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Week Four Friday 10-pack

It’s Friday morning.  And since the news flow often slows down on Friday morning, we need to fill space.

So we fill space with 10 story lines emanating from the upcoming slate of games.

It’s harder with two or three storyline-worthy teams on a bye, but we eventually found a way to milk the cow this week.


1.  Jets could soon be soaring.

After a disappointing Monday night loss to break in their half of the
New Meadowlands Stadium (it’s sort of like Fred and Barney sharing a
swimming pool
), the Jets have won two in a row against their primary
division rivals.  And they’ve done it with cornerback Darrelle Revis and
linebacker Calvin Pace injured, and with receiver Santonio Holmes on
suspension.

So what happens when those guys come back?

The Vikings could find out on Monday, October 11, when Holmes definitely
be back — and when Revis and/or Pace could be dressed and playing, too.

Considering the level of play that the Jets have achieved without them,
the Jets could be poised to run away with the division.  Until then,
they won’t even have to switch to missiles to shoot down the Bills.

2.  Last chance for Mangini?

The Browns have been competitive in each of their first three games.  But they’ve lost each one.

After this weekend’s visit from the Bengals, the Browns play the Falcons, Steelers, and Saints.  Then comes the bye week.

As a result, a loss to Cincinnati on Sunday would make an 0-7 start
likely, and team president Mike Holmgren could decide to part ways with
coach Eric Mangini.  And so Sunday’s game could be Mangini’s last and
best chance to preserve his job beyond October 31.

If the Browns don’t win in Week Four, and in turn don’t pull off an
unlikely upset of the Falcons, Steelers, or Saints, there’s a chance
that, when the Jets come to Cleveland on November 14, coach Rex Ryan
could be looking across the sideline at his identical twin, Browns
defensive coordinator Rob Ryan.

3.  Running back injuries confirm 18-game season concerns.

With Colts president Bill Polian sparking a belated debate regarding the
wisdom of an 18-game season, one of the primary concerns is (or at
least should be) the impact of two additional games on the short-term
and long-term health of the players.

Indeed, with seven running backs (Steven Jackson of the Rams, Pierre
Thomas of the Saints, Jahvid Best of the Lions, Ray Rice of the Ravens,
Cedric Benson of the Bengals, Fred Taylor of the Patriots, and Knowshon
Moreno of the Broncos) already dinged up after only three games and
Reggie Bush of the Saints out with a broken leg, the league and
the union need to be very concerned about the potential consequences of
additional games on the players who take the brunt of the punishment in
the 16 games that already are played.

Though the move from 14 to 16 games in the ’70s occurred without much public discussion or debate, the three-channels television universe and the absence of talk radio and the Internet fueled that outcome.  Besides, players continue to get bigger, faster, and stronger.  When they hit each other, the bones and ligaments we all possess are at more risk than ever before.

4.  Team of destiny wanted.

Last year, it was obvious after three weeks that the Saints and Colts
were headed for big things.  New Orleans hung 45 on the Lions, winning
by 18, and 48 on the Eagles, winning by 26.  Held under 30 by the Bills,
the Saints still won by 20.

The Colts started more slowly, beating the Jags by two and the Dolphins
by four.  By Week Three, however, the Colts had taken down the defending
NFC champions (the Cardinals) by 21.

This year, none of the three remaining undefeated teams have rolled over
their opponents consistently.  The Steelers and the Chiefs won close
games in Week One and Week Two before notching 20-plus point victories in
Week Three.  The Bears have won by five points, seven points, and three
points.

The absence of a team that clearly and definitively is taking care of
its business has reinforced the sense of parity that could be laying the
foundation for a playoff run with plenty of teams still alive, and a
postseason in which anything can happen.

For now, the Steelers are the team most likely to emerge as the team to
beat, but first they have to beat the Ravens on Sunday.  If the Steelers
can’t — and if the Bears lose on the road against the Giants — the
off-this-Sunday Chiefs could be the only undefeated team left after four
weeks of action.

Somewhere, Pete Rozelle will be smiling broadly.

5.  Time for Texans to prove themselves.

When the Texans toppled the Colts to open the season, the team that has
played eight years without a playoff berth seemed to be destined to
finally bust through to the postseason.  But then the Texans struggled
to beat a Redskins team that suddenly has inherited the stink of the
Rams, and the Texans lost fairly convincingly to in-state rivals who
were on the ropes, in danger of being punched through.

