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Friday’s Early Bird Report includes the Falcons’ hangover cure and the Lions’ plan for Julio Jones

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — The Falcons (2-0) are busy putting the final touches on their preparations for the Detroit Lions (2-0), a matchup that will kick off Sunday at 1 p.m. ET. With the weekend nearly upon us, here are the final pieces of news for this inter-divisional showdown.

Today’s Early Bird Report includes the Falcons’ hangover cure; the Lions’ plan for Julio Jones and the two teams’ different approaches to injury reports.

Enjoy!

 

FALCONS HEADLINES FROM AROUND THE COUNTRY

 

Sports Illustrated: Falcons not suffering from a Super Bowl hangover

Remember that hangover everyone expected to have after last year’s Super Bowl? Turns out the Falcons didn’t get the memo. Sports Illustrated’s Albert Breer wrote a piece about Atlanta avoiding any type of let-down over the first two weeks of the season.

Breer believes there’s one key reason why the Falcons have continued to roll right along:

“They did what few NFL teams have the stomach to when things go sideways — behind the GM they’ve stuck with for a decade and a head coach they’ve invested in, they believed in their course and stuck to it.”

ESPN.com: Lions’ plan for Julio? Know where he is every play

Containing Julio Jones is a nearly impossible task for NFL teams, and the Lions are the next team who will attempt to do so. Former Atlanta linebacker Paul Worrilow is now in Detroit, and he spoke with ESPN’s Michael Rothstein about some of the things Jones can do.

“The way he’ll go after a long ball, you think it’s out of reach, you know,” Worrilow told Rothstein. “You wouldn’t just think much if he didn’t go after it, because it might be too far away.

“But he’s taking off. He’s going for it. He might lay out in practice, just athletic stuff like that.”

Sports Illustrated: Julio named one of the top 50 fittest male athletesFalcons fans have known for a long time just how incredibly athletic Jones is. Everyone else has caught on. In a recent feature, Sports Illustrated ranked the top 50 fittest male and female athletes in sports and the Falcons’ star receiver came in at No. 18 on the list.

Said SI, “Who can’t Julio Jones outrun? The man is a Speed Machine, making him even more of a nightmare for opponents who are already dreading his incredible ball control and vertical abilities that contributed to his 1,409-yard season in 2016. (Mohamed Sanureferred to the 6-foot-3, 220-pound receiver as an ‘alien,’ which would honestly explain a lot.) If there’s some kind of physical talent that Matt Ryan‘s most lethal weapon does not possess, then, well, you could’ve fooled us.”

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Arizona Cardinals running back Chris Johnson (23) is hit by Chicago Bears cornerback Kyle Fuller (23) during the first half of a preseason NFL football game, Saturday, Aug. 19, 2017, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

The Arizona Cardinals released veteran running back Chris Johnson on Friday, as first reported by ESPN’s Adam Schefter.

Johnson, 31, played for the Cardinals for the last two seasons, appearing in 15 games and rushing for just over 900 yards. The former All-Pro selection and three-time Pro Bowler once ran for more than 2,000 yards in 2009 with the Tennessee Titans, but finds himself as a free agent as NFL teams near the requirement to cut their rosters down to 53 players.

Johnson also previously spent time with the New York Jets in 2014.

As for the rest of the Cardinals running backs, Arizona boasts superstar David Johnson, along with Andre Ellington, Kerwynn Williams, Elijhaa Penny, James Summers and the injured T.J. Logan. Of course, that situation could change as cuts continue.

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Back in 2015, the Arizona Cardinals became one of six NFL teams to use virtual reality in their training efforts. Now, the Cardinals are including their fans in the virtual reality experience, thanks to an extended partnership with Cox Business, the team announced.

Under the partnership, Cox will provide the Cardinals with technological needs including the introduction of a free virtual reality station for fans at University of Phoenix Stadium. According to the announcement, the VR experience will allow fans to envision themselves on the field at Cardinals practice, on the field for player introductions, and standing alongside team captains for the traditional coin toss.

Virtual reality training is nothing new for the Cardinals, who have been using technology from STRIVR to run practices and give players all-important repetitions from behind the safety of a headset since 2015, according to a Cardinals.com article. Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians bought the technology for his team after connecting with STRIVR CEO Derek Belch through Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney.

