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Replacement ref Craig Ochoa takes heat for botched announcement

Craig Ochoa AP

Replacement referee Craig Ochoa has been taking some heat this morning after botching the announcement after a replay challenge during Thursday night’s game.

After explaining his replay ruling in the Ravens-Falcons game, Ochoa said, “Arizona will be not charged a timeout.”

The local announcer immediately seized on Ochoa’s mistake, saying, “And neither will Atlanta be charged a timeout — they’ll be happy to hear in Arizona that their first-half three timeouts are still intact.”

Ochoa’s mistake is an easy one to laugh at, but misspeaking during an announcement is an easy mistake to make, and a mistake that doesn’t have any bearing at all on the result of the game. It is, however, another sign that Ochoa is a bit uncomfortable with the microphone on: He also incorrectly announced the winner of the coin flip in the Hall of Fame Game before correcting himself. The regular officials, who have already been spreading word that the NFL embellished Ochoa’s credentials and that he was let go by the Lingerie Football League, will surely have fun with this one.

Much more important than whether the replacement referees are comfortable behind the microphone is whether they’re capable of properly enforcing the rules. That came under question in Buffalo, where the replacement officials were booed after a glaring screwup of a ruling on a punt that was downed at the 4-yard line. The officials incorrectly ruled the punt a touchback, but the referee got it right after the Bills challenged. And that referee knew which city he was in, too.

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Kaufman provides context to Dungy remarks

Dungy AP

Hall of Fame coaching finalist and NBC Football Night in America analyst Tony Dungy made major waves on Monday with comments to Ira Kaufman of the Tampa Tribune regarding Rams defensive end Michael Sam.

I wouldn’t have taken him,” Dungy told Kaufman.  “Not because I don’t believe Michael Sam should have a chance to play, but I wouldn’t want to deal with all of it. It’s not going to be totally smooth . . . things will happen.’’

On Tuesday’s edition of The Dan Patrick Show, Kaufman provided context and further insight regarding the remarks.

“I think what he was trying to say, and this is what’s going to make it very difficult in terms of an additional response, because it’s sensitive,” Kaufman said.  “Dan, this is not Sammy Watkins.  This is Michael Sam.  And by that I mean, by definition, a seventh-round draft pick is marginal.  The guy’s marginal.  May make the roster, may not make the roster.  Nobody’s gonna be surprised if any seventh-round pick doesn’t make the roster.

“So I think it’s almost like he’s not worth the trouble,” Kaufman said of Sam.  “Now, you can’t say that, that’s a very crude way to put it.  And Tony won’t put it like that.  But I think you’ve got to factor in the fact that [Sam] almost went undrafted, and there’s no question that the Oprah Network and TMZ, they’re gonna be at Rams Park, and they’re not gonna be there to check on Aaron Donald’s progress at nose tackle.  And you know that.  They’re gonna be there for a specific purpose . . . . He put his coaching hat on and not as an analyst for NBC in answering the question and as a coach, a marginal prospect weighed against the distraction, and that’s why he said what I said.  That’s what I think he meant.”

Eventually, we’ll hear more about what Dungy meant.  He’s scheduled to join Dan’s show later in the week.  Until then, the reaction to the comments will continue.

“I’m a little surprised about what he said,” Kaufman said of Dungy.  “I was surprised at the time.  I’m surprised now.  Just because of his reputation as a pioneer, outspoken about minority issues.  Keeping an open mind on hiring practices.  Don’t go in with stereotypes.  But, again, I don’t think he was being homophobic.”

Sam is indeed a marginal prospect.  Rams G.M. Les Snead told PFT Live two days after picking Sam that the Rams hoped to sign a pair of defensive ends as undrafted free agents, but that the team feared undrafted free agents wouldn’t choose to join a depth chart stacked with pass rushers.  That makes the uphill climb even more challenging for Sam.