So are the Texans a contender, or did they merely give the first game of the season the Daytona 500 treatment?

Beating the Raiders won’t mean conclusively that the Texans are legit,
but losing will mean that Houston isn’t ready to hang with the likes of
the Colts and the Titans in arguably the best division in the
conference, if not the league.

6.  Desperation shifts from Dallas to New York.

Last week, a strong sense of desperation emerged in Dallas, where the
Cowboys had lost their first two games — and faced falling to 0-3 at
the hands of an upstart team from Houston that had started the year 2-0.

The Cowboys found a way to push the dark cloud away last week, and it
now has settled in New York, over the Rubble half of the Fred-and-Barney
pool.  (That’s the third Flintstones reference of the day.  And it’s not even 1966.)

The Giants, after beating the Panthers (who have turned out to be
toothless, de-clawed, malnourished house cats), have been spanked by the Colts and
Titans in successive weeks.  Only 14 days after losing decisively in
Indy, the Giants cannot afford to be embarrassed again before a national
audience.  (On NBC.)

With their backs firmly pressed against the wall and the Bears
overachieving their way through two of their three wins, look for the
Giants to get their act together, if only for a night.

And who knows?  Three years ago, the Giants lost their first two games
and gave up 80 points in the process.  More than four months later, they
only won the Super Bowl.

7.  Fins, Pats face “must” wins.

Yeah, it’s only Week Four.  But with the Jets, Dolphins, and Patriots
getting an early start on their round-robin routine, neither the
Patriots nor the Dolphins can afford to drop to 0-2.

The Dolphins need it even more; they play the Jets in New York on
December 12 and the Pats in New England on January 2.  Already in danger
of being swept by the Jets, the Dolphins can’t afford to lose at home
to New England, if the Dolphins have genuine designs on winning the
division.

The Patriots need this one, too.  But they still get the Jets and the
Dolphins at home.  For the Dolphins, the season could potentially be over less than a
month after it began.

8.  Loss to Browns could help the Bengals in the long run.

The Bengals, despite their 2-1 record, don’t project the same vibe as
they did a year ago.  With a good defense (Week One at New England
notwithstanding) and a capable running back, the Bengals have relied too
heavily on the passing game.

Though T.O. has thrown the offensive line under the bus without overtly
throwing the offensive line under the bus, questions persist regarding
quarterback Carson Palmer.  Whether he has lingering elbow issues or he
simply has lost his zip on the ball, the Bengals seem to be in the same
style of denial that plagued the Panthers in 2009, when they refused to
face reality regarding quarterback Jake Delhomme.

And so a loss to the Browns could help jar the Bengals into facing
reality.   Eventually, they need to ask themselves whether Palmer
truly represents the future of the franchise at the quarterback
position.

With a base salary of $11.5 million due to Palmer in 2011, we’ve got a
feeling that, win or lose on Sunday, the notoriously frugal Bengals will
think long and hard about paying that much money to a guy who has no
career playoff wins, and whose best days may be fading far behind him.

9.  Snyder’s biggest test could be coming.

For more than 11 years, Daniel Snyder has owned the Redskins.  And for
most of that time, Snyder has been impatient when it comes to the men
who are coaching the team.

After two years, Norv Turner was dumped.  (A playoff appearance likely
saved him in 1999.)  Marty Schottenheimer lasted a season.  Steve
Spurrier made it for two.  But for his resume and Hall of Fame bust, Joe
Gibbs may not have made it four years.  Jim Zorn lasted only two.

And throughout most if not all of Zorn’s final year, Snyder was wooing
(or at least planning to woo) Mike Shanahan, the presumed savior of the
franchise.

In Week One, it appeared to be a brilliant move, thanks to an unexpected
win over the Cowboys.  But after blowing a 17-point lead against the
Texans and somehow losing by 14 against the Rams, the Redskins face what
could be a very long day at Lincoln Financial Field.

It gets no easier with the Packers and Colts coming to town, followed by trips to Chicago and Detroit.

