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Ten ways to improve the Hall of Fame selection process

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Every year, on the Saturday before the Super Bowl, 44 men and women gather in the host city and determine the members of the next class of Hall of Famers.

Typically, the panel considers 15 modern-era candidates, which systemically is whittled down to five finalists for an up-or-down vote.  The voters also consider two previously-determined finalists determined by the Seniors Committee, which comes up with two players who, for whatever reason, were passed over during past sessions.

In the end, as few as four and as many as seven secure admission to Canton.

Every year, complaints inevitably arise regarding the persons who make it and those who don’t.  At times, those complaints are aimed at the process.  Usually, the debate fizzles by the next day, when the Super Bowl starts.

This year, largely through the efforts of Jason Whitlock of FOXSports.com, the criticism has lingered.  The fact that Whitlock’s opinions have sparked a pointed response from two of the voters has served only to give the discussion ongoing life.

Though some of the voters who perhaps feel a threat to their fiefdom may not like it, any effort to consider whether the process can be improved represents a valuable expenditure of time and effort.  In this vein, we now offer 10 specific ideas for improving the procedure for determining who gets in, and who’s left out of, the Hall of Fame.

1.  Expand the panel.

The panel currently consists only of media members, some of whom are unemployed, underemployed, self-employed, and/or semi-retired.  One voter is assigned for each team, even if the voter has no specific jurisdiction over that team.  For example, Len Pasquarelli of The Sports Xchange holds the vote that corresponds to the Falcons, even though he hasn’t focused his efforts on that team for years.  Ditto for David Elfin, the Redskins’ representative who no longer works for a Washington-focused publication.  Others, like Joe Reedy of the Cincinnati Enquirer, had limited experience covering the NFL but was the only guy at the only paper in the town in which the team is headquartered.

That’s not a knock on Joe, whom we know and like.  But, surely, he’ll acknowledge that he had limited experience covering the NFL when he got the assignment.  Before inheriting the Bengals beat from Mark Curnutte in 2009, Reedy previously covered the Jets for two years (1997 and 1998) at the Post-Star in Glen Falls, New York and the Jaguars for one year (1999) at the Gainesville Sun.  Many would contend that three relatively distant years at non-first-tier publications shouldn’t be enough to secure 2.27 percent of the say as to who makes it to Canton.

The panel also includes one representative of the Professional Football Writers Association and 11 at-large media members.  That’s 44 total voters.

The panel, put simply, is too small.  (And, trust me, I’m not saying that because I’m angling for a seat at the table.  I don’t want one, I don’t expect to ever be offered one — especially after writing this article — and I wouldn’t have the time to do the assignment justice unless and until I become unemployed, underemployed, self-employed, and/or semi-retired.)  Because the human beings who comprise the panel are subject to the same human factors that influence us consciously or otherwise, one way to neutralize those realities is to involve more voters.

As explained below, that doesn’t mean more media members.  To enjoy the full faith and confidence of football fans, the process needs more voices, more perspectives, and less power in the hands of any one voter.

Many of the persons who hold these votes take great pride in the assignment.  As a result, they naturally will be inclined to resist any changes that will make the achievement less significant, such as adding significantly more people to the process.

Regardless, significantly more people need to be added to the process.

2.  Overhaul the Board of Trustees.

The Pro Football Hall of Fame is governed by a Board of Trustees.  Some of the names are instantly recognizable, like Commissioner Roger Goodell, Redskins owner Daniel Snyder, Broncos owner Pat Bowlen, and Cowboys owner Jerry Jones.  (One name is recognizable but curiously out of place. ESPN’s Todd Blackledge, whose bailiwick is college football, has a seat on the Board of Trustees.)

There is also a cluster of persons with no connection to the NFL, but who hold positions of prominence in and around Canton, Ohio, the geographic location of the Hall of Fame.

With all due respect to those Canton-area businesspeople, it makes no sense for the policies and procedures of the Hall of Fame to be set by folks whose biggest contribution to the process is the ability to show up for meetings without incurring travel expenses.  Though it makes sense for the Pro Football Hall of Fame to seek the support and involvement of the Canton business community, the Board of Trustees should be composed of folks who have a direct role in the game and who have the best interests of the game at all times in mind.

To the extent that there are some Canton-area businesspeople who have a direct role in the game, such as Packers great and successful Akron businessman Dave Robinson, they should have a seat at the table.  We also realize that some members of the Board of Trustees are instrumental in organizing the events that surround each year’s enshrinement ceremony.  But most of the persons who are setting policy for the Hall of Fame should have names that ardent fans and followers of the sport instantly recognize.

