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NFL Insider Newsletter

NFL Insider Newsletter

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September 1, 2016 -- Vol. 22, No. 130
Insider team reports for all NFL teams.
Copyright (C) 2016 The Sports Xchange.
All Rights Reserved. Reprints, duplication or redistribution is prohibited without written permission from The Sports Xchange.
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Frank Cooney, Publisher
4632 Windsong St.
Sacramento, CA 95834
415-897-8555
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Sport Code: NFL
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DALLAS COWBOYS
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INSIDE SLANT
<Headline>Cowboys will try to survive without Romo</Headline>
   The Dallas Cowboys thought they had dodged a bullet in Seattle on Thursday when quarterback Tony Romo seemed to be just fine after being knocked out of the 27-17 preseason loss to the Seahawks three plays into the game.
   Romo said he had no pain after the game and his recovery was an example of how strong his back was.
   But that was before he woke up Friday with discomfort, forcing the Cowboys to conduct an MRI.
   The results were devastating to Romo and the Cowboys.
   Romo has been sidelined indefinitely with a broken bone in his back, a compression fracture to the L1 vertebra, per a source. Surgery is not required.
   Romo is expected to be sidelined six to 10 weeks, per sources, though head coach Jason Garrett refused to put a timetable on his return.
   Garrett even declined to rule Romo out of the Sept. 11 season opener against the New York Giants because Romo has played with fractured bones in his back before. Garrett made it clear that Romo's season is not jeopardy.
   "We're going to monitor his condition day by day and we'll see how he feels going forward," Garrett said. "There's no time frame when he's going to return. We are confident he is going be coming back and playing football for us this year."
   Romo's most likely return is the Oct. 30 matchup against the Philadelphia Eagles, putting him out for the first six games of the season.
   Rookie fourth-round draft pick Dak Prescott will take over until Romo returns.
   "He's driven for this not to be like last year," Cowboys vice president Stephen Jones said of Romo. "He's certainly not deterred and he really feels like it's going to be different, he's going to be able to get through this and he also feels confident that our team will be able to win games while he's not here. He's driven to help Dak win football games for us so when he gets back that he will have a great chance to have a great season, get in the tournament and contend for a championship, nothing's changed."
   Romo, 36, has not played a full season since 2012. He underwent two back surgeries in 2013. He missed two games in 2014 with fractured bones in his back. He missed 12 games in 2015 after twice fracturing his collarbone.
   Garrett said Romo's current situation is not related to his past injuries, and his ability to play with two fractured transverse processes in 2014 gives them hope he can return sooner than later.
   "Again, it's not related to the other back issues that he's had (and is) very specific to the hit he took the other night at the game," Garrett said. "He has played with fractures in his back before. That more than anything else is not giving us a time frame. We have heard a wide range of possibilities. We have to monitor it day by day and see how he responds. It's a matter of the bone healing and Tony being able to function with this injury. He has done that before. We are all optimistic he will be back soon and be ready soon and play at high level for us."
   Prescott has completed 39 of 50 passes for 454 yards and five touchdowns with no interceptions in the preseason. He has also rushed for two touchdowns. His passer rating of 137.8 in three games is the highest in the NFL.
   However, the Cowboys were 1-11 without Romo last year and are 7-20 without him since 2006.
   "Of course our success without Tony hasn't been good up to this point, but we fully expect to change that this year," Jones said. "We fully understand why everybody is going to question that, but we feel good about Dak (Prescott). We think our team feels good about Dak. The chemistry is there with the players and that's what we're going to focus on. But we totally understand there's going to be question marks and people are going to question whether we can get it done."
   Jameill Showers is currently Dallas' third quarterback, but the Cowboys will look to add a veteran to back up Prescott until Romo returns.
NOTES, QUOTES
   --Wide receiver Dez Bryant didn't make the trip with the Cowboys to the Pacific Northwest as he is recovering from concussion-like symptoms. But that didn't stop the star receiver from voicing his opinions on Twitter throughout the team's Thursday night game against Seattle, which the Seahawks won 27-17.
   And Bryant made it a point to say cornerback Morris Claiborne owed him 20 pushups for missing a few interception opportunities in the game.
   "I need my 20 push ups tomorrow 24... Two picks I know you could have had...#Cowboysworld," Bryant posted on his Twitter handle @DezBryant.
   Claiborne agreed.
   "I definitely owe him," Claiborne said. "As soon as I see him, I'm going to get down and give him those pushups 'cause we can't have that. For us to be where we want to be, those are big-time plays. Big-time plays for us as a unit, it can change the course of the game.
   "For us to be a championship defense, I have to cash in on those opportunities when I get them."
   Claiborne is coming off a season in which he had no interceptions. However, throughout training camp and in the preseason, Claiborne has gotten his hands on more balls and wants to take the next step in what has been a disappointing career to date.
   Outside of the missed interceptions, Claiborne also gave up a touchdown in the second quarter. Claiborne had tight coverage, but still couldn't stop a perfect 9-yard pass from Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson to Paul Richardson.
   "It was a well thrown ball," Claiborne said. "Once he caught it, I tried to play it through his hands, but from the position he caught it from, there was nothing else I can do about it. When I got off the ground, I was like, 'Hey that was nice. That was a good play.'"
   --Cowboys coach Jason Garrett reprimanded rookie running back Ezekiel Elliott for his visit to a legal marijuana shop before Thursday's 27-17 loss to the Seattle Seahawks.
   Marijuana is legal in the state of Washington. But it is still banned by the NFL.
   Garrett said he has expressed his disappointment to Elliott, who has apologized for his actions.
   "I don't think it was a good decision," Garrett said. "He and I talked about that. It was a just a poor decision on his part. Young players have to understand that perception can be reality. And you have to understand that you are under a microscope 24 hours a day. And there is no good reason to go into a place like that. He understood. He apologized. He recognized his mistake. It's something he will learn from."
   Garrett said he didn't believe that Elliott's visit to the marijuana shop, which was first reported by TMZ, will prompt a drug test by the NFL.
   "It's my understanding it does not," Garrett said.
   The Cowboys already have three players suspended by the NFL for violating the substance policy --  defensive ends DeMarcus Lawrence (four games) and Randy Gregory (10 games) and linebacker Rolando McClain (10 games).
   Gregory is currently in drug rehab. McClain did not report to training camp and is not expected to play at all in 2016.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
PLAYER NOTES
   --WR Andy Jones was the star of the first two weeks of training camp and seemingly had an outside chance of making the team. But he has been a disappointment during the preseason games. He has three drops in the preseason, including a potential touchdown against the Seahawks.
   --WR Terrance Williams has vowed that 2016 will be different for him. But he remains inconsistent, typified by a big drop against the Seahawks. Williams is in the last year of his contract and hoping to get big money on free agent market. 
   --RB Ezekiel Elliott was impressive in his Dallas Cowboys debut. Elliott missed the first two preseason game with a tight hamstring. But the fourth overall pick exploded against the Seattle Seahawks. Elliott rushed for 48 yards on seven carries, and played 15 snaps through the Cowboys' first two offensive drives.
   --TE Jason Witten is focused on being a red-zone scoring threat this season. It's the only thing missing from his Hall of Fame career. He has 60 career touchdown receptions in his 13 seasons, but has never posted a double-digit touchdown season. By comparison, Rob Gronkowski has 65 touchdown receptions in six seasons. Witten showed some playmaking skills in the end zone against the Seahawks by jumping over linebacker K.J. Wright to haul in a 17-yard pass from Dak Prescott.
   "My job," Witten said. "If they throw it to me, I'm expected to catch it. I'm sure the young pup had confidence in me to make that play."
   Witten dismissed the notion that it might have been underthrown, and he had to wrestle it away to avoid a possible interception.
   "It was a good throw," Witten said. "That's where you want it. That's the coverage they play. I expect those out of myself and I appreciate him having confidence to let it go. It's a big-time play by a young player. He's done that all camp, all preseason."
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NEW YORK GIANTS
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INSIDE SLANT
<Headline>Giants' McAdoo cites fundamentals for offensive line woes</Headline>
   New York Giants head coach Ben McAdoo paused for a moment as he delivered his opening statements on Sunday, one day after his team's 21-20 win over the New York Jets.
   "I'm expecting a lot of questions about the offensive line," McAdoo said.
   With good reason. For the third week in a row, the Giants' starting offensive line - left tackle Ereck Flowers, center Weston Richburg, right guard John Jerry, right tackle Marshall Newhouse and left guard Bobby Hart who was playing for the injured Justin Pugh - did not perform well in either run blocking or pass protection.
   As time begins to run out on the preseason, there is a sense of panic among Giants fans that the offensive line is beyond repair. McAdoo, who is a lot closer to the situation, sees the offensive blocking problems as correctable. 
   "We need to work hard to finish, detail the fundamentals and eliminate the penalties and we need to stay ahead of the chains," McAdoo said of the unit.
   "I think we can tighten up our assignments, but it's really the details in the fundamentals. We got to be detailed in what we're doing fundamentally and we have to work like heck to finish hard and with effort."
   The Jets, owners of one of the best defensive fronts in football, managed to record one sack and five hits against the Giants on Saturday night.
   In the run game, they recorded a whopping seven tackles for a loss, allowing the Giants' rushing offense to gain five yards on 12 carries, an 0.4 yards-per-carry average.
   Despite his calm demeanor toward the offense, McAdoo is unaccepting of the team's performance.
   "No one's happy with the way the first offense operated yesterday," he said. "We need to improve. We need to make sure we're going forward so we give guys opportunities to showcase their abilities.
   "Frustration doesn't solve anything," he added. "At the same time, we need to execute better and we need to play forward; we can't be going backwards."
   Perhaps the most telling of McAdoo's responses on the topic of the offensive line was when he was asked if he believed he had the right five starters on the line.
   The coach's answer spoke volumes not just about the starters but also about the depth competing to make the roster.
   "I feel very confident that we're going to get the offensive line going in the right direction," McAdoo said.
NOTES, QUOTES
   --After almost two seasons away and a handful of setbacks, receiver Victor Cruz finally took his first live action snaps since Oct. 12, 2014, when a torn patellar tendon sidelined him for that season.
   Given a little more than two dozen snaps against the Jets, Cruz caught one of two pass targets for four yards.
   "It felt, felt good to put that jersey on again and go out there with my teammates, from the warmup, the pregame, and then during the game to be in the position to make a play and be out there running routes against an opponent," Cruz said after the game, adding that he came through his first live reps "unscathed."
   That's good news not just for Cruz but for the Giants, who have visions of a three-headed receiving tandem of Cruz, Odell Beckham Jr. and rookie Sterling Shepard creating matchup nightmares for opposing defenses.
   "It was good to have him out there for a healthy amount of snaps," McAdoo said. "We would've liked to get him the ball a little earlier in the game, let him get his hands on the ball, but he looked comfortable out there. He looked confident."
   Cruz, who wasn't really tested as far as press coverage was concerned, admitted that he felt a little rusty during the game, but was encouraged that his progress continues to move in the right direction.
   "Obviously you're just trying to get your feet up under you again and things like that. On that one move where (quarterback) Eli (Manning) just missed me, I felt like I was shaking some of the rust off a little bit," he said.
   "I just wanted to see myself get open, continue to go out there and do the things that I'm accustomed to doing and I felt that way, I felt good about the things that I was putting out there. I felt good about how I was running my routes, the things that I was doing and things of that nature, so step one was definitely being out there, getting out there with my teammates, and then step two was not just being out there, it was making an impact."
   Cruz smiled when asked about what that first reception was like for him. 
   "It was great, man," he said. "That ball felt like it was forever in the air before it got to my hands but it was good to kind of catch that ball and get a little contact, get a little hit out of bounds and hopefully I can build on that. But it was definitely good to get one in."
   Moving forward, the receiver was confident that he'd recover from his first extensive game action in quite a while as he continues to eye a return to regular-season action. He said he wasn't sure if he would play in the Giants' preseason finale against the New England Patriots Thursday (7 p.m.), but added that he'd "love to" continue building rapport with Manning.
   If that doesn't happen, Cruz said he'd be fine with the decision and added that he didn't think it would hamper him in any way for being ready for the season opener on Sept. 11.
   "Again, it'll be up to Coach Mac," he said. "From a personal level, I would like to play, even if it's just a series or two. Do I need to play? I don't think, I think it's just a matter of continuing to understand what we want to accomplish as a team and as a game plan and as a receiving corp. I think I can go out there Sept. 11 and be okay." 
   --On the official stat sheet, Giants rookie cornerback Eli Apple was credited with just one pass defensed, that coming in the first quarter when he knocked away a pass intended for Jets veteran receiver Eric Decker.
   In reality, Apple had perhaps his best game of his young career, a game in which the Jets went after him early on. Apple, who was coming off a knee injury, stayed hip for hip with the receivers when he was tested.
   "Jumping back in there after a little time off, he competed," McAdoo said.
   "He was physical at the line of scrimmage and he competed down the field; they went after him down the field a little it in the press man coverage and he didn't back down. He did a nice job."
   That's good news for Apple, who has primarily shared snaps at right cornerback with Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. The Giants' first round pick out of Ohio State isn't necessarily used to being targeted by opposing quarterbacks, but as a rookie, he welcomes the challenge.
   "Well, of course, as a corner, you want to get your chances to make an impact on the game and everything. So anytime they target you, it's an opportunity," he said.
   For as solid as a performance as it was, both McAdoo and Apple said they see room for improvement.
   One area that will no doubt be a point of emphasis with the rookie is his tendency to grab at opponents if they start to separate from him, an act that will bring a cluster of penalty flags Apple's way every time.
   "We're just going to keep coaching him to be physical and to play the technique the right way and to keep competing," McAdoo said.
   Another area that Apple said he'd like to improve are his angles. For instance, on a pass breakup against Decker, Apple felt as though he could have played that better.
   "I could have been inside a little bit more but I finished the play the way I was supposed to, by breaking the ball up and it was a good play," he said. 
   Apple has devoted himself to studying film, picking the brains of his veteran teammates and attaching himself to the hip of his position coach, Tim Walton, in an effort to rapidly improve his game.
   Then there are the lessons he gets in live action which he says are invaluable.
   "The more experience I get, just naturally the confidence is going to get better as well," he said. "I just want to get out there on the field and try to compete on every down and get my confidence up." 
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
PLAYER NOTES
   --T Will Beatty, who was cut by the Giants on Feb. 10 as part of a salary cap move, has re-signed with the team on a one-year contract. Beatty, who has been a career left tackle, said in a team issued release that he is open to playing anywhere on the offensive line except center. Beatty, who probably won't suit up for the Giants preseason finale against New England (Thursday, 7 p.m. ET), is expected to push incumbent Marshall Newhouse for the starting right tackle spot.
   --CB Leon Hall (concussion) is not expected to play Thursday night against New England (7 p.m. ET). Hall is currently in the team's concussion list.
   --LB Jasper Brinkley (knee) is questionable for Thursday's preseason finale against New England (7 p.m. ET). Brinkley has been sidelined this week with a knee ailment.
   --LB Jonathan Casillas (ribs) is not expected to be available for Thursday's preseason finale against New England (7 p.m. ET).
   --TE Matt LaCosse (knee) has been added to the Giants' injured reserve list. LaCosse had been waived/injured Monday after aggravating a knee issue initially suffered earlier this summer.
   --FB Nikita Whitlock (mid-foot sprain) has been added to the Giants' injured reserve list. Whitlock, who was facing an uphill battle to make the final roster, was injured in the Giants' 21-20 win over the New York Jets on Saturday, leaving the game in the third quarter on a cart. He is currently considering surgery.
   --S Cooper Taylor was one of two Giants' draft picks from past years to be among the dozen roster moves made by the team Tuesday to get to the league-mandated 75-man limit. Taylor, the team's fifth-round pick in 2013, was one of two cuts made who had NFL game experience. The other being tackle Bryon Stingily, who was placed on injured reserve. 
   --DB Bennett Jackson, the Giants' sixth-round pick in 2014, was part of a group of 12 transactions made by the team to get to the league-mandated 75-man roster limit. Jackson has missed each of the last two years after undergoing knee surgery both times.
   --RB Marshaun Coprich was waived by the Giants. Coprich, however, is a candidate to return to the team on its practice squad if he clears waivers.
   --CB Joe Powell, who the Giants signed two weeks ago to provide depth while the cornerback unit was banged up, was waived by the Giants. Powell played his college ball at tiny Global Tech in Manhattan.
   --OL Shane McDermott was waived by the Giants. McDermott had shown versatility in playing multiple positions across the offensive line, but fell behind interior linemen Adam Gettis and Brett Jones on the depth chart.
   --DT Greg Milhouse was waived by the Giants. Milhouse surprised onlookers at the start of camp when he was asked to work with the starting defense in place of Damon Harrison, who opened training camp on the Active/PUP list. Since then, Millhouse has lost some ground to Louis Nix and Jay Bromley.
   --TE Ryan Malleck (burner), was waived/injured with a burner. Malleck suffered his injury during Tuesday's practice. 
   --WR K.J. Maye was waived by the Giants.
   --WR Kadron Boone was waived by the Giants.
   --DT Davon Coleman was waived by the Giants.
   --DE Mike Rose was waived by the Giants.
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PHILADELPHIA EAGLES
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INSIDE SLANT
<Headline>Eagles QB Wentz ruled out of preseason finale</Headline>
   The Philadelphia Eagles rookie first-round quarterback, Carson Wentz, was ruled out of Thursday's final preseason game against the New York Jets as continues to heal from two broken ribs
   Wentz, the second overall pick in the draft, broke the ribs in Philadelphia's first preseason game against Tampa Bay.
   Eagles coach Doug Pederson said a CT scan revealed that one of the two ribs has healed, but the other is only at 60 percent.
   "He'll continue to work," Pederson said. "He got in two good workouts last week and did a nice job. He's still obviously sore from that. But he'll continue to get his rehab and continue to work."
   Pederson's plan all along was for Sam Bradford to be the Eagles starting quarterback this season, Chase Daniel to be the backup and Wentz to watch and learn as the No. 3.
   Wentz was expected to get a lot of playing time in the preseason and split the training camp reps equally with Bradford and Daniel until he got hurt.
   "It's frustrating as all injuries are," Wentz said Monday. "I was obviously hoping to get out there one more time in the preseason. But it is what it is. I'm still going to try to learn as much as I can and get ready for (the season-opener against) Cleveland."
   Pederson acknowledged the training camp and preseason reps Wentz has missed will set back his development a bit. But since they weren't expecting him to play much if at all this season, it's not a big deal.
   "As far as training camp goes, it definitely hurts from a young quarterback standpoint (and) his position to fully grasp and understand the offense," Pederson said.
   "But I just go back to what I see in the classroom, what I see off the field, his work habit here, his work ethic here, and just what he knows and understands. Since he was going to be going into the season as the third (quarterback), it doesn't concern me as much right now."
NOTES, QUOTES
   --In a surprising move, the Eagles released wide receivers Rueben Randle and Chris Givens Monday. The Eagles signed both of the veterans during the offseason. Randle, who had eight touchdown catches with the Giants last season, signed a one-year, $1.025 million deal that included $500,000 in guaranteed money. Givens signed a one-year, $840,000 deal. Neither of them played very well in training camp and the preseason. "We've got guys that are equal (to them)," coach Doug Pederson said. "We've got some young guys that have created some competition, and that's what we wanted. A lot of times when you look at your roster as a whole, and if you can build with youth and begin to sort of shape your team in a certain direction (you'd prefer to do that).
   --Look for the Eagles to use a lot of two and three tight end formations this season. They have three tight ends who can all catch the ball in Zach Ertz, veteran Brent Celek and Trey Burton. Burton had five catches in Saturday night's preseason win over the Colts. "Obviously, defenses are going to have to make a decision (when we go to three tight ends)," quarterback Sam Bradford said. Are they going to play base? Are they going to put an extra linebacker in? Are they worried about us running the football? Are they worried about us throwing the football? I think we can put some defenses in some tough situations with the guys that we've got in that room right now. Hopefully we can exploit some of those mismatches."
   --Bradford was asked Monday about Redskins cornerback Josh Norman's comments about him. Norman, who has been doing a lot of talking about everybody this offseason, said Bradford wasn't a top 20 quarterback and said he can't wait to play him twice a year. Responded Bradford: "I really don't pay attention to much outside this building, to be honest. I was made aware that he said something. But it really doesn't affect me in any way. And I don't pay attention to much other than what goes on here."
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
PLAYER NOTES
   --QB Carson Wentz has been ruled out of Thursday's final preseason game against the Jets. Wentz is recovering from two broken ribs. One has healed, but the other is only 60 percent healed. The Eagles expect him to be ready for the season-opener, but he'll be the No. 3 quarterback.
   --LB Mychal Kendricks wasn't happy about having to play in the second half of Saturday's preseason game against the Colts with the backups. He considered it a slight. Head coach Doug Pederson said they merely wanted to get Kendricks some reps. He has been sidelined two weeks with a hamstring injury. The guess is defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz wasn't happy with how long Kendricks was out with what initially was termed tightness, and wanted to send him a message.
   --DE Vinny Curry injured his knee in the Colts game Saturday night. The injury isn't serious. He won't play Thursday against the Jets, but is expected to be ready to go for Week 1.
   --DT Taylor Hart suffered minor knee and ankle injuries against the Colts Saturday. He will miss Thursday's final preseason game against the Jets, but should be ready to go for the season-opener. With the release of Mike Martin, Hart is expected to be Philadelphia's fourth defensive tackle.
   --G Isaac Seumalo will miss his second preseason game Thursday night. He is recovering from a pec injury. Seumalo is battling veteran Stefen Wisniewski for the starting left guard job.
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WASHINGTON REDSKINS
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INSIDE SLANT
<Headline>Stork's failed physical nullifies trade</Headline>
   Washington Redskins center Bryan Stork failed a physical on Monday morning and last week's trade with the New England Patriots has been rescinded, the team announced Monday.
   Stork, acquired for a conditional seventh-round pick, wavered on whether to report to Washington in the first place, contemplating retirement before deciding to show for his physical exam. He has four documented concussions dating to his college career at Florida State, including one this summer with the Patriots. 
  The Patriots intended to release Stork last Wednesday before finding a trade partner in the Redskins.
   Stork, 25, tweeted Saturday night that he was looking forward to joining the Redskins and thanked New England for his time there. That tweet has since been deleted.
   "I'm sure he's disappointed. We're disappointed, but it happens every year," Washington coach Jay Gruden said. "When people get traded or picked up, they have to pass physicals and every physical is different. Until all that gets taken care of -- they report, they pass a physical -- as a coach, there's really not a lot you can do until they actually get into the pads and into practice. It's unfortunate."
   Stork was not expected to immediately challenge incumbent starter Kory Lichtensteiger. But it's clear the team is looking for a long-term answer at the position.
   Lichtensteiger, 31, is a free agent after the 2017 season, missed 11 games last season with a herniated disc in his neck and is currently nursing a sore shoulder after committing three holding penalties in last Friday's preseason win over the Buffalo Bills.
   Spencer Long, 25, the leader to start at left guard, has spent the offseason taking most snaps as the second-team center. 
   "Before we got (Stark), I thought we were doing pretty well at center," Gruden said. "Kory's done well. Spencer has done a great job of adjusting to the center position to give us depth. Josh LeRibeus played a lot of center for us last year, and then Austin (Reiter) has had a very good camp. We've got four centers in-house that are pretty darn good." 
NOTES, QUOTES
   --The Redskins signed veteran defensive end Cullen Jenkins on Monday.
   At 35, Jenkins has played for the Green Bay Packers, where he won a Super Bowl in 2011, and the Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants. He once again makes defensive line a crowded unit.
   Washington has Chris Baker, Kedric Golston, Ziggy Hood, rookie Matt Ioannidis, Ricky Jean Francois, Stephen Paea and Kendall Reyes competing for at most seven spots.
   Corey Crawford, a practice squad player last year, and undrafted rookie Anthony Lanier have made plays in recent preseason games, but they remain long shots. 
   "I feel like I still offer a lot. I still got a lot of quickness and experience," Jenkins said. "With that ability to still try to get after the quarterback and just be a versatile player, that's been what I've been my whole career -- someone who can try to be versatile and play a lot of different positions. That's still my goal."
   --Redskins rookie wide receiver Josh Doctson took a significant step on Monday toward returning to the field.
   Out since May 25 with a sore left Achilles, Doctson, the team's first-round draft pick in 2016 and No. 22 overall, caught passes for the first time during the preseason. They came on a side field and were thrown by head coach Jay Gruden, but the fact that Doctson was running full patterns was a good sign.
   Gruden has insisted that Doctson will be ready for the start of the season. Washington has one more practice on Tuesday before Thursday's preseason game against Tampa Bay. Then they return to the field next weekend to begin preparations for the Sept. 12 opener against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
   Doctson's return still remains uncertain, however.
   "We're going to hold him out the fourth preseason game," Gruden said. "But Josh is come along. He ran some individual cuts today and I was able to throw to him a little bit, watch him in person. He looked good coming in and out of breaks." 
   --Running back Keith Marshall poses a difficult roster challenge now for the Redskins. Injured in Friday's game against the Buffalo Bills, Marshall is expected to miss three weeks with a sprained left elbow. Washington must decide is the injury is serious enough to place Marshall on IR, keeping him with the team, cut him or put him on the active roster, which would mean carrying a player unable to play until later in September. The 2016 seventh-round draft pick has struggled at times this preseason. He was hurt on his first carry of the third preseason game.
   "It is a tough spot," Gruden said. "It's kind of similar to (linebacker Martrell) Spaight's (Week 1) concussion last year. We weren't sure how long it was going to be and we ended up having to put him on IR. And we're glad we did because it gave him time to get well."
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
PLAYER NOTES
   --LB Perry Riley was cut on Tuesday as Washington trimmed its roster to 75 players. Riley started 71 of 75 games from 2011 to 2015, but a broken right foot last December ended his season. Riley worked primarily as a reserve at inside linebacker during training camp.
   --DE Stephen Paea was cut on Tuesday as Washington trimmed its roster to 75. Paea signed a four-year, $21 million contract in 2015 after recording six sacks with the Chicago Bears the year before. But he struggled to produce with the Redskins with 1 1/2 sacks last year before a December foot injury ended his season.
   --TE Derek Carrier was placed on the reserved/physically unable to perform (PUP) list on Tuesday as Washington cut its roster to 75 players. Carrier has made significant progress recovering from torn ligaments in his right knee last December, but must now miss the first six games of the season.
   --RB Keith Marshall was placed on the reserved/injured list following a sprained left elbow in last week's preseason game against the Buffalo Bills. That injury happened on his first carry of the game. Marshall was Washington's seventh-round pick in 2016. 
   --OL Vinson Painter, a former Virginia Tech player, signed with the Redskins on Monday. He gives Washington 14 offensive linemen with initial cuts due Tuesday and final cuts on Saturday.
   --OLB Ryan Kerrigan (groin) missed practice on Monday. His groin tightened on the first defensive series of Friday's preseason game against the Buffalo Bills, though an MRI showed no serious damage.
   --QB Nate Sudfeld will start the fourth preseason game for the Redskins. The rookie from Indiana, a sixth-round pick in 2016, is expected to play the entire game. He is the team's third-string quarterback.
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CHICAGO BEARS
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INSIDE SLANT
<Headline>Bears waiting for LB McPhee to return</Headline>
   Preseason struggles due largely to an injury-plagued offensive line indicate the Chicago Bears revamped defense will need to carry the burden at least until their blocking solidifies.
   It's no simple responsibility considering the defense has had its own share of players in and out of the lineup throughout preseason. And then there's the player who hasn't been in the defensive lineup at all, team leader Pernell McPhee.
   The best Bears pass rusher remains on the preseason physically unable to perform list due to offseason knee surgery, and appears nowhere near being ready to rejoin preparations for the season opener. He continues to work on the sidelines in shorts and a t-shirt at practices with trainers.
   Normally unwilling to divulge information on injuries, head coach John Fox shed some rare light on McPhee's injury situation while still keeping it plenty murky.
   A stay on PUP seemed possible.
   "With me, I don't like putting timelines, but I think he's closer than he was last week," Fox said after Monday's practice. "We're just going to continue to stretch that out on what he can do, some of the change-of-direction things which are part of football. But our training staff does an excellent job and when he's healthy well have him out there."
