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What if the Jets won’t be using the Wildcat at all?

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The Jets have made it widely known that they’ll be using the Wildcat this year.  But what if they actually won’t be using it at all?

They’ve hired former Dolphins coach Tony Sparano, who four years ago bedeviled the Patriots with the surprise unveiling of the NFL’s version of the alternative attack, which works best when the players in the base offense remain on the field.  In September 2008, the Dolphins slapped it together in the week preceding a game in New England — and they scored four touchdowns on six plays with Ronnie Brown taking the snap in shotgun formation, Ricky Williams lining up as a flanker who would come in motion and either get the ball on a handoff or (in that specific game) not get the ball on a handoff, and quarterback Chad Pennington split wide as a receiver.

Since then, it’s been used by several other teams, even though there has been a sense in more recent seasons that the Wildcat has run its course.  In other incarnations, the Wildcat entailed actually removing the starting quarterback from the field and using a different signal-caller.   The Eagles did it with Mike Vick (to the chagrin of Donovan McNabb).  The Jets did it with Brad Smith.  Even the Dolphins did it with Pat White, a second-round draft bust taken only months after Miami’s starting-quarterback-stays-on-the-field Wildcat wowed the league.

Tebow has worked with a similar, but different, approach during his two seasons in Denver, lining up in shotgun with a tailback to his side.  The base play is a simple read-option, with the ball going to the running back if the defensive end on the side of the tailback comes wide or staying in Tebow’s hands, with the quarterback running to where the defensive end was if he bites on the handoff and crashes toward what would have been the point of attack.

From that basic look, Tebow can also pass after faking the handoff, as he did on the only play from scrimmage in overtime against the Steelers in January.

If that’s what the Jets will be using, it’s not the Wildcat.  So what will the Jets be using?

There’s a reason, in our view, for the Jets to be so secretive about their practices entailing what they’re calling the “Wildcat.”  There’s a reason, in our view, for the Jets to have not even broken out the Wildcat (or, as the case may be, the “TeBone”) in preseason games.  And there’s a reason, in our view, for the Jets to be spending so much time talking about how preparing for the Wildcat will suck time away from preparing for the base offense.

We (and, really, for something potentially as harebrained as this I should say, “I”) think that, when the Jets host the Bills on September 9, what they use as the “Wildcat” package will neither be the Wildcat nor the Tebow read-option base offense.

Consider this.  The Bills new quarterbacks coach is David Lee.  He’s the same David Lee who was the quarterbacks coach in Miami in (yep) 2008.  Though Sparano gets the credit for the Miami version of the Wildcat, his offensive coordinator (Dan Henning) called the attack that accounted for 28 points in the 38-13 thrashing of the Pats “the David Lee Special.”  (That’s straight from Tim Layden’s Blood, Sweat and Chalk, easily the best modern compendium of football analysis.)  It was Lee who had pitched the “Wild Hog” offense he’d used at Arkansas with Darren McFadden to Henning on the flight home from a 31-10 loss at Arizona only a week earlier.

And it’s Lee who now is working for the team the Jets will face in Week One and Week 17.

Chances are that David Lee knows how to stop the David Lee Special.  Chances are that the Jets won’t be using it.

Last year, Pats coach Bill Belichick showed not once but twice that he knows how to shut down the Broncos TeBone offense.  And, as always, the Jets play the Pats twice.  Chances are that the Jets won’t be using the attack Tebow ran in Denver.

Then there are the Dolphins, who have plenty of guys on defense who were on the team when Sparano ran the show and Lee coached the quarterbacks and the Dolphins used both the true Wildcat and the short-lived and ill-fated Pat White version of the read-option.  Since the Jets also will face Miami twice per year, chances are that the Jets won’t be giving the Dolphins any looks that they may have seen in practice over the past few seasons.

