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Ravens, 49ers set joint preseason practices

There’s obviously no lingering hard feelings between John and Jim Harbaugh.
Two seasons after battling in the Super Bowl, the Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers will hold four joint practices after their preseason opener in Baltimore on Aug. 7, John Harbaugh said Friday night.
This is certainly not the Har-Bowl — which was the unofficial name when the Ravens beat the 49ers in the Super Bowl in February 2013 — but it’s certainly a way for John and Jim Harbaugh to break up the monotony of the preseason.
After playing a preseason game on Thursday, the Ravens and 49ers will hold a light workout together at M&T Bank Stadium on Saturday before conducting practices the next three days at the Ravens’ Owings Mills headquarters.
“It’s just going to be fantastic. I can’t wait to do it,” John Harbaugh told The Baltimore Sun in Oxford, Ohio, where he is going to have his statue erected Saturday at his alma mater, Miami (Ohio). “Dad is going to be out there. He’s going to be the unofficial official.”
The Ravens have never held joint practices with another team, although they had scrimmages with the Washington Redskins in 2000, ’05, ’06 and ’07. This has become a popular trend among NFL teams. The Pittsburgh Steelers and the Buffalo Bills will have an agreement to practice against each other in training camp this year and next. The New England Patriots had combined practices with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Philadelphia Eagles last year.
“It was our idea,” John Harbaugh said. “I called Jim about a month ago and asked him if he would want to do it. I really wasn’t sure and he said, ‘Absolutely, let’s do it.’ “University of Maryland graduate
Lives in the Baltimore area with his wife and son


Saban: Talks with Peyton, Gase not together

Nick Saban visited with Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning at the Alabama football offices early last week. Saban also spent time with Broncos offensive coordinator Adam Gase — on the same day and in the same location.
But don’t connect the dots any further than that, Saban insists.
“I never said we sat down together,” Saban said in an interview with The Denver Post on Friday night.
The Alabama Crimson Tide coach made headlines Thursday when he told reporters of an earlier visit with Manning and Gase.
The meeting, as Saban described it, was a mutually beneficial experience in which Manning sought out ways to improve his game, Gase was able to talk shop and Saban and his staff were able to learn a thing or two about the no-huddle offense.
But had the visit of Manning and Gase occurred simultaneously, it might constitute a violation of the NFL collective-bargaining agreement that forbids players from having meetings with coaches before teams begin their offseason workout programs.
Saban’s vague language on Thursday — “The two of them were just making some visits” — seemed to indicate it was a collaborative effort, prompting an NFL investigation into the matter. Saban’s collective use of the word “them” seemed to tie the coach and coordinator together.
As he told reporters Thursday night: “Since they’re a no-huddle team, we had a lot of questions for them, in terms of what gives them problems and what defensive teams do that gives them problems. That was kind of a mutual, hopefully beneficial.
“I know it was a benefit to us. I hope it was a benefit to them as well.”
But after a day of the get-together running through the news cycle, Saban spoke with The Denver Post to clarify his comments.
On the eve of Alabama’s final spring scrimmage, he told the newspaper that he was “shocked that anybody would think someone did anything wrong” and that this is “what happens when people assume.”
“I never met with Adam,” he said. “When I talked with him I talked about his family. Peyton, we talked an hour in the morning and an hour in the afternoon. Adam had been talking to our assistant coaches. I never talked with Adam about football.”
Saban said that Manning and Gase didn’t arrive together. If they left together, you’d have to ask them.
“Peyton had called and said he wanted to drop by,” Saban said. “Adam had already been around for a couple days when Peyton showed up. It was kind of a coincidence that they were around at the same time. I don’t know if they left together but I know they didn’t arrive here together.
“I was asked about their visit at my coach’s clinic press conference but I never said we sat down together. Because we didn’t.”
Saban’s ties to Manning and Gase are well documented. Saban coached against Manning while at Miami and has been friends with father Archie Manning for some time. Gase, meanwhile, got his start coaching under Saban, first at Michigan State and then at LSU.
It was clear in Saban’s tone Thursday that he didn’t perceive anything untoward about Manning and Gase’s visits to Tuscaloosa. In fact, Saban used Manning as an example for other athletes to follow.
“A lot of people would say, ‘Wow, the guy is one of the best, if not the best, from a career standpoint and about as good as anyone has been in the history of the league,’ ” Saban said of Manning. “After all the experience and knowledge that he has, he’s going out to try and seek more knowledge and understudying of the game of football so he can play better.”
Whether attempting to improve himself as a football player will get Manning or Gase in trouble remains to be seen. If the case of Dallas quarterback Tony Romo and coach Jason Garrett in owner Jerry Jones’ suite at the NCAA Final Four is any indication, it might be all smoke and no fire, as the NFL has not come down on the Cowboys.Covers Alabama and the SEC.Joined ESPN in 2012.Graduate of Auburn University.


