49ers WR Dante Pettis Has Knee Sprain

49ers wide receiver Dante Pettis left practice on Wednesday with what could have been a serious knee injury, luckily, the sophomore wideout’s injury appears to just be a sprain that is not a cause for long-term concern, according to Ian Rapoport. The injury does make his status this week uncertain, but should not limit him later in the year.

This season has gone as good as anyone could have expected for the 49ers, but that has not been the case for Pettis. The team’s second round pick in 2018 appeared poised for a breakout after a strong finish to his rookie season. However, he found himself at the bottom of the team’s depth chart at receiver and has been unable to take advantage of limited opportunities.

In 2019, Pettis has appeared in all 11 49ers games (4 starts) this season and hauled in 11 receptions for 109 yards and two touchdowns. For what it’s worth, Pettis only had 11 receptions and 189 yards at this point last season before recording 262 receiving yards in his next four games.

Pettis may be on the border of the 49ers plans going forward, but a season-ending injury could have spelled the end of his time in San Francisco. Matt Barrows of The Athletic reported that either Pettis or wide receiver Marquise Goodwin, who is dealing with minor injuries of his own, will be inactive this week in San Francisco’s big game in Baltimore against the Ravens.


Lions QB David Blough Expected To Start Thursday

Lions quarterback David Blough is expected to make his first career start tomorrow in place of Jeff Driskel, a source tells Jeremy Fowler of ESPN. Driskel is not expected to be able to play through a hamstring injury that’s been causing him problems.

Blough will be the third different player to start under center for the Lions. Driskel stepped in for franchise quarterback Matthew Stafford when he went down with an injury of his own. The Lions do not have another quarterback on their roster, which means tight end (and collegiate quarterback) Logan Thomas will serve as the team’s emergency backup.

An undrafted free agent out of Purdue, Blough, originally signed with the Browns. However, as roster cuts approached, the Lions agreed to swap conditional draft picks in exchange for the rookie signalcaller. Unlike Driskel, Blough is not a mobile quarterback (he ran a 4.9 40-yard dash during the draft process), and will have to rely on his skills as a pocket passer to take down the Bears.

In his first career start, Blough will be going up against one of the better defenses in football (Bears) on one of the biggest stages of the year (Thanksgiving). The pressure and bright lights will be on and he will get a chance to make an impression.

Arena Football League Files For Bankruptcy

The Arena Football League has announced it is closing all team service and local business operations, according to a statement from league commissioner Randall Boe. According to the statement, the league has “not yet made a final determination that it will be necessary to suspend all League operations,” however, it does obviously not bode well for the league’s long term viability.

Founded in 1987, the league ran through 2008, including a minor league operation, called AF2, from 2000-2008. Financial difficulties caused the league to cancel the league’s 2009 season and disband the AF2, but the top operation returned in 2010 and continued until now. The recent upstart Alliance of American Football (AAF) failed to complete one season in operation even with large financial backers. Even if this is the end of the run for the AFL, it will still rank among the most successful leagues in recent history.

The leagues financial future seemed in jeopardy last month, when Boe announced the league was looking into becoming a traveling league in the vein of the BIG3 or the Premier Lacrosse League, however, it seems that will not be coming to fruition at least in the next year. The news does come as a bit of good news for the XFL and other leagues looking to break into the market for professional football. AFL players, coaches, facilities, and fans will all be looking for new opportunities. Interestingly, the Indoor Football League, which follows a very similar model to the AFL, is currently expanding, planning on creating a team in Oakland (owned by Marshawn Lynch) for the 2020 season.

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Injury Notes: Vernon, Falcons, Njoku, Cole

With defensive lineman Myles Garrett and Larry Objunjobi suspended for this week’s matchup against the Bengals, the Browns were hoping to invite starting end Olivier Vernon back into the lineup after missing the team’s previous two games with a knee injury. However, according to Mary Kay Kabot of Cleveland.com, Vernon has been ruled out for Sunday’s contest, leaving Sheldon Richardson as the team’s only primary starter along the defensive front.

It has been a chaotic season for Cleveland, reaching a climax in last Thursday’s on-field fight with the Steelers. Hoping to put that in the rear-view mirror the Browns will have to rely heavily on their depth to build some positive momentum.

Here’s some more injury notes from around the NFL:

  • The Falcons will be without two of their primary offensive weapons this weekend. Running back Devonta Freeman and tight end Austin Hooper are both out for this Sunday’s game alongside rotational defensive back Kemal Ishmael, according to D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal-Constitutional.
  • Browns tight end David Njoku will not return this week from the injured reserve, according to Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com. Njoku, who has been rehabbing a wrist injury, returned to practice this week, but is not quite ready for game action.
  • Texans linebacker Dylan Cole is out for the season with a torn ACL, according to Aaron Wilson of The Houston Chronicle. Cole served as Houston’s primary backup at two linebacker positions and played a major role in the team’s special teams. He played in 11 games and recorded 16 tackles on the season. Going forward, the Texans will need to sure up their depth on special teams and on the second level of their defense.

Cowboys LB Leighton Vander Esch Out

Cowboys linebacker Leighton Vander Esch will not play this week against the Patriots and could miss substantially more time with a neck injury, according to Clarence Hill of the For Worth Star-Telegram. Vander Esch has faced medical questions surrounding his neck since his days in college. Losing Vander Esch would be a big hit to the Dallas defense.

