CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The Seattle Seahawks have placed fullback Derrick Coleman on injured reserve and added wide receiver Phil Bates from the practice squad to the 53-man roster.

Coleman had surgery on Wednesday after suffering a broken foot in warm-up drills before the game at St. Louis last weekend. Placing Coleman on IR ends his 2014 season.

The Seahawks do not have a fullback on the roster, but backup running back Robert Turbin is expected to handle most of the fullback duties on Sunday against the Carolina Panthers.

Bates also has lined up at fullback a few times in preseason games and tight end Luke Willson has lined up in the backfield at times.

The Seahawks signed linebacker L.J. Fort this week to the practice squad and moved him to fullback, a position he never has played in his NFL or college career. But Fort is not part of the 53-man roster for Sunday’s game.
TEMPE, Ariz. -- The requirements for Troy Niklas' return to the field are quite simple these days.

If he can push a sled, he can play.

“He’s a damn tackle, he ain’t no wide receiver,” Arizona Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said. “He don’t need to be worrying about making cuts, so he better have his ass back on the practice field next week.”

Niklas, Arizona’s rookie tight end, heard the same message in the training room Friday, when he missed his ninth straight practice with a sprained ankle suffered in Denver in Week 5. He’ll miss his third straight game Sunday when Arizona hosts Philadelphia.

This is just the lastest injury to plague Niklas’ six months in the NFL. He came into the league recovering from hernia surgery and then broke a bone in his right hand in June. And now the ankle.

“Definitely been a pretty unreal series of events,” Niklas said. “Unfortunate, I guess. I’m trying to stay positive and heal up as fast as I can so I can get back out there.”

But staying positive after three setbacks since he was drafted is much easier said than done.

“It’s pretty tough,” Niklas said. “Just being injured is one of the worst things about playing and for me, watching the team go and win games, it’s awesome seeing them win and having success. It just sucks that you’re not part of it.”

Every day he misses is another day Niklas feels like he’s falling behind. But his ankle is close enough where a return next week is a good possibility.

As Arians said, as long as Niklas can push a sled, he can return to practice.

“I just got to be out there and be able to do my job,” Niklas said. “As I heal up I’ll just be able to do more and more.

“I think just getting back out there is the biggest thing regardless of what I’m doing.”
As expected, the season of San Francisco 49ers center Daniel Kilgore came to an end with him being placed on injured reserve Saturday due to the broken left ankle he suffered Sunday night at Denver.

What was not necessarily expected, though, was cornerback Chris Cook joining Kilgore on the IR list after Cook injured a hamstring in the third quarter of the Niners’ 42-17 loss to the Broncos.

The 49ers did announce the re-signing of special-teams ace/safety Bubba Ventrone, which leaves the team with one open roster spot and reports still swirling that outside linebacker Aldon Smith's nine-game suspension could be reduced by a game or two. Smith has already missed seven games.
FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- In a promotional giveaway, all fans will receive a green New York Jets flag Sunday upon entering MetLife Stadium. Maybe it should be a white flag.

Harvin
No doubt, many are ready to give up on the season, if they haven't already. The Jets (1-6) have dropped six straight, one loss shy of their longest losing streak since 2005, Herm Edwards' final season. The arrival of Percy Harvin has created a fresh vibe around the team, but you have to wonder if -- and how long -- that can sustain them, considering there's no playoff motivation.

It would be human nature to suffer a major letdown after last week's soul- and season-crushing loss to the New England Patriots, billed by the Jets as a last-stand opportunity. Rex Ryan, who prides himself on his ability to motivate, faces a huge challenge in trying to regroup his team. The Jets are a slight favorite even though the Buffalo Bills (4-3) can still call themselves contenders. It's probably because the Jets have won seven of the last 10 meetings, including four straight at MetLife.

"Buffalo is no gimme game," guard Willie Colon said. "I think that's the biggest misconception, that we're going to come in and blow Buffalo out of the water. That's not the case at all. They're 4-3, and I'm pretty sure they see blood in the water. They're probably thinking, 'This is there for the taking.' They're not going to bow down by no means."