Broncos’ visits to Bama catch NFL’s attention

Updated: April 18, 2014, 6:04 PM ET

Jeff Legwold |

The NFL will have questions for the Denver Broncos about how offensive coordinator Adam Gase and quarterback Peyton Manning came to cross paths at the University of Alabama earlier this month, the league confirmed Friday, even though the two did not travel together and Gase was in Tuscaloosa for two days before Manning started his visit.
A coach and a player taking a campus visit together before their team starts its offseason program would be a violation of the league’s collective bargaining agreement. The Broncos start their offseason program Monday.
Whether it is a punishable violation, the league said, is to be determined.
Alabama coach Nick Saban may have painted things with too broad of a brush earlier this week when he said Gase and Manning “were making some visits” and wanted to include Tuscaloosa on the list.
Several sources confirmed Friday that Gase and Manning were indeed at Alabama at the same time, on what some with the Broncos privately described as separate trips, and affirmed that the two are not making “visits,” as Saban had characterized it.
Gase’s wife has family in the New Orleans area, and Gase was on vacation when he drove to Tuscaloosa to spend a few days at the Crimson Tide’s complex as part of the trip. Saban gave Gase his start in coaching when Saban was at Michigan State and Gase was a student at the school.
Gase was on Saban’s staff at LSU as well. Because of that, Gase also has long relationships with several assistants on Saban’s staff at Alabama. Gase is known to make several on-campus visits around the country each offseason to meet with many of coaches he knows.
Manning, who has visited Tennessee and Vols coach Butch Jones on several occasions in recent years, has known Saban for a long time, through Manning’s father, Archie. Manning held workouts at Duke with some of the Broncos’ pass catchers earlier this month, too. His former offensive coordinator at Tennessee, David Cutcliffe, is the Blue Devils’ coach.
The Broncos said Friday the team would have no official comment on the matter. Any punishment considered by the league would likely hinge on how much football was discussed and in what setting, and whether the visit constituted a boot-camp type setting with Xs and Os that had been planned by Gase with Manning asked to be there.
Some in the league said Friday that they believed Saban revealed the visit to bolster his recruiting efforts.
“A lot of people would say, ‘Wow, the guy is one of the best, if not the best, from a career standpoint and about as good as anyone has been in the history of the league,'” Saban said of Manning. “After all the experience and knowledge that he has, he’s going out to try and seek more knowledge and understudying of the game of football so he can play better.”
He added, “Since they’re a no-huddle team, we had a lot of questions for them, in terms of what gives them problems and what defensive teams do that give them problems. That was a mutual benefit. I know it was a benefit to us. I hope it was a benefit to them as well.”
The coach also called Manning “a friend and very well respected for a long time, ever since I coached in the league” and that Archie Manning “has been a really good friend of mine for a long, long, long time.”
In recent weeks, Saban hosted a football clinic that included Baylor coach Art Briles, Seattle Seahawks special teams coach Brian Schneider and Baltimore Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees.
It is a murky part of the current CBA, given situations like Dallas quarterback Tony Romo and coach Jason Garrett sitting in team owner Jerry Jones’ suite during this month’s NCAA Final Four at AT&T Stadium. Broncos defensive end DeMarcus Ware, who played for the Cowboys for nine seasons before being released earlier this year, was also in the suite. Covered Broncos for nine years for Denver Post and Rocky Mountain News
Previously covered Steelers, Bills and Titans
Member of Pro Football Hall of Fame Boardof Selectors since 1999


Saints re-sign Meachem to 1-year contract

The New Orleans Saints announced Friday that they have re-signed veteran receiver Robert Meachem to a one-year deal. Terms were not disclosed.

