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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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Lane Johnson on PEDs: I’m not Steve Lattimer from ‘The Program’

In the classic 1993 college football movie The Program, lineman Steve Lattimer pumps himself up with steroids and earns a place on the starting defense. But when his coach warns him about drug tests and he goes off the juice, Lattimer’s play declines and he’s run over on the goal line for a game-deciding touchdown.

Eagles offensive tackle Lane Johnson wants you to know he’s no Steve Lattimer.

Johnson, who has twice been suspended for violating the NFL’s performance-enhancing substance policy, says he doesn’t need PEDs to fuel his performance and is in great shape, weighing in at around 320 pounds.

“Everybody expects me to be like the Steve Lattimer from ‘The Program’ and come back and weigh 180 and all my skills and talents were going to leave me,” Johnson said, via Philly.com. “That’s what people think but hey, look where I am now.”

Johnson claims his two suspensions were the result of consuming supplements that he didn’t realize had banned substances in them. He says he now takes no supplements at all.

“I’m just going to go out and worry about playing football and trying to wow people anytime I’m on the field. But as far as supplements, I don’t take anything. I just eat food, and that’s it. I’m really cautious. I try to not make any more dumb decisions. That’s hard to do,” Johnson said.

Johnson had better not be taking anything. If he violates the NFL’s PED policy a third time, it will result in a suspension of at least two years.

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Ezekiel Elliott absence would be particularly problematic in September

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If, as some assume, the NFL imposes a short suspension as soon as today on Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones will be livid. For obvious reasons. But Elliott’s absence creates a somewhat non-obvious problem for the Cowboys.

In the first month of each regular season, defenses are routinely ahead of offenses — especially for teams where the offensive lines underwent change. In Dallas, 40 percent of that line is being shuffled around, with La’El Collins sliding to the outside to replace Doug Free at right tackle and guard Ron Leary gone.

So it will take time for the Cowboys to get the offensive line where it eventually will be. And they’ll be facing the Giants and Broncos right out of the gates, teams with potent defenses whose coordinators have had seven months to pick apart quarterback Dak Prescott’s rookie season in search of strategies for stopping him.

Adding to that the potential absence of Ezekiel Elliott, and Prescott could have a mess on his hands to begin his second season, with a work-in-progress wall of blockers and a less-than-optimal running game. Given the way things unfolded for Prescott a year ago, it could be a big deal. As former NFL coach Kevin Gilbride said recently on PFT Live, the dominance of the line allowed Prescott to go through his progressions slowly last year, permitting him to gradually build confidence.

This year, carefully-crafted blitzes and coverages aimed at exploiting flaws in Prescott’s game could change that quickly, with Prescott’s confidence potentially shattering before Elliott gets back on the field.

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Steelers’ Marcus Gilbert sued by man he allegedly body slammed

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A 54-year-old man has sued Steelers offensive tackle Marcus Gilbert, saying that Gilbert body slammed him and broke his leg in a confrontation at Gilbert’s home.

The man, Larry Parker, says in the lawsuit that he knows many Steelers players and staffers, said the confrontation began at the parking lot of the Steelers’ facility on January 11, when Parker was dropping off a Steelers staffer’s car. Parker says he “voiced a jesting greeting” to Gilbert and then drove off.

According to the lawsuit, Gilbert apparently took offense to that “jesting greeting” and began sending hostile text messages to Parker. Eventually Parker went to Gilbert’s house to discuss the matter, and according to Parker, Gilbert picked him up and slammed him onto the bricks outside Gilbert’s home.

Parker says he suffered a broken leg, a back injury and needed surgery. He is seeking more than $35,000 in damages. Gilbert has had nothing to say about the matter.

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Mike Tomlin says there are “consequences” for Le’Veon Bell’s absence

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Unlike players who are under contract, the Steelers can’t fine running back Le’Veon Bell $40,000 a day.

But coach Mike Tomlin suggested there’s still some price to pay.