   Fox acknowledged the team could keep alive hope McPhee would eventually play this year. One way would be the regular PUP list, which would make him inactive for the first six games before an evaluation period.
   "We've some avenues that we're going to have to decide here as we cut down to the 53 and some time from now, so I don't like making those decisions now," he said. "But we'll continue, like I said, to evaluate him. There are options. He did start the season on PUP. We have a lot of options and well do what's best for us and him."
   McPhee's mobility appears the issue, as he's past the pain that he fought through last regular season.
   "I think all of it is movement skills, whether it's in-game or out-of-game that need to be evaluated," Fox said.
  Teammates have seen McPhee working to get back, and it has generated optimism even if no one is saying he'll be available.
   "Just the physical mentality he brings to the game," linebacker Willie Young said. "It's been a grind since his first day out, busting his tail. And it's a credit to him, because to bounce back from any what used to be career-ending injuries is a challenge. But he's on course, I would say.
   The defense has generally held its ground despite missing McPhee and now both starting cornerbacks due to injuries.
   Cornerback Tracy Porter suffered a concussion in Saturday's 23-7 loss to Kansas City, Kyle Fuller is week to week after arthroscopic knee surgery and starting nickel corner Bryce Callahan is still out with a pulled hamstring.
   The group has shown sporadic ability to cause turnovers, even with the injuries to McPhee, the top three cornerbacks and also minor knee and hamstring issues plaguing linebacker Danny Trevathan. Getting more turnovers is critical for a team that last year set a franchise record for fewest interceptions (8).
   "You've definitely got guys consistently taking chances to get that ball out, Young said. Whatever we can do to help this team win is what we're all about.
   "But we do have a lot more guys in position who are more familiar with the defensive scheme. So it allows you to fill a bit faster, a little more confidence."
   Nevertheless, the ease which Kansas City moved on the first-team defense Saturday and Denver did in the preseason opener has led to self-evaluation.
   "You know, I know its preseason and I know all that but collectively I want to see us play a little better man (coverage) and put together a great start and a great finish at the same time," Trevathan said. "This week is going to be vital for us to have a great season or just working-wise first group getting together and getting on one page and just flying around to have fun.
   Perhaps the best indicator of where the Bears are at this point is not their 0-3 record in preseason, but the way they played coupled with the fact they're actually talking about how important the short two-day practice week is prior to the fourth game.
   It's a time when most serious teams are already looking beyond finishing preseason and are getting into their game plan for the regular season.
   "You gotta do what you gotta do man, I don't care how many days it is you've got to take advantage of it," Trevathan said. "I know it's a short week or whatever but at the same time we've got to take advantage of it.
NOTES, QUOTES
   --Head coach John Fox acknowledged wide receiver will be one of the more difficult positions where cuts must be made.
   "That's probably one of the deepest positions on the team," Fox said. "We still have Marquess (Wilson) as well, who's on the (preseason) PUP list. It's very competitive, one of our more competitive positions."
   During OTAs, Wilson reinjured a foot that required surgery.
   Receiving ability will be big for those trying to make the roster, like Marc Mariani, Eddie Royal, Daniel Braverman, Josh Bellamy and Cameron Meredith.
   "A lot is put into what they can do on fourth down, whether they are covering kicks or returning kicks, whether that's kickoff or punt -- so just how they fit in and how they're going to be utilized in all facets of the game when we get to the regular season.
   --Fox showed understanding about Royal's missed practice time due to injuries. He missed half of last season and this preseason has been out a month with a concussion, but is back.
   "A lot is made of anybody that gets injured," Fox said. "Zach Miller, up until a year ago, a lot was made of that. I think Eddie's had his moments as far as it relates to injuries. Sometimes it's a string of bad luck but when healthy, he's a very talented player."
   --Tight end is a position of interest in the final game for the Bears in terms of the last two positions. Khari Lee and Rob Housler have had many of the second and third tight-end snaps, but Tony Moeaki and Greg Scruggs also are candidates. Moeaki actually is listed as the third tight end on the depth chart ahead of Housler, but Housler has made more plays in recent days.
   "They've been coming to work and grinding," starting tight end Zach Miller said. "Everyone does something different. We kind of have a whole group of guys that can do things together."
   --The play of reserve center Cornelius Edison drew a positive reaction from linemen even if the Bears struggled on first-team offense and had two first-half first downs against Kansas City. The first team didn't even score when the first-team offense faced Kansas City's backup and third-team defensive players in the third quarter.
   "He made the Mike points well for us, guard Cody Whitehair said. "You know, we just have to execute a little bit better and those holes will open up for those backs."
   --While linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski returned to practice Monday after missing almost a month with a hamstring injury, he'll have only a matter of days to prove he belongs on the roster. Jonathan Anderson and John Timu both had snaps at backup inside linebacker in the absence of Kwiatkowski, who was a fourth-round draft pick.
   "Truth be told, we didn't see a whole lot of him, Fox said. "Obviously, we evaluated him on his college tape. Saw him in some of the offseason stuff. He's been in meetings. He's been with us.
   "But as far as our true evaluation, it's a little bit of a leap of faith. We'll kind of march down that road as we move forward."
   --The loss of quarterback Connor Shaw to a season-ending broken leg in Saturday's preseason game means David Fales could wind up playing the majority or all of the preseason finale.
   It also deprived the Bears of a player had become popular with teammates on both sides of the football.
   "The way that he comes on from the first snap to his last snap, it was balls-to-the-wall and that's what you look for in a guy," linebacker Willie Young said. "I just hate to see a guy like that go down after coming in with that kind of fight. So it's a tough break for him."
   --On Monday, tight end Zach Miller and wide receiver Eddie Royal were allowed to take off the red jerseys that indicated they weren't to have contact. Both had been out four weeks with concussions, but in the last week they had scrimmages wearing the red jerseys to indicate they shouldn't be hit.
   Fox said he didn't necessarily think he had to play both extensively in the preseason finale to make up for all their lost practice time.
   "You know, not particularly. I've had a lot guys that are vets, not too many rookies, that maybe did not play," Fox said. But we'll kind of monitor that. That's still always open.
   "The fact that they're cleared now that makes them legit to be active, and well make those decisions as we get closer to the Cleveland game.
   --A reporter's reference in a question got the ire of safety Harold Jones-Quartey after Saturday's loss.
   The suggestion was made that the Bears were soft.
   "I have never heard anyone say that the Chicago Bears are soft," Jones-Quartey said. "I take that very personally. I have never heard that word. I never heard soft. The first time that I heard it was from (the reporter). I don't watch much TV, but the first time I've ever heard anybody call us soft is right here."
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
PLAYER NOTES
   --LB Danny Trevathan (hamstring) sat out Tuesday's (Aug. 30) practice after practicing Monday. The injury has been bothering him off and on for three weeks.
  --S Harold Jones-Quartey (illness) missed Tuesday's practice
   --TE Ben Braunecker (ankle), who had been doing some work on the field on the side, returned to practice on a limited basis on Monday. The undrafted rookie tight end from Harvard missed almost a month of practice.
   --DE Cornelius Washington (leg) returned to practice Monday on a limited basis after being out with an injury suffered against Denver in the Aug. 11 preseason opener.
   --LB Nick Kwiatkowski (hamstring) returned to practice on a limited basis Monday after a month away.
   --C/G Ted Larsen (illness) missed Monday's practice and is day to day. Cornelius Edison manned the center spot and tackle Jason Weaver took some of the snaps at right guard.
   --G Kyle Long (shoulder) remains out and is day to day.
   --LB Roy Robertson-Harris (illness) missed Monday's practice.
   --DE Akiem Hicks missed Monday's practice due to a personal matter, according to coach John Fox.
   --TE Zach Miller (concussion) on Monday had his first practice without limitation since suffering a concussion in early August.
   --WR Eddie Royal (concussion) on Monday went through his first practice without limitation since suffering his injury July 31.
   --CB Tracy Porter (concussion), who was injured in Saturday's game in a collision with a teammate, is day to day in the concussion protocol.
"He's going to be back, but we look up to him," Harold Jones-Quartey said. "He's our leader on the back end."
   --CB Bryce Callahan (hamstring) is day to day and missed Monday's practice.
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DETROIT LIONS
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INSIDE SLANT
<Headline>Injured Ebron aiming for Lions' opener</Headline>
   Eric Ebron hasn't practiced in more than three weeks since injuring an ankle in a mock game at the start of training camp, but the third-year tight end said he hopes to be on the field when the Detroit Lions open the season Sept. 11 against the Indianapolis Colts.
   "That's really not in my hands," Ebron said in his first comments since his Aug. 6 injury. "That's up to the people upstairs. I hope. That's all I can do. But it's up to (coach Jim) Caldwell and the medical staff as far as what they want to do with me as far as Week 1 and further than that."
   So far, the Lions have taken a patient approach with Ebron's rehab despite being extremely short-handed at the tight end position.
   Top backup Brandon Pettigrew remains on the physically unable to perform list rehabbing from a torn ACL, and the Lions enter this week's preseason finale against the Buffalo Bills with just four healthy tight ends on the roster in Cole Wick, Adam Fuehne, Orson Charles and Andrew Quarless.
   Quarless will miss the first two games of the season because of a suspension.
   "What I'm doing right now is kind of hurting us because it's not as good as it can be or I'm not relieving as much stress off of Matt (Stafford) as I could as far as my abilities in that slot position or playing tight end," Ebron said. "It's kind of rough. I mean, that hurt the hell out of me. Just not being there and watching all these preseason games, it sucks."
   The Lions are counting on Ebron to play a major role on offense this fall, and the 10th pick of the 2014 draft was off to a good start in camp before his injury.
   He said he initially feared that his season might be over when he got hurt, and is taking his rehab "as slowly as I possibly can to make sure that I'm back to what we were seeing that day.
   "Because if I don't get back there, then it's not going to be a good season for myself."
   One of the most divisive players on the Lions' roster, Ebron has been a disappointment so far in his career. He caught just 25 passes as a rookie, or 66 fewer than the player taken two picks after him, Odell Beckham Jr., and he has missed time his first two seasons with knee and hamstring injuries.
   This year, Ebron said he's determined to be "great," and he doesn't expect to have much rust to shake off when he gets back.
   "Where do I see myself?" Ebron said. "That's going to play itself out. A lot of that relies on my offensive coordinator and my quarterback and then I'm just going to go out there and do what I do best. Try to make plays and try to be a playmaker for our team.
   "It's pretty much all I can do. That's what I have been doing, until obviously the situation that happened that day. Just pick back up where I left off."
NOTES, QUOTES
   --G Brandon Thomas, acquired this week in a trade for WR Jeremy Kerley, is no lock to make the roster, but he should get ample opportunity to play in Thursday's preseason finale against the Buffalo Bills. Thomas was working as a third-team guard with the San Francisco 49ers. The Lions have two backup interior linemen locked into roster spots already in G-T Joe Dahl and C Graham Glasgow.
   --WR Andre Roberts is likely the biggest beneficiary of the Jeremy Kerley trade. Roberts is the odds-on favorite for the No. 5 receiver job now behind Marvin Jones, Golden Tate, Anquan Boldin and TJ Jones. Roberts has had a solid camp played mostly as an outside receiver -- the position he excelled at in Arizona -- instead of in the slot (where his numbers dipped in Washington).
   --WR Corey Fuller would have been a long shot to make the 53-man roster had he stayed healthy, but Fuller broke a foot in the spring and will start the season on the reserve physically unable to perform list. Fuller will miss at least the first six weeks of the season and have a three-week window to practice once he's ready to return.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
PLAYER NOTES
   --RB Ameer Abdullah and LB DeAndre Levy made their preseason debuts last week against the Baltimore Ravens and showed no ill effects from the injuries that limited them early in camp. Levy had two tackles in two series and saw time as a blitzer and in coverage. Abdullah carried four times and had a touchdown called back on a penalty. "(I don't) feel like I'm shaking off rust," Abdullah said. "I played all throughout camp, just didn't get a chance to go out in a game and now to get out there with the team. I feel comfortable and ready to do more of it pretty soon."
   --LS Don Muhlbach will be the Lions' primary long snapper for the 13th straight year after winning a training camp battle with Jimmy Landes. The Lions placed Landes, a sixth-round pick out of Baylor, on injured reserve with a fortuitous shoulder injury two days after Landes handled every long snap against the Ravens. Though Muhlbach is only under contract through this year, the 35-year-old said he expects to battle Landes for the job again next fall.
   --Lions coach Jim Caldwell said he won't require his players to stand for the national anthem after Colin Kaepernick's protest. "My reaction is what (Kaepernick) did is not against the law," Caldwell said. "He's a young man that's expressing a feeling that he had. I don't necessarily agree with what he does, but the fact of the matter is he's open to express himself. Freedom of speech, freedom of religion in this country. That's the great thing about this country."
   --G Geoff Schwartz was the biggest name let go by the Lions in their first round of cuts. Schwartz had an uphill battle to a roster spot after the Lions drafted G-T Joe Dahl, C Graham Glasgow and left tackle Taylor Decker. Blocking TE Matthew Mulligan, CB Crezdon Butler and undrafted rookie WR Quinshad Davis also were cut.
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GREEN BAY PACKERS
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INSIDE SLANT
<Headline>Packers' Nelson expected to workout kinks on practice field</Headline>
   The most compelling action in the final week of the preseason may come from watching the Green Bay Packers' scout team.
   Several notable players are expected to be held out of the last exhibition game, Thursday night at the Kansas City Chiefs (8 p.m.), so the team reps in practice Monday and Tuesday should reflect that.
   "With the fourth preseason game, we'll probably be running the show-team cards and stuff," wide receiver Jordy Nelson said Sunday.
   Nelson and quarterback Aaron Rodgers figure to get a lot more work together on the practice field, even if they'll be in the unusual role of prepping the backups on defense for extended playing time against the Chiefs.
   After Rodgers helped the Packers to a 21-10 win at the San Francisco 49ers on Friday night by directing a touchdown drive in his first two series of preseason action, the two-time league MVP doesn't expect to play another down until the season starts on Sept. 11.
   That Week 1 road contest against the Jacksonville Jaguars is when Nelson anticipates he will make his long-awaited 2016 debut in a game.
   Nelson replied, "Probably not," when asked Sunday about his playing status Thursday.
   The team's top wideout is ready to graduate to team drills in practice this week after being limited to individual work last week in his return to the field. Nelson missed the entire 2015 season because of a torn ACL in his right knee he sustained in a preseason game, then he needed the first three weeks of training camp this summer to recover from an injury to his left knee.
   "I wouldn't say happy," Nelson said about the likelihood of not playing one snap in the preseason. (But) it's the situation we were put in. I think if everything would've gone smooth coming into camp we would've been in a different situation. But, it's the situation we're in, and I think we've handled it well. We're where we need to be.
   "We have two weeks of what most likely, for me, will be normal practices going into Jacksonville, and I think we'll be ready to go."
   That's Mike McCarthy's hope as well, though the head coach hasn't publicly ruled out Nelson from playing Thursday. Just as no declarations have been made that the likes of Rodgers, running back Eddie Lacy, receiver Randall Cobb and linebackers Clay Matthews and Julius Peppers will be prominent sideline observers from start to finish at Kansas City's Arrowhead Stadium.
   "It's important for Jordy to get a ton of work this week with Aaron, and that's really the focus," McCarthy said Sunday. "I feel very good about where (Nelson) is. It's just reps and just the coordination with the concepts and the types of things that we're preparing to do. I think Jordy looks great."
   And, Nelson is A-OK with getting the necessary work on the receiving end of Rodgers' throws in a would-be diminished role as a second-stringer in practice this week.
"At the end of the day, it's running routes, catching balls and going against defenders," Nelson said.
NOTES, QUOTES
   --Tim Masthay isn't claiming victory yet.
   The seventh-year pro reported for work Monday with the mindset that he still has a job to win even as the only punter on the roster after the Packers cut rookie challenger Peter Mortell.
   "To me, there isn't even the slightest bit of relief or take a deep breath or anything like that," Masthay said. "As far as I'm concerned, this is still a phase of camp where I'm still fighting to earn a roster spot and fighting to be prepared to be an asset here during the season if and when I'm on the roster.
   "So, to me, the only change is I got all of the reps (in practice Monday). So I got a little extra practice. That's about it."
   Masthay acknowledged he won't rest easy until he sees his name on Green Bay's first 53-man roster of the season after the final cuts of training camp are made Saturday by 3 p.m. CT.
   The team's veteran incumbent survived competition from an undrafted free agent for the second straight year, though the challenge from Mortell was more stringent than that of Cody Mandell, whom the Packers released before the first preseason game last August.
   Though Mike McCarthy gave Masthay a vote of confidence before Monday's practice by saying "he's in the driver's seat," the head coach subsequently hinted that the job wasn't necessarily locked up with the Sept. 11 season opener fast approaching.
   "It's important to have a good week of practice and perform in Kansas City, just like everybody," said McCarthy, referring to the team's final preseason game Thursday night against the Chiefs. "It's a competition to make your team.
   "Tim, we have great history with here, and he'll just continue to work and get better," McCarthy added.
   Not that the decision to let a game Mortell was taken lightly. Especially considering that Mortell had the better punting numbers in the first three preseason games in his quest to win the job with his hometown team.
   Mortell, who excelled as a college punter at Minnesota, ranked among the NFL leaders with averages of 45.1 gross yards and 42.0 net yards with nine punts.
   Masthay had the same number of punts in exhibition play but averaged just 42.8 and 31.6 yards in those respective categories. He also had a punt blocked that resulted in a touchdown recovery.
   "Peter did a good job," McCarthy said. "I thought Peter Mortell is a young punter that has a lot of growth in front of him. It was a good experience for him. I thought he definitely was making progress and was definitely pushing the envelope there as far as the competition."
   Masthay's saving grace thus far in the preseason has been his solid hang time, but he knows what's on the line come Thursday when he has all of the punts to himself and then sweats out the next two days.
   "You always want to be able to do it all, so you always want the high hang times and the great distance with the great direction," Masthay said. "It's hard to bottle all of that up on a consistent basis, but that's what I'm continually working towards. So I'm very pleased with my hang time, but we'll look for my placement to be a little better.
   "Whether or not I'm on that 53 is, in part, going to be based off of what I do on Thursday night."
   --As expected, Jordy Nelson took the next step in his year-long comeback.
The Pro Bowl receiver participated in team drills in practice Monday, keeping him on track to fulfill his stated goal of playing the first game Sept. 11 at the Jacksonville Jaguars.
   On Sunday, Nelson said he probably won't play the preseason finale Thursday.
   That would mean Nelson's anticipated first game action will come more than a year after he sustained a torn ACL in his right knee in a preseason game. Nelson then missed the first three weeks of training camp this summer because of an injury to his left knee.
   The Packers' receiver group also welcomed Jeff Janis back to the field Monday. The third-year pro wore a club on his surgically repaired right hand as he caught passes in team and individual drills.
   Janis had been out since suffering a broken index finger in practice Aug. 10. He's battling in the final days of training camp to retain a roster spot at the Packers' crowded position.
   --With much attention cast Nelson's way the last two weeks -- and understandably so -- Green Bay's other starting playmaker at receiver has made some mostly overlooked news in the preseason.
Randall Cobb bulked up with his 5-foot-10 frame and plans to go into the season heavier than how he finished his injury-plagued 2015 season.
   "I just wanted to throw on some weight so I could absorb more hits this year," Cobb said Monday.
   Cobb played every game last season for the second straight year, but he wasn't able to completely shake a shoulder injury he suffered in August.
   "Randall played the whole season last year injured," McCarthy said. "He was hurt in the Philadelphia game in the third preseason game last year, and he fought that all year."
   Cobb said that injury as well as some other ailments that cropped up impacted his weight training with his upper body for most of the season.
   "I was probably down at the end of the season, (to) 190, 189 (pounds)," Cobb said. "After the season, I dropped down to like 184 because whenever I don't lift I lose weight. I normally play at 192, 193."
   Cobb's target weight for opening day is 195-196 as he looks to make amends for his diminished on-the-field numbers last season, when he had 79 catches but for just 829 yards and six touchdowns. In 2014, Cobb produced career highs of 91 receptions, 1,287 yards and 12 touchdown catches.
   "It's the NFL. Nobody cares about what you have going on," Cobb said. "Everybody has something going on at this level. I didn't perform as well as I could with the situation that I had. So it's on me."
   After watching a thicker Cobb bowl over two defenders at the end of a 6-yard catch-and-run touchdown in the preseason win at San Francisco on Friday night, McCarthy is excited to have the sixth-year pro healthy again going into the season.
   "His ability to get in space and make plays from any position on the field, and that's really part of the Randall I know, as a play caller and when you build a game plan, that you love about him -- his ability to break, and he's just so smart with the football, too," McCarthy said. "He's a very instinctive player, understands defenses, very detailed in his route running and really everything that you do."
   --The Packers' roster stood at 82 players after they released six players, getting them to within seven of the required first cutdown to 75 by Tuesday afternoon.
   Besides Mortell, the Packers cut receivers Jamel Johnson and Ed Williams, defensive tackle Demetris Anderson, linebacker Derrick Mathews and cornerback Randall Jette.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
PLAYER NOTES
   --QB Aaron Rodgers made his belated preseason debut Friday night, when the Packers prevailed 21-10 on the road against the San Francisco 49ers. After being a healthy scratch the first two exhibition games, Rodgers ran the offense in Green Bay's first two series. He completed 6-of-9 passes for 60 yards, culminating with a six-yard touchdown pass to Randall Cobb to end a 14-play, 87-yard drive. Rodgers isn't expected to play the preseason finale Thursday at the Kansas City Chiefs.
   --RB Eddie Lacy also was limited to Green Bay's first two possessions in the win at San Francisco on Friday. The lead back had seven carries for 45 yards. Despite playing only four series in the first three preseason games, Lacy ranks 10th in the league with 114 yards in 20 carries. Lacy could be among a group of several veteran players who are held out of the final preseason game Thursday at Kansas City.
   --WR Jordy Nelson doesn't expect to play the team's last exhibition game Thursday at Kansas City. That would mean a preseason of no game action for Nelson, who was removed from the physically unable to perform list Aug. 17 after he was out with an injury to his left knee. Nelson, whose last game was last August when he sustained a torn ACL in his right knee to keep him out the entire regular season, is targeting to be ready for the Sept. 11 season opener at Jacksonville.
   --SS Morgan Burnett hasn't played in the preseason because of a lingering back injury. Head coach Mike McCarthy said Sunday that the team's medical staff feels the veteran starter is making progress. "I don't think there's any long-term concern," McCarthy said. Micah Hyde has started the first three preseason games in Burnett's absence.
   --DT Kenny Clark didn't make the trip to San Francisco for the preseason game Friday. Clark, the team's first-round draft pick this year, suffered a back injury in practice last week. Clark expressed optimism Sunday that he will be OK for the start of the season Sept. 11, if he doesn't play the last preseason game Thursday. "I feel pretty good," Clark said. "I'm not concerned a lot about (the injury). There's a little tightness in my back. I'm just trying to get everything figured out."
   --QB Brett Hundley didn't play Friday at San Francisco. Hundley, a second-year pro who is the top backup to Rodgers, aggravated a left ankle injury in the previous game Aug. 18. Undrafted rookie Joe Callahan replaced Rodgers in the second quarter and played extensively, finishing an impressive 16-of-24 passing for 167 yards and a touchdown.
   --T Jason Spriggs aggravated a finger injury in his right hand in the first half of the game Friday at San Francisco. Spriggs, the team's second-round draft pick who has been backing up David Bakhtiari at left tackle, continued to play with a club on the hand in the second half.
   --RB John Crockett could be iffy to play the preseason finale at Kansas City on Thursday. Crockett sustained an injury to his left shoulder in the second quarter of Friday night's game at San Francisco and didn't return. Crockett, a first-year player who seemingly had a hold on the No. 3 job at halfback, had 13 carries for a team-high 46 yards against the 49ers.
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MINNESOTA VIKINGS
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INSIDE SLANT
<Headline>With Bridgewater out, Vikings' hopes rest with Hill</Headline>
   In a surreal moment that could be relived for months and cursed for years, Minnesota Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater went down during a non-contact drill and clutched his left leg in agony less than 30 minutes into Tuesday's practice at Winter Park. 
   Some players became visibly upset, throwing helmets down, while others began to kneel in prayer as the team's media relations staff scurried to escort reporters off the field.
   Coach Mike Zimmer ended practice immediately as athletic trainers immobilized Bridgewater's leg with Adrian Peterson, Brian Robison and Terence Newman among the teammates kneeling beside the fallen QB. An ambulance arrived with sirens blaring moments later to take Bridgewater to the hospital and presumably send the Vikings' Super Bowl aspirations down the drain.
   Later, Zimmer delivered the bad news officially.
"Teddy suffered a significant knee injury," Zimmer said. "We don't know the extent of it yet."
   Asked if there was any chance Bridgewater could return in 2016, Zimmer said, "It doesn't look good right now."
   The team later released a statement saying Bridgewater had suffered a dislocated knee and a torn ACL, meaning Bridgewater's season is over.
   The team expects Bridgewater to make a full recovery, but that does not help the Vikings for the 2016 season.
   And just like that, on a non-contact play in a ho-hum practice two days before the fourth preseason game, Bridgewater is done and the Vikings turn to 36-year-old Shaun Hill, a 15-year veteran who is 16-18 as an NFL starter.
   "Well, you know today is a disappointing day," Zimmer said. "Number one, Teddy is such an amazing kid. Everybody loves him. So it was disappointing for them and I didn't think we were going to get much out of practice (so he ended it).
   "We'll get back in here (Wednesday) and we'll get back to work. We're not going to stick our heads in the sand. We're not going to tuck our tail between our legs. We're not looking for excuses. We're going to go out and fight like we always do. We got some great football players on this team. We'll figure ways to win football games if he's not here and that's what we're going to do."
    Hill got his NFL start as an undrafted Viking way back under coach Mike Tice in 2002. Tice, a former Maryland quarterback, liked to give other former Terrapins, like Hill, a hand up into the NFL.
   It wasn't until 2005 that Hill took a snap in a regular season game. He had two kneel-downs in the season finale and got released after Tice was fired.
   Hill's winding road ended up back in Minnesota in 2015 when the Vikings needed a backup to replace Matt Cassel. Hill had played under offensive coordinator Norv Turner when Turner held the same job in San Francisco in 2007. Hill was 2-0 with a 68.4 completion percentage, five touchdowns, one interception and a 101.3 passer rating as a starter that season.
   For his career, Hill has played in only 46 games with 34 starts. He's 16-18 with a 62.0 completion percentage, 8,053 yards, 49 touchdowns, 30 interceptions and an 85.2 passer rating.
   The Vikings are -- or at least were -- a trendy pick to reach the Super Bowl. They won the NFC North a year ago in a winner-take-all meeting with the Packers in Week 17 at Lambeau Field. A heart-wrenching wild-card playoff home loss ensued when kicker Blair Walsh missed a 27-yard field goal with 22 seconds left in a 10-9 loss. But despair turned rather quickly to optimism because of the Vikings' No. 5 scoring defense, upgrades at offensive line and receiver, and the natural progression of Bridgewater, who had matched Brett Favre and Warren Moon with a team-record 17 wins through two seasons as a Vikings starting quarterback.
   Without Bridgewater, the team's first-round draft pick in 2014, the Vikings could miss their perfect window of opportunity as they get set to open new U.S. Bank Stadium. With reigning league rushing champion Adrian Peterson now 31 and due to make $18 million in 2017, it's quite possible that Bridgewater and Peterson will never play another game together. Their complementary skills were being counted on behind an offensive line that added two starters -- left guard Alex Boone and right tackle Andre Smith -- and a new position coach in Tony Sparano.
  But, like it or not, the Vikings have a fourth preseason game on Thursday. Then they travel to Tennessee to open the season on Sept. 11.
  Tuesday's mood at Winter Park was one of complete shock. The kind of shock over a loss that certainly feels like the end of the Vikings' season before it ever began.
   Not so soon, says Zimmer, who leaned on his two biggest mentors on Tuesday.
   "I've talked to Coach (Bill) Parcells a couple times today," Zimmer said. "And I've talked to -- well, in spirit, I've talked to my (late) dad. He always found a way to do it (as a high school coach in Illinois). So, we're going to figure out a way. Everybody can count us out if they want, but I think that'd be the wrong thing to do."