Meachem, 29, adds some security to the Saints’ receiving corps behind returning starters Marques Colston and Kenny Stills.
The Saints became thin at the position when they released veteran Lance Moore earlier this offseason. Now, Meachem and young backups Joe Morgan, Nick Toon and Andy Tanner will compete for roles.
The Saints could also add a receiver in a draft class that is stacked with talent at the position.
Meachem (6-foot-2, 215 pounds) has been a valued backup for the Saints for most of his seven-year career. They use him as a deep threat to stretch the field and also in their heavy run sets because he’s a standout blocker — his most underrated skill set.
Last year, Meachem caught just 16 passes in the regular season but he gained a total of 324 yards. His average of 20.3 yards per catch would have led the league if he had enough catches to qualify. Meachem caught another three passes for 109 yards in the playoffs.
Meachem obviously fits best in that type of role in the Saints’ offense. A former first-round pick out of Tennessee in 2007, he emerged as a big-play specialist for the Saints from 2008 to 2011. But he then flamed out with the San Diego Chargers after signing a lucrative free-agent deal in 2012 to become more of a No. 1 receiver.
He struggled mightily in San Diego and was released after the 2013 preseason. The Saints then quickly snatched him back up a week later.
Meachem has 171 catches for 2,800 yards and 27 touchdowns in his regular-season career.Covered Saints for eight years at New Orleans Times-Picayune
Previously covered LSU football, San Francisco 49ers
Iowa native and University of Iowa graduate


Source: Jags to meet with Bridgewater again

The Jacksonville Jaguars have scheduled a second meeting and workout with quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, a source said.

He also is scheduled to visit the Houston Texans next week. The Texans and Jaguars were among the teams that sent representatives to Bridgewater’s pro day at Louisville.
Bridgewater played three seasons for the Cardinals, amassing 9,817 passing yards and a .684 completion percentage. In his junior season, he connected on 71 percent of his passes, threw for 31 touchdowns and had a 169.7 passer rating. He entered last season as the unquestioned top quarterback prospect in college football after a sophomore season that included 3,718 passing yards, 27 touchdowns and a completion percentage of .685.
The Texans have the first pick in next month’s draft, and the Jaguars have the third. Although it’s possible each team uses its pick elsewhere, both have a need for a franchise quarterback, having traded away the players they had hoped would assume that role.
The Jaguars shipped Blaine Gabbert, the 10th overall pick in 2011, to the San Francisco 49ers, and the Texans sent Matt Schaub — their starter for the past seven seasons — to the Oakland Raiders.Previously covered Texans for Houston Chronicle and Jaguars for Florida Times-Union
Northwestern University graduate


OTL: He may have shot Tillman

Updated: April 18, 2014, 1:58 PM ET

Mike Fish |

OLYMPIA, Wash. — In his first public statements about the death of Pat Tillman, the former NFL player turned Army Ranger, one of the fellow Rangers involved in the 2004 friendly-fire incident in Afghanistan told ESPN’s “Outside the Lines” he has lived for 10 years with the thought that he might have fired the fatal shots.
“It is possible, in my mind, that I hit him,” said Steven Elliott, who had been engaged in his first firefight as an Army Ranger when Tillman died on April 22, 2004, in the mountainous terrain of southeast Afghanistan.