Via Ray Fittipaldo of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Steelers coach used the words “consequences” when talking about his star running back’s contract-related absence.

“There is no question we are a group that values the team-building process,” Tomlin said. “And doing it in this setting, so yes, there is value, and yes, there are consequences for not being here. That’s the reality of it.”

Asked to specify what those consequences might be, Tomlin said: “They’re untold as we sit here.”

If the Steelers wanted to take the nuclear option, they could always pull the $12.1 million franchise tag. But that would make the central component of their offense a free agent immediately, so they obviously would be hesitant to do that.

But since he’s not signed, he can’t be fined. He also skipped all the voluntary work throughout the spring, and they didn’t necessarily expect him.

That doesn’t mean they don’t want him sooner rather than later.

“Obviously I would like for him to be here,” Tomlin said. “He is not. I am going to focus my energies on the guys who are. It’s an unfortunate circumstance, one that we’ll deal with, one that he’ll deal with. I’ve had good clean communication with him. I’ll keep the nature of that conversation between us. Rest assured he’ll be ready to play football. When he gets here, he gets here.”

Other players have also begun to prod Bell, but if the Steelers want him there, they can always prove their feelings toward Bell financially.

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ESPN distorts analysis of poll question regarding NFL viewing habits

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The effort to make ESPN not seem like a left-wing media establishment continues, apparently.

At a time when constant (and largely inaccurate) criticism has been registered against ESPN for having a liberal agenda, ESPN has decided to summarize a new poll in a way the definitely isn’t left of center.

Here’s the second paragraph of the article from in-house ESPN sports money man Darren Rovell regarding a recent poll from J.D. Power:  “The pollster said it asked more than 9,200 people who attended either one football, basketball or hockey game whether they tuned into fewer games and why. Twenty-six percent of those who watched fewer games last season said that national anthem protests, some of which were led by Colin Kaepernick, were the reason.”

Here’s the far more significant seventh paragraph: “J.D. Power noted that only 12 percent of the fans it surveyed said they watched fewer NFL games last season, with 27 percent of people saying they watched more and 62 percent saying they watched just as much as they had the season before.”

So the more accurate characterization is that 26 percent of 12 percent watched fewer football games in 2016 due to national anthem protests. Or, in other words, 3.12 percent of the 9,200 people who “attended either one football, basketball or hockey game” (an oddly specific parameter) watched fewer football games on TV last year.

There’s another important factor that Rovell’s analysis completely ignored: Market.

As noted by SBNation.com, 22 percent of fans in Chicago watched less football in 2016. Only six percent watched less football last year in Boston.

And that’s where the poll, and the interpretation of it, become worthless. It appears that there wasn’t a “my team stunk last year” option for explaining the lack of interest.

Indeed, it appears that the options were pre-determined and provided in a multiple-choice format. So if “my team stunk last year” wasn’t one of the pre-selected choices, the influence of, for example, the Bears being 3-13 wouldn’t be reflected at all by the 22 percent of Chicagoans who watched less football in 2016.

But, hey, ESPN at least has something else to point to the next time someone from FOX shouts “liberal bias!”

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After trading Cardale Jones, Bills think they’re set at quarterback

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The Buffalo Bills think they have all the quarterbacks they need.

After trading Cardale Jones to the Chargers, Bills General Manager Brandon Beane said he’s set with Tyrod Taylor as the starter, T.J. Yates as the veteran backup and Nathan Peterman as the rookie who will learn on the job.

“Right now we’re planning to go with these three,” Beane said, via the Buffalo News. “You never rule anything out. Anything that can help our roster, we’re always looking at, but right now we’re good with three.”

Asked about Colin Kaepernick, Beane said he’s not a consideration.

“Obviously Colin, he’s had great success in the past,” Beane said. “I’ve not looked into him or anything like that. We’ve had plenty of quarterbacks here. I like the mesh of the three that we have. We liked Cardale, but our our goal right now is just to let these three go and see how it goes at camp.”

Whether the Bills have their long-term starter remains to be seen, but they have their 2017 quarterbacks in place, and they’re not expecting that to change.

