Ravens’ John Harbaugh defends Colin Kaepernick’s right to protest anthem

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh said Monday that he respects Colin Kaepernick’s right to protest the national anthem and cited a French Enlightenment philosopher in doing so.

The rules are simple: Stay under the $155,270,000 cap, and no rookies. Otherwise, it’s my job to put together a well-balanced, versatile team, with depth at each position and players who complement each other. All while navigating prohibitive contract extensions to players I’d otherwise like to include — such as Tyrod Taylor, Darius Slay and Tyrann Mathieu, all of whom signed big deals this offseason.

There are, of course, hundreds of great players in the NFL and thousands of ways to craft this team. But I am certain that even the 1972 Miami Dolphins would agree that this year’s team, with everyone from Tom Brady to DeAndre Hopkins to J.J. Watt, would challenge their undefeated season.

Caldwell has repeatedly deflected questions about Ebron’s status.

Ebron, though, has missed a chunk of preseason time. He said that when he suffered the injury during the Lions’ mock game at Ford Field, he thought, “My life sucks,” because he didn’t know what to expect. He said he wasn’t sure of the severity of the injury and admitted he thought his season might have ended before it started.

“Did I have that in mind? I was afraid,” Ebron said. “I was afraid for the worst and just hoped for the best. I mean, easily, by far, that’s what I did. Whatever happened, happened, and I’m just taking it 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.”

When Ebron does return, he will be the team’s top tight end after he caught 47 passes for 537 yards and five touchdowns last season. He’s at the top of the depth chart of a thin tight end group. Brandon Pettigrew is still on the physically unable to perform list recovering from an ACL injury. Timothy Wright is on injured reserve with an ACL injury. The Lions cut veteran Matthew Mulligan on Monday, and that leaves Orson Charles, Adam Fuehne, Cole Wick and Andrew Quarless — who will miss the first two games of the season due to suspension — as Detroit’s tight ends.

When Ebron got hurt, he leaned on his mother, Gina Jackson, for guidance. She helped him through it and actually reached out to him before he could get in touch with her. He said his phone wasn’t going crazy initially, but as more people heard what happened, they started to reach out.

Packers WR Jordy Nelson calls his return ‘hardly even a practice’

GREEN BAY, Wis. — The closest thing Jordy Nelson did to real football during his first practice in 364 days came at the end of the session, when he ran some half-speed routes while fellow receivers Randall Cobb and Davante Adams acted as cornerbacks during a jog-through.

Last week, Nelson actually warmed up in full pads before the preseason game against the Oakland Raiders on Thursday, one day after he was activated off the PUP list.

“Obviously, we’re progressing,” Nelson said. “Obviously, we’re going to see how the body reacts; that’s how it is every time you do something, but it felt good out there. I don’t know what the plan is for this weekend or next — if it’s going to be similar to what we did last week or if it’ll be more. It’s still in debate. It’s a fluid situation of how everything reacts and how we feel.

“I mean, today felt great, so I’m sure tomorrow we’ll do a little bit more. We’ll see what the practice schedule looks like. Obviously, we’ll eventually build into team periods. We should get plenty of that by the time Jacksonville comes around. We’ll see what we do this week, but I assume, just based off normal progression, that next week we’ll probably get into some competitive periods. And then Jacksonville, I don’t have any reason to think it won’t be a normal week of preparation.”

In the two-man concept, the slot receiver (in this case, Doug Baldwin) takes his route to the flat. The outside receiver (Jermaine Kearse) runs a snag route. It’s like a slant, but instead of continuing into the middle of the field, Kearse turns and faces the quarterback.

That probably isn’t the most sustainable way forward for the Vikings’ offense, not when they want their 23-year-old passer to take charge of the offense. Peterson knows it, too, and when he has a quarterback he believes could lead the Vikings to their long-sought Super Bowl berth, the 31-year-old running back is trying to adapt.

“I know it’s going to help us out in the long run, accomplishing what we want to accomplish, being able to present different looks to the defense,” Peterson said. “That’s what I’m really excited about.”

A surprise player who impressed: Although it might sound strange, expectations were not high for former Pro Bowl defensive end Cameron Wake making his 2016 debut. He is coming off a season-ending Achilles injury and just working the rust off. However, Wake showed an effective bull rush on his first play to get a hit on Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan. He played only a few snaps but it was a good step before the regular season.

When it was starters vs. starters, the Dolphins looked …: Competitive. The third preseason game had a regular-season feel and intensity in the first half and both sides were about even. Each starting quarterback threw an interception to the defense, but both offenses were able to move the ball. The Dolphins led 7-3 at halftime.