So if it’s not the Wildcat or the TeBone per se, what will the Jets be using?  Maybe it’ll be the true single wing, a shell-game of an offense with a direct snap to Tebow and guys like Shonn Greene as the tailback and John Conner assuming the role of what was/is the “quarterback” in the offense, lined up not far behind the gap in the two tackles of the unbalanced line — and ready to blow up whomever stands between Tebow or Greene and the secondary.

Throw in Santonio Holmes as the single wingback in the “single wing,” and Holmes can play the role of Demaryius Thomas getting single coverage, if/when Tebow fakes a handoff and musters a reasonably accurate throw.

The point is that the Jets are smart enough to know that the teams they’ll face in six out of 16 games are smart enough to know how to defend the Wildcat and/or the TeBone.  With Mark Sanchez leaving the field and Tebow entering from the sideline (unless the big secret is that the Jets plan to use Tebow as a fullback or tight end in the base offense), the Jets need a genuine element of surprise.

The surprise could be that, once Tebow enters the game, the offense that opposing defenses see will be nothing like what they expected to see.

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Panthers claim Jonathan Martin off waivers from 49ers

Jonathan Martin AP

The Panthers just added some more offensive line depth, and have now employed both players offended by Richie Incognito.

The Panthers announced they claimed tackle Jonathan Martin off waivers from the 49ers, a day after he was cut loose there.

Martin has shown at times to have NFL talent, though the abuse he took in Miami made some question how he’d fit into a locker room in the future. The 49ers, with his old college coach Jim Harbaugh, were a good place for him to reestablish himself.

The Panthers could use all the tackle depth they can get their hands on, so Martin has an opportunity for playing time. For a team that opened last year with Byron Bell and a converted defensive tackle (Nate Chandler) as their starting tackles, they’ve now added two cheap upgrades in Michael Oher and Martin.

“Our goal is to build the strongest roster possible and add competition at every position,” Panthers General Manager Dave Gettleman said in a statement from the team. “Jonathan brings quality experience to our offensive line, having started 32 games in his career at both tackle spots.”

The Panthers had “Player A” from the Ted Wells report, guard Andrew McDonaldin camp last summer.

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Pagano, Grigson could have a hard time staying on same page this year

Pagano AP

2015 began as the year of the mutual parting, with a pair of successful coaches who were unable to achieve ultimate success leaving their teams.  That trend could continue in 2016, if the Colts don’t extend the contract of coach Chuck Pagano, and if he moves on after the season ends.

Complicating matters is the identical status of G.M. Ryan Grigson.  Both he and Pagano will be commencing contract years, which means that either Grigson or Pagano may bear the ultimate blame for the failure of the Colts to get beyond (or at least stay within 38 points of) the Patriots.

It also means that Grigson and Pagano could be tempted to blame each other, in the event that the 2015 season at any point unravels.  If, for example, the team’s run defense — its “Achilles heel,” per Pagano — continues to fail to slow down New England, Pagano could be tempted to blame it on the personnel, and Grigson could be tempted to blame it on the coaching.

Bob Kravitz of WTHR.com suspects, as he explained during Friday’s PFT Live on NBC Sports Radio, that a disconnect already exists between Pagano and Grigson.  The leak that Pagano (but not Grigson) won’t be getting a new contract before the season at a minimum raises a question about whether Pagano already is being set up to take the fall.

Regardless of their current relationship, it becomes critical for Pagano and Grigson to band together, setting aside a desire to survive something less than a full-blown purge and accepting the notion that both will stay or both will go.  Three years ago, owner Jim Irsay opted to press the reset button, firing both coach Jim Caldwell and G.M. Bill Polian.  This time around, Irsay may be inclined to fire only one or the other; after the 2001 season, Polian stayed and coach Jim Mora was let go.

To be as successful as they possible can be, Pagano and Grigson need to commit to cooperation and mutual support.  That’s definitely easier said than done, especially since one of them sits in a box with the owner during games and the other one is down on the sidelines, wondering what they may be talking about up there.