NOTES, QUOTES
   --Lost in the bigger news of Teddy Bridgewater's practice injury was the release of longtime starting center John Sullivan. Sullivan, 31, was trying to return from missing all of last season because of two back surgeries, but simply couldn't beat out his former backup, Joe Berger.
   Berger stepped in last year and played well despite the line's overall subpar effort. Pro Football Focus rated Berger as the top center in the league a year ago.
   Sullivan started 93 of 109 regular season games and three of four playoff games after replacing Matt Birk as the starter in 2009.
   "Our entire organization appreciates everything that John Sullivan has done for this franchise," Vikings general manager Rick Spielman said in a statement. "Sullivan led our team, not only with how he played the game, but also with how he handled himself in our community. We wish John Sullivan and his family nothing but the best as they move forward."
   Among the other cuts to 75, defensive end Scott Crichton, a third-round pick in 2014, and safety Antone Exum Jr. were waived/injured. They might be added to the team's injured reserve.
   Also released was second-year tackle Austin Shepherd, who played 14 games and was the team's third tackle in short-yardage situations as a seventh-round draft pick a year ago.
   --New U.S. Bank Stadium received good reviews from players after Sunday's 23-10 win over the Chargers. There were some loud moments. Not as loud as the old Metrodome, but, then again, this was a meaningless preseason game. We'll know more about the noise level when the Packers visit in the regular season home opener in Sunday night game on Sept. 18
   "It's starting to (feel like home)," Smith said. "It's cool that the fans are so close. They really get to be part of it. It's going to be very loud. That's what we love."
   --The Vikings love Mackensie Alexander's spunk, not to mention his two interceptions in three preseason games. But they're going to have to tweak the rookie second-round draft picks enthusiasm just a bit.
   After intercepting a pass in the end zone against the Chargers on Sunday, Alexander celebrated on the wrong sideline when he ran over and taunted the Chargers for throwing at him on back-to-back plays. (He dropped the first interception attempt).
After a personal foul penalty for taunting was called, coach Mike Zimmer went in search of his young gun on the sideline. He finally corralled him and had a lengthy chat.
   "He just said, you know, stay under control," the 22-year-old Alexander said. "Don't run to the other sideline, celebrate with our crowd. Don't run to their sideline. Stuff like that. Little things I have to correct. Not being too hyped. Be happy, but understand what I'm doing and do the right thing."
   Zimmer wasn't happy about the post-play antics, but can live with it for now because of the swaggering promise Alexander shows before the whistle.
   "Lot of ups and downs there, wasn't it?" Zimmer said when asked about Alexander's performance. "I love this kid, honestly. He's going to be a handful until I get him squared away, but I love this kid. He's a competitor. He works, he studies, he fights, he's made some interceptions here in this offseason. I would much rather have him that way where they're going to go in there and I have to pull the reins back than the other way."
   Alexander kept both balls he intercepted. When veteran safety Harrison Smith told him they don't count, Alexander smiled and said, "There's more coming, man. God's good."
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
PLAYER NOTES
  --RB Jerick McKinnon went into the third preseason game with 29 yards rushing. He had more than that before being touched on his first carry in Sunday's 23-10 win over the Chargers at U.S. Bank Stadium. On the second snap of the game, McKinnon broke through a giant hole created by center Joe Berger and fullback Zach Line. He ran 30 yards untouched and finished with a 35-yard gain. McKinnon, who will be relegated to a backup role behind Adrian Peterson in the regular season, finished with 56 yards on eight carries.
   --WR Stefon Diggs continues to impress as a speedy receiver who knows where to be and when to be there. A favorite of quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, Diggs caught five passes for 71 yards. He caught a 22-yarder on a deep out pass to set up the Vikings' first touchdown right before the half. How he will work with QB Shaun Hill remains to be seen.
   --TE Kyle Rudolph needs to be involved in the offense as a receiving threat on a more consistent basis. When he's running down the seams, he doesn't even have to be open to catch the ball if it's put in the right place. His height and massive catching radium mesh with excellent agility, balance and deceptive speed. He caught three balls for 57 yards, including a 27-yard touchdown on a catch and run over the middle against the Chargers.
   --P Jeff Locke was consistent in his first home game back indoors at U.S. Bank Stadium. He punted three times, averaging 47.3 yards with a net of 44.3. He didn't have a touchback either.
   --CB Trae Waynes started at right cornerback in place of the injured Xavier Rhodes (hamstring). It was Waynes' tight coverage on Keenan Allen that forced the ball to bounce off Allen and into the hands of safety Harrison Smith for the interception.
   --SS Andrew Sendejo has won the starting safety job next to star Harrison Smith. The Vikings have been looking for someone to beat out Sendejo for two years, but they can't find anyone. Sendejo lacks ideal speed in deep coverage, but is a thumper who plays 110 mph. Sendejo played almost the entire third preseason game because of injuries to other players. Yet he played as hard in the fourth quarter as he did early on. 
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ATLANTA FALCONS
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INSIDE SLANT
<Headline>Pass rush remains an issue for Falcons</Headline>
   The Atlanta Falcons' "project pass rush" suffered another setback on Thursday with the decision to rest defensive end Dwight Freeney for the third exhibition game.
   Freeney, who agreed to terms with the Falcons on Aug. 2, has a slight back strain and coach Dan Quinn held him out for precautionary reasons. He has returned to practice, but is not expected to play against the Jacksonville Jaguars in Atlanta on Thursday (7 p.m. ET).
   The Falcons have gone to great lengths this offseason to improve their pass rush. They had just 19 sacks last season, which was last in the league.
   In free agency, the Falcons signed defensive end/tackle Derrick Shelby and linebacker Courtney Upshaw, who was converted to defensive tackle and linebacker Sean Weatherspoon.
   In the draft, they selected safety Keanu Neal, linebacker Deion Jones and De'Vondre Campbell.
   They didn't directly address the defensive end/edge rusher positions as the initial plan was to improve the coverage so that the rushers already on the roster would have more time to get to the quarterback.
   The Falcons moved Adrian Clayborn to right defensive end. They are trying to work Shelby as a defensive end in the base defense and at defensive tackle in the nickel like Seattle uses Michael Bennett.
   The Falcons also moved a slimmed-down Brooks Reed to defensive end permanently in the base defense. It's a spot he played at times last season, when he wasn't at strongside linebacker.
   The Falcons also moved Vic Beasley to strongside linebacker in the base defense, but are counting on him rushing from left defensive end opposite either Freeney or Clayborn in the nickel alignment. 
   Beasley played 29 snaps against the Dolphins and did not generate any pressure on the quarterback. 
   With Freeney out, the Falcons will not get to see their desired rush line of Beasley, Shelby, Jonathan Babineaux and Freeney in game action until the season-opener. Most starters are slated to play briefly in the exhibition season finale against Jacksonville.
   Beasley was a late scratch for the second exhibition game in Cleveland, while Freeney played just eight snaps and talked about being rusty.
   The Falcons are less concerned about Freeney, who is a proven sack master.
   In three preseason games, the Falcons only have one sack by a player expected to make the 53-man roster. Clayborn, who has been slowed by a shoulder injury, has that sack and two quarterback hits.
   While much of the focus has been up front on the pass rush, the Falcons have problems on the back end of the defense that led to the signing of nine-year veteran Dashon Goldson.
   Neal, who was injured against Miami, had knee surgery on Monday and is slated to miss three to four weeks. His backup, Kemal Ishmael is recovering from a shoulder injury and will not play in the exhibition finale.
   Ishmael is the projected starter until Neal returns.
   "He practiced the last two days but he's just not quite ready with the time off that he's missed," Quinn said. "But I anticipate him being full (go) next week. If it was a regular game, he would (play)."
   The Falcons signed Goldson on Sunday for added depth in the wake of Neal's injury. They had two rookie free agents, Sharrod Neasman and Damian Parms, at strong safety behind Ishmael before adding Goldson.
   "He's done a nice job this week in terms of learning and applying," Quinn said. "We won't overload him but we definitely want to get him some work and get him back into the action."
NOTES, QUOTES
   --Falcons head coach Dan Quinn addressed the protest of San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick with the team.
   "We had a nice meeting about that, actually," Quinn said. "We know that we are one team. We would hope that if anybody wanted to demonstrate in any way for any cause that they'd consult their teammates on that. We want to make sure whatever we are doing we represent our team."
   Kaepernick has been protesting the treatment of African-Americans during the exhibition season by sitting down during the national anthem. His actions have caused a firestorm league-wide.
   Quinn message didn't address the merits of the protest.
   "It's our team," Quinn said. "Our city. Our owner and the organization. They are one group. One team and one fight."
   Away from the team, players may have their own protests.
   "What we do outside of that, we support our brothers," Quinn said. "But we'd hope that if we are all together that we'd use that with our best intentions to make sure that everything is about the team especially when we are at a ball game."
   --Quinn said rookie wide receiver Devin Fuller, who suffered a shoulder injury, will be placed on injured reserve.
   The Falcons are set to add running back to fill his roster spot.
   Fuller suffered the injury during the exhibition game against the Dolphins Thursday in Orlando.
   The Falcons selected Fuller in the seventh round of the draft out of UCLA with the hope he might provide value as a kick returner. But fellow rookie wide receiver J.D. McKissic has been the star kick returner in exhibition games. That development, plus the depth at wide receiver, made Fuller a long shot to make the final roster.
   --Quinn stopped short of naming Chris Chester as the winner of the raging right guard battle.
   "We'll go with Chris Chester going into this week and we'll make a decision once this week is done," Quinn said.  "Both guys have done a good job battling."
   The Falcons have been working rookie Wes Schweitzer at right guard. Mike Person and Ben Garland have also been in the mix.
   Chester, 33, started 16 games at right guard last season for the Falcons. The Falcons attempted to replace Chester in free agency with guard J.R. Sweezy, but were out-bid by Tampa Bay. The Bucs paid Sweezy $32.5 million over five years.
   After missing on Sweezy, the Falcons re-signed Chester on April 20 to a one-year contract. With Chester needing offseason shoulder surgery, the Falcons had to look to upgrade his spot. 
   "I really commend Chris on the way that he's come back," Quinn said. "He had a shoulder injury and just the amount of work that he's put in has been impressive."
   Schweitzer, a sixth-round pick out of San Jose State, appears to be the future at the position and would probably be better served by playing the backup swing guard spot as a rookie. 
   "But you have to say the same for Wes Schweitzer too, in terms of his battle and his commitment to playing physical in the run game so we'll have a tough decision on that one," Quinn said. 
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
PLAYER NOTES
   --WR Julio Jones suffered an ankle injury against Miami and will not play in the exhibition season finale against Jacksonville on Thursday.
   --DE Dwight Freeney was held out of the third exhibition game because of a slight back strain. He practiced twice, but is not expected to play Thursday.
   --WR Devin Fuller (shoulder) will be placed on injured reserve.
   --PK Matt Bryant (undisclosed) did not play against the Dolphins, but is expected to play Thursday.
   --RB Terron Ward (ankle) did not play against the Dolphins, but is slated to play Thursday.
   --SS Kemal Ishmael (shoulder) did not play against the Dolphins. He returned to practice, but will not play Thursday.
   --SS Dashon Goldson, who was signed Sunday, will play Thursday.
   --SS Keanu Neal had surgery on his right knee Monday and is expected to miss 3-to-4 weeks.
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CAROLINA PANTHERS
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INSIDE SLANT
<Headline>Marlowe injury makes Panthers precariously thin at safety</Headline>
   Monday will mark three weeks since Carolina Panthers safety Dean Marlowe felt a "tweak" in his hamstring and one week since head coach Ron Rivera said he hoped Marlowe would return to practice the next day.
   That didn't happen, and on Sunday, Marlowe again worked on the side with trainers while his teammates practiced.
   So how serious is this strain?
   "It's not bad at all. It's just a nagging type of thing," Marlowe said. "Today was the best that I've felt since it happened."
   That's news the Panthers need at their thinnest position. Safety has been a mess since Trenton Robinson (pec), Travell Dixon (chest) and Marcus Ball (undisclosed) were dinged up last week in Tennessee.
   Despite returning to practice on Wednesday, Dixon was held out Friday against the Patriots, leaving only three safeties to get through the night. So when Kurt Coleman and Tre Boston finished up their time with the starters, the other safety alongside Colin Jones was Brian Blechen, who played the position in college before converting to linebacker last summer.
   Running out of bodies, the Panthers tried out at least four safeties on Saturday, including veterans Donte Whitner and Stevie Brown, who left town without contracts.
   "We'll see," Rivera said when asked if the Panthers would continue safety shopping. "We like who we have, but with some of the injuries we have we most certainly have to look. You want to make sure that short list is a positive one."
   If they didn't like what they saw in Whitner and Brown, the Panthers could find someone worth adding in the next week. Two rounds of cuts will chop more than 1,000 players from rosters, and the casualties should include a few dozen safeties.
NOTES, QUOTES
   --With Tuesday afternoon's league-mandated deadline approaching, the Panthers on Sunday started to make moves to whittle their roster down to 75 players.
   Of the 11 players let go, the biggest name was wide receiver Stephen Hill, who was trying to come back from a devastating knee injury.
   The Panthers were excited about the former second-round pick's progress last summer, but Hill tore three knee ligaments and his hamstring during the first weekend of training camp. He then spent much of the past year rehabbing alongside fellow wideout Kelvin Benjamin.
   From the time the Panthers reported to training camp last month, it was clear Hill was struggling to run on his surgically repaired knee. He played just 37 snaps in three preseason games, including eight on Friday against the Patriots, the fewest among Carolina's receivers.
   "Stephen came in and did the best he could under the circumstances," coach Ron Rivera said. "I'm just real proud of who he was for us and the effort he gave us. He gave us everything he had."
   Besides Hill, the Panthers cut 10 others Sunday: wide receiver Miles Shuler, wide receiver Avius Capers, tight end Braxton Deaver, guard Reese Dismukes, defensive tackle Ray Drew, tackle David Foucault, center Matt Masifilo, tackle Willie Smith, defensive end Tom Lally and linebacker Jared Barber.
   --If safety Kurt Coleman isn't the first guy on the field before a practice, he's at least one of the first. Coleman likes to spend a few minutes catching passes from the JUGS machine before beginning the rest of his day.
   After he had dropped what should have been an interception of Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, Coleman said he'd be on the machine before Sunday's practice, a vow he kept after arriving first.
   It wasn't long before Coleman was joined by the secondary for a rare pre-practice session with the entire unit and assistant coaches Steve Wilks and Curtis Fuller. The whole group then worked for about 10 more minutes after practice.
   "What's the most precious thing in life? Time. You never have enough of it," Wilks said. "We're just always trying to hone our craft and working on the fine details of the game."
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
PLAYER NOTES
   --QB Derek Anderson threw some passes, but didn't do much during Tuesday's practice. Anderson, who is still sore after Friday night's game against the Patriots, will likely miss Thursday's preseason finale. That means Joe Webb could be at the reins for all four quarters against the Steelers. 
   --DT Kawann Short missed his third straight day of practice on Tuesday. Short is dealing with "soreness," according to coach Ron Rivera, who said the Pro Bowler would "without a doubt" play in Week 1.
   --S Dean Marlowe, who is dealing with a strained hamstring, missed his 13th straight practice on Tuesday.
   --S Stevie Brown, who has played just one season since 2013, signed a one-year deal on Wednesday. The Panthers added him as insurance in case Dean Marlowe's hamstring continues to keep him out. 
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NEW ORLEANS SAINTS
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INSIDE SLANT
<Headline>Pass rush still a concern for Saints</Headline>
   The New Orleans Saints' defense had trouble pressuring the opposing quarterback in 2014 and 2015, which was part of the reason they finished 31st in total yards allowed both years.
   The 2016 season was supposed to be different.
   At least the Saints hoped it would be different, until  they lost two of the players they thought would have impact seasons and fill a void that saw them record just 65 sacks the past two years.
   Injuries to defensive end Hau'oli Kikaha, who tore his ACL in organized team activities in June, and defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins, who fractured his fibula in training camp, have hampered the team's progress in that regard.
   Kikaha, a second-round draft pick in 2015, is likely out for the season, and Rankins, the team's first-round selection this spring, could be sidelined for the first month of the regular season after undergoing surgery on Aug. 16.
   Their absence has been evident in the preseason as the Saints had just five sacks in three games -- including one in Friday night's 27-14 setback to the Pittsburgh Steelers. That one came from cornerback Cortland Finnegan in the fourth quarter.
   That led to some postgame frustration on the part of coach Sean Payton.
   "Just the consistency of whether it's coming from the inside or whether it's coming outside," Payton said, "we've got to look at the rotation and we've got to look at who's doing it."
   Now, going into the exhibition finale on Thursday night in New Orleans against the Baltimore Ravens (8 p.m. ET), it seems like things have become critical after the Saints showed some glimpses of progress in the first two outings.
   Still, there hasn't been enough consistency from defensive linemen other than two-time Pro Bowl pick Cameron Jordan, a defensive end who had 10 of the team's 31 sacks a year ago and has 38 in his five-year career.
   Defensive end Kasim Edebali had two sacks in the preseason opener, and defensive tackles Nick Fairley and David Onyemata had good showings as replacements for Rankins after his injury, but they'll need more of that in the regular season.
   While the Saints haven't blitzed a lot in the preseason under new defensive coordinator Dennis Allen, they'll certainly have to bring extra pressure when the regular season begins if they can't do it with the front four.
   If that's what it takes, Payton said the Saints will have to do it.
   "I think there are times where if you're struggling to do that, it might have to be more than four," he said. "But certainly, it becomes more challenging to call defenses if you're not able to rush the passer effectively. We've got to keep working at that."
NOTES, QUOTES
   --The Saints had to hold their breath when fourth-year pro Terron Armstead, who is generally regarded as one of the top young left tackles in the NFL, left early in Friday night's game with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
   After playing with a knee injury throughout the second half of last season and starting training camp on the physically-unable-to-perform list, Armstead left the field after missing a block and being called for holding on another play.
   While Armstead apparently couldn't continue with an unspecified problem and wasn't present for the stretching portion of practice Monday, the New Orleans Advocate reported Sunday that the injury isn't believed to be serious.
   That's good news because the Saints might have trouble replacing Armstead, who was rewarded with a huge contract during the offseason.
   Andrus Peat, a first-round draft pick in 2015, played the position in training camp when Armstead was on the PUP list. But Peat was moved to right guard when Armstead returned, leaving journeyman Tony Hills to man the left tackle spot against the Steelers.
   --The aforementioned Peat, who played both tackle and guard last season as an injury fill-in, could be on the move again.
   After playing left tackle early in training camp, he was moved to right guard. But after struggling there in the past two games against the Houston Texans and Steelers, coach Sean Payton suggested Peat may move to left guard.
   "He hasn't played very well over on that right side, so we've got to keep looking and pay close attention to it," Payton said on a Monday teleconference. "I was hoping that we were able to put him in one spot.
   "I know what he can do well, and we've got to find a way to be at a high enough level inside. And I think we can get that done."
   Before his stint at left tackle early in camp, the Saints hoped to have Peat play right guard with Tim Lelito and Senio Kelemete vying for the starting job at left guard.
   But when the Saints' offensive line struggled for the third consecutive week against the Steelers, Payton believes more change may be coming.
   "Look, the guard position needs to play better," he said Monday.
   --While Payton was critical of both his offensive and defensive line play in the loss to the Steelers, he wasn't happy with third-string quarterback Garrett Grayson, either.
   Grayson, a third-round draft pick in 2015, has struggled in his preseason work and threw two interceptions on unforced errors against the Steelers. One of the picks was thrown well behind running back Marcus Murphy and the other went straight into the arms of a Pittsburgh linebacker.
   "He struggled tonight. ... I was disappointed with a couple of those plays," Payton said. "The interception to the running back is poor and obviously, he gets blinded on the linebacker throw and forces it. So that was troubling."
   Those negative plays offset a nice 31-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Tommylee Lewis and some good throws while trying to escape pressure.
   All told, he has hit on only 51.9 percent of his pass attempts in three games for 311 yards with one touchdown and four interceptions. His passer rating is 44.6 after a similar preseason as a rookie.
   "He had a good play early on with the touchdown pass, but I would like to see him further along at this point than he is," Payton said.
   --Payton said Monday the Saints have protocols in place regarding the playing of the national anthem before games that were implemented when he became a head coach for the first time in 2006.
   Payton was asked on a conference call his reaction to San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick refusing to stand for the playing of the "Star Spangled Banner" prior to his team's game with the Green Bay Packers last week.
   "I have not even seen it. ... I heard about it, news (coverage) all over the country," Payton said. "Honestly, we have a lot more important things that we're working on right here in our building.
   "I'm not sure what the NFL has ... we have some protocol that we have and that's just something that I implemented the first year I was here."
   When asked if it was safe to say that he encourages his players to stand, Payton said, "No, it's our policy that I have and it works pretty good for us."
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
PLAYER NOTES
   --OLB Paul Kruger, who was released by the Cleveland Browns on Monday, was signed by the Saints to beef up their perimeter pass rush.
   --DE Chris McCain was obtained from the Miami Dolphins on Monday night for a conditional seventh-round draft pick in 2017.
   --OL Khalif Barnes was signed following a tryout Monday as the Saints try to improve their play at guard.
   --CB Delvin Breaux was not at practice Tuesday and his availability for Thursday night's exhibition finale was unknown.
   --G Senio Kelemete was not seen Tuesday during the portion of practice that was open to media.
   --LT Terron Armstead missed a second straight practice Tuesday with an unknown injury and his status for Thursday's game was unknown.
   --TE Michael Hoomanawanui, who suffered a lower leg injury Friday night against the Pittsburgh Steelers, missed his second straight practice Tuesday.
   --CB Damian Swann flew to Philadelphia on Tuesday for a visit with tissue and muscle specialist Dr. William Myers.
   --LB Nate Stupar was not at practice Tuesday for the second day in a row with an undisclosed injury.
   --DT Sheldon Rankins continues to rehab a fractured fibula that required surgery on Aug. 16. He could be on track for a Week 3 or 4 return.
   --CB Jimmy Pruitt, who tore a patellar tendon in Friday's game with the Pittsburgh Steelers, was waived with an injury settlement Tuesday.
   --TE RaShaun Allen was cut when the Saints reduced their roster to 75 players Tuesday.
   --LS Chris Highland, who was brought in to training camp because of injuries to the Saints top two snappers, was waived Tuesday.
   --G Kaleb Eulls, a second-year player who was converted from the defensive line during the offseason, was cut Tuesday.
   --CB Brandon Allen, who finished the 2015 season on the Saints' practice squad, was waived Tuesday.
   --LB Tony Steward was waived Tuesday with an undisclosed injury.
   --WR Reggie Bell was waived Tuesday on the cut to 75 players.
   --S Jamal Golden, who was a late training camp addition, was cut Tuesday.
   --G Cyril Lemon, who has spent time on the Saints' practice squad, was cut Tuesday.
   --WR R.J. Harris, who showed flashes early in training camp, was released Tuesday.
   --WR Jared Dangerfield, an undrafted free agent, was waived Tuesday.
   --FB Sione Houma was released Tuesday after veteran Austin Johnson returned from a knee injury suffered early in training camp. 
====================
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS
====================
INSIDE SLANT
<Headline>Buccaneers raise tempo to give offense a jolt</Headline>
   The Tampa Bay Buccaneers needed a fast start in their preseason game against the Cleveland Browns on Sunday, so coach Dirk Koetter went to the hurry-up, no-huddle offense.
   The result was a 269-yard, two touchdown passing performance by quarterback Jameis Winston in the first half of a 30-13 win.
   The Buccaneers had struggled during the week during joint practices against the Browns' 3-4 defense. So in order to keep them out of the 3-4, Tampa Bay spread the field with three and four receivers and didn't allow the Browns to substitute freely in the first half.
   "Here's the thing with no-huddle: To make your no-huddle work, you can't go three-and-out," Koetter said. "You've got to get that first first down and you've got to get rolling. Usually, if you can get that first first down going, you can usually move it a little bit. As I said last night, the players like it because there's less thinking. They get up there and they play. It definitely has an effect on the defense. But we've all seen no-huddle - if you're going no-huddle and you're going three-and-out, your defense is right back out there on the field.
   "Last night it was effective and we stayed in it the whole first half. It doesn't always go that way and we have a full bevy of other game-plan stuff that you'd like to get to. You game-plan it all week. (Friday) was just one of those unusual nights where we came out smoking in the no-huddle and we stayed with it."
   Of course, the idea in preseason is to evaluate players and the no-huddle kept the Bucs from using many two tight end sets. 
   "Really, the only thing is, we made a choice - we can go no-huddle in any personnel group - we made a choice to go in 11, in three wide receivers, so it might have limited our two-tight end, our multiple-tight end stuff," Koetter said. 
   Meanwhile, Winston always has seen more comfortable in the two-minute offense where he is mostly in the shotgun formation and has the ability to make checks at the line of scrimmage and drive the ball downfield.
   Winston did a lot of this his rookie season but now seems even more comfortable in the pocket, although a lot of his success came during scramble drills against the Browns.
   "I've said many times, I think there's a little bit of a misnomer out there that there's not a lot on Jameis' plate, or that it wasn't last year," Koetter said. "If you're playing quarterback in the NFL, there's a lot on your plate.
   "We had all that stuff before, but Jameis' ability to recognize it - the clock's ticking down - and get us into a different play, and then for all 11 guys to execute that play, that's the trick. 
   "Jameis had two beautiful ones last night. The one to Mike (Evans), that was a check. We had a run play on, they actually came out in 3-4 and we were expecting nickel. They came out in 3-4, he went right to the check and got him. And then there was another one later when they showed a blitz, we went six-man protection, they showed a blitz that overloads six-man protection, a blitz they got us on in practice the other day, and Jameis got us right to the right thing, hit Mike (Evans) for a first down. Those are two examples of him doing a great job. I wouldn't necessarily say that those things weren't on his plate last year; they just may or may not have not presented themselves."
NOTES, QUOTES
   --With Tropical Depression Nine moving toward Florida, the Bucs announced Monday night that their final preseason game against the Redskins at Raymond James Stadium has been moved from Thursday to Wednesday at 8 p.m.
   "We have been in regular communication with administrators from the Tampa Sports Authority, Hillsborough County, the City of Tampa and the National Weather Service over the past day as it has become apparent that the most severe weather associated with Tropical Depression Nine will likely make landfall on Thursday," Bucs COO Brian Ford said in a statement. "This decision was made by both teams in conjunction with the National Football League and local authorities in an effort to ensure the safety of our fans, players and stadium staff."
   The game will be broadcast locally, with kickoff starting at 8 p.m.
   --P Bryan Anger won the job over Jacob Schum because of his performance in preseason games.
   "I've been hitting the ball well the last few weeks," Anger said Monday. "The whole preseason is a process building up to Week 1. I feel like I'm at a good point right now, consistency-wise, and I have one more game (before) Atlanta, so I feel like I'm at a good spot and ready to go."
   Anger averaged 48.7 yards on his punts and Schum averaged 41.0. Anger had a higher net average (44.1) than Schum (39.5) as well. Anger said the competition of going up against Schum 
-- last year's Bucs starter -- helped push him since the start of training camp.
   "Jake has a really good leg, one of the biggest I've ever seen personally," he said. "It's tough at our position to constantly have self-motivation. You really have to hold yourself accountable to do the little things and build consistency with yourself. To have somebody pushing you the whole time, it definitely made me a better punter having him here. I'm hoping for the best for him.''
   --The Bucs plan to keep all three quarterbacks in camp on the final roster, including Ryan Griffin.
   Coach Kirk Koetter explained that not only have they invested a year in developing Griffin, but backup Mike Glennon will be an unrestricted free agent after the season.
   "I think it's safe (to say) that we're probably going to keep three quarterbacks," Koetter said Monday. "We put a lot of time into Ryan Griffin and I think he's proving that he's capable of being a backup in this league. The second thing, obviously, it's not a big secret that Mike Glennon is going into the last year of his contract. Jameis (Winston) is our quarterback for the long haul, but we've got to have a two, and those guys take so long to train ... I mean, we've invested a full year into (Griffin's) training. ... He's done a good job when he's on the field and we think he's got a chance to be here long term."
