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No major problems with ballot drop boxes in 2020, AP finds

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No Major Problems With Ballot Drop Boxes In 2020, Ap Finds
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By ANTHONY IZAGUIRRE and CHRISTINA A. CASSIDY

ATLANTA (AP) — The expanded use of drop boxes for mailed ballots during the 2020 election did not lead to any widespread problems, according to an Associated Press survey of state election officials across the U.S. that revealed no cases of fraud, vandalism or theft that could have affected the results.

The findings from both Republican- and Democratic-controlled states run contrary to claims made by former President Donald Trump and his allies who have intensely criticized their use and falsely claimed they were a target for fraud.

Drop boxes are considered by many election officials to be safe and secure, and have been used to varying degrees by states across the political spectrum. Yet conspiracy theories and efforts by Republicans to eliminate or restrict them since the 2020 election persist. This month, the conservative majority on the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled that drop boxes are not allowed under state law and can no longer be widely used.

Drop boxes also are a focal point of the film “2,000 Mules,” which used a flawed analysis of cellphone location data and ballot drop box surveillance footage to cast doubt on the results of the 2020 presidential election.

In response to the legislation and conspiracy theories surrounding drop boxes, the AP sent a survey in May to the top elections office in each state seeking information about whether the boxes were tied to fraudulent votes or stolen ballots, or whether the boxes and the ballots they contained were damaged.

All but five states responded to the questions.

None of the election offices in states that allowed the use of drop boxes in 2020 reported any instances in which the boxes were connected to voter fraud or stolen ballots. Likewise, none reported incidents in which the boxes or ballots were damaged to the extent that election results would have been affected.

Several states said they do not allow the use of drop boxes while some had not allowed them before the 2020 election, when the coronavirus pandemic prompted wider use of mailed ballots. In states where they are used, secretaries of state or election commissioners may not be aware of every incident involving a drop box if it was not reported to their office by a county or other local jurisdiction.

Drop boxes have been a mainstay in states with extensive mail voting for years and had not raised any alarms. They were used widely in 2020 as election officials sought to provide alternative ways to cast ballots with the COVID-19 outbreak creating concerns about in-person voting and U.S. Postal Service delays.

Starting months before the 2020 presidential election, Trump and his allies have made a series of unfounded claims suggesting that drop boxes open the door to voter fraud. Republican state lawmakers, as part of their push to add new voting restrictions, have in turn placed rules around when and where the boxes could be accessed.

Arizona Assistant Secretary of State Allie Bones said drop boxes are “safe and secure” and might even be considered more secure than Postal Service mailboxes. She said bipartisan teams in the state collect ballots from the drop boxes and take them directly to secure election facilities, following so-called chain-of-custody protocols.

“Not to say that there’s anything wrong with USPS, and I think they do a great job as well, but the hysteria around ballot drop boxes I think is just a made-up thing to create doubt and fear,” Bones said.

Arizona has had robust mail-in voting for years that includes the use of drop boxes, and in the AP survey, the state reported no damage, stolen ballots or fraud associated with them in 2020. Nevertheless, Trump-aligned lawmakers in the state pushed for legislation that would ban drop boxes, but were stymied by Democrats and several Republicans who disagreed with the strategy.

Of the states responding to the survey, 15 indicated that drop boxes were in use before 2020 and 22 have no limits on how many can be used in this fall’s election.

Republican-led Florida and North Dakota and Democratic-led New York did not respond. Montana and Virginia did, but did not answer the survey questions related to the 2020 election.

Last year, five states added new restrictions to ballot drop boxes, according to research by the Voting Rights Lab. That included Georgia, where President Joe Biden won a narrow victory and where drop boxes were allowed under an emergency rule prompted by the pandemic.

Georgia Republicans say their changes have resulted in drop boxes being a permanent option for voters, requiring all counties to have at least one. But the legislation, which includes a formula of one box per 100,000 registered voters, means fewer will be available in the state’s most populous communities compared with 2020.

Along with incidents recorded in news reports, the AP found a handful of cases in 2020 in which drop boxes were damaged.