Yes, Detroit, where the Lions managed to beat the Redskins in 2009, for
their first win in 22 games.  After a bye, the Redskins have the Eagles
again, the Titans, the Vikings, the Giants twice, and the Cowboys
again.

It all easily could add up to a losing season.  Though the outcome may
be better than 4-12, it easily could be yet another two-digit collection
of losses.  And then Snyder will have to find a way to resist the urge
to act, and to instead commit to staying the course.

Given the open and obvious salivating for Shanahan, there’s no way
Snyder can make a change after only one year.  Based on his history,
however, Snyder surely will approach 2011 with questions swirling in his
mind as to whether there might be another guy out there whose name
Snyder should pencil onto the top of the latest version of his wish
list.

10.  Rams have a chance to make some noise.

Based on their pattern of three wins in 2007, two in 2008, and one in 2009, the Rams were on track to go 0-16 in 2010.

Already, they’ve blown that trend out of the water by climbing to 1-2.

This weekend, the Rams have a chance to break a 10-game losing streak to
the Seahawks, a string that dates back to 2004, when St. Louis took
three games from their division rivals, include two in the usually
impenetrable Qwest Field.

If they can — and if the Cardinals lose in San Diego — the Rams will
find themselves in a  three-way tie atop the division after four weeks.

With three of the next four games against the Lions, Bucs, and Panthers,
the Rams could be on the right side of .500 at the bye.  And that could
give them the confidence they need to make a serious run at the
division crown and the postseason home game that goes along with it.

Sure, they likely won’t win the division.  But the fact that they won’t
be dead in the water with 25 percent of the season in the books is
nothing short of stunning.

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New schedule-release target is Tuesday or Wednesday

2011 NFC Championship: Green Bay Packers v Chicago Bears Getty Images

Few targets move like the one that eventually will trigger the release of the NFL’s regular-season schedule.  Originally planned for next Thursday, a source with knowledge of the situation tells PFT that the finalists are now Tuesday and Wednesday.

The schedule is and has been ready to go.  As another source tells PFT, the league circulates the finished product to some of the more influential owners for “beta testing” before making it officials.  It’s unclear whether any of the owners have the juice to force changes to the schedule; some adjustments would require more effort than shuffling a couple of games around.  It could be that Commissioner Roger Goodell, whose job partially entails keeping a constituency of 32 as happy as possible, wants some of the key members of the group that determines his terms of employment to feel as if they are involved.

And they should be.  It’s ultimately their sport.  Besides, a fresh look at the 256-game slate from a self-made billionaire or two (and even from some of the guys who had the billions handed to them at birth) can’t hurt.

Regarding the specific day for releasing the schedule, NFL Network typically has a strong voice in the process.  Currently, the word is that NFLN prefers Wednesday.

Either way, the wait for applying the “when” to the “who” and the “where” will end soon.

And it’s not as trivial an exercise as some would suggest.  Apart from letting fans make travel plans games the intend to attend or permitting fans to begin anticipating key prime-time and other high-profile games, individual teams will know whether they’ll be facing an array of cream puffs to start the season, a murderer’s row, or something in between.  For some franchises, the won-loss record at the end of September could be a major factor in whether the team does or doesn’t get to the postseason.

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New Colt Andre Johnson not focused on facing the Texans

Houston Texans v Indianapolis Colts Getty Images

When the NFL schedule comes out next week, some fans will circle the dates of the Colts-Texans games, when Andre Johnson will face his old team. But Johnson isn’t thinking about that.

Johnson, who signed in Indianapolis last month after 12 seasons in Houston, says he’s not motivated by revenge, anger or any animosity toward the Texans.

“Everybody thinks I went to the Colts to try to get back at the Texans, and stuff like that,” Johnson told ESPN. “That had nothing to do with it. I just went to the best place where I felt that was the best fit for me where I can have the best chance to win a championship. It wasn’t about circling dates or nothing against the Texans. I had 12 great years.”

Johnson’s return to Houston in a Colts uniform may be emotional for him, for his teammates and for fans. But once the ball is kicked off, it’s just another game.

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Bucs not concerned about Winston giving up football for baseball

Winston AP

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have plenty of reasons to potentially be concerned about quarterback Jameis Winston.  But they continue not to be, in large part because they’ve done their homework on him.

