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NFL tells coaches to remind receivers about illegal crackback blocks

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Although defensive players often say that the NFL has favored the offense with its player safety rules, the NFL’s head of officiating is also telling coaches that they need to make sure their offensive players aren’t committing any illegal blocks on defensive players.

In a video that was first shown at last week’s league meeting and has since been distributed publicly, head of officiating Carl Johnson tells NFL coaches that they need to make sure their wide receivers understand that the rules prohibit them from crackback blocks that target defensive players either in the head or neck area, or in the legs.

“Coaches, I encourage you to cover this rule with your receivers,” Johnson said. “They have to lower their target. The strike zone is from the shoulder pads to the waist.”

The video shows Browns receiver Josh Gordon leveling Ravens safety Ed Reed with an illegal crackback block, and as that video plays, Johnson explains that recipients of crackback blocks are considered defenseless players who get extra protection, just as receivers in the process of catching the ball and quarterbacks in the process of throwing the ball are.

“The rule states it is an illegal crackback block if a defensive player is contacted below the waist within an area five yards on either side of the line of scrimmage, within close line play, by an offensive player who is moving toward the position from which the ball is snapped,” Johnson said. “An offensive player who is aligned more than two yards outside the tackle when the ball is snapped is prohibited from coming back toward the football and blocking low or hitting a player in the head or neck area. That was the amended rule change that we put in for the 2012 season.”

And so the NFL has thrown a bone to defensive players, with a reminder that the league office will crack down on offensive players, too.

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Derek Carr could be the key to luring Gruden

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As the 2014 draft approached, Raiders owner Mark Davis developed a strong desire to draft quarterback Derek Carr.  On the afternoon before the draft began, chatter emerged that Davis was pushing for Carr to be taken with the fifth overall pick in round one.

The Raiders passed, as did each of the next 32 teams.  Then, with the fifth pick in round two, the Raiders pounced on Carr.

With a front office and coaching staff in win-now mode and a roster laden with veterans, it didn’t make sense.  With coach Dennis Allen already gone and Davis apparently interested in bringing Jon Gruden back to the Bay Area, it suddenly does.

The current thinking is that Davis wanted Carr because Davis believes Carr’s presence will help lure Gruden back to town.  For any coach with options (and it’s still not clear how many options Gruden really has had or will have), the quarterback position becomes nearly as important as the salary.  Davis thinks that Gruden’s favorite quarterback in the 2014 class was Carr.  Which could help Gruden choose to return to the Black Hole at a time when the roster otherwise contains plenty of red flags.

Other terms will be compensation and power.  Or, at a minimum, the power to hire someone Gruden trusts to set the table from a personnel standpoint.

It’s not clear whether Gruden has any interest in leaving the friendly confines of the broadcast booth, but if he’s ready to jump and if Davis is ready to pay, Carr could be the guy who helps seal the deal.

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Geno gets testy over Vick questions

Smith AP

Well, at least he didn’t tell anyone to go f–k himself.

Jets quarterback Geno Smith, who lost his cool and yelled a pair of “F” bombs into the stands at the end of Sunday’s loss to the Lions, was in no mood on Wednesday to take questions about a guy who once shot a pair of middle fingers to hecklers in Atlanta.

Asked whether Smith sees the value in using Mike Vick to provide the offense with a spark when needed, the current starter bristled.

“I don’t know what you’re trying to lead to with that question,” Smith said, via Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News. “Maybe that’s your opinion.  What do you mean a spark?  We’ve already put him in.”

Asked if it would make sense to have Vick come in not for a cameo appearance but to jump-start the offense, Smith got even more testy.

“That doesn’t make sense,” Smith said.  “What team do you see doing that? . . .  That’s not a question. Next question.”

Actually, the Cardinals did that, seven years ago.  Coach Ken Whisenhunt routinely yanked second-year quarterback Matt Leinart for veteran backup Kurt Warner when the team fell behind, re-inserting Leinart once Warner evened things up again.  That continued until Leinart, who was getting frustrated with the technique, broke a collarbone.  The next year, Warner was the starter and the Cardinals were in the Super Bowl.

For his part, Vick opted to navigate around the topic far more diplomatically.

“[W]e don’t need any more distractions right now even though I don’t think I would be a distraction if I went in and played temporarily,” Vick said.  “We just need to focus on beating San Diego.”

Or, as coach Rex Ryan put it with a reference to Bill Belichick’s bizarre Cincinnati presser, the Jets are “on to San Diego.”

