibles, the best of everything rolled into one complete package. Ed Reed may not have had the eye-popping stats on paper in 2001, but his performance that season transcends numbers.

Others may point to Willis McGahee or Warren Sapp or Russell Maryland. Miami has a long list of legendary players at just about every position on the football field. A multitude of guys could make the case for best single-season performance.

What Reed did in 2001 stands out above them all.

Without him, Miami does not win a fifth national championship.

I had the great fortune of covering that Miami team, one that ended up producing 17 first-round draft picks. Ken Dorsey, Clinton Portis, Jeremy Shockey and Andre Johnson were terrific. But Reed was on another level in two different ways: He was a phenomenal athlete with terrific range, a natural instinct for the ball and the ability to lay down the punishing hit -- but he also was the type of player his teammates refused to let down.

Three iconic snapshots from that season define him.

The first: His impromptu halftime speech against Florida State, with Miami up 21-13 but playing a pretty flat first half. His now famous, 'I'm hurt, dog!' rant, captured on video, has over 2 million views on YouTube. Nobody could inspire his teammates the way he did. Miami scored 28 points in the third quarter to romp to the victory.

The second: Miami up 12-7 against Boston College. The Eagles drove down to the Miami 9 with less than a minute to play. Reed came to the rescue. After Matt Walters intercepted a tipped pass, he was close to being tackled to the ground. Reed snatched the ball from Walters’ hands and scored a touchdown, preserving the unbeaten season in a play that still resonates today.

The third: The regular-season finale against Virginia Tech. The Hokies were the last true threat to the Canes’ unbeaten run. Again, Reed made the plays when they counted. He had two interceptions, including one in the closing minutes to seal the victory and a spot in the national championship game.

Reed ended up winning consensus All-America honors, and led the country with nine interceptions. He had 18 total pass breakups to lead the Big East but he lost out on the Thorpe Award that season to Roy Williams of Oklahoma, a shame considering the mark Reed left on college football.

Perhaps what Reed did that season was underappreciated at the time, considering all the talent surrounding him. Maybe it was easy to overlook his standalone performance, especially compared to the big names on offense.

But as the years pass, it becomes clear Reed the player and Reed the leader stand above all the Miami greats.

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Jon Jay drives in winning run in return to lineup

Jon Jay drove in the game-winning run with an RBI single in the eighth inning of Tuesday's game against the Red Sox.

Jay was back in the lineup for the first time since July 29 as he'd been dealing with left wrist soreness, and he came up with a big two-out hit against Red Sox reliever Junichi Tazawa to give the Cardinals the win. The single was Jays' only hit in four at-bats on the night. The 29-year-old is hitting .288/.345/.366 and should get the majority of the playing time in center field moving forward if his wrist is right.

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Yonder Alonso homers among three hits against Twins

Yonder Alonso went 3-for-4 with a home run in a loss to the Twins on Tuesday.

The Padres managed 12 hits against Twins pitching, but Alonso's solo home run in the fifth was the only run the team could muster. It was his first home run since being activated from the disabled list on July 26. Alonso also doubled in the game, and the three-hit effort was his first since May 30. It raised his season line to a meager .225/.267/.372.

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Sean Spence Getting First-Team Reps

It’s been a long road back for Pittsburgh Steelers third-year linebacker Sean Spence, but it looks like all of the speed bumps have now been cleared.

With starting rookie inside linebacker Ryan Shazier sitting out Monday’s practice with an injury suffered late in Sunday’s practice, Spence is the one that is receiving the first-team reps alongside Lawrence Timmons.

This is also the Steelers sixth padded training camp practice in a row and the Miami product hasn’t missed one of them.

Spence missed the first two seasons of his NFL career because of a serious knee injury that he suffered during the Steelers final preseason game of his rookie season. The nerve damage suffered during that injury had several in the Steelers organization wondering if he would ever play again.

The Steelers will play their first preseason game of the 2014 season Saturday night against the New York Giants and Spence should be able to make his triumphant return to the field. It should be an exciting moment for him.

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Seantrel Henderson Has Potential to Be Huge Steal for Buffalo Bills

There was never much doubt about Seantrel Henderson's talent coming out of Miami. There were plenty of doubts, however, about his character. 
In the seventh round of the 2014 NFL draft, the Buffalo Bills were willing to take that risk. So far, it looks like it's paying off. 

He held his own against the New York Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul on Sunday night in the Hall of Fame game, despite allowing the 2011 All-Pro to bat down an EJ Manuel pass at the line of scrimmage (some of the blame should fall on Manuel for staring down his receivers). Henderson also cleared the way for some long runs off the left side, allowing the Bills to show off their deep stable of running backs. 

Let's not put him in the Hall of Fame just yet, though. Bills head coach Doug Marrone certainly didn't do that when he said that Henderson has "a lot of work ahead of [him]" and added that Henderson left the game early because he was "sweating a lot." The only reason Henderson is getting the opportunity in the first place is because starting left tackle Cordy Glenn has been out with a mystery illness. 

The coaches know they have to keep expectations in check for Henderson. It's their best bet of keeping him motivated to push himself and become the Pro Bowl talent he has the potential to be. 

"He's a talented guy," Bills general manager Doug Whaley said on the John Murphy Show in July (via Syracuse.com). "We feel that, again, if he didn't have those demons, he would have been probably in the first round."

For the record, Whaley isn't the only one that feels that way. CBS Sports' Rob Rang compared Henderson to Chargers offensive tackle D.J. Fluker, drafted 11th overall in the 2013 NFL draft.

"If you want to draw up a first-round offensive tackle, this is the kid," said NFL Media draft analyst Mike Mayock when the Bills made the selection. "Offensive line coaches want to coach him. But there's a downside. There is all kinds of negative off-the-field issues. Because of all the issues off the field, he took himself from being a first-round pick to being a seventh-round pick."