One potential area of concern comes from the possibility that, if discouraged by the difficulty of adjusting to the next level of football, Winston will trade in the pigskin for the horsehide, leaving the NFL and embarking on a baseball career.  That’s a possibility the Buccaneers have considered, and they’re confident it won’t happen.

It always has been my dream, but I’m just playing football right now,” Winston said in February, leaving the door slightly ajar for the possibility of playing baseball and football professionally.

For the Buccaneers, who wasted the first overall pick 29 years ago on a running back who opted for baseball (Bo Jackson), the nightmare scenario would entail Winston deciding that football at the NFL level is much harder than he thought it would be, and opting instead to give baseball a try.  For that reason, Tampa Bay’s research on Winston has included getting a frank assessment of his baseball prospects.  While a role as a major-league relief pitcher wouldn’t be impossible for Winston, it wouldn’t be automatic, either.  In turn, it wouldn’t provide the kind of quick-fix that could tempt a guy to trade NFL football for Major League Baseball.

The Bucs realize that nothing can be completely ruled out, but as they stand poised to make him the first overall pick in the draft, they’re confident that this Bo will know to stick with football.

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Report: Nike reaches deals with Mariota, Winston, three other top prospects

cd0ymzcznguwzdbhnduynddiytjhm2yyzthlmtjjotqwyyznptkxnmjimgjin2ixnjbiywvlodrkm2m5ztniymq4odzk AP

If it’s draft season, then it’s time for apparel companies to strike deals with some of the top incoming NFL prospects.

According to ESPN’s Darren Rovell, Nike has signed Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston, Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota, Georgia running back Todd Gurley, Alabama wide receiver Amari Cooper and Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon to endorsement contracts.

News of the Nike deal with Winston comes as he faces a civil lawsuit regarding a sexual assault allegation levied by a Florida State student in 2012. Winston was never charged criminally in connection with the allegation.

“Jameis has stated his innocence regarding serious charges made against him. We’ll continue to monitor the situation,” a Nike spokesperson told ESPN.com.

Winston, Mariota, Gurley and Cooper played for schools that sported Nike-branded uniforms. Gordon, meanwhile, wore an Adidas-branded uniform at Wisconsin.

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Raiders show interest in Adrian Peterson

Minnesota Vikings v Kansas City Chiefs Getty Images

If the Vikings are going to trade Adrian Peterson, the Cowboys won’t be the only team interested.

The Raiders have also shown interest in Peterson, NFL Network reports.

In one important respect, the Raiders actually make more sense than the Cowboys: The Raiders have about $12 million more in cap space available than the Cowboys do. Peterson’s enormous cap hit would be tough for the Cowboys to squeeze in, but it would be doable for the Raiders.

But the Raiders aren’t exactly a team that’s one star player away from a championship, and adding an expensive veteran wouldn’t necessarily make a lot of sense. This move feels like a long shot.

For their part, the Vikings say they expect Peterson to play for them this year. It remains to be seen whether Peterson will try to force his way out, and whether some other team will offer a lucrative deal that makes the Vikings willing to part with their biggest star.

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Packers re-sign S Chris Banjo

Green Bay Packers v Buffalo Bills Getty Images

Packers reserve safety Chris Banjo has signed his exclusive rights contract offer from the club, according to the NFL’s Friday transactions.

Banjo, 25, was active for Green Bay’s final three regular season games and both of its postseason games in 2014. He spent most of the season on the practice squad. The previous season, Banjo appeared in every game for the Packers, earning a role on special teams.

Banjo is likely to compete for one of the backup safety spots behind Morgan Burnett and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix in 2015.

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Raiders work out Vic Beasley in South Carolina

Discover Orange Bowl - Clemson v Ohio State Getty Images

The Raiders took linebacker Khalil Mack with the fifth pick in last year’s draft and it looks like they got a cornerstone for their defense to build around in the coming years.

That wasn’t enough to lift them past the fourth pick in this year’s draft, which they may use on a player to help Mack on that side of the ball. Ian Rapoport of NFL Media reports that defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. and other Raiders coaches travelled to South Carolina on Friday to work out Clemson’s all-time sack leader Vic Beasley.