The events leading up to one of the most infamous friendly-fire deaths in U.S. military history were rife for second-guessing from the start: After an Army Humvee broke down in the mountains, Tillman’s platoon was ordered divided by superiors so that the Humvee could be removed; a local truck driver was hired as the hauler. But the two groups struggled to communicate with each other as they traversed the steep terrain. And the second group soon became caught in a deafening ambush, receiving fire as it maneuvered down a narrow, rocky canyon trail.
Tillman’s group, which had traveled ahead, scaled a ridgeline to provide assistance to fellow Rangers under attack. But a squad leader, Sgt. Greg Baker, in Elliott’s armored vehicle misidentified an allied Afghan soldier positioned next to Tillman as the enemy and opened fire, killing the Afghan and prompting Elliott and two other Rangers to fire upon what Elliott called shadowy images, later learned to have been Tillman and then-19-year-old Bryan O’Neal.
The Army either has never determined or has never released whose shots killed Tillman. Tillman had left the Arizona Cardinals after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks to join the Army, a decision that immediately turned him into a national symbol of sacrifice.
Elliott, 33, who left the Army in 2007, has spoken at length with “Outside the Lines” in recent months. He said he has been treated for post-traumatic stress disorder and is speaking now because he believes that his story might provide hope for fellow veterans who suffer similar afflictions.
The other two shooters who have acknowledged firing at Tillman’s position declined comment for this story, as they have in the past.
Investigations by the Army determined that Tillman died from three shots to his head. Elliott, whose weapon was an M240 Bravo machine gun, and platoon mate and Spc. Trevor Alders have been most widely suspected of having fired the fatal caliber of rounds, based on autopsies and Army investigations.

The locations of the fatal bullets, all in an approximately two-inch area of Tillman’s head, could have been too neat and too precise to be the work of a machine gunner. But Elliott said he was trained to fire his automatic weapon with the precision of a rifle, not to spray fire in Rambo-like fashion.
“You aim at a point, and you fire a burst. You are holding your trigger for a fraction of a second, but that fraction of a second releases three to five rounds,” he said. “If it looked like you had [three] rounds and very close to one another, well, that was very consistent to how I was firing my weapon at that point. … It would be disingenuous for me to say there is no way my rounds didn’t kill him, because my rounds very well could have.”
Elliott’s machine gun was normally equipped with a multipower scope for daytime, but the scope was broken and no replacement had yet to be found. As he took aim low on the ridgeline where Baker first engaged, he peered down the weapon’s rudimentary, V-shaped iron sight. He said he remembers catching peripheral glimpses of the person he later learned was the allied Afghan soldier and of the shadowy figures — presumably of Tillman and O’Neal — silhouetted in front of rocks.
They were less than the distance of a football field away when Baker opened fire.
“The mantra is that when all else fails you do what your team leader does, you go where your team leader goes and you shoot where your team leader shoots, and so effectively … ” said Elliott, his chin quivering as he lifted his right hand to wipe away tears during an interview. “Effectively him firing at that position is, is the same as his giving an order to fire. … And it breaks my heart to say that, because I know that he regrets that — so much.”

Baker, a respected platoon leader and the fittest of Rangers, previously acknowledged to “Outside the Lines” having mistakenly engaged the Afghan despite his wearing a desert camouflage uniform similar to what the Rangers wore rather than the tunic-and-baggy pants ensemble of Taliban and al-Qaida fighters. Baker acted upon seeing spitting muzzle flashes from the Afghan’s AK-47 — also the enemy’s weapon of choice — fired in the direction of his vehicle. But the Afghan, along with Tillman and O’Neal, actually were targeting an enemy position on the opposite hillside, O’Neal said.
Baker is out of the Army and lives in the Seattle area. Reached for comment on this story, he politely declined, saying, “I’m good, thanks.”
O’Neal, a Ranger who survived dozens of large caliber rounds raking the hillside and kicking up the earth around him, remains in the Army. After another tour in Afghanistan in 2011-12, O’Neal said he still can’t shake the high-definition images from a scene he was so sure he’d forget about.
“I remember seeing the rounds were impacting — ‘pop, pop, pop, pop’ — just walking in a line right up to where I was laying,” said O’Neal, recently posted as a U.S. Army Ranger School instructor at Fort Benning in Georgia. “And thinking, ‘I am going to die right now.’ And then feeling the round go over the top of me. Just watching the dirt kick up off the ground coming to me. Just knowing without a shadow of a doubt, knowing so positively that I am going to die that I actually prayed for forgiveness: ‘Please God, forgive me. I’ll do whatever you want to get me and Pat out of this.'”
The mention of those words and the images they bring back are haunting for Elliott, who, through time and counseling, said he is able to tell a personal story today of hope and redemption. Of a man who reconnected with his God and his wife. And who finds himself in a healthier place with his family, blessed by two daughters.
But he still lives with the guilt of what happened a decade ago. “If I could change what happened, I would change it in a heartbeat. Change it in a heartbeat.”Investigative reporter for
10 years at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Twice nominated for a Pulitzer Prize