   Koetter also said the Bucs are "probably only going to keep four safeties unless something crazy happens," and despite Sunday's release of veteran Major Wright, the coach would not yet say that rookie Ryan Smith has made the team.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
PLAYER NOTES
   --CB Brent Grimes left the game Friday against Cleveland in the second quarter but wasn't injured, according to coach Dirk Koetter. "Just think he didn't want to play anymore," he said.
   --G/C Josh Allen improved his stock by filling in at guard with an injury to Ali Marpet and the excused absence by Kevin Pamphile.
   --WR/PR Adam Humphries had a big night on Friday versus Cleveland. He caught two passes for 39 yards, both resulting in first downs. But it was his 74-yard punt return that electrified the Bucs.
   --S Major Wright was among the 12 players waived or released by the team Saturday. Wright played for two seasons with the Bucs after being brought in by Lovie Smith.
   --P Brian Anger has won the punting job after the Bucs waived last year's punter, Jacob Schum.
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ARIZONA CARDINALS
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INSIDE SLANT
<Headline>Cardinals CBs Bethel, Williams vying for starting job</Headline>
   What had become a three-man race for the starting cornerback job opposite Patrick Peterson is now down to two after Mike Jenkins sustained a season-ending ACL injury.
   Jenkins had moved into the conversation with Justin Bethel and rookie Brandon Williams after breaking a bone in his right hand and missing much of training camp. But Jenkins' right knee buckled under him while running on coverage Sunday in a preseason game against the Houston Texans and he's now out of the mix entirely.
   "It's a shame because he had a chance to be our starting corner," coach Bruce Arians said during a news conference. "He was battling through the hand (injury) and it's another one of those non-contact injuries."
   Jenkins, brought in as a late, free-agent addition, sustained a broken bone in his right hand during his first full practice with the team and finally was able to return to camp and play a week ago.
   His injury means the starting corner job opposite Peterson will remain a competition between Williams and Bethel, who continues to deal with foot pain following offseason foot surgery.
   Arians was asked if the Cardinals would consider moving safety Tyrann Mathieu to cornerback if he wasn't satisfied with either Williams or Bethel as the starting corner.
   "If he were healthy and full speed, yes, but probably not for a while," Arians said, adding he expects the "Honey Badger" to be ready for the season opener Sept. 11 against the New England Patriots as he returns from his second ACL surgery in three years.
   Mathieu has yet to play in a preseason game, but Arians doesn't think that's necessary for the playmaker to be ready for the start of the season.
   "No, we just need to see a really good solid eight to nine days of practice," the coach said.
   Arians said Cariel Brooks has played well in a backup role at cornerback, but added, "It's pretty much those guys (Bethel and Williams) and I'm very comfortable with both of them."
   Summing things up, Arians said the Cardinals lost a very good player in Jenkins but that it's not the end of the world for Arizona's Super Bowl chances.
   "We're one down from where we were. Same guys are battling it out," he said. "It's not like there's a bunch of them running around on the street, so you take what you got, you coach them up and you go."
NOTES, QUOTES
   -- The Cardinals on Monday released former Alabama quarterback Jake Coker and 10 others players in an effort to trim their roster to 75 players by Tuesday's mandatory deadline. Coker, an undrafted free-agent rookie, was waived upon reaching an injury settlement with the club. He injured his knee a week ago and coach Bruce Arians said the quarterback may need arthroscopic surgery.
   Also released on Monday were guard Jake Bernstein, receiver Amir Carlisle, tight end Gerald Christian, tackle Clay DeBord, long snapper Daniel Dillon, defensive tackle Iosia Iosia, cornerback Asa Jackson, receiver Franky Okafor, cornerback Shaun Prater, punter Garrett Swanson and safety Tyrequek Zimmerman.
   "These were fairly easy compared to what Friday will be like," coach Bruce Arians said of Arizona's first round of cuts.
   --Wide receivers John Brown continues to be bothered by headaches after passing the NFL's concussion protocol and being cleared to practice a week and a half ago.
   "John Brown is still having headaches, but he's getting a little bit further along each day," coach Bruce Arians said. "Hopefully he can make it through practice this week and be available."
   Asked how concerned he is about Brown's ongoing headaches, Arians said, "I've been concerned the whole time. You hate to see it linger this long because you don't really know what's causing it, whether it was the concussion or if it's medicine or whatever it is. He's had two headache-free days so hopefully he can exercise (Monday) and have another headache-free day."
   --The Cardinals showed something they've very seldom done before under Bruce Arians. They went to a no-huddle offense in the first half, something the coach wanted to try on the road.
   "We finally feel comfortable in it, practiced it a lot," Arians said. "If you can communicate on the road and get the snap counts going, you got a chance with it. I like where that's at."
   --Head coach Bruce Arians on 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick's protest of refusing to stand for the national anthem because of his views on oppression in America: "I respect his right as an American. Freedom of speech is one thing. I disagree with it. I want to stand and cheer for all the people who lost their life of every race and religion, gender defending that flag. It's not my opinion, but I respect his right."
   --QB Carson Palmer chipped a tooth and had his helmet fly off when he was leveled by Houston's Devon Still on Sunday after throwing an interception. Coach Bruce Arians' reaction on the hit?
   "Don't throw an interception," he said. "That guy was doing his job. Now whether he gets fined or not, whether it should have been a flag, that's up to the officials."
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
PLAYER NOTES
   --DT Robert Nkemdiche made his preseason debut and the Cardinals' first-round pick finished with three tackles against the Texans. "It felt amazing," said Nkemdiche, who missed most of camp with a high ankle sprain. "I'm glad to be back in the swing. It's going to be like that every game, just climbing the ladder and progressing."
   --RB Stepfan Taylor suffered a bruised knee against the Texans and will be sidelined for the next seven to 10 days, according to the team.
   --QB Matt Barkley, who is trying to make the roster as the third-stringer behind Carson Palmer and Drew Stanton, will likely play the entire game on Thursday when the Cardinals wrap up the preseason against the visiting Denver Broncos. So far, he's been only average. "The same ups and downs," coach Bruce Arians said. "He has some really bright spots and some really poor spots. He's got to eliminate the poor spots and the inaccurate throws that are interceptions."
   --Undrafted free-agent rookie LS Kameron Canaday of Portland State beat out fellow rookie Daniel Dillon for the long snapper job. Coach Bruce Arians said the decision was made based on Canaday's speed and accuracy. "They both battled it out extremely hard. We were really confident with both of them," Arians said.
   --Bruce Arians said his second-team offensive line has looked solid in the preseason: "Cole Toner has had two good weeks. (John) Weztel, he picked it up a little bit. Antoine McClain still needs to pick it up. We moved him over to the left, switched the two guards for position flexibility. Mentally, they were good. (Evan) Boehm has really improved. ... They're going to get better. I like where they're at right now as a second group. They blocked the (Texans') No.1's fairly solid. (Jadeveon) Clowney got in there a couple of times, but overall I thought our second line played extremely well."
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LOS ANGELES RAMS
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INSIDE SLANT
<Headline>Rams' defense bounces back</Headline>
   The Los Angeles Rams' first-string defense was terribly disappointed about giving up long touchdown drives to start games against the Dallas Cowboys and Kansas City Chiefs in the first two preseason games.
   "Letting teams score on the first drive, that's not us," said corner back Trumaine Johnson.
   Said All-Pro defensive tackle Aaron Donald: "We make stops, we force three-and-outs. That's what we do. That's the standard we hold ourselves to."
   Heading into the third preseason game against the Denver Broncos, the Rams challenged themselves to do better during a testy week of practice and film sessions leading up to the game.
  And they responded.
  The Rams forced three-and-outs on the Broncos' first two possessions and made a fourth-down stand to deny them on their third. In all, the first-team defense held the Broncos to just 24 total yards and one first down.
   "That was our goal," Johnson said. "The last two games, we started bad by letting them drive for touchdowns. We wanted to treat this like a regular game and compete. And we did that."
   Said Donald: "For sure, we definitely stepped up as a unit. Got some three-and-outs and got the offense the ball back right away."
   Rams head coach Jeff Fisher was pleased, although insisted improvements are still needed.
  "Defensively, better, better effort early in the game. Getting (DE) Rob (Quinn) back was good. I thought (LB Alec Ogletree) 'Tree' looked a little more comfortable in the run-front," Fisher said. "We're still giving up too many yards. We gave up some big runs with guys that are going to be on our roster in the second quarter, and we've got to get those things fixed before Week 1, or else we'll have some problems in the regular season. 
NOTES, QUOTES
   --QB Case Keenum has not officially been named the starting quarterback, but that appears to be a matter of time. The fourth-year veteran from Houston has played well during the preseason, and among NFL quarterbacks with 20 or more passes he is fifth in quarterback ratings.
   Keenum came into camp as the Rams' de facto starter after guiding them to a 3-1 record over the last four games of 2015, and nearly a month later seems to have tightened his grip on the job.
   That's partially the result of his solid play, but also the fact top pick Jared Goff has not played well enough to supplant him.
   Rams head coach Jeff Fisher may have tipped his hand when asked after the Rams' loss to the Denver Broncos Sunday whether Keenum had done enough to earn the first-string job. "Yeah," said Fisher. "I've said that all along. Case has been our starter since before the draft. He's doing fine." 
   --WR Pharoh Cooper will be out a few weeks and could miss the Rams' season opener Sept. 12 at San Francisco with a shoulder injury he suffered Saturday against the Denver Broncos. Cooper hurt the shoulder when he went high in the air to make a one-hand snag then fell hard to the ground.
   It's a blow to a position of concern, as the Rams were counting on Cooper making an immediate impact in their three-wideout formation. The rookie from South Carolina has dazzled at times in camp and supplanted veteran Brian Quick on the depth chart.
   "He's had a great camp," said Rams head coach Jeff Fisher. "We drafted him for a reason. We'll have to make some decisions next weekend that kind of revolve around his status, if you will."
   --DE Robert Quinn made his 2016 debut against the Broncos and pronounced himself ready to go for the season opener against the San Francisco 49ers. Quinn missed the last half of 2015 after undergoing back surgery, and while he has participated in training camp he was held out of the first two preseason games.
   "It's been awhile since I've played football, so it was great just to get out there and make some plays with the guys," said Quinn, had 40 sacks between 2012 and 2014.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
PLAYER NOTES
   --CB E.J. Gaines suffered a quad injury against the Broncos and might not be able to go for the season opener. Gaines, who missed all of last year with a foot injury, was being counted on to replace Janoris Jenkins, who left for the New York Giants via free agency.
   "He had the little hamstring strain -- I mentioned to you that he was so focused, for a year, on getting the foot back. Oftentimes, when players are gone and not available for that length of time and they do return, that there are other little issues that come up," said Rams head coach Jeff Fisher. "I'm hoping this is the last thing that comes up because he was extremely durable his rookie year as a starter for us, he was there week after week after week." 
   --WR Bradley Marquez, who hurt his ankle against the Chiefs, was on the field during the Rams walk-through practice Sunday.
   --WR Nelson Spruce, on the mend from a knee injury he suffered in the preseason opener against the Dallas Cowboys, returned to some light running this weekend. "We don't think he's going to play this week, but he's close, which is encouraging," said head coach Jeff Fisher.
   --DE Quinton Coples, a former first-round pick by the New York Jets, was among the first round of Rams cuts as the trim the roster to 75 by Tuesday.
   --QB Dylan Thompson, a rookie from South Carolina, was released.
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SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS
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INSIDE SLANT
<Headline>49ers' Kaepernick isn't standing tall with his play</Headline>
   Colin Kaepernick didn't stand for the national anthem before Friday's preseason game against the Green Bay Packers.
   Then he didn't stand tall in the game, either.
   While both social and the national media clearly cared more about the former, San Francisco 49ers coaches and fans had to be much more concerned about the latter.
   Kaepernick did take time after the game to explain his stance on the anthem in an interview with NFL Media.
   "I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color," he said. "To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder."
   The 49ers and the NFL issued subsequent statements, both noting that while they encourage standing for the anthem, there are no rules against it.
   Kaepernick is not expected to be disciplined.
   But shortly after his sit-down strike, he threw far too few strikes on the field to accomplish his goal, which had been to overtake Blaine Gabbert in the team's quarterback competition.
   Gabbert made his third consecutive start and was decent, which was similar to his first two outings. After a three-and-out on the 49ers' first series, Gabbert completed both pass attempts for 14 yards during a five-play, 53-yard touchdown drive.
   New 49ers head coach Chip Kelly seemed more critical of Gabbert's play.
   "We've had some missed passes to start a game," he said. "It's something, obviously, that we need to clean up because you don't want to start the game with a three-and-out."
   In other words, the door was open for Kaepernick to shine. But it didn't happen.
   He got three series, during which the 49ers recorded one first down. It came on his best pass of the game, a 12-yard throw to DeAndrew White.
   But he went just 1-for-5 on his other throws, completing a pass for two yards and rushing four times for 18 yards.
   Coincidentally, his production (14 yards passing, 18 yards rushing) was almost identical to that of Gabbert (14 yards passing, 15 yards rushing). It's just that it took Gabbert only three throws and two runs to get his numbers.
   And then there's that touchdown drive, the biggest thing in Gabbert's favor.
   Kaepernick felt the stadium, after his NFL Media interview, believing the competition wasn't over.
   "I think next game we have to be more productive, put points on the board. Ultimately, that's what you want to do as an offense and as a quarterback," he said of Thursday's preseason finale against the San Diego Chargers (10 p.m. ET). "So, I think that will be a big thing for next week."
   At his day-after press conference Saturday, Kelly insisted the competition is not over.
   "We haven't had any discussions in terms of starters right now," Kelly said.
NOTES, QUOTES
   --Here are the statements made by San Francisco and the NFL in the wake of Kaepernick failing to stand for the national anthem:
   "The national anthem is and always will be a special part of the pre-game ceremony," the 49ers said. "It is an opportunity to honor our country and reflect on the great liberties we are afforded as its citizens. In respecting such American principles as freedom of religion and freedom of expression, we recognize the right of an individual to choose and participate, or not, in our celebration of the national anthem."
   "Players are encouraged but not required to stand during the playing of the national anthem," the NFL said.
   Kaepernick noted that the sit-down was planned and that only he knew it was going to happen.
   "This is not something that I am going to run by anybody," he told NFL Media. "I am not looking for approval. I have to stand up for people that are oppressed.
   "If they take football away, my endorsement from me, I know that I stood up for what is right."
   Asked about the incident and its possible impact on relationships inside the locker room Saturday, Kelly said Kaepernick had done the same thing at the Denver game last week and it didn't seem to bother anyone.
   "We haven't gotten any feedback from any of our players," he claimed. "We'll talk about it as a team. We'll talk about it (Monday)."
   --The 49ers debuted what now appears to be their starting offensive line in the game, inserting Joshua Garnett at left guard and Anthony Davis at right guard. They replaced Zane Beadles and Andrew Tiller.
   Garnett and Davis began training camp on the third unit, Garnett because he had missed all the summer drills while finishing up at Stanford, and Davis because he had been in retirement.
   The 49ers lost left guard Alex Boone in free agency during the offseason, and replaced him with Beadles, their biggest free-agent signing. Beadles started at left guard on Day 1 of camp.
   Kelly said after the game that no decision has been made on the starting offensive line, labeling it "an evaluation."
   --The 49ers appear to have suffered three significant injuries during the game.
   Carlos Hyde suffered a concussion and has entered the NFL's concussion protocol, meaning he's unlikely to practice this week.
   Starting nose tackle Quinton Dial left the game with a knee injury. He was sent for an MRI on Saturday.
   The 49ers made no statement about the severity of the injury, but it was being reported as a strained ligament. If so, Dial would be unlikely to be ready for the regular-season opener against the Los Angeles Rams.
   Starting wideout and kick returner Bruce Ellington also got an MRI on Saturday after suffering a hamstring injury in the game. As with Dial, the 49ers offered no details at Kelly's media availability Saturday.
   Backup nose tackle Mike Purcell (arm) and free safety Eric Reid (thumb) were pulled from the game with what at the time were considered minor injuries. In fact, Reid was able eventually to return to the game.
   --The 49ers' roster was cut down to 79, four over the limit, on Saturday by trading cornerback Kenneth Acker to Kansas City, placing wideout Eric Rogers on season-ending injured reserve, and releasing nine players - including wideout Jerome Simpson.
    The 49ers received a seventh-round pick in return for Acker, a sixth-round pick in 2014 who started 13 games and intercepted three passes last season.
    Also waived were: running back Kendall Gaskins, wide receiver DiAndre Campbell, offensive linemen Blake Muir and Ian Silberman, defensive lineman Darren Lake, linebacker Wynton McManis, cornerback Cleveland Wallace and place-kicker John Lunsford.
   The 49ers must be down to the 75-man limit by noon Tuesday.
   QUOTE TO NOTE: "It's not my right to tell him not to do something. That's his right as a citizen." -- 49ers head coach Chip Kelly, on quarterback Colin Kaepernick choosing not to stand for the National Anthem before Friday's game against the Green Bay Packers.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
PLAYER NOTES
   --QB Blaine Gabbert will not play in the final preseason game on Thursday against the San Diego Chargers, likely an indication he will be the starter for the regular-season opener against the Los Angeles Rams.
   --QB Colin Kaepernick is expected to start Thursday's preseason finale against the San Diego Chargers. 49ers coach Chip Kelly has insisted this week the competition for starting quarterback in the regular-season opener is ongoing.
   --RB Carlos Hyde is progressing through the NFL's concussion protocol and likely will be cleared for the regular-season opener against the Los Angeles Rams. Hyde will not play in the final preseason game against the San Diego Chargers.
   --WR/KR Bruce Ellington (torn hamstring) has been put on season-ending injured reserve. Ellington, a candidate to be a starting wideout this season, was injured returning a punt in last week's preseason game against the Green Bay Packers.
   --WR/KR Jerome Kerley was acquired in a trade from the Detroit Lions for G Brandon Thomas. Kerley started 24 games for the Jets in the past five seasons before leaving as a free agent. He has 182 catches and nine touchdowns in his career.
   --G Brandon Thomas was traded to the Detroit Lions for WR/KR Jerome Kerley. Thomas never took a regular-season snap for the 49ers after having been a third-round pick in 2014. He sat out the 2014 season while recovering from a knee injury sustained in college.
   --DE Arik Armstead (strained left shoulder) said this week that he will consider offseason surgery on his shoulder if it continues to bother him throughout the year. He has yet to play in the preseason, but said he hopes to be cleared for the regular-season opener against the Los Angeles Rams.
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SEATTLE SEAHAWKS
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INSIDE SLANT
<Headline>Seahawks close to setting O-line</Headline>
   Perhaps the biggest area of concern entering training camp, the offensive line of the Seattle Seahawks has appeared to be a pleasant surprise through most of the preseason.
   Seattle appears to be close to setting their starting unit with one preseason game remaining. The right tackle battle between Garry Gilliam and J'Marcus Webb will continue through the final week. The rest of the group -- left tackle Bradley Sowell, left guard Mark Glowinski, center Justin Britt and right guard Germain Ifedi -- appears to be cemented in place.
   Considering the new additions and position changes made through the offseason, Seattle appears to be in a much better place up front than they were a season ago.
   "For a group of five guys who have just been together for a small amount of time, I'm excited to see where we can go," Sowell said. "We have a lot of young, hungry guys on this line."
   Seattle has run the ball effectively through three weeks of preseason games. The Seahawks rank third in the league in yards with 445 yards, an average of 148.3 yards per game. The line has consistently opened holes for backs to get room to run and managed to push defenders off the line of scrimmage. As of Sunday, Christine Michael led the league in preseason with 157 yards in three games.
   After allowing four sacks of Russell Wilson and six sacks overall to the Minnesota Vikings in Week 2, the starting unit kept Wilson upright all game against Dallas. The only sack of the game came via Trevone Boykin running out of bounds behind the line of scrimmage on a fourth quarter scramble.
   Wilson frequently had a clean pocket to work from. Even the few improvised plays he made scrambling came after spending time clear of pressure in the pocket. Wilson finished the game 16 of 21 for 192 yards and two touchdowns.
   "Across the board all five of those guys have been playing well," tight end Luke Willson said. "They're tough and they've got kind of different egos, not egos, but like different attitudes and personalities, but they're really meshing well together so it's been good."
   Gilliam was initially projected as the replacement for Russell Okung at left tackle entering camp. However, a knee injury to Webb prior to the start of games necessitated a move back to the right side. Sowell has since made a strong showing to start at left tackle Gilliam and a recovered Webb battling for the final starting spot.
   Entering camp, Britt was changing positions for a third straight year. Glowinski had one career start under his belt. Free agent additions Sowell and Webb did little to spark interest. Gilliam was moving to left tackle after just being decent at right tackle a season ago.
   But despite all the offseason worry and panic about the state of the line, they've performed quite well and appear to be far from the liability they were a season ago.
   "We've got a good group of guys, but beyond that we have a good mixture of personalities," Willson said. "I think one guy, Brad Sowell coming in, he's got a toughness and attitude about him that I think we needed there. He's really, I think, turned a lot of heads. I think him being a vet too, some of the younger guys look up to him. And it's been fun."
NOTES, QUOTES
   --Tight end Jimmy Graham went through pregame warmups prior to Thursday night's game against the Dallas Cowboys but did not play in Seattle's third preseason game.
   He was eased into team work for the first time late last week after a couple weeks of individual drills and rehab work. He was activated off the physically unable to perform list on Aug. 10.
   Graham has been behind running back Thomas Rawls from a timeline perspective after both players began camp on the PUP list. Carroll has said that Rawls will absolutely be available for the regular season opener against the Miami Dolphins on Sept. 11. Graham's availability has remained in question.
   Head coach Pete Carroll was really pleased with the way Graham looked prior to the Cowboys game.
   "He looked great in pregame. He was flying. He was really fired up," Carroll said. "He ran a ton of sprints before that workout, with the throwing and the catching and then he took all those plays, and then he took the pregame warmup. He was lit up about it afterward. He really felt good and that was a big step for him. I'm excited for him."
   Graham played some basketball with Carroll last week in an effort to give him a dynamic test for his recovering knee.
   "The idea was to give him a chance to have to make moves that are not controlled," Carroll said. "You have controlled workouts where you have bags and you're changing direction and all those kind of things. I thought if he would just feel that, it would show him that he's ready to go to the next level. We just had some fun doing it. I had him 3-2, in fact, he didn't want me to tell you that. Then I stopped playing."
   --Running back C.J. Prosise carried four times for 23 yards in his preseason debut with the Seahawks on Thursday night against the Dallas Cowboys.
   Prosise missed the first two preseason games after suffering a hamstring strain on the opening day of training camp. He didn't fully return to practice for Seattle until last week and worked into the rotation as a third-down back for most of his debut performance.
   "I was really happy with C.J.'s first outing," Carroll said. "He looked fast, he was confident, he had fun playing. He came off the sidelines and he was having a ball playing football. He was poised about it and handled it well He had a couple nice runs and we're just going to keep going, this is a big week for him. It's just a big week to have him in practice again, but the game will be important. He'll play quite a bit this game."
   Seattle is hoping that Prosise can play an important role for them as a third-down back and option with their two-minute offense this season. Fred Jackson, who filled that role with Seattle last year, was not re-signed this offseason.
   Prosise played receiver at Notre Dame before being moved to running back. His versatility as a receiver intrigues Seattle as a potential weapon in the passing game in addition to his running ability.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
PLAYER NOTES
   --WR Tanner McEvoy tweaked his groin in Thursday night's game against the Dallas Cowboys. It was the only injury reported after the game by the team. Carroll deemed McEvoy "questionable at best" to play in the team's preseason finale at Oakland on Thursday.
   --DE Cliff Avril said he is reaching out to Cowboys QB Tony Romo after his sack of Romo in Thursday night's preseason game left the Dallas quarterback with a broken bone in his back. Avril said he didn't even know Romo was hurt in the immediate aftermath of the play and wasn't sure exactly how he'd been injured on the play.
   --TE Nick Vannett will not play this week after suffering a high-ankle sprain in Seattle's second preseason game against the Minnesota Vikings. Carroll said Vannett's status is also in doubt for the regular season opener against the Miami Dolphins.
   --DT Jarran Reed will not play this week after aggravating an ankle injury and injuring his toe against the Vikings. Carroll said Reed's status for the regular season opener against the Miami Dolphins in also in question. He said Reed is closer than Vannett at this stage.
   --DT Sealver Siliga has not been able to recover from an offseason calf injury that initially put him on the non-football injury list to begin training camp. After being briefly activated and practicing, he aggravated the injury in pregame warmups prior to the team's preseason opener in Kansas City.
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BUFFALO BILLS
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INSIDE SLANT
<Headline>Bills ready to roll with 'bust' Manuel as primary backup</Headline>
   Buffalo Bills fans may not want to hear it, but head coach Rex Ryan is 100 percent comfortable with, and confident in, EJ Manuel as the team's backup quarterback heading into the season.
   Manuel was forced to play almost the entire game at Washington on Friday because third-stringer Cardale Jones did not dress due to a shoulder injury, and starter Tyrod Taylor played only two series as Ryan bucked the trend of playing starters for a half in the third exhibition. Manuel completed 21 of 39 passes for 221 yards and had the potential game-winning touchdown pass with 10 seconds left nullified by a questionable offensive pass interference penalty on receiver Greg Little. Manuel was then sacked on the next play, and his desperation final-play pass in the end zone was intercepted.
   "I really like the way he played," Ryan said. "I like the way he competes. He has a great look in his face, man, he loves playing. Guys, you know what, sometimes quarterbacks take a little longer to develop, and I think this is the best EJ Manuel that I've seen."
   Manuel has been an ongoing irritation for the fan base because the Bills picked him in the first round back in 2013, and he has never lived up to that status. "Bust" is not too strong a word because Manuel was thought to be the Bills' quarterback of the future, and he most assuredly is not that, nor will he ever be. You can't strike out on first-rounders like that.
   He was thrust into a starting role as a rookie when veteran Kevin Kolb got hurt in training camp, and Manuel had some good moments, and there was still hope that he could develop into a solid starter. But four games into his second season, then-head coach Doug Marrone benched him in favor of Kyle Orton - even though the Bills were 2-2 - and Manuel has started just two games since.
   Last year he lost out to Taylor in a spirited quarterback competition, and in his only two starts while Taylor was out with a knee injury, the Bills lost to Cincinnati and Jacksonville.
   In this the final year of his rookie contract, Manuel knows his role, and he's determined to be ready if Taylor gets hurt.
   "I'm going to be the backup going into the season, so when I get a chance to play, whether it's mid-game or a start if Tyrod is down for a game, that's my main focus, to be ready," he said. "My main focus hasn't been what the fans are saying, or my position or anything like that, it's truly just getting better and that's how I can help the team win."
   Like Taylor, Manuel has grown into coordinator Greg Roman's offense in year two and feels confident in how he can operate within the system. He also has grown up as a teammate and now feels like he commands a little more respect when he gets into games.
   "I've grown so much, my approach, my preparation, in the huddle telling guys what to do, getting guys in position to make plays and making sure everybody stays calm," Manuel said Friday night following the 21-16 loss to Washington. "I think that's the big thing a quarterback has to do all the time is keep everybody relaxed and keep everybody calm. Even in the last play of the game, I was still telling people, 'We still have a chance to win this game.' It didn't go our way and that happens sometimes, but like I said, I'm really proud of the guys that were in."
NOTES, QUOTES
   --After missing more than three weeks with an ankle sprain, left tackle Cordy Glenn returned to practice Sunday, working in individual drills. Glenn won't play in Thursday's preseason finale against the Lions, but he should be ready for the season opener in Baltimore. 
   "Sometimes guys think they need it. I don't," Ryan said of Glenn playing in the game. "I think we will simulate it in practice. So ... I don't think he'll play."
   Ryan said almost all of his starters are going to sit out the final game. "There are going to be guys that are playing that are going to be on our football team, without question," he said. "Safeties are going to have to play. ... I don't think it's clear who is shaking out. It will be good for Manny (Lawson) to play some more. He missed that time with the pec, so I think you can see someone like him getting in there and getting some reps."
   Safety Aaron Williams and running back Mike Gillislee participated in the portion of practice open to the media, a good sign as they advance through the NFL's concussion protocol. To be able to practice, both players must have reached baseline levels of functioning in neurophysiological testing, as determined by an independent consultant.