One reason to be concerned: A developing story on offense is the growing number of drops from starting tight end Jordan Cameron. The former Pro Bowler is leaving plays on the field at an alarming rate in preseason games and practices. Cameron had two additional drops against the Falcons, and there was one instance when Tannehill saw Cameron open but opted not to throw him the ball. Cameron didn’t have a propensity for drops last season, so it’s possible this is in his head. It is definitely something that must be addressed before the regular season.

Which QBs are being taken too high, too low in fantasy drafts?

Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles broke out as a reliable, high-scoring fantasy weapon last season, doing so in his second NFL campaign and with modest preseason expectations. Sure, Bortles figured to improve from his underwhelming rookie statistics, but few were expecting him to end up among the top five of all fantasy quarterbacks. That was a major breakout and fantasy owners sure are interested in who is next to do the same. Well, that’s why we’re here, to not only tell you whom to avoid, but whom to expect big things from.

For their part, the Vikings know the first games at their new home won’t come without some headaches, and they’re urging fans to be patient and sensible during the first games at the stadium. Once fans are within range of the stadium’s wi-fi network on Sundays, they can get push notifications on their phones from the Vikings’ app about gates with shorter wait times, as well as help finding concessions and merchandise. The team is also introducing a sports bar outside the stadium, called the Longhouse, which will be open 2 1/2 hours before and two hours after games. A game ticket is not required for admission. That, the Vikings hope, will give fans another option should they choose to arrive outside of peak travel times. It’s probably best to remember, though, that while it opens for football this weekend, U.S. Bank Stadium will go through its share of modifications in the next year or two as it becomes evident what works best for fans.

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady might be having trouble getting on the field, but he’s having no problem selling products.

On Monday, Brady launched a line of snacks — 12 1.4-ounce packages of organic fruit and nut combinations sold in a box — for $50.

Who knows how many the folks at TB12 made, but by Tuesday afternoon, they had already sold out.

This is familiar territory for Brady, whose site put out a nutrition manual, which has 89 of the quarterback’s favorite recipes — one is sweet potato gnocchi with escarole — for $200.

Despite fans grilling the price, the manual sold out in days and is on backorder for next month.

Pete Carroll praises Macklemore for picking Air Monarchs over “Chef Curry” shoes

Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll has become an unofficial spokesman for Nike’s Air Monarch IV shoes over the years, refusing to switch up his footwear despite numerous attempts from his players and equipment staff.

Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott (hamstring) could practice Tuesday

It is possible Elliott could play, but the team has been careful with his return because it does not want him to suffer any kind of setback that could lead to a longer absence, potentially into the regular season.

Picture this: It’s draft day. You thought you had your next pick planned, but the team selecting in front of you snagged your guy. With time running out, you panic and select somebody — but not the guy you wanted and definitely not the guy who would have best helped your team.

This is where Insider’s fantasy football draft cheat sheet comes in. More than just a list of the top players at every position (although it has that too), it brings together all of the best analysis from Insider’s fantasy experts to help win your league, including:

Eric Karabell’s ranking of players into tiers

KC Joyner’s riskiest, drop-off and bounce-back players

Mike Clay’s projections for players most likely to seriously increase or decrease their touchdowns

Give the Americans that much. They are finding ways to prevail even though defensive struggles continue to plague a group that legitimately believed as recently as five days ago that this was a shutdown outfit that would snuff out anyone and everyone.

“They’ve still got a team full of All-Stars,” France center Rudy Gobert said. “Today they didn’t play very good and still won. So they’re still the favorite.”

Added French veteran Boris Diaw, Gobert’s new teammate with the Utah Jazz: “They haven’t been dominating, but they haven’t lost either. They’re still unbeaten, so we can’t say that they’re struggling.”

Except that we most certainly can.

Rex upset at Tyrod’s camp flip: ‘Are you kidding me?’

Joe Buscaglia (@JoeBuscaglia) August 8, 2016
Ryan, of course, is still smarting from the loss of second-round linebacker Reggie Ragland, who the Bills were planning to plug in as a Week 1 starter. The rookie suffered a knee injury last week and continues to go through testing to decipher how long he’ll be lost.

The Bills on Monday also saw left tackle Cordy Glenn exit with an ankle injury, while guard Richie Incognito left early with sore ribs. On the plus side, three key players — wideout Sammy Watkins and defensive linemen Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams — all passed their physicals.

Watching the injury bug descend, Ryan’s frustration is understandable. There’s little reason for Taylor to put his body at risk in practice. Conversely, old-school football-heads can point to yesteryear — when players in practice beat the snot out of each other daily — but that world no longer exists.

