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San Francisco 49ers bring fire-struck Paradise High School team to game via bus


SANTA CLARA, Calif. — After days of watching and hearing stories about how one of the deadliest wildfires in California history had torn through their community, the Paradise High Football team found some relief Monday night in the form of a bus ride.

After the San Francisco 49ers invited the Paradise team to Monday night’s game against the New York Giants, the 35 players, 16 cheerleaders and eight coaches boarded a bus provided by the Niners Monday in Chico, California, at around 11 a.m. to make the roughly 200-mile trek to Levi’s Stadium.

While everyone in the traveling party was looking forward to the game and expressed gratitude to the Niners for the invitation, the two things they wanted most could be found on that bus: an opportunity to sleep and a chance to spend time with their friends and teammates.

“I think the biggest reaction was on the bus ride here when they all slept,” coach Rick Prinz said. “They’re exhausted. They’re all displaced. (Almost) all of their homes have burned down. They’ve lost everything.”

“We were all just hanging out and having a good time with each other,” senior quarterback Cole Cline said. “We all really missed each other.”

The invitation to spend the evening with the Niners came after the Camp Fire ripped through Paradise late last week.

After word that Paradise, which was 8-2 despite being the smallest school in its section, had to forfeit their playoff appearance made its way back to the Niners, they got in touch with the Butte County Office of Education.

Soon enough, the Niners had offered buses for the team to come to Monday night’s game and stand with them on the sideline during the National Anthem.

Earlier Monday, the Butte County Sheriff’s Department announced that the death toll in and around Paradise had reached 29, matching the number for most deaths from a single fire in modern California history. More than 200 other people remain unaccounted for and more than 6,400 homes had been destroyed, according to the sheriff’s department.

“What that town, what that community has gone through, it’s just heart wrenching, gut wrenching for all of us,” general manager John Lynch said. “So, you just look for anything you can do. I think when you can take people’s minds off something for a short time, of course we’d do anything possible. I think it’s just a show of solidarity of our community, we’ve got to all stand together and reach out and help each other during a time like this.”

The Niners also will donate all proceeds from Monday night’s 50/50 drawing to the North Valley Community Foundation to help those impacted by the fires in Butte County.

In addition, San Francisco tight end George Kittle, quarterback Nick Mullens, defensive tackle DeForest Buckner, fullback Kyle Juszczyk, left tackle Joe Staley and running back Matt Breida are signing and donating their game-worn jerseys from Monday night to be auctioned off with all money going to relief efforts.

Shane Wallen, the 49ers assistant strength and conditioning coach, grew up in Paradise, is a native of Chico and has started a GoFundMe page in efforts to offer support for his hometown. The fire destroyed Wallen’s father’s home in Magalia.

With the help of multiple Niners players making donations and lending their social media platforms, Wallen had already raised more than $19,000 of the $50,000 goal as of early Monday evening. Wallen stopped and greeted each player on Monday night.

During the National Anthem, the Paradise team stood in front of the 49ers on the sideline and received loud cheers from the fans at Levi’s Stadium. As the anthem began, Niners players put their arms around the Paradise players in solidarity.

“It’s nice to get away from everything that’s going on and getting my mind off of it,” senior linebacker Trevor Rickson said. “And I get to watch football, the game I love.”

While the school survived the fire, about 90 percent of the players’ homes did not. Like most of the community, the coaches, players and cheerleaders have spent the past few days living elsewhere and seeking updates on the status of their own houses.

Cline said he initially didn’t believe his parents when they told him they needed to evacuate last Thursday morning. Within an hour, the town was engulfed in flames. He and his family safely made it out and have been staying at a hotel in nearby Folsom. Cline and his family found out their home burned down on Sunday.

Rickson has a similar story, albeit with a different ending, leaving his home with his mother and sister around 9 a.m. on Thursday and going to his aunt’s house in Chico. His house, in a neighborhood where most burned down, is still standing.

“It’s hard but they all have a place to stay if they need it,” Rickson said.

Both players expressed their dismay at not being able to play the playoff game they’d spent their high school careers working toward. In the absence of the chance to play, Cline said he and his teammates have leaned on the lessons they’ve learned from the game to help them stay positive through the most trying of times.