Has any team ever bowed down to a 1-6 opponent?

Kickoff Sunday is 1 p.m. ET. Here are the top storylines for the Jets against the Bills:

1. The unveiling of Percy: The Jets are bad poker players. They've tried to tamp down expectations, giving only vague answers to questions about Harvin's potential role and impact. Give me a break. Truth is, Harvin figures prominently in the game plan even though he's had only four practices. The plan is to give him at least six to eight touches, feeding him the ball in a variety of ways. You'll see screen passes, running plays and probably a deep shot -- just because they want to prove to everyone he can be more than a "gadget" receiver. His ability near the line of scrimmage, though, could be big in this game. The Jets need quick-hitting plays to offset the Bills' pass rush, and that plays to Harvin's strengths.

Smith
2. Can Geno do it again? News flash: Geno Smith didn't throw an interception last week, only his fifth no-pick game in 23 starts. Ryan is excited that Smith has only two interceptions over the last three games, both coming in desperation-type situations. In the Jets' world, this is considered progress. Smith delivered a workmanlike performance last week, but the question is whether he can sustain it. Typically, he doesn't play well under duress, and the Bills (league-leading 24 sacks) generate a lot of pressure. The Jets' pass protection is shaky. They allow pressure on 33.2 percent of their dropbacks, 29th in the league.

3. Battle of the D-lines: You're talking about two of the better defensive lines in the league. The Bills have Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus inside, with Jerry Hughes and Mario Williams outside. If you asked the Jets to rank them, they'd probably put Mario Williams at No. 4. The overpaid defensive end never does anything against the Jets -- no sacks in four games as a member of the Bills. The biggest concerns are Kyle Williams and Dareus. Colon said he's been losing sleep thinking about his matchup. The Jets' line doesn't have the Pro Bowls and the big salaries, but Muhammad Wilkerson, Sheldon Richardson & Co. should be able to rattle Kyle Orton, who was sacked 11 times in the last two games.

4. From Manning and Brady ... to Orton: The Jets haven't faced a pedestrian quarterback since Week 1 (rookie Derek Carr), but the run of future Hall of Famers is over after a hellacious six-game run. Now they get Orton, who has no Hall of Fame inductions in his future (unless his alma maters decide to honor him). He's 2-1 since replacing EJ Manuel, but let's be real: The Jets have bigger problems than we think if they let Orton -- sans Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller -- pick them apart. They have to be aware of rookie Sammy Watkins (don't be surprised if Antonio Allen is back at corner), but it's not a multi-weapon offense.

5. A different kind of must-win: Ryan's career record in the AFC East is 14-17, including seven wins over the Bills. If the Jets can't beat the Bills at home, the season turns a darker shade of bad.
IRVING, Texas -- For the first time this season, Dallas Cowboys defensive end Anthony Spencer went through every day of practice leading into a game.

Spencer had been sitting out the “Friday” practices that are typically red-zone and short-yardage days to give his surgically repaired knee a day of rest. Spencer missed all but one game last season and all of training camp this summer as he recovered from microfracture surgery.

Spencer
He is still looking for his first sack after four games but has been credited with eight tackles and four quarterback pressures.

He is listed as probable for Monday’s game against the Washington Redskins.

“We just believe in practice,” coach Jason Garrett said. “It’s important for guys to get back to practice. You’re obviously trying to get them to be ready for Sunday, and there’s a lot of different ways to do that, but the base way to do that is to make sure they practice as much as they can. We have different guys with different injuries that you have to monitor and work out what the best schedule is, but for the most part we want guys out there practicing regardless of how much you played and we want to make sure we do that with Spence this week.”

Right tackle Doug Free will miss his second straight game with a small fracture in his right foot. The initial diagnosis was that Free would need 3-4 weeks to recover from the injury suffered late in the win against the Seattle Seahawks two weeks ago.