The team sent linebackers coach Sal Sunseri and defensive line coach Jethro Franklin to the workout as they try to sort out how Beasley would best fit into their 4-3 scheme. Wherever they might line him up, Beasley has the kind of speed off the edge that the Raiders Defense could use as they try to drop to a lower draft position in 2016.

Rapoport adds that the Jaguars have also sent defensive line coach Todd Wash for another look at Beasley, which could leave the Raiders looking in another direction come the end of the month.

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49ers working on new deal for Michael Wilhoite

Aldon Smith AP

In early March, there were reports that the 49ers were shopping inside linebacker Michael Wilhoite to other teams.

Patrick Willis and Chris Borland announced their retirements a short time later, which bumped Wilhoite into a more prominent position with the team. It looks like he’s on track to get a contract to match that new status.

General Manager Trent Baalke said Friday that the team is working on a new deal for Wilhoite, who is an exclusive rights free agent. He hasn’t signed that tender, which would pay him $660,000 a year after he started all 16 games while Navorro Bowman and Willis missed time with injuries.

“We’re working on something with him as we speak … He’s kind of in a unique situation. He was kind of caught in a numbers deal,” Baalke said, via the San Francisco Chronicle.

If Wilhoite played out the year on his ERFA tender, he’d be in line to become a restricted free agent next year. With the change in circumstances for the 49ers, Wilhoite may not be going down that path.

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Tony Boselli’s son commits to Florida State

Boselli Getty Images

The son of Tony Boselli could be on his way to the NFL.

Via USA Today, Andrew Boselli has committed to Florida State.  A junior at Episcopal High School in Jacksonville, Boselli will be a member of the class of 2016.

“Coach [Rick] Trickett is just an offensive line coach — a technician — that knows how to teach,” Boselli said after visiting the school in February. “And they run a pro-style offense.  It’s a place that, if you want to go to the NFL, it a place you want to go.  They’ll teach you how to do it.”

Indeed they will.  With 18 players drafted in 2013 and 2014 combined, coach Jimbo Fisher’s Seminoles are 10 draft picks in 2015 away from tying the three-year record for any school.

Elite high school football players play in college not because they want to but because they have to.  League rules, as validated by the NFLPA, prevent players from entering the draft until three years after the graduation of their high school class.  So the only choice is to play in college, and at college the players necessarily are majoring in football.

Why not select a school that is more likely to get the football player ready to play in the NFL? When the only compensation is the wholesale cost of an education (and snacks!), the least a college football program can do is prepare the player for the next level.

Tony Boselli played at USC, and he was the second overall pick in the 1995 draft.  A five-time Pro Bowler and three-time All Pro, Boselli was elected to the NFL’s All-Decade team for the 1990s.

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Bruce Miller not attending 49ers offseason workouts

Bruce Miller AP

Last season, the 49ers drew criticism for their decision to allow defensive tackle Ray McDonald to keep playing after an August arrest on domestic violence charges.

Things are playing out a bit differently with fullback Bruce Miller following his March arrest on suspicion of spousal abuse. General Manager Trent Baalke said Friday that Miller isn’t taking part in the team’s offseason workouts and said the team will revisit his status as the case moves forward.

“Yeah, once again, they don’t have to be here at this stage in the season,” Baalke said, via CSNBayArea.com. “We sat down with Bruce and feel it’s very important for him to handle this situation and once it’s handled, we’ll move on from there.”

No charges have been filed in the Miller case at this time. The only mandatory practices before training camp come during the team’s June minicamp.

McDonald wasn’t charged in the domestic violence case, but wound up being released later in the season after being investigated for sexual assault.

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Tim Shaw: ALS weakens my body, not “my heart and mind”

Tim Shaw AP

Former NFL linebacker Tim Shaw, who announced in August he had been diagnosed with ALS, released a message Friday giving an update on how he was coping with the disease.

Shaw, who said he learned of his diagnosis one year ago Friday, signaled that while the disease had taken a toll on him, his resolve remained in tact.

“Today, tho my body struggles, my heart and mind grow stronger,” Shaw wrote on his Twitter account, posting a picture of him lifting a weight with his right arm.

The 32-year-old Shaw played seven NFL seasons, with his most extensive work with Tennessee from 2010 through 2012. Born in Exeter, England, Shaw played collegiately at Penn State.