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Hue Jackson: DeShone Kizer coming along quicker than expected

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Cody Kessler is the first man up at quarterback at Browns training camp practices, but he’s not getting all the reps with the starters.

Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com reports that second-round pick DeShone Kizer is splitting time with the first team — Brock Osweiler and Kevin Hogan have been working with the backups — and that means the Browns want to have the rookie ready to play in the not too distant future. Kizer can help move that along by showing a strong grasp of the offense and coach Hue Jackson said that appears to be happening.

Jackson said that Kizer is progressing faster than he expected.

“Yes, he is,” Jackson said. “He’s understanding the offense. I could take you back to his days at OTAs — he struggled calling the plays. The words were a lot simpler. The language was a different. I did not see as much of that today. That is improvement. Obviously, he made some good throws and did not turn the ball over. Those things are good. Again, it’s just one day. We are not going to make decisions on guys in one day. We have a lot of work to do.”

Jackson said this week that Kessler “is still the guy who demonstrates knowing the offense the best,” but that could change if Kizer’s progress continues at the same rate. It could also become less important than how well Kizer does the things he does know in the offense, although, as Jackson notes, it will be more than one day before anyone can draw that kind of conclusion.

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Adolphus Washington: I learned from my mistake

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Bills defensive tackle Adolphus Washington spoke to reporters at the team’s training camp on Thursday and his recent arrest for improperly carrying a concealed weapon was the favored topic.

Washington is accused of reaching for and displaying a gun in front of police officers in the parking lot of a water park in Ohio and a video of the incident features an officer telling Washington that he’s lucky the situation didn’t escalate once he brandished the weapon. On Thursday, Washington said he was thankful things did not go that way and that he has “learned from my mistakes.”

“Probably just the environment that I go in,” Washington said, via the Buffalo News. “I’m young. Don’t make mistakes, just gotta learn from it.”

Bills coach Sean McDermott and General Manager Brandon Beane also expressed relief that no one was hurt during the incident and disappointment in Washington’s arrest, although they said the player has done a good job of communicating with them about what happened.

Washington pleaded not guilty to the charge and his attorney said he does not believe Washington committed any crime, something that Washington did not address while talking to the media.

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Friday morning one-liners

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Preston Brown worked at middle linebacker with the Bills starters on Thursday.

The Dolphins have competition for one of their linebacker jobs.

It wasn’t always certain it would work out that way, but CB Malcolm Butler was on the field for the Patriots as camp opened.

The Jets start camp with low expectations.

RB Bobby Rainey is back for a second run with the Ravens.

Said Bengals DE Carlos Dunlap, “I feel like I’ve got a lot of ball left and I look forward to making these next few years my best. I’ve had some good ball up to this point, but I still feel like I have a lot of room for growth.”

Facing off with T Joe Thomas will help Browns DE Myles Garrett learn about life in the NFL.

Steelers WR Antonio Brown arrived at training camp in a Rolls-Royce.

Texans CB Kevin Johnson is feeling good after last year’s foot injury.

Colts CB Vontae Davis is heading into a contract year.

CB A.J. Bouye had a good day in his first day at Jaguars training camp.

The Titans secondary looks significantly different from last year.

The Broncos have their first padded practice on Sunday.

Chiefs FB Anthony Sherman reported to training camp in costume.

Ten questions for the Raiders to answer during training camp.

The Chargers waived QB Eli Jenkins with Cardale Jones joining the team.

CB Anthony Brown picked off Dak Prescott during Cowboys practice.

The Giants are banking on improvement from holdover offensive linemen.

Eagles LB Nigel Bradham is waiting to hear if he’ll be suspended.

QB Kirk Cousins reiterated that he’s in a “good place” after failing to strike a long-term deal with the Redskins.

Bears LB Danny Trevathan is practicing in limited fashion after tearing his patellar tendon last season.

Lions QB Matthew Stafford picked up a new house in Georgia.