“We’ll see how he is next week when we start off on Wednesday and we’ll go from there,” Garrett said. “Initially it was a three- or four-week type thing. He traditionally heals fast. He’s a tough guy, and we feel like he’s coming back relatively well. We’ll just see how he does next week when we start practicing again.”

Linebacker Bruce Carter, who has missed the last three games with a quadriceps injury, is probable for Monday night, as are: quarterback Tony Romo (back), tackle Jermey Parnell (chest), wide receiver Dez Bryant (shoulder) and safety Jakar Hamilton. Defensive end Jack Crawford will miss his third straight game with a calf injury.
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TAMPA, Fla. -- Give the Tampa Bay Buccaneers credit for finally getting something right.

The team has struggled through a 1-5 start and hasn’t made the playoffs since last decade. But Saturday, the Bucs made the best move they’ve made in a very long time.

McCoy
McCoy
They signed All-Pro defensive tackle Gerald McCoy to a seven-year contract extension worth $98 million. That makes McCoy the highest-paid defensive tackle in the league, but he deserves every bit of it. He’s the best defensive tackle in the league and still has upside.

But McCoy is more than just a defensive tackle. He’s the leader of this franchise on and off the field. He recently has called himself out for not playing up to par and called the Bucs’ defense "soft." Those words mean a lot from McCoy because he has the résumé to back them up.

The McCoy extension is also a sign that coach Lovie Smith and general manager Jason Licht are going forward with their plan on how to build the Bucs. Smith has made it clear he wants to build a defense like the Bucs had in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

That’s when the Bucs had Warren Sapp at defensive tackle and Derrick Brooks at weakside linebacker. The new Bucs are in great shape at both of those positions with McCoy filling the Sapp role and Lavonte David drawing favorable comparisons to Brooks.

David is likely to get his contract extension after this season, and that will lock up the Bucs’ nucleus for the long term. Despite the team's record, Smith and Licht are going about things the right way. They’ve made sure their best player doesn’t get anywhere near free agency.

They still need another offseason of personnel moves to really be competitive, but the Bucs have made sure they’ve secured their main building block. McCoy is a leader on and off the field, and, if the Bucs can fill in some of the holes around him on defense, they can truly be like the Bucs of old.
SAN DIEGO -- After six weeks of standing on the sidelines as a spectator, San Diego Chargers running back Ryan Mathews is nearing a return to the field.

Mathews suffered an MCL knee sprain in a Sept. 14 contest against Seattle. San Diego’s running game has not been as consistent with the team’s every-down back out. The Chargers are averaging a league-worst 3.1 yards per carry.

Mathews
Mathews buoyed San Diego’s rushing game last season, finishing with a career-high 1,255 yards in 2013. Mathews worked on agility drills with San Diego’s training staff last week and ran wind sprints during pre-game workouts Thursday at Denver, both indications he’s getting close to being healthy enough to play.

“I’m just taking it day by day,” Mathews said. “I’m just waiting for them to give me the go ahead so I can let it loose. I’m working out as much as I can, trying to keep my body in shape and getting strong again.”

While working diligently to get back on the field, Mathews also will host a fundraiser close to his heart Tuesday at the Rancho Bernardo Inn. The golf charity event raises money for homeless mothers and their children through his foundation, the Trish and Ryan Mathews Door of Hope Chest.

Mathews said the event sold out the first time they held it last year, and he hopes to keep growing the charity.

Mathews has first-hand experience with the issue of homelessness. Raised by a single parent, he had to live out of a car as an infant with his mother, Tricia, while living in Riverside, California.

“It’s basically helping homeless mothers get back on their feet,” Mathews said. “That was a big part of my life growing up. So being able to help those homeless mothers, like I helped my mom, is great.

“It’s real important. She’s the main symbol for the organization. She’s worked hard all of her life to get to where she’s at. And she helped to create a lot of beneficial things for me.”

