Practice report: Encouraging signs for Allen

September, 2, 2014
Sep 2
FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- New York Jets projected starting cornerback Antonio Allen was not wearing a red jersey during the half-hour portion of Tuesday’s practice open to the media.

Allen, who suffered a concussion in the team’s third preseason game against the New York Giants, was wearing a red (non-contact) jersey when the Jets last practiced Friday, so it’s certainly a positive development as he looks to return from injury.

The Jets begin the 2014 regular season against the Oakland Raiders on Sunday at MetLife Stadium.

The only reason Allen, who has played safety his entire career, was moved to corner is because New York’s secondary is extremely depleted.

CB Dee Milliner (ankle) did some light jogging and agility work in the rehab area and is unlikely to play on Sunday.

Darrin Walls is the projected starter opposite Allen, with Kyle Wilson handling slot duties. Walls (leg) was in the rehab area, but his injury is not as significant as others.

Also in the rehab area Tuesday: S Josh Bush (quad), LB Nick Bellore (calf) and DE IK Enemkpali (foot).

TE Jeff Cumberland (Achilles) took a while to warm up, but was participating in position drills during the open portion.

Here are the numbers for the team’s newly acquired players: CB Leon McFadden (22), CB Phillip Adams (24), WR Walter Powell (18).
HOUSTON -- Starting cornerback Johnathan Joseph missed the Texans' preseason games as the team managed his recovery from January foot surgery.

It's the time to perhaps be a little extra careful.

 Now, Joseph feels he's ready to go, "without a doubt."

Asked if he's 100 percent healthy, Joseph hedged a bit.

"Somewhere along the lines," he said. "...You're never 100 percent in this league."

If he plays Sunday in the Texans' season and home opener against Washington, Joseph would join running back Arian Foster as starters who didn't play at all during the preseason heading into the regular season.

"Any time you can get some good work, it's always important, but at the same time, the overall health of the team is important to us as well," Joseph said. "Just being smart about it, taking my time and getting myself prepared for opening day."

Of course, the opinion that counts when it comes to whether and how much Joseph will play is that of the Texans' trainers and coaches.
OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- There shouldn't be many health questions for the Baltimore Ravens heading into Sunday's season opener against the Cincinnati Bengals.

All 53 players were suited up at Tuesday's practice, including running back Bernard Pierce and the Ravens' once-banged-up cornerbacks.

The Ravens' top three cornerbacks -- Lardarius Webb (back), Jimmy Smith (chest) and Asa Jackson (ankle) -- all participated in position drills and looked fine backpedaling as well as changing directions. All three had missed at least half the preseason, but they had returned for the Ravens' last practice on Saturday.

Pierce, who missed the preseason finale with a concussion, also practiced for the entire media-viewing portion of practice. He is expected to replace suspended Ray Rice as the starting running back for the first two regular-season games.
CINCINNATI -- Sean Porter admitted Monday that he was "frustrated and angry" with the numerous injuries he has collected since first donning a Cincinnati Bengals uniform in April 2013.

They are quite surprising to the outside linebacker because until this point in his entire football-playing career, he had been relatively injury-free.

He was healthy in Pop Warner. He had few injury concerns in high school. He breezed through college without missing snaps or downs at Texas A&M, appearing in 100 or so plays on both defense and special teams in certain games.

He was a workhorse. He was dependable.

In the nearly 17 months since the Bengals drafted him, Porter has been anything but. He tore the labrum in a shoulder before last season. The injury shelved him the entire 2013 season and forced him into taking it slowly before he could work himself back into football shape earlier this year. Just as he was getting to that point in training camp, Porter suffered a knee injury. After that cleared, he had another setback last Thursday when he tweaked a hamstring just six plays into the preseason finale against the Colts.

"I wanted to really be able to prove to my teammates that I'm a good player, and that I can go out there and help contribute," Porter said Monday, two days after he survived roster cuts. "I was a little disappointed I couldn't finish that game. I've just got a run of bad luck. I guess it just happens and at some point it'll even out."

When asked about his hamstring Porter simply said it was "getting there."

Apparently it's not there yet. He was one of three players on the 53-man roster sidelined with an injury when the Bengals opened regular-season practices Monday afternoon. Along with Porter, running back Rex Burkhead and receiver Marvin Jones also didn't practice. Jones, who has been wearing a boot and crutches since foot surgery three weeks ago, isn't expected back until the Bengals visit New England on Oct. 6.