Currently, it’s roughly a 50-50 split.  That needs to change.

3.  Change the bylaws.

The Board of Trustees ultimately determine the contents of the Hall of Fame’s bylaws.  All too often, members of the panel who are faced with criticism of the selection process instantly explain that their hands are tied by the bylaws.

So change the bylaws.

Every year, the NFL changes multiple rules in the hopes of making the game better.  In the past half-decade, the only meaningful change to the bylaws occurred when the modern-era finalists were increased from 13 to 15.

The bylaws shouldn’t be used as a shield for avoiding change, but as a sword for implementing it.  All too often, the bylaws become an excuse for the status quo, not the impetus for improvement.  For that reason alone, the powers-that-be need to be willing and able on an annual basis (or more often) to look for ways to improve the rules that govern the selection process.

4.  Include Hall of Famers.

Every year, the winner of the Heisman Trophy acquires the ability to vote on all future winners of the award.  The logic is simple, and undeniable.  Winning the Heisman represents membership in an exclusive club, and the men who have won it should have a say in who gets it.

The argument applies even more strongly to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Hall of Fame coach John Madden believes that the busts talk to each other at night.  If they do, the first comment when a new crop joins them shouldn’t be, “Who in the hell let that guy in?”

They say it takes one to know one, and a Hall of Famer is in the best position to know another Hall of Famer.  Though giving Hall of Famers votes would introduce the possibility of biases and prejudices, those factors surely apply from time to time (or, as the case may be, every year) to the 44 men and women who currently have the keys to Canton, especially when players who earn a reputation for being hard on the media seem to have a hard time getting into the Hall of Fame.

The only requirement?  To vote, the Hall of Famer must attend the meeting.  No proxies or absentee ballots.  If they show up, they get a say in the process.

5.  Include coaches and other established football minds.

In responding to Jason Whitlock’s column calling for change, Bob Gretz argued that “Rick Gosselin has forgotten more football in a week than Whitlock has known in his life.”  That same observation likely applies to many of the folks currently on the selection committee.

And that observation probably would apply to all of them if, say, guys like Joe Gibbs or Ron Wolf or Bill Parcells or Chuck Noll were in the room.

So why not give people who have devoted their careers to coaching football and/or running football teams a direct say in who should and shouldn’t land in the Hall of Fame?  For those not already in the Hall of Fame, they’d have to forfeit their own eligibility for the Hall until two years after leaving the committee.

Frankly, those folks are far better suited to picking the new members of the Hall of Fame than pretty much everyone on the selection committee as its currently constituted.

6.  Categorize the candidates.

Every year, the finalists are thrown into a vat regardless of the position they played, with the new members of the Hall emerging from a stew that can’t distinguish between pancake blocks and pick-sixes.  It would make more sense to allow one new member per year from each of the various positions on the field:  quarterback, running back, receiver/tight end, offensive line, defensive line, linebacker, defensive back, and coach/G.M./contributor.

The finalists would be determined by position, with the list of candidates trimmed to three-to-five before the selection meeting, and with no requirement that a person be admitted from each position group.

This would expand the potential maximum size of the class from seven to eight, but the high-water mark of seven per year has been in place since 1964, the year after the charter class was inducted.  At the time, the NFL and AFL had only 22 teams.

Today, the NFL has 32 franchises, as a result of the addition of two in 1966, one in 1967, one in 1968, two in 1976, two in 1995, one in 1999, and one in 2002.  Moving the maximum annual class from seven to eight in light of the growth of the league isn’t simply justified, it’s overdue.

7.  Scuttle the Senior Committee.

The Senior Committee serves the purpose of allowing the selection committee to revisit two players from past seasons who fell through the cracks.  In other words, it gives the selection committee to right past wrongs.  By improving the selection process, there would be no reason to clean up past messes by devoting two of seven annual spots to guys who failed to get in when competing directly with their peers.

In his response to Jason Whitlock’s criticisms, Bob Gretz unwittingly proved our point.

Gretz explained that, ever year, a pair of Hall of Famers join the Seniors Committee to assist in the process of whittling down the previously overlooked players to two finalists, who seem to almost always get in.  For the 2011 class, Hall of Fame linebacker Jack Ham and Hall of Fame tight end Charlie Sanders worked with the Seniors Committee.