P Justin Vogel got off to a good start at Packers camp.

Vikings WR Michael Floyd is trying to keep the focus on football.

CB Desmond Trufant thinks the Falcons can have one of the best defenses in the league.

CB Captain Munnerlyn is happy to be back with the Panthers.

Is the 2017 season a crossroads one for the Saints?

Buccaneers WR DeSean Jackson went with a Ferrari for his entry to training camp.

The Cardinals are looking for different results from the same names on their offensive line.

Rams TE Gerald Everett doesn’t shy away from speaking his mind.

49ers coach Kyle Shanahan wants the offense playing fast.

Which Seahawks are next up for contract extensions?

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Rob Gronkowski is back, and being Gronk on the field

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There are always players a little extra excited for the first day of training camp, usually rookies or guys on new teams.

But in Patriots camp, it was tight end Rob Gronkowski bouncing around, spiking footballs and generally looking like a much younger Gronk.

Part of that comes with health, as the 28-year-old Gronkowski has recovered from back surgery and has been given the green light by coach Bill Belichick.

“I’ve definitely had a longer vacation than a lot of guys,” Gronkowski said, via Mike Giardi of CSNNE.com. “I’d probably say I was the most eager to get going, to get rolling.”

So when he got to the end zone in practice, he punctuated each of the three with celebrations, perhaps getting ready for this year’s more relaxed rules.

“It’s football,” he said. “Just when you’re feeling good out there and making plays you just want to have fun. That’s the whole game of football. Have fun out there, enjoy it and have competition. Competition is huge. That’s what gets you better. That’s what makes you better as a player. That’s what makes the team better — competition. . . .

“I don’t even notice know what I did. It wasn’t like a real spike, it was just like tossing it to the ground. Juiced up, just trying to make plays out there.”

Of course, Gronk’s sense of Gronk being Gronk may not be like what the rest of us see, but the Patriots are relieved to see their star tight end healthy and feeling good.

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Ben McAdoo motivates Giants with tale of the Hugh Hefner of lions

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The NFL doesn’t need erectile dysfunction commercials this season.

They just need Giants coach Ben McAdoo to recount his version of what was apparently quite a “Wild Kingdom.”

According to Steve Serby of the New York Post, the Giants coach decided to motivate his veteran players yesterday by telling them the story of Frasier, a randy old lion who may have gotten into the Viagra.

Give it a second (and wipe the coffee off your screen), and it begins to make (a little, although twisted kind of) sense.

As the story goes, Frasier the Lion was something of a celebrity, once described by Life Magazine as the “reigning sex simba” after he fathered 33 cubs in 16 months at a time when he was expected to retire.

“A lion in a Mexican circus, I believe it was the ’70s — ’72 maybe — and he was a little long in the tooth, and it was showing, and they felt he was washed up and they sent him north to California [Lion Country Safari], and the next thing you know, he was eating vitamins,” McAdoo said. “The lionesses were bringing him meat and wouldn’t eat until he was done eating. And was a lion that showed that he still had value, he still had worth. It just took him a little more time and effort to get himself ready.”

Oh. Of course.

I mean, I guess if you’re really open-minded, you could see the parallel to the Giants, considering 36-year-old quarterback Eli Manning is going to be on a pitch count during training camp.

Manning should probably keep an eye on the team’s trainers this summer, especially if they start offering him rare steaks and vitamins. Especially if those vitamins happen to be blue.

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Jordan Matthews: Knee, not contract, kept me out of spring work

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The Eagles said wide receiver Jordan Matthews was going to be a limited participant in the early stages of training camp because of a knee injury, but reports from Thursday’s practice indicated that any limitations were minor ones as Matthews was one of the first on the field and one of the last to leave.

Matthews’ injury was described as tendinitis, but he said he didn’t want to put “a specific word on it” when he met with the media after practice. He was more willing to discuss a recent report that his absence from practices in the spring was about his desire for a new contract rather than any issue with his knee.