“We just rely on each other to pick each other up and just love each other because that’s what we’ve done all year,” Cline said. “We’re a great group of brothers.”

Like Rickson, Prinz’s house also managed to survive the fire, a fact that was confirmed via texts from friends who sent pictures.

“Nothing around it made it and somehow it’s standing there and I don’t know how to explain that,” Prinz said. “And it makes you feel a little bit guilty and grateful at the same time. But Paradise is devastated.

“I can’t believe it. You wouldn’t believe it guys if you saw it. It’s on a hillside, everything is gone and there sits that house. It’s a miracle.”

After Monday’s game, the Paradise contingent will take the long ride back to Butte County and disperse to where they’re staying — some in hotels, some with relatives and some in evacuation shelters.

As of Monday night, they still haven’t been allowed to return to town to survey the damage. They don’t know what comes next. But for one night, they were happy to get away from it all.

“One of my players said it best after we suspended our season, he said, ‘I really want to play the game but I lost everything I own and I need to find out where I’m going to live,'” Prinz said. “So, this was a great break from that. He’s on this trip. That’s most of the team and most of the coaching staff. So, it’s a great diversion. It’s fantastic. And all of this … they’re going to remember it forever. It’s just a great show of humanity and support for us from people you don’t even know who would come in and be this kind.”



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Deshaun Watson of Houston Texans ties career high with 5 passing TDs in win


HOUSTON — Less than a week after Deshaun Watson had to take a 12-hour bus ride to Jacksonville to ensure he could play in the game due to lung and rib injuries, the Houston Texans quarterback threw for five touchdowns in the team’s 42-23 victory over the Miami Dolphins on Thursday night.

It took until the eighth game of the 2018 season, but the Texans’ offense looked like the version the team was hoping for entering the year and Houston finally got a glimpse of the quarterback who lit up the NFL last season before he tore his ACL in early November.



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San Francisco 49ers place safety Adrian Colbert on injured reserve with high ankle sprain


SANTA CLARA, Calif. — After a flurry of injuries in the San Francisco 49ers‘ secondary late in the 2017 season, Adrian Colbert stepped into the starting free-safety job and played well enough to claim it on a permanent basis.

Now, just seven weeks into Colbert’s first year as the full-time starter, Colbert’s season is almost certainly over. On Monday, 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said the team is placing Colbert on injured reserve with a high right-ankle sprain, an injury he suffered in the third quarter of Sunday’s loss to the Los Angeles Rams.

Shanahan said Colbert is expected to miss six to eight weeks, and though that time frame would allow the possibility for Colbert to be one of the team’s short-term injured reserve candidates, Shanahan said the 25-year-old would “probably not” come back this season.

The Niners re-signed quarterback Tom Savage to take Colbert’s spot on the roster. Savage signed with San Francisco last week but was released to make room for defensive back Tyvis Powell because of multiple injuries in the secondary.

With 11 minutes left in the third quarter of Sunday’s game, Rams quarterback Jared Goff fired a pass deep down the left sideline for receiver Brandin Cooks. Colbert sprinted to the sideline, where he converged on the ball simultaneously with Niners cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon.

As Colbert attempted to brace for landing, his right leg bent awkwardly underneath him. He was taken to the locker room on a cart but returned to the Niners’ sideline soon after. After the game, Colbert indicated he’d be OK but was unsure of the official diagnosis.

Colbert’s is the latest and longest-term ailment for the Niners defensive backs and comes on the heels of what Shanahan believed was one of Colbert’s better performances this season.

“We had a challenge for him the last few weeks and I thought in this game he had covered sideline to sideline very well, just running and hitting,” Shanahan said. “And [he] made a real good play on the play he got hurt on also. They tried to challenge us, go over the top, which you want the corner there on, but usually the middle-third player will show up with the speed Colbert has, and he did and he made a good play and unfortunately he got hurt.”

In parts of seven games this season, Colbert posted 20 tackles and a pass defended. Now that he’s out, Shanahan said the Niners will look at all options, including the potential return to free safety of cornerback Jimmie Ward once he recovers from a hamstring injury.

For now, rookie D.J. Reed will get the first opportunity to replace Colbert. A fifth-round pick out of Kansas State, Reed has appeared in all seven games with one start and has 13 tackles on the season.

