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Browns place RB Kareem Hunt, LB Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah on injured reserve

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Browns place RB Kareem Hunt, LB Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah on injured reserve

BEREA, Ohio — The Browns placed running back Kareem Hunt and rookie linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah on injured reserve Tuesday before practice.

Hunt suffered a significant calf injury in Sunday’s loss to the Arizona Cardinals. Going on IR means Hunt has to miss a minimum of three games and there’s a strong possibility he’ll be out longer.

On Monday, coach Kevin Stefanski said Hunt’s injury was more in the “ballpark” of four to six weeks.

The 26-year-old Hunt is invaluable to Cleveland’s offense — a run-and-receiving threat capable of breaking off a big play or gaining tough yards. Hunt has rushed for 361 yards and five touchdowns.

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One of Dolphins’ oft-injured receivers returns to practice, but the other is not yet ready

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The Miami Dolphins are making progress on getting one of their injured wide receivers back, but the other is still not ready to return to the practice field after two months on injured reserve.

DeVante Parker, who was placed on IR on Nov. 5 due to a hamstring injury, returned for the Dolphins’ Wednesday practice. He was seen during the media viewing portion after coach Brian Flores said he would be back ahead of drills.

Will Fuller, on the other hand, will not be at practice this week, marking a ninth consecutive game he misses when he doesn’t suit up against the New York Giants (4-7) at Hard Rock Stadium in Sunday’s 1 p.m. kickoff.

Fuller was first placed on injured reserve on Oct. 6 after the Oct. 3 loss to the Indianapolis Colts due to a fractured finger.

“He had a pretty significant fracture in the finger,” Flores said Wednesday. “A lot of broken bones in there, and still healing. Just not able to get out there yet.”

Fuller, after being signed to a one-year, $10.6 million deal in the offseason, has only played just one full game this season, Sept. 26 at the Las Vegas Raiders. He was injured in the first half of the following week’s game against the Colts.

Fuller has four receptions for 26 yards, plus a successful 2-point conversion, this season for Miami (5-7).

Parker ran a series of different routes during the media viewing portion of Wednesday’s practice that included hitches, slants and a few deeper patterns.

“It’s good to have DP back out there,” said quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. “He looked pretty good in practice [Wednesday]. To me, it didn’t look like he was limited in any of the reps, so that’s very encouraging to see.”

Parker has 25 receptions for 327 yards and a touchdown in five games this season. He hasn’t played since the Oct. 31 game at the Buffalo Bills.

“DeVante’s obviously an elite receiver in this league,” said tight end Mike Gesicki. “He can make plays downfield, make contested catches.”

Added fellow wideout Jaylen Waddle: “Everybody knows DeVante’s a great player, so it’s just another weapon. Makes the offense that much better. Just bring his vet style to the game.”

With center Michael Deiter going through a second week of practice and potentially returning from a foot injury that has cost him the past two months, the Dolphins also brought backup center Greg Mancz back to practice Wednesday.

Dolphins right tackle Jesse Davis was seen watching Wednesday’s drills in shorts and a hat with a compression sleeve on his right leg. The team’s injury report indicated it was a veteran rest day for Davis.

Trill Williams did not participate due to a hamstring injury. Fellow cornerbacks Xavien Howard and Byron Jones had limited participation due to rest.

Also limited Wednesday were guard Robert Hunt (back), safety Brandon Jones (ankle/elbow), running back Phillip Lindsay (ankle), linebacker Jaelan Phillips (hip) and tight end Adam Shaheen (knee).

Dolphins preparing for Jones

Giants quarterback Daniel Jones has been diagnosed with a neck strain, and it is unlikely he will be able to make the start on Sunday against the Dolphins, according to NFL Network.

Jones was a limited participant in Wednesday’s practice, according to New York’s injury report, and he said on Wednesday he’s preparing this week as if he’s going to play.

If Jones is unable to go, Giants backup Mike Glennon would get the start at Hard Rock Stadium. The Dolphins, however, are preparing for Jones.

“We’re preparing as if he’s going to be up,” Flores said. “We take a look at all of the quarterbacks. They have plenty of guys to prepare for.”

Added cornerback Byron Jones: “They are both good quarterbacks. They’ve both played in this league for a good amount of time. No matter who is out there, I think we’re going to get the Giants’ best. We’re preparing for both.”