Henderson's 6'7", 331-pound frame and 34.625-inch arms all scream "NFL left tackle." After failing his drug test at the 2014 scouting combine and leaving early during Miami's pro day, NFL scouts were screaming "stay away."


Henderson showed off those first-round traits when he stymied Pierre-Paul in pass protection. The extra time in the pocket allowed Manuel to go through his progressions and get the ball to an open receiver—in this case, tight end Lee Smith, who had settled down in a soft spot in coverage.

Pierre-Paul is known for his long arms and overall long frame, yet he could not get a good rush on Henderson, who kept him at bay by extending his arms into JPP's chest.

Manuel needs to get better at going through his progressions more quickly on a more consistent basis, but with pass protection like this, he can feel comfortable that he will have enough time to do so. 


Clearly the potential is there. The question is: How much of an opportunity will Henderson have to truly showcase that potential, and to build on it? As mentioned earlier, the starting job at left tackle belongs to Cordy Glenn as soon as he returns to action.

That being said, the starting spot at right tackle also appears to be up for grabs, with Cyrus Kouandjio and Erik Pears competing for the right to that spot. 
To this point, however, Kouandjio "has not been the player the team was expecting when they selected him in the second round" of May's draft, according to Joe Buscaglia of WGR 550 Buffalo. Perhaps when Glenn returns, the Bills could move Henderson to the right tackle spot and see how he performs on the other side of the offensive line. 

The talent is there, and as long as he continues to show the right attitude, the Bills will probably give him every chance to succeed.

"We've talked to Seantrel and he knows that he's got one shot," Whaley told ESPN, via ProFootballTalk. "We're saying we'll give you this one shot. It has nothing to do with us saying this guy is a talented football player; he's been dealing with some demons. Hopefully those demons are out of his life and why not give somebody—this is America—give somebody a chance."

NFL teams are never shy about giving those second chances in a low-risk, high-reward scenario. So far, Henderson has maximized his "one shot," and if he continues on this trajectory, that's all he may need.

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Patriots liked Jimmy Graham before his switch to football

In the spring of 2009, the Patriots hadn't yet found the tight ends they were looking for to revamp their offense. But they were looking -- even in the unlikeliest of places. 

In the August 4th issue of Sports Illustrated, Andrew Lawrence reports that the Patriots placed a phone call to University of Miami basketball coach Frank Haith to discuss the Canes' best post defender, a four-year letter-winner on the hoops team named Jimmy Graham. 

Graham hadn't seen a football field since the ninth grade, but New England was interested in working him out as a tight end. The transition from hardwood-to-gridiron had worked for players like Tony Gonzalez and Antonio Gates in the past, and the Patriots wanted to have a go at Graham.

The only difference? Gonzalez was an All-American in college at Cal, and Gates was recruited by Nick Saban to play at Michigan State after he was named an all-stater in high school. Graham hadn't strapped on pads in almost eight years when the Patriots came calling. 

Still, a workout was set up and Graham -- knowing scant football terminology -- caught passes from freshman quarterback Jacory Harris. The Patriots saw enough in the athletic 6-foot-8 power forward to offer him $5,000 on the spot if he signed. 

After consulting with Miami football coach Randy Shannon and former Hurricanes quarterback Bernie Kosar, Graham opted to pursue a secondary degree and join the school's football team. He had slipped through the Patriots grasp for the moment, but New England would have the opportunity to draft him the following year.

The rest, as they say, is history. Graham made just 17 catches in his one college football season, yet he was drafted by the reigning Super Bowl champion Saints in the third round with the No. 95 overall pick.

The Patriots had plenty of chances to make good on their initial interest and scoop him up before New Orleans, however. They selected Devin McCourty with the No. 27 overall pick in the first round and followed that up by spending their first of three second-round picks on another tight end -- a dual blocking and receiving threat with a history of back issues -- Rob Gronkowski at No. 42. 

After that, the Patriots still had three more picks with which they could have chose Graham if they wanted. Instead they went with Jermaine Cunningham (pick No. 53) and Brandon Spikes (No. 62) in the second round. They took receiver Taylor Price (No. 90) in the third round, five picks before Graham was chosen. 
In the fourth round, the Patriots went after Aaron Hernandez with the No. 113 selection, a "move" tight end who would eventually combine with Gronkowski to re-write records in terms of a team's production at the position.

Now with Hernandez incarcerated and Graham threatening to post double-digit touchdowns annually in New Orleans, it makes one wonder what might have been had the Patriots ranked Graham ahead of Price in that 2010 draft -- or had Graham accepted that offer in 2009 at a time when he might've had a hard time telling if a football was puffed or stuffed.

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Reggie Wayne looks like he wants to push it

ANDERSON, Ind. — Rolling through town to catch some Indianapolis Colts action, anxious to see just how good this team looks with some fairly lofty expectations this season.

Media access was this morning, so I didn't get to talk to players after practice Monday, but I'll do that tomorrow. In lieu of that, I thought I would pass on some general observations from what I saw at Anderson University.

The team was in shorts and shells — head coach Chuck Pagano is said to be limiting the full contact the team will have in camp — but there still was plenty to take in. Here goes:

Reggie Wayne is the most beloved Colt. More than Andre Luck even. Crazy, right? Fans cheered Wayne when he jogged toward them. They cheered when he ran away from them. Even catching a ball running at three-quarters speed in individual drills elicited applause.

Wayne is coming off an ACL injury, and he's not quite full go yet, although he was involved in plenty of team work Monday and looked good. I thought he geared up as the practice went on, starting cautiously when he was cutting, planting and pivoting — all the things you worry about post-ACL reconstruction — but looking smoother and more confident.

Wayne caught two notable passes in seven-on-seven work: one a tumbling sideline grab that he bounced up quickly from and another down the seam that would have been a touchdown, both of which (you guessed it) got the crowd amped. They love Reggie, and they are happy he appears to be on his way back nicely. Wayne plans to play in the preseason, and you can tell he wants to rev it up a little bit more. The Colts, meanwhile, appear to be holding him back a bit, wanting to be sure he doesn't press back into action too quickly.