Officials in Washington state said there were instances when drop boxes were hit by vehicles, but that no ballot tampering had been reported. Massachusetts election officials said one box was damaged by arson in October 2020 but that most of the ballots inside were still legible enough for voters to be identified, notified and sent replacements.

A drop box was set on fire in Los Angeles County in 2020, but a local election official said the vast majority of the ballots that were damaged were able to be recovered and voters provided new ballots.

“The irony is they were put in place to respond to a problem with the post office and make sure people had a secure way of returning their ballots,” said Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, a Democrat. “And so there’s no actual legitimate concern except for, again, potential external threats or people who have been radicalized through misinformation to try to tamper with drop boxes to make a point.”

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Izaguirre reported from Tallahassee, Florida. Associated Press writers Scott Bauer in Madison, Wisconsin; Harm Venhuizen in Milwaukee; and Jonathan J. Cooper in Phoenix contributed to this report.

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Gophers coach P.J. Fleck on early fourth-down decision: ‘I would do it again’

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Gophers Coach P.j. Fleck On Early Fourth-Down Decision: ‘I Would Do It Again’
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Gophers head coach P.J. Fleck made a puzzling decision to go for it on fourth-and-1 from inside his team’s own 30-yard line during the first quarter against Purdue on Saturday at Huntington Bank Stadium.

Minnesota had run the ball five times for five total yards and had the ball at its own 29-yard line. Trailing 7-0, the U went to its wildcat package for the first time this season. Quarterback Cole Kramer did not find a hole and was stuffed for no gain.

With great field position, Purdue tacked on a 42-yard field goal for a 10-0 lead en route to a 20-10 win during the U’s Homecoming. Those three points looked as if they would decide the game until Purdue was able to tack on the late touchdown drive in the fourth quarter.

“Felt like we needed to do something,” Fleck explained. “It only cost us three points, but it was worth it. I would do it again. We got to be able to get fourth-and-1.”

Fleck said he was OK with the play call using one of their short-yardage packages.

“We do that in spring ball and trust the people that are going to be able to do it and trust the call,” Fleck added. “We didn’t execute. We got blown back. It didn’t matter what call we were going to call there.”

Fleck said he was looking for a spark. The U went three-and-out on the opening drive, and Tanner Morgan had a tipped pass intercepted on the second series.

“We got to get something moving,” Fleck said. “You can’t sit there and say, ‘If you backtrack now, in hindsight, should you have done that?’ You don’t know the game is going to go that way.”

Fleck said his rationale was: If the Gophers don’t convert on fourth down, they would have to hold Purdue to a field goal.

“Is that worth it?,” Fleck added. “And I said ‘yes.’ ”

NO SIGNS

Fleck said there were no indicators this week to tip off the Gophers’ slow slow on Saturday.

“Not at all,” he said. “They had a tremendous practice on Tuesday, really good practice on Wednesday. You can always dissect something. Ah, there’s the reason. No.”

Morgan went to his offense during the first quarter and told them they were not playing hard enough, according to KFXN-FM. Morgan then connected with Daniel Jackson for a 66-yard completion, but Matthew Trickett missed a 28-yard field goal.

“We just didn’t execute,” Fleck said.

BRIEFLY

Fleck fell to 2-19 when trailing at the half. He was 0-17 until he beat Purdue last October. The Gophers also came back to beat Wisconsin last November. … Gophers defensive players Terell Smith, Braelen Oliver, Jah Joyner and guard Chuck Filliaga were three additional players spotted Saturday dealing with injuries. … Quintin Redding had a 20-yard punt return to set up the U’s third-quarter touchdown. He had a 64-yard punt return in the fourth quarter called back due to a holding call on Derik LeCaptain. … Trickett was 5 for 5 on field goals this season before his short-distance miss in the second quarter. He later connected from 45 yards out, just before the half. … The U announced an attendance of 48,288 for its “stripe out” Saturday.