Mathews said that his mother works with the Salvation Army to help homeless mothers and other families in need, especially with the holiday season approaching.

“I know with the holidays coming up, this is a big time for her,” Mathews said. “So she’ll probably be down at my house for a long time.

“It’s humbling, being able to give back. There’s a lot of people that are in need. And I’m going to do my part, whether it’s going to an event like this and shaking some hands, taking a picture or signing an autograph or whatnot. It’s something.”
CINCINNATI -- Three storylines to watch Sunday when the Cincinnati Bengals host the Baltimore Ravens at Paul Brown Stadium:

Daniels
Ravens without Daniels: Baltimore announced Friday it would be without another one of its key offensive weapons at tight end. The news had to have been embraced with wide-open arms by the Bengals. That's because now with Owen Daniels, the Ravens' top reserve tight end behind the already-injured Dennis Pitta, out for Sunday's game, Baltimore is forced into moving around a few pass-catching pieces and moving around other reserves to fulfill its offensive needs. Specifically, Crockett Gilmore -- who has been targeted just three times this season -- will take Daniels' spot in the rotation. Although he was lauded earlier this week by Bengals coach Marvin Lewis, Gilmore still isn't expected to give the Ravens the quality minutes, receptions and blocks that the other two might have. Whereas the Ravens were able to run plays in two-tight-end and H-back sets during the teams' first meeting in September, they may have difficulty executing those plays without the likes of Pitta and Daniels. Both tight ends were among Baltimore's leading receivers in the Week 1 tilt.

With tight ends causing drama for the Bengals the last three weeks in particular (they have allowed five tight ends to catch 24 passes for 363 yards and four touchdowns), this could be a good reprieve for the defense. Watch to see how often the Bengals blitz without Pitta or Daniels playing, and look to see how well they cover Gilmore.

Flacco
Getting to Flacco: Pressure has been a problem for the Bengals' defense in recent weeks, especially when it comes to their defensive line. Tackle Geno Atkins finally factored statistically into a sack, credited this week for assisting Carlos Dunlap with a sack on Indianapolis' Andrew Luck last week. It will be incumbent on the Bengals this week to shake off the problems they have had in getting to quarterbacks, particularly with the Ravens featuring a newly healthy offensive line. For the first time in six weeks, both offensive tackle Eugene Monroe and left guard Kelechi Osemele are expected to play alongside one another. Their addition in the rotation should give Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco blind-side protection he hasn't had much this season.

In the season opener, the Bengals had great pressure on Flacco, sacking him three times. Only one defense this season has made him look as bad as the Bengals did: the Colts.

Offense needs fun: Bengals players on both sides of the ball this week have remarked about how devoid of fun their locker room has been the last three weeks. As defensive end Wallace Gilberry said, it's caused tension with respect to urgency and the need to be successful and win. The best way to not play tense and tight is to simply have fun. That's precisely what the Bengals did during practice Thursday and Friday when, for the first time since Marvin Lewis has been head coach, they played music. It seemed to make players looser. We'll see Sunday if it has any impact. More than any group, the offense needs to take the "fun" message to heart Sunday. If that means getting back to trick plays that work or using players in other inventive and creative ways, then so be it. During last week's 27-0 shutout loss, the once-entertaining offense clearly wasn't having any fun.
LONDON -- The Detroit Lions face the Atlanta Falcons at Wembley Stadium Sunday as part of the NFL’s International Series. How do the Lions come away with a win and a 6-2 first-half record? Here are four keys.

Johnson
1. Calvin Johnson: The star wide receiver practiced for the first time this week and said Thursday he could take his decision of whether or not to play all the way to Sunday. Unlike the past two weeks, though, this game might mean a bit more to him. As a huge international soccer fan, playing this game in Wembley Stadium would truly be a once-in-a-lifetime experience for Johnson. And doing it while facing his hometown team, the Atlanta Falcons? That might be too good for him to pass up. If he bases it solely on his health, however, he truly becomes a coin-flip decision. Detroit could use him back in the lineup because the offense has been somewhat stagnant due to his and other injuries to skill-position players.

