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Saints rule out Alvin Kamara, Jared Cook vs. Bears

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METAIRIE, La. — The New Orleans Saints‘ four-game win streak will be put to a serious test Sunday at Chicago. The team has ruled out running back Alvin Kamara and tight end Jared Cook because of injuries.

Kamara (ankle, knee) and Cook (ankle) rank second and third on the team in passing targets behind wide receiver Michael Thomas and are tied for second with two touchdowns apiece. But neither practiced this week after being injured during Sunday’s game at Jacksonville.

Replacing Kamara will be veteran backup Latavius Murray, who was a No. 1 back in both Oakland and Minnesota. Veteran tight end Josh Hill will be among those filling in for Cook.

Kamara, who leads the Saints with 649 yards from scrimmage, first showed up on the injury report on Oct. 10 with an ankle injury. But he played through it before also “tweaking” his knee early against the Jaguars, according to coach Sean Payton.

The running back finished the game but was still feeling the effects this week.

Payton was asked if things like the Saints’ winning streak and 5-1 record ever factor into decisions about whether to rest injured players. The coach said that’s not the case here.

“I’m asked this a lot,” Payton said. “[But] we take the medical, the science relative to the player being ready to play or not. And we don’t factor in, ‘Well, we have a bye, or we have [other circumstances].’ It’s, ‘Is the player healthy to play?’ And if he is, then we’ll play him. And if he’s not, then we won’t.

“I think the exceptions to that might be when you get into the postseason. But I think you really try to pay attention to where the player is relative to his recovery and his injury and being smart.”

The Saints signed Murray to a four-year, $14.4 million contract in free agency to both complement Kamara and be available for situations like this.

Murray, 29, has 3,836 career rushing yards, 950 career receiving yards and 35 touchdowns. He made the Pro Bowl with the Raiders with 1,066 rushing yards in 2015, then ran for a total of 1,420 yards over the past two years while splitting time in the Vikings’ backfield.

“Look, he’s a real good football player. And we knew when we signed him there was a vision and a role,” Payton said of the 6-foot-3, 230-pounder. “He runs zone schemes well. He’s smart. He knows how to block the pressure and handle some of the third-down situations.”

Murray has not played a substantial role with the Saints yet, with 32 carries for 138 yards and a touchdown, plus nine receptions for 67 yards. But his touches have steadily increased each week. He had his best performance to date at Jacksonville last week; it would have looked even better if his 42-yard touchdown catch had not been nullified by a questionable holding penalty.

“I’ve been feeling good since Week 1, but I just think it’s one of those things where the more I’m in this offense, every day in practice, the more comfortable I’m definitely gonna be,” said Murray, who ran eight times for 44 yards and caught three passes for 35 yards last week. “For sure, being in this offense and continuing to get the reps has definitely helped.”

Cook, who also joined the Saints this year in free agency, will be missed at a time when he was finally starting to find a groove. Over the past two weeks, he caught a total of seven passes for 78 yards with his first two touchdowns of the season.

The Saints ruled out quarterback Drew Brees for the fifth straight game with his thumb injury — though he is on the mend after starting to throw a regulation-sized football again last week. They also ruled out wide receiver Tre’Quan Smith (ankle) and defensive end Trey Hendrickson (neck).

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Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti pledges $1M to social justice reform

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OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti on Monday pledged $1 million for social justice reform in the Baltimore area, saying he is “shaken by the acts of racism that continue to overwhelm our society.”

A committee of current and former Ravens players will determine which programs will directly benefit from the contribution.

This donation, which was made jointly by the Ravens and the Steve and Renee Bisciotti Foundation, comes amid protests in Minneapolis and around the country over the death of George Floyd.

“There is nothing I can say to ease the pain felt by African-American communities across our country. No words will repair the damage that has been done,” Bisciotti said in a statement. “Like many people, I am sickened, disheartened and shaken by the acts of racism that continue to overwhelm our society. The most recent killing, involving George Floyd, is yet another tragic example of the discrimination that African-Americans face each day.”

Floyd, a black man, died last week in Minneapolis after Derek Chauvin, a white police officer, kneeled on his neck for more than eight minutes. Chauvin was fired Tuesday and charged Friday with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. Three other officers were also fired but have not been charged.