You’d be hard-pressed to find an NFL draftnik who doesn’t project Malik McDowell to be a first-round draft pick if he takes the early leap next year, with most slotting the Michigan State defensive tackle inside the Top 15 in their way-too-early mock drafts. That, though, is not good enough for McDowell — at least publicly and in the here and now.

At MSU’s media day Monday, McDowell was asked about his plans post-2016. According to the lineman, it doesn’t involve leaving East Lansing unless he’s expected to be one of the first three players selected.

“Top 10 ain’t good enough for me,” McDowell said. “I ain’t leaving if I’m (only) Top 10. If I’m not top three, I don’t leave. Really. I’m just trying to live day by day. It’s one through three, that’s the only way I’m going. I’m happy, I like it here, I ain’t really in a rush to leave.

Baltimore Ravens

The Ravens won’t say whether quarterback Joe Flacco will play in the preseason opener, and it would be a surprise if he did. But that’s not a reflection of Flacco’s progress in coming back from season-ending knee surgery. Flacco is having a strong training camp, and he hasn’t missed any reps with the starting offense. Like Flacco said late last month, his goal is to be ready for the start of the regular season, not the preseason. — Jamison Hensley

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Cincinnati Bengals

Health remains a concern for the Bengals, as they continue waiting on tight ends Tyler Eifert and Tyler Kroft and cornerback Darqueze Dennard to return from respective serious injuries. There is a belief that Kroft (knee) and Dennard (ankle) could be back before the regular season begins. The hope is that Eifert (ankle), too, will return by the season opener at the New York Jets, but it’s possible he misses a game or more. If he does, Kroft’s injury status becomes all the more important. Those injury issues are a concern, but the Bengals are otherwise getting healthier. Five players who missed time before Sunday’s off day practiced Monday. Could more players come off the sidelines Tuesday, when the Bengals hold their final practice before the Vikings join them in Cincinnati for joint practices? Stay tuned. — Coley Harvey

DeMarco Murray raves about Marcus Mariota’s talent

Beyond the streamlined passing mechanics, Mariota has impressed with his pinpoint accuracy on short and intermediate passes, nimble footwork reminiscent of Joe Montana and Jake Plummer, natural football instincts and preternatural poise.

Murray added that the Titans’ second-year star is the hardest-working quarterback he has been around, echoing Pro Bowl defensive end Jurrell Casey’s offseason assessment that Mariota is the “definition of a true leader.”

Spend a few days in Titans camp and you will hear players and coaches casually reference Mariota’s greatness. If he can stay healthy, his rare talent and requisite intangibles will be the rising tide that lifts all boats in Nashville.

Baltimore Ravens

1-10 percent: Joe Flacco put together one of the most incredible postseason runs ever in leading Baltimore to a Super Bowl victory, but he has been stagnant as a passer since. Now, if he did that again … Elvis Dumervil’s career includes two 17-sack seasons, but with 96 sacks by the age of 32, it’s hard to see him getting into the 130-or-so range, at which point his candidacy would be a lot stronger. … Marshal Yanda might be the best guard in football and has made five straight Pro Bowls and two first-team All-Pro appearances, but Alan Faneca had nine Pro Bowls and six first-team All-Pro appearances and just missed out on Canton. Even if Faneca eventually gets in, you can see how high the bar is for guards. … Eric Weddle suffers from playing in a conference with Ed Reed and Troy Polamalu for most of his career (he only has three Pro Bowl nods through age 30).

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Terrell Suggs is an interesting case. He started his career as one of the youngest players in his rookie class, so even though Suggs has been around since 2003, he’s only 33. He doesn’t have the sort of steady double-digit sack totals you might look for from a star edge rusher, but Suggs’ best year (2011) came while J.J. Watt had just emerged from his alien womb and earned Suggs a Defensive Player of the Year nod, which looks great on a Hall of Fame résumé. Being part of a historically famous defense helps. Suggs has 106.5 sacks, which is 24th all time, but he probably needs to get to the 130 range to guarantee his enshrinement. That will be tough on two torn Achilles. 30 percent

Steve Smith Sr. is one of the more fascinating Hall of Fame arguments out there. He gets bonuses for being a skill-position player and a force of nature as a personality; that stuff does matter in Hall of Fame voting. He has five Pro Bowl appearances and two first-team All-Pro nods, one of which was for his return work in 2001. That itself isn’t a Hall of Fame résumé. What works in Smith’s favor is that he has been around forever and accrued numbers despite playing with Jake Delhomme at quarterback for most of his career. Smith’s 11th in career receiving yards (13,932) and 15th in career receptions (961). Terrell Owens and Isaac Bruce had more catches and haven’t yet been elected to Canton, but once Smith gets to 1K, his chances of eventually making it in should be favorable. 60 percent

The next time someone chants John Kuhn’s name likely will be in the Superdome.

