Running back Christian McCaffrey could return for the Carolina Panthers on Thursday night against the Atlanta Falcons. McCaffrey missed the last five games with a high ankle sprain. Mark LoMoglio/Associated Press

Christian McCaffrey has been designated for return from the team’s injured reserve list, increasing the likelihood Carolina’s 2019 All-Pro running back will play Thursday night against the Atlanta Falcons.

McCaffrey arrived at Panthers practice Tuesday with a red jersey and a baseball cap signifying an injured player, but he quickly changed into a black practice jersey and a helmet.

McCaffrey hasn’t played since Week 2 when he suffered a high ankle sprain in a loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Panthers Coach Matt Rhule reiterated Tuesday that he is “hopeful” McCaffrey will ready to play against the Falcons, but added that the decision was largely up to the training staff.

“He looks good,” Rhule said. “He looks like he is moving around great. We will let the medical people and him determine how much he can do and whether he can play in a game.”

McCaffrey was off to a solid start with 223 yards from scrimmage and four touchdowns in the first two games.

“It’s just another weapon,” wide receiver Curtis Samuel said of McCaffrey’s return. “There is no such thing as having too many playmakers out there. You give the team so many options of who is getting the ball here and who is going there. So many outlets. There is no such thing as having too many options.”

Rhule said McCaffrey was “exhilarated” to be out at practice with his teammates.

“I know he wants to play, but I also know he’s a process guy and he understands that we can’t shortcut the process,” Rhule said.

McCaffrey’s backup Mike Davis had 149 yards from scrimmage and a touchdown in Carolina’s 23-16 win against Atlanta earlier this month. Rhule said Davis will still see some action at running back even if McCaffrey returns.

RAVENS: Former Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant has moved one step closer to playing in the NFL again.

The 31-year-old Bryant signed with the Baltimore Ravens on Tuesday and has been assigned to the practice squad.

Bryant last played in 2017, when he had 69 catches for 838 yards in his eighth and final season in Dallas. He signed with New Orleans in November 2018, but tore his Achilles tendon before getting into a game.

Now he’s on the cusp of getting back on the field.

Bryant said on Twitter: “My emotions running high right now… I’m thankful…I can’t stop crying.”

If he’s retained his speed and is not too rusty, Bryant could add a much-needed deep threat to a Baltimore passing attack that currently ranks 31st in yards per game. Second-year receiver Marquis Brown is currently quarterback Lamar Jackson’s most prominent target for the long ball.

Drafted 24th overall by Dallas in 2010, Bryant was selected to the Pro Bowl in 2013, 2014 and 2016. He has 531 catches for 7,459 yards and 73 touchdowns.

After scoring a career-high 16 TDs in 2014, Bryant endured two straight injury-shortened seasons before playing in 16 games in 2017.

RAMS: Los Angeles released rookie kicker Samuel Sloman after seven games with the team.

The Rams (5-2) dropped their seventh-round pick after he had a field-goal attempt blocked in their 24-10 win over Chicago on Monday night.

Veteran NFL kicker Kai Forbath is expected to take over for Sloman. The Rams signed Forbath last week off the Bears’ practice squad.

Sloman won a three-way competition for the job in training camp, but his first NFL job had been rocky ever since he missed a 29-yard field-goal attempt in the Rams’ season opener against Dallas.

He missed three extra point attempts for Los Angeles, and he missed three of his 11 field-goal attempts. His kickoffs also weren’t long enough for Coach Sean McVay.

FREE AGENCY: Free agent safety Eric Reid told The Associated Press he declined an offer to join Washington’s practice squad.

Washington (2-5) lost safety Landon Collins to a season-ending Achilles tendon injury in a win over Dallas on Sunday. Rookie Kamren Curl, a seventh-round pick, will replace him for now.

“I just don’t think playing on the practice squad is reflective or indicative of my career,” Reid said in a phone interview on Tuesday.

The 28-year-old Reid played two seasons for Washington coach Ron Rivera with Carolina and set two defensive franchise records for the Panthers last season.

A first-round pick by San Francisco in 2013, Reid went to the Pro Bowl in his rookie season. He joined Colin Kaepernick in 2016 when the former star quarterback took a knee during the national anthem to protest police violence, racism and social injustice.

Kaepernick hasn’t played in the league since that season and Reid sat out the first three weeks of the 2018 season before Carolina signed him. Both players filed collusion grievances against the NFL and settled their cases in February 2019.

LIONS-COWBOYS TRADE: Detroit acquired veteran defensive end Everson Griffen from the Dallas Cowboys for a conditional draft pick to strengthen one of the team’s weaknesses.


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