For Smith, the best news coming from the road game in California is that any heckling will come from fans who are supposed to be heckling him.

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Reche Caldwell faces prison time after guilty plea on drug charge

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Former NFL receiver Reche Caldwell could be sentenced to up to 20 years in prison after pleading guilty to a federal drug conspiracy.

Caldwell admitted to a scheme to distribute the drug “Molly,” prosecutors say.

According to the Tampa Tribune, Caldwell admits that he signed for and accepted a parcel from China containing 1.5 kilograms of Molly. A week later, investigators intercepted a package mailed by Caldwell that contained the drug.

A second-round pick of the Chargers in 2002, Caldwell spent seven years in the NFL in San Diego, New England, Washington and St. Louis.

Caldwell has been arrested three times this year. In addition to the arrest in connection with this case, he also was arrested in January on an accusation that he was running an illegal gambling operation, and in August on a charge of possession of marijuana and driving with a suspended license.

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Kaepernick avoids topic of locker-room turmoil

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After non-reporter Deion Sanders reported that 49ers players want coach Jim Harbaugh to coach someone other than the 49ers, the team trotted out several players to debunk the report from the non-reporter.

But where were the team leaders?  Patrick Willis, Justin Smith, Frank Gore, Anquan Boldin, Colin Kaepernick were all silent on the topic in the aftermath of the report.

Kaepernick broke his silence on Wednesday, via the final question at his weekly Wednesday press conference.  But Kaepernick didn’t address the substance of Sanders’ non-reporter report.

“Well, I’d like to know who the source is,” Kaepernick said.  “So, when you get a source from that, then we can talk about that. Until then, that’s the media.”

It continues the dismissive tone that the 49ers have applied to Deion’s non-reporter report.  And it overlooks the fact that information from anonymous sources can be as reliable, and perhaps in some cases even more reliable, than information from on-the-record sources.

Still, it would be easier to dismiss Deion’s non-reporter report if team leaders were sounding off — not about the fact that the source isn’t named but the reality that the source is flat-out wrong.

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The time Larry Donnell shoveled dirt on every other bad beat story

Larry Donnell, Brandon Meriweather AP

Look, fantasy football bad beat stories are generally just tedious.

Here’s an example: Last week, a fantasy owner benched Giants tight end Larry Donnell in favor of 49ers tight end Vernon Davis. Donnell outscored Davis, and the fantasy owner lost.

Yawn.

Well, what if we told you the fantasy owner was Larry Donnell himself?

This apparently actually happened.

According to NorthJersey.com, Donnell mentioned Wednesday he started Davis in his fantasy league in Week Four, leaving himself on the bench.

Donnell, of course, would go on to catch seven passes for 54 yards and three touchdowns in the Giants’ win vs. Washington. Davis, meanwhile, tallied two catches, eight yards and no scores and departed with a back injury in a win vs. Philadelphia.

In the end, the Giants were triumphant, but Donnell’s fantasy squad paid the price.

“Would’ve won if I played me,” Donnell said Wednesday, according to NorthJersey.com. “During the game, I’m like, ‘Really?’ That’s the honest truth.”

Let us propose a rule. Before telling a bad beat story, ask yourself this question: is your bad beat story as compelling as Larry Donnell’s?

We thought not.

So it’s settled. Rest in peace, bad beat stories other than Larry Donnell’s.

Rest in peace.

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Trent Williams: Seahawks aren’t unstoppable, we can beat them

TrentWilliams AP

As Washington left tackle Trent Williams studies film of Seattle’s defense in preparation for Monday night’s meeting, his conclusion is this: These guys are beatable.

Williams said he and his teammates won’t go into the game against the defending champion Seahawks intimidated, because they know they can win.

Can we beat them? Yeah,” Williams said, via the Washington Post. “At the end of the day, they’re not robots. They’re human beings and nobody’s perfect. Nobody plays perfect every Sunday. They have been beaten before. It’s not like they’re unstoppable. They’re a great team, no doubt about it, but anything is possible in the NFL.”

Williams said that after the embarrassment of Thursday’s loss to the Giants, he and his teammates are motivated.

“It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that we need to step up,” he said. “We’re going against one of the best teams in the NFL right now on Monday night. I think guys are going to come with their best effort, and hopefully we’ll turn this thing around.”

Beating Seattle would be a very big step toward turning things around.

