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CINCINNATI — Cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick got to see receiver Julio Jones’ rare abilities during practice at Alabama.

They’ve never gone head-to-head in the NFL, which is about to change on Sunday in Atlanta when they’re paired again in a nostalgic rematch.
The Falcons made Jones the sixth overall pick in 2011, when he left Alabama after his junior season. Kirkpatrick was a year behind him at Alabama, giving him a chance to cover him in practice. The Bengals took Kirkpatrick with the 17th overall pick in 2012.

The Falcons (1-2) and Bengals (2-1) have played once while they were both in the NFL. The Bengals won 24-10 at Paul Brown Stadium during the 2014 season, when Kirkpatrick was on special teams only. Jones caught seven passes for 88 yards and a touchdown.

Kirkpatrick won’t be assigned to Jones on Sunday, but he’ll likely wind up covering him on some plays, allowing them to renew their one-on-one history.

“I just know that competitive nature me and him had when I was down there,” Kirkpatrick said. “It’s like me and A.J. (Green). Sometimes me and A.J. are about to kill each other in practice.”

The Bengals have given up a lot of yards in their first three games, facing offences that aren’t as highly ranked as Atlanta’s. Andrew Luck and Joe Flacco threw for more than 300 yards each in the Bengals’ opening wins — late turnovers made the difference.

Christian McCaffrey ran for 184 yards and Cam Newton ran for a pair of touchdowns in Carolina’s 31-21 victory on Sunday that left Cincinnati ranked 26th in the league in defence. The Bengals are last in third downs, allowing opponents to convert 52 per cent.

The defence is still adapting to a new co-ordinator, two new position coaches, and the influx of young players over the past two seasons. The Bengals have their youngest team in coach Marvin Lewis’ 16 seasons.

“We’ve got a lot of new, but you’ve got to get it right,” Lewis said Wednesday. “We do a lot of things really good. We’re fifth or sixth in the league on first down. We’ve got to put it all together.”

The cornerbacks are a strength of the unit, featuring three first-round picks — Kirkpatrick, Darqueze Dennard and William Jackson. They’ll get their biggest test yet on Sunday, with three former Alabama players figuring prominently.

Falcons rookie receiver Calvin Ridley was the 26th overall pick out of Alabama. Ridley had seven catches for 146 yards and three touchdowns in Atlanta’s 43-37 overtime loss to New Orleans on Sunday.

“Bragging rights and everything,” Kirkpatrick said. “I’m looking forward to it. A great challenge. Julio is still my guy win, lose or draw. This week I feel like it’s going to be a little extra something.”

NEW D-LINEMAN

The Bengals put second-year defensive tackle Ryan Glasgow on injured reserve with a torn ACL suffered in Sunday’s game. They signed defensive tackle Adolphus Washington off the Cowboys’ practice squad. The Cincinnati native and former Ohio State player was drafted by the Bills in the third round in 2016 and played 31 games for Buffalo. He was waived on Sept. 11 and signed by the Cowboys. It’s unclear whether he’ll learn the defence enough to be able to blend into the Bengals’ line rotation on Sunday.

“It’s a matter of how much he can absorb, given he landed at 7:30 last night,” Lewis said.

GREEN HAS LIMITED PRACTICE

Receiver A.J. Green had a limited practice Wednesday. He sat out the second half at Carolina with a groin/hip injury. Also limited were running back Giovani Bernard (thigh), Kirkpatrick (groin), Dennard (calf), linebacker Preston Brown (ankle), left tackle Cordy Glenn (knee) and defensive end Michael Johnson (knee).

MIXON AND PRICE IMPROVING

Running back Joe Mixon and rookie centre Billy Price will miss their second game with injuries, but Lewis said Wednesday they’re making progress and could be back within a few weeks. Mixon had knee surgery to remove torn cartilage, and Price has a sprained foot.

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INDIANAPOLIS — The Indianapolis Colts spent the off-season investing in Andrew Luck’s protection plan.

After one week, they like the results.

Sure, Andrew Luck was sacked twice and hit seven more times in Sunday’s season-opening loss, but a makeshift offensive line with three new starters held up perhaps better than expected.

“I’m not sure I’ve ever seen an offensive line pass protect as well as they did,” offensive co-ordinator Nick Sirianni said Tuesday.

“It wasn’t just that they weren’t getting near Andrew. You know they got there every once in a while, just as they will with any quarterback. It wasn’t so much they weren’t getting near him, it was the kind of effort where the offensive line was selling out for Andrew.”

Sirianni was most impressed by the teamwork from the starting five and their willingness to do whatever it took to keep Luck upright after going more than 20 months between regular-season starts.

Plus, the Colts (0-1) weren’t even close to full strength — and they may not be again this weekend at Washington.

Left tackle Anthony Castonzo, Luck’s longtime blindside protector, injured his hamstring between the end of mini-camp and the start of training camp.

He returned briefly after being placed on the physically unable to perform list, then re-injured the hamstring before the preseason opener. Castonzo hasn’t played since and was limited in practice all of last week.

Denzelle Good looked like the probable starter at right tackle heading into the preseason, but hurt his knee and wrist in Week 3 of the preseason and sat out all of last week.