   --The Bills suffered two more season-ending ACL injuries in their loss to Washington. Cornerback Jonathan Dowling, who was probably a longshot to make the team, and tight end Chris Gragg, a fourth-year player who was enjoying a very good preseason and was firmly on the roster.
   Gragg went down when he was struck on the knee by Redskins safety DeAngelo Hall went low to take him down on a pass over the middle. Hall, who a few plays earlier leveled a cheap shot on a Bills running back and was penalized 15 yards, could have tackled Gragg higher and the hit bordered on being dirty and Ryan was not happy about it.
   "It's a real shame," Ryan said. "Sometimes, especially with Gragg's injury, a guy should make a tackle. But I get it. Was frustrated he just had a 15-yard penalty. That was ridiculous in my opinion, but it is what it is."
   Gragg and Hall engaged in some Twitter back and forth after the game and Hall said, "No disrespect to the #Bills Player, I wish him nothing but the best. But I play 1 speed and that's all out. That's why I been here 13 years." In another tweet, Hall said, "I'm playing within the rules. If that hit was so dirty tell the league to fine me or throw a flag. And the one flag the whistle didn't blow."
   --Linebacker Manny Lawson has wanted to talk about the NFL's ongoing investigation into an alleged violation of the league's personal conduct policy, but on a couple of occasions a member of the Bills' public relations staff has rushed over and told him not to speak to reporters.
   However, Lawson did finally talk on Sunday, and he while acknowledging there was an incident in 2014 in which Lawson was charged with misdemeanor disorderly conduct/domestic violence, he said there was no physical violence. That case was dismissed after he completed a diversionary program.
   "(It was) disorderly conduct, domestic because it happened at home," Lawson said. "No physical violence. I'm being investigated and we'll see what the NFL has to say about it."
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
PLAYER NOTES
   --LB Ramon Humber, who originally entered the NFL in 2009 as an undrafted free agent with Indianapolis, was signed to a contract. The seven-year veteran has played 92 NFL games and has 3.5 sacks and 141 tackles.
   --WR Marcus Easley was placed on the physically unable to perform list as he continues rehab from a serious knee injury.
   --LB Shaq Lawson was placed on the physically unable to perform list as he continues to work his way back from offseason shoulder surgery.
   --WR Kolby Listenbee was placed on the Reserve/Non-football list as he is still sidelined by a sports hernia. He is a sixth-round rookie draft pick who has yet to practice with the Bills.
   --TE Chris Gragg suffered a season-ending torn ACL. He was designated as waived/injured.
   --CB Jonathan Dowling suffered a season-ending torn ACL and was designated as waived/injured.
   --QB Austin Trainor was signed as a free agent, mainly to give the Bills an extra arm in practice this week. Trainor may play in the final preseason game against Detroit on Thursday (7:30 p.m.).
   --LB Lerentee McCray was acquired in a trade from the Packers for a conditional seventh-round draft pick in 2018. McCray originally entered the league in 2013 as an undrafted free agent with the Denver Broncos.
   --WR Walter Powell moved one step closer to making the roster as one of his chief competitors, Greg Little, was cut on Tuesday.
   --K Dan Carpenter will now inherit the kickoff duties with the release of  specialist Jordan Gay. Gay had handled kickoffs the last two years, but the change in the touchback line has coach Rex Ryan believing Carpenter can handle kickoffs which enables him to save a roster spot.
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MIAMI DOLPHINS
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INSIDE SLANT
<Headline>Two Dolphins' rookies will finally see the field>
   A pair of Miami Dolphins rookies, cornerback Xavien Howard, the second-round pick from Baylor, and running back Kenyan Drake, the third-round pick from Alabama, will likely make their preseason debuts in Thursday's finale against Tennessee.
   Howard has been recovering from knee surgery, while Drake has dealing with a hamstring injury.
   "We're going to play them both," coach Adam Gase said. "And really right now we're going to go through the next couple of days of practice just to kind of see where they're at from a conditioning standpoint. I think they're in good shape, but obviously it's not dynamic football shape right now."
   Howard has a chance to start immediately on the left side ahead of Tony Lippett and Bobby McCain, who have both struggled in the last two games.
   Gase said he'd keep things simple for Howard, who excels in the press coverage the Dolphins favor.
   "Playing corner with what we do it's really what he's been doing his whole life," Gase said. "We're going to line him up and tell him to cover that guy, whoever's across from him. We're not going to make it hard on him. It's no secret kind of what we do on defense -- we attack and we play man to man coverage."
   Miami has searched hard for a replacement for Brent Grimes (Tampa Bay) on the left side. Byron Maxwell, acquired in a trade with Philadelphia, starts on the right side. But the left side has almost been a disaster. 
   There's a chance Chris Culliver, formerly of Washington, gets a look on the left side after he recovers from the knee injury that sidelined him last season.
   Drake is a long shot to become a starter over Arian Foster or Jay Ajayi, but he could work his way into the mix atop the remaining backs, including Damien Williams, Isaiah Pead and Daniel Thomas.
   Drake has the elusiveness the Dolphins could use.
   Gase said both players would be monitored closely.
   "We'll have probably a set number of plays they can go and try to stay in that range, not go over," he said. "We don't want to overdo it. I think right now they need to play. Those guys, if they're active for the Seattle game, it'd be nice for them to have experienced an NFL game."
NOTES, QUOTES
   --Linebacker Jelani Jenkins is out for an unknown amount of time recovering from knee surgery. Jenkins sustained his injury in Thursday's 17-6 victory over Atlanta.
   "Right now it's really week to week for us," head coach Adam Gase said. "It's going to be about how quick he can get his strength back. Every person is different so it's the pain tolerance, how quick can the rehab go. I can say there's a possibility that that first game he's good. We've got to see how his body reacts to everything."
   Most likely veteran Spencer Paysinger will replace Jenkins but there's a chance Neville Hewitt wins the job.
   --Gase was fairly mum regarding San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick's protest during the national anthem.
   "The only thing I'd say with that is what the league said as far as, every guy's got their position on certain things," he said. "They're able to express it in certain ways. There's nothing that says they can't do that. Our guys in our locker room, if they have certain stances they stand behind then it's not my right to say you can't do that."
   --Miami made 11 roster cuts Saturday, three days before the league-mandated deadline. Gase remembers Dolphins executive Mike Tannenbaum telling him it could give the cut players a better chance to catch on with another team.
   "We knew who the guys were we were going to release," he said. "Obviously, it's never fun telling a guy that he's not going to be here. I felt like the guys that we all talked to were very appreciative, as far as getting an opportunity. Some of those guys will obviously have an opportunity, as far as coming back."
   The Dolphins released cornerback Brandon Harris and waived linebacker Akil Blount, center/guard Ruben Carter, wide receiver A.J. Cruz, long snapper Ryan DiSalvo, wide receiver Matt Hazel, tight end Gabe Hughes, kicker Marshall Koehn, cornerback Al Louis-Jean, guard Vinston Painter and wide receiver Brandon Shippen.
   Miami's roster stands at 78 and three more cuts must be made by 4 p.m. ET Tuesday.
   --Gase said he's mildly concerned about his tight ends and wide receivers dropping passes. Jarvis Landry has two drops in the last two games, Jordan Cameron has three, and DeVante Parker has two.
   "I think we have to clean up the drops," Gase said. "They know it. We've talked about it quite a bit as far as, when we do have these games where the ball's on the ground too much, what do we need to do to get better?"
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
PLAYER NOTES
   --DE Dion Jordan (knee) was placed on the Reserve/NFI (Non Football Injury) list, meaning he'll miss at least the first six weeks of the season. The third overall pick of the 2013 draft, Jordan was granted his conditional reinstatement to the NFL on July 29 after serving a year-long suspension for violating the substance abuse policy. Jordan had knee surgery in June.
   --LB Zach Vigil (back) was placed on the Reserve/NFI (Non Football Injury) list, meaning he'll miss at least the first six weeks of the season. Undrafted out of Utah State in 2015, Vigil showed promise last season on special teams and from scrimmage.
   --DE Chris McCain was traded to New Orleans for a conditional seventh-round pick. Undrafted out of California in 2014, McCain never gained traction from scrimmage as he bounced between defensive end to outside linebacker.
   --LG Laremy Tunsil, who left Monday's practice early after catching his foot in the artificial turf of the indoor practice facility, is OK and figures to get a large amount of playing time Thursday against Tennessee (7 p.m. ET). Tunsil, the first-round pick who is converting from left tackle, said he feels more comfortable at his new position each day.  "Looking at the film, I feel like I played pretty good," Tunsil said of his performance versus Atlanta last week. "I still need some improvement. I still need some work. Like I said last week - and like I said the week before - I'm going to keep listening to the coaches, keep listening to the vets and try to get better every day."
   --TE Thomas Duarte, the seventh-round pick from UCLA, could be on the verge of being cut Saturday. TEs Jordan Cameron and Dion Sims are certainties and MarQeuis Gray and Dominique Jones seem locked in a battle for No. 3. Duarte hasn't showed much in training camp or preseason games.
   --C Mike Pouncey (hip) appears to have a reasonable chance of starting the Sept. 11 opener at Seattle, which was the optimistic hope when he was injured two weeks ago. Pouncey made the trip to Orlando for last week's game against Atlanta, which included a short flight, short bus trip and standing on the sideline for the entire three-hour game. If Pouncey can't play, expect Anthony Steen to continue handling the job.
   --LB Jelani Jenkins (knee) attended Tuesday's walkthrough practice and, at one point, bounced around on his right leg, but there's still no indication whether he could play in the Sept. 11 opener at Seattle. Coach Adam Gase said Jenkins, who was injured last week against Atlanta, is week to week. Spencer Paysinger would likely start in Jenkins' place.
   --WR DeVante Parker got a bit of a wakeup call from coach Adam Gase, who basically told reporters Wednesday that Parker needs to become more professional. Parker, the 2015 first-round pick, has battled injuries since his final season at Louisville in 2014. That's carried over to his time with the Dolphins. Parker recently missed training camp/preseason time with a hamstring injury.
Gase has said previously Parker needs to stay hydrated and learn how to push through pain. On Wednesday, Gase said Parker needs to take better care of his body and practice harder. "That's been our point of emphasis with him is all the little tiny things that you have to do off the field, in the building, and then when you get out to practice you have to treat every day like a game," Gase said. "Sometimes it takes some guys a little longer to learn than others."
   --RG Jermon Bushrod is battling Billy Turner and Dallas Thomas for the starting job, a spot that could be decided in Thursday's game against Tennessee (7 p.m. ET). All three safely are on the 53-man roster because of their versatility, but with rookie LG Laremy Tunsil securing one starting job Bushrod, Turner and Thomas are left fighting for a spot none has been able to secure.
   --QB Zac Dysert will be battling Brandon Doughty, the seventh-round pick, for a No. 3 job Thursday against Tennessee (7 p.m. ET). There's a chance the Dolphins don't keep either player depending on who gets cut around the league. But most likely one will stick around and most likely Thursday's performance is the deciding factor.
   --CB Jordan Lucas hasn't yet found a home after being tried at nickel/slot, cornerback and, now, apparently at safety. Lucas, the fifth-round pick from Penn State, appears to be a prime candidate for the practice squad. There's a slim chance he makes the 53-man roster.
   --WR Kenny Stills, who has been the best at his position through training camp and preseason games, participated in Tuesday's walkthrough after leaving Monday's practice with a back problem. The back issue is something that's cropped up from time to time in previous years.
   --RB Damien Williams will be fighting for a roster spot in Thursday's preseason finale against Tennessee (7 p.m. ET). The position has certainties with Arian Foster, Jay Ajayi and Kenyan Drake, the third-round pick from Alabama. After that here's Isaiah Pead, a likely roster selection even though he's sidelined with a hamstring injury. In the best scenario, Williams, a third-down specialist and core special teams player, is battling Daniel Thomas for the final spot.
   --TE Jordan Cameron enters the Sept. 11 opener as perhaps the biggest question mark among offensive playmakers. Cameron had a woeful preseason, dropping three passes, including two likely touchdowns. Coach Adam Gase said they've been talking to Cameron over the past couple of weeks trying to determine what he likes and how that blends with the new offense.
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NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS
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INSIDE SLANT
<Headline>Patriots QB Garoppolo still trying to prove himself</Headline>
   The shadow that hangs over New England Patriots fill-in starter Jimmy Garoppolo got bigger and darker in New England's 19-17 victory over Carolina in the third week of preseason action.
   While the third-year backup remains the preparation "priority," as head coach Bill Belichick describes it in New England, Tom Brady made his summer debut in four series of action against the reigning NFC champion Panthers.
   Garoppolo got the starting nod, and after Brady replaced him for four series, Garoppolo then played into the third quarter. Brady's debut saw him come off the bench to lead the Patriots to a pair of first-half scoring drives, including a pretty 33-yard touchdown pass to Chris Hogan.
   Meanwhile, Garoppolo failed to find the end zone -- his only touchdown this summer coming in a two-minute drill against the Bears' backups a week earlier -- and looked rattled in the face of the Panthers pressure defense. Though the New England first-string passing attack has been without Rob Gronkowski and Danny Amendola and gotten only limited work from Julian Edelman, the unit has not done much under Garoppolo's watch through the first three weeks of August action.
   "Ups and downs," Garoppolo said in his postgame press conference in Carolina. "Just little things here and there that we need to get corrected. We'll take care of it. We'll do our best to get there. We've got two weeks 'til (the opener). We'll work our tails off to get to that point. We'll get there."
   Heading into the Panthers game Garoppolo had said the matchup was close to the opening night environment he will face in Arizona, and he didn't fare as well as anyone might have hoped.
   Beyond Brady's scoring drives -- No. 12's numbers weren't actually that impressive as he finished completing just three of nine passes for 76 yards -- Garoppolo also watched third-string rookie Jacoby Brissett cruise against Carolina's second- and third-string players. The third-round pick completed all nine of his passes for 85 yards with a touchdown for a game-best 143.1 rating. Brady had an impressive 102.1 rating. And Garoppolo was a far less impressive 67.9 mark.
   But it's Garoppolo who will be starting Sept. 11 in Arizona with Brady banished to a month off.
   It's a strange situation for all involved, as Garoppolo acknowledged last week.
   It means next Thursday night's preseason finale in New York against the Giants may have a different feel. Garoppolo could need a few more reps to build a semblance of positive momentum heading into his first career start.
   "We want to get Jimmy ready for the Arizona game. Tom isn't going to be playing for a while so it's kind of his last chance to play until he comes back after a few weeks. Jacoby certainly could use all the playing time that he can get," Belichick said looking ahead. "I think that whichever players we play will benefit from it and it will be valuable to them. We could play all three quarterbacks a lot next week and they'd all benefit from that and it would all be good, but we can't.
   "What Jimmy's role is in a couple weeks is going to be a lot different than what Tom's is, and it's going to be a lot different than what Jacoby's is. At some point later on, those roles are going to change again. So again, there's no perfect solution to it. We'll just do the best we can to try to have our individual players and our team as well prepared as possible at whatever point that is that we have to deal with, and whenever those situations come up."
   Right now, the man who most needs to be ready doesn't quite look the part. Garoppolo was the third-best Patriots passer against the Panthers and that's certainly less than ideal with the regular season growing closer by the minute.
NOTES, QUOTES
   --Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo is the Patriots starter for the first month of 2016. Quarterback Tom Brady has been the Patriots starter since he took the job from Drew Bledsoe in 2001. As such, there is a rather strange dynamic at play this summer in Foxborough. While Garoppolo has praised Brady for his assistance throughout his development, the third-year former second-round pick acknowledges the unique situation he's in.
   "It's a tough situation at times, but you can't worry about that too much," Garoppolo said of two guys essentially trying to take ownership of one team. "It's one of those things where if you start worrying about that, then you can't focus on whatever it is -- your reads, your checks, whatever it may be. You just have to go about your business the same way you always have. I'm not trying to do something crazy and do something I've never done before, I'm trying to be myself and do what I do."
   --Defensive tackle Terrance Knighton didn't play a defensive snap in the third preseason game in Carolina. The veteran free-agent addition would appear to be very much in a battle for a roster spot in New England. Knighton started all 15 games he played in last fall in Washington, but at this point his role with the Patriots appears to be tenuous at best. "It's disappointing," Knighton acknowledged in Carolina.
  "I'm not going to make too much of it... Everybody wants to play. I didn't get a chance to. That's the decision they made."
   With cuts down to 75 and then 53 on the horizon, the veteran is well aware of the reality of his situation on a team that has other defensive tackles such as former first-round pick Malcom Brown, veteran Alan Branch and surprise free agent addition Markus Kuhn.
  "Whatever happens, happens. If I'm here, I'm here, if I'm not, just... take it one day at a time," Knighton declared.
   --Cornerback Cyrus Jones, New England's top pick in last April's draft, has made impressive strides over the course of the summer. Though the second-round pick out of Alabama struggled mightily with muffed punts on seemingly a daily basis for stretches of training camp, his game work in the role has been very productive. 
   That continued with a 60-yard punt return and 28.3-yard average on three chances in the third week of preseason action in Carolina.
Not only does it look like Jones could win the top punt-return job for the Patriots as a rookie, but he appears to have a solid hold on the team's No. 3 cornerback spot after action working alongside returning starters Malcolm Butler and Logan Ryan against the Panthers.
   He certainly looks like he could take the lead role as punt returner, a job that's been held by Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola (PUP) in recent years.
   "Yeah, I think that's a consideration," Bill Belichick acknowledged. "Obviously, Danny and Julian have a lot of experience returning punts for us as well as kickoffs in the past. We'll see how it goes, but we have good depth at that position and that's always a good thing to have. We have confidence in all of those guys back there. Last night we even had D.J. (Foster) who got a chance to handle the ball. We'll see how it goes going forward, but I think we have good competition and good depth at that position."
   --Linebacker Jonathan Freeny reportedly signed a two-year extension with the Patriots Aug. 27. The veteran joined New England as a free agent in 2015 and though primarily a special teamer in his first three NFL seasons in Miami, he went on to start seven of the 13 games he played for the Patriots last fall.
   Freeny certainly has endeared himself to the organization in his short time in Foxborough.
   "Jonathan is a very dependable player; he is able to do a lot of different roles for us," Bill Belichick said. "He can play inside and outside on the line of scrimmage and off the ball defensively. He's been very valuable for us in the kicking game, obviously with some size. A four-phase special teams player and one of our overall top workers in terms of the offseason program, preparation, training; he always does things right. He works hard, doesn't say a lot, but is very dependable and consistent. I think all of the other players - everybody in the organization looks up to him."
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
PLAYER NOTES
   --RB Dion Lewis (knee) was placed on the physically able to perform list on Tuesday. He reportedly had a recent second knee surgery after originally tearing an ACL last November.
   --RT Sebastian Vollmer (hip) was placed on the physically unable to perform list Tuesday. The veteran lineman reportedly could miss the season with the recurring ailment.
   --TE Steven Scheu was released Tuesday. The undrafted rookie out of Vanderbilt never did much to catch on in New England this summer.
   --LB Ramon Humber was released Tuesday. The veteran free agent addition has been primarily a special teams contributor in his career, an area of great depth in New England.
   --OL Keavon Milton was released Tuesday. The former practice squader did little to vie for a roster spot this summer.
   --DT Terrance Knighton was a mildly surprising cut on Monday. The veteran free agent addition started all 15 games he played last season in Washington and was expected to add depth to the middle of the New England defensive front. But he struggled at times in the preseason and did not play in the team's third preseason game in Carolina.
   --OL Bryan Stork was officially released Monday after he failed a physical to void a potential trade to the Redskins. The former fourth-round pick started 17 of the 21 games he played in two seasons with New England, winning a Super Bowl ring as a starter as a rookie.
   --G Tre' Jackson (knee) was placed on the physically unable to perform list Monday. The second-year player will be an option to add depth to the line after he sits out at least the first six weeks of the season.
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NEW YORK JETS
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INSIDE SLANT
<Headline>Jets offense still needs work</Headline>
   The New York Jets' first-team defense looked ready for the big stage after Saturday night's "dress rehearsal" exhibition game against the New York Giants. The starting offense, on the other hand, looked like it needs practice time it does not have.
   The Jets defense -- with defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson active for the first time in the preseason -- dominated in the first half of Saturday's 21-20 loss in the "Snoopy Bowl," during which it limited the Giants' first-team offense to 47 yards, three first downs, one turnover and no points in six possessions. The Giants went three-and-out three times and had another drive end with a blocked punt.
   "We got better in the first half," Jets head coach Todd Bowles said afterward. "Those guys learned how to play together a little bit. We got some continuity and chemistry."
   If only he could say the same thing about the 
offense. The Jets led just 7-0 at the half -- via a 22-yard touchdown pass from Ryan Fitzpatrick to Eric Decker to cap a drive set up by Darrelle Revis' interception -- after going three-and-out four times in seven possessions and punting five times.
   "They worked some things out and worked themselves out of jams and made some plays," Bowles said of the offense. "But they missed some, too. They can get better."
   The blocked punt that ended the Giants' first drive gave the Jets a first down at the Giants' 15-yard-line, but Fitzpatrick fumbled three plays later and the Giants recovered.
   "I wish it would have been a little bit cleaner," Fitzpatrick said afterward. "Obviously, the turnover in the red zone can't happen. Glad I got that one out of the way in the preseason."
   The Jets can take some solace in the fact their optimal first-team offense never played a down together in the preseason. Matt Forte missed the first two games before debuting Saturday night, when Brandon Marshall sat out with a sore hip. Center Nick Mangold missed the second exhibition game while right tackle Breno Giacomini has yet to play due to a back injury.
   Everyone except Giacomini should be fine for the regular-season opener against the Cincinnati Bengals on Sept. 11. But any time the first unit gets together between now and then will be on the practice field since no starters are expected to play in the preseason finale against the Philadelphia Eagles on Thursday night.
   And 10 days after that, the Jets offense will have no choice but to be ready for its closeup.
   "I don't know that these three games were a great indication of where we feel we are," Fitzpatrick said. "But we've obviously got a tough defense in Cincinnati that we're going to open up with and we can't start slow -- we've got to come out firing. Now all the focus and attention will kind of go towards that."
NOTES, QUOTES
   --The Jets began the task of paring down the roster Sunday, when they released 11 players and placed wide receiver Devin Smith on the physically unable to perform list. Smith, who suffered a torn right ACL last Dec. 13, will not be eligible to be activated until after Week 6.
   The most notable cut was rookie kicker Ross Martin, who was brought in to challenge incumbent Nick Folk. Martin was 4-of-6 on field goals in three exhibition games and booted a 55-yard field goal in Saturday's 21-20 loss to the New York Giants, but both his misses came in the preseason opener against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
   The Jets also released guard Jarvis Harrison, a sixth-round pick last season who becomes the first player drafted by second-year general manager Mike Maccagnan to receive his walking papers. Harrison was not active during the regular season last year.
   The other players released Sunday were linebacker Deion Barnes, tackle Jesse Davis, center Kyle Friend, defensive lineman Shelby Harris, defensive lineman Helva Matungulu, running back Lache Seastrunk, tight end Jason Vander Laan, wide receiver Kyle Williams and running back Terry Williams.
   The cuts reduced the Jets' roster to 78 players. They must be down to 75 players by 4 PM Tuesday.
   --The Jets likely dodged disaster Saturday, when inside linebacker and unofficial defensive captain David Harris suffered a shoulder injury in the second quarter of a 21-20 loss to the New York Giants.
   The durable Harris -- who has played in 122 straight games, counting the playoffs, and 145 out of a possible 151 games since being drafted by the Jets in 2007 -- walked off the field in obvious pain after making a tackle on the final play of the first half.
   However, ESPN reported Sunday that an MRI revealed only a bruise and that Harris should be able to play in the regular-season opener against the Cincinnati Bengals on Sept. 11. Head coach Todd Bowles confirmed on Monday that Harris suffered a bruise but did not commit to him playing in the opener.
   --Running back Matt Forte finally made his Jets debut Saturday, when he rushed 10 times for 28 yards and caught two passes for nine yards in a 21-20 loss to the Giants.
   Forte, who signed with the Jets as a free agent on March 9 after eight seasons with the Chicago Bears, missed the first two exhibition games while recovering from a hamstring injury he suffered before training camp.
   "He got to take some hits and go full speed and get used to live action again," head coach Todd Bowles said afterward. "From that standpoint, it was real good."
   Forte said he was more concerned with getting accustomed to the speed of the game than getting hit again.
   "I've been playing this long, I don't think you really need any more hits," Forte said. "It's just good to get out there in a full-speed environment because it's just a little bit faster than in practice when stuff is on the line like that. A game environment is just different than practice."
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
PLAYER NOTES
   --WR Brandon Marshall (hip) did not play in Saturday night's 21-20 loss to the Giants and did not practice on Monday. Marshall was not known to be injured heading into the "dress rehearsal" game. Head coach Todd Bowles said Saturday that Marshall sat out mostly for precautionary reasons and that he would have played if it was a regular-season game. Marshall, 32, has undergone three hip surgeries since 2010.
   --QB Christian Hackenberg finally made his debut with the Jets on Saturday night, when he went 6-for-16 for 105 yards, one touchdown and one interception in a 21-20 loss to the Giants. Hackenberg, who dressed but did not play in the Jets' first two exhibition games. was the last of the four quarterbacks on the roster but ended up playing 23 snaps, second-most behind starter Ryan Fitzpatrick. It is likely Hackenberg will play most of the final preseason game Thursday, when the Jets visit the Philadelphia Eagles.
   --RT Brent Qvale likely moved up the depth chart Saturday, when he started for the Jets in a 21-20 loss to the Giants. Qvale and Ben Ijalana have been sharing first-team reps in the absence of starting RT Breno Giacomini, who has not practiced or played this summer due to a back injury. Ijalana exited with an apparent injury, though head coach Todd Bowles said Ijalana was not listed on the postgame injury report. The possible injury to Ijalana, along with Giacomini's availability for the regular season uncertain at best, could at least ensure Qvale a spot on the final 53-man roster, if not a place in the starting lineup for the regular-season opener against the Cincinnati Bengals on Sept. 11.
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BALTIMORE RAVENS
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INSIDE SLANT
<Headline>Ravens must stay healthy to challenge</Headline>
   Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco felt some pressure from the Detroit Lions and seamlessly slipped out of the pocket, showing no lingering effects from his season-ending knee surgery last year.
   That was the good news heading into the final preseason game against the Saints in New Orleans on Thursday (8 p.m. ET).
   The bad news is the Ravens, who have been hampered by injuries over the past two seasons, lost newly signed tight end Benjamin Watson to a season-ending torn Achilles. Rookie running back Kenneth Dixon also suffered MCL damage in his left knee and is out for about a month. 
   Baltimore is trying to rebound from last year's 5-11 finish and much of its success hinges on the team's ability to stay healthy. 
   The latest injuries had Baltimore coach John Harbaugh questioning whether teams should play any preseason games. He softened those comments Monday. However, he continued to advocate for larger rosters to soften the brunt of injuries.
   "I love going out there and competing," Harbaugh said. "I do hate to see a guy get hurt in a preseason game, but it is part of the game. It does happen. I also know that you can do a lot of work in practice. You can do a lot of work in scrimmages, where it is a little more controlled. That is all stuff that can be worked out. You don't need to get caught up in how it is organized. It is organized in a way that creates opportunity. The main takeaway for me was bigger rosters. I really think bigger rosters are really important and valuable. It is time for that. That is the main takeaway for that point. I think there is a lot of support for that. I would love to see that part of it happen."   
   Flacco, who spent most of the past year rehabbing his left knee, was sharp in his first in-game action and led the Ravens on a scoring drive on the team's first possession. Flacco took a sack by former teammate Haloti Ngata and quickly picked himself up from the turf. Rookie left tackle Ronnie Stanley also appears ready to effectively protect Flacco's blindside heading into the regular season opener. 
   "It felt really good," said Flacco, who completed 11 of 16 passes for 94 yards. "I was quick on a couple of things, but it felt great to be back out there. To get back out there -- to be out with the guys -- that's what it is all about." 
   It was the type of performance that should provide the Ravens with the confidence to potentially get back in the playoff hunt this season. Flacco had an instant rapport with new wide receiver Mike Wallace, who has been solid throughout the preseason. 