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Magic aim to start building Sports + Entertainment District by early 2023

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Magic Aim To Start Building Sports + Entertainment District By Early 2023
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For the Orlando Magic, the last month — and especially since training camp started last week — has been about breaking in the team’s new state-of-the-art 130,000-square-foot AdventHealth Training Center.

Although the Magic are getting settled in their new training facility, they’re still keeping their attention on a bigger project that’s been in the works for nearly a decade.

Orlando Magic CEO Alex Martins recently told the Orlando Sentinel that the organization is planning to start construction on the long-awaited $500-million-plus downtown Sports + Entertainment District by the end of March 2023.

He added that the project is expected to be a “two-year build process” and be completed “sometime in 2025″ but wasn’t sure when exactly it’d be done.

Pat Gallagher, director of the Sports + Entertainment District, told GrowthSpotter in early September that the team would be releasing more information about the project within the next few months.

“We’re still very much on track and certainly believe that we should be in the ground by the end of the first quarter next year, starting some construction,” Martins said. “Our development partner is working on finalizing all the financing as we speak. They hope to get through that this calendar year. Provided the market stays and doesn’t get much worse, hopefully, we’ll be able to get into the ground by the end of the first quarter [of 2023].”

The Sports + Entertainment District will be a mixed-use district on the 8.4 acres north of Amway Center and east of the team’s training facility, which also has an orthopedic and sports medicine clinic run by AdventHealth.

The project will include several amenities, including a hotel tower, restaurants, meeting and retail space, a parking garage and 420,000 square feet of office space.

The team’s business staff, which has been working out of leased 23,000-square-foot space in downtown’s CNL Building II next to City Hall after leaving their longtime offices in Maitland’s RDV Sportsplex last year, will move into the Sports + Entertainment District office space once completed.

The Magic are bringing on a yet-to-be-announced development partner for the Sports + Entertainment District.

“The pandemic actually caused us to have the need to change development partners, so we went through that process over the course of the last year,” Martins said. “They’re very excited about it and believe in the vision the development will come together and the pieces within it.

“It’s very much the same we’ve talked about: the hotel, office, music venue and sports and entertainment-related retail. The vision and plan very much remain the same. We’ve got a development partner that believes in that vision and that it can be very successful.”

This article first appeared on OrlandoSentinel.com. Email Khobi Price at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter at @khobi_price.

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Column: As Wrigley Field prepares to close its doors for the season, the Chicago Cubs look ahead to better days — again

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Column: As Wrigley Field Prepares To Close Its Doors For The Season, The Chicago Cubs Look Ahead To Better Days — Again
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After the end of the 2014 Chicago Cubs season, Theo Epstein spoke optimistically about the upcoming offseason.

It was time to get serious.

“Knowing the money will be there changes the lens in which you view every transaction,” said Epstein, then the president of baseball operations.

The Cubs had cleared about $41 million off the payroll after their third straight last-place finish in the National League Central, and Epstein and business operations president Crane Kenney were addressing a group of season ticket holders at the Oriental Theater.

The Cubs wound up spending smartly that offseason, bringing in starter Jon Lester on a six-year, $155 million deal that turned out to be arguably the best signing in team history. They turned the corner in the rebuild in 2015, making it to the National League Championship Series and winning the World Series one year later.

Once again the Cubs are voicing optimism and promising to spend money in the offseason, though this time it’s Jed Hoyer making the big decisions. Whether the Cubs are close to turning the corner in the rebuild that can’t be called a rebuild is a question that can’t be answered until we see what moves Hoyer makes and whether the current group can build on its strong finish in 2022.

Manager David Ross said before Saturday’s 2-1 win against the Cincinnati Reds that he was excited about the team’s growth and work ethic, though he cautioned they’re still a ways off from where they need to be.

“Those are good signs,” he said. “We’ll continue to grow. We’ve got a long way to go to get better, to competing for a World Series, but these guys are on a mission to do that.”

The Cubs extended their winning streak to six games and have taken 10 of their last 11. Seiya Suzuki’s solo home run in the seventh was the winning blast, and Adbert Alzolay and Wade Miley combined for five hitless innings of relief.