The Giants have a series of players that didn’t participate in their Wednesday practice: Linebacker Trent Harris (ankle), fullback Cullen Gillaspia (calf), defensive back Adoree Jackson (quadriceps), wide receiver John Ross (illness), tight end Kyle Rudolph (ankle), wide receiver Sterling Shepard (quadriceps), tight end Kaden Smith (knee) and receiver Kadarius Toney (oblique/quadriceps).

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Looming statehouse decision on PERA debt affects millions of Coloradans

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Denver weather: Clear skies return, temperatures begin to climb Wednesday

Colorado’s legislature made a $225 million annual promise to itself as well as the 630,000 members of the state pension fund and now, having broken that promise in 2020, lawmakers say they’re prepared to make things right.

Legislators have different ideas for how to do that, though, and their decision will affect not only the members of the Public Employees’ Retirement Association (PERA), but everyone else in Colorado who relies at any level on state government services and programs.

Alec Garnett, the speaker of the Colorado House, said “I think my jaw dropped and hit the ground” after seeing the price tag on a proposed 2022 bill that the legislative subcommittee overseeing the state pension fund wrote to make up for last year’s nonpayment.

The amount, in excess of $300 million, is a major outlier among the couple dozen proposals on a wide range of topics that lawmakers have crafted and given initial support to ahead of the next legislative session, which begins Jan. 12. That money would go toward paying down the more than $30 billion in unfunded debt to PERA retirees.

PERA’s membership includes current and former public employees, such as teachers, first responders, prison staff, university workers and snowplow drivers. All other Coloradans have a stake, too, in large part because the longer it takes to pay down the billions in PERA debt, the more years of state budgeting in which huge sums are unavailable for General Fund priorities like roads, schools, Medicaid administration and courts.

A promise from lawmakers

The legislature in 2018 passed the bipartisan and heavily debated Senate Bill 200, promising to kick in $225 million every year to pay off pension fund debt within 30 years. There were a few motivating factors at the time, including the threat that Colorado’s credit rating could be downgraded if the debt remained indefinitely.

That bill not only established a funding threshold for the legislature to meet each year, but also increased contributions for employees and employers. Next year employees will have to automatically contribute 11% of each paycheck toward retirement — that’s a slight bump from this year — and employers will have to contribute close to double that amount. Some of the money from the employer side goes to paying down the debt.

But while workers and employers have had to meet their obligations, lawmakers have not: With the pandemic just underway and lawmakers concerned about a profound and enduring recession decimating state finances, they decided through the budget last year to pass on the promised $225 million contribution. That recession never came to be — the state economy has already more than rebounded, with record projected money for the next budget — so now lawmakers are prepared to make up for last year.

“There are few opportunities the legislature has to keep its word,” House Minority Leader Hugh McKean, a Loveland Republican, said at a hearing last month on bills written by interim committees this summer and fall. “We make decisions on the fly when we need to, … but now we can look back and say, nope, we didn’t need to do that, let’s make (PERA) whole.”

Colorado’s Pension Review Subcommittee, which wrote the proposal, believes the state should also pay about $79 million in lost interest — investment gains the fund would have accrued above and beyond the $225 million, had it been paid in 2020. Hence the proposed price tag that shocked the speaker.

All of that comes on top of the expected $225 million the legislature would kick in this year, pursuant to the 2018 promise. This would mean roughly half a billion dollars, or more, out of a $40 billion state budget for the 2022-23 fiscal year, for this one purpose.

Disagreement over lost gains

A bipartisan committee of legislative leaders voted 15-2 in favor of repayment of the 2020 debt. The bill to do so is a sure thing to be introduced, in some form, during the next session.

But paying for lost investment gains seems less popular, as lawmakers say they worry about setting an unfair precedent.

State Sen. Dominick Moreno, a Commerce City Democrat and the vice chair of the legislature’s Joint Budget Committee, noted last month at the time of the vote that while the state has restored billons in funding eliminated early in the pandemic, it hasn’t made a habit of going above and beyond the amount cut.

“If we’re going to increase it (with interest) it is still largely speculative, in my view, and hasn’t happened for any other cut that was made,” Moreno said.

Republican state Sen. Paul Lundeen of Monument is also skeptical.

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Dolphins’ Tua Tagovailoa has overcome distractions to play some of his best football

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Dolphins’ Tua Tagovailoa has overcome distractions to play some of his best football

Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovialoa was getting spitballs fired his way by defensive tackle and team jokester Christian Wilkins as he stood at the podium for his weekly Wednesday press conference.