   Wallace has been one of the most consistent receivers in practice and had his best game against the Lions, catching three passes for 37 yards. 
   "Joe is a great guy," Wallace said. "He is a quarterback who has seen all situations. We practice so hard, the games just feel like practice because they slow down. Honestly, when we're out there, it just feels like practice."  
   Still, the Ravens need their playmakers to stay on the field. Harbaugh is likely going to rest most of the starters Thursday against the Saints.  
   However, wide receiver Breshad Perriman could make his team debut, Harbaugh confirmed Monday. Perriman has suffered knee injuries over the past two years and has yet to play in a game since being taken in the first round of the 2015 NFL Draft. 
   "If he can play, he will play," Harbaugh said. "I do want to see him out there playing before he gets in a regular-season game. It would be something that we would want to see him do if we can. That will be up to the doctors."
NOTES, QUOTES
   --The Ravens suffered a huge blow when tight end Benjamin Watson tore his Achilles on the first play of the game against the Lions and ended his season. 
   This means Crockett Gillmore, who underwent offseason shoulder surgery, will enter the season as the starter. 
   Baltimore signed Watson because of the number of injuries the team endured last season at tight end. The Ravens are already playing without Maxx Williams (undisclosed) and Dennis Pitta (finger sprain). Two other tight ends, Ryan Boyle and Darren Waller, are suspended for the opening part of the season for violating the league's substance abuse policy. Daniel Brown, who converted from wide receiver to tight end for depth, could be asked to make an impact. Fullback Kyle Juszczyk could also play a bigger role in the offense. 
   "I'm not freaking out," Gillmore said. "We've got Dan (Brown) and Darren (Waller) and Nick (Boyle), and those guys are going to be around, as well as 'Juice' (Juszczyk), that's a versatile guy that can do everything. So, we're not sweating. We've got a bunch of receivers, too. So, we'll make it work."
   --Baltimore linebacker Terrell Suggs played in the third preseason game against the Lions after it was uncertain whether he would just wait for the Sept. 11 opener to get on the field. 
   It was the first in-game action since he tore his Achilles in the 2015 regular-season opener against the Denver Broncos. Suggs created matchup problems for the Lions' offensive line and had two tackles over 11 snaps. 
   "It felt great -- I'm not going to lie," Suggs said. "I keep being reminded of how fortunate I am every time I line up on the field. You really don't know how much you miss something until you don't have it anymore."  
   Fellow linebacker Elvis Dumervil (foot) will likely not play in the preseason games but he appears on track to be ready for the regular season opener. That would be a huge boost for the Ravens. In 2014 when they were both fully healthy, Suggs and Dumervil combined for 29 sacks -- the most by any duo in the league. 
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
PLAYER NOTES
   --RB Kenneth Dixon suffered a knee sprain late in the second quarter against the Detroit Lions and did not return. An MRI the following day revealed MCL damage and he will be out for at least four weeks. Dixon finished with 41 yards on six carries and was Baltimore's most effective runner. He appeared on track to take over the No. 2 spot on the depth chart behind starter Justin Forsett . 
   --CB Kyle Arrington (concussion) was placed on Injured Reserve on Monday. He has been out since early August. The move to IR became necessary because of the need to trim the roster to 75 players by Tuesday at 4 p.m. "Kyle has had a tremendous career, and what he decides to do going forward will be based on if he wants to move forward or move on to the rest of his life with his family," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "Those are decisions that guys make, and Kyle will make the right decision."
   --WR Steve Smith, who suffered a season-ending torn Achilles last year, was held out of the third preseason game. He will also likely not play in the final game Thursday in New Orleans when coach John Harbaugh is expected to rest most of his regular players. However, Smith has been running in practice and should be ready for the regular-season opener Sept. 11 against Buffalo. 
   --LB Matt Judon earned a sack for the third consecutive game. The rookie from Grand Valley State has played well enough to earn reps during the regular season. "I thought he stepped up," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "I thought he answered the call. He had a big sack for us and played fast. The speed of the game for him coming from the Division II level is going to be a transition."  He has also impressed his teammates. "Well, he gets on the passer," fellow linebacker Terrell Suggs said. "When you can rush the passer by community, it makes you a pretty much deadly team, and we like that. We've all still got work to do, you know what I'm saying, so we're just going to continue to work and get better."
   --RB Lorenzo Taliaferro (foot) was the only player on the Ravens PUP list for the third preseason game against Detroit. Taliaferro could be facing an uphill battle to make the final 53-man roster because of Baltimore's depth at running back. He has been placed on injured reserve in each of the past two seasons because of foot injuries.
   --S Terrence Brooks got the start Saturday against the Lions alongside Eric Weddle. Lardarius Webb is expected to be the starter with Weddle, but he did not play because of a "minor" undisclosed injury.   
   --WR Mike Wallace showed the Ravens a glimpse of his big-play ability against the Lions. He caught three passes for 37 yards and was in sync with quarterback Joe Flacco. Wallace will likely enter the season as one of the starters at wide receiver. He was also in the backfield for the opening kickoff. 
   --DB Anthony Levine Sr. is showing he could be a difference-maker. Levin has been solid throughout the preseason practices. In the third preseason game against Detroit, Levin had a sack and an interception in the first half. "I just take pride in my hard work," Levine said. "I just go out there, and I work hard. I work hard every day. That is mostly what I take pride in. I don't take pride in how many positions I can play; I just take pride in being able to go out there and work hard."
   --QB Ryan Mallett silenced any speculation that Josh Johnson could overtake him as the primary backup to Joe Flacco. Against the Lions, Mallett put together three straight scoring drives in the second quarter, and a 25-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Jeremy Butler. Mallett also scored on a 1-yard sneak. Mallett was 10 of 15 for 112 yards (111 passer rating).  
   --WR Jeremy Butler has been one of the top playmakers on offense throughout the preseason and likely played his way into a roster spot. The third-year player has caught touchdown passes in the past two games against the Colts and Lions. Butler has also been sure-handed in practice. He has shown all the signs of being a potentially valuable playmaker in the regular season. "Just hard work paying off, just trusting the process and staying patient," Butler said. "But, (I'm also) enjoying the game and having fun as it comes to you."
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CINCINNATI BENGALS
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INSIDE SLANT
<Headline>Bengals' Dalton feeling at ease in preseason</Headline>
   The Cincinnati Bengals lost a preseason game on Sunday night at Jacksonville and suffered yet another key injury. But, the explosiveness displayed by the Bengals on both sides of the ball in the first half showed the potential of this year's team.
   The offense under first-year coordinator, but long-time quarterbacks coach, Ken Zampese was an efficient machine on Sunday behind Andy Dalton's decisive pre-snap adjustments.
   "I feel like we do a good job of having good schemes and seeing good looks," Dalton said. "I feel like it's a big part of what we do with this offense. Anytime you feel like you can get the team in a good play, we'll have (good results)."
   The offensive line has taken a hit with Jake Fisher and Cedric Ogbuehi sidelined by injury. Russell Bodine and Clint Boling, however, twice helped spring big plays with downfield blocks, one a 28-yard screen the Jeremy Hill and another a 19-yard TD to Giovani Bernard.
   Dalton was 6-of-10 for 77 yards and a touchdown. His backup A.J. McCarron passed for 107 yards and a score.
   Cincinnati built a 21-3 lead before the Jaguars rallied for a 26-21 win, which did little to diminish the performance by the Bengals' first-teamers.
   What did take some luster off Sunday night's game were minor injuries to wide receiver A.J. Green and cornerback Adam Jones, and a more serious injury to running back and special teams stalwart Cedric Peerman who suffered a fractured forearm.
   "You have to worry about things that you can control," Dalton said. "But it's unfortunate that some guys have gotten hurt. I feel confident with what we have. We have to get ready for Sept. 11 (at New York Jets)."
   The defense appeared ready for the season opener as well, forcing three punts and limiting the Jaguars to just 90 yards.
   With the injuries piling up and the offense and defense looking season-ready on Sunday, it's likely most if not all of the Bengals' starters will watch from the sideline on Thursday night against the Colts (7:30 p.m.)
   "We're pressing for greatness," defensive lineman Carlos Dunlap said.
NOTES, QUOTES
   --The Cincinnati Bengals are mourning the passing of longtime groundskeeper Darian Daily who died on Saturday of an apparent heart attack while painting a high school football field. Daily, 45, had been the head groundskeeper at Paul Brown Stadium since 2003. "The news of Darian's passing is tragic to the entire Bengals' organization, and also I know to his colleagues with Hamilton County," a Bengals spokesman said. "Darian was not only a very hard worker, someone who had earned high honors for his work, he was a great individual."
   --The hits just keep on coming for the Bengals this preseason. Injuries to Green and Jones don't appear serious. But, that's not the case for Peerman, who suffered a fractured left forearm. Some reports suggest the injury could threaten his season. "Obviously I don't want to speculate," coach Marvin Lewis said, "but we have some great guys that can step in. Obviously he's done a great job for us and maybe guys at other positions will step up. It just changes how we go about things."
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
PLAYER NOTES
   --WR Brandon Tate was released by the Cincinnati Bengals.
   The eight-year veteran played in every Bengals regular-season and postseason game since joining the team as a free agent in 2011 after starting his career with the New England Patriots. 
   "We have to make the decisions we feel are best for the team, but sometimes they are tough ones," said coach Marvin Lewis. "Brandon has been a tremendous pro and a big part of the success our team has had the last five years. We wish him the very best."
   The University of North Carolina product is the franchise's all-time leader in punt return yards (1411) and stands second in kickoff return yards (3517). His Bengals receiving totals are 57-for-901, with six touchdowns. 
   The move opens the door for undrafted free-agent Alex Erickson to take over punt return duties. Erickson has had a stellar preseason, highlighted by his 80-yard punt return TD in the preseason opener against the Vikings. On Sunday night at Jacksonville, Erickson had punt returns of 39 and 19 yards and a 21-yard TD catch.
   --DT Brandon Thompson was placed on the reserve/physically unable to perform list. Thompson is rehabbing from a knee injury suffered in last year's regular-season finale. He will remain with the team for rehab and meetings, but may not practice for Weeks 1-6 of the regular season. Beginning the week following Week 6, he will begin a window of eligibility to return to practice under a roster exemption, if medically cleared.
   --DT Andrew Billings of Baylor was placed on the reserve/unjured list on Tuesday. Billings suffered a knee injury in practice on Aug. 10.
   --WR Mario Alford was released on Tuesday under the waived/injured category. He suffered an ankle injury in the Aug. 12 Minnesota game. If Alford clears waivers Wednesday, he will revert to the Bengals' reserve/injured list. Alford is in his second year.
   --K Jonathan Brown was waived on Tuesday. Brown, a rookie out of the University of Louisville, has completed rehab from a foot injury that caused him to be placed on reserve/injured on May 26.
   --WR Alex Erickson, an undrafted free agent out of Wisconsin, has done little to discourage the Bengals from making him a part of the initial 75 on the roster, if not the final 53. On Sunday night at Jacksonville, Erickson had punt returns of 39 and 19 yards and a 21-yard touchdown catch. Erickson introduced himself to Bengals fans with an 80-yard punt return for a touchdown in the preseason opener.  
   --RB Cedric Peerman suffered a fractured left forearm during Sunday's preseason game at Jacksonville. Coach Marvin Lewis wouldn't speculate on the severity of the injury but some reports indicated that it could be season-ending. Peerman is a valuable commodity on special teams. "We have some great guys that can step in," Lewis said "Obviously he's done a great job for us and maybe guys at other positions will step up. It just changes how we go about things."
   --CB Adam Jones would have played if Sunday night's game was a regular-season contest despite straining a calf muscle in pregame warmups. As a precaution, Jones remained on the sideline in street clothes for the game at Jacksonville but he's expected to be OK.
   --WR A.J. Green gave fans a bit of a scare when he limped to the sideline during Sunday night's preseason game at Jacksonville. It was a non-contact injury which occurred when Green made a cut. Green told reporters the injury is not serious and he would have returned had it been a regular-season game.
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CLEVELAND BROWNS
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INSIDE SLANT
<Headline>Browns' Jackson sees plenty of room for improvement</Headline>
   With only a little more than two weeks to go before games start to count, the Cleveland Browns have a lot to improve after being thrashed in all three phases of a 30-13 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Friday night.
   Robert Griffin was sacked five times in the first half before giving way to Josh McCown in the third quarter. All told, the Browns quarterbacks were sacked eight times. By contrast, Cleveland did not get to the Tampa Bay quarterbacks at all.
   "I think everybody thinks it is pass protection," Browns head coach Hue Jackson said on Saturday. "It could be other things. Just know that we did not function as a passing team in those areas last night. It's not just the line. I'll be the first to tell you that. Sometimes receivers need to be in the right place. Sometimes guys get re-routed, and all of a sudden, you might have to hold the ball a little bit here and there and sometimes the offensive line has to strain a little bit more.
   "For a passing game to work, everybody has a part in that, be it the quarterback, the line, the receivers, the backs."
   The Browns are 0-3 in preseason. Their last preseason game before the regular season begins on Sept. 11 in Philadelphia is a home contest against Chicago on Sept. 1 (8 p.m.). Traditionally, starters rest in the final game to avoid injury, but Jackson said after watching tape of the loss to the Buccaneers he might break tradition.
   The Browns have been beaten soundly on both sides of the ball. They added to their misery in Tampa by giving up a 73-yard punt return for a touchdown to Adam Humphries and a 43-yard punt return to Bernard Reedy.
   "I don't think the sky is falling at all," Jackson said. "I think what you see is a young football team that you are going to see some of that, especially early, until they get well grounded.
   "There were some good things and obviously, there were some things that were concerning. We have to continue to work at it. I never said we were going to be a juggernaut today or yesterday. We're going to keep working at this thing, and when the games start being played here in a couple weeks is when we have to be at our best."
   Griffin, McCown and Cody Kessler completed 19-of-31 passes without throwing an interception. They had an overall passer rating of 92.3, highlighted by Griffin throwing one pass to Josh Gordon for 43 yards and another 44 yards on the Browns' second offensive play.
   Last week, Griffin hit Terrelle Pryor for a 50-yard touchdown pass. In the first preseason game, Griffin's first pass of the game went to Pryor for 49 yards.
   The long passes work great when they are completed, but Jackson says the offense has to expand.
   "I love the big plays, but I feel like we can't be a team that just relies on big plays offensively," Jackson said. "We need to sustain drives. That gets back to running the football. Crow (running back Isaiah Crowell) had some really good runs in there at times, but it was nothing sustainable that we can kind of hang our hat on. We'll continue to get better. We're going to have to run the ball better than we have and we understand that. We're going to have to throw the ball better than we have."
   Crowell carried eight times for 39 yards against the Bucs.
   The Browns scored one touchdown in each of their three preseason games.
NOTES, QUOTES
   --The kicking battle between Patrick Murray and Travis Coons might have reached a turning point in Tampa. The Browns' first possession bogged down and when it did, Jackson sent Murray out to kick a 35-yard field goal. The kick was good.
   Coons was 28-of-32 on field goal tries with the Browns last season. All four misses were blocked. Murray has kicked better in practice, which is why he was rewarded with the first kick against the Bucs. Coons made a 27-yard kick in the second half, but at this point Murray is ahead in the battle.
   --The Browns gave up a touchdown on a 73-yard punt return by Humphries and also allowed a 43-yard return by Reedy. Punter Andy Lee, a 13-year veteran, made no effort to tackle Humphries and Jackson scolded him as he approached the sideline.
   Lee got the message. He helped run Reedy out of bounds. Still, Jackson is concerned the Bucs made two long returns.
   "Let's be honest, we're out there to play and if another guy has the ball, you're out there to go get it," Jackson said. "The second time he did that, so that was improvement. That's something to build on. The first time, he understood his conversation with me. That's not how we pursue it, and he made amends for that. On we go."
   --One reason special teams had problems might be linebacker Barkevious Mingo wasn't on the coverage units. The Browns on Thursday traded Mingo to the New England Patriots for a 2017 fifth-round draft pick. Mingo, picked sixth overall in 2013, was in danger of being cut after three disappointing seasons and an unproductive 2016 summer.
   --The chance to see wide receivers Terrelle Pryor, Josh Gordon and Corey Coleman on the field together was highly anticipated, but in the end it was a letdown. They played together only three plays, and one was negated by a holding call. No passes were completed while they were together.
   Coleman missed two weeks of training camp with a hamstring injury and is still catching up from time lost.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
PLAYER NOTES
   --QB Robert Griffin III will play against the Bears on Thursday in the Browns' final preseason game. Head coach Hue Jackson said the starters will play, but he will not say for how long.
   --CB Tramon Williams (toe) will not play against the Bears.
   --CB Justin Gilbert (concussion) will not play against the Bears.
   --WR Corey Coleman could get extensive playing time in the game. He missed the first two with a hamstring injury and did not catch a pass in the third preseason game.
   --P Andy Lee was traded to the Carolina Panthers along with a seventh-round choice on Monday for punter Kasey Redfern and a fourth-round draft choice.
   --K Patrick Murray beat out Travis Coons for the Browns kicking job.
   --WR Marlon Moore suffered a hip pointer and did not return.
   --WR Taylor Gabriel, fighting for a roster spot, led the Browns with six catches for 60 yards.
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PITTSBURGH STEELERS
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INSIDE SLANT
<Headline>Steelers' offense clicks with stars in the lineup>
   The Pittsburgh Steelers played with their full complement of starters on offense for the first time during the preseason Friday night in New Orleans, and the coaches had to like what they saw in the 27-14 victory.
   Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, receiver Antonio Brown and running back Le'Veon Bell looked like they were in midseason form, an encouraging sign for an offense with the stated goal of averaging 30 points per game this season.
   Roethlisberger was 12 for 17 for 148 yards and two touchdown passes in his only two series. Brown had four catches for 87 yards and a touchdown and Bell added 21 yards rushing on three carries and five catches for 37 yards.
   "Our offense played great," Roethlisberger said. "We were able to execute, move the ball and score and that's what we set out to do. We did a good job changing plays at the line of scrimmage and all the guys were on the same page while we were out there. When you are up-tempo like that you can slow a defense down. They can't always do the things they want to do. Our line loves it when we play like that. And when they have success, we have success."
   Coach Mike Tomlin, who watched his team be outscored 47-17 without his stars in the first two preseason games, said the first-team offense's performance was encouraging.
   "It was a good performance on a lot of fronts," Tomlin said. "Some of the men and significant players had an opportunity to play for the first time. They played in the manner which we expect them to play. More importantly than that, we put together a plan this week and I saw a better execution of that plan. That was a good step forward this week in terms of the play reflecting the preparation.
"It was a good night for us. It was good to get Ben some action. A.B., Le'Veon and all of those guys. It was a good, collective group effort. It was a necessary performance for us at this juncture. I'm excited about moving forward and starting the preparation for Carolina as we continue to work this thing that is called preseason."
   Unfortunately for the Steelers, they'll have to wait until October before all the stars are back together again. Tomlin is not expected to play his starters for more than a series, if at all, in the final preseason game Thursday at Carolina. After that game, Bell must serve a three-game suspension. 
   "I feel really good and I'm real glad I had a chance to carry and catch the ball out there," said Bell, who played in a game for the first time since tearing the PCL and MCL in his left knee Nov. 1. "I got into a rhythm early and I didn't have to think about (my knee) at all. And I got hit a few times and fell to the ground and got back up quick allowing me to shake off the rust a little bit. I just felt good.
   "Obviously I want to be a guy who's out there taking advantage of all situations and I'm glad Ben called my number throwing me the ball. I think I caught five or six balls and that's what I want to do. I'm a guy who can run and catch the ball and that's what will help our team win. We were clicking out there on all cylinders. If we could just take away some of the penalties, I think we'd be ready to start the season right now."  
   DeAngelo Williams, who rushed for 907 yards last season when Bell missed 10 games, will step in as the starting running back until Bell can return Week 4 against Kansas City. 
NOTES, QUOTES
   --Receiver Sammie Coates rebounded with a nice performance after two shaky ones in the first two preseason games. Coates caught two passes for 66 yards and a touchdown. He was plagued by fumbles and drops in the first two preseason contests. 
   "It felt great," he said. "We played great. I felt we executed really well and we moved the ball, especially in the first half. We got a lot of first downs especially on that long drive and that's exactly what we wanted to do.
   "We went out there with the first team with the mindset we wanted to pick up right where we left off last year. That means converting on third downs and moving the football. We were real successful doing that out there. That led to the touchdown catch I had in the first half and also the long ball I caught in the second half."
   --Defensive end Cam Heyward sustained a high ankle sprain that threatens to keep him out of the regular season opener in Washington. He was injured when a Saints offensive lineman blocked him low when he wasn't looking. 
   The NFL is trying to eliminate chop blocks from the game. It remains legal for linemen to block low, but they cannot go low when a defensive lineman is already engaged with another offensive lineman. 
   Heyward didn't have a problem with the block that injured him, but he said there were other chop blocks in the preseason game against the Saints that went uncalled. 
   "There were some other ones that were way more questionable," he said. "On that one, my eyes were inside and I didn't see him. He came back and got me on my ankle. I'm not going to complain about it. That's part of the game. But the ones where guys are holding someone else up and then another guy comes low, that's uncalled for.
   "I thought we were trying to get that out of our league. There were some instances, like one with (Javon) Hargrave where he was held up and this guy still went down. Those are the ones where I'm like 'didn't you just say this was a big point of emphasis?' There has to be changes and there has to be accountability on that level."
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
PLAYER NOTES
   --TE Ladarius Green was placed on the regular-season physically unable to perform list. He is not eligible to practice or play until after the sixth week of the regular season. Green, who signed a four-year, $20 million free agent contract in March, has been dealing with headaches. He has yet to practice with the Steelers.
   --TE Jesse James, a fifth-round draft choice in 2015, is the starter in the absence of Ladarius Green, who was placed on the regular-season physically unable to perform list. James only had eight receptions in limited playing time as a rookie, but he did catch a touchdown pass last week in a preseason game against the Saints.
   --CB Artie Burns, the rookie cornerback who was selected in the first round of the draft this spring, will see his first action of the preseason Thursday in Carolina (7:30 p.m. ET). Burns missed the first three games with a quad injury. Burns hopes he can find a role in the secondary at some point this season.  
   --DE Cam Heyward sprained his ankle against the Saints, but he said he would be ready for the Sept. 12 season opener in Washington. Heyward was injured when he was cut blocked by a Saints offensive lineman. 
   --OT Marcus Gilbert hyperextended his elbow against New Orleans and he's getting a second opinion from Dr. James Andrews, but he said he is going to play through the pain and be ready for the season opener in Washington. 
   --OT Jerald Hawkins, a rookie fourth-round pick out of LSU, has been placed on injured reserve. Hawkins injured his shoulder in a joint practice with the Lions in the second week of training camp. He tried to play a few days later in the first preseason game, but aggravated the injury and has been out since. 
   --LB Jordan Zumwalt, a sixth-round pick out of UCLA in 2014, was among the first cuts Sunday. Zumwalt, who spent the past two seasons on injured reserve, was attempting a comeback after hip surgery last summer. 
==============
HOUSTON TEXANS
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INSIDE SLANT
<Headline>Arrow up for Texans, Osweiler</Headline>
   Brock Osweiler delivered the football with precision Sunday, operating like a quarterback who has plenty of confidence in himself and his receivers' speed and hands.
   In a commanding performance that provided his most encouraging moments since signing a four-year, $72 million contract in March, the Texans' new starting quarterback displayed zip and accuracy during a 34-24 preseason victory over the Arizona Cardinals at NRG Stadium.
   Many of Osweiler's throws showed textbook form as his spirals connected with his receivers in stride.
   Osweiler looked more than prepared for the regular season as he concluded his preseason workload by completing 11 of 13 passes for 146 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions for a 139.1 passer rating. He started fast and remained on throughout nearly two quarters of action.
   "I wouldn't say on, but I would say I felt more comfortable than I have in the past," Osweiler said. "It goes back to every single time I get the opportunity to rep this offense, whether it be in a game or practice, I become a little more familiar with things.
   "I understand how the footwork should tie in to my progression, where we're trying to go, which matchups we're trying to exploit. A large credit has to go to our coaching staff getting us prepared."
   Osweiler fond rookie wide receiver Will Fuller for a 26-yard touchdown pass in the right corner of the end zone on a fly pattern.
   Osweiler could have had two touchdown passes if not for Fuller dropping a potential long touchdown pass on a go route earlier in the half.
   Nonetheless, Osweiler was impressive. Despite being sacked twice and not receiving any support from a nonexistent running game which generated just 19 yards on seven carries in the first half, the Texans' newly-acquired starter looked polished and strong-armed.
   "I thought he managed the offense well, made some good throws," Texans coach Bill O'Brien said. "I was pleased with the way he played. I like Brock's demeanor during the game, too. He's very observant and he's a good communicator with the coaches. That's something that stood out to me."
   Osweiler spread the football around liberally, also finding rookie wide receiver Braxton Miller early in the game on intermediate throws.
   Once Osweiler was done for the day in the second quarter, backup Tom Savage ran a smooth two-minute drill as he completed 3 of 4 passes for 68 yards, one touchdown pass to wide receiver Jaelen Strong and a 156.2 passer rating. The Texans built a 31-10 halftime lead behind the strength of their quarterbacks.
   "We took shots down the field," Pro Bowl wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins said of Osweiler. "He stayed in the game a little longer. You know one-on-one coverage, pick your poison."
   The Texans didn't orchestrate a specific game plan for the Cardinals' personnel, but did employ several four wide receiver and five wide receiver sets to take advantage of a promising group of skill players headlined by Hopkins.
   "Absolutely, when we get in to a five wide set, and I look out and see obviously all five guys who are extremely talented and can get open on any given play," Osweiler said. "There was a play, and you go to the sideline and look at the pictures, and, shoot, there was four guys open. It's just very impressive to see that. We have a very talented, skilled group in the offensive room, but they don't rest on their talent."
   The next time Osweiler will play in a game will be Sept. 11 when the Texans open the season against the Chicago Bears at NRG Stadium.
   Osweiler won't play in the Texans' fourth preseason game against the Dallas Cowboys on Thursday night. In three preseason games, he finished with 297 yards on 27 of 39 accuracy with two touchdowns and one interception for a 97.9 passer rating.
   "This will be probably the last time Brock plays and a number of these guys play until the Chicago game, so we wanted to play him for an extended time, not only to get him into a rhythm, but also be able to talk to him in between series and see if we can adjust things from series to series," O'Brien said.
   "There were some things that we need to improve upon, coaching and playing, but I thought overall he did a good job of coming over and calmly observing the plays that we had just run or understanding what we're going to try to do to improve on what we had just run. It was good."
NOTES, QUOTES
   In the anticipated fallout from his season-ending high-ankle sprain that required surgery, Texans rookie center Nick Martin is being placed on injured reserve.
The second-round draft pick from Notre Dame had been projected as an immediate starter until he was lost for the season when he was thrown to the ground and hurt his ankle during a blocking drill in a joint practice with the New Orleans Saints.
   Meanwhile, the Texans are also placing rookie kicker Ka'imi Fairbairn on injured reserve with a quadriceps injury along with safety Kurtis Drummond. Drummond has a leg injury.
   The Texans like Fairbairn's potential and want to evaluate him as a potential future kicking option. The Texans are sticking with incumbent Nick Novak as their kicker following a strong preseason in which he connected on all five field goals and seven extra points.
   Reserve safety Lonnie Ballentine will remain on the physically unable to perform list to start the regular season after undergoing knee surgery last year. Ballentine is out for at least the first six games under NFL rules.
   The Texans cut undrafted rookie wide receiver Tevin Jones, a League City native who attended Clear Creek High School.
   The Texans are now down to 78 players on the active roster and have until Tuesday afternoon to reach the NFL roster limit of 75 players.
   They cut rookie defensive tackle Ra'Zahn Howard, who was signed after going unselected in the NFL supplemental draft. The Texans also are cutting wide receiver Josh Lenz, offensive tackles Matt Pierson and Arturo Uzdaviniz and linebackers Ryan Langford and Carlos Thompson.
   "Roster decisions aren't easy," Texans coach Bill O'Brien said. "It's a tough time of year, especially for those players."