Source: 49ers likely to pass on Smith option

Updated: April 18, 2014, 12:46 PM ET news services

The San Francisco 49ers are not expected to pick up the 2015 fifth-year option on linebacker/defensive end Aldon Smith’s contract, a league source told ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter.
The team has until May 3 to make a decision.

Smith was arrested Sunday at Los Angeles International Airport on charges of a false bomb report.
According to Los Angeles World Airports PIO Sgt. Karla Ortiz, the incident happened as a man, later identified as Smith, was going through Terminal 1 screening and was randomly selected for secondary screening.
Smith then became belligerent and uncooperative with the process and with the TSA agent, making a comment indicating he was in possession of a bomb before proceeding toward the gate area, according to Ortiz.
Los Angeles Airport Police made contact with him at the gate, and he then became uncooperative again and was detained and taken into custody by airport police.
This incident is Smith’s latest run-in with the law.
In November, he pleaded not guilty to three felony counts of illegal possession of an assault weapon, stemming from an incident at a party at his home in 2012. He was scheduled for a discovery hearing in early April.
Smith also missed five games this past season while spending time in an alcohol treatment center. He entered treatment voluntarily three days after he was arrested for drunken driving for the second time since early 2012.
Despite the five-game absence, the 24-year-old Smith finished with 12 sacks and 34 tackles over the course of the Niners’ season, which ended in a NFC Championship Game loss to division rival Seattle.
Information from’s Bill Williamson and The Associated Press was used in this report.


Ravens activate LB McClain from reserve list

The Baltimore Ravens activated Rolando McClain off the reserve-retired list Thursday, two days after his disastrous first workout with the team.
It’s unknown whether this is to allow McClain to participate in the team’s offseason workout program, which begins Monday, or this is the first step toward the Ravens releasing the troubled inside linebacker. Ravens officials aren’t providing any official comment on the move, which was reported on the NFL’s transactions list.
Even if McClain reports to their offseason regimen, it doesn’t mean he is a lock to make the Ravens’ final roster. The Ravens signed McClain to a one-year deal worth the veteran minimum $700,000. It’s a risk-free contract for the Ravens because it doesn’t include any guaranteed money.
It also wouldn’t be surprising if the Ravens cut McClain. Last month, Ravens coach John Harbaugh said the team would welcome him back if he proved that he had matured. On Tuesday, McClain was reportedly 22 minutes late for his workout with the Ravens and failed to complete the team’s conditioning test. Later that day, McClain posted on Twitter: “No excuse for my failures. My success no apologies. I that I owe is absolute honesty. Keep it 100, but that’s what they all say.”
The Ravens have been interested in McClain because they want to improve their depth at inside linebacker. Alabama’s C.J. Mosley, the top linebacker prospect in the draft, recently made a pre-draft visit with the Ravens, who hold the No. 17 overall pick.
McClain, 24, is trying to get his career back on track after being released a year ago by the Oakland Raiders. He was suspended for two games by the Raiders in 2012 after arguing with head coach Dennis Allen. He was also arrested three times in an 11-month span.
The No. 8 overall pick in the 2010 draft, McClain retired in May, a month after signing with the Ravens. He said he used the time to get his “priorities straight.”
In 41 games over three seasons with the Raiders, McClain had 246 tackles and 6.5 sacks.University of Maryland graduate
Lives in the Baltimore area with his wife and son