Burkhead has had a knee injury since the Bengals' Week 2 preseason game against the Jets. There is no indication how bad Burkhead's injury is, but the hope had been that he'd be healthy before the season got too far along. In addition to those practice absences, the Bengals also were without quarterback AJ McCarron who was placed over the weekend on the non-football injury list. He can't practice until after Week 6. Practice-squad defensive tackle Devon Still also missed practice as he continues juggling his personal life with his returning from a hamstring injury of his own.

Still's 4-year-old daughter has stage-4 cancer.

It was worth noting that receiver James Wright, cornerback Darqueze Dennard and linebacker Vontaze Burfict were practicing after missing the last game. None of them played Thursday. Since the Bengals were practicing on what is normally a day off, they still haven't reached the date where they must file daily injury reports. So we're not sure which players were in full or limited capacity. We'll have better details Wednesday when Bengals' injury-report filings officially begin. Here's Monday's injury report:

LB Sean Porter (hamstring)
RB Rex Burkhead (knee)
DT Devon Still (hamstring)
WR Marvin Jones (foot)
QB AJ McCarron (shoulder)

Returned to practice
WR James Wright (head)
CB Darqueze Dennard (hip)
LB Vontaze Burfict (hamstring)

Other notable practice additions
TE Tyler Eifert (shoulder)
OT Andre Smith (head ... has been practicing, but didn't take a preseason snap)

Corey Peters' status unknown

September, 1, 2014
Sep 1
FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Defensive tackle Corey Peters was on the practice field Monday for the Atlanta Falcons, but his status for Sunday's season opener against the rival New Orleans Saints remains unclear.

Peters didn't play in any preseason games as he continued to recover from last December's Achilles tear, suffered against the San Francisco 49ers. Peters expressed hope about being able to return to game action this week, but coach Mike Smith wouldn't commit to such just yet.

"We're not set on what we're going to do with Corey,'' Smith said. "Corey is going to have really his second padded practice on Wednesday. But he's done everything that we've asked. And we'll make a determination on Wednesday after he's had a really full, full workload this week.''

Peters was a key figure in two close games against the Saints last season with eight tackles, a sack, a tackle for a loss and a quarterback hit. The Falcons lost both games by scores of 23-17 and 17-13.

Both right guard Jon Asamoah and rookie safety Dez Southward practiced Monday coming off injuries. Asamoah had been slowed by a minor groin injury, while Southward was cleared coming off a concussion.

"We're going to be in pretty good shape,'' Smith said of the health of his team. "The injury report will come out on Wednesday. But we had good participation in practice today. I'll say that.''

The first part of practice was devoted to special teams and newly added linebacker Nate Stupar got plenty of work. He showed the ability to hustle down the field and make a play, which is why the Falcons claimed him off waivers from Jacksonville.

"He's an inside linebacker that has a lot of special-teams experience,'' Smith said. "And we felt like he was going to give us a better 53-man roster and gives us a little bit more flexibility.''

Veteran defensive lineman Cliff Matthews was another player doing a lot of running up and down on special teams, which speaks to why he was viewed as a necessary part of the 53-man roster.
IRVING, Texas -- There are parts of his job that twice-retired middle linebacker Rolando McClain readily admits he does not enjoy.

For example, he could definitely do without dealing with the media, as McClain said as politely as possible as a swarm of reporters surrounded him Monday, six days before his debut with the Dallas Cowboys.

McClain at least sees the value in training camp, especially after a 20-month layoff from football. That doesn’t mean he liked it, especially as his body got used to the grind again after his long break from the game.

"If I lied and said I did enjoy camp, then you shouldn’t ask me any more questions," McClain said, laughing.

The real fun starts soon for McClain, who will likely start at middle linebacker for a Dallas defense desperate for playmakers.

McClain cut off questions about Sunday’s season opener against the San Francisco 49ers. He is adamant that he has to simply focus on the next practice, a fair point for a guy who has had problems staying on the practice field this summer. But he is clearly anxious for his first regular-season action since November 2012.

This is the kind of opportunity that makes the work worth it.

"I still love the game like I’m an 8-, 9-year old kid," McClain said. "It’s just about getting back into it, building chemistry with some of these guys, some trust, and just playing and having fun really."

