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Reporters' Notebook

Odell Beckham Jr.'s ankle, Le'Veon Bell's return, 49ers' offense

It's official -- Week 1 of the 2017 NFL season is upon us! As the action gets underway,'s network of reporters collects the hottest news and notes from across the league, including:

» Alex Smith and the Chiefs' offense made a statement in the Kickoff Game.

» How Le'Veon Bell is rounding into shape.

» What makes Kyle Shanahan's offense so difficult to stop.

But first, Judy Battista checks in with Odell Beckham Jr. ...

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- When the doors opened to their field house Wednesday, Brandon Marshall and Odell Beckham Jr. were side by side in a row of Giants teammates, stretching out their hips. Marshall's return from a preseason shoulder injury -- he said the hit he took from Cleveland's Jabrill Peppers was harder than anything any opponent has delivered since Bob Sanders -- had already been established. It was Beckham, moving nimbly through a Wednesday warmup that included jogging, shuffling and bouncing on his feet, who was the focus of the Giants' medical report this week. He continued to recover from a left ankle sprain -- "Upper, lower, middle, left, right. Southeast," he joked about the undisclosed location -- that he sufferedin that same game against the Browns.

His status for Sunday's season opener against the Cowboys remains uncertain, even as the Giants and the rest of the NFL learned definitively this week that suspended Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliottwill play, no matter the outcome of his request for a temporary restraining order from a federal court that would allow him to keep playing while the lawsuit filed on his behalf makes its way through court. Elliott's presence was met with a shrug from the Giants.

"No reaction," Giants coach Ben McAdoo said on Wednesday. "He is a tremendous ball carrier, and we want to play against the best. So, we are excited for the opportunity. Whoever suits up for Dallas, we'll go play."

The most important message to emerge from the Giants this week was one delivered adamantly by McAdoo. Beckham does not have to practice in order to play, and if he is medically cleared to play Sunday night, he will. Beckham -- who also missed practice Thursday, though he did some straight-line running without cutting during warmups -- hasn't been on the field with the team since the injury in the preseason game against the Browns on Aug. 21. But as Beckham himself noted on Wednesday, he has been catching passes from quarterback Eli Manning since he was a high school sophomore at their shared alma mater, Isidore Newman in New Orleans, so nothing much about their timing is going to change in just two weeks.

Whenever Beckham returns, he said Wednesday it will be without a brace or taped ankles. He has not taped his ankles since high school, and he said if he has to wear a brace or tape, it probably means he won't play. That Beckham is "itching" to play is a point he made several times, and he said that going into this training camp and this season, he could not foresee having a better season -- for himself or the Giants.

"Just keep it one day at a time," Beckham said Wednesday. "We're trying to get 1 percent better. I never hold my tongue. I'm expecting big things."

He's not the only one. Beckham and Marshall have combined to average 168.1 career receiving yards per game (Beckham has 95.9, Marshall 72.2). According to NFL Network research, that is the highest combined career receiving yards per game mark by any two teammates entering a season in history.

The Cowboys had one of the worst passing defenses last season, allowing the second-highest completion percentage in the league, a fact not lost on the Giants. As a result, the Cowboys overhauled their secondary this offseason with an infusion of young speed and added first-round pass rusher Taco Charlton.

Beckham's potential impact against the Cowboys is obvious. In the Giants' two victories over the Cowboys last season, Beckham had a combined eight catches for 167 yards and a touchdown.

"I'm itching to get out there, let me just say that," Beckham said. "We have a very good matchup. We have a very good game plan. It's going to be a very good game. I know on this side -- I don't know what's going on over there -- but I know the Giants are coming with it. Set the tone for the season and really start things off the way we want and get us on the right path. So, I know for sure we're coming with it, and we look to take advantage of the mismatches and the opportunities they do have in their defense."


CHIAGO BEARS: Kyle Long's return undetermined. Listed as "questionable" since returning from offseason ankle surgery and a very limited offseason, Pro Bowl offensive lineman Kyle Long is highly unlikely to play Sunday versus the Atlanta Falcons. Further, the timetable for his return remains uncertain.

"I'm just working my way back," Long told me. "I wouldn't say a percentage (how close he feels to returning), I would say I want to feel like who I'm used to playing like, before I get out there, instead of putting myself in a position to further hurt myself. ... I just know I'm not where I want to be."

Long reminded me: "Last year, I had a torn shoulder and I [played] Week 1, and it just bothered me the whole year -- it's a long season."

For now, Long continues to practice with mental reps, working his way into individual work and position drills, versus any team drills. He's been undergoing a running program, with "build-ups," doing more and more each day, and checking boxes along the way. As he told me, he's moving in the right direction.

» Mike Glennon earned respect from his new offense by making them run. Despite No. 2 overall pick Mitch Trubisky being deemed the future of the Bears, veteran quarterback Mike Glennon hasn't wasted any time making the 2017 squad his team. Dating all the way back to OTAs, through minicamp and training camp, Glennon demanded mistake-free football from his offense.

Starting Right Tackle Bobby Massie told me that whenever there was a mistake during the offseason, the offense was required to run half-gassers post-practice for the number of errors committed. The enforcer: Mike Glennon.

Said Massie: "However many missed assignments, or dropped balls, anything like that, we'd have to run for it, the whole offense. ... It's great to see [that push] from a quarterback, let alone a first-year quarterback."

Massie also told me of Glennon: "He's a great leader. ... He tells us to shut the [expletive] up in the huddle. ... It takes a quarterback with a lot of nasty to say that to his O-linemen."

Glennon will have his first real test of the 2017 season this Sunday, when the Bears host the defending NFC champion Atlanta Falcons, who boasted the leagues's No. 1 scoring offense in 2016, ranking first in both big plays and yards per play.