Ham, per Gretz, made a strong case for linebacker Chris Hanburger.

“Ham told the group that when he went to the Steelers in the 1971 NFL Draft out of Penn State, the Pittsburgh coaches gave him film of Hanburger to study,” Gretz writes.  “There was no doubt in Ham’s mind that Hanburger was a legitimate candidate.  Whose word are your going to take on this subject:  Hall of Fame linebacker Jack Ham, or Jason Whitlock?”

Gretz essentially is admitting that the selection committee screwed up by not putting Hanburger in the Hall years earlier.  With the involvement on the selection committee of guys like Hall of Famer Jack Ham convinced that Hanburger should get in, that wouldn’t have happened.

In other words, if Ham and the other Hall of Famers had a seat at the table, perhaps Hanburger wouldn’t have been erroneously passed over.

After all, whose word should the Hall of Fame been taking on this subject:  Hall of Fame linebacker Jack Ham, or any member of the media?

8.  Embrace transparency.

Though many voters seek refuge in the bylaws and regard them as if they’d been etched onto stone tablets by the hand of God, many also will acknowledge the validity of Whitlock’s complaint that the process unfolds in secrecy.

Peter King of Sports Illustrated and NBC, who has nothing but the best interests of the process in mind (and I say that not because he’s a friend and a colleague but because I’ve spent enough time around him to know that’s who he is and how he operates), would welcome transparency.

I’d be fine with our votes being made public, which the Hall currently doesn’t want us to do,” King wrote in his February 7 Monday Morning Quarterback column.  “The feeling from Hall officials is if our votes are published, then some voters might vote differently; if a voter from Buffalo, for instance, didn’t vote for Andre Reed (and this is only an example, not the truth), he might face a backlash when he goes back to cover his team. Or in some small way it might affect his vote if he or she knew everyone would know exactly how the vote went. I believe it’s incumbent on us to not hide behind the privacy of the room. The Hall is a huge deal, obviously, with burgeoning interest every year. If we’re going to sit on the committee and sit in judgment of these men for enshrinement, I think you ought to know how we vote.”

If one of the most respected members of the NFL media believes that the process should be more transparent, then it’s fair to say that the process should be more transparent.  With an expanded panel of voters, anyone who covers the team on which a player played most or all of his career could abstain from voting, thereby addressing the biggest concern that King raised.

9.  Involve the NFL.

As mentioned above, the Commissioner and various owners occupy seats on the Hall of Fame’s Board of Trustees.  But the NFL should be even more involved than that.

Though it’s called the Pro Football Hall of Fame, it’s essentially the NFL Hall of Fame, and the NFL should be in position to propose changes to bylaws and initiate procedural enhancements aimed at improving the process of determining each class of enshrinees.

One change the NFL would likely make relates to the consideration of off-field conduct.  Currently forbidden by the bylaws, the reality is that plenty of voters consider the things a candidate did when not playing football, especially in close cases.  The bylaws, then, should change to reflect the reality of the process.

If the NFL is the perpetual custodian of the highest levels of the sport, the NFL should have much greater involvement in and dominion over the museum that celebrates those who made the biggest impact on the game.

10.  Commit to continuous improvement and change.

Most of the criticisms of the current selection process arise from a perception that the system is stale and stagnant, in large part because change doesn’t happen often and doesn’t seem welcome.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell repeatedly explains that the league constantly must look for ways to enhance and improve the game.  That same attitude must infect, and overtake, the Hall of Fame.

So many things about the selection process need to be changed because so little change has happened in the 48 years since the Hall of Fame opened.  Egos and agendas and pride and any other factor that stands in the way of change needs to be set aside, and folks need to look for ways to make the process better, and ultimately more fair.

We’re not advocating change for the sake of change.  But in this case there has been little or no change.  Changes need to be made, and then the Hall of Fame needs to be willing to consider future change without external calls for it.

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One month to first non-New York draft in 50 years

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One month from today, the NFL draft commences in Chicago.  It’ll be the first time since 1965 that the draft has occurred in a city other than New York.

When the draft begins in the 125-year-old Auditorium Theatre, not much is known about how it will play out.  The Buccaneers seem to be poised to pick quarterback Jameis Winston, who won’t be in the building for draft.  Although they could make it official with Winston at any time, there’s no reason not to wait, given the many things that can happen over the next 30 days — especially with his pro day workout set for Tuesday.