The 25-year-old McClain’s passion for the game can certainly be questioned after he gave it up twice after being selected with the eighth overall pick in the 2010 draft by the Oakland Raiders, but he insisted that was never his problem. He had to learn how to be a professional, which required a lot of growing up for a guy whose rocky road has included three arrests.

Over the past year, McClain has cut ties with a lot of his friends and family from his Alabama hometown, attempting to eliminate the bad influences from his life. He has made his two sons his priority and made his faith his foundation.

McClain doesn’t want to be the same guy who came into the league with such high expectations after being an All-American at Alabama. That guy failed in football and life.

"I’m just an overall better man," McClain said. "That makes me a better football player, a better boyfriend, a better father. You’ve got to start with the base, man, get yourself right and then fill in the blanks from there. That’s what I had to do."

The Cowboys acquired McClain’s rights in a minimum-risk deal with the Baltimore Ravens because they had a massive void at middle linebacker after Sean Lee's injury. After consulting with Alabama coach Nick Saban, head coach Jason Garrett and the Dallas decision-makers determined that it was worth taking a chance on McClain.

Given the low risk and Saban’s recommendation, the Cowboys could deal with McClain’s character red flags. Of course, that is the case only because of his rare talent.

The Cowboys really need McClain to live up to his potential to have any realistic hope of fielding a respectable defense.

"If you live up or care about somebody’s expectations, you’ll always let them down," McClain said. "So you set your own expectations.

"What are my expectations? I don’t have to reveal them."

McClain punctuated the thought with a laugh. At least football is fun for him again as the regular season approaches.
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Monday afternoon, Detroit Lions coach Jim Caldwell said he would not speak on who some of his starters were until the team released a depth chart.

The Lions have done that, and potentially revealed some opening-game starters. This, however, remains an unofficial depth chart that the Lions media relations staff puts together, not one given out by the coaching staff.

Here are some of the notable things:

Sammy Watkins feeling 'pretty good'

September, 1, 2014
Sep 1
[+] EnlargeSammy Watkins
Grant Halverson/Getty ImagesSammy Watkins says he hopes to play in the Bills' opener against the Bears.

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Buffalo Bills wide receiver Sammy Watkins said his injured ribs feel "just about normal" after practicing Monday.

"I'm feeling pretty good," Watkins said. "Feel just about normal."

The Bills do not have to release an injury report until Wednesday, so coach Doug Marrone declined to say how much Watkins participated in Monday's practice. Watkins left Thursday's preseason finale after re-injuring his ribs.

Watkins hopes to play in Sunday's opener against the Chicago Bears.

"We'll just go and see how far I can go," he said. "I think it's just the pain tolerance I'm gonna have to get through. I just gotta be prepared for it."

However, he may not be full-go during the game.

"Just about any other rib injury. Just the soreness of it. Nothing else can happen with the ribs," he said. "You just have to go out there and be strong and finish the game. If I need to take a breather, take two or three plays off from being hit, that's what I'm going to do."

(Read full post)

Gronkowski's return means everything

September, 1, 2014
Sep 1

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Things happened fast on Monday morning at New England Patriots team headquarters. Tight end Rob Gronkowski announced that he would play in the team's Sept. 7 opener at the Miami Dolphins, and just moments later, Gronkowski's breaking news was a top story on "SportsCenter."

That's when the question was asked to this reporter on the air: What does it mean for the Patriots?

The answer: Everything.

OK, that might be overstating it a bit given the team's prior success without Gronkowski, but it goes without saying that the Patriots' offense takes on a much different look with Gronkowski on the field. The first place to look is the red zone.

Consider these stats from 2013:

With Gronkowski on the field from Weeks 7-14, the Patriots had a 69 percent efficiency rate in the red zone.

With Gronkowski sidelined from Weeks 1-6, and Weeks 15-17, it was 43.5 percent.

So as the Patriots gradually ease Gronkowski into the mix, as they did last year when it took five games before he was playing every snap, one would think the Patriots want him on the field for every possible red zone play. That's where his 6-foot-6, 265-pound frame and his unique skills show up most.

Perhaps no better example of the effectiveness and attention Gronkowski draws in the red zone came in last year's 24-20 loss to Carolina on Nov. 18. In the third quarter of that game, he lined up split wide left, fought through a jam to run a slant and dragged three defenders into the end zone for a 9-yard touchdown in the third quarter.

