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Buccaneers and Chargers blacked out on Sunday

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Neither a two-game winning streak nor the chance to see wide receiver Vincent Jackson face his old team were enough to move people in Tampa to buy enough tickets to allow the team to avoid a local television blackout.

That means the game between the Buccaneers and Chargers will not be televised in the Tampa market. The writing was on the wall for Thursday’s announcement about the blackout when word broke earlier this week that the Bucs were still 9,000 tickets short of hitting the threshold needed to eliminate the possibility of a blackout.

Because the Bucs took advantage of the rule permitting teams to lower that blackout threshold to 85 percent of non-premium seats, that indicates there will be a lot of empty seats at Raymond James Stadium on Sunday afternoon. That’s par for the course for the team in the last few seasons. Just one game has been televised locally this season and only two games were televised during the 2010 and 2011 seasons.

Coach Greg Schiano talked a lot about changing the culture of the franchise when he took over as coach. The early returns have been pretty good in terms of wins and losses, but there’s clearly still work to do in terms of convincing fans to spend their money to watch those wins and losses in person.

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Four-game suspension suggests multiple violations for Martavis Bryant in a year

cd0ymzcznguwzdbhnduynddiytjhm2yyzthlmtjjotqwyyznpwi5mwe4mjlkodm3mtu4yze1yjviowrjmgqxm2ywytbi AP

The new substance-abuse policy dramatically reduced the punishment for players who test positive for banned compounds like marijuana. Which means that more violations of the policy are now required to trigger a four-game suspension.

For Steelers receiver Martavis Bryant, the proposed four-game suspension means that the league believes he has violated the policy a second time while in Stage Two of the three-stage program.

Given the changes to the policy, the Steelers should be alarmed that Bryant already is facing a four-game suspension. It means that, only 16 months after he was drafted, he has failed to choose football over a banned substance on multiple occasions.

If he continues to not choose football over one or more banned substances, he eventually will face a 10-game suspension and, after that, a minimum suspension of one year.

The good news for the Steelers and Bryant is that, under the substance-abuse policy that was in place when Bryant joined the team, he possibly would be facing a one-year suspension now. The better news is that the new substance-abuse policy removes from Commissioner Roger Goodell or his designee final say over the punishment, with neutral arbitration available for Bryant to present any arguments he may have in support of the position that he didn’t violate the policy, this time.

Still, if he loses, Bryant could eventually be facing a one-year suspension — with a requirement to pass up to 10 tests per months in order to get reinstated.

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NFLPA, NFL say nothing unusual about number of preseason injuries

Kelvin Benjamin AP

Several teams have found themselves changing plans this preseason after seeing a key player go down with a season-ending injury and the growing number of such injuries have some people wondering if those injuries have become more prevalent.

Both the NFL and the NFL Players Association say that they haven’t. The loss of players like Jordy Nelson, Kelvin Benjamin, Orlando Scandrick, Ryan Clady and Junior Galette may leave teams shorthanded, but both the league and the union told Mark Maske of the Washington Post that there’s nothing unusual about the number of severe injuries to this point in the season.

“As a physician, your heart goes out to these guys,” NFLPA medical director Thom Mayer said. “You feel so bad for them. These guys put so much into this and it’s such a letdown for them, for their teams, for the fans. [But] as a research scientist, you have to say, ‘Let’s look at this over time.’ Statistically it doesn’t look like it’s a trend. Unless it continues at this pace for some time, it doesn’t look like anything out of the norm. But for each of these guys individually, it’s 100 percent of their experience. It’s a setback professionally and it’s very difficult personally.”

There have been coaches and others around the league that have shared their opinion that reductions in the number of practices and amount of hitting in those practices in the 2011 CBA have left players more vulnerable to injuries. Others argue that the league’s crackdown on high hits has left players at greater risk to knee injuries, but, per the league’s injury data, the number of ACL and MCL injuries has remained fairly steady in the last few years and, as we saw with Nelson and other players, many torn ACLs are non-contact injuries.

It’s still a subject that the league, union and teams should explore in order to make the game as safe as possible, but the end result may still be that playing football carries an inherent risk of injury that can’t be totally eliminated.

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Rich McKay reinstated as head of NFL competition committee

Rich McCay AP

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell met with Falcons president Rich McKay on Wednesday and has reinstated McKay as the head of the league’s competition committee, effective immediately. McKay was suspended from the competition committee as part of the team’s penalty for pumping fake noise into the Georgia Dome during the 2013 and 2014 seasons.