Not that a bad performance would scare the Bucs away, but a fluke injury while essentially playing catch with his former Florida State teammates could.  Likewise, anything can happen off the field in the next 31 days; there’s no reason for the Bucs to assume the risk of another embarrassing episode before they absolutely have to.

The next question becomes whether the Titans or someone else will select quarterback Marcus Mariota with the second pick.  While there’s a chance that Tennessee will opt to draft someone else, casting their lot at quarterback with 2014 sixth-rounder Zach Mettenberger, the most practical scenario at this point remains Winston to the Bucs and Mariota to someone.

Sure, many of the mock drafts have the Titans taking USC defensive lineman Leonard Williams at No. 2, but with so few franchise quarterbacks and so many NFL owners intent on getting one, the Titans or someone else will be sorely tempted to get that which typically only can be gotten at the top of the draft.

The rest of the names quickly become a blur after the quarterbacks, with the Kevin White/Amari Cooper showdown at receiver becoming the most intriguing one-or-the-other decision after Winston vs. Mariota.  Defensively, the biggest this-guy-or-that-guy centers on the Vic Beasley/Dante Fowler Jr. race at pass rusher.

Over the next 30 days, plenty of news and rumors and speculation will emerge, and we’ll be tracking everything right here, all day every day.

I didn’t start this blurb with the goal of it becoming a commercial for PFT.  If that makes it any better.  Which it probably doesn’t.

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Report: Chandler Jones recovering from surgery

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The Patriots aren’t any more forthcoming about injured players during the offseason than they are during the regular season, so they aren’t likely to offer any updates about why Chandler Jones is rehabbing at the team’s facility.

According to Mike Reiss of ESPNBoston.com, though, Jones is recovering from surgery that happened after the team won the Super Bowl. Per Reiss, Jones has been walking with the help of crutches recently.

There’s no specific reason given for Jones’s operation, although he did miss six games last season with a hip injury and the presence of crutches suggests that the two things could be related. The lack of information about Jones’s status extends to his outlook for offseason work, as is the case for defensive tackle Sealver Siliga, although Reiss reports that there’s no sense of long-term concerns about his availability.

Jones had six sacks and two forced fumbles in the regular season and added a sack in the Super Bowl as one of the team’s leading pass rushers.

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RG3 is the starter now, but Jay Gruden may not stick with him long

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Washington coach Jay Gruden has said Robert Griffin III is the team’s starter “right now.” But it’s hard to believe that Griffin will remain the team’s starter for the duration of the 2015 season.

Gruden showed last year that he’s willing to make a change at the quarterback position if he doesn’t see the results he’s looking for. And Gruden made many public comments indicating that Griffin doesn’t play the quarterback position the way Gruden wants.

There’s also the simple fact that both Colt McCoy and Kirk Cousins were better than Griffin last year, the first year in Gruden’s offense for all three of them. Griffin takes so many sacks (33, more than McCoy and Cousins combined) and fumbles so often (nine times, again more than McCoy and Cousins combined) that he negates the advantage that his running ability provides. It’s great for a quarterback to be able to make plays with his feet, but not great for him to trust his feet to bail him out of so many situations that he doesn’t get rid of the ball when he’s under pressure and ends up taking sacks or fumbling.

And Griffin simply isn’t the same runner anymore that he was as a rookie. Griffin went from 120 carries for 815 yards and seven touchdowns in 2012 to 86 carries for 489 yards and no touchdowns in 2013 to 38 carries for 176 yards and one touchdown in 2014. Post-knee surgery, Griffin is a different runner.

Even Griffin’s longest run of the season in 2014 was hardly something to celebrate: On a 23-yard scramble against the Giants, Griffin did a great job of breaking into the clear and picking up a first down. But instead of stepping out of bounds as soon as he passed the stick, Griffin cut back inside to pick up extra yardage. That resulted in a tackle that had Griffin going down hard on his knees. Griffin needs to learn that to protect himself better than that.

If Griffin can’t protect himself better than that, the question of whether he’ll remain the starter will become moot because he’ll get hurt. But even if Griffin stays healthy, the simple fact is Gruden has never seemed to think much of Griffin as a quarterback, and unless Griffin can improve dramatically, it’s probably just a matter of time before Gruden benches him for McCoy or Cousins.

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Saints could remain active, all the way through draft weekend

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Saints coach Sean Payton made it clear last week — during an impromptu media ethics lecture — that he had no intention of ever including quarterback Drew Brees in his team’s extreme makeover.