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Orlando Franklin Ready To Make Best Of Move To Left Guard

DENVER (CBS4) – Offensive lineman Orlando Franklin did a good job at right tackle for the Broncos last year, but the team wanted to get bigger, stronger and faster in the middle of their offensive line.

So Franklin is now a left guard.

He wasn’t thrilled with the change at first, and even thought it might have to do with what he says was a poor performance in the Super Bowl loss to Seattleicon1, but it’s all good now.

“It’s going well,” Franklin said over the weekend. “A lot of people don’t realize that I played two and a half years at left guard in college. As long as I’m on the field it doesn’t really matter, so whether it’s at right tackle or left guard this year, I’m going to be happy to be on the field.”

Fellow offensive lineman center Manny Ramirez said the line will be more physical with Franklin at guard.

“I think we will, just because we’re real big inside and we’re going to try to improve on running the ball this year from last year. So that’s the plan — that’s going to be part of it, for us to be more physical.”

The Broncos moved Franklin to guard because he’s athletic enough to make them a much more formidable group, and Ramirez — who has played plenty of guard in his career — is a great resource for him.

“When you’re at guard you pull a lot more than you would at tackle,” Franklin said. “But at the same time I think you’ve got to be a lot smarter at guard because you’ve got different times when you’re pulling the linebacker, the defensive end, you might be pulling for (one of the linebackers). … You’ve got to be on top of it.”

Franklin said the move means he’s “going to play football the way he wants to play football.”

“There’s little thing that we go through in a play, and maybe we have to tweak something here and there and we try to communicate it right then and there so when that play comes back around we’re able to not make the mistake or we could even make it easier on ourselves,” Ramirez said.

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Ray Lewis to help coaches In 'Coaching Bad' for Spike TV

Spike TV has brought together NFL legend Ray Lewis and anger management specialist Dr. Christian Conte to tackle the growing problem of coaches with uncontrollable anger issues in a new original series, "Coaching Bad."

The show features nine coaches who have recognized that they need to take action about their combative behavior if they want to continue in the profession that they love. The coaches, from a variety of different sports around the country, will move into a Coaching Center in Los Angeles for intense retraining and reconditioning, designed personally by Dr. Conte and Lewis.

During the program, various sports figures will lend their perspective on the negative effects of caustic coaching, with guest speakers including Chuck Pagano, Bill Romanowski and Glen "Big Baby" Davis.

"Spike TV is thrilled to partner with one of the greatest players in NFL history in a compelling new series that will shine a light on the ever-growing issue of coaches and their anger issues," said Sharon Levy, executive vice president of original series, in a statement. "Who better than Ray to bestow insight and wisdom to these coaches after his storied career as a leader on and off the field during his playing days with the University of Miami and Baltimore Ravens."
Spike TV has ordered eight one-hour installments of "Coaching Bad," to debut in 2015.

Hayley Lozitsky, vice president, development at Spike TV will serve as the executive in charge of production, with John Irwin, Damian Sullivan and Richard Hall as executive producers for Irwin Entertainment.

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Andre Johnson, On Learning Bill O’Brien’s Offense: “It’s Different, It’s A Challenge”

Andre Johnson’s holdout with the Houston Texans this offseason cost him all of OTAs, all of minicamps. On Sunday, the All-Pro wideout missed his fifth straight day of practice with a hamstring.

Not exactly conducive to learning his first offense since 2006, when former head coach Gary Kubiak arrived.

But after 11 NFL seasons, a body of work that has him primed for Hall of Fame consideration, the 33-year-old said he’s confident he’ll be able to pick up first-year head coach Bill O’Brien’s scheme. Fast.

“When you’ve been around the game for a while, you’ve seen a lot of things, you’ve seen a lot of offense” Johnson said. “So, it’s some of the same things, different names.”

Johnson, seven times a Pro Bowler since 2004, said that for him, getting down the verbiage is the hardest part. That includes familiarizing himself with O’Brien’s nomenclature — and forgetting Kubiak’s.

 “You just have to try to get that old stuff out of your head.” he said. “I was in the same offense for eight years. When you hear something in this offense, it’s like, OK, we had it last way this year, so I’ve got to think of this word.”

Johnson said that, physically, he’s unsure if he’ll be able to play when the Texans open the preseason against the Arizona Cardinals on Saturday night.
But despite being sidelined for more than half of training camp so far, and with no word on when he’ll return, Johnson said he’s been able to take plenty of mental reps from the sidelines and during the team’s afternoon walk-through sessions.

“It’s different,” he said. “It’s a challenge. At the same time, you just have to study it. I think that’s the biggest thing, you know, just studying it, staying on top of it.”
Johnson, whose 82.2 career receiving yards per game rank second all-time, reportedly received his playbook the week that training camp opened. He showed up for camp on veterans’ mandatory report date on July 25.

The Texans open the regular season against Washington on Sept. 7.

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Chris Perez To DL

I’m sure everyone has noticed how awful reliever Chris Perez has been this season, After signing a one-year 2.3 million dollar free agent deal with the Dodgers this winter, the bearded right hander has been horrendous for the majority of the season. Now we may have an answer as to why.

The Dodgers have placed Perez on the 15-day DL with bone spurs in his right ankle. In a corresponding move, the Dodgers have called up right hander Carlos Frias from Albuquerque. They’ve also transferred Paul Maholm to the 60-day DL. I had no idea that Perez was even injured. So either this was kept hidden, or it’s some kind of phantom injury. The Dodgers are masters at roster machination, so it wouldn’t surprise me.

Chris Perez was 0-3 with a 5.03 ERA in 39.1 innings pitched this season. He posted a 6.9 whiff per nine rate with a 4.8 walk rate. He whiffed 30 and walked 21 in 42 games.

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Jimmy Gaines Gets Noticed

PITTSFORD – Doug Marrone was able to summarize his thoughts on Jimmy Gaines in four words Friday.