While the injury is listed in a week to week manner, Hill notes in his story that Vander Esch is not scheduled for an MRI for another three weeks. Given the particular dangers with severe neck injuries and Vander Esch’s well-documented history of injury woes, Dallas should be especially cautious with the linebacker.

In his second NFL season, Vander Esch has lived up to his billing when healthy. After being selected in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft, Vander Esch earned a Pro Bowl selection as a rookie and has already accrued 72 tackles in just 9 games this season.

Without the Boise State alum, Dallas will likely turn to veteran linebacker Sean Lee to take over the team’s weak-side (WILL) linebacker position. Lee is far removed from his days as one of the best linebackers in football, but may be the most qualified backup in the NFL to help fill the gap.

League Notes: Whitehead, Brown, Garrett

The Browns released safety Jermaine Whitehead following an outburst of threats against critics on social media. While it does not excuse Whitehead’s actions, a number of fellow players understood what led him there, according to ESPN Staff Writer Jeremy Fowler. Fowler describes it as commonplace for players to return to their lockers after games and check their phones before even removing their pads. Players describe an accumulation of frustration with fans criticism that often goes beyond and enters the realm of hatefulness.

Steelers linebacker Bud Dupree had a similar, albeit substantially milder, incident last season involving his response to a tweet. Dupree mentioned specific tweets, some that included racial slurs, that eventually pushed him to react. The league has an instituted “cooling off period,” which restricts players ability to post on social media after games, but Whitehead’s threats came far after that period ended. It will be interested to see if Whitehead’s decision changes how the league, teams, and players approach social media and if more players choose to eliminate the practice altogether.

Here’s more news from around the league off the field:

  • Free-agent wide receiver Antonio Brown had seemed hopeful that he could soon return to the field. While the currently unsigned wideout remains marred in controversy, a number of social media posts last week suggested he may have been approaching a new deal. However, there is no reason to believe any team would be interested in signing Brown at the moment because they believe he would be placed on the commissioner’s exempt list as soon as he was signed, according to Mark Maske of The Washington Post.
  • The NFL upheld the league’s indefinite suspension of Browns defensive end Myles Garrett yesterday. One point in Garrett’s appeal, which has garnered significant social media attention, was an accusation that Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph used a racial slur against Garrett that prompted his violent response. When the league upheld Garrett’s suspension, many assumed the league had reviewed the on-field audio recorded and found no corroborating evidence. That now appears to be only half the story. The NFL did find no evidence Rudolph used a racial slur, but the league also had no recorded sound on the field to review in the case, according to Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com.

AFC Notes: Jackson, Miller, Fitzpatrick

Former Ravens offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg and the Ravens released a statement denying a report by Michael Lombardi of The Athletic claiming Mornhinweg wanted to move Lamar Jackson to wide receiver. Jackson, of course, was the subject of much debate as a draft prospect with many pundits, including ESPN’s Bill Polian, calling for a position change to wide receiver.

Jackson, however, remained adamant that he was a quarterback, was selected in the first round by Baltimore and has taken the NFL by storm over the past two seasons. Mornhinweg, who was replaced by Greg Roman as the team’s offensive coordinator entering this season, made clear in his statement that “My thoughts before the draft, and even more when we started working with Lamar, was that this young man was going to be a special quarterback.” Regardless of what his opinions were at the time, Jackson has proven he is an NFL signalcaller.

Here’s more notes from around the AFC:

  • The Broncos were deflated after blowing a 20-0 lead in their 27-23 loss to the Vikings on Sunday. To try and help team moral, all-pro linebacker Von Miller organized a team dinner just a couple hours after landing back in Denver, according to Kyle Newman of the Denver Post. Per Newman’s report, the dinner was a resounding success. Players brought their family members and seemed to rebound from their loss and get ready for another week.
  • Dolphins head coach Brian Flores told reporters that Ryan Fitzpatrick will remain Miami’s starting quarterback this week against the Browns, according to Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald. Flores, however, would not rule out the possibility of backup quarterback Josh Rosen retaking the job from Fitzpatrick at some point this season.

David Njoku Designated For Return

Browns tight end David Njoku has been designated to return from injured reserve and will return to practice today, according to Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com. Njoku had been out with a concussion and broken wrist he suffered in Cleveland’s Week 2 win against the Jets.

Njoku had been expected to return from injured reserve at some point this season, but he first had to get through the league’s concussion protocol and rehab his wrist. The team plans to remain cautious with the third-year tight end and does not plan to play him this Sunday against the Steelers unless he looks fantastic in practice, according to Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.

Prior to this injury, Njoku had played in 34 consecutive games for the Browns since they selected him 29th overall in the 2017 NFL Draft. Like the entire Cleveland organization, the young tight end appeared poised for a breakout after a solid 2018 campaign. In his second professional season, he caught 56 receptions for 639 yards including four touchdowns.

Now, returning to practice, Njoku will look to rebuild chemistry with starting quarterback Baker Mayfield and hopefully spark stronger play from the Browns struggling offense. Currently at 4-6, Cleveland is unlikely to make a run at the playoffs, but a strong close to the season could help them remain more certain they are still headed in the right direction.