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Dorial Green-Beckham visited Bengals, 49ers

2015 NFL Scouting Combine Getty Images

If draft prospects were judged on talent alone, wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham might be taken high in the first round.

The potential for off-field trouble is another factor, however, and Green-Beckham carries a lot of baggage. He was dismissed from the Missouri team after two drug arrests and a domestic violence allegation and then transferred to Oklahoma, but never played a game for the Sooners before declaring for the draft this year.

That makes it much harder to peg where Green-Beckham will land, but he’s drawing interest around the league. Ian Rapoport of NFL Media reports that Green-Beckham visited the Bengals on Thursday and also had a recent visit with the 49ers. They join the Vikings and Ravens as teams that have spent time with the wideout.

All of those teams could use a receiver of Green-Beckham’s ability, even if it might remain raw after two years of college experience. There are plenty of other teams in the same boat and one of them may make a bet that the ability outweighs the risk before the first night of the draft comes to an end.

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Ravens re-sign TE Phillip Supernaw

Baltimore Ravens v Pittsburgh Steelers Getty Images

The Ravens have re-signed one of their reserve tight ends.

Phillip Supernaw, an exclusive-rights free agent, has signed his tender with the club, the team’s website said Friday.

The 25-year-old Supernaw appeared in six games for Baltimore in 2014, catching two passes for 27 yards. He previously had stints with Kansas City (2014) and Houston (2013).

Tight end could be a position the Ravens address in the draft after losing Owen Daniels to Denver and with Dennis Pitta coming off a second significant hip injury. If Pitta cannot recapture his best form, second-year pro Crockett Gillmore could be the top target at the position.

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NFL declines to clarify website article tampering exception

Adrian Getty Images

On Thursday, the Cowboys posted on their official website an article explaining why the team should be interested in Vikings running back Adrian Peterson.  Some wondered whether statements of interest in a player under contract with another team violates the tampering rules.

At first blush, it seemed clear that there was no violation, based on this language from the Anti-Tampering Policy:  “Articles that appear on the website of a club that identify prospective free agents that the team might be interested in, or that rate prospective free agents, shall not be considered violations of the Anti-Tampering Policy unless they include a direct quote or expression of interest by an employee of the club (other than the author of the article) about a specific player.”

But as multiple readers quickly pointed out, Peterson isn’t a “prospective free agent”; he’s under contract with the Vikings for three more years.  So PFT asked the NFL for clarification on the question of whether the website article exception to the tampering policy encompasses Peterson, who won’t be a free agent for three years.

“We do not have a comment,” NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy told PFT via email.

Absent clarification from the league, it remains unclear whether a team-owned website may write articles expressing interest in players under contract with other teams who are not “prospective free agents,” and it remains unclear what constitutes a “prospective free agent.”

For those of you who think this is part of an anti-Cowboys vendetta (because some of the fans of any team we scrutinize in any way automatically assume we’re motivated solely by hatred of said team), the Cowboys aren’t alone in this boat.  Last month the Cardinals’ website had an article containing quotes from receiver Larry Fitzgerald regarding the potential addition of Peterson.

We can already hear the “why do you hate the Cardinals?” emails being typed.

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After losing Gore, 49ers talk up Hunter and Hyde

Kendall Hunter AP

Before the start of free agency, the 49ers thought they would keep running back Frank Gore. As it turned out, Gore left to sign with the Colts.

But the 49ers feel good about two running backs who have stayed in San Francisco.

San Francisco General Manager Trent Baalke has talked up running backs Kendall Hunter and Carlos Hyde as both looking ready to play a big part in the 49ers’ offense this season. Hunter missed all of last season after tearing his ACL in training camp, but Baalke said Hunter has worked hard to get ready to go for this year’s camp.

He has progressed very well,” Baalke said, via NBCBayArea.com. “Talk about a guy that works. . . . He’s a grinder.”

And Baalke told Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee that Hyde has slimmed down to his lowest weight since he was an underclassman at Ohio State. Baalke described Hyde as looking “extremely good.”

If Hyde and Hunter are as good as Baalke thinks, and if Reggie Bush has something left, the 49ers may be in good shape at running back. Even after losing one of the best they’ve ever had in Gore.

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