“He runs extremely well,” the Bills’ coach said of the Buffalo native attempting to make his hometown roster.

OK, so it’s not the highest of praise – but at least the coach knows Gaines’ name.

That’s a good start for an undrafted free agent.

“I’m just trying to go out here and make them notice me a little bit more,” Gaines said Friday night after practice at St. John Fisher College.

Gaines is currently running with the Bills’ second team on the left side at linebacker, meaning he could be a weak- or strong-side ’backer depending on the offensive formation.

“I’m focused on doing my job and knowing my assignments,” he said. “Once I know my job, it’s time to play football after that. After that, you can start making plays like you did in college.”

Gaines starred at Canisius High School before attending the University of Miami. As a senior in 2013, he started all 13 games for the Hurricanes and made 83 tackles.

Wearing his Bills uniform every day at practice still hasn’t completely sunk in.

“It’s still crazy. Every day I think, ‘Wow, am I really on the Bills?’ It’s a childhood dream,” Gaines said. “The first practice I had jitters, then the first practice with pads I had jitters. Now coming up to the first preseason game, I’m sure I’ll have them too, but I’m having fun with it. It’s been a great experience.”

With Kiko Alonso being lost for the season before training camp and Nigel Bradham suspended for the season opener, Gaines has a good opportunity to make the 53-man roster, but he’s not getting ahead of himself.

“This is my job interview every day,” he said. “The only thing I can control is me, so I’m trying to do that.”

Gaines said the message from the coaching staff has been to play “fast and physical.”

“As a linebacker, you’ve got to play downhill,” he said. “I’m getting pretty close. I’m feeling more and more comfortable with it.”

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Cowboys Sign Adewale Ojomo

OXNARD, Calif. -- With injuries keeping five defensive linemen out of practices, the Dallas Cowboys agreed to deals with end Ken Boatright and Adewale Ojomo.

Rookie defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence had surgery on a broken foot on Thursday and is expected to miss eight to 10 weeks. Defensive tackle Terrell McClain has been battling a sprained ankle and Ben Bass suffered a hamstring strain on Thursday. Anthony Spencer is on the physically unable to perform list and Amobi Okoye is on the non-football injury list. Their absences have put a strain on the remaining defensive linemen.

To make room on the roster, wide receiver L'Damian Washington and guard Darius Morris will be waived.

Boatright, who is 6-foot-3, 254 pounds, spent time with the Seattle Seahawks last season after signing as an undrafted free agent. He was cut in June. Boatright’s agent, Brett Tessler, tweeted the agreement.

Ojomo was cut by the Tennessee Titans following an arrest for soliciting a prostitute. He has spent time with the New York Giants, Seahawks and Buffalo Bills since 2012. He has played in one game in his career.

In addition to Boatright and Ojomo, the Cowboys also worked out Cory Henry, who went to rookie minicamp with the Houston Texans on a tryout basis. He had 32 career sacks at Florida Atlantic.

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Marcus Forston: ‘I know what I need to do’

I made the team my rookie year [in 2012], then I got released and put on the practice squad in the middle of the season. That was definitely tough. But in the NFL it depends what you need on the team. You can’t take it personally.

There are some guys that bounce around and go to other teams. I’m still with the same team, going on my third year. It kind of makes you feel good when a team wants you back. But it’s kind of a little frustrating, too, when you’re going up and down.

The way I take [my job on the practice squad] and the way the coaches here tell you to take it is that what you do is just as important as what the guys that are playing do. We’re giving them the offensive look [of the opposing team] or the defensive look. If you’re out there slacking and not giving a good look, then you’re not preparing them to do a great job.

Any time you have experience, it’s good. When I was a rookie, everything would happen so fast. You don’t know what to expect. You don’t know what’s good. You don’t know what’s bad. You’ve got to catch it on the fly. Right now, I’m going into [the preseason] and I know what I need to do. There’s no shortcuts when you’re with the Patriots.

When I’m not training I try to spend time with my wife, because during the season it’s crazy and we don’t really have that much time. I got married March 2. So we’re newlyweds, but we’ve been dating since 10th grade. She’s a baker. A lot of guys on the team love her baking. Sometimes I’ve got to slow her down. She knows right now that it’s crunch time. So, she’s cooking a lot of healthy stuff.    

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Erik Swoope’s transition to football no laughing matter

ANDERSON — Before rookie Erik Swoope could finish a sentence in response to a reporter’s question Friday afternoon, he was interrupted by fellow tight end Dwayne Allen.

With a broad smile on his face, Allen gave a glowing review of the former University of Miami basketball player’s time in training camp so far.

“He’s been ballin’,” Allen said. “He’s been doing great, not just for a guy that transitioned to football, he’s just been dominating. It’s natural for him. So negate anything and everything that he said to make himself come off as a humble guy.”

Allen, of course, was exaggerating a bit for comedic effect, but that’s fitting. Because even Swoope himself thought somebody was trying to make a joke at his expense when his unlikely football career began.

Shortly after Miami’s run in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament came to an end, Hurricanes’ coaches got word to the power forward that the Denver Broncos had been calling for a few weeks to set up a tryout.

“I just thought it was false, to be honest,” Swoope said. “There’s just no way. This has to be a joke. There’s no way. I’ve never played before. And I took about two weeks just to think about it and assess if I even wanted to go down that road. And I found myself really, really curious. Of course, glad I did.”

Swoope becomes the second player in as many years to join Indianapolis and play his first down of organized football in the NFL. Former Kenyan rugby player Daniel Adongo made a similar transition last year and made his debut at any level of the game in December against the Cincinnati Bengals.

Swoope understands the odds he’s up against, but he’s getting plenty of help along the way.

“The guys in the room, they’ve been helping me out so much and being patient with me,” he said. “I’ve just been trying to do my part.”

He was surprised to see players on the defensive side helping out, suggesting changes to his footwork and pointing out ways he might be tipping the play to opponents.