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Mike Westhoff thinks kickers are so good, special teams are boring

Jets coaches Ryan and Westhoff react while they played the 49ers in NFL game in East Rutherford Reuters

There was a time when kickers missed extra points regularly, went whole seasons without hitting a 50-yard field goal and struggled to boot kickoffs into the end zone. But that time is in the distant past.

That’s why Mike Westhoff, long one of the NFL’s most colorful special teams coaches, now thinks the kicking game is downright boring.

“The job I did doesn’t exist today,” Westhoff told ESPN. “What do you want me to coach, touchbacks? Not interested.”

Westhoff thinks the NFL needs to move extra points back, narrow the goal posts and make the hashmarks closer to the sidelines so that there are more field goals from difficult angles.

“Kicking has become easier today,” Westhoff said. “The kickers are bigger, stronger and better athletes than before.”

So much better that special teams just aren’t as fun as they used to be.

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Panthers add former Packers wide receiver Jarrett Boykin

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On a day when another of their targets spurned them, the Panthers signed a guy they had in for a recent visit.

The team announced they had signed former Packers wide receiver Jarrett Boykin to a one-year contract.

Boykin spent three years with the Packers, but became a free agent when they didn’t tender him an offer this offseason.

He caught 49 passes in 2013, but fell down the pecking order when the regulars got well and caught just three passes last year.

Boykin grew up in Charlotte, attending Butler High, and has a chance to latch on in a much shallower depth chart than the one he was stuck on in Green Bay.

Earlier this afternoon, cornerback Alan Ball signed with the Bears after his visit to the Panthers.

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Foles may just be a stopgap in St. Louis

folesfisher AP

The Rams like Nick Foles enough that they turned down at least one offer of a first-round draft pick for Sam Bradford, and traded for Foles instead. But the Rams may not like Foles enough to keep him around beyond this year.

Rams coach Jeff Fisher says the Rams plan to draft a quarterback this year, and the presence of Foles doesn’t change that.

It’s our intention to draft one,” Fisher said, via the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “The Nick trade has no bearing over what we do in the draft.”

But which quarterback will they draft? Florida State’s Jameis Winston seems to be going to Tampa Bay with the first overall pick, and Oregon’s Marcus Mariota will almost certainly be off the board when the Rams pick at No. 10. Would the Rams move up for Mariota? To hear Fisher talk about Winston and Mariota, they’re two players who are worth trading up to draft.

“They’re unique; they’re rare,” Fisher said. “They’ve clearly proven they can win games. Marcus obviously is a little bit more mobile than Winston is. But Winston makes all of the throws. They’re both very impressive to watch.”

Realistically, the Rams probably aren’t going to be able to draft either Winston or Mariota. But a quarterback like Baylor’s Bryce Petty, UCLA’s Brett Hundley or Colorado State’s Garrett Grayson could make sense in the second round. And Foles could make sense as a one-year starter who holds onto the job just until a second-round quarterback is ready to take over.

Which means Foles, who is heading into the final season of his contract, may be changing teams again at this time next year.

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This might be the year the Cowboys actually draft a quarterback

Sports Day AP

Every year around this time, people wonder if the Cowboys are going to draft a quarterback to groom for the future.

And every year, it keeps not happening.

But at least this time, owner Jerry Jones is acknowledging that the time to pick one to learn from Tony Romo might have finally come.

We do have to look to the future relative to quarterback,’’ Jones said, via David Moore of the Dallas Morning News. “It’s starting a time frame where a guy could come in and be a good backup.

“Look at how Romo evolved into the guy he is today. He did a little time with the clip board.”

Romo’s turning 35 next month, and some developmental lead time for the next guy might be nice. But the Cowboys have never bothered trying to draft and develop (which might not work anyway).

Since Jones bought the team and used the first pick in the 1989 NFL Draft on Troy Aikman, they’ve only drafted three other quarterbacks: 1991 fourth-rounder Bill Musgrave, 2011 second-rounder Quincy Carter and 2009 fourth-rounder Stephen McGee.