And that makes this situation far different from Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier in baseball.  Robinson’s talent was undeniable.  Branch Rickey wouldn’t have stuck his neck out for a player who would have been struggling to stay on the roster.  The Rams have willingly embraced a slew of potential distractions with no obvious strategic upside.

That’s possibly what Tony was saying.  We’ll know much more when Tony addresses the comments later this week.

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Lawrence Timmons taking on leadership role with Steelers

Pittsburgh Steelers v Baltimore Ravens Getty Images

The Steelers defense has seen several of their top veterans leave the team over the last couple of years, leaving only a handful of players who were key parts of the two AFC Champions of the Mike Tomlin era.

Some of them, like safety Troy Polamalu and cornerback Ike Taylor, aren’t far from their own departure from the Steelers. Linebacker Lawrence Timmons has played seven years for the team, but is only 28 and should have several more years in Pittsburgh if he stays healthy and productive. As a result, he’s taking on more of a leadership role on the defense in hopes of helping to mold the next generation of defenders into a strong unit.

“I do feel like I have to do a lot for this team. With me being one of the older guys, I understand that if everybody does their job, everyone is going to make plays,” Timmons said, via the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “I want to be a model citizen for this team because we’re very young now. I can’t get carried away with having a good time because everyone, especially the young guys, have to know there’s a time and place for everything. It’s why I do the things I do and why I carry myself a certain way.”

Last year, the Steelers defense finished outside the Top 10 in yards allowed for the first time since the 1999 season as Pittsburgh went 8-8 and missed the playoffs for the second straight season. A return to their usual spot in the rankings won’t guarantee a different outcome for the Steelers, but their additions of linebacker Ryan Shazier, safety Mike Mitchell  and defensive lineman Cam Thomas show that the Steelers want to get things back on track on that side of the ball. Timmons’ leadership and play will be part of that effort as well and the linebacker seems comfortable with the pressure that comes along with that role.

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49ers check in at No. 2 in PFT’s preseason power rankings

St. Louis Rams v San Francisco 49ers Getty Images

The San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks finished last season as the clear cut two best teams in football.

In our opinion, they still are.

The 49ers have made the NFC Championship game in each of the last three seasons with a Super Bowl appearance two years ago. While some of the pieces have changed since then, the 49ers still remain one of the most talented teams in the league.

However, veterans such as Frank Gore, Justin Smith and Patrick Willis aren’t getting any younger. San Francisco has also struggled to find many contributors through the draft despite a plethora of picks over the last couple seasons with last year’s first-round pick Eric Reid being one of the few exceptions.

NaVorro Bowman is hurt, Aldon Smith could be suspended and the 49ers have some issues at cornerback as well.

But the 49ers offense could be the best its been under Colin Kaepernick’s direction with improved talent at the receiver position.

Our full 49ers preview is located here. Tell us in the poll below if you feel the 49ers deserve the ranking we gave them heading into the season.

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Doug Marrone “not allowed to speak” about Cordy Glenn’s illness

Buffalo Bills v New Orleans Saints Getty Images

The Bills opened up camp without left tackle Cordy Glenn, who was placed on the Non-Football Illness list last week and is barred from practicing until the designation is removed.

Coach Doug Marrone didn’t offer much of an idea about when that might happen. Glenn missed a few spring practices because of illness and Marrone said Monday that he’s “not allowed to speak” about what’s bothering Glenn or when the tackle might be able to return to the lineup.

“I don’t know that. It’s a medical condition. I’m preparing to go on as if he’s not playing, which he’s not,” Marrone said, via WGR 550. “I’m just waiting for the doctors, and I can’t speak about the condition because it’s something that happened outside of football.”

Center Eric Wood said that Glenn’s absence was “bad luck” and that, “as far as I know,” it won’t keep Glenn from returning to the lineup.

For now, though, seventh-round pick Seantrel Henderson is taking left tackle reps with the first-team offense and the Bills are without a key starter on their offensive line.

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Mike McCarthy ready to drop bombs on the Bears

Mike McCarthy AP

It’s no surprise that Packers coach Mike McCarthy wants to lean on air superiority to win the NFC North.