   --As a national controversy swirls around San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick after he chose to not stand for the national anthem as a protest about police and racial issues, Texans coach Bill O'Brien reacted to the issue.
   O'Brien didn't criticize Kaepernick, but emphasized his respect for the tradition.
   "I'm just going to tell you that we encourage our players to stand for the national anthem, to honor their country and that's the way we handle it," O'Brien said. "I'm not going to speak about any other team. I know (Texans owner) Mr. (Robert.) McNair, myself and Rick Smith are big believers in standing for the national anthem. I'm a football coach. I'm in charge of coaching the Houston Texans. I'm not going to comment on any other team."
   --Delivering a series of punishing tackles, hard-hitting Texans rookie safety K.J. Dillon displayed a lot of pop against the Arizona Cardinals.
Dillon led the Texans with eight tackles, including six solos, during a 34-24 victory at NRG Stadium.
Dillon emerged as a second-team All-Big 12 selection as a senior when star safety Karl Joseph tore his anterior cruciate ligament.
   "Once I'm on the field, I'm in my sanctuary," Dillon said. "I can act however I like to act. I'm a wild c hild."
   A fifth-round draft pick from West Virginia, Dillon believes strongly in using an intimidating factor.
   "I just like hitting people," Dillon said. "Once you hit somebody, they are going to be looking for you. Once you put that feat into their heart, they're not going to want to run the ball the same way, or catch the ball the same, or throw the ball the same or whatever they're doing. Once you put fear in their hearts, it's pretty much over."
   The Texans have seen steady improvement in Dillon over the past few weeks.
   "He's made a lot of progress, there's no doubt about it," Texans coach Bill O'Brien said. "He's a contact player. He enjoys the physical part of the game and he made some mistakes out there, but I thought overall he played the game very hard and he's doing a decent job of trying to get better every time he goes out there."
   --As he continues to learn on the job, Texans center Greg Mancz isn't a finished product.
   Entering his second NFL season, the replacement for injured rookie starter Nick Martin is adjusting to the rhythm of the Texans' offense and blocking schemes.
   The former undrafted free agent from Toledo started his third preseason game Sunday night during a win over the Arizona Cardinals.
   Cardinals linebacker Kevin Minter sacked quarterback Brock Osweiler on a blitz up the middle when Mancz was occupied on a double-team block of nose tackle Frostee Rucker. Running back Lamar Miller arrived too late to pick up the blitz.
   "Progress was made, but I'll watch it and see where we screwed up and work to fix it," Mancz said. "We'll figure it out. I think each game we get a little more comfortable as a group. We keep building the chemistry.
   --Texans special-teams ace Brian Peters displayed his versatility against the Arizona Cardinals.
Normally, Peters' role is limited to covering kicks and operating as a backup inside linebacker.
   Against the Arizona Cardinals, though, Peters also stepped in as the long snapper for punts when Pro Bowl long snapper Jon Weeks was sidelined with a minor calf injury.
   "Yeah, it was good," Texans coach Bill O'Brien said of Peters, who tied for the NFL lead last season with 17 special-teams tackles after being signed off of the Minnesota Vikings' practice squad. "Weeks had a little calf pull so we tried Peters there and he did a nice job. You know in that situation that you do have a guy, potentially, that could fill in as an emergency long snapper."
   --Texans backup safety Corey Moore was flagged for unnecessary roughness when he arrived late and delivered a high hit to Cardinals wide receiver Brittan Golden on an incomplete pass. The hit is likely to draw a fine from the league office.
   "I was in the middle of the field and I saw the ball thrown and I didn't know if he was going to catch it or not," Moore said. "I was trying to make sure and secure the tackle because he doesn't need the ball in his hand. I'm an aggressive player, but my intentions were to not let him catch the ball."
   --Texans rookie nose tackle D.J. Reader was evaluated and cleared for a potential concussion under the NFL concussion protocol.
   Reader left the Texans' preseason game against the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday to be evaluated.
Afterward, Reader said he felt good and was merely shaken up.
   "I don't think it's very, very serious," Texans coach Bill O'Brien said. "I believe it's a concussion, but he was cleared. He was cleared, so I think it's going to be fine."
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
PLAYER NOTES
   --OT Derek Newton (hamstring) is expected to return to practice this week.
   --OT Duane Brown (quad surgery) is not expected to play in the first game.
   --DE J.J. Watt (back surgery) is expected to return for the first game.
==================
INDIANAPOLIS COLTS
==================
INSIDE SLANT
<Headline>Injuries making Colts' preparation difficult</Headline>
   In the aftermath of the Indianapolis Colts' uneven performance on Saturday against Philadelphia, head coach Chuck Pagano doesn't have a lot of time to prepare for Thursday night's preseason finale at Cincinnati. 
   The Colts' injury issues, which weren't good heading into the Eagles game with 14 players forced to watch from the sidelines, got even worse when starting offensive guard Jack Mewhort left with a knee injury. 
   Cornerback Darius Butler, normally a slot defender who was pressed into a starter's role due to injuries at the position, went down with an ankle injury. 
   While the initial reports indicate that neither injury will keep either player out for an extended period of time, the temporary absences of Mewhort and Butler just add to Indianapolis' injury woes. 
   And with scheduled roster cuts coming up after the Bengals game, Pagano and his coaching staff will be put to the test in order to figure out which players to keep and which to part ways with. 
   "I know what we are capable of (as a team)," Pagano said. "I think you guys know from a talent standpoint what they are capable of. We've seen their body of work in past seasons. Again, when they haven't been out there and they are not playing day after day, down after down, playing together as a unit and there is continuity there, it's reason for concern.
   "I don't know. I know that we have to get back and we have to get them healthy. I know they will play hard. But there is going to be some rust to be knocked off because you haven't been out there. It's hard. It's not easy just to roll the thing out there and show up and be ready to roll without playing time."
   The Colts' offensive line, as in past seasons, has become the biggest issue. Prior to Mewhort being sidelined, offensive tackle Joe Reitz, rookie offensive guard Joe Haeg and offensive guard Hugh Thornton were all battling injuries. All three missed the Philadelphia game and will sit out this week's trip to Cincinnati.
   The makeshift offensive line struggled most of the night against the Eagles. 
   "Like I told them, I am disappointed like they are because we are better than that. I know we can play better than that. Again, I'm not going to make any excuses. But we've got some guys out of there right now that (would) have been in there," Pagano said. "So from a continuity standpoint, it makes a difference having five guys in there that have been in there day after day and week after week playing together. You start playing musical chairs again and it's tough."
NOTES, QUOTES
   --The Colts waived WR Justin Berger, S Alden Darby, OG Eric Herman, DT Ricky Lumpkin, TE Mike Miller, RB Chase Price, CB Winston Rose, DE Delvon Simmons, WR Josh Stangby, ILB Junior Sylvestre, WR Daniel Anthrop, OT Keith Lumpkin and RB Trey Williams. Indianapolis also released TE Konrad Reuland. 
   --Indianapolis signed former Jets and Patriots RB Stevan Ridley. Ridley (5-11, 220) has played in 60 career NFL games (26 starts) and totaled 685 carries for 2,907 yards (4.2 average) and 22 touchdowns. He also has 27 receptions for 144 yards and seven kickoff returns for 152 yards. 
   --Rookie OT Le'Raven Clark made his first preseason start against the Eagles. He quickly found out what life in the NFL is really like. 
  "The kid is a tough kid. He cares, he's smart, he's a battler. It's not too big for him. But the speed of the game is a little bit different," Pagano said. 
   --Veteran OT Anthony Castonzo struggled in 2015 and it looks like he is still having some issues. 
   "He is very critical of himself. When there is a bad play, one thing we talk to these guys about is you've got to be able to -- no matter what it is and whatever position you are playing -- if there is a bad play, you've got to be able to put it behind you and you can't dwell on it because it will lead to two or three other poor plays," Pagano said.
   "Anthony is a smart, smart football player. He is a great left tackle. He just has to play that consistently. He will be the first one to tell you that. I am not worried about A.C. He will get things fixed."
   --WR T.Y. Hilton acknowledges that the Colts need to get some things straightened out before the regular season opener against Detroit. 
   "We've got to focus on the details. We've got to be a detail-oriented team. We've got to execute at a more precise level than we did (against Philadelphia)," Hilton said. "That's what the preseason is for, and that's what practice is for. Come September 11th, when that home opener starts, we've got to be ready to go."
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
PLAYER NOTES
   --T Anthony Castonzo is nursing a strained triceps muscle and did not practice on Tuesday. Castonzo, who did not play well in the Colts' preseason loss to Philadelphia last week, is not expected to play Thursday night at Cincinnati (7:30 p.m. ET).
   --TE Dwayne Allen continues to rest after suffering soreness in his hip. He is expected to sit out Thursday night's preseason game at Cincinnati (7:30 p.m. ET). Allen has had hip issues in the past and underwent surgery prior to last season to help alleviate the situation. The current hip issue is not thought to be serious and he is slated to start against Detroit on Sept. 11.
   --CB Antonio Cromartie, who was added to the Colts roster last week, is progressing with learning all the nuances of the team's defensive scheme. Cromartie did not play against the Eagles week and isn't expected to face the Bengals on Thursday night (7:30 p.m. ET). The plan calls for the former Pro Bowl participant to start against Detroit on Sept. 11. "He's getting better. He hasn't played football. He's in good shape, but there's a difference between LA Fitness shape and training camp shape, right?" head coach Chuck Pagano said. "He's getting better. I'm glad we have a little bit more time."
   --OLB Trent Cole has been having a good training camp and preseason, according to coach Chuck Pagano. "I think Trent has played as good as he's played since he's been here. He's had a great training camp and he's in great shape physically," Pagano said. "Mentally, another year in virtually a similar scheme, he's adapted really well. He's doing a nice job. He had some really productive rushes."
   --C Ryan Kelly looked like a first-year player in last week's preseason loss to Philadelphia. Although Kelly is listed as a starter, he will most likely play for a few series to begin Thursday night's game at Cincinnati (7:30 p.m. ET). He needs the work. "You're never as good or as bad as you think you're going to be. All the mistakes you've ever made are correctable as long as you can transition from in the classroom onto the field and correct those mistakes," he said. 
   --CB Tevin Mitchel is expected to get a long look against the Bengals on Thursday night (7:30 p.m. ET). Mitchel has battled injuries since joining the Colts, but he has looked good enough when healthy by to warrant playing time in the final preseason game. "He's got length, the right mindset, top-end speed and cover ability. He fits the job description perfectly. He just hasn't been able to stay healthy," Colts coach Chuck Pagano said. "So knock on wood. Get him to game time and get him some significant reps in that ball game and see how it shakes out. The guy is a football player. He loves to play the game. He's got a skill set that fits what we like."
====================
JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS
====================
INSIDE SLANT
<Headline>Beachum starts at left tackle for Jaguars</Headline>
   Do 23 plays constitute enough time for a left tackle and left guard who have never played together to be ready for the start of the regular season?
   The Jacksonville Jaguars are counting on it as that's the number of snaps that tackle Kelvin Beachum and guard Luke Joeckel received in last Sunday's win over the Cincinnati Bengals. 
   It was the first action of the season for Beachum, who had missed the first two games as the team closely monitored his recovery from ACL surgery midway in the 2015 season when he was the starting left tackle for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
   When the Jaguars signed Beachum as a free agent in March, the thinking was that he and Joeckel would battle it out for starting honors at the left tackle spot, with the loser of this competition moving to guard. 
   It was expected to be one of the more competitive battles of training camp, although it never materialized. Beachum was relegated to the sideline and individual drills by the third practice of camp. That's where he's been ever since, only this week showing enough that the coaching staff inserted him into the lineup at the tackle spot, forgoing any competition between him and Joeckel.
   It has to be a disappointment for Joeckel, who has openly said that he would prefer to play tackle. The problem is that Joeckel never showed enough in his first three years to lock down the left tackle spot. 
   He had a disastrous final game of the 2015 season, one in which he was fully or partially responsible for allowing the Houston Texans to record five sacks against quarterback Blake Bortles.
   But Joeckel worked hard during the offseason and with Beachum on the sideline saw the majority of time at the left tackle spot, getting in some reps at the guard spot with the idea that if Beachum returned to the lineup late in the preseason, Joeckel would at least have spent some time at guard. 
   Jaguars coaches lauded Joeckel's work in training camp, calling it the best camp he's had since joining the Jaguars. Even with such strong words, it wasn't enough for Joeckel to retain his starting spot at tackle, instead moving to the guard spot for Sunday's game with Beachum's return.
   "I just got to be ready for guard Week 1," Joeckel said on Tuesday. "That's the mindset I've taken all camp and all offseason, to be the best guard I can be and be the best tackle I can be. I feel like it's been a successful came and that I've done some good things. I've definitely improved on a lot of things, but I've got to be ready to go at Week 1 at guard.
   "It's the first game I've ever played at guard, but definitely I've got to improve. (There) are a lot of things I can control and when you see that on tape, things you can control, you take some positives. I can go out and I can fix that. (Cincinnati) has a good defensive front. It's a good test but I've definitely got to get better by Week 1."
   Joeckel said he hasn't reached out to any other guards around the league for advice.
   "No, I really haven't," he said. "I just kind of am taking it my own way. I just try to keep that same mindset if I'm at guard or tackle. Just go out there and improve my craft."
   Joeckel has benefited from having one of the elite line coaches in the league. Jaguars assistant Doug Marrone is well respected throughout the league and has held a head coaching job (Buffalo) for several years in addition to his numerous years as an offensive line coach. Joeckel said his relationship with Marrone is solid and that he's helped make the transition from tackle to guard a smooth one.
   "He's such a detailed, technique-oriented coach," Joeckel said. "We've got things to fix. You've got things to work on every single day but that's pretty much every guy at every position on this line and every guy that's a backup. No one has the perfect technique. Everyone's constantly working on their technique, constantly fixing the little minute details to be the best they can be and that's what I've got to go out and do."
   That's the extent of Joeckel's in-game action prior to the Jaguars' regular-season opener against Green Bay on Sept. 11. Bradley made it clear that neither Beachum nor Joeckel would play in the team's final preseason game in Atlanta on Thursday (7 p.m. ET). That means he'll have a week's worth of practice before the Packers' game for him and Beachum to fine-tune their playing side-by-side. Joeckel feels he'll be ready come the opener.
   "I got some reps in practice and all that kind of stuff and had about a week-and-a-half in the middle of the training camp and got a lot of reps at guard during that time," he said. "At guard the one-on-one blocks aren't too much different than tackle. But it's different steps and all that kind of stuff. That's something that I've got to keep working on but practice will be good for that."
   The Jaguars are counting on Joeckel being ready by that time. It won't be an easy task with the Packers bringing a stout, experienced defensive line. There will be no time for learning on the spot. The Jaguars are counting on their new left guard to be ready to play like a veteran and to act like he and Beachum have been a solid tandem for the past several years. 
The success of the Jaguars' offense hinges on such.
NOTES, QUOTES
   --A year ago at this time, Jaguars fans were bemoaning the fact that multi-talented tight end Julius Thomas was missing not only preseason contests due to a broken hand, but that he would likely miss the first four games of the regular season as well. 
   The Jaguars had acquired Thomas from the Denver Broncos during free agency as a measure of helping a struggling passing game. But Thomas was a non-factor until the second half of the season when he and quarterback Blake Bortles finally seemed to develop a connection.
   That set up anticipation for this season as a healthy Thomas is expected to emerge as a potent weapon in the passing game. If it's to happen, it won't be until the regular season. 
   Thomas, who like other Jaguars starters will likely miss Thursday's final preseason game at Atlanta, has caught just one pass for four yards in the three preseason contests that he's played in. He's been 100 percent so it's not because of any injury that his numbers are so low. 
   Thomas' only catch came in last week's game against Cincinnati when he made his 4-yard reception. The thinking with Thomas was to find a way for him to have a few catches against Cincinnati so that he could start the regular season on a positive note. That failed to happen, however, and now the Jaguars will enter the Green Bay game wondering how much help they'll get from Thomas.
   --First-year defensive end Dante Fowler continued to struggle with the Jaguars. Fowler, who missed his entire rookie season last year after tearing his ACL in his first offseason practice session with the team, had a strong showing in this past year's offseason practices.    
   That carried over to training camp where Fowler was the talk of the defense the first couple of weeks of camp. But fans have heard and seen less and less of Fowler since then.
   He's been lost in obscurity in the Jaguars three preseason games thus far. 
   After starting the first two preseason games, he was relegated to backing up rookie Yannick Ngakoue, despite having been listed as the starter up until hours before game-time. 
   And once again, Fowler did little to show that he can be counted on as a disruptive force for the Jaguars. His name did not show up in the final defensive stats, i.e. no tackles, no sacks, no pressures.
   Jaguars coach Gus Bradley said it wasn't a demotion for Fowler, but rather a situation where the team wanted to get more looks at Ngakoue. He also liked the way Fowler responded to the challenge that the coaching staff issued him last week.
   "He responded really well," Bradley said. "I think the big thing with Dante is just his conditioning. He was going two reps a set and we just felt like he needed some extra conditioning to play at the tempo we wanted him to and at the level we wanted him to and he did a great job handling it."
   Fowler isn't likely to play in the Jaguars' final preseason game on Thursday against Atlanta, so he'll enter the regular season playing at a mediocre level at best. The coaching staff is still high him though so he'll likely regain his starting spot by the time the Jaguars play their opener against Green Bay on Sept. 11.
   --Backup linebacker Hayes Pullard thought he had given the Jaguars a lift midway through the second quarter in Sunday's game against Cincinnati. Instead he likely subjected himself to a serious of jokes and one-liners this week as the team prepares to close out its preseason schedule with a game in Atlanta on Thursday (7 p.m.).
   The setting was Jacksonville had the ball at the Bengals 1-yard line on third down. Pullard came into the game as a blocking back behind Blake Bortles and in front of running back T.J. Yeldon. 
   With many suspecting the linebacker to blast into the line and create a hole for Yeldon, the Jaguars crossed up that thinking by faking to Pullard, who then drifted out into the flat where he was uncovered. 
   Bortles threw him a short pass which he grabbed and dashed into the end zone for what appeared to be a touchdown. But officials flagged the Jaguars for an illegal substitution as Pullard had failed to report to the referee that he was in the game as an eligible receiver, something he had to do since he was wearing No. 52. 
   The five-yard penalty followed was followed by another Jaguars' infraction and then an incompletion, forcing them to kick a field goal and lose a potential four points. 
   But just when it appeared that Pullard's gaffe might end up costing his team the game, he responded with an even bigger play in the fourth quarter. 
   With Jacksonville trailing 21-19, Pullard stepped in front of Bengals receiver Michael Bennett at the Jaguars' 32 and made the timely interception. He then raced 68 yards to the end zone to give Jacksonville the lead for good.
   "He did a great job (on his interception)," Jaguars coach Gus Bradley said of Pullard. "His drop and how he read the quarterback and how he read the formation and the routes, he put it all together there. It was a great play, it was a great play by him."
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
PLAYER NOTES
   --WR Allen Robinson was presented with the 2016 Jaguars Sponsorship and Courage Award at the team's kickoff luncheon on Tuesday. Robinson has been very active in the community, supporting children and financially-strapped families.
   --DT Richard Ash was a long shot to make the Jaguars roster at the start of training camp. But the first-year player who spent the 2015 season on the team's practice squad before being promoted to the roster the final week, has had a solid training camp. "There were a couple times he was out of his gap, but there was a couple times he showed his ability and strength," coach Gus Bradley said about Ash's performance in the Cincinnati game last Sunday.
  --S Jarrod Wilson looks like he might be one of the few undrafted rookies to make the Jaguars roster in 2016. He has shown consistency in the secondary and with special teams in training camp and has drawn the attention of Jaguar coaches. "He will learn from his mistakes quickly. He is really in tune," Bradley said about Wilson.
   --QB Brandon Allen could play the entire game on Thursday against Atlanta. The Jaguars are solid with Blake Bortles as a starter and Chad Henne as his backup at quarterback, and they won't want to risk injury to either in the meaningless game. There are no other quarterbacks on the roster after Max Wittek was released, so the rookie Allen will have the whole game to showcase his talents.
  --OT Rashod Hill is another undrafted rookie that will see extensive action on Thursday. He is in a position that he could claim a roster spot with a strong showing. With the status of injured Josh Wells a question mark, there is still a battle for a backup tackle along the offensive line. Hill could factor into the equation with a good effort against the Falcons.
  --WR Arrelious Benn has one last opportunity to show Jaguar coaches that he should be included in the mix of wide receivers that make the team. Benn may be the second-fastest player of the group (behind only Marqise Lee) and has more experience than some others with 37 games (24 starts) in three seasons with Tampa Bay. What Benn is fighting is the fact that he  spent the entire 2013, 2014 and 2015 seasons on injured reserve with various injuries.
  --OG Mackenzy Bernadeau started training camp in the hunt for a starting position at left guard. Now he is in the hunt just to make the roster. Bernadeau has not distinguished himself in training camp and will need a strong game Thursday against Atlanta to show the coaching staff he is worthy of making the roster. He was a free-agent acquisition from Dallas.
  --CB Aaron Colvin isn't expected to dress for the Atlanta game, meaning he has seen his last action for the Jaguars for a month. Colvin was suspended for the first four games of the season due to a violation of the league's substance abuse program. He was able to play in the team's first three games and practice in training camp, but he is now sidelined for the month of September and isn't eligible to return to the Jaguars until after the Jaguars game in London on Oct. 2 against Indianapolis.
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TENNESSEE TITANS
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INSIDE SLANT
<Headline>Titans part ways with former third-round CB Wreh-Wilson</Headline>
   After three years plus one training camp, the Tennessee Titans pulled the plug on former third-round pick Blidi Wreh-Wilson on Sunday.
   Wreh-Wilson, who started 14 games over three years, including 11 starts in 2014, in many ways came to typify the problems the Titans have had the past few years in hitting on draft choices. When the Titans drafted Wreh-Wilson from Connecticut, they envisioned a cornerback with good size, decent speed and adequate cover skills -- one they figured they could plug into the secondary and fill a spot for several years.
   For whatever reasons, it never materialized. Time and again Wreh-Wilson was victimized by giving up big plays, none more telling than in Week 2 of 2014 when he got caught in no-man's land on a throwback pass from Bengals receiver Mohamed Sanu to quarterback Andy Dalton. On the play, Wreh-Wilson had two choices: He could pick off Sanu's wobbly pass and probably return it for a touchdown, or he could take a free shot at Dalton, who had turned into a pass receiver. Wreh-Wilson's indecisiveness resulted in neither of those things happening. Instead, it went for a Cincinnati touchdown.
   Though Wreh-Wilson said he had moved past the play, Titans fans never did, and Wreh-Wilson became a symbol of all that had become wrong with the organization. Last year, the Titans wound up making Wreh-Wilson a healthy scratch for the final five games of the year, after he had been in position to make other plays, but was unable to. Though he played better in camp and preseason this year, the benching from 2015 was an indicator that his days in Tennessee were clearly numbered.
   In fairness to Wreh-Wilson, he answered to three different head coaches and two radically different systems in his three-plus seasons as a Titan. Because of his draft status as a third-round pick, at least in the short term, someone thought Wreh-Wilson could play in the NFL and that might earn him a look or two elsewhere. Given all that he's been through in Tennessee, a fresh start somewhere else might be for the best.
   Others let go were defensive end Ropati Pitoitua, linebacker Deiontrez Mount, center Andy Gallik (waived/injured), safety Lamarcus Brutus, guard Nick Ritcher, receiver Donte Foster, cornerback Tyler Patmon, defensive end Mike Smith, receiver Reece Horn and linebacker Amarlo Herrera.
NOTES, QUOTES
   --Perhaps the biggest surprise among the Titans' early cuts was the release of linebacker Deiontrez Mount on Sunday. Mount, a sixth-round pick last year, missed most of his rookie year with a torn ACL. He was back in training camp and seemed to be doing well, at least as a pass rusher, recording a sack in the preseason opener vs. San Diego.
   But the former Louisville standout was apparently caught in a numbers game at outside linebacker, where Brian Orakpo, Derrick Morgan, Kevin Dodd and David Bass are locked in and 2016 seventh-rounder Aaron Wallace now appears to have the inside track for the final spot at the position. Additionally, inside linebacker Nate Palmer can back up outside too.
   "Again, you're talking about another position where our depth is better than it was last year and we've added some younger players. We've added with the draft," Titans coach Mike Mularkey said. "We've got some healthy ones back. We've got some that can play both with Nate Palmer. We have more depth there right now, and that was a position, based on this cut, we felt like that was the best move for us."
   --Another player of note who was released by the Titans in the first round of cuts was defensive end Ropati Pitoitua, who also had been with the club since 2013. Pitoitua was another player who was often a healthy scratch in 2015 and was also owed a $3 million base salary for the upcoming season. Pitoitua seemed to suffer when the Titans moved from a 4-3 scheme in 2013 to a 3-4 system in 2014. He signed with the Titans on a one-year deal in '13 and then signed another three-year extension following a solid season that year.
   --The left guard competition is over -- at least for now. Quinton Spain, who had been the favorite after starting six games last year at the position, was declared the starter after he played the entire first half with the first team in Saturday's win over the Raiders. The plan was to give Sebastian Tretola first-string reps as well, but the Titans offense was playing in such a rhythm that coach Mike Mularkey did not want to make any lineup changes in the first half.
   "I think we're going to go into the Minnesota game and I would say that right now," Mularkey said. "We're not going to have a lot of opportunities this next game based on how we're going to play it to really give anybody a fair shot. We were going to try to get (Sebastian) Tretola into it in the second quarter, but when that long drive took off, it was hard to make that substitution. And then we weren't going to change things in the second half."
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
PLAYER NOTES
   --CB Blidi Wreh-Wilson, a former starter in 2014, was among the Titans cuts as they get to 75 players by Tuesday's deadline. Wreh-Wilson had struggled as a cornerback and was even moved to safety to try and improve his stock.
   --DE Ropati Pitoitua, a free agent signed in 2013 originally, was let go after he began losing snaps to a pair of rookie in practice and games in Austin Johnson and Mehdi Abdesmad.
   --C/G Andy Gallik, who had his knee scoped after getting a second opinion on it, was waived/injured and should revert to injured reserve once he clears waivers.
   --CB Perrish Cox should return this week against Miami after missing all three previous preseason games with an ankle injury.
   --WR Kendall Wright should return this week after missing the entire preseason with a hamstring injury.
   --QB Marcus Mariota and many of the starters won't play more than one series when the Titans face the Dolphins to close preseason on Thursday.
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DENVER BRONCOS
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INSIDE SLANT
<Headline>Broncos put their trust in QB Siemian</Headline>
   If a second-year quarterback with no regular-season passes to his name can be considered a "safe" choice, Trevor Siemian is it.
   Rookie Paxton Lynch's promise is palpable, but his learning curve is steep, as evidenced by the fact that he is still working to master the scheme and making play calls in the huddle. Veteran Mark Sanchez had some bright moments in practice and preseason games, but continued to be plagued by giveaways, and his three turnovers in approximately two quarters of preseason play did nothing to show that his career issues would be any different in Denver.
   Siemian wasn't flawless this summer; in fact, because of two interceptions, he had the lowest quarterback rating of Denver's three quarterbacks in preseason play. But he didn't take any sacks, bounced back from his second interception with a touchdown drive last Saturday against the Rams, and perhaps more important, earned plaudits from teammates and coaches for his composed demeanor in the huddle.
   "I think he's earned the right to be our guy," Broncos coach Gary Kubiak said. "When I go back and I look at the body of work throughout the course of the offseason -- I watch training camp and (watch) throughout the preseason, and how far he's come. I watch how much he's improved, in my opinion, the grasp that he has on what we're doing. 
   "To me, he's earned the right to be our starter. I'm very proud of him. It's not that the other guys didn't do something, it's really more about how far Trevor has come as a player."
   Kubiak informed his three quarterbacks of his decision Monday morning. Shortly thereafter, he informed the team at its meeting to begin the final week of the preseason.
   The decision met with the approval of wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders, who had high praise for Siemian.
   "He's very poised. Even when he comes into the huddle, he's always the same guy," Sanders said. "I remember when he first came in, I said, 'You remind me of Aaron Rodgers,' in the way that he goes about his business."