And we know Jones was eyeballing Johnny Manziel last year, before his better angels (or son Stephen) took the keys from him.

So, after looking at that list, it’s reasonable to think that maybe they shouldn’t waste any more picks. But the latest mention points to the fact that the Cowboys know the clock’s ticking on Romo, and they’ll need a plan.

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Bears sign CB Alan Ball

Alan Ball, Justin Hunter AP

The Bears have added some depth in the secondary.

Alan Ball, a veteran cornerback who has been making the free agent rounds, signed with the Bears today.

Ball, who played his college football at Illinois, was a seventh-round pick of the Cowboys in 2007. He spent five years in Dallas, one in Houston and two in Jacksonville. Last year Ball started the first seven games of the season for the Jaguars before suffering a season-ending arm injury.

The Panthers showed a lot of interest in Ball — so much that there was an erroneous report that he had signed. Ultimately Ball left Carolina without a deal, and now he’s a Bear.

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Giants have high hopes for a “dominant” offense

Atlanta Falcons v New York Giants Getty Images

The Giants had a mediocre offense last season, the first year with Ben McAdoo as the coordinator. This year, they expect much bigger things.

That’s the word from Giants running back Rashad Jennings, who said quarterback Eli Manning is going to take a big step forward in his second season playing in McAdoo’s system.

I think we’re going to have a dominant offense,” Jennings said, via NJ.com. “Eli is really comfortable in the offense now — being able to control a lot from the line of scrimmage.”

The Giants’ decision to sign running back Shane Vereen could be bad news for Jennings, who may get fewer opportunities this season with Vereen in town. But Jennings sees Vereen’s presence as a plus.

“It’s going to be big,” Jennings said. “Any time you can add depth at any position, any room, it’s valuable. He’s a guy that’s been on a team that knows the recipe of winning. We extract from that. We’ll be able to add. Also, he’s a great catcher from the backfield. So that’s going to entice the coordinator to throw to the running backs more. So I’m happy with that. He’s a good player and from everything I understand he’s a good teammate. I’m glad to have him aboard.”

The Giants’ offense did take a step forward last year — even mediocre in 2014 is better than what they were in 2013 — but they need to take another step this year. Jennings sounds very confident they’ll do just that.

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Hernandez fiancee: I asked him if he killed Odin, he said no, that was it

shayanna AP

Aaron Hernandez’s fiancee testified in court today that he told her he did not murder their friend Odin Lloyd.

Shayanna Jenkins, who prosecutors say helped Hernandez get rid of evidence after Lloyd was shot and killed, testified in front of a judge — but not in front of the jurors — and said that Hernandez said that she asked her fiance directly whether he murdered Lloyd. He told her that he didn’t, and she didn’t press the matter.

“When Aaron got back from the police station, when I had found out that Odin was murdered, I asked him if he did it and he said no. That was the extent of our conversation,” she said.

Jenkins was also asked about a text message from Hernandez in which he wrote, “Go in back of the screen in movie room when u get home an there is the box.” Prosecutors allege that was Hernandez telling Jenkins where he had hidden the murder weapon and that she should get rid of it before police searched the house. Jenkins admits that she took a box from the home and threw it in a dumpster after that, but she says that was just a coincidence and that the text wasn’t an instruction for her to do so.

According to Michele Steele of ESPN, Jenkins mouthed “I love you” to Hernandez as she walked out of the courtroom.

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Jason Garrett: Catch rule robbed the NFL of a classic finish

Divisional Playoffs - Dallas Cowboys v Green Bay Packers Getty Images

Cowboys coach Jason Garrett believes that a better-written NFL rule would have given Dez Bryant a catch at the end of the playoff game in Green Bay — and would have given the NFL an all-time playoff classic.