“Colbert is one of those guys last year who got his opportunity because a lot of guys went down,” Shanahan said. “And he was one of the guys that the second half of the year we got to watch grow and go through some trial and error but ended up playing at a very high level last year and made us very excited about going into this year with him.

“Now, Colbert going out is going to give more opportunities to D.J. Reed or other players, so you hope some other guys step it up like he did last year.”



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Matt Breida of San Francisco 49ers did not suffer high ankle sprain as feared


SANTA CLARA, Calif. — An MRI revealed Monday that San Francisco 49ers running back Matt Breida did not suffer the high ankle sprain the team initially feared Sunday night.

But Breida’s left ankle sprain is still significant enough to possibly keep him out of next Monday night’s game against the Green Bay Packers.

“It was positive news, it wasn’t a high ankle sprain,” Niners coach Kyle Shanahan said. “But it’s still definitely a serious sprain. So he’ll probably end up being doubtful this week.”

Shanahan said Breida will not participate Thursday when the Niners begin their practice week before the Monday Night Football game in Green Bay.

Shanahan said the team worked out four running backs Monday, including former 49er Jeremy McNichols, and that practice-squad running back Jeff Wilson will garner consideration for a promotion to the active roster.

Any addition would serve as a backup to Alfred Morris and Raheem Mostert, the two backs who stepped in for Breida when he suffered the injury with 30 seconds left in the first quarter of Sunday’s 28-18 loss to the Arizona Cardinals.

“We’re trying to see how our guys are, how the health of Breida is,” Shanahan said. “It was better news than anticipated but it’s still not great news. So, we’ll see that over the next couple of days. It was good to take a look at some guys today.”

Breida, who left the locker room Sunday night wearing a walking boot, entered Week 5 ranked third in the NFL in rushing yards (313) and first in yards per carry (7.63). Before the injury, he was off to a strong start against the Cardinals, with eight carries for 56 yards, and caught a touchdown pass on the Niners’ opening drive.

Shanahan acknowledged Monday that Breida’s productive first four weeks had positioned him to continue getting the most work among the backs after sharing the load with Morris in the first couple of games.

Now, the Niners (1-4) will turn to Morris as the primary back, with Mostert next in line until Breida is able to return. For the season, Morris has 62 carries for 228 yards and a touchdown to go with six catches for 66 yards.

Shanahan also ruled receiver Dante Pettis out for the game against Green Bay as he continues to deal with a knee injury.



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Eagles’ Carson Wentz setting bar high for debut versus Colts – Philadelphia Eagles Blog


PHILADELPHIA — Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz is not Superman, tight end Zach Ertz noted recently. Wentz hasn’t seen live action in nine months, and he shouldn’t feel like he has to come in and do the heavy lifting.

But Wentz is setting the bar high. While his coaches and teammates will try to provide necessary support as he makes his return from a multi-ligament knee injury against the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday, Wentz believes he and the offense can operate like it did late last season before he went down with a torn ACL and LCL in Week 13.

“We expect to go out and start fast, play fast, be clicking, and so I truly believe that’s a realistic expectation,” Wentz said before Wednesday’s practice. “Now, [it’s] football, it’s not always like that, so those things come and you have to learn how to balance the ebbs and flows of the game and everything, but I think we all hold ourselves to high expectations around here.”

Wentz will heed the doctors’ advice and continue to wear a brace on his surgically repaired left knee as he has this offseason, and he says he is now at a point where he’s gotten used to it. A large black sleeve covered that brace during practice Wednesday. Otherwise, there were no other signs that pointed to his injury. Now nine-plus months removed from surgery, he is moving fluidly and planting with confidence.

While it may be a little while until he pulls off escapes at the level he did when at the top of his game last season, Wentz intends to play the position as he always has and use his legs to his advantage.

“I feel extremely confident moving around, on the run,” he said. “Even last year I never said I’m a running quarterback — I never want to be — but I’ll find ways to extend time in the pocket and make plays down the field, and I don’t think that’s going anywhere.”

Similarly, coach Doug Pederson said that he is not going to “coach scared.” He’ll max protect when there are opportunities, but he does not plan to be timid in his playcalling.

That’s not to say that Wentz’s health is not being prioritized. There have been conversations about Wentz better protecting himself dating back well before the injury, something the quarterback has had plenty of time to think about and continued to work on.