Indy danced around those absences by plugging their most versatile lineman, Joe Haeg, into Castonzo’s spot on the left side, and putting veteran J’Marcus Webb, who didn’t even play in the NFL last season, in Good’s spot on the right side.

Indy’s plight may have taken another hit when Webb injured his hamstring on Clayton Fejedelem’s clinching 83-yard fumble return to seal Cincinnati’s victory. Webb was placed on injured reserve on Tuesday.

“Anthony wasn’t in much of training camp, either, so we were kind of ready for it,” Haeg said. “We have been constantly shuffling guys around, getting guys reps at every position, so it really wasn’t as big a deal, I think, as if Anthony had been healthy all of OTAs, all of training camp and then showed up Week 1 and not been able to play.”

But the Colts’ options are pretty limited.

Haeg could swing back to the right side, where he is more familiar, if Castonzo starts. The only other tackle on the active roster is Le’Raven Clark, a third-round pick in 2016 who was inactive against the Bengals.

What else could the Colts do?

Second-round pick Braden Smith lost out on the starting job at right tackle during the preseason and the only other lineman on the active roster is veteran guard Mark Glowinski, who started 19 games in three seasons with Seattle. He, however, is listed as a guard.

“You have to find a groove so that you’re ready whenever your name is called,” Smith said.

The Colts certainly didn’t play a perfect game against Cincinnati.

Sirianni acknowledged there were some missed assignments and they need to run the ball consistently. But he figures if the Colts continue to protect Luck the way they did for 55 passing attempts Sunday, Indy’s starting quarterback should be in good hands — regardless of the starters.

“I was really just amazed at how little he got hit, dropping back that many times.” Sirianni said. “We got some movement on a really good defensive line on some run plays that we were really encouraged by.”

Notes: The Colts have reached injury settlements with linebackers Tyrell Adams and Jeremiah George, receivers K.J. Brent and Krishawn Hogan and safety T.J. Green. All five become free agents after initially going on the Colts’ injured reserve list when they cleared waivers. … Indy also has signed cornerback Lenzy Pipkins to the 53-man roster from the practice squad and signed guard Sean Harlow and cornerback Tarvarus McFadden to the practice squad and released offensive lineman Jamil Douglas.

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HOUSTON — Deshaun Watson looked rusty in Houston’s season-opening loss to New England, committing two turnovers and failing to move the offence consistently in his return from knee surgery.

Now the second-year quarterback must find a way to improve before Houston begins AFC South play on Sunday at Tennessee where the Texans will be without right tackle Seantrel Henderson.

Coach Bill O’Brien said Monday that Henderson is out for the season with an ankle injury. O’Brien added that Henderson, who was brought in this off-season to improve Houston’s line, will have surgery on Tuesday.

O’Brien said that for Watson to play better this week the rest of the offence has to pitch in to help him.

But he did admit that Watson was a little rusty and that he has “to make better reads, better decisions” for the Texans to be successful. O’Brien was also quick to point out that Watson is still a young player so growing pains are to be expected.

“It’s only I think his seventh game as a starter in this league,” O’Brien said. “He hasn’t played football in … a regular-season game, in a while … there’s a little bit of rust involved in all of those things and I know that he will improve. He’ll work very hard to improve, but there’s a lot of work to do.”

After Henderson was injured late in the first quarter on Sunday the Texans looked to rookie third-round pick Martinas Rankin to fill in. O’Brien thought he did a nice job and could look for him to do more with Henderson out for the season.

Rankin said it was a bit daunting to be thrown into action unexpectedly, but that having a positive attitude helped him succeed.

“Just telling myself: ‘No fear. I belong here. They brought me here for a reason and I’m going to represent this organization the best I can,’” he said.

When asked about regaining the tempo the offence had in the six games Watson started last season, O’Brien lamented the fact that they started things off on a bad note when Watson fumbled a handoff on the team’s first offensive play.

“That’s just horrendous,” O’Brien said. “To give the ball on the 15-yard line or whatever it was, 20-yard line, going in first play of the game, that’s no way to start a game. So, it starts there.”

The good news for the Texans is that Watson improved as the game went on, leading the team to two touchdown drives late after settling for field goals early in the game. He should get a boost this week with the return of receiver Will Fuller, who missed the opener with a hamstring injury.

The speedy Fuller has shown promise as a deep-play threat in his career, but Sunday was the 11th game he’s missed because of injury in his three-year career.

While Watson didn’t have a great game against the Patriots, the Texans did get a solid performance from their running game.

Lamar Miller led the way, rushing for 98 yards after not running for more than 75 yards in 16 games last season. Houston also got a nice game from backup Alfred Blue, who added 36 yards rushing and a touchdown.

“The line blocked well. I thought when we got into a rhythm in the running game, it was good,” O’Brien said. “We rushed for almost 170 yards, which was obviously one of the highlights for us on offence. I thought that Lamar ran hard. Lamar’s a good pro, he does a good job of reading the runs and getting us good yards.”

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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Royce Freeman is set to become the first rookie running back to start a season opener for the Denver Broncos since Hall of Famer Terrell Davis in 1995.