But, mostly, he’s allowed his natural athleticism to takeover. Swoope likened the physicality of football to his days manning the paint in the ACC.

One of the bigger transitions has been learning to catch with shoulder pads in the way, and he knows many more surprises lie ahead. But his early performance has him ahead of schedule.

“He’s been doing great, really been picking up everything that’s been thrown at him, really shown his athleticism whenever he’s called to in the passing game” Allen said in a more serious moment. “He’s stronger than most people think in the run game and pass protection. So he’s coming along well. A great find for the guru Ryan Grigson.”

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Tommy Streeter turning heads

TAMPA, Fla. -- If you're looking for an under-the-radar player with a chance to make Tampa Bay's roster, you might want to consider wide receiver Tommy Streeter. But look quickly because Streeter might not be an unknown for much longer.

Streeter already is catching the eyes of his teammates and coaches.

"We kind of have a running joke, 'Man, that dude is catching the ball right and left, over and over,'" quarterback Josh McCown said after Thursday's practice. "It's like one of the better camps I've been around for a receiver. He's just got so many dang catches. And he's just doing his job. He's just a humble, hard-working guy that comes out here every day and gets after it. He catches the ball when it's thrown to him and that's all you can ask for as a player."

"He's another guy with good size, good height, good speed and he's been catching the football," coach Lovie Smith said. "You talk to him and he doesn't want a whole lot of complements, he's just 'Hey, I'm just trying to do my job, trying to get better very day,' saying all the right things, just making plays. That's all you have to do as a player. You don't have to worry about, am I going to make the roster, am I going to get enough plays. If you get one play, you do something, you'll continue to get more. We've noticed him. When we initially came to camp he's wasn't one of the guys we were talking a lot about. But he's been pretty steady every day."

Streeter seems to be putting himself in line for a roster spot in a receiving corps in which the only sure things are starters Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans.

A sixth-round draft pick by Baltimore in 2012, Streeter has been unable to make an impact in the NFL so far. But he's not a stranger to the big stage. Streeter played at the University of Miami.

"No, I'm not afraid," Streeter said. "I've been doing this since age 7. I don't see any difference at any level. It all comes down to, at this level, how much goes into the preparation before the dance."

Streeter has been preparing for the dance by paying close attention to Jackson. That's a wise choice because Streeter is the same size (6-foot-5) as Jackson.

"I talk to him every day," Streeter said. "I ask him different questions on how do you run this route based on different leverages and techniques. Basically, what little tricks and crafty moves he has that he uses to get open. I try to incorporate that in my game as well."

Streeter said he already has learned a lot from Jackson.

"His ability to drop his weight and get in and out of his cuts," Streeter said. "He comes downhill and he's aggressive to the ball. That's something I always continuously try to improve on. At the University of Miami, I was always the deep ball guy. When you come here in this offense there's a lot of route running involved. That's something I continuously work on and something I always try to get better at."

Streeter may not have the NFL pedigree, but he came out of one of the nation's top high school programs. That's Miami Northwestern.

"They used to call us the University of Northwestern," Streeter said.

Streeter's high school team also featured two other Buccaneers, linebacker Lavonte David and cornerback Anthony Gaitor. Streeter wore the same jersey (No. 5) as previously worn by Kenbrell Thompkins, who now is with the New England Patriots, and later worn by Minnesota Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater.

"My coach, when he gave it to me, he was like 'Son, I'm going to give you No. 5. You might have to do a little history to understand the importance of this number and the guys who wore it before you and what they did,'" Streeter said. "I was kind of nervous, like 'Does the No. 5 jersey glow or something? Is everybody watching me?' But nonetheless, I thrived in that environment."

If Streeter can continue doing what he has been doing in practice, he might be able to thrive with the Buccaneers.

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Mike James returns to a crowded Bucs RB field, but he's flexible

TAMPA — Mike James said he never played quarterback, even while growing up in Haines City.

But when the Bucs running back was asked to take a pitch during Friday night's practice and find receiver Vincent Jackson in the end zone, James' throw was spot-on for a 17-yard touchdown; it evoked memories of his jump-pass touchdown against Seattle last season.

"Whatever the coaches need me to do, I'll do it," James said with his constant smile. "Whether it's run through the wall, or push the bus, I'll do it."

James, 23, will need that do-anything attitude as he's battling for a spot in a five-deep backfield. With Pro Bowl player Doug Martin, Bobby Rainey, rookie Charles Sims and former Gators star Jeff Demps also vying for touches, James has quietly made plays while taking third-team reps in training camp.

"It's so much competition, it's to the point to where you look at all these backs, it's like, 'Goodness,' '' James said. "It's almost like we're stingy, we've got so many good backs."

It wasn't too long ago that James was the back for the Bucs. Last season, the sixth-round pick from the University of Miami emerged after Martin suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in Week 7 against Atlanta. Two weeks later, James rushed for 158 yards against the Super Bowl champion Seahawks — his first 100-yard game since high school — while adding the first touchdown pass of his life. He had made it, and was the talk of the town. But in the next game, on the big-stage of Monday Night Football against the Dolphins at Raymond James Stadium, the dream ended. He gashed the Dolphins for 41 yards on his first six carries, taking the Bucs to the goal line, where another player fell on his foot, fracturing his left ankle.

"At first I didn't believe it was broken, because I got back up and walked on it," James said. "Tough break, but that's okay. God's plan always works out well for me, so I expect the best from here on out."

While on crutches, watch some Bucs games from home, James found perspective raising his now 14-month-old son Michael James III. His wife and college sweetheart, Aubrey, was his rock. Both Michael and Aubrey were at a recent practice at One Buc Place. Afterward, he took off his pads and held up his energetic son, who played with a miniature football.

"Thank God I was able to come back and still be able to walk," James said. "It's a lot of things that got put in perspective. I feel like it's made me a better man."

And, he hopes, a better back. James shed 17 pounds during the offseason, now 5 feet 11 and 223 pounds, dropping down to 9 percent body fat, wanting to be leaner and more explosive.