The Cubs end their home schedule Sunday at Wrigley Field, which likely will be the last chance for fans to say one final goodbye to catcher Willson Contreras, the only remaining active player from the 2016 champions.

The Cubs held a tribute during Saturday’s game for Jason Heyward, another member of the ‘16 champs who was told last month that he’ll be let go after the season. After a highlight package of Heyward aired on the video boards, the outfielder stepped out of the dugout to a standing ovation and flashed his World Series ring.

Most of the 2016 Cubs have had their farewells, and after this season the only one left will be pitcher Kyle Hendricks. Heyward said Thursday that when he signed in 2015, some former teammates told him: “It’s the goat, brother. You ain’t gonna beat the goat.”

But that team ended the Billy Goat curse, and now there are no more mythical obstacles preventing the Cubs from replicating that success. It’s all on Hoyer and Chairman Tom Ricketts.

This has not been a season to celebrate on the North Side despite the uplifting ending. The Cubs’ play at Wrigley has been particularly uninspiring with a 36-44 home record.

A few moments in 2022 will be remembered years from now, though for some in the left-field bleachers the season’s biggest highlight was watching Epstein posing for pictures while sprawled out in the basket, a final goodbye to Chicago before he packed up and moved his family out East.

The Cubs are 1-70 when trailing entering the ninth inning, a tragic number that needs no analysis. Their one comeback win came on Aug. 20 at Wrigley, when Nick Madrigal singled home the tying run in the ninth and Contreras had a walk-off RBI single in the 11th. Maybe Marquee Sports Network can play it on a loop all winter.

In truth, this was the kind of season most Cubs fans were accustomed to before Epstein signed Lester eight years ago, thus raising the hopes for a championship and sustained success. They got it right — except for the sustained part.

Hoyer and Ricketts have said the money will be there for future success, and for the sake of Cubs fans, let’s hope they spend it wisely.

And the Cubs aren’t done hyping the future. They brought some of their top prospects to Chicago this weekend to get acclimated to the organization, including Class-A outfielder Owen Caissie, acquired in the Yu Darvish deal with the San Diego Padres that signaled the beginning of the end of the winning era.

“My biggest takeaway is everyone seems happy here,” Caissie, 20, said. “Like when I’m walking down the street, everyone has a smile on their face. It’s pretty cool.”

Heyward basically said the same thing about Chicago on his way out.

“The sports city here, obviously I know it’s been tough on the winning side those last few years, “ he said. “But either way, Chicago doesn’t take that stuff for granted, and to me that’s been something that has been awesome to be a part of. Just taking walks, going around the city. As a professional, as someone who is a ballplayer in the city, people embrace that, they respect that and they respect their space.

“They want you to enjoy what they’re enjoying, and that is something that’s really cool and unique about the city.”

One more game at Wrigley, with Marcus Stroman taking the ball Sunday in his final start before the three-game, season-ending series in Cincinnati.

The ballpark will close for the winter, and the neighborhood bars and restaurants will try to find ways to make some money until opening day returns in April.

It’s going to be a long winter for Cubs fans, but they’ll keep on keeping on.

They know the drill.

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Ian leaves dozens dead as focus turns to rescue, recovery

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FORT MYERS, Fla. — Dozens of Florida residents left their flooded and splintered homes by boat and by air on Saturday as rescuers continued to search for survivors in the wake of Hurricane Ian, while authorities in South Carolina and North Carolina began taking stock of their losses.

The death toll from the storm, one of the strongest hurricanes by wind speed to ever hit the U.S., grew to nearly three dozen, with deaths reported from Cuba, Florida and North Carolina. The storm weakened Saturday as it rolled into the mid-Atlantic, but not before it washed out bridges and piers, hurdled massive boats into buildings onshore and sheared roofs off homes, leaving hundreds of thousands without power.

At least 35 people were confirmed dead, including 28 people in Florida mostly from drowning but others from Ian’s tragic aftereffects. An elderly couple died after their oxygen machines shut off when they lost power, authorities said.