Wentz says that he is looking forward to taking that first hit — “always a good wake-up call to remind yourself you’re playing a man’s game out there” — and believes he’ll feel at home despite the long layoff.

“I know once I’m out there, I’ll feel good,” Wentz said. “I feel good in practice. I realize live action is going to feel a little different, but I’ve been fortunate the last couple weeks going against the [first-team] defense as the scout quarterback — obviously, they play extremely fast, so just seeing those things. The more experience out there, the better, but I think it will come second nature once I’m out there.”



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Oakland Raiders coach Jon Gruden says Khalil Mack’s contract demands too high


ALAMEDA, Calif. — Oakland Raiders coach Jon Gruden acknowledged Sunday night that Khalil Mack’s contract demands were simply too large for the team’s comfort, and the trade offer from the Chicago Bears was too enticing to pass up.

A day after the Raiders sent the two-time first-team All-Pro and 2016 NFL Defensive Player of the Year to the Bears, along with a second-round draft pick in 2020 and a 2020 conditional fifth-rounder, for the Bears’ first-round picks in 2019 and 2020, a sixth-rounder in 2019 and a third-rounder in 2020, Gruden also took issue with the notion that he wanted to trade Mack, while Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie wanted to re-sign him.

“They’re trying to divide us,” Gruden said. “People are trying to divide us: ‘I wanted him gone, he wanted him here.’ We made a decision as an organization. [Owner] Mark Davis, [executive] Tom Delaney, we all got the information and we made a decision, together. And I’ll just say what [Reggie] said — I read what he said yesterday — it’s a decision that we all came to.

“I know there’s maybe some feeling that maybe I was involved in a day-to-day negotiation. I had nothing to do with it. We were at a standoff and something had to happen, and here we are.”

Mack, who held out and had not been at the Raiders’ practice facility since the end of last season, was under contract and due to make $13.8 million this season on the fifth-year option of his rookie deal. The Raiders could have used the franchise tag on him next season.

Instead, the Raiders fielded offers and Chicago’s won out. The Bears signed Mack to a six-year, $141 million extension with $90 million guaranteed, a record for a defensive player, a source told ESPN’s Adam Schefter.

McKenzie said the Raiders made an offer to Mack at the start of the league year in March.

But …

“I don’t believe we were anywhere close to where the Bears were,” Gruden said. “The Bears made us an offer that we thought was really unique and very, very tough to say goodbye to a great player, but here we are today.”

On Sunday night, Mack tweeted his gratitude to the Raiders fan base.

A day before the Mack trade, the Los Angeles Rams signed defensive tackle Aaron Donald to a six-year, $135 million deal with $87 million guaranteed.

“That pretty much set the stage of what it was going to be,” Gruden said. “And $90 million guaranteed is an astronomical number. It’s phenomenal, I think, for the players. Great for him, obviously. But that was something we could not do.”

Especially not with quarterback Derek Carr already entering Year 2 of a five-year, $125 million extension and sitting on a $25 million salary cap number.

“I don’t know how many teams have done that,” Gruden said. “Aaron Donald got signed, they don’t have a quarterback that has been re-done yet. I think the Bears made this trade, [Mitch] Trubisky is still on his rookie deal. It’s tough when you have two players that are the highest paid at their positions, so the economic part of it certainly weighs in.”

Gruden’s brother, Jay, oversaw a similar scenario in Washington last season with quarterback Kirk Cousins and cornerback Josh Norman boasting cap numbers of $24 million and $20 million, respectively. Washington went 7-9.

“We’ve got free agents on our team that are going to be [up] next year. We’ve got to find a way to bring them back,” Gruden added, and receiver Amari Cooper‘s fifth-year option for 2019 has already been exercised. “So you’ve got to field a 53-man roster and there are some implications of having two players making that much money. That’s no mystery to anybody.”

Gruden was also asked why the Raiders did not simply wait Mack out, to see if he would report under his current contract.

“We have waited,” Gruden said. “We waited and waited and the Rams game was looming. Our feeling was he was not going to report any time soon. Like I said, I saw the Redskins go through it with Kirk Cousins. It was a long process. You can wait it out, you can franchise him, you can force him to play, but we made a decision and we’re going to stand by it.