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Knee injury keeps Kyle Williams out of practice

Marcell Dareus, Kyle Williams, Ryan Fitzpatrick AP

The Bills have had one of the stingiest run defenses in the league through the first four weeks of the season, but they were missing one of the major cogs in that effort when they kicked off practice for Week Five.

Defensive tackle Kyle Williams didn’t participate because of the knee injury he suffered in last Sunday’s loss to the Texans. Beyond saying that Williams’s experience meant that he didn’t have to practice in order to play, coach Doug Marrone didn’t offer much insight into Williams’s condition.

“I just heard that we’re going to see how it progresses. He’s been around, he’s walking around here,” Marrone said, via ESPN.com. “That’s the doctors. When they release him, they release him, and when they don’t … I don’t have a feel. All I know is how it progresses, I’ll know more as the week goes.”

History says that no one should expect Marrone to be more forthcoming as the week goes on, so Williams’s practice status will be the best guide to predicting whether or not he’ll be in the lineup against the Lions. Stefan Charles and Corbin Bryant are the backup options in the event Williams doesn’t play.

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NFL announces extension of DirecTV Sunday Ticket deal

SundayTicket

NFL Sunday Ticket is staying on DirecTV.

The league announced on Wednesday that it has extended its agreement with DirecTV to give the satellite provider the rights to show out-of-market games. Darren Rovell of ESPN reports that it’s an eight-year deal that will see DirecTV paying the NFL $1.5 billion a year, a 50 percent increase over the $1 billion a year DirecTV was paying under its previous deal with the league.

The NFL’s announcement also said DirecTV will continue with added features beyond the live Sunday games, including the Red Zone Channel, Game Mix with eight games on one screen and the new Fantasy Zone channel. DirecTV will also continue carrying NFL Network on satellite and make it available to subscribers to watch on mobile devices.

Some fans who have cable and can’t get DirecTV will be disappointed that Sunday Ticket isn’t going to be available to cable subscribers. But DirecTV is increasingly promoting the ability of Sunday Ticket subscribers to watch games on tablets and phones, which means you no longer need a satellite dish on your roof to have Sunday Ticket. You just need to pay DirecTV for access, which millions of fans will do. Sunday Ticket is one of the most valuable properties on American television, because the NFL is the most popular programming on American television.

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Jon Gruden says the predictable thing about Raiders job

grudenx-large AP

With the Raiders already in the market for a head coach after the 2014 season and with former Raiders (and Buccaneers) coach Jon Gruden’s name the first to emerge, the elder brother of Washington coach Jay Gruden is saying all the right things about the move he potentially will make come January.

I’m not thinking about coaching,” Jon Gruden said.  “I’m thinking about heading to Washington, watching the world champions and my brother coach.”

He’s probably also thinking about the quality of the welcome he’ll get from Seahawks coach Pete Carroll, who may be reluctant to invite an immediate family member of the next opponent’s head coach into practice and production meetings.  Either way, Jon Gruden isn’t thinking about coaching right now because he shouldn’t be thinking about it.  Or, more accurately, he shouldn’t be talking about thinking about it.

Playing it slow and playing it cool eventually will pay off for Gruden, either via a big offer from the Raiders or more money from ESPN.  At a time when most NFL teams with vacancies aren’t beating a path to Gruden’s door for the privilege of paying him a lot of money to return to coaching, the Raiders have become the franchise with the most interest in hiring Jon Gruden since the Buccaneers became no longer interested in employing him.

It will be a delicate balance for Gruden, who won’t want to alienate a fan base that still worships him.  But his best play would be to find a way to parlay Oakland’s interest into interest from a franchise that has much better prospects for 2015 and beyond — if there’s a franchise out there that would want to hire him.

Other than the Raiders right now, there really hasn’t been.  And the truth is that, despite the hype, there may never be.

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Frank Alexander suspended 10 games for another drug violation

Frank Alexander AP

The Panthers were hoping to get defensive end Frank Alexander back this week, after he served his four-game suspension for violating the league’s drug policy.

Instead, they’ll see him in December, if at all.

The league announced that Alexander was suspended 10 games for violating the substance abuse policy again. He’ll be eligible to return on Dec. 15, following their game against the Buccaneers.

The suspension is a double-blow for the Panthers considering they were thinned out by Greg Hardy being on the commissioner’s exempt list, and their defense has struggled mightily.

But Alexander is apparently having a different kind of struggle.

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Brandon Marshall gets in a full practice

Brandon Marshall AP

On Monday, Bears coach Marc Trestman said that the team would take a long look at wide receiver Brandon Marshall in practice this week to determine whether he would benefit from missing a game to let his injured ankle fully heal.