It’s the way he’s going about it that’s surprising.

According to Jeff Alexander of WBAY, McCarthy and his family took a flight in a World War II-era B-17 bomber last week, and the Packers coach had a simple request.

“All right, let’s go bomb Chicago,” McCarthy joked.

McCarthy was able to take the flight with his wife’s grandfather, 96-year-old Bob Schneider, who flew in similar planes during his service.

“This is probably as adventurous as anything I’ve ever done,” McCarthy said.

Now he just has to prepare for the flak from people who lack a sense of humor, and Bears fans.

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Eli Manning admits he’s “a little nervous” in Giants’ new offense

New York Giants quarterback Manning reacts on the sideline against the Atlanta Falcons in the first half at their NFL football game in Atlanta Getty Images

Giants quarterback Eli Manning is coming off a miserable season, with a career-high 27 interceptions to go with just 18 touchdowns, his fewest since his rookie year. So the good news about the Giants’ new offense is that Manning could hardly get worse.

But Manning admits that learning the system of new coordinator Ben McAdoo could make things tough as he enters training camp.

“Yeah, it is different. You come into the season a little nervous; you just don’t have [the same comfort],’’ Manning said, via the New York Post. “You have a good feel for it, but not to where I want it to be. That’s with repetition and more plays. It’s a different feeling this time of year than in previous years. We’ve still got a lot of work to do and a lot to improve on to get comfortable, myself with my teammates and everything that goes on with being successful in an offense. I know we’ve got a lot of work to do. But we’re excited about that challenge.’’

Manning says his surgically repaired ankle is completely healed and won’t be an issue. Now he just needs to learn the offense well enough that he throws a lot fewer than 27 interceptions, and a lot more than 18 touchdown passes, this year.

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Mike Pettine has talked to Johnny Manziel about photos

Johnny Manziel AP

Perhaps more than any team in the NFL, the Browns have to be ready for training camp to start.

Because then they can talk about pictures of Johnny Manziel on the field instead of off.

According to Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Browns coach Mike Pettine said he talked to Manziel about the already infamous photo of him rolling a $20 bill at a bathroom sink.

I don’t want to get into a [public] discussion of every picture that comes out, but I talked to him about it,” Pettine said. “We anticipate this will quiet down once the season starts. As committed as Johnny is to football, this stuff should not be an issue once camp gets underway.”

Pettine also suggested that the “money phone” video that surfaced this offseason might not have been recent. (Then again, that raises a question as to how an NCAA student-athlete would obtain a stack of money. Hmmm. That can’t be.)

Manziel is only the most extreme example of the fear every coach faces. They want their players in controlled, structured environments as often as possible, minimizing the chances that any photos (including mugshots) will surface.

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Brian Cushing lands on PUP list

Brian Cushing AP

Texans linebacker Brian Cushing knows that he’ll be ready for Week One and now we all know that he won’t be ready for the first training camp practice.

Cushing has been cleared by doctors after rehabbing the knee and leg injuries that ended his 2013 season, but the team isn’t quite ready to let him be a full participant in practice just yet. Cushing has been placed on the Physically Unable to Perform list ahead of the start of camp, which means he’s barred from doing more than working out on the side as the team goes through its paces.

Like all players on the list, Cushing counts against the 90-man roster and can be activated at any time. Once he is activated, however, Cushing will lose eligibility for the regular season PUP list.

The Texans also placed linebacker Trevardo Williams and rookie defensive tackle Louis Nix on the PUP list. Williams spent last season on injured reserve with a knee injury and Nix, a third-round pick in May, missed some time this spring with a knee ailment of his own.

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Quentin Groves worked out for Jets

Cleveland Browns v Green Bay Packers Getty Images

The Jets think they are good enough to make the playoffs, but that’s not stopping them from checking out ways to improve the roster before the start of the season.

Ian Rapoport of NFL Network reports that the team worked out veteran linebacker Quentin Groves on Monday. Groves was cut by the Browns last month after contributing two sacks in five games with the team last year.