Then other times, the attention defenders gave to Gronkowski in the red zone opened opportunities for others.

So while it might not be until a quarter of the way into the season that Gronkowski is an every-play option for the Patriots, the first place we'll be looking for him Sunday is inside the 20-yard line.

That's where he does some of his most notable work.
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Chicago Bears coach Marc Trestman wants to wait a couple more days before making a decision about whether to keep Marquess Wilson on the active roster.

With the receiver expected to miss the next month, the Bears can free up a spot on the active roster Tuesday at 3 p.m. by placing Wilson on the injured reserve with a designation to return.

“I think I could better answer that after Wednesday’s practice, and it’s simply because there’s a lot of technical CBA rules involved in this thing,” Trestman said. “I think that to bring clarity to it, I’d rather give you that answer as we move through the week.”

If the Bears decide to place Wilson on the injured reserve with a designation to return, he won’t be able to participate in practice until Week 7 and won’t be eligible to play until Nov. 9, when the team travels to Green Bay coming off its bye week.

If Wilson remains on the active roster, he’ll continue to occupy a spot the team could use to bolster another position. But the positive side of that is Wilson could return to action as soon as he recovers instead of waiting until Week 7 just to be eligible to practice.

Every team is allowed to use the IR with designation to return only once per year. The Bears used their short-term IR designation last season on Charles Tillman after he suffered a triceps injury during a November loss to the Detroit Lions.

The team might opt to use the short-term designation on Wilson given the presence of veteran receiver Santonio Holmes, who is now expected to take on the No. 3 role. Now that the Bears are in game-planning mode, the playbook will be narrowed significantly for the Week 1 matchup against Buffalo, which would give Holmes a better opportunity to fully absorb the aspects of the system the team will utilize against the Bills.

“At this point, there’s no comfort level [in the offense],” Holmes said. “Still learning the system, working my way into one of the core guys for this team, and I still have a lot to learn. [I’m] spending a lot of time with Coach [Mike] Groh learning the offense, going over plays, formation, personnel and things like that on a daily basis to keep me caught up with the team.”
DAVIE, Fla. -- The first offering of bad news happened this morning for the Miami Dolphins' defense: New England Patriots Pro Bowl tight end Rob Gronkowski declared himself ready to return in Week 1.

Miami’s defense has traditionally struggled against the Patriots’ offense. The Dolphins will be preparing for a New England team at full strength Sept. 7 at Sun Life Stadium to open the regular season.

Though Gronkowski’s return is news to the rest of the league, the Dolphins were not surprised. Miami was bracing for Gronkowski, who is coming off an ACL tear, as soon as the NFL schedule was released in April.

"We were fully prepared. We saw he was on the 53-man roster so we have to be prepared for every combination," Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin said Monday. "He’s an excellent player. He’s been very productive throughout his career. So we will have a good plan in place. ... We will be ready for him, for sure."

Gronkowski provides perhaps the biggest matchup problem Miami has on defense. The Dolphins' linebackers are one of the most inconsistent groups on the team -- both against the run and the pass. Gronkowski is arguably the NFL’s best tight end when healthy and New England quarterback Tom Brady’s favorite target in the red zone.

However, if the Dolphins focus too much on one player it could open things up for others on New England's offense, such as receivers Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola.

"We’ve got to defend their entire group and that’s a big enough chore as it is," Dolphins defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle said. "We assumed that he would be playing. So that’s kind of how we’ve been proceeding since the spring."

This will be an interesting chess match between two division opponents who know each other well. The team which best took advantage of the extra prep time will start the regular season 1-0.

"You’re always able to spend more time on your first opponent -- and that goes back to spring," Coyle said. "Certain things that we worked on, and certain things we exposed our players to, I think they have a better feeling now than if it were Game 5 or 6 during the regular season."

Wes Welker's status still in doubt

September, 1, 2014
Sep 1

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Denver Broncos wide receiver Wes Welker returned to the practice field Monday as he continues through the NFL's concussion protocol.

Welker has not been cleared for contact and is still a question mark for Sunday night's regular-season opener against the Indianapolis Colts. But Monday's appearance on the practice field -- the Broncos practiced in jerseys, shorts and helmets without pads -- was his first since he suffered a concussion Aug. 23.

"He's still in the protocol. He's still exercising. Feel good about progress," Broncos coach John Fox said after Monday's practice. "... But obviously, as I said all last week, he's a guy we'll be cautious with, and our main concern is his safety."