“We’re going to do everything we can to win and put together the best team possible. We have a lot of holes, and we have to do what we can to fill them.”





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Lamar Jackson of Baltimore Ravens — ‘I don’t feel like I’ve performed at a high level yet’


Lamar Jackson‘s up-and-down preseason continued in Monday night’s 20-19 win over the Indianapolis Colts, which didn’t sit well with the former Heisman Trophy winner.

Jackson, a rookie first-round pick, struggled mightily with his accuracy before throwing a 7-yard touchdown pass. He finished 7-of-15 passing for 49 yards on Monday night and has failed to complete over half of his throws in any of his three preseason appearances.

“I don’t feel like I’ve performed at a high level yet,” Jackson said.

It was a nightmare start for Jackson. He misfired on his first four passes and went three-and-out on his first three series.

Jackson chalked up his problems to a procedural mistake on the sideline.

“I came out cold,” Jackson said. “I got to learn that when the vet is up, I have to stay warm through the process. I didn’t do a good job tonight. I started off slow, incompleting a lot of balls that I didn’t like, but I ended up throwing a touchdown.”

Jackson’s best throw was the touchdown toss to Chris Moore. Rolling to his right, Jackson squeezed the throw to Moore in the back of the end zone.

It showed Jackson’s accuracy and his patience, because Moore was the third read on the play. This also continued a trend for Jackson, who has thrown better on the run than in the pocket.

Ravens coach John Harbaugh was pleased with how Jackson rebounded.

“That’s the great thing about Lamar. He’s confident. He’s going to keep competing,” Harbaugh said. “He’s always going to believe that he can make the play to turn the game. He did a great job of doing that.”

Harbaugh then added, “There’s no question in my mind that he has a great future.”

One of the Ravens’ biggest decisions this preseason is whether to give the primary backup job to Jackson or carry a third quarterback in Robert Griffin III, who has been impressive this preseason.

Griffin has completed 69.2 percent of his passes (18-of-26) for 177 yards. He has thrown two touchdowns and one interception for a 97.7 passer rating.

Jackson has connected on 41.8 percent of his throws (18-of-43) for 201 yards. He has recorded two touchdowns and one interception for a 62.2 rating.

The Ravens’ next preseason game is Saturday in Miami.



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Jay Gruden: Expectations should be high, given Redskins’ talent – Washington Redskins Blog


RICHMOND, Va. — Jay Gruden doesn’t need a reminder. The Washington Redskins coach knows the situation quite well. It’s his fifth season, which makes him the longest-tenured coach under owner Dan Snyder. The Redskins have missed the playoffs for two consecutive seasons.

The math adds up to the obvious: It’s time to win.

“We do need to produce, without a doubt,” Gruden said. “It’s a production-based business, without a doubt. Every NFL head coach knows that’s the deal, whether you’re in your first year, fifth year, 10th year or in the Hall of Fame. You’ve got to win.”

That’s why it’s good for Gruden that he views this roster as the most complete one he has had in Washington. Player after player has said the vibe is different this season, though that has been said in past camps.

The Redskins have won 10 games only three times since they won the Super Bowl after the 1991 season. They haven’t won a playoff game since 2005. It’s a fan base and an organization that want much more. The team has taken steps under Gruden, going from four wins his first season to nine and an NFC East title in his second. But then it was 8-7-1 followed by 7-9.

Snyder gave Gruden a two-year extension in February 2017, and the head coach would be wise to avoid job security speculation by leading this team to the postseason this time around. Otherwise, we could see the eighth coaching change under Snyder, who bought the team in 1999.

Not that this weighs on Gruden more than it has in the past. He doesn’t come across any differently, displaying sarcasm and humor during news conferences. He works on the field the same with the players, sometimes lining up as a defensive back against receivers in drills.

“I felt pressure the moment I signed the contract,” he said. “That’s the way it is here in D.C. Everyone expects a winner. I know Mr. Snyder does and Bruce [Allen], the whole city and the fans. I’ve been fortunate enough to get to this without winning a playoff game. I understand the expectations are high. We’ve put ourselves in position that it should be high, given the talent on this team.”

Gruden said this is the most talent he has had since he was hired in 2014. The Redskins have more depth on the defensive line and at running back. They have a veteran quarterback in Alex Smith, who they believe is an upgrade over Kirk Cousins, now with Minnesota.