Based on Wednesday’s practice, the signs are pointing in the other direction. Marshall practiced in full for the first time in a few weeks, a development that Trestman appreciated.

“It was good to get him back at full speed today,” Trestman said, via Rich Campbell of the Chicago Tribune.

Trestman chalked up an interception in last week’s game against the Packers to poor communication between Marshall and quarterback Jay Cutler, which led to questions about whether that difficulty was because Marshall hasn’t been on the practice field all that much of late. If Marshall’s ankle holds up well after Wednesday’s practice, that issue should disappear and Marshall’s targets — 12 in the last two weeks — should rise against the Panthers this weekend.

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Jake Locker practices, says wrist feels fine

Tennessee Titans v Kansas City Chiefs Getty Images

It looks like the Titans will have quarterback Jake Locker back in the lineup this Sunday.

Locker missed last Sunday’s loss to the Colts with a right wrist injury, forcing Tennessee to turn to Charlie Whitehurst and Zach Mettenberger. Locker was back at practice on Wednesday, however, and got in a full session.

Locker said after practice that his wrist felt fine and that he’s ready to lead the offense against the Browns. Locker also said that he knows he needs to pick up his game after two dismal outings before the injury.

“When you are not winning and things are not going the way you’d like them to go, I’ve always believed the first place you have to look is at yourself, and it is no different in this situation,” Locker said, via the Tennessean. “Just the details, executing the details in a play can make a big difference. And making a tough throw. It is not always going to be wide open and you have to find ways to complete contested passes in this league, and we have to do a better job of that.”

The next 12 games will have a lot to do with more than just how the Titans fare in 2014. They should go a long way toward determining what kind of future Locker has as an NFL starter and more of what we’ve seen this season in terms of performance and health won’t be the ticket to a bright one.

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Pollard dubs first quarter of Titans’ season “piss poor horrible”

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Titans safety Bernard Pollard has a way with words.  Especially when using those words to describe the way his team is playing.  Especially when it’s not playing well.

Piss poor horrible,” Pollard said Wednesday regarding the team’s first four games.

He elaborated on that point, explaining that the team has a culture of losing.

“We work, but it’s not translating over to the football field on Sunday,” Pollard said, via Terry McCormick of TitanInsider.com.  “We have to understand that we have to be better. It’s a must.  I come from an organization where the mentality, the culture is just totally different.  Yeah, you might lose some games, but it’s a different culture.  That needs to be changed here . . . .

“I’m gonna try to piss some people off and I couldn’t care less about what I’m saying.  We have talent.  We have guys that can take the roof off and guys that can be stars in this league.  It’s time for us to do that.  The first quarter was piss poor horrible.  We sucked butt.  I say that again.  We were horrible.  But we have a shot at being a very good football team, and I’m gonna try and pull that out for all of us.”

At least they’re consistent.  In April, Pollard said after his first season with the franchise that the Titans “sucked butt.”

The season started off with considerable promise, given that they went to Kansas City and beat the Chiefs, a playoff team from 2013, in their own building.  Since then, the Titans have lost three games in a row, by 16 points, 26 points, and 24 points.

“Right now, we’re doormats to a lot of people around the league,” Pollard said.

Or, as the case may be, piss poor horrible.

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Jeff Fisher names Austin Davis starting quarterback in St. Louis

Austin Davis AP

The Rams have taken their time naming a starting quarterback for their last two games, but they’re returning from the bye week with a new approach.

Coach Jeff Fisher announced on Wednesday that Austin Davis will make his third straight start against the Eagles this Sunday. Fisher actually went a bit further than that and said that Davis is the team’s starter moving forward.

Even though Fisher has said in the past that Shaun Hill was the team’s starter once he’d recovered from the quad injury that knocked him out of the season opener, it’s not a surprising decision from Fisher. Davis has completed over 72 percent of his passes since taking over the job while throwing three touchdowns and three interceptions, numbers that merit more of a look to see what kind of quarterback he can be over a longer term for a team that will probably be looking for a new starter come the offseason.

That starter could be Davis, he could be a backup or he could be a placeholder for a rookie, but there’s more to learn about Davis than there is about Hill no matter how things might play out in 2015.

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DeAngelo Williams won’t play this week with high ankle sprain

Jonathan Stewart, DeAngelo Williams AP

The Panthers’ weekly game of Wheel of Running Backs won’t include DeAngelo Williams this week.

According to Jonathan Jones of the