   That's lofty praise, but it's easy to see why Sanders holds Siemian in high esteem. Sanders was a frequent target of Siemian's during first-team work in training-camp practices, and the two combined for 69 yards on six receptions during just over three quarters of preseason work together when Siemian was on the first team.
   "I remember seeing him last year, when I first started seeing him throw, and he was the guy that I was throwing with prior to games last year. I remember telling Demaryius (Thomas), 'This dude has an arm. He can make every single throw.' It's just all about opportunity in this league and he made the most of his opportunity, even last year."
   And it's an opportunity unlike any other ever seen. Siemian will become the first quarterback in NFL history to open a team's Super Bowl title defense as a starter despite having never thrown a regular-season pass.
   A single end-of-first-half kneel-down at Pittsburgh last Dec. 20 is Siemian's only regular-season snap. A year before that, he was recovering from a torn ACL and nursing the wounds of a senior season at Northwestern in which he had more interceptions (11) than touchdown passes (seven). He was considering a career in real estate.
   Then the Broncos examined him closely. Kubiak and quarterbacks coach Greg Knapp saw some raw tools -- intelligence and a strong arm that could fire passes that knifed through the tricky Lake Michigan winds of Evanston, Ill. His footwork and ability to work under center and read defenses needed polish. From Knapp and Kubiak, he got it -- as well as a gentle reminder not to try to be Peyton Manning, the future Hall of Famer and predecessor who casts a shadow.
   But Siemian has tried to step out of it by playing to his gifts.
   "I just tried to stay within myself," he said, "be myself day-in and day-out, be the best teammate that I can be and learn as much I could."
   Now he has the chance of a lifetime.   
NOTES, QUOTES
   --Although Trevor Siemian made fewer mistakes over the course of the summer than Mark Sanchez, there will be errors that go along with playing a first-time NFL starting quarterback. At times he locks in on receivers. At others he doesn't get to the second and third read.
   The Broncos have a talented roster, in spite of free-agent losses. Their players know it. And that talent is going to have to pick up Siemian.
   Those players gave him a loud ovation in a team meeting Monday morning when Gary Kubiak announced that Siemian would be the starter. 
   "We're corralling around him, no matter what," said outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware. "You can make mistakes or you can play a perfect game. No matter what, you have to have the guys back saying, 'You know what, no matter what, we support you,' because sometimes the defense won't play well, or the offense won't play well or special teams won't play well, but if everybody comes together, that's when you win games."
   And in the parlance popularized by the Patriots, that means everyone doing their job.
   "When you think about team, there is no 'I' in 'TEAM,' but if I don't do my job, the team suffers. I tell the guys that all of the time," Ware said. "If Trevor doesn't do his job, the team suffers."
   --Rookie Paxton Lynch's time may come later this season. But it may depend as much on Siemian's play as his own continued progress on the practice field.
   If Lynch continues running the scout team, as he did last week, the first-round pick will get the chance to face perhaps the best defense in football on a daily basis, giving him an opportunity to adjust to the speed at which he will have to play on game days. 
   That experience last season helped Siemian prepare for the opportunity he now has, and it could aid Lynch in the coming weeks and months.
   "Paxton is still a young quarterback," Broncos wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders said. "Sometimes it's good that he can sit back and be able to grow without playing and the pressure of the media beating down on his head. He can just sit back and really get a true introduction into the National Football League and be able to understand it and be able to grow in this playbook."
   Lynch is expected to play the entire game Thursday against the Arizona Cardinals, and barring an injury, he will end up seeing more preseason snaps than Siemian and Mark Sanchez combined.
   "He needs to play every rep he can play," Kubiak said.
   --The "other" competition on the Broncos roster -- that of punter -- tilted away from the incumbent veteran.
   Britton Colquitt did not play Saturday against the Rams, leaving all of the punting and holding to seventh-round pick Riley Dixon. Dixon has a net preseason average of 41.2 yards -- 1.5 yards better than that of Colquitt -- but Colquitt has dropped a higher percentage of his punts inside the 20. Colquitt was released Tuesday.
   The biggest differences between the two were in salary and as a holder. Colquitt has a $4 million cap charge, and the Broncos saved $3.25 million by releasing him. Dixon makes the league minimum.
   As a holder, Dixon struggled to get timing with Brandon McManus, but the chemistry between the two has improved. After a spate of misses in practice with Dixon holding, McManus was perfect with Dixon last Saturday.
   QUOTE TO NOTE: "I didn't have any doubt when I made the decision. I felt very strongly that he had won the job. That's exactly what I told the quarterbacks and the football team, that I felt he deserved the right to go out there and be our starting quarterback." -- Broncos coach Gary Kubiak, on naming Trevor Siemian the starter.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
PLAYER NOTES
   --QB Paxton Lynch will start and play the entire game Thursday. Broncos coach Gary Kubiak wants to get Lynch a look from start to finish, and with players with whom he has familiarity from taking second- and third-team snaps the past three weeks.
   --TE Jeff Heuerman could play Thursday, which would mark his first game repetitions since the preseason opener. Heuerman returned to practice this week after being sidelined since Aug. 17 because of a hamstring injury.
   --P Riley Dixon won the job after posting a slightly better net average than Britton Colquitt (41.2 to 39.7). His improvement as a holder for Brandon McManus and his rookie contract also helped tip the scales toward the seventh-round pick.
   --P Britton Colquitt cited an inability to come to a restructured contract as a reason for his release Tuesday. Colquitt told Mile High Sports Radio that the Broncos offered him a three-year contract, but that the sides could not come to an agreement on a guarantee. Colquitt had been scheduled to make $4 million this year. The Broncos saved $3.25 million by releasing him in favor of Riley Dixon, who outpunted the veteran in the preseason, 41.2 net yards to 39.7.
   --WR Demaryius Thomas is now the longest-tenured Bronco on the active roster in the wake of P Britton Colquitt's release. Thomas was the first of two Broncos first-round picks in the 2010 draft; Tim Tebow was the other. Thomas is now the only player on the roster who joined the team before John Elway rejoined the organization in 2011.
   --TE Garrett Graham was placed on injured reserve Tuesday because of a shoulder injury. Graham was sidelined the past few weeks, but he had returned to practice on a limited basis Monday.
   --RB Ronnie Hillman could play extensively Thursday as the Broncos try to sort out their backup running back situation. C.J. Anderson and Devontae Booker appear set, but Hillman, a five-year veteran, is in the thick of a competition with practice-squad RB Kapri Bibbs and third-year veteran Juwan Thompson, who can play running back and fullback.
   --OL Ty Sambrailo is out of an elbow brace, and he could resume some football-related activities next week. Sambrailo has not practiced since hyperextending his elbow in practice July 31.
   --OLB Dekoda Watson leads the Broncos with four sacks this preseason, twice as many as the next two on the list (Vontarrius Dora and Sadat Sulleyman). Watson has carved out a role on special teams and appears to be in good shape to make the roster, even though he is listed as a third-teamer at the deep outside linebacker position.
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KANSAS CITY CHIEFS
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INSIDE SLANT
<Headline>Chiefs' defense starting to come together</Headline>
   The start of the 2016 regular season is now less than two weeks away and key pieces of the Kansas City Chiefs' defense have started to return to the team after being gone since last January's loss to New England in the AFC playoffs.
   Outside linebacker Tamba Hali came back last week after missing the offseason, training camp and most of the preseason after having knee surgery. Safety Eric Berry returned to the team on Sunday, the first time he has been back in the team's locker room since the postseason due to his contract.
   That leaves just outside linebacker Justin Houston missing from the K.C. defense with the opener against San Diego on the horizon. Unlike Hali and Berry, who should be on the field against the Chargers, Houston continues to rehab a knee injury that required  surgery during the 2015 season. His return remains in question.
   In the first two preseason games, the Chiefs' first defense was just so-so, especially against the run, allowing 110 rushing yards to Seattle and 139 to Los Angeles. But the Bears ran for just 59 yards on Saturday. Overall, Andy Reid's No. 1 group allowed Jay Cutler and the Bears' offensive starters 18 yards on 18 plays and just two first downs.
   "I told the guys right before the game this is dress rehearsal for our first game," said inside linebacker Derrick Johnson. "This is dress rehearsal and we want to make it look good. Today we made it look good.
   "We came out with a lot of energy. We started fast and that was our whole motto for the day -- starting fast. We hadn't started as fast in the last two games."
   That was done without Hali and Berry, and it's unlikely that either one will play in the final preseason game against Green Bay on Thursday in Kansas City (8 p.m. ET). And, without Houston, there remains uncertainty hovering over the K.C. defense.
   But there was hopeful news on other fronts for the defense. Cornerback Phillip Gaines returned to play for the first time in the preseason. Gaines is coming off a torn ACL and although he only played 11 snaps, he raises the level of competition at right cornerback.
   "It's not just the injury; you've got to get back out there, see things in football speed and then, we want your body to go where your mind is telling it to go as quick as it can," said defensive coordinator Bob Sutton. "I think that's starting to come back for him."
   But general manager John Dorsey obviously thought his secondary needed more talent when he made a deal with San Francisco for cornerback Kenneth Acker. The addition cost the Chiefs a seventh-round choice in the 2018 NFL Draft. Just how Acker will fit into the picture at cornerback remains to be seen.
   The defense also has a question mark at the inside linebacker spot next to Johnson. Over the last two seasons, that spot has been handled by Josh Mauga. But he's missed the last month with a groin injury, and that has given Ramik Wilson and Justin March opportunities with the No. 1 defense.
   There has been a nice addition to the mix with the play of the Chiefs' first draft choice in 2016, defensive lineman Chris Jones. The 6-6, 310-pounder out of Mississippi State has made good use out of his long arms (34 1/2 inches) and big hands (10 3/4 inches) with quickness. He is playing most of the time on the other side of the line of scrimmage. No question he will be part of the line rotation with Dontari Poe, Allen Bailey and Jaye Howard.
   "We continue to come out and do a lot of good things," said Poe. "I feel like we can be the best we've ever been since I've been here (fifth season.) I feel like if we keep pushing we'll be right where we want to be."
NOTES, QUOTES
   --Other than missing three weeks in a dorm room and the bumps and bruises of training camp practices, safety Eric Berry gained nothing from staying away from the Chiefs until Sunday. When he and the team were unable to reach a long-term deal before the NFL deadline on July 15, Berry was locked into the franchise player tag of $10.8 million for the season.
   While his teammates slept on lumpy beds and broiled in the Missouri summer heat, Berry was putting in his own workouts. He reported back to the Chiefs in good physical condition, but not quite in shape to play in games.
   "We've got to get him going and get him into football shape now," said Chiefs head coach Andy Reid. "He's in great shape, but just get him into football shape."
   Berry will not play in Thursday's preseason finale for the Chiefs against Green Bay.
   "We'll likely just give him time within practice to get himself ready for the opener," said Reid.
   A smiling Berry indicated he'll be ready and prepared for the season opener on September 11 against San Diego.
   "The only thing is just getting used to so many bodies flying around, NFL bodies," Berry said. "You try to fill it in with high school players and other people that are around training, but it's different when you have 11 guys on the field that know what they're doing and know where to be. Things tend to move a little faster so just getting that rust knocked off and adjusting quickly."    
   --Recently acquired cornerback Kenneth Acker took part in his first Kansas City practice on Monday. Acker was traded on Saturday from San Francisco to the Chiefs in exchange for a seventh-round choice in the 2018 NFL Draft. He has two weeks to figure out what's going on with the Chiefs defense.
   "You've got to get acclimated pretty fast," said Acker. "I'm just taking it day by day. Today I got into my playbook and was able to meet some of my other position coaches, so it's going pretty good."
   Acker allowed that he knew nothing about Kansas City. "But I know this is a pretty good team," he said. "I feel like I bring a lot to offer. I'm just trying to figure out where I can fit best and trying to get acclimated as best as I can."
   As little as Acker knew about the Chiefs, defensive coordinator Bob Sutton admitting he knew nothing about the newest member of his secondary.
   "I don't know that much about him," Sutton said.
   Asked if he'd gotten a scouting report on Acker and his skill set, Sutton replied: "No. I really trust my eyes."
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
PLAYER NOTES
   --OLB Justin Houston (knee) was moved to the regular-season physically unable to perform list on Tuesday as the Chiefs reached the NFL roster limit of 75 players. Houston has not taken part in any of the team's offseason or preseason work after undergoing knee surgery in February. His move to the PUP list will leave him off the field for the first six weeks of the 2016 schedule. Houston will visit with orthopedic surgeon Dr. James Andrews in the first week of October. If given the go ahead, he could begin practicing on October 18. He will miss at least five games (San Diego, at Houston, New York Jets, at Pittsburgh and at Oakland) and possibly more.
   --ILB Josh Mauga (hip) was placed on the injured-reserve list on Tuesday, ending his 2016 season as the Chiefs reached the NFL roster limit of 75 players. Mauga suffered what the Chiefs called a strained groin early in training camp and has not been able to get back on the field for practice or the Chiefs three preseason games to date. Trainer Rick Burkholder said Mauga has a labral tear in his hip and he is set for surgery late next week. In the last two seasons, Mauga had started 30 of 32 regular-season games for the K.C. defense at the strong-inside linebacker spot next to Derrick Johnson. Last season in 14 games, he had 57 total tackles, two interceptions and a sack.
   --FB Trey Millard (knee) was placed on the Chiefs injured-reserve list for the 2016 season after suffering a torn ACL. The undrafted rookie out of Oklahoma went down in the second half of the team's game against Los Angeles on August 20. Team trainer Rick Burkholder said Millard has already undergone surgery on his knee.
   --QB Tyler Bray will get the start for the Chiefs on Thursday evening as the Chiefs finish out their preseason schedule by hosting the Green Bay Packers. Starting quarterback Alex Smith will not play, and it's unlikely that backup Nick Foles will see the field. Bray missed the most recent preseason games with a knee injury suffered on August 13 against Seattle. He has only taken 14 snaps in the preseason schedule, where he completed three of nine passes for 48 yards. The start will give him an opportunity to gain the advantage for the No. 3 quarterback spot on Andy Reid's roster. The Chiefs still have five quarterbacks on their roster: Smith, Foles, Bray, Aaron Murray and Kevin Hogan.
   --QB Alex Smith will not play in the Chiefs' preseason finale on Thursday night against Green Bay. Smith finished the preseason playing in three games, with 83 snaps. Smith was sharp in the passing game, throwing for 354 yards, completing 69.6 percent of his passes (32 of 46) with one touchdown throw, no interceptions and a 99.4 passer rating.
   --QB Nick Foles will not play Thursday evening in the Chiefs preseason finale against the Packers. Foles played 59 snaps in the previous three games, throwing for 235 yards while completing 68.6 percent of his passes (24 of 35) with no interceptions and an 87.2 passer rating.
   --QB Aaron Murray faces quite a fight for a roster spot with the 2016 Chiefs. In his third year with the team, after being a fifth-round selection in the 2014 NFL Draft, Murray saw action in all three preseason games, with 47 snaps. He connected on 15 of 23 throws (65.2 percent) for 165 yards and he threw an interception.
   --QB Kevin Hogan will play in Thursday night's preseason finale for the Chiefs when they host Green Bay. One of the club's fifth-round selections in the 2016 NFL Draft, Hogan has appeared in two of the three games in August, taking 24 snaps. He completed four of eight throws for 25 yards and an interception.
   --C Mitch Morse (illness) was back on the field Monday, after being a late scratch for last Saturday's game against the Bears in Chicago. Morse began suffering flu-like symptoms Friday evening, but he went through warmups at the stadium, but did not make it out of the locker room for game action.
   --C/G Zach Fulton showed his versatility in last Saturday's preseason game against Chicago. During the pregame warmups, Fulton was working at center and guard with the No. 2 offensive line. But when starting center Mitch Morse was a late scratch because of illness, Fulton found out just after the national anthem was completed that he was going to start in the game.
   --WR Tyreek Hill had his most productive game of the preseason against Chicago last Saturday, producing 120 yards on just five touches as a runner, receiver and returner. The rookie out of West Alabama ran an end-around for 11 yards, caught one pass for 58 yards, had two punt returns for 33 yards and added a kickoff return for 18 yards. "He really does a good job when he hits the edge," said special teams coordinator Dave Toub. "You can see that he changes everybody's angles when he hits that corner. It's just a matter of time before we get him a really big one."
   --CB Kenneth Acker was acquired on Saturday by the Chiefs in a trade with San Francisco. The 5-11, 195-pound out of SMU started 13 games for the 49ers last season at right cornerback.  Acker was a sixth-round selection in the 2014 NFL Draft, but he spent the year on the Niners' injured-reserve list due to a stress fracture in his left foot. K.C. dealt a seventh-round choice in the 2018 NFL Draft to San Francisco.
   --CB Phillip Gaines (ankle/knee) saw his first game action of the 2016 preseason last Saturday against Chicago. While Gaines had just 11 snaps, he showed good movement on that surgically repaired knee. It was 11 months ago that Gaines suffered a torn ACL and missed the rest of the 2016 season.
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OAKLAND RAIDERS
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INSIDE SLANT
<Headline>Raiders riled by poor run defense</Headline>
   The Raiders remain optimistic heading into their final preseason game despite a 1-2 record, with the biggest area concern a vulnerable run defense.
   The most recent example came in a 27-14 home loss to Tennessee at the Coliseum, allowing the Titans to gouge the Raiders' first-team defense for 106 yards on 21 carries in the first half, with Tennessee running backs DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry doing considerable damage.
    The previous week, Green Bay power back Eddy Lacy had 45 yards on seven carries against the first unit and almost by himself led the Packers to an opening touchdown drive.
   "I want to stop the run," Raiders coach Jack Del Rio said. "We really haven't stopped the run the way we expect this year. Miss-fits continue to cause problems. We have to get that cleaned up. Obviously, that's a critical area that must be addressed and will continue to be addressed. The evaluation continues."
   Through three preseason games, the Raiders are ranked 29th against the run and their totals of surrendering five rushing touchdowns and five rushing plays of 20 yards or more are the highest in the NFL.
    Last season, the Raiders finished a respectable 13th against the run, and after a shaky first eight games, considerable improvement was made.
   While last season the Raiders often played mammoth defensive tackles Dan Williams and Justin "Jelly" Ellis side-by-side, one or the other is playing in the preseason in what amounts to a 3-4 defense but is actually more of a 5-2 with edge players Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin on the outside.
    Rookie Jihad Ward, a second-round draft pick, was moved off the ball easily against Tennessee. Ellis and Williams attempted to hold their ground, while linebackers Ben Heeney and Malcolm Smith struggled to fill gaps.
   The fitting of those gaps, Del Rio believes, will solve any issues the Raiders have against the run.
   "We've got guys trying to do too much, trying to shed blocks and jump gaps," Williams said. "It comes down to everybody doing their jobs. DeMarco and Derrick Henry did a good job finding the holes we left for them. This is great for us. It gives us plenty to work on."
    Del Rio had softened his initial harsh review of the Raiders run defense heading into the Seattle game, but still sees room for improvement and thinks practice is the perfect time to do it.
    "You can work on those things . . . it ends up being right now, it's coming out of camp, preparing for the regular season," Del Rio said. "You get these opportunities in preseason to kind of tighten thigns up. I expect we'll be ready to roll when the regular season gets here."
    Mack, whose pass rushing gets most of the notoriety but is equally adept at stopping the run, is none too happy about seeing opponents gaining ground.
    "There's a lot of concern, you just have to go back to the drawing board and get it corrected," Mack said. "It's fits, everything. It starts with us, and me. It definitely bothers you, being a defensive guy and a defensive leader. But it's a great learning expeirence, and this will only get us ready."
NOTES, QUOTES
   --Quarterback Derek Carr completed 12 of 18 passes for 169 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions against the Titans, and coach Jack Del Rio seemed almost amused regarding outside criticism of his quarterback through the first two preseason games.
   "I think maybe other people can relax a little about him, maybe this helps," Del Rio said. "We know he's had a tremendous offseason. I think you saw some examples of what we have been seeing. He's poised to have a nice year for us."
   Carr's touchdown passes to DeAndre Washington and Amari Cooper were relegated to the background as he focused on missing a wide open Clive Walford in the end zone for a third score.
    "You know me. It doesn't matter how good the game was or how we moved the ball, I'm always going to dwell on what I did wrong because I want to fix it," Carr said. "That's just the way I am. That's what's gotten me this far and that's hopefully what will keep me here."
   --The Raiders managed to get their own running game in gear against Tennessee, with 5-foot-8 rookie running backs DeAndre Washington and Jalen Richard combining for 90 yards on 15 carries and reminding Del Rio of Maurice Jones-Drew, whom he coached in Jacksonville.
   "They're built similarly in that they're not huge guys," Del Rio said. "I had a guy like that who was pretty good in Jacksonville, a dynamic guy who could give you tremendous impact. I'm not putting that label on these guys, just saying that the stature doesn't matter as much as skill level.''
   Washington was, at 207 pounds, a fifth-round draft pick out of Texas Tech, and Richard an undrafted free agent Southern Mississippi. The Raiders went into camp hoping for a complementary back for Latavius Murray, and now may have two. Del Rio wouldn't rule out both being on the roster.
   --Having been in the NFL four seasons, linebacker Bruce Irvin wasn't getting overly excited about the possibility of facing Seattle, his former team, in the preseason finale.
   "I was there for four years and it was cool, but I'm a Raider now and happy to be here," Irvin said. "It's time to move on."
   Del Rio was not prepared to say who would be playing against Seattle, but with most starters playing an entire half in the second preseason game and into the third quarter against Tennessee, many key players will get cameo roles and others probably won't play at all.
   --Del Rio said he didn't expect the national anthem to be an issue with the Raiders following the national story that emerged from across the bay when quarterback Colin Kaepernick refused to stand during the playing of the "Star Spangled Banner.''
   "There's never been a point where I've had to address it. It's always been understood," Del Rio said. "You stand at attention. You play respect to the flag, our country. That's always been kind of an assumed thing."
    In light of the Kaepernick situation, Del Rio said the issue was discussed with owner Mark Davis, and he doesn't expect any problems.
   "In America, as individuals, we all have freedoms, and that's one of the things that makes our country great," Del Rio said. "For us, I think it's more about realizing you're a part of an organization. You're representing our organization, and our organization believes you should pay respect to the flag. Save those individual decisions to express yourself for an individual forum."
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
PLAYER NOTES
   --QB Matt McGloin is expected to start the preseason finale against San Diego, with Derek Carr sitting it out and Connor Cook playing the majority of the game.
   --WR K.J. Brent, an undrafted free agent, caught three passes for 54 yards against Tennessee and is competing for a role as the fifth wide receiver.
   --P Marquette King, the lone punter on the roster, had punts totaling 135 yards against Tennessee.
   --RB George Atkinson III leads the Raiders preseason rushers with 135 yards, but is likely running behind DeAndre Washington and Jaylon Richard for a roster spot.
   --LB Cory James, a rookie sixth-round draft pick, has gotten some work with the first team ahead of presumptive starter Ben Heeney.
   --LB Neiron Ball has missed the last two practices and may not play against Seattle.
   --DT Leon Orr, who played on the practice squad last year and spent time on the 53-man roster, was waived.
   --WR Max McCaffrey, son of former NFL wide receiver Ed McCaffrey and brother of Stanford star Christian McCaffrey, was waived.
   --DE Mario Edwards Jr. has not practiced with a hip injury, won't play in the final preseason game and may not play in the opener.
   -- FS Reggie Nelson has missed recent practices with an undisclosed injury.
   -- SS Karl Joseph came out of the Tennessee game in some alignments in which the Raiders played four cornerbacks and a safety in the nickel defense.
   --TE Gabe Holmes was placed on injured reserve with an ankle fracture.
   --TE Colton Underwood, who made news for a viral video request to date Olympic gold medalist gymnast Aly Raisman, was waived.
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SAN DIEGO CHARGERS
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INSIDE SLANT
<Headline>Bosa eager to get to work after signing</Headline>
   The gang is finally all here.
   Joey Bosa, the No. 3 overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, and the San Diego Chargers at last came to terms on his rookie contract. The former Ohio State standout arrived at Chargers Park on Monday, and coach Mike McCoy welcomed him with open arms.
   "He's one of us," McCoy said. "He's always been one of us."
   Bosa missed training camp and the first three preseason games. It's not expected that Bosa will play Friday in the team's preseason finale against the San Francisco 49ers.
   But Bosa said he did nothing but work out while away.
   "I really didn't do anything other than train and get ready for this opportunity," he said. "I didn't think it was fair to the guys out here if I was at home enjoying time off, partying, doing this that or the other while they're here working. I thought I owed it to them and to myself to give everything I had while I had the opportunity."
   McCoy, like he was the first time he met Bosa, was impressed with his newest player, even with Bosa being the last drafted player to sign, more than 31 days after the start of training camp.
   "He came in here in great shape and I had a great conversation with him," McCoy said. "We talked about what we are going to do with him."
   McCoy wouldn't commit to Bosa playing in the team's opener on Sept. 11 at the Kansas City Chiefs. But it's believed Bosa can consume enough of the playbook to contribute on a limited basis.
   "When we think he is ready, we are going to put him out there," McCoy said. "We're not going to put a timetable on it and say it going go be this day or that day."
   Bosa is ready to go.
   "I'm obviously a step behind the other guys, being this late into the game," he said. "But I trust the coaches. They obviously have a plan ready for me. I'm not 100 percent sure what that is, but I trust them to get me ready to play, whenever they feel I'm ready to play."
   Asked if he could go against the Chiefs, Bosa didn't hesitate.
   "That's the coaches' decision, but I'm 100 percent sure," he said. "I'm in some of the best shape I've ever been in my life."  
   While upbeat over Bosa's arrival, McCoy was realistic that Bosa missed some valuable time.
   "We've thrown a lot at our players since he's been gone," McCoy said. "We'll get him used to playing in passing downs and we got time for that. That is what the next couple of weeks are for."
   And not the legal mumbo-jumbo of signing bonuses and offset language that kept Bosa away from the Chargers.
   "Nothing like putting on the pads and actually playing football," Bosa said. "You don't really understand that unless you've played football.
   "But I think I've put myself in the best possible shape I can be in showing up here."
NOTES, QUOTES
   --Running back Braden Oliver suffered a significant Achilles injury in the game against the Minnesota Vikings. Oliver could be done for the year.
   --Rookie tight end Hunter Henry continues to provide consistent play. Hunter is a second-round pick out of Arkansas.    "I think he has done an outstanding job," coach Mike McCoy said. "And you can learn from Antonio (Gates). It is a very tight-end friendly offense. For the very first day (Hunter) was here in a team setting you saw what he could do."
   -- Safety Dexter McCoil has forced a number of turnovers in workouts. He did the same thing in the game on Sunday when stripping the ball away. "That's another great example of the way we practice transforming into the game," McCoy said.
   --The Chargers cut wide receiver Torrence Allen, cornerbacks Greg Durce and Mike Lee, defensive tackle Bruce Gaston, linebacker Zack Hodges and center Bruce Johnson.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
PLAYER NOTES
   --DE Joey Bosa continues to take a crash course on the defense after ending his holdout this week. Bosa, who appears to be in good physical shape, isn't likely to play against the 49ers in Thursday's preseason game after having only two light workouts. But indications are he'll have enough of a grasp on the schemes to at least have a part-time role in the opener against the Chiefs on Sept. 11.
   --QB Philip Rivers, along with the majority of starters, will be idle for Thursday's preseason finale against the 49ers.
   --WR James Jones, the ex-Packers veteran who was trying to extend his solid career, was released.
   --RB Branden Oliver (calf) was placed on injured reserve after getting hurt against the Vikings. Oliver always delivered a nice change of pace and he was easy to overlook in a backfield that includes Danny Woodhead and Melvin Gordon. But Oliver will be missed; he also returned kicks.
   --RG D.J. Fluker won't play on Thursday as he continues to let his sore foot heal. He missed the previous game, too.
   --G Donavon Clark (knee) was placed on IR after being hurt during camp. With D.J. Fluker (foot) already hobbling, the loss of Clark is felt.
   --QB Zach Mettenberger couldn't overtake Kellen Clemens for the backup role and the former Titans player and LSU star was cut. He was picked up by the Steelers.
   --WR Javontee Herndon, who the Chargers once held in high regard, was waived with an unspecified injury.
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