“It’s an honour to be mentioned with a man of that calibre, a player with that type of legacy around here,” Freeman said.

Coach Vance Joseph chose the third-round pick from Oregon as his starter Monday ahead of veteran Devontae Booker and fellow rookie Phillip Lindsay, who coincidentally was handed Davis’ old No. 30 jersey.

“That being said, it’s going to be by packages, also,” Joseph said. “So, Royce is our leading runner, but on third down you’ll probably see Booker and obviously having a package for Phillips is going to be important.”

Freeman reacted with humility after his position coach, Curtis Modkins, informed him he’d start Sunday against Seattle.

“It’s an honour to be named a starter for this football team,” Freeman said. “It makes me want to work harder.”

Freeman had plenty of miles on his football odometer coming out of Oregon, where he was a four-year starter and rushed 947 times for 5,621 yards and 60 touchdowns in addition to catching 79 passes for 815 yards and four TDs.

General manager John Elway said that proved he’s durable, and Freeman also proved his worth as a pass protector for Case Keenum during training camp and the preseason.

Joseph lauded Freeman’s maturity, saying he can “carry the load from a physical standpoint and a mental standpoint. He was really good in ‘pass-pro.’ That’s your biggest worry about having a young halfback playing with a veteran quarterback, but he’s shown the IQ and the maturity to be a great ‘pass-pro’ guy.”

Joseph said Freeman’s build and resume — he packs 238 pounds on his 6-foot frame and started 45 games in college — show he can handle heavy workloads, too.

“That’s what he showed at Oregon. He was their main guy. He had a lot of work. He stayed healthy through the work. And that’s also an issue for most young backs, can they carry the load for 16 weeks?” Joseph said. “And I think with his background, his body type, he should be able to carry the load for 16 weeks.”

Freeman was second-string behind Booker in the preseason, but he led the team with three touchdown runs, one in each of Denver’s first three preseason games before sitting out the exhibition finale.

OUT OF SIGHT: Joseph shut down a question about how hard it was to cut a former first-round quarterback when the Broncos jettisoned Paxton Lynch on Sunday.

“Paxton’s gone,” Joseph said. “So, that story’s gone with him.

“We have a big game on Sunday. We have three quarterbacks in our house that we feel good about,” Joseph added. “But Paxton, that’s gone. That story should be gone with him — I wish him well.”

The Broncos on Monday welcomed new No. 3 QB Kevin Hogan, the former Stanford signal caller who replaced Lynch on the roster Sunday and began learning from Keenum and backup Chad Kelly.

“Kevin fits what our quarterbacks look like,” Joseph said. “He’s an athletic guy. He has a good arm. He’s very, very smart. He’s fast with the ball. So, he fits the profile of what Chad and Case look like physically. So, he was a good fit for us.”

CAPTAINSHIPS: The Broncos elected captains on Monday, including three first-time honorees: linebacker Todd Davis, special teams ace Andy Janovich, and centre Matt Paradis.

Other captains are star LB Von Miller, Keenum and kicker Brandon McManus.

“All six guys are deserving the honour and I’m excited about those guys leading our team,” Joseph said.

Notes: Third CB Tramaine Brock (personal reasons) was the only player absent from practice, but Joseph said he’ll return Wednesday. … Joseph said he hopes to have S Su’a Cravens back by midseason. Cravens needs arthroscopic surgery on his left knee and went on IR. … The Broncos brought back WR Carlos Henderson to their practice squad. The 2017 third-round draft pick skipped training camp for personal reasons. “I want to see Carlos grow up,” Joseph said. “I want to see Carlos do NFL things and have great meetings, have great practice, have great days in the weight room. Just do those things for us first.”

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With 10 days until kickoff, the Dallas Cowboys are adding a piece to their offensive line.

The Kansas City Chiefs are trading offensive lineman Parker Ehinger to the Cowboys for cornerback Charvarius Ward, NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported, per a source informed of the situation.

Ehinger was a fourth-round pick of the Chiefs out of Cincinnati in the 2016 draft and won a starting guard job as a rookie, but saw that campaign cut short by a torn ACL. The knee injury has kept him from regaining his job since — save for his lone start in Week 17 of 2017 — and GM Brett Veach evidently deemed him expendable.

Dallas welcomes him in a move that appears to be for interior depth. We took a close look Wednesday at the struggles the Cowboys have faced and likely will continue to endure with Joe Looney taking over at center, but Ehinger has only seen starting snaps in the NFL as a guard. The Cowboys are looking at starting rookie Connor Williams at left guard, opposite two-time All-Pro Zack Martin, and might feel more comfortable with Ehinger behind (or competing with) Williams than the previous situation. It doesn’t appear as though Ehinger will play center, though crazier things have happened.

The loss of backup Marcus Martin to a torn ligament in his toe during this preseason likely is a more logical explanation for this trade. Dallas doesn’t want to enter the season without reliable depth behind the rookie guard and acquiring Ehinger for a bubble player addresses that concern.

Ward was an undrafted free agent who some expected to make the final 53-man roster in Dallas after he showed potential during camp. He’ll instead move to a team that has had issues with its secondary during the preseason.