2. Who plays tight end? The Lions have been down three tight ends for most of the week, and the two who have practiced -- Kellen Davis and Jordan Thompson -- have been with the Lions’ 53-man roster for all of a week. Davis has never even played for Detroit before. If Brandon Pettigrew, Eric Ebron and Joseph Fauria all don’t play, that’s a big spot for a free agent off the street and a practice squad player. Depending on Johnson’s status, this could severely limit Matthew Stafford’s options.

3. Get to Matt Ryan: The veteran Atlanta quarterback has been good at avoiding pressure and sacks this season, even as his offensive line has crumbled around him due to injuries and ineffectiveness. But Ryan hasn’t faced this type of defensive front this season, and while Drew Brees had time on some plays last week, he was pressured enough to force bad decisions, including 10 incompletions and a turnover during the Lions’ rally late in the fourth quarter. If Detroit can do similar things to Ryan, this could be a big game for the Lions’ defensive line.

4. Defend Roddy White and Julio Jones: It’s unlikely the Lions will be able to take away both players, as they have combined for four 100-yard games this season (Jones with three, White with one). White and Jones represent one of the toughest receiving tandems the Lions have faced all season, and covering both while pressuring Ryan will be the key for defensive success. It would not be a surprising strategy to see the Lions not blitz much and have the front four try to create pass pressure and stop the run game, leaving seven players to drop into coverage. This might be a game where Detroit would want to allow more on the run in order to shut down the pass.
IRVING, Texas -- Orlando Scandrick was disappointed when New York Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz was lost for the season because of a knee injury and could not play last week against the Dallas Cowboys.

Scandrick
Scandrick wants to compete against the best. On ESPN’s “Monday Night Football” this week, Scandrick will get the chance to compete against a longtime NFC East foe, DeSean Jackson, who is in his first season with the Washington Redskins.

In 10 career games against the Cowboys, Jackson has 35 catches for 663 yards but just one touchdown.

After missing the first two games of the season due to a suspension, Scandrick has solidified the Cowboys’ secondary. He has an interception and four pass breakups, playing equally as well in the slot as outside.

“O can really cover now,” defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli said. “He’s good at man to man. He’s a good zone player. He’s just to me really emerging. He’s a terrific tackler, great instincts and he’s good inside. You just see him growing and growing as a player.”

Scandrick came to the Cowboys with a chip on his shoulder as a fifth-round pick in 2008. He outlasted 2008 first-rounder Mike Jenkins and beat out 2012 first-rounder Morris Claiborne. The edginess Scandrick had when he showed up has not dissipated.

“He is a physical player,” coach Jason Garrett said. “He is aware. He is instinctive. He seems to be around the ball a lot. I just think he's gotten better and better. He has a lot of confidence defending inside and outside. He's got a lot of athletic ability. He is long. He's quick. Again, his instincts for the game are probably his best trait.”
TEMPE, Ariz. – Whenever the Acho brothers were split up on opposing pickup basketball teams as kids in Texas, there was bound to be at least one errant pass from Sam to Emmanuel each game.

Fortunately for Sam, an Arizona Cardinals starting outside linebacker, he didn’t have to think twice about passing to Emmanuel often. Besides the occasional pickup game, the two never played on opposing teams growing up – even through college at the University of Texas.

Emmanuel Acho
Sam Acho
The fact that they’ve played on the same team since youth soccer -- when Sam was 8 and Emmanuel was 6 -- makes Sunday, when Sam’s Cardinals hosts Emmanuel’s Eagles, so unique.

“I’ll be more excited than anything,” Sam Acho said. “I’m so proud of him. I’m so proud of what he’s been able to accomplish if you look at the journey he’s been on.”

The two are still close, and make sure they text before every game. It’s usually something short and simple like: “Hey man, I’m praying for you. Ball out today. Do your thing. Love you, bro,” Sam said. They won’t need to text Sunday morning. Sam said the pregame message will given when the two get together Saturday night.