As of Saturday, more than 1,000 people had been rescued from flooded areas along Florida’s southwestern coast alone, Daniel Hokanson, a four-star general and head of the National Guard, told The Associated Press while airborne to Florida.

Chris Schnapp was at the Port Sanibel Marina in Fort Myers on Saturday, waiting to see whether her 83-year-old mother-in-law had been evacuated from Sanibel Island. A pontoon boat had just arrived with a load of passengers from the island — with suitcases and animals in tow — but Schnapp’s mother-in-law was not among them.

“She stayed on the island. My brother-in-law and sister-in-law own two businesses over there. They evacuated. She did not want to go,” Schnapp said. Now, she said, she wasn’t sure if her mother-in-law was still on the island or had been taken to a shelter somewhere.

On Pine Island, the largest barrier island off Florida’s Gulf Coast, houses were reduced to splinters and boats littered roadways as a volunteer group went door-to-door Saturday, asking residents if they wanted to be evacuated. Helen Koch blew her husband a kiss and mouthed the words “I love you” as she sat inside a rescue helicopter that was lifting her and seven of the couple’s 17 dogs to safety.

River flooding posed a major challenge at times to rescue and supply delivery efforts. The Myakka River washed over a stretch of Interstate 75, forcing a traffic-snarling highway closure for a while Saturday on the key corridor linking Tampa to the north with the hard-hit southwest Florida region that straddles Port Charlotte and Fort Myers. Later Saturday, state officials said, water levels had receded enough that I-75 could be fully reopened. However, they said monitors were out keeping close watch on constantly changing river levels.

While rising waters in Florida’s southwest rivers have crested or are near cresting, the levels aren’t expected to drop significantly for days, said National Weather Service meteorologist Tyler Fleming in Tampa.

Elsewhere, South Carolina’s Pawleys Island — a beach community roughly 75 miles (115 kilometers) up the coast from Charleston — was among the places hardest hit. Power remained knocked out to at least half of the island Saturday.

Eddie Wilder, who has been coming to Pawleys Island for more than six decades, said Friday’s storm was “insane to watch.” He said waves as high as 25 feet (7.6 meters) washed away the local pier — an iconic landmark — near his home.

“We watched it hit the pier and saw the pier disappear,” said Wilder, whose house 30 feet (9 meters) above the ocean stayed dry inside. “We watched it crumble and and watched it float by with an American flag.”

The Pawleys pier was one of at least four along South Carolina’s coast destroyed by battering winds and rain. Parts of the pier, including barnacle-covered pylons, littered the beach. The intracoastal waterway was strewn with the remnants of several boat houses knocked off their pilings.

John Joseph, whose father built the family’s beige beach house in 1962, said Saturday he was elated to return from Georgetown — which took a direct hit. He found his Pawleys Island home entirely intact.

“Thank God these walls are still here, and we feel very blessed that this is the worst thing,” he said of the sand that swept under his home. “What happened in Florida — gosh, God bless us. If we’d had a Category 4, I wouldn’t be here.“

In North Carolina, the storm claimed four lives and mostly downed trees and power lines, leaving over 280,000 people statewide without power Saturday morning, officials said. Two of the deaths were from storm-related vehicle crashes while officials said a man also drowned when his truck plunged into a swamp, and another man was killed by carbon monoxide poisoning from a generator in a garage.

In southwest Florida, authorities and volunteers were still assessing the damage as shocked residents tried to make sense of the disaster.

“I want to sit in the corner and cry. I don’t know what else to do,” Stevie Scuderi said, mud clinging to her purple sandles as she shuffled through her mostly destroyed apartment in Fort Myers.

On Saturday, a long line of people waited outside an auto parts store in Port Charlotte, where a sign read, “We have generators now.” Hundreds of cars were lined up outside a gas station, and some people walked, carrying gas cans to their nearby cars.

At Port Sanibel Marina in Fort Myers, charter boat captain Ryan Kane inspected damage to two boats Saturday. The storm surge pushed several boats and a dock onshore. He said the boat he owns was totaled so he couldn’t use it to help rescue people. Now, he said, it would be a long time before he’d be chartering fishing clients again.