The Jets are set in the starting lineup at outside linebacker with Calvin Pace and Quinton Coples, but they are short on experienced depth at the position. Groves has played 84 games over the last six seasons, which certainly qualifies as the kind of seasoning that the Jets don’t currently have on the lower rungs of the depth chart. If he signed with the Jets, he’d also likely see time on special teams during the 2014 season.

Groves has also worked out for the Titans, Redskins and Patriots since parting ways with the Browns and it would seem likely that he’ll land somewhere in time to compete for a job in training camp.

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Tuesday morning one-liners

Pittsburgh Steelers v Cleveland Browns Getty Images

WR Sammy Watkins was a hit on the second day of Bills camp.

Dolphins DE Cameron Wake checks out Wembley Stadium in London.

Injury issues to watch with the Patriots.

What will Jets DE Sheldon Richardson do in his second NFL season?

The Ravens have selected a new anthem singer for home games.

Said Bengals offensive coordinator Hue Jackson, “I know this. You can’t be complacent. There has to be a fire in you. Hopefully with our players it’s the right kind of fire, not one you have to put out. The past is the past. It’s about a different future. Not for myself but for this offensive football team.”

The Browns will need big things from TE Jordan Cameron this season.

Steelers WR Lance Moore is getting used to all the hills in Pittsburgh.

It’s not surprising that the Texans were 2-14 last year after watching them cut ties with a second 2013 third-round pick.

Colts LB Daniel Adongo’s unusual journey to the NFL is about to turn into a second season.

One last look at the Jaguars offseason before training camp begins.

What should we expect from the Titans defensive line this season.

S Eric Hagg has decided to retire from the Broncos.

TE Travis Kelce is eager to start contributing to the Chiefs offense.

Jim Plunkett and Marcus Allen have different opinions on where the Raiders should play.

Chargers president Dean Spanos is excited to start the season on Monday Night Football.

Has building a strong offensive line hurt the Cowboys?

Not every son-in-law gets to hear things as nice from their wife’s father as what former Giants G Chris Snee heard on Monday.

Looking for progress from the Eagles defense.

The Redskins added TE Mike Caussin to their roster.

S Chris Conte is confident he still has a future on the Bears defense.

The Lions unveiled the patch they’ll wear to honor the late William Clay Ford.

Keeping QB Aaron Rodgers upright makes everything else go for the Packers offense.

Offensive coordinator Norv Turner shares some thoughts about how the Vikings will move the ball this season.

Julio Jones’s return from injury is one thing to watch at wide receiver with the Falcons.

Panthers S Roman Harper bought a new pad in New Orleans.

Saints DT John Jenkins is starting camp on the PUP list.

Five Buccaneers position battles to keep an eye on this summer.

Optimism and questions at linebacker accompany the Cardinals to training camp.

The Rams rookies kicked off their training camp on Monday.

Finding a stand-in for LB NaVorro Bowman will be a key part of 49ers camp.

Two Seahawks fans want to erect a statue of the final defensive play of last season’s NFC Championship Game.

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Cowboys choose to run together in the heat

Justin Durant,  Bruce Carter AP

The Cowboys had the option of running in the oppressive heat of Texas, or waiting until they hit the milder temps of California for training camp.

Most of them chose Texas.

According to David Moore of the Dallas Morning News, around 75 players performed their conditioning tests Monday at Valley Ranch, rather than waiting until they reported to Oxnard later this week.

The test — a series of 20 sprints with prescribed times by position group — were overseen by team captains, who relayed results to coaches. Linebacker Justin Durant tweeted out word that “everybody passed,” which is a good sign.

Of course, the high participation in a more demanding climate might also be read as a positive, for a team that has cruised to an 8-8 record each of the last three seasons.

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David Nelson actually believes the Jets are a playoff team

Brent Grimes, David Nelson AP

Rex Ryan’s confidence is apparently contagious.