The NFL concluded McKay was unaware of the artificial crowd noise but “bared some responsibility for ensuring that team employees comply with league rules.” McKay’s suspension began April 1, and he was eligible to apply for reinstatement after June 30.

A co-chairman since 1998, Goodell promoted McKay to head of the competition committee in 2011.

The Falcons were fined $350,000 and docked a 2016 fifth-round draft pick as part of the punishment.

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Steelers’ Martavis Bryant appealing substance-abuse suspension

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Steelers receiver Martavis Bryant is facing a potential four-game suspension.

Bryant is currently appealing a suspension under the league’s substance-abuse policy, Adam Schefter of ESPN reports.

The Steelers selected Bryant with a fourth-round pick in the 2014 NFL draft. As a rookie, Bryant didn’t play at all in the first six games but showed great promise down the stretch, catching 26 passes for 549 yards (a whopping 21.1 yards a catch), with eight touchdowns. This year the Steelers were expected to get Bryant even more involved in their passing game.

Instead, the Steelers may have to plan for a month without Bryant’s services. With Le’Veon Bell also suspended and Maurkice Pouncey injured, the Steelers will be starting the season at much less than full strength on offense.

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Ravens reward safety Will Hill with a new two-year deal

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The Ravens are the home of players on second chances, and they just rewarded a guy who is on his third or fourth.

Via Clifton Brown of, the Ravens have signed safety Will Hill to a new two-year contract.

Hill was scheduled to make $1.542 million this year on the low restricted free agent tender. That doesn’t reflect the way he’s played on the field, but staying on it has been the challenge.

He has been suspended three times by the league, twice when he was with the Giants and six games last year with the Ravens.

But he played well for them over the final 10 games, and apparently proved to them this offseason that he could be trusted.

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Report: Several Washington offensive linemen dislike RG3

Robert Griffin III AP

As Robert Griffin III morphed from the rookie of the year in 2012 to a huge disappointment in 2013, questions started to be raised about whether his offensive line disliked him. At one point late in the 2013 season, it was observed that Washington’s offensive linemen hardly ever helped Griffin up after sacks, and reports out of the team’s locker room began to indicate that players were tired of Griffin’s refusal to take the blame when things went wrong.

Two years later, Griffin still doesn’t seem to be winning any friends in the locker room.

At today’s press conference, Griffin was asked about problems with the team’s pass protection. Although Griffin said he wouldn’t point fingers at his offensive linemen, he also didn’t put the blame on himself, even though many observers have pointed to Griffin’s lack of pocket awareness as a bigger problem than Washington’s offensive line.

According to Jason Reid of ESPN, Griffin sidestepping his own responsibility for making the line look worse than it played is exactly the kind of thing that causes him problems in the locker room. Reid wrote on Twitter after Griffin’s press conference that coaches say “several” offensive linemen dislike Griffin.

There seem to be two problems facing Griffin. The more important one is that he simply hasn’t played very well since suffering a severe knee injury at the end of his rookie season. But another problem is that he hasn’t shown that he has the leadership qualities that a quarterback needs. And until he starts playing better, it’s hard to see how he’ll be able to rally his teammates around him.

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EJ Manuel to start Bills’ next preseason game

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The Bills’ quarterback competition has taken an odd turn.

Just when it appeared to be a two-way race between Matt Cassel and Tyrod Taylor, Bills coach Rex Ryan announced today that EJ Manuel will start the Bills’ next preseason game, Saturday afternoon against the Steelers.

That’s a surprise, as the third preseason game is usually the game when teams put give their projected starters the most playing time. Putting Manuel in at quarterback for the third preseason game suggests that he has a real shot at earning the job for Week One of the regular season, which previously didn’t appear to be the case.

Ryan said, however, that all three quarterbacks will get some time with the first-string offense on Saturday. So Manuel’s time with the starters may be brief.

In the end, Manuel still appears to be a long shot to win the starting quarterback job for the regular season. But if he plays well on Saturday, and if Taylor and Cassel struggle, it’s at least possible that Manuel could find himself back on the top of the depth chart when the season starts.

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49ers stand by Ahmad Brooks after sexual battery charge

Jamaal Charles, Ahmad Brooks, Demarcus Dobbs AP

The 49ers have sent linebacker Ahmad Brooks home from Denver following his misdemeanor sexual battery charge. But that doesn’t mean they’re not standing by him.

General Manager Trent Baalke confirmed today that the team is supporting Brooks and is not cutting him.

Ahmad is still a member of this team,” Baalke said. “We excused him from team activities to get on top of this. . . Obviously, when you’re in a situation like this, it’s important that you get back to your family. It’s also important for him to start taking care of business on his end. And it’s our job to stay focused here on what we need to stay focused on.”