But that doesn’t mean some more significant changes aren’t coming.

According to Peter King of Sports Illustrated, the Saints are expected to remain active on several fronts leading up to the draft.

Two deals he mentions are possible trades of guard Jahri Evans and defensive end Cameron Jordan.

They’re talking to Jordan about an extension, but apparently could be talked into letting someone else do the honors if they can’t agree on his value. And Payton admitted last week at the owners meetings that they’re still talking to Evans about what the appropriate numbers would look like (i.e. how much of a pay cut he’ll swallow, from his scheduled $7.5 million in salary and bonuses) on a restructured deal.

After trading Jimmy Graham to Seattle and Kenny Stills to Miami, the Saints have five of the first 78 picks in the 2015 NFL Draft (13, 31, 44, 75 and 78), which gives them plenty of ammunition to make a move.

So even if they’re committed to Brees for now (and there’s no reason to think they aren’t), they also have the kind of currency to make a play for a younger quarterback if they were so inclined, especially if they peddle two productive veterans for more picks.

And if they’re not looking for a long-term solution at quarterback, they at least have a chance to restock the pantry for the current one.

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Vic Beasley scheduled to work out for Falcons Monday

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Early this month, Clemson’s Vic Beasley said that playing for the Falcons would be a dream come true after growing up outside Atlanta.

It doesn’t seem like the most farfetched dream either. The Falcons need a pass rusher for Dan Quinn to deploy in his first season as the team’s coach and Beasley is one of the top prospects in this year’s draft, which has led some people to predict that Atlanta will take him with the eighth pick in the draft.

The Falcons will get an up-close look at Beasley as they try to make that decision. Vaughn McClure of ESPN.com reports that Beasley is scheduled to work out for Atlanta on Clemson’s campus on Monday.

Beasley recorded a school-record 33 sacks in four years at Clemson and turned in an outstanding performance at the combine to further bolster his appeal to teams looking for help off the edge. The Falcons are in that group even after bringing in Brooks Reed, O’Brien Schofield and Adrian Clayborn as free agents this offseason.

Missouri’s Shane Ray, another top pass rushing prospect, is set to meet with the team on April 10.

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Grigson, Pagano relationship may have been strained by #DeflateGate

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The curiously selective leak from last week that Colts coach Chuck Pagano will enter a lame-duck season without a new contract, which came without a mention that Colts G.M. Ryan Grigson occupies the same posture, has raised legitimate questions about their working relationship.

Those questions have prompted multiple league sources to point out to PFT that the Pagano and Grigson relationship may have been strained by the allegations against the Patriots arising from the AFC title game.  During the Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, Grigson surprisingly admitted that he’d alerted the league to the concerns regarding air pressure in New England footballs in the days before the conference championship.

Whether Pagano knew or didn’t know about the suspicions before the game (and if Grigson knew but didn’t tell Pagano, that’s a problem), Pagano has opted for much greater discretion regarding the situation, routinely declining to talk about the situation and deferring to the pending investigation.

As one source has explained it, the issue created a distraction in the locker room at halftime of a game that the Colts trailed 17-7.  With only 12 minutes to get ready for the final 30 minutes of action, anything other than a complete and total focus on the task at hand understandably would have irritated the head coach.

The primary football question emanating from the 45-7 loss relates to the inability of the Colts to stop the run, something Pagano recently called the team’s “Achilles heel.”  Despite a significant free-agency haul this month, the Colts didn’t upgrade the interior of the defensive line.  They were never going to pursue Ndamukong Suh, but they could have made a play for Vince Wilfork or Haloti Ngata.  It remains unclear why they didn’t.

The ability of Grigson and Pagano to set aside any differences and work together remains critical to their mutual success. Owner Jim Irsay could go a long way toward making them both understand that they need to work together.

Irsay has said nothing about last week’s report that Pagano could be in a make-or-break season.  Grigson likewise has said nothing about his own status, or Pagano’s.  Pagano’s statement from Friday night doesn’t really shed much light on the dynamics of his relationship with either man.

Regardless of how it all plays out, the Colts have suddenly replaced the 49ers as the franchise folks will be watching the most closely for signs of owner-G.M.-coach dysfunction until the team’s 2015 season ends.

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Fox on Cutler: Unless something good happens, it’s hard to have confidence

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Bears coach John Fox said last week that Jay Cutler would be in an open competition for the starting quarterback job in 2015, something that could result in Cutler making $15 million to hold a clipboard while Jimmy Clausen or David Fales leads the Bears into the fray on Sundays.