Wide receiver David Nelson has caught it, saying that for the first time he’s convinced the Jets will make the playoffs.

“For the first time in my career, I can say it with conviction and say it with belief: this is a playoff team,” Nelson said, via Seth Walder of the New York Daily News.

“Going 8-8 with the team that we had last year, the youth that we had, the inexperience. The way we finished the season last year showed us that we had potential. The teams that we beat showed us we were capable.”

Asked if that meant they were a Super Bowl team (pushy New York media), Nelson replied: “That’s the beautiful thing about the playoffs: Anything can happen. So I’ll answer that again in [November]  when we hopefully clinch a playoff spot.”

Of course, that’s all easier to say than do. The Jets haven’t made the playoffs since 2010.

Then again, they’re the Jets, so the saying is part of the charm, even if it takes them a few years to actually believe the words flying out of their mouths.

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Lawyers want their conversations with Hernandez not broadcast

Hernandez AP

The arguments advanced by the Aaron Hernandez legal team now include an attempt to keep secret the in-court discussion of their arguments.

According to the Associated Press, Hernandez’s lawyers filed paperwork on Monday asking the Bristol Superior Court to rule that private conversations between Hernandez and the lawyers not be included in the online broadcast of hearings.  The lawyers contend that the images violate the rules established for the electronic recording of courtroom proceedings.

“[P]rompt action” is requested.  Which makes sense, given that Hernandez will be back in court on Tuesday for a status hearing in the Odin Lloyd murder case.  Hernandez’s lawyers recently asked that the trial in the case be delayed from early October to early January.

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Dareus appears in court, agrees to substance abuse treatment

Marcell Dareus AP

Bills defensive tackle Marcell Dareus was absent from training camp on Monday while he appeared in an Alabama courtroom, where he told a judge he will agree to substance abuse treatment.

Dareus was arrested and charged with possession of a controlled substance in Alabama on May 5, and his lawyer told the Associated Press on Monday that Dareus agreeing to enter the NFL’s substance-abuse program may allow him to have those felony drug charges dismissed.

The drug possession charge was not Dareus’s only legal problem this offseason: He also was charged with reckless endangerment after an incident in which he crashed his car into a tree following an alleged drag race with teammate Jerry Hughes. Dareus has a September 9 court date in that case.

On the field, Dareus is missing practice until he can pass the team’s conditioning test, which he failed on his first attempt on Saturday.

Dareus could be facing league discipline, either under the substance-abuse policy for the drug possession arrest or the personal-conduct policy for the reckless endangerment arrest, but there has been no word from the league office about any fine or suspension.

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No 2011 draft picks expected to hold out from training camp

Watt Getty Images

When the rookie wage scale grossly restricted the money earned by players taken at the top of the 2011 draft, a theory emerged that once players became eligible for new contracts after their third NFL seasons, plenty of the men who became quality players would hold out until receiving the money they didn’t get upon entering the league in order to prevent busts from being unduly overpaid.

So far, that theory has busted.  No members of the 2011 draft class are poised to hold out, even though none of the first-round picks has received a second contract.

Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman, a fifth-round pick that year, has gotten a massive payday.  But he’s the rare exception.  First-rounders like Cam Newton, A.J. Green, Patrick Peterson, Julio Jones, Tyron Smith, and J.J. Watt (pictured) are waiting — and they’re waiting very patiently.

In fact, only one 2011 draft pick has taken a stand this offseason.  Chiefs linebacker Justin Houston boycotted the offseason program and a mandatory minicamp.  He’s still expected to report this week for Chiefs’ training camp, especially since he is only a season away from free agency, unlike the first-rounders whose hands are tied by the fifth-year option.

The situation will further bolster the idea that the NFL won big in the last CBA, even though the truth remains that the NFLPA got the best deal it could given a rank-and-file that didn’t want to miss a paycheck.  As a result, the paychecks will continue to smaller for for all rookies drafted from 2011 through the end of the decade, whether superstar or half-a-star.

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