The 49ers did not release Brooks when he was first accused of groping a woman who had also accused ex-49er Ray McDonald of rape, and the 49ers will not release Brooks based on the information they have now, either.

“The one thing that we have to realize is this is not a new matter,” Baalke said. “This is a new development within that matter. Our players are well aware of the consequence that go along with their actions and are supportive of it. But they also understand that every situation is different.”

Last year, as McDonald played while facing a domestic violence accusation, the 49ers took a lot of criticism. The same may happen this year, as the 49ers sound inclined to allow Brooks to keep playing even as he has a sexual battery charge hanging over his head.

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Vince Wilfork: Our defense is pretty stacked on paper, but that’s not enough

Vince Wilfork AP

With running back Arian Foster out after groin surgery and Brian Hoyer starting at quarterback, the Texans’ likeliest path to success early this season probably isn’t going to be using offensive firepower to outscore their opponents in shootouts.

That means relying heavily on their defense, which doesn’t look like a bad thing. They have J.J. Watt, of course, and hope that Jadeveon Clowney will be healthy enough to make an impact alongside Brian Cushing and Whitney Mercilus at linebacker. They also signed defensive tackle Vince Wilfork, who agrees that things look good for the Texans while cautioning that looks have proved deceiving in the past.

“Well, I mean on paper, we’re pretty stacked, but I’ve been around some teams where we were pretty stacked on paper and really couldn’t get it done,” Wilfork said, via the Houston Chronicle. “I think the biggest thing for us is each day to get better, to put all the pieces together, to compete at a high level, just trust one another, play with good fundamentals. That’s what training camp is all about. It’s kind of getting the fundamentals of stuff down, getting the base packages done, getting good at technique, just little things, then the little things add up to big things. As long as we do that, and as long as we attack each day to win, that’s the key, attack each day to win, I don’t care what situation he puts us in in practice, we have to be able to win that day. As long as we do that, I think we’ll be OK, I definitely do.”

If the Texans can live up to their paper billing on defense and Hoyer keeps mistakes to a minimum, the Texans should be able to keep themselves in a good position before Foster’s return gives them a full hand to play with on offense. That combination was enough to get Houston nine wins last season and more of the same could be enough for a playoff spot this time around.

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Bills get a couple of running backs back at practice

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The Bills played last week’s preseason game against the Browns without their top five running backs, but they’re starting to get healthier in the backfield.

Fred Jackson got back to work over the weekend after missing a couple of weeks with a hamstring injury and Bryce Brown and Boobie Dixon were back on the field with their teammates on Thursday. Brown was also out with a hamstring issue while Dixon has missed almost all of camp because of a calf injury.

With practice closed to the media after individual drills, it’s not known how much work the backs got in but any work is a step up from where they were. LeSean McCoy remains limited to conditioning work in his return from a hamstring injury and rookie Karlos Williams remains out after being hospitalized earlier this month.

Wide receiver Sammy Watkins was also doing work on the side because of a glute injury, but all indications from the Bills have been that he’s being held out as a precaution and that he’s expected to be ready to go for Week One.

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Ameer Abdullah looking forward to being “in there consistently” on Friday

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Lions running back Ameer Abdullah made a big impression in the team’s first preseason game, but saw his playing time dialed back last week.

That’s not a sign that the team prefers other running backs, however. Offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi said this week that Abdullah should see his workload go back up against the Jaguars on Friday in what’s usually a dress rehearsal for the regular season. That suggests Abdullah will be playing a significant role in the offense in Week One and the rookie is looking forward to seeing how he handles the uptick in responsibilities.

“It should be the first time I’m in there consistently for a while,” Abdullah said, via the Detroit Free Press. “Get to see different looks, different fronts and sustain that consistency through the game is what I’m looking for, making a couple plays. Most importantly, just being sound in my assignments, making sure I’m playing up to speed, finishing hard and getting a good test of where I am in my conditioning.”

The Lions have talked up a running back committee with Abdullah, Joique Bell and Theo Riddick all seeing time in the backfield. Abdullah says he’s good with anything that helps the team win, but Bell still hasn’t practiced after offseason surgeries and Abdullah could force the Lions to rethink things with a fast start to the regular season while Bell is still trying to round into form.

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Ryan Mallett missing from Texans practice, and they won’t say why

Mallett Getty Images

Two days after saying he was “angry” about losing the starting quarterback competition to Brian Hoyer, Ryan Mallett was not at Texans practice today.