That seems like an unlikely way for things to play out, something that even Fox seemed to admit while discussing what needs to change in order for Cutler to put forth a better effort than he managed last year.

“I think he got to the point that he lacked confidence a year ago. To build that back up is going to take time, daily. It takes trust like any relationship. I think he and [offensive coordinator] Adam Gase having a relationship from back in Denver [is helpful] so I think it starts there,” Fox said, via Peter King of the MMQB. “Football-wise, there are things you can do in coaching to minimize some of the exposure. Playing complementary football is going to help. I don’t want to just single him out. I have concerns with really everybody we’re going to line up as a starter. But I know this: Unless something good happens, it’s hard to have confidence.”

Fox is talking about Cutler’s confidence level, but the same can be said of confidence in Cutler as a winning quarterback after nine NFL seasons that have looked pretty much the same. A strong supporting cast will certainly help, but the consistent level of performance for most of a decade make it hard to have much confidence that 2015 is going to play out much differently.

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Sam Bradford’s old coach sees big things, now that he didn’t quit

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When Sam Bradford’s college coach heard about his former pupil’s trade to Philadelphia, he got excited.

After all, running a similar system at Oklahoma to the one Chip Kelly’s running with the Eagles, Bradford completed 69 percent of his passes and threw 86 touchdowns in his final two seasons with the Sooners.

“If he’s 100 percent healthy,” former Sooners quarterback coach Josh Heupel said, “he’ll be able to perform at an elite level.”

Of course, that’s always been the condition with Bradford.

But Huepel also had a hand in making sure Bradford came back to try, after he considering quitting after tearing his ACL twice in nine months. Bradford had previously admitted such, saying Huepel was key in talking him out of it.

“It was one of those moments where, after all the time and energy and passion that he poured into rehabilitating himself in the first injury, you feel like you’re snakebitten,” Heupel told Mike Sielski of the Philadelphia Inquirer. “You don’t know when, if, or how your body is going to respond and what your next opportunity is. You’re really just in a lot of limbo. Sometimes, I think, just having a voice from an outside perspective is something that can be valuable.”

Huepel, who is now offensive coordinator at Utah State, said the competitiveness he saw in Bradford in college wasn’t betrayed by the second injury, but underlined. So determined to come back from the first one, the heartache of falling short was temporarily devastating.

“When a player goes through a big letdown, it’s natural to be down,” Heupel said. “I just tried to reach out to him and say, ‘Hey, I still see this in you as a person and a player. I think the best is yet to come for you. You’ve got to get yourself healthy and get yourself back on the field and get yourself in the right environment with the right people and the right supporting cast around you, and there’s no doubt in my mind you’ll achieve the things you’re capable of achieving and want to achieve.’

“Nothing changed for him from a guy who was the number-one overall draft pick as far as who or what he is as a person and a competitor, and ultimately that’s why there’s no doubt in my mind he’s going to reach the pinnacle of success.”

And if — there’s that if again — he can stay healthy, he should be in a place to do just that.

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Marvin Lewis worries about defense, not Dalton, in the playoffs

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NFL coaches want their quarterbacks to play their best football in the playoffs, and Cincinnati’s Andy Dalton has not done that. Dalton has one touchdown and six interceptions in his four playoff games, all Bengals losses.

But Bengals coach Marvin Lewis says Dalton is just fine. Asked if he’s worried about Dalton’s play in the playoffs, Lewis answered via TheMMQB.com, “What worries me is our poor performance on defense in the playoffs.”

Lewis continued that the team is committed to Dalton and thinks that Dalton can win if the defense supports him.

“You look at how we’ve played on defense. We haven’t played good enough. Andy had a bad game against San Diego—a bad second half two years ago. The other games it’s been split evenly. We do know, in order for us to be successful, which we can’t even talk about the playoffs because we haven’t gotten there, but the first thing we do, we have to take care of the ball and play better on defense,” Lewis said. “We feel Andy’s our quarterback, and we signed him long-term, and we feel good about him . . . and we will continue to get better with the pieces around Andy. Andy has done a lot of things so far as a pro that not a lot of people have done. We need to keep playing better around Andy and that will be helpful to Andy.”