“I’ve been waiting 20 years for someone to do this,” coach Bruce Arians told Cardinals.com. “I always thought if you could put a headset on and play football in a room with live pictures, how much better you could get without sweating.”

Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer was one of the first to try STRIVR’s technology. He described it to his teammates as, er, indescribable. “I try to tell guys, ‘It’s cool,’ but then they put it on and it’s ‘Oh my gosh, I can’t believe it.’ You can’t describe how real it really is,” Palmer told Cardinals.com.

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In fact, Palmer is partly responsible for the virtual reality fan experience that the Cardinals are installing in the concourse with Cox’s technology assistance. He told Cardinals.com in 2015 that he had suggested the team should consider having a couple headsets available for fans around the stadium so they could see football from inside the pocket. Now, fans can do just that — and at no cost to them.

Ed Aaronson, who is the vice president for Cox Business in Arizona, said in the announcement that Cox has been providing the Cardinals with technology for a decade and that the expanded deal between the two organizations paved the way for a more fan-centric focus.

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The most controversial player in the 2017 NFL Draft was just taken off the board by the Cincinnati Bengals because well, the Bengals.

Not surprisingly, the 2nd round, 48th overall selection, brought more boos than it did cheers…

The former Oklahoma running back was suspended for an entire season for punching a woman in the face the day he turned 18 as a freshman, breaking four of her bones.

Below is the video of that incident.

Mixon joins the likes of players with behavior issues themselves in Adam “Pacman” Jones and Vontaze Burfict in Cincinnati.

Per Adam Schefter, only four of 32 NFL teams were interested in Mixon, and the team decided Friday that they would take him if the opportunity presented itself.

Despite the second-round selection, Mixon is regarded as one of the most talented prospects.

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Starting with 13th pick Thursday, team ready to bolster roster with 2017 selections

Mississippi defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche shakes hands with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell after being selected by the Arizona Cardinals as the 29th pick in the first round during the 2016 NFL Draft on Thursday, April 28, 2016 in Chicago. (Perry Knotts via AP)

The draft is indeed the “lifeblood” of NFL teams, as Steve Keim said. If a team doesn’t draft well, trouble follows, because it is that cost-controlled part of the roster that allows for sustained success.

That’s the sustained success Keim, the Cardinals’ general manager, talks about often. As the team prepares to take part in this year’s draft – beginning Thursday at 5 p.m. Arizona time – the Cardinals will once again try and parlay picks into a roster foundation.

The Cards have eight choices, one in each of the seven rounds plus an extra compensatory pick in the fifth round. Maybe that changes with a trade or two. But as we stand now, the Cardinals will be 13th overall, and really, the top question is obvious.

Will the Cardinals draft a quarterback?

I believe at some point, yes, they will draft a quarterback. There has been so much talk given to the situation. That doesn’t mean a QB will be picked early. Maybe it will be a fourth- or fifth-round flier on a guy. But it just makes sense that a quarterback will be selected at some point.

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Evidence continues to mount that Colin Kaepernick may be being punished by NFL teams for his national anthem protest last year.

49ers webzone’s Richard Madrid put forth a convincing article on Kaepernick’s improvement last year replete with illustrative clips from Kaepernick’s play. While the clips are impressive, they can also be misleading. One play can never represent a quarterback’s strengths or weaknesses.

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Other than the remaining 31 NFL teams that would like to win a championship, Malcolm Butler may be the only one who hasn’t enjoyed the Patriots’ huge offseason.

It’s no secret that one of the Pats biggest acquisitions, cornerback Stephon Gilmore, comes at the expense of Butler. He’s looking to get paid as a restricted free agent, and New England went ahead and handed all that money to someone who plays the exact same position as him.

As of now, the disgruntled Butler still remains in New England. The rumors with the Saints have completely died down to whispers now, and it appears he’ll be contending for another title in a Patriots uniform next season.

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We’re a month-plus into free agency across the National Football League, and in less than three weeks the NFL draft will kick off in Philadelphia.

As such, for many NFL teams, especially those who have already spent big on the open market, focus has turned from the former to the latter.

That doesn’t mean there’s no one of note left on the open market. Free agency still features a veteran NFL starter at quarterback, no fewer than two 2,000-yard rushers and a cornerback once thought to be the very best in the league at what he does.

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