Several former and current Ravens players, including Hall of Fame linebacker Ray Lewis, have expressed grief and outrage on social media over the past week.

“Now, more than ever, we must all strengthen our pursuit of positive change, as we stand with peaceful protestors around the country,” Bisciotti said. “We must all seek to understand by listening better and learning more. We must all discover new ways to unite. We must all work to break the cycle of systematic racial injustice.”

Bisciotti added, “Our players have been — and will continue to be — at the forefront of this change. We believe in their commitment to furthering social justice and invoking meaningful change. We stand side by side with them, in full support.”

This is the latest of many contributions that the Ravens have made to social justice reform over the years since Baltimore had riots in 2015 over the death of Freddie Gray.

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Colin Kaepernick compatriot Brandon Marshall — 2016 action ringing true

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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Former Denver Broncos linebacker Brandon Marshall, a college teammate and longtime friend of Colin Kaepernick who kneeled for the “The Star-Spangled Banner” before eight games in the 2016 season to protest excessive use of force by police, hopes people are now more ready for what he and Kapernick’s message was almost four years ago.

“Back then we were called rogues, people said that we didn’t deserve jobs, but this is what we were talking about then,” Marshall said Monday. “I think people are looking at (Kaepernick) now like, OK, maybe he knew. People didn’t want to hear the message after ‘oh they were kneeling’ they didn’t want that message, weren’t ready for it, didn’t listen.

“I hope, and I look at it, I hope people are ready for the message, I really hope they’re ready for change.”

Marshall said he has spoken to Kaepernick in recent days in the wake of George Floyd’s death in police custody in Minneapolis and the protests that have followed across the country.

“We talked some about what’s happened – and this is why he started the Know Your Rights foundation – and I asked him if he needed me to do anything, or what I could do to help,” Marshall said. “He said right now, at the moment, he’s concentrating on legal assistance for the protesters, but we’ll talk more moving forward.”

Marshall, who played six seasons for the Broncos including in the team’s Super Bowl 50 win, lost several endorsements after he kneeled in pregame during the 2016 season, but he also met with Denver Police officials as well in the weeks that followed about the department’s use of force policies.

He said Monday “at times you do get tired, weary, of it happening over and over again,” but that he’s still hopeful in what he has seen in protests in Las Vegas, where he is now, and what he has seen across the county.

“That’s what brings change, people coming together, when it’s a people thing, not just a black and brown thing,” Marshall said. “You see people taking to the streets, it’s a mixed crowd, it’s not just black people, it’s everybody. That is what it takes for change, everybody has to care about it, back then not everybody cared about it.

“We need everybody to care about this, not to see it as just a black or brown problem,” Marshall added. “When people see this as a people problem, and not a black person’s problem or a person of color’s problem, then we can have real change. I look at all of the faces in the real, peaceful protests and I see maybe we’re ready to listen now, maybe we’re ready to see it as a people problem and that real, lasting, effective change can happen.”

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Father says Raiders WR Henry Ruggs III injured thigh during a move

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Las Vegas Raiders rookie receiver Henry Ruggs III, the team’s top draft pick, suffered a cut to his thigh recently while moving things into a trailer, his father told AL.com on Monday.

A Raiders source said the team was “told [Ruggs] will be fine.”

“He was trying to move a trailer or something — move furniture or something — and the trailer just kind of pinned him against a car or a wall or something,” Henry Ruggs Jr. said. “He’s pretty much OK, I’m about to go out there and see him in a little bit. It was just like a little open wound on his leg, a little incision. Like something had stuck him right there on his thigh a little bit.”

Ruggs III, the No. 12 overall draft pick, was the first receiver selected in April’s draft, a historically deep draft for the position. He was also the fastest player in the draft, having run a 4.27-second 40 time at the combine.

Like every player in the draft, the rookie has been reduced to virtual meetings with his new team because of the coronavirus pandemic. Being injured would obviously slow any other development.

“The Raiders are aware of a report regarding an off-field injury to Henry Ruggs III. Respecting Henry’s right to medical privacy, the team will not be commenting on the report,” the team said in a statement.

Ruggs Jr., meanwhile, said his son is “just having to walk on crutches. Not putting as much pressure on it.”

Precautions due to the coronavirus, the elder Ruggs said, have not allowed him yet to speak to the doctor who treated his son.

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