Undeterred, Tagovailoa continued through his responses, as if the spitballs coming through a straw from the other side of a door Wilkins left slightly ajar were pass rushers speeding past him and he was stepping up in the pocket to deliver his answers — about his throwing accuracy, finger injury or status of his ribs.

While it may have been a fairly trivial matter, it was almost a microcosm of how Tagovailoa has played some of his best football in recent weeks despite a number of distractions that could’ve caused him to go the other way.

“It’s hard to rattle him,” said Dolphins quarterbacks coach Charlie Frye. “It really is. His focus and concentration, that is at a high level right now. And his makeup, he doesn’t let a lot of things bother him. Whatever that is — injuries, all the burdens that go along with being the starting quarterback for the Miami Dolphins — a lot of mental toughness that you’re seeing.”

Tagovailoa has missed five starts this season due to the two aforementioned injuries. Just a month ago, he was thrown into the middle of a saga with the Dolphins (5-7) heavily involved in trade talks for embattled Houston Texans star quarterback Deshaun Watson. If that would’ve materialized, he would’ve lost his hold on the franchise’s quarterbacking reins.

“It seems probably overwhelming to everyone else, but that’s the NFL,” Dolphins play-caller George Godsey said. “There’s always discussions that go on, injuries happen. Players get hurt on our team at other positions that you’re going to have to build relationships with guys playing new roles, and he’s done that.

“That’s a sign of him growing up as an NFL player. He’s a very mature kid, and it’s just a matter of being able to deal with the adversity.”

In the past two wins over the New York Jets and Carolina Panthers, Tagovailoa posted a 108.3 and 108.7 quarterback rating, respectively. He was 54 of 64 (84.3%) for 503 yards, three touchdowns and one interception over the two games. The Panthers, by the way, entered Sunday with NFL’s top-ranked pass defense.

He had similar effectiveness when he entered in the second half of the missed start against the Baltimore Ravens prior to those two outings, going 8 of 13 for 158 yards and a rushing touchdown playing through the injured finger on his throwing hand in the upset victory.

“For me, the most important thing was the guys in the locker room,” Tagovailoa said Wednesday. “It wasn’t really the outside noise, what was going on around the building.”

He finally gave in to Wilkins’ increasingly pressing attempts to break him at the podium before wrapping up his thought, saying about distractions, “Just can’t worry about them.”

The Dolphins’ brass has noticed Tagovailoa’s improvements in this stretch run to his second NFL season that almost serves as an audition for whether the franchise will stick with him in the future or make a move for another quarterback in the offseason.

“There’s been a lot of positives,” Miami coach Brian Flores said. “He’s improved every week. I think he’s getting better every time he steps on to the practice field. He’s getting the reps from a preparation standpoint, and he’s doing better.”

Above all, Tagovailoa’s accuracy on his throws and ball placement has stood out. It’s something that was stressed to him in his very early quarterbacking days.

“Working out with my dad, that was imperative,” Tagovailoa recalled. “Everything I had to do had to be to his liking, so if the ball placement wasn’t where it should’ve been, then we do it again and we do it until we get it right. That goes with footwork, all of that.”

Dolphins tight end Mike Gesicki thought back to a time in the preseason opener in Chicago where Tagovailoa impressed him by putting a pass low and away where only he could catch it. It was a moment where he really noticed Tagovailoa’s ball placement, and it has translated to the regular season and his current run.

“He’s going to throw a very catchable ball and he’s going to make the job easy for his receivers,” Gesicki said. “A lot of guys are making plays because of where he’s putting the ball.”

Added Jaylen Waddle, who caught a touchdown from Tagovailoa and a 57-yard catch and run over the middle: “He hits you when you’re in stride, so your run-after-catch ability is on display.”

Tagovailoa’s approach to putting the ball where it needs to be depends on the coverage.

“If it’s man, you never want to put it behind him. You never want to put it on him. You always want to lead him,” he said. “In zone, you’re just trying to beat the defensive guys in spots when you’re throwing. A lot of it has to do with timing.”

Tagovailoa added he no longer feels discomfort with the fractured finger on his throwing hand, nor does he think about his fractured ribs when playing.

As for the spitballing Wilkins, who always seems to be at the center of the team’s fun, whether it’s on-field celebrations or otherwise, he said Wednesday: “We’re playing a kids’ game and we get to call it work.”

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