Judge says Sharper won’t be released on bail

Updated: April 17, 2014, 8:44 PM ET

Associated Press

PHOENIX — Former NFL All-Pro safety Darren Sharper lost his bid Thursday to be released on bail in a sexual assault case after an Arizona judge found there’s enough evidence to move forward with charges against him in that state.
Sharper’s lawyers had questioned the evidence authorities are using to justify keeping him in jail in California, where he faces separate charges that he drugged and raped two women in October after meeting them at a West Hollywood nightclub.
A California judge had set Sharper’s bail at $1 million but ruled in March that Sharper should remain in jail without bail after the Super Bowl champion was indicted in Arizona on charges that he drugged and sexually assaulted two women in November.
His lawyers had hoped to win a favorable ruling from the Arizona judge to persuade the California judge to set him free on bail.
But after two days of arguments in Phoenix, Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Warren Granville found there is sufficient evidence to pursue the Arizona case against Sharper. The Arizona Constitution automatically denies bail to people charged with sexual assault if the proof against them is evident or the presumption of guilt is great.
The move was the latest development in several ongoing sexual assault investigations involving Sharper in Louisiana, California, Florida, Arizona and Nevada.
The indictment filed last month in Arizona alleges that Sharper gave the sedative zolpidem to three women and then had “sexual intercourse or oral sexual contact” with two of them without their consent on Nov. 21 at an apartment in Tempe. The drug is commonly sold under the brand name Ambien.
Sharper has not yet entered a plea in the case, although one of his attorneys has said Sharper will deny those allegations. He has pleaded not guilty in the California case.
Earlier this month, Granville denied a request from Sharper’s attorneys to set bail, ruling that he didn’t have jurisdiction until the former player was in Arizona. But Sharper’s attorneys argued that the former player was entitled to a hearing to determine whether Arizona prosecutors have enough evidence to deny him bail.
On Wednesday, Tempe police detective Kevin Mace said Sharper’s DNA was recovered from the clothing of one of the two sexual assault victims in Arizona, but none of his DNA was found during an exam of the other woman.
The detective also said a police search of the apartment turned up a shot glass with a white residue that turned out to be zolpidem, and California investigators discovered that Sharper had a prescription for the drug.
On Thursday, Sharper’s attorneys said their client did not make the drinks that authorities say he used to drug the women, and that neither woman suffered physical injuries.
Prosecutors pointed out that sexual assault victims sometimes don’t suffer physical injuries, and that both women were assaulted while unconscious after being drugged.Copyright 2014 by The Associated Press


Source: Watt has 5th-year option exercised

Updated: April 17, 2014, 9:45 PM ET

Field Yates |

The Houston Texans have officially exercised the fifth-year option on defensive end J.J. Watt’s contract for the 2015 season, a league source said.

The 2012 Defensive Player of the Year has 36.5 sacks over his first three seasons.
Teams have until May 3 to make a decision on whether to exercise the fifth-year option, which is guaranteed for injury only until the final day of the 2014 league year. It becomes guaranteed at the start of the next league year.
For players drafted in the top 10, the value of the fifth-year option is equal to the transition tag for their position during this offseason.
For players drafted with picks 11-32, the value of the fifth-year option is equal to the average of the 25 highest-paid players at their positions, excluding the top three highest players.
The San Diego Chargers have exercised the fifth-year option on defensive lineman Corey Liuget, according to a source, while the Baltimore Ravens announced they exercised the option on cornerback Jimmy Smith on Thursday.
It is believed the New York Jets have already exercised the option with defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson, a source said.
The expectation is that many teams will eventually exercise this option. The Carolina Panthers have strongly suggested they will with quarterback Cam Newton, while the Detroit Lions already have said they will not with defensive tackle Nick Fairley.
One instance that continues to bear monitoring is with San Francisco 49ers’ linebacker Aldon Smith, who was arrested Sunday at Los Angeles International Airport on charges of a false bomb report.

Field Yates has previous experience interning with the New England Patriots on both their coaching and scouting staffs. A graduate of Wesleyan University (CT), he is a regular contributor to ESPN Boston’s Patriots coverage and ESPN Insider.