It marked another stage in Welker's recovery from what was his third concussion since Nov. 17. He had been cleared to travel with the team last week to Texas for the preseason finale against the Dallas Cowboys. Welker ran some routes in shorts and a T-shirt with no helmet before that game, but he was not in uniform once it began.

John Elway, the team's executive vice president of football operations and general manager, said Saturday that Welker was making progress but the team would "take it one day at a time."

Welker still has benchmarks to meet within the protocol before he can return to full participation in practice or play in a game.

The timetable for a player to return begins when he is symptom-free, and if Welker reaches one benchmark within the protocol without any symptoms, he advances to the next step.

(Read full post)

SAN DIEGO -- Two potential starters on the defensive side of the ball returned to practice for the San Diego Chargers on Monday, a signal the duo could play in the team’s season opener against the Arizona Cardinals.

Inside linebacker Manti Te'o missed the last two preseason games with a sprained left foot, but worked with his position group during the early portion of practice on Monday.

Starting defensive tackle Sean Lissemore, who has not played or practiced since suffering a right ankle injury against the Seattle Seahawks in the second preseason game on a cut block by tight end Zach Miller, also was on the practice field working with the defensive linemen.

Joining Lissemore was fellow defensive lineman Lawrence Guy, who had not practice since suffering a shoulder injury in the exhibition opener against the Dallas Cowboys.

Safety Jahleel Addae remains out with a hamstring injury. Cornerback Chris Davis and receiver Jevontee Herndon also did not practice due to unknown injuries.

The Chargers are not required to release an injury report until Wednesday.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- They do not know yet how much he will be able to play in next Monday Night's season opener in Detroit. But after middle linebacker Jon Beason missed every training camp practice because of a foot injury, the New York Giants were excited to see their defensive team leader practicing with them Monday morning.

"His presence on the practice field is going to change things," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. "He's upbeat, flying around a million miles an hour, encouraging other people to be better. It's just how hard he plays. He shows a great example. He loves the game. It's great to have him back out there."

Coughlin said the plan for Beason is to practice a set number of plays in the three practices the Giants have later this week -- Thursday, Friday and Saturday -- and then to determine based on that how much he will be able to play Monday Night. Beason's hope is to start at middle linebacker, but the Giants are comfortable if they have to use Jameel McClain in that spot and rookie Devon Kennard on the strong side, as they did during training camp and the preseason.

"We have great personalities, guys who can do a little bit of everything," Beason said of his fellow Giants linebackers. "I think it's a great room. I have tremendous confidence in everybody we have."

But having Beason on the field makes a difference, as players who were on the team in 2013 were quick to point out. The Giants were without an answer at middle linebacker until they traded for Beason early in the 2013 season, and they credit him for much of the turnaround their defense made following the team's 0-6 start.

"It's good to see him back," defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka said. "He's a hell of a player. He came out last year when we needed him and did a great job, and it was tough to see him go down with an injury. Having him back makes our defense better."

The fact that Beason was cleared to come off the PUP list and resume practicing this week indicates that he will be at full strength sooner rather than later. Even if he's not able to handle a full starter's workload in Week 1, he will be able to make some sort of contribution, and it shouldn't be long before he is back doing what he did for the Giants last season.
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Kyle Van Noy had successful core muscle surgery on Thursday and as he returned to the Detroit Lions' practice facility Monday, head coach Jim Caldwell said he still has not made a decision on what to do with his rookie linebacker.

Caldwell did not rule out using short-term injured reserve, where Van Noy will have to sit for the first six weeks of the season but would not be eligible to come back to play until Week 9 -- if the team decided to use that option. Caldwell said it was "certainly" still an option for Van Noy.

"A lot of it depends on him and in terms of how quickly he heals," Caldwell said. "So we'll wait and see. He just got back last night, so our guys [need to] have a chance to talk with him and look at him and get a sense of things.

"I'm sure it'll be happening today so we'll get a sense here in the next couple days."

If the Lions move him to short-term injured reserve, this would open up a spot on the 53-man roster for the team to add another player.

Van Noy had been competing for the starting strongside linebacker position during the preseason. With Van Noy out, either Tahir Whitehead or Ashlee Palmer will end up starting against the New York Giants on Monday night.

Caldwell declined to say who has won the job, but that the team has an idea which way it will go with the position.