Garrett pointed out that the Cowboys would have had first-and-goal at the 1-yard line, setting up, potentially, a game as memorable as another Cowboys-Packers battle, the Ice Bowl.

“To have the Cowboys inside the 1-yard line at Lambeau Field with 4:45 to go 47 years after Bart Starr had a quarterback sneak is great for our game,” Garrett said, via the Star-Telegram. “To have Aaron Rodgers standing on the other sideline waiting for his opportunity to come back, that’s what we want. And Dez Bryant getting three feet and a forearm down I think should be a catch in in our league. I think we should find ways to make sure it is going forward. It has nothing to do with our game, our team, its about how to right the rule going forward.”

As it is, that game will be remembered more for a great play that didn’t count than for a great ending.

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Strange developments at Hernandez trial

Hernandez AP

On Thursday, a bomb threat interrupted the first Aaron Hernandez murder trial.  On Friday, things could get even more interesting.

The day has begun with Judge E. Susan Garsh individually questioning the jurors, in the presence of the lawyers and Hernandez.  Via Michael McCann of Sports Illustrated, the jurors were standing two feet from Hernandez while fielding and answering questions.

It’s not known what the jurors are being asked, but it’s entirely possible (if not probable) that the judge and the lawyers are ensuring that each juror will continue to serve without bias or prejudice in the aftermath of Thursday’s events, for which an arrest has been made.

Once testimony resumes, Hernandez’s fiancée, Shayanna Jenkins, is expected to testify.  Via Michele Steele of ESPN, Jenkins has arrived in court wearing her engagement ring.  Which suggests that she won’t be flipping on Hernandez today, regardless of the immunity from prosecution that she has received.

Then again, the presence of the ring will make her testimony even more credible, if she provides information that hurts Hernandez’s case.  Prosecutors believe Jenkins disposed of the murder weapon.

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Despite concussions, Troy Aikman says he feels good in retirement

2012 NFL Honors - Arrivals Getty Images

Both the book League of Denial and the PBS documentary that draws from it devote a great deal of attention to Troy Aikman, who played in a Super Bowl after suffering a serious concussion in the NFC Championship Game, and who retired in part because of concerns about concussions. But 15 years after his playing career ended, Aikman says he’s doing fine.

Aikman told Richard Deitsch of TheMMQB.com that he had a thorough neurological exam that gave him a clean bill of health. Aikman also said he has always felt that he remains mentally sharp and has never had any issues such as memory loss that would affect his ability to work as a broadcaster.

“It certainly gave me some peace of mind,” Aikman said. “But the reason I have never been concerned is that the job that I have with Fox is a mental exercise—recalling numbers and names and things of that nature. I am able to do that pretty readily. I do think broadcasting with Fox keeps my mind active, and I think it helps.”

Aikman says he would neither encourage a child to play football nor discourage a child from playing football, as he views it as an individual decision that may be right for some and wrong for others. But he’s clear that from his perspective, he’s benefited from playing the game.

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Falcons G.M. bracing for losing a valuable draft pick

Dimitroff AP

Falcons General Manager Thomas Dimitroff knows something’s coming. But he says he just doesn’t know what it is yet.

Via D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal Constitution, Dimitroff said during a radio interview on 680 The Fan that he’s bracing for bad news, after the team admitted piping in artificial crowd noise.

“We are just so full of scenarios and that’s kind of how we approach the offseason as it is,” Dimitroff said. “We’ve been very detailed on how we are going to approach things if in fact we have availability at certain points in the draft.”

During the league meetings, the team was informed their penalty was likely to be announced next week, and that the team was privately told what it would be, but Dimitroff said he hadn’t heard yet.

“I do not know at this point, officially,” Dimitroff said. “I have not gotten word from the league. I believe that we’ll be expecting something. Usually, when you get indication from the league it is via print. . . .

“I’m reading the same things that you are. Obviously, it’s been a process for us.”

And for a team that’s still trying to rebuild a defense, losing what could be a second- or third-round pick would be a significant hit.