It’s hard for the defense to play well when Dalton keeps giving them short fields to work with, so it would be nice if Dalton could play better. But make no mistake: Lewis and Bengals owner Mike Brown are totally committed to Dalton as the franchise quarterback.

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Monday morning one-liners

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Forecasting the big spots on the Bills schedule.

A look back at all the Dolphins news from last week.

Kansas LB Ben Heeney worked out for the Patriots.

The Jets make a couple of appearances on the list of the biggest trades in Buccaneers history.

An early look at 2016 free agency shows Ravens CB Jimmy Smith at the top of the list of potential free agents.

Bengals QB Andy Dalton was a spectator at TCU’s pro day.

Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer thinks the Browns will continue trying to make moves at quarterback.

DT Red Bryant seems like an unlikely target for the Steelers.

The Texans website checked in with coach Bill O’Brien at the league meetings.

Is there a chance that Dwight Freeney could return to the Colts?

An argument that the Jaguars should at least double last year’s win total.

DT Leonard Williams remains a popular mock draft choice for the Titans.

A Broncos return for WR Wes Welker looks unlikely.

Chiefs DE Mike DeVito and LB Derrick Johnson are pushing each other in rehab.

The Raiders have set up a bracket to determine the greatest play in team history.

Will C/G Trevor Robinson be in the mix for a starting job with the Chargers?

The Cowboys watched a workout by Georgia WR Chris Conley.

Is Randy Gregory a draft option for the Giants?

A look at where LB Marcus Smith stands with the Eagles.

What positions can the Redskins rule out with the fifth pick?

Bears coach John Fox has won with lightly regarded quarterbacks in the past.

Lions LB DeAndre Levy has taken up wing walking this offseason.

Packers QB Aaron Rodgers’s presence at Wisconsin’s Elite Eight victory rubbed at least one person the wrong way.

A pair of former Vikings took part in Wrestlemania’s main event on Sunday night.

Falcons players have been keeping close watch on March Madness.

Some discussion about the Panthers drafting a running back.

The Saints have reportedly set up a visit with Western Kentucky CB Dalton Patterson.

Buccaneers WR Vincent Jackson checked out things in the auto racing world.

The Cardinals are planning more time at safety for Deone Buccanon in 2015.

Which guards are draft possibilities for the Rams?

Kevin Lynch of the San Francisco Chronicle wonders if improved mechanics will make all the difference for QB Colin Kaepernick.

Setting the Seahawks current lineup on defense.

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Nearly every NFL team wants extra points to change, but how

extrapoint AP

It’s clear that the NFL as an institution wants to make the extra point an actual football play, instead of a pro forma kick that no one ever misses, few want to participate in (especially Rob Gronkowski) and fewer even watch.

But with change accepted, the NFL is running into its usual issue, figuring out what to change it to.

According to Peter King of Sports Illustrated, 30 of 32 teams agreed the play needed to be changed, with the competition committee expected to advance a new proposal at the May meetings.

So last Tuesday at the league meetings, every team was asked for input on what the new rule should look like, and as expected, those opinions were “all over the map.”

According to King, the most likely skeleton of the proposal would involve two choices:

— Kicking for one would move from the 2-yard line to the 15, making it a 32-yard field goal (still a high percentage shot, but not 99.6 like last year’s PAT rate).

— Going for two, to turn it into a football play. They’re still talking about the right yard marker to put it on (the 1, 1.5 or 2), in order to make it a real play and not just a push-the-pile-and-hope.

(Man, with all this close-to-the-goal-line action, it sure would be neat if the league could afford fixed cameras to monitor it all. We should have a Bake Sale. Florio, I’ll bring the brownies.)

The proposals would also allow the defensive team to score two by blocking the kick, recovering a fumble or intercepting a pass and returning it to the other end zone.

It seems like a logical place to start, but anyone who’s been in a committee meeting knows how hard it is to find consensus on where to get lunch. Getting 24 of 32 rich and powerful owners to agree on the specific hows (when two of them don’t want it changed at all) will be the next challenge for the competition committee.

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Kaepernick impresses Warner with touch passes

Kaepernick AP

Cardinals fans weren’t happy when former Arizona quarterback Kurt Warner decided to start working with 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick this offseason.  Cardinals fans may be even less happy now.

Via Jim Corbett of USA Today, Warner said recently that Kaepernick has been displaying better touch on his throws.  Thanks to playing touch football with some receivers who aren’t used to catching fastballs from an NFL quarterback.