“I would literally never do that,” Matthews said, via ESPN.com. “If you guys know me any from the time I’ve been here, I go to work. This is a privilege to be able to play football regardless, whether it’s the Philadelphia Eagles or it’s anybody, to play in the NFL, I’ve always wanted to do this. So any day I can come out here and play, I’m going to do that. I believe that when you go to work, you’ll end up seeing the fruits of your labor get paid off. I would never sit out to try and force somebody’s hand. That’s just not me. I’m going to come out here and go to work. I wasn’t able to, that was the breaks, but I’m out here now ready to go.”

Matthews is in the fourth and final year of the rookie deal he signed as a second-round pick in 2014 and there hasn’t been any indication that the Eagles want to lock him up before the season. Given the other moves they made at receiver this offseason, they may not change course when the year is out.

If so, Matthews will be winding down his time with the Eagles and staying healthy will be essential to landing a deal anywhere when 2018 rolls around.

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O.J. won’t be welcome at USC

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The Pro Football Hall of Fame is willing to roll out the red carpet for Hall of Famer O.J. Simpson. The University of Southern California won’t be.

“Right now with USC, what the administration and the athletic department have said is, no, O.J. will not be a part of our functions,” Trojans coach Clay Helton said Thursday, via ESPN.com. “That’s been the statement.”

Simpson is due to be released from prison on October 1. As noted by Arash Markazi of ESPN.com, USC continue to display Simpson’s retired No. 32 at home games, along with a copy of his Heisman Trophy.

So why will the Pro Football Hall of Fame allow him to come to the annual enshrinement ceremony? It all goes back to the misguided notion that status as one of the all-time greats in football should be confined only to what happens on the football field, without regard to anything the player has done in any other setting. This approach, which routinely is defied by human nature when it’s time to cast secret ballots, leads to periodic awkwardness for the Hall of Fame and its voters.

There may be annual awkwardness in Canton if Simpson decides to dust off his gold (tan) jacket and start showing up at the enshrinement ceremony.

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Cowboys say Ronnie Hillman signing not related to Ezekiel Elliott status

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Yes, the Cowboys are anticipating hearing word on Ezekiel Elliott’s possible suspension soon. And yes, they signed running back Ronnie Hillman.

But Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said those two facts weren’t necessarily related.

Via Todd Archer of ESPN.com, Garrett said it had more to do with a hamstring injury to Jahad Thomas than anything else.

“It really has everything to do with Jahad [Thomas’] situation,” Garrett said. “Jahad, we thought he was going to be healthy and ready to go for training camp, and he was one day into it [and unable to stay healthy], and so we had to get another running back in here.”

With veteran Darren McFadden getting some time off and Thomas not able to practice, the Cowboys were forced to use Rod Smith and Alfred Morris more than planned. The Cowboys worked Hillman and former Jaguars fifth-rounder Denard Robinson last week.

Hillman was good in 2015 (rushing for 863 yards and seven touchdowns), but couldn’t find a home last year. The Cowboys think he could fit some of the niche created when Lance Dunbar left in free agency.

“I remember watching him in playoff games and playing with the Denver offense that was so prolific,” offensive coordinator Scott Linehan said of Hillman. “He’s still young. He’s going to bring some really good experience in this league. He’s a different style back, size and style. So he’s going to be able to add a dimension for us and we’ll see. We’re going to let him absorb our offense a little bit before we get him right in the fire, but we’re excited what he brings to us.”

But for the record, he’s not here because they’re afraid Elliott’s about to be suspended. Of course.

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Which former NFL coach do you most want to see return?

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Former NFL coach Jon Gruden apparently may be coming back. If, you know, anyone wants him.

So here’s the PFT Live question of the day: Which former NFL coach do you want to see return to the sidelines?

Name one (or as many as you want in the comments), provide a detail or two as to why, and then tune in for three hours of football-only chatter on NBC Sports Radio from 6:00 a.m. ET to 9:00 a.m. ET.

We’re preempted today on NBCSN by Formula One racing. But we’ll be back Monday, with Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury.

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