"I feel great," he said. "Better than ever."

James is a physical runner, almost always falling forward, who wants to bring "more of a slasher element to the offense." What works in his favor, along with his success last season, is he can play special teams.

"He's a good football player," coach Lovie Smith said. "He's got good size, of course that injury set him back a little bit, but he's one of our running backs. We've made it known we'll play more than one, and you need a lot. To be a good running football team, we need more than one good player, and we feel like we have at least four we feel like if we went into a game with them, we could have a good running game."

James is always striving to get better, on and off the field. He plans to get his contractor's license, to do some work "on the side." At home, he's Mr. Fix-it, troubleshooting the family's dishwasher the other day and putting together Michael's toys.

"I'm enjoying it," he said. "My wife did everything (when I was hurt), and now I'm back to it. All the good stuff."

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Jim Kelly tells NFL Network about upcoming MRI, partying Buffalo fans, tears over Andre Reed honor

Jim Kelly appeared on the NFL Network about 30 minutes before the start of the Pro Football Hall of Fame enshrinement ceremony. Andre Reed, Kelly’s No. 1 target from his time with the Bills, will be inducted into the Hall later Saturday.

Kelly spoke with host Rich Eisen and fellow Hall of Famers Michael Irvin and Deion Sanders for about 10 minutes. Bills fans cheered in the background, and Kelly pumped his fist as they chanted “Kelly Tough.” Kelly and Irvin, who both played at the University of Miami, had an emotional hug at the end of the interview.

A few highlights from Kelly:

On his health: “I’m doing alright. I’m getting better. Coming here this weekend, to this celebration, has made me feel better, but I still have a long road to go. I’m better than I was a month ago and a lot better than I was two months ago. I’ll find out more near the end of this month when I have my first MRI since my chemo and radiation.”

On the support he’s getting from Buffalo fans: “It’s awesome. As you well know, when you’re going through tough times, you need people behind you. You need the support. … The Bills fans, the city of Buffalo have been behind me not only when I played, but when my son, Hunter, was diagnosed and passed away. And now (again) what I’m going through and what our family is going through. You can’t ask for anything better.”

On the enshrinement ceremonies being moved to the stadium for the first time because of the crowd that came to see Kelly: “We have crazy fans, and I knew we were going to get 15-20,000 people here. And Andre is going to have about the same. (Gesturing to the crowd) Look at all these crazy people. They’re here not only to watch football and to see Andre get inducted – as we all know it should have happened a while ago – but they’re here to party. Buffalo is full of partiers. That’s why I probably liked it.”

On seeing Andre Reed get his gold jacket on Friday night: “For me, that’s when I knew I made it into the Hall of Fame, when I received that jacket. Tears flowed out of my eyes that day. Tears were flowing out of my eyes last night when Andre received his jacket. Just to feel he’s finally here, he finally got what he so well deserved, all the hard work he put into it, and for me, knowing I had a small part of his success, made me feel good.

And a quote from Sanders, more of a statement than a question: “I just want to tell you, man, and I want them to know: You’re a really good dude. (Kelly laughs). No, no. You really are. To see what has transpired over Twitter and social media, you’ve got a lot of people praying for you, not just because of what’s going on but because you really are a good guy. You’ve blessed a lot of people, man.”

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Andre Johnson, On Playing Texans Preseason Opener: “I Would Hope To”

Andre Johnson doesn’t care what week it is and what opponent lies ahead. Preseason. Regular season.

He wants to play.

But after missing training camp practice with a hamstring for the fifth straight day on Sunday, the All-Pro wideout couldn’t commit to being ready for the Houston Texans preseason opener against the Arizona Cardinals on Saturday night.

“I mean, I would hope to (play),” Johnson said. “It doesn’t matter what game it is, you would want to play. But it’s best that I do what’s best for the team. If it’s me being out there than I will be out there, if it’s not then I won’t.”

Patience seems to be the approach head coach Bill O’Brien is taking with all player injuries in his first NFL training camp. Arian Foster also missed his fifth practice of camp on Sunday, and Jadeveon Clowney missed his second straight day. Jonathan Joseph, who’s coming off a season-ending toe injury, missed his first day of camp on Sunday after appearing to make it through Saturday’s session unscathed.

Johnson said he isn’t bothered by his injury.

“I”m feeling fine,” he said. “It’s a day-by-day process. That’s pretty much it.”

Johnson, 33, ranks second in the NFL in receiving yards over the last two seasons and has gone for 1,200 or more receiving yards every year since 2008. The only exception was 2011, when he missed nine games to hamstring injuries.

In Johnson’s absence, DeAndre Hopkins has stepped into the No. 1 wide receiver role, with DeVier Posey taking first-team reps opposite Hopkins and newcomer Mike Thomas working in the slot.

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Jimmy Graham draws flag in scrimmage for goal-post dunk

Saints tight end Jimmy Graham has vowed to ignore the new rule banning goal-post dunks during games.  And while it remains to be seen whether Graham will go through with a plan that would sacrifice 15 yards of field position and cost him money via a league-imposed fine, he dusted off his signature move after scoring a touchdown during Saturday’s intra-squad scrimmage.

Referee Gene Steratore, who has spent the past few days at Saints camp and sat down with PFT Live in an interview to be broadcast on Monday, threw a flag — to the loud disapproval of the fans in attendance.

Steratore explained that any use of the goal post during celebrations will result in a penalty during games.

“If it’s a clean dunk or a finger roll, I mean, come on,” Steratore said, via the New Orleans Advocate.  “[That's a] prop. We just have to go prop.”

The goal-post dunk and the Lambeau Leap survived the NFL’s prior ban against props.  Graham’s violent dunk during a Thursday night game last year, which knocked the crossbar askew, prompted the NFL to include the maneuver within the reach of the rule.

So who will be in charge of stopping Graham from doing a dunk during games?