The former Green Bay Packers fullback, a long-time fan favorite who was often met with cheers of “Kuuuuuuhn” when he took the field, will sign a one-year deal with the New Orleans Saints.

His agent, Kevin Gold, said Kuhn flew to Saints camp in West Virginia to work out for the team on Friday. The deal will be for the veteran’s minimum and officially closes the door on a nine-year run with the Packers.

“He loved his time there, but he wanted to play,” Gold said. “This was an opportunity, and coach [Sean] Payton was excited to know he was available and wanted to play. It’s bittersweet, but it’s also a great opportunity.”

From Bud Black to Terry Pendleton, the candidates to be next Braves manager

Torey Lovullo

Lovullo, 50, is John Farrell’s bench coach in Boston, and he also earned rave reviews while managing the Sox while Farrell was battling cancer last season. Like Martinez, he’s one of the hottest managerial prospects around, and the bench coach role typically provides a natural transition. As Rob Bradford tweets, Lovullo’s contract with the Red Sox permits him to interview for managerial vacancies during the season. If the Braves opt not to keep Snitker in the job, then consider Lovullo to be a strong contender.

Mark DeRosa

If you’re looking for a longshot, then maybe it’s DeRosa, 41. Joel Sherman of the New York Post recently name-checked DeRosa as a candidate in Atlanta, citing his popularity with some highly placed members of the front office. As well, DeRosa was drafted by the Braves in 1996 and spend the first seven seasons of his big-league career in Atlanta.

David Ross

My colleague Matt Snyder put forth Ross’ name as another longshot contender. It indeed makes sense. Ross is a Georgia native who grew up in north Florida, and he’s in the final year of his playing career. He earns universal praise for his demeanor and clubhouse presence, and catchers so often wind up as managers. No, he doesn’t have any managerial experience, but neither did recent and semi-recent hires like Mike Matheny, Brad Ausmus, and Kevin Cash — catchers, all.

Mostly, consider all of this to be … developing.

The NFL Draft has come and gone, which means it’s the best season of the year: over/under season. We have win totals released for each and every NFL team, courtesy of Sportsbook.ag, and you can place a friendly wager on whether you think the teams will win more or less games than their perceived Las Vegas total.

Every year I break these down in May trying to predict how many wins every NFL team will have. Totally easy situation, but my favorite thing I write all season maybe.

Last year I went a very underwhelming 7-8-1 in the NFC, although my two locks (Vikings over and Cardinals over) both hit. Leave your picks in the comments, yell at me for my picks on Twitter

Dallas Cowboys 9.5 Over (+105) / Under (-135) — You want to talk about a guy getting suckered by the Cowboys’ first-round pick of Ezekiel Elliott? This is your guy. Combine Zeke, Alfred Morris and Darren McFadden and you’re going to get a dominant running game for Dallas in 2016. Elliott will make Tony Romo better because he’ll keep him healthy, and he’ll make the defense better because he will limit time of possession (the jury is still out on science but it worked two years ago). A lower number would be a lock but this team will be closer to 2014 than it was last year.

New York Giants 8.0 Over (-140) / Under (+110) — Everyone is buying into the Giants big time after their massive offseason, and it’s not hard to understand why. Janoris Jenkins and Olivier Vernon are big headline-grabbing talents. Eli Apple’s mom is amazing. Odell Beckham is going to be amazing again. Eli Manning should have some protection. This is a team that’s better than it was after spending tons of capital, a change from Tom Coughlin’s final years. But sometimes I like to zag and I think this is a secretly questionable team — if they were the Dolphins people would be crushing them.

According to ESPN’s report, a five-minute portion of the May 6 rookie minicamp (a non-contact punt protection drill) was conducted using pads. The Ravens were mistakenly under the impression that rookie minicamp was exempt from the rule prohibiting full pads. Once players union rep Ben Watson clarified the issue, the Ravens reportedly pulled their players off the field.

Per the Baltimore Sun, “All of the Ravens’ practices, including the rookie minicamp, are taped, so it shouldn’t take the league too long to figure out the extent of the possible violation.”

If you’ve spent anytime on the internet over the past 24 hours, there’s a good chance you’ve been seeing a lot of Rob Gronkowski.

Not only did the Patriots tight end land on the cover of the latest Madden game, but he also landed on another big cover this week: The GQ cover.