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KANSAS CITY CHIEFS: Smith and Co. explode out the gates in Foxborough. Heading into the 2017 season, Alex Smith had thrown for touchdown passes of 75 yards or longer just three times in his 12-year career. To open his 13th season, he had two of them in one game, a resounding 42-27 defeat of the defending champion Patriots -- in Foxborough, no less.

"We want the ability to do that every game," he told me when I asked if that result was game plan-specific or a sign of what this offense can be. "It comes down to timing and play calling, it's not an exact science, but give credit to the offensive line for their protection and the guys making plays downfield."

Honestly, it wasn't a surprise that Smith was aggressive downfield. Multiple teammates had told me before the game that they'd seen a much more decisive Smith in throwing deep throughout the preseason. What was surprising was how wide open Tyreek Hill -- one of the most explosive players in football -- was on his 75-yard touchdown, a play Andy Reid credited Hill for calling.

"He goes, 'I think I can get them on this one,' " Reid said. "So, we called it and he got them."

Whether they pound the ball with rookie Kareem Hunt -- who rushed for 148 yards on 17 carries, and was on the receiving end of Smith's other long touchdown pass, a 78-yard strike in the fourth quarter that gave the Chiefs a lead they'd never relinquish -- run a variation of the Wildcat formation with tight end Travis Kelce, or use their newfound explosiveness downfield, Andy Reid and offensive coordinator Matt Nagy have shown that their creativity this season could be difficult to stop, even for the most accomplished defenses. And if Smith aims to continue his success moving the ball downfield, it'll take that full team effort. Even though the quarterback would get most of the credit, that'd be OK with these Chiefs, given how much criticism Smith has endured in his career. He remains their unequivocal leader, saying this is just Game 1 of 16, a measured approach to a huge win to kick-start the season. That even keeled nature lends itself well to this young -- albeit talented -- team.

"He doesn't get frantic much," Reid said. "He comes out poised and it's good for the young bunch around him -- the young receivers and the young running back. He calms the storm and he doesn't get overwhelmed by being here in New England."

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PITTSBURGH STEELERS: Joe Haden adjusting to a new team -- and a new number. In one quick week, Joe Haden has had an easier time fitting into the Steelers defense than into a uniform.

The eighth-year cornerback had spent his entire career playing for the Cleveland Browns, in jersey No. 23, until being released Aug. 30. That same night, he signed with the Steelers, a team desperate for a long-armed corner who could play in man coverage. Problem was, every single jersey number in the 20s was taken.

Haden, who couldn't talk veteran safety Mike Mitchell out of No. 23, wore No. 2 on Monday. This past Wednesday, he finally came to terms with safety Robert Golden for No. 21.

"I had to pay a little bit," Haden said with a smile, refusing to disclose the exact fee Golden extracted -- but promising it was less than what a year of college will cost for his son, Joe Jr.

Recognizable number or not, Haden has been immediately identifiable on the Steelers' practice field. Having had Ray Horton -- who coached the Steelers secondary from 2004 to 2010 -- as his defensive coordinator in Cleveland twice makes him extremely familiar with his new team's phraseology. He declared himself fully healthy after playing last season with two groin injuries, both of which needed offseason surgery, and defensive coordinator Keith Butler said it's Haden's speed this first week that has surprised him most. On Wednesday, he kept pace with Darrius Heyward-Bey, one of the Steelers' fastest players, prompting the receiver to say later, "I felt like Joe was really moving."

Beyond all that, Haden brings a notable energy and has an infectious spirit. As corner William Gay put it, "Joe came in all smiles, and so we're all smiles."

» Le'Veon Bell shaking off the rust.Le'Veon Bell hadn't put on pads in eight months. After he had them on, and after a full practice in them, he said, "They felt totally normal." And then, "Isn't that crazy?"

Maybe a little.

The Steelers running back spent the entire offseason and training camp away from the team, waiting until Sept. 4 to sign his franchise tender. The Steelers placed the franchise tag on Bell in February, but the two sides were unable to agree on a long-term extension by the deadline to do so for tagged players.

While his teammates repeatedly insisted they were certain Bell was working out on his own, most acknowledged there is a difference between being "in shape" and being "in football shape." On his first day back, Bell said the same.

He copped to being a bit winded at practice Monday and said the pace threw him a bit. But by Wednesday, that first day in pads, he declared himself back.

"I felt better today than I did Monday," he said, even after taking a few "pops" on the practice field. "I took all my normal reps."

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SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS: What makes Kyle Shanahan's offense so tough to defend. This season, keep one eye on the 49ers offense led by new head coach Kyle Shanahan and quarterback Brian Hoyer. There might not be anyone in the league who watches more game film than BroncosPro Bowl cornerbacks Aqib Talib and Chris Harris Jr. They both know the system and played against it for a few days of joint practices with the 49ers in Santa Clara, California.

"No, not like [his]," Harris said, when I asked if there is anything like Shanahan's system in the NFL. "Ours was a little toned-down version of it last year; it wasn't onto the level he has it. He's probably on Level 10."

Talib pointed out that Shanahan finds a way to never truly reveal anything.

"He makes you work," Talib said. "He makes you use all your adjustments. He makes things gray. You don't know if you need to check or if you're going to check. He moves you left and right, and he's great with the bootleg and stuff like that."

"Oh man, they have so many different looks, and they try to make every look look the same," Harris said. "He makes every route look the same, every motion. There is tons of motion, tons of different looks. They have tons of bootlegs, and when you tie that in with their zone run, they can be very tough. Their offensive scheme is one of the best, man. I'm glad we don't have to see no offense like that during the regular season."

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