“Nobody,” Saints safety Jairus Byrd told PFT Live in an interview that will be shown on Monday.  “Listen, as long as he’s in the end zone, that’s what we want.  So that’s his decision to make but as long as he’s getting in the end zone, you know, that’s a great thing.”

Kicking off from the 20 instead of the 35 won’t be a great thing, especially if it results in the opponent matching Graham’s visit to the end zone.

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Ed Reed To Chiefs?

Since the traumatizing end to the Chiefs 2013 season, there’s no position I’ve wanted to see improvement in more than safety.

True, late in the 2013 campaign there were defensive breakdowns across the backfield, and cornerback is also a concern. But, the safety’s role is to ensure that one blown coverage isn’t an instant TD for the opponent. They’re there to at least slow the opponent down in a shootout and make sure a 28-point playoff collapse can’t happen.

For the record, I’m very high on both the Chiefs’ starting safeties — perennial Pro-Bowler Eric Berry and rising star Husain Abdullah. Where I have zero confidence is in the Chiefs current safety depth. Going into training camp behind the starters, were 2013 draft pick Sanders Commings, and three guys who have never started in the NFL — Jerron McMillian a career backup at Green Bay and UDFA’s Daniel Sorenson and Malcolm Bronson.

Yesterday, Berry hurt his ankle, though it appears not seriously, and Commings — the team’s only backup that was more than a camp body — broke his ankle and went off to surgery. The team has since reportedly signed journeyman safety Steve Gregory, but have not yet made the requisite roster move to officialize the signing. Much of the chatter points to the Chiefs putting Commings on IR once again. This seems to be at best a lateral move.

If there is any position group that is in crisis for the Chiefs, this is it.

While I would normally never advocate for signing a player in what is likely the last leg of his professional career over young developmental players, I think now is the time for Ed Reed to put on the red and gold.

Reed’s best days are most certainly behind him and he may never actually start for the Chiefs if he were signed — in fact, barring injuries, he shouldn’t. But if the Chiefs want some reliable veteran depth, I can’t think of anyone better. As Abdullah himself said in the aforelinked video, the Chiefs suffered some major communication breakdowns late last season. Furthermore, it was clear that once the defense was no longer dictating the pace of the game and the DB’s suddenly had to hold together for the full 60 minutes, this young backfield made egregious mental errors.

I know that the 2014 Reed is not a world-beater, all-pro. What Reed can be, however, if he is forced onto the field, is the guy who you can trust to make the correct first step at the snap, to be general who will make sure everyone is lined up properly and hold the squad together mentally. That is what I felt was most lacking late last year — an experienced guy who can make the overall squad better and will at least save the big play from becoming a big touchdown.

His benefits would not only be on the field. Every safety currently on the roster — including Berry — could benefit from having Reed in the film room and on the sidelines with them. He’s arguably the best safety in the history of the game, and his knowledge is bound to rub off on the team’s young and developing safety group.

During just a two-week stint with the Jets at the end of last season, the players still raved at his mental impact on the other players.

“It was big when we had Ed Reed here,” said inside linebacker Demario Davis, who had a monster practice on Wednesday. “He showed us how to really watch film. The big thing he told us was, you know, you learn something, you see something, just trust what you see.”

Every player and coach in the league watches film. But Brian Billick, Reed’s head coach for six seasons with the Ravens, said that from the time Reed entered the league, he had an uncommon gift for seeing things others weren’t seeing on film.

“Ed was maybe the most intellectual player I’ve ever had,” said Billick, now an analyst for the NFL Network. “Ed’s as good as anybody I’ve ever had at being able to sit, look at a film, and pull something out that’s tangible.”

Best of all, Reed will be cheap. Other than his short stint as a stopgap for the Jets, he’s seen little to no interest since being released by the Texans last November. Although it was a down year for him and he was clearly overpaid, it was also pretty clear that his release stemmed from his sounding off in public about the team being “outplayed and out coached.” I’m definitely not a fan of players throwing their coaches and teammates under the bus, but can you think of a team that underachieved more than the Texans last year?

At this stage of his career, what the 35-year-old Reed needs is to join a playoff team that he can make better. Given that no one else has sought his services, he’s already making about $2.7 million in guaranteed money from the Texans and there are few places where he’d have a better chance of seeing the field than in Kansas City, I bet the team could get him for little more than the veteran minimum.

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Andre Johnson (Hamstring) Remains Sidelined

Johnson (hamstring) missed practice again on Sunday, ESPN.com reports.

Though Johnson has indicated that he would like to play in the Texans' preseason opener Saturday against the Cards, the report suggests that may not be the case, presumably as a precaution.

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Paul George in Sean Spence's thoughts

LATROBE, Pa. -- Sean Spence did not see a replay of the gruesome injury that Indiana Pacers forward Paul George suffered Fright night in a Team USA scrimmage.

Nor does the Steelers inside linebacker ever plan on watching it.

But if anyone can empathize with what George faces after breaking his leg, it is Spence, whose NFL career was nearly ended before it started by a devastating knee injury.

“I said a prayer for him [Friday] night because I know what the road is going to be for him,” Spence said. “As long as he works hard and keeps his faith in God, he’ll be good.”

Spence is a sublime example of the power of prayer and perseverance.

The 5-11, 231-pounder is almost all the way back from an injury so severe that even eight months after it happened, Steelers linebackers coach Keith Butler said it would be a miracle if he ever played again.

Fast forward to Saturday afternoon, a little less than two years after Spence got hurt.

The 2012 third-round draft pick flashed in front of a receiver at Chuck Noll Field and nearly intercepted a pass in one-on-one passing drills. Upset with himself for not making the pick, Spence dropped to the turf and started ripping off push-ups.

As the crowd both laughed and cheered, nothing seemed farther away than those days after Spence shredded his left knee in late August 2012 and didn't know whether he would ever play football again. Spence, after all, hadn’t just torn several ligaments in his knee. He also dislocated his kneecap and sustained nerve damage.