While they talk four or five times a week, the brothers Acho had different roads to the NFL. Sam was drafted in the fourth round in 2011 and made an immediate impact in his first two seasons before a broken fibula ended his 2013 season after three games. After suffering a quad injury at the NFL combine in 2012, Emmanuel was drafted in the sixth round by the Cleveland Browns. A knee injury suffered that preseason landed him on injured reserve for his rookie season. He was traded to the Eagles the following April, then was released that September and signed to the New York Giants practice squad about a week later.

In October 2013, Emmanuel Acho was signed off the Giants practice squad by the Eagles, who waived him in December but re-signed him to the practice squad the next day. He was released this August, re-signed to the practice squad a day later and then promoted to the active roster after Week 1. He’s since started one of five games for Philadelphia, totaling 17 tackles.

Sam has 18 tackles this season.

It’s a safe bet that Emmanuel is well aware that he has one fewer tackle than his older brother in one fewer game.

“He’s definitely the more competitive one,” Sam said. “I was the guy who said, ‘Hey, I just want to play. I want to have fun.”

Whether it was driveway basketball or the Madden video game, Emmanuel’s competitive streak was always on display. Sam said if his younger brother was losing at Madden – which wasn’t often – he’d turn it off midgame. Or if Sam ran up a big lead in the driveway, Emmanuel would put the ball down and storm off.

“So, I would start letting him get closer,” Sam said. “If I was up too much, I’d start sandbagging a little bit, but yeah, he’s definitely more competitive.”

That’s not to say Sam isn’t. When he talked to his mother, Christie, this week, she mentioned, “We're coming up to play the Cardinals this weekend.”

Sam noticed right away.

“I was like, ‘We? Who is we?’” Sam said with a laugh.

As he found out, his parents alternate daily between using “we” to identify with the Cardinals and the Eagles.

On Sunday, however, they Sonny and Christie Acho won’t need to decide one way or the other. Sam said his mother will be wearing a custom-tailored Acho jersey – Cardinals in the front, Eagles in the back.

“People will think they’re kind of confused,” Sam said.

But his parents will know exactly who they’re cheering for.
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- However many well-wishers Mike Zimmer has encountered during a trying stretch as the Minnesota Vikings' first-year head coach, none moved him to share the message publicly the way Alex Loehlein did.

Loehlein, an 8-year-old boy who has Duchenne muscular dystrophy -- a fatal and incurable degenerative muscle disease -- visited the Vikings' facility on a recent Saturday to take in the team's practice, meet players and get his Vikings helmet autographed.

He sent a thank-you note to Zimmer after his visit, which the coach read to reporters before the start of his news conference on Friday. It read:
Dear Mr. Zimmer,

Thank you for letting me watch your practice last Saturday. It was fun. The players were nice to me and signed my Viking helmet. My grandpa says to expect good luck for you because you have used up all your bad luck already.

Alex

After a start in which Zimmer has lost his top offensive player, his starting quarterback, the tight end and right guard the team just signed to contract extensions -- and saw the Vikings give up a touchdown with a second left on the clock in a game he coached with kidney stones -- it's tough to argue with that logic.

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Ha Ha Clinton-Dix was 13 yards away from Jerricho Cotchery when the Carolina Panthers receiver caught a swing pass at his own 48-yard line in the third quarter of Sunday's game at Lambeau Field.

In 1.4 seconds, Clinton-Dix had closed the gap.

The story would be better if the Green Bay Packers rookie made the tackle, but then safeties coach Darren Perry might not have anything to hold over the first-round pick.

[+] EnlargeHa Ha Clinton-Dix
Jeff Hanisch/USA TODAY SportsRookie Ha Ha Clinton-Dix has become one of the Packers' surest tacklers.
In what was his first NFL start, Clinton-Dix led the Packers with eight tackles (including seven solo stops). That he missed Cotchery on what turned out to be a 9-yard catch-and-run actually sat well with Perry for one reason: Clinton-Dix was aggressive in his pursuit.