“We had some guys come out from the office playing in my corporate charity event, and there were a couple of times where I went, ‘Whoa! Was that a little bit of touch I just saw?” Warner said, via Corbett.  “Colin laughed and told me, ‘We’re not out here working for nothing.’

“The situation forced him to throw with a little more touch.  He couldn’t throw it as hard as maybe he wanted to with those corporate guys.”

Over the past 10 weeks, Warner has helped Kaepernick with his stance while throwing and the mechanics of making reads from one receiver to the next.  But Warner realizes that may not make a difference once Kaepernick finds himself in live game reps with his muscle memory taking over.

“Is 10 weeks enough time for you to change what you’ve been doing your entire career?  And what does that look like when bullets are flying and people are attacking you?” Warner said, via Corbett.  “Have we gone far enough where that becomes the norm for Colin?

“That’s the big question none of us can answer. . . .  You talk about a guy who has been playing the position one way for twenty-something years, and we’re [trying] to change him in three months?”

It’s unlikely that much will change, unless Kaepernick’s protection allows him to not worry about being hit and instead to consciously focus on the things he’ll have to do for a lot more than 10 weeks in order for it to become part of his subconscious.

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Agent: Seahawks re-sign Demarcus Dobbs

Seattle Seahawks v San Francisco 49ers Getty Images

The Seahawks have retained one of the NFL’s more versatile backup defensive linemen.

The club has re-signed defensive end Demarcus Dobbs, agent Wesley Spencer announced on Twitter.

Dobbs (6-2, 282) appeared in four regular season games and three postseason games for Seattle after being claimed on waivers from San Francisco in November. Overall, the 27-year-old Dobbs has notched 37 tackles in 49 regular season games since entering the NFL in 2011.

In addition to playing defensive end, Dobbs can also play tight end in a pinch. The 49ers tried him on offense earlier in his career, though defense has been his job for the bulk of his NFL experience.

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Draft status doesn’t matter, Anderson tops Ball on Broncos’ depth chart

C.J. Anderson AP

In 2013, the Broncos used a second-round draft pick on Montee Ball, and signed C.J. Anderson as an undrafted free agent. Two years later, there’s little doubt which of them is the better running back — and it’s not the one everyone thought heading into the draft.

Broncos coach Gary Kubiak has confirmed that he views Anderson as the starter heading into Organized Team Activities.

“He made a big jump as a player, and I think he’s earned the right to walk in to the offseason program — the OTAs — and line up as our starter,” Kubiak said. “But he’s got to continue to earn it on a daily basis. I think he’s shown he has all the ability to be an excellent starter in this league, so we’re really looking forward to working with him.”

So where does that leave Ball? Splitting backup reps with Ronnie Hillman, a 2012 third-round pick. Kubiak said both Ball and Hillman will get their chances, but Anderson is the man right now.

“I think all three of those guys . . . have all kind of had their little spurts of success with the club when they’ve had their opportunity,” Kubiak said. “But they’re all young. Who’s going to be the bell cow, who’s going to play every down, who’s going to be the three-down player, they’ve got to sort that out. C.J. has shown the flashes of doing that.”

With the draft just a month away, the Broncos may be a cautionary tale for teams thinking about spending high picks on running backs. It’s the undrafted Anderson who’s atop the Broncos’ depth chart, and a second-round pick and a third-round pick competing to back him up.

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Report: “Spirited debate” about where Koa Misi will play in Miami

Miami Dolphins v Chicago Bears Getty Images

The Dolphins parted ways with a pair of linebackers this offseason when they released Phillip Wheeler and traded Dannell Ellerbe and there’s reportedly some difference of opinion within the organization about other changes at the position.

Koa Misi moved to middle linebacker last season and made 11 starts at the position for the Dolphins. Misi had 64 tackles and a sack in those appearances and Adam Beasley of the Miami Herald reports that head coach Joe Philbin said last week that “as of right now” Misi will remain at the position next season.

Defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle is reportedly on board with that, while the personnel department feels differently. Per Beasley, they’d like Kelvin Sheppard to get a shot in the middle while Misi returns to his previous spot on the outside of the defense. Misi started 26 games there in 2012 and 2013 and would likely remain on the first team on the strong side if he does move.

Jelani Jenkins is set for one outside spot, but the Dolphins need to round out their linebacking group over the rest of the offseason. Misi’s ability to play either spot gives them some flexibility about how to go about doing that, although that flexibility may not be needed if the personnel guys are set on pushing him to the outside.

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