According to John McClain of the Houston Chronicle, Texans coach Bill O’Brien didn’t expound on the absence, setting the stage for truckloads of speculation.

That’s between Ryan and I,” coach Bill O’Brien said of his absence, and later adding: “That’s a personal issue with him.”

Mallett was at practice Wednesday since being demoted, and when asked if he’d be back at practice tomorrow, O’Brien replied: “I would think so.”

Unless they’re just saving something for “Hard Knocks,” it’s hard to imagine the point of not clarifying this one. When an admitted angry guy goes missing, there’s going to be plenty of people wondering why. And if it’s nothing serious, it’s pretty easy to say that too.

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Marshawn Lynch pays no fine now, could face big fine if he won’t talk

marshawn AP

For now, Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch does not have to pay a fine for failing to talk to the media.

Following up on the report today that Lynch settled with the NFL over his $75,000 for refusing to talk after the NFC Championship Game, a league source tells PFT that Lynch doesn’t have to pay anything. Yet.

Under the terms of his settlement, Lynch won’t have to pay a fine as long as he complies with the NFL’s media policy, which requires that all players make themselves available to the media. But if Lynch fails to comply, his next violation would result in the $75,000 fine being reinstated, and in Lynch getting an additional fine on top of that. So if the NFL fined him $75,000 for an additional violation, it would cost him $150,000.

Lynch has previously faced a similar situation: He was initially fined $50,000 for failing to talk to the media, then got the NFL to hold that fine in abeyance when he agreed to cooperate. He later failed to cooperate again and was fined a total of $100,000.

Lynch has never been verbose with the media (except when he randomly decides to appear on a talk show in Turkey), so it wouldn’t be surprising if he decides to comply with the NFL’s media policy by giving reporters a bunch of one-word answers. But as long as he does that, he’s technically cooperating with the policy, and he won’t be in trouble.

If he refuses to talk to the media at all, that’s when the NFL will take a large bite out of his next paycheck.

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PFT Live: Steelers talk with Ed Bouchette, PFT Planet calls and tweets

Maurkice Pouncey AP

The Steelers suffered a blow to their offensive line last weekend when center Maurkice Pouncey broke a bone in his ankle that may require surgery.

Whether he needs an operation or not, Pouncey is going to miss a big chunk of time and Mike Florio will spend some time on Thursday’s PFT Live discussing their plans to get through his absence with Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. The team signed Doug Legursky to go with Cody Wallace as potential replacements and we’ll find out from Bouchette how things might change offensively for Pittsburgh with Pouncey out of the lineup.

As always, we also want to hear what PFT Planet thinks. Email questions at any time or get in touch on Twitter at @ProFootballTalk to let us know what’s on your mind.

It all gets started at noon ET and you can listen to all three hours live via the various NBC Sports Radio affiliates, through the links at PFT, or with the NBC Sports Radio app. You can also watch a simulcast of the first hour by clicking right here.

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Bill Cowher likes TV job and life enough to not miss coaching

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Most guys with 15 years of head-coaching experience who have been out of the game nine years are well past the point  of getting back into the NFL.

But CBS analyst Bill Cowher said even though he’s had many chances to, he’s perfectly comfortable working in television now.

“I’ve been blessed to have had opportunities to come back pretty much every year, but I really, really love working at CBS,” Cowher told Bob Glauber of Newsday. “It starts at the top with Les Moonves and Sean McManus. I’ve been here for nine years. This is like a family. It reminds me a lot of the Pittsburgh Steelers, how that was run. I had the best job in football. I wanted to move on.”

Cowher retired from the Steelers the year after winning a Super Bowl, leaving with a 161-99-1 record. With that resume, and the fact he’s still just 58 (four years younger than reigning coach of the year Bruce Arians), it’s reasonable to think he might want to give it another shot and that someone would give him one.

But Cowher found something out when he left the NFL, that there’s something to be said for getting off the treadmill and enjoying life.

“Fifteen years, I was 49 years old, and it was time,” Cowher said. “I’m still part of the game, but I also love the freedom it gives me in the offseason, to be able to travel and do things I never did before as a head coach. I don’t have the [scouting] combine, I don’t have the draft, I don’t have OTAs, I don’t have training camp. I start up next month.

“In the meantime, I’ve been able to spend a lot of time with my children, a lot of time personally traveling and it’s a great lifestyle that I wouldn’t have if I was coaching.”

While the pull of the game is strong, Cowher seems to be learning — like Jon Gruden — that there are other ways to make a living in the NFL without the constant stress of coaching a team, and that might not be the worst way to live.

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