"Coach sees us out there giving effort, 100 percent effort, whether we miss the tackle or we make it, he can live with that," Clinton-Dix said Friday. "Once he sees us coming up short or kind of hesitating on making the tackle, then he really has a problem."

In just seven NFL games, the 21st overall pick went from the guy who was caught flat-footed on his open-field missed tackle that led to Seattle Seahawks receiver Ricardo Lockette's 33-yard touchdown in season opener to perhaps the most aggressive pursuer in the Packers' secondary.

Since the opener, Clinton-Dix has been charged with only one missed tackle, according to Pro Football Focus, although it should be noted that it did not give him a missed tackle against the Panthers.

But the Packers coaches gave him one.

"He's a guy that once he sees stuff, he comes down hill and goes and gets it," Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers said. "He doesn't hesitate. He shoots his gun so to speak. You saw him on Sunday, he had to cover space and made one really nice tackle, and then he missed one. But he's going after it aggressively. I think people, over a period of time, receivers know that when you've got a big safety coming downhill on them, it affects that middle of the field."

For the first six games, Clinton-Dix split time at free safety with second-year pro Micah Hyde, who started every one of them. But in the last three of those, Clinton-Dix actually played more snaps than Hyde, which made it only a matter of time before he took over as the starter and played every snap like he did against the Panthers.

"He's really come into his own and is starting to show that he can cover the field as well as fit within the run game and not only fit, but make big plays in space, which we haven't seen for some time since we lost Nick [Collins] and some of those veteran safeties and corners," Packers linebacker Clay Matthews said. "It's good to have a guy like that who you know you're going to be able to count on for years."

The Packers may have to count on him even more on Sunday against the New Orleans Saints. Veteran starting strong safety Morgan Burnett has not practiced all week because of a calf injury and was listed as questionable on Friday's injury report.

Plus, Clinton-Dix might have his toughest matchup of the season if he's asked to cover Saints tight end Jimmy Graham.

But he will have capable help. If Burnett can't play, either Hyde or Sean Richardson would start at the other safety spot. The Packers like Hyde's coverage ability, which is why he moves to the nickel spot when the Packers employ five defensive backs, and Richardson is an up-and-comer who has contributed in spots -- like his tackle for no gain on Panthers running back Jonathan Stewart on third-and-1 in the first quarter of Sunday's game.

It's an embarrassment of riches at safety, a position where last year the Packers could barely find one productive starter, and they have Clinton-Dix to thank for that.

"This is the way it's supposed to be," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said.
If the Cleveland Browns ever call to the bullpen at quarterback, the season will get weird in a hurry. But that's not a reality this week. As written here, Brian Hoyer struggling against Oakland and Tampa Bay would qualify as a three-week stretch of bad play against inferior opposition, which might -- might -- be enough to nudge coach Mike Pettine to change. But Browns coaches don't foresee that. Johnny Manziel said Friday that he's the backup and "that's that." He knows nothing he says right now helps him or helps the situation, so he's not about to call for himself to play, even if he believes he could do better.

West
Crowell
Tate
Tate
The position that gets the most run in this offense is running back, and the competition remains as open as a soft spot in the zone. Kyle Shanahan said it Thursday, and running backs coach Wilbert Montgomery punctuated it Friday.

"Someone has to take charge," Montgomery told ESPN. "At some point you have to say, 'The job is mine.'"

The workload suggests Ben Tate is the primary option, with 63 carries in the three weeks since returning from injury. He's reliable. He doesn't fumble. He was strong in back-to-back games against Tennessee and Pittsburgh, recording 202 yards and two touchdowns on 47 carries.

But Tate did little to set up the passing game in Jacksonville, where the Browns lived in second-and-9 and third-and-8. Tate finished with 36 yards on 16 carries, signaling a drop-off in each of the last three weeks.