“There’s a hole in the hull. It took water in the motors. It took water in everything,” he said, adding: “You know boats are supposed to be in the water, not in parking lots.”

___

Kinnard reported from Pawleys Island, South Carolina; Associated Press contributors include Freida Frisaro in Miami; Brendan Farrington in Tallahassee, Florida; Gerald Herbert in Pine Island, Florida; Mike Pesoli in Lehigh Acres, Florida; and Sarah Rankin in Richmond, Virginia.

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Julius Randle embraces playing faster and without the ball

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The Knicks have been slow under Tom Thibodeau. Very slow.

Their offense was dead-last in pace during the coach’s first campaign, then moved up just one spot to 29th last season.

With the first week of training camp in the books, the Knicks have been vague about specific goals with one exception: playing faster.’

“It’s just the way the game is going,” Julius Randle said. “There are so many more possessions, high-scoring games. So, it’s just the way the league is going and an adjustment that everybody has to make.”

Randle buying into a quicker pace is important toward that endeavor. The power forward spent much of the last two seasons operating with the ball while leading the team, by far, in isolations. So it was an encouraging sign that Randle said he dropped weight in the summer to get up and down the floor.

“I want to be able to adjust and play faster, play on and off the ball,” Randle said. “For me, being in shape is always number one, so I take pride in that and every year I try to go back and look at how and adjust how I can be better and play faster and quicker basketball. Be efficient.

On paper, the Knicks’ starting lineup isn’t constructed for a run-and-gun style. That’s more the vibe of the reserves with Obi Toppin, Derrick Rose, Immanuel Quickley and Quentin Grimes.

But Thibodeau asserted Saturday that Randle is adept in transition and playing off the ball. He witnessed it as an opposing coach when Randle was in New Orleans alongside Anthony Davis and Los Angeles alongside either D’Angelo Russell or Brandon Ingram.

“Having coached against him, one of the things I worried about was him running the floor,” Thibodeau said. “So if we can get him down the floor and catch small guys on him, catch the defense before it’s set — that’s a big advantage for us. Playing off the ball and catching it on the run and driving it through the elbow. Those are things that he’s done well in the past and I want him to get back to that.”

Of course, this will require an adjustment from Randle. It’s one thing to finish a lay-up in transition, it’s another to run around without the ball in the half-court. Egos tend to get involved when a player is asked to relinquish the control of the offense.

But that’s the reality as Randle enters his fourth season with the Knicks. He’ll finally have a reliable playmaker as the starting point guard in Jalen Brunson. RJ Barrett’s evolution calls for more opportunities.

Randle can succeed as the secondary option in motion.

“Because of the strength of the club, we can use him in different ways,” Thibodeau said. “He doesn’t always have to have the ball. He can play off the ball.”

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Ravens sign CB Kevon Seymour off practice squad, elevate OT David Sharpe, OLB Brandon Copeland

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Ravens Sign Cb Kevon Seymour Off Practice Squad, Elevate Ot David Sharpe, Olb Brandon Copeland
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The Ravens signed cornerback Kevon Seymour off their practice squad Saturday and elevated two other players ahead of Sunday’s game against the Buffalo Bills.

Seymour, a dependable special teams contributor, played in nine games last year, making two starts. He’s yet to appear in a game this season. No Ravens cornerbacks were on Friday’s injury report, but the team has rotated its reserves early this season because of injuries and inconsistency.

Offensive tackle David Sharpe and outside linebacker Brandon Copeland (Gilman) are expected to play Sunday after practice squad promotions. Sharpe, who played in three games last season, helps the Ravens’ depth out wide, where Ronnie Stanley (ankle) and Patrick Mekari (ankle) are dealing with injuries. Stanley is questionable for Week 4, while Mekari is doubtful.

Copeland signed with the Ravens’ practice squad last week and had a sack late in the win against the New England Patriots. With Justin Houston (groin) doubtful for Sunday’s game and new signing Jason Pierre-Paul still ramping up, Copeland could be in line for significant action.

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