“Very few people had it or came back from it,” Spence said of the injury he suffered in the Steelers’ final preseason game in 2012. “It was a unique situation that I used to exercise my faith and grow. Everyone knows that I had a lot of dark times, and I had no one to turn to but God.”

Spence has made it through the dark days that clouded his football future, and people who didn’t know how badly he had hurt his knee wouldn’t know he injured it by watching him at camp now.

Spence ran right through overmatched tight end David Paulson in the backs on 'backers drill Friday night, and his reconstructed knee had held up under the weight of the padded practices that the Steelers have strung together.

Spence said he hasn’t taken any extra precautions with his knee, and he makes sure to ice it and stretch it out properly. He also tries to get at least eight hours of sleep. Good luck with that during training camp.

“It’s hard,” Spence said. “I get seven and a half.”

That Spence isn’t getting as much sleep as he would like only makes him like every other player who is grinding through camp. How good must that feel after what it took for him to get to this point.

“Every part of my body is pretty sore, but it’s camp,” Spence said. “I’m sure I’m feeling like all of the other guys.”

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No Hard Feelings From Vince Wilfork

It was on Sunday Night football last season when the New England Patriots improved to 4-0 with a huge win over the defending NFC South Champions, the Atlanta Falcons. The only problem was that their guy in the middle of the defensive line and defensive captain, Vince Wilfork, tore his Achilles. Wilfork missed the rest of the 2013 NFL Season with one of the worst possible injuries that a 6-foot-2, 325-pounder could have. That weight is what he is listed as; his real weight, to our dismay, is unknown.

Outside the Pats signal caller Jerod Mayo, Wilfork was the best player on the Patriots below-average defense in 2013. Though Vince didn’t record a sack in the games that he played last season, he still anchored the defense and plugged up the middle of the field. In the first four games of 2013, the Patriots allowed an average of 105 rushing yards per game, good for 12th in the NFL. On the contrary, when Wilfork was not in the lineup, they allowed over 154 rushing yards per game, the most in the NFL.

Wilfork’s absence was felt by Patriot fans toward the end of 2013, but with Wilfork entering the final year of his current contract, there was an amount of uncertainty surrounding his future with the team. The Patriots have always been cautious about giving players big contracts towards the end of their careers (see guys like Randy Moss and Wes Welker).

After speaking with his agent and Patriot representatives in the offseason, Wilfork seemed to think that the new contract he wanted was not going to happen. Subsequently, he demanded to be traded or released by the team he had spent the previous 10 seasons with. At that point, it seemed that the two sides were extremely far apart and no new contract was imminent.

Wilfork probably felt like he had a considerable amount of leverage considering how the entire defense performed without him. Having said that, New England still made it to the AFC Championship game and are notorious for not paying older guys on their roster. It seemed like a deal was not going to get done and Wilfork even went as far as completely clean out his locker at Gillette Stadium.

Eventually, owner Robert Kraft spoke out in Wilfork’s defense and the two sides agreed on a restructured deal. The contract is a three-year deal worth $22.5 million with an option after the first year.

Reporters talked to Wilfork for the first time during offseason minicamps about his contract issue on whether he actually entertained playing for another team in 2014:

"That's a dead issue. I'm here for a reason. If I didn't believe the things that were brought to me, I wouldn't have signed it. I'm not upset. I'm not holding any type of grudge. Business is business and everybody handles business in different types of ways.

Does he sound a little bitter? Maybe the five-time Pro Bowler still has some hard feelings about why it took so long to get paid. Regardless, the contract distraction is over now, so the only thing Wilfork needs to worry about is getting his Achilles and the rest of his 300-plus pound body ready for the season opener against the Miami Dolphins.

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O’Brien on Andre Johnson: “No need to rush him back”

Andre Johnson is “doing better,” according to head coach Bill O’Brien after missing Friday’s practice with a lingering injury. After tweaking his hamstring while flattening himself for a catch, All-Pro receiver has not practiced since Sunday.

“I think that is something he and I talk about every day,” O’Brien said. “I don’t think there is a need to rush him back. I think he needs to come back when he feels ready to be back. Again, that is not a serious injury, but it is not something that you need to rush him back.”

It hasn't prevented Johnson from the team's afternoon walk through practice, where players work on corrections from morning drills and get a first look at what to expect for the following day.

After missing OTAs, Johnson is working to get himself caught up with playbook and familiarize himself with the new offense. So far, the 12-year veteran has impressed O’Brien with ability to pick up the system quickly.

“The thing that I’ve noticed right away about Andre, which I knew this from our offseason conversations, is he is a very bright guy,” O’Brien said. “He’s already got a lot of the things down. In the afternoon walk through, we walk through a lot of things with him. Routes and adjustments and signals and things lioke that., It’s been my experience with guys of that caliber, being one of the top receivers in this league, they get there for a reason. They have talent, they have great ability, they’re really great teammates and they’re smart. You can see that right away from him.”

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Diamondbacks acquire Blake Tekotte from the White Sox for cash

The Diamondbacks have acquired outfielder Blake Tekotte from the White Sox in exchange for cash considerations, J.J. Stankevitz of CSN Chicago reports. Tekotte will report to Triple-A Reno. In a related move, the White Sox promoted 2009 first round pick Jared Mitchell to Triple-A Charlotte.

Tekotte hasn’t played in the majors this season. In 318 plate appearances with Charlotte, the 27-year-old posted a .251/.324/.438 line with 11 home runs and 35 RBI.

Mitchell, 25, began the season at Triple-A but struggled, striking out in exactly half of his 156 at-bats. He was demoted to Double-A Birmingham and had more success, slashing .299/.367/.561 with 10 home runs and 20 RBI.

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Jon Jay Out For Fifth Straight Game

Jay (wrist) is not in the lineup Sunday versus the Brewers, Jim Hayes of the FOX Sports Midwest reports.

Jay will miss a fifth straight game as he tends to the wrist ailment. Peter Bourjos picks up another start in center field in his place.

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