Undrafted rookie Isaiah Crowell leads all rushers with four touchdowns but he's still trying to wash the stain of three fumbles against Pittsburgh. Third-round rookie Terrance West watched his workload dwindle since his 168 combined yards in Weeks 1 and 2. In Jacksonville, West got back-to-back carries on second-and-2 and couldn't convert.

Still, the Browns are high on the potential of both rookies. If they weren't, Tate would have closed the door on the competition two weeks ago. All three want to be the workhorse, Montgomery says, but he doesn't know who will get there first.

"I think they've all got their own qualities," Montgomery said. "It can happen at any time. I've always said, you've got to get a hot hand. You’ve got to break a run for 7 or 8 yards and you’ve got to come back and get another one for 7 or 8. You’ve got to separate yourself from the other guys.

"Ben is the veteran of that group, but at some point you want to decide on one guy and let him ride. You’re looking for it."

My take: Coaches are publicly trying to motivate Crowell/West, who are still adjusting to life as professionals. The coaches didnt seem keen on West's comments earlier in the week that running backs need a rhythm to feel out a defense, and they are pouncing on it. Crowell and West offer big-play ability. Tate offers dependability. Why can't they have both? Not sure one guy needs to shoulder the entire burden. Two-back systems thrive in the NFL, so by November there might be one player left out.
IRVING, Texas – Dallas Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray deflects questions about the amount of work he has received this season like defenders.

He doesn’t much care that he is 31 carries away from the most he has had in a season and that Monday’s game against the Washington Redskins is just the eighth game of the season. He says his body feels good.

Part of it has to do with what he did in the offseason. Starting in March, before the official beginning of the Cowboys’ offseason program, Murray became Jason Witten’s workout partner. For the next two months they were together at Valley Ranch for hours, running, lifting and sweating.

Murray
Witten
“It helped a lot, obviously with the stamina aspect just building a good armor for your body so you can take some hits and take the pounding of a long season,” Murray said. “He's done it for a long time and he's someone who has had a lot of success in this league and he knows what to do to take care of your body in season and out of season, so it helped extremely a lot and I have to thank him and we're still working together.”

Witten has missed one game in his career. Witten has played in 178 straight games, the longest active streak for a position player.

“I just asked him one day,” Witten said. “Don’t remember exactly how it went down, but we’re going to work out together.”

In every way, Witten is the conscience of the Cowboys. He is their leader. Murray called him “the big dog.”

“I couldn’t say no,” Murray said.

No player has caught more passes as a Cowboy than Witten. He has played in nine Pro Bowls. Not only does he not miss games, he does not miss practices, either.

Murray has missed 11 games in his first three seasons with ankle, foot and knee injuries. He missed a day of practice last week because he was ill. He sprained an ankle in the second quarter of last week’s victory against the New York Giants but finished the game with 128 yards on 28 carries.

Witten turned 32 in May, in the middle of the offseason. Murray is 26.

“I knew it was good for me to be with a young guy that can push you,” Witten said. “Obviously he’s physically talented. I kind of known that was the way our team was going and what we were trying to mold ourselves into. Even since he’s been a rookie, he’s always kind of latched on to certain people and asked questions, eager to learn. The thing I like about him since an early age was you could always see that he wanted to be really, really good. He had a great offseason. There were many days where I was really sore and we’d come in and say, ‘Are you sore?’ And he’d tell me, ‘Nah, not really. What about you?’ ‘Nah, I feel all right.’ He’s everything you want in a teammate from that standpoint. It was good to work out with him that way because I kept telling him, November and December this will pay off for us, the work that we put in. You can see it in the way he’s playing.”

Witten is not taking credit for Murray’s season by any stretch, but Murray believes the workouts have made a difference.

Said Murray, “Whenever you talk to a guy like that that's had the success like that and played so long in this league and done some of the things he’s done, you definitely try to take as much information as you possibly can from him.”

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