Gruden also pointed to defensive improvements, adding first-round defensive lineman Daron Payne to pair with his former Alabama teammate, Jonathan Allen. The organization hopes it has created more depth based on how some players were forced to play during an injury-filled 2017.

“Yes, we have more players that can step in and play than we ever have,” Gruden said. “We have the makings of something pretty good. Now it’s a matter of getting everyone on the same page. It’s about producing and playing in key situations and making plays when it counts.”

The Redskins like their running back situation, starting with rookie Derrius Guice and third-down back Chris Thompson, among others. They like their receiver situation with the addition of speedster Paul Richardson. They like their tight ends now that Jordan Reed is healthy (that sound you hear is the organization collectively knocking on wood). If they stay healthy — the team used 36 offensive line combinations last season — and if players such as receiver Josh Doctson develop, then the Redskins could have an explosive attack, which doesn’t mean to Gruden what you think.

“Explosive to me doesn’t mean 40 points a game,” Gruden said. “Explosive to me is ball control, having big-play ability, of course, but also expressing your will on the defense. Hopefully with the power we now have at running back and the tight ends able to block, I think we can control the line of scrimmage. So explosive might mean control the ball and score 20 points. We have the ability to do a lot of different things. We can spread you out or tighten you in and run the ball. It’s just us finding a happy medium and not going too crazy with the 300-play list for game day.”

That’s why players are optimistic.

“I can’t pinpoint it. Just the vibe feels different,” said Thompson, who is coming off a broken fibula. “I know Jay feels it, and we feel it. It’s a matter of us getting all the guys healthy.”

Safety D.J. Swearinger said the vibe is definitely different.

“We got a lot of leaders on this team, especially with quarterback, and we get a guy like Alex Smith in here,” he said. “Defensively, we got a lot of pieces. We added a lot of pieces on offense. The talent is through the roof. The main thing is get the chemistry there, and you get the chemistry there, and there will be trouble.”

That would be good news for Gruden and the Redskins. Otherwise, there could be a different sort of trouble.



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Eli Manning says Giants’ pick of Saquon Barkley ‘showed that they still think I can perform at a high level’


EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Eli Manning noticed when the New York Giants opted against drafting a quarterback with the No. 2 pick and instead took running back Saquon Barkley.

That decision meant something to the 14-year veteran.

After a down year where Manning’s consecutive games streak was snapped and ego dented, this was a gigantic show of faith. The Giants could have drafted Sam Darnold, Josh Allen or Josh Rosen, all of whom went in the top 10. They could’ve looked to go in other directions as well.



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Johnny Manziel of Hamilton Tiger-Cats finishes CFL season on high note


MONTREAL — Johnny Manziel was 12-of-20 for 88 yards and a touchdown, and the Hamilton Tiger-Cats scored 30 straight points to beat the Montreal Alouettes 30-15 on Saturday in the final preseason game for both teams.

The 2012 Heisman Trophy winner at Texas A&M also ran for 19 yards. He is set to back up starter Jeremiah Masoli — who rested against Montreal — next Saturday at Calgary in the regular-season opener.

Manziel is making a comeback in the Canadian Football League after being released by the Cleveland Browns in March 2016.

“By no means is it perfect, or close to perfect, but there are some flashes, things I know and feel comfortable with,” Manziel said. “There are things that I should hit on the field that I missed today. That’s just part of trying to get better and get back in a feel of playing ball every day, week in and week out. Any time I’m getting in and getting reps and getting a chance to take live reps like today, that’s a positive day.”

Manziel took over for Bryant Moniz with Hamilton down 14-0 four minutes into the second quarter. Manziel opened with consecutive completions to running back Alex Green for Hamilton’s first first down and capped the drive with a 3-yard scoring pass to Green.

“Hopefully, that’s the first of many,” Manziel said.

The QB led three drives for field goals in the second half before giving way to Dane Evans.

“You saw him out there. He’s still a little rusty,” Tiger-Cats coach June Jones said. “But he’s a competitor. He knows what’s going on. He’s seeing what’s going on. He’s able to execute real quickly. You guys can see what he can do. He can make a difference. I think he’s going to be a very good player in this league.”



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