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NFL still not talking about Indiana law

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

Plenty of institutions that pump millions into Indiana by staging events there have expressed concern about the wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing law that ostensibly protects religious freedom by giving business owners the right to discriminate against gay and lesbian customers.  The NFL inexplicably has not.

Last year, the NFL spoke out as Arizona closed in on passing a similar law.  Arizona eventually opted not to proceed with a plan to legalize the shunning of people who live their private lives in a way that others feel compelled to care about, and to condemn.

This time around, the NFL has said nothing.  The league office had no comment on Thursday when PFT specifically asked for a reaction to the new Indiana law, and in nearly 24 hours since then, nothing has emanated from P.R.-obsessed 345 Park Avenue regarding the passage of a law that provides a license to discriminate in a state where an NFL franchise is located, where the Super Bowl has been played and likely will return, and where the Scouting Combine is staged every February.

Others have opted for something other than silence.  The NCAA, which soon will hold one of its marquee events in Indianapolis, had this to say about the situation:  “The NCAA national office and our members are deeply committed to providing an inclusive environment for all our events.  We are especially concerned about how this legislation could affect our student-athletes and employees.  We will work diligently to assure student-athletes competing in, and visitors attending, next week’s Men’s Final Four in Indianapolis are not impacted negatively by this bill.  Moving forward, we intend to closely examine the implications of this bill and how it might affect future events as well as our workforce.”

Likewise, the major gaming convention known as Gen Con threatened to take its business elsewhere if the law passes:  “Gen Con proudly welcomes a diverse attendee base, made up of different ethnicities, cultures, beliefs, sexual orientations, gender identities, abilities, and socio-economic backgrounds.  Legislation that could allow for refusal of service or discrimination against our attendees will have a direct negative impact on the state’s economy, and will factor into our decision-making on hosting the convention in the state of Indiana in future years.”

So why has there been nothing from the NFL?  “Our policies emphasize tolerance and inclusiveness, and prohibit discrimination based on age, gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, or any other improper standard,” the league said last year regarding the Arizona proposal.

The NFL’s failure to reiterate that position in relation to the Indiana law suggests that maybe the NFL’s position has changed.  If that’s not the case, the sooner the NFL says so, the better.

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Bears hoping to get more from Jared Allen this season

Chicago Bears v Carolina Panthers Getty Images

The Bears didn’t get much out of Jared Allen last year after a bout with pneumonia, and now they’re shifting to a defense he’s not really suited for.

But since they’re on the hook for an $11.5 million roster bonus anyway, they’re trying to figure out how to maximize his talents.

According to Adam Jahns of the Chicago Sun-Times, Bears coach John Fox and General Manager Ryan Pace met with Allen this week, and they’re hoping to see a jump in production.

“It was good to touch base and share some ideas,” Fox said. “He’ll get that opportunity to compete, and he can be one of those guys who makes a big jump.”

Allen turns 33 next week, and he’ll be playing outside linebacker in the 3-4 defense new coordinator Vic Fangio will be installing. Allen has always said that’s something he’s not comfortable with, but they’ll also use enough four-man fronts in sub packages to allow him to rush the passer the way he’s comfortable.

But being sick last year kept him from showing it, and Fox said he thinks that explains the dip to a career-low 5.5 sacks.

“Physically, he had a rough year last year,” Fox said. “In particular for big guys or really any position, your weight, your strength level, all those things physically have a lot to do with how you perform on Sundays.

“In his case, he got pneumonia and lost 19, 20 pounds, and in the middle of a marathon, that is hard to recover from. That’s an analogy I use for a football season. So I don’t know if it was his best season. [But] there are reasons [for his struggles], not excuses.”

The Bears also brought in Pernell McPhee in free agency, and have Lamarr Houston to play outside linebacker. Allen’s obviously not playing as a base 3-4 end, so they’ll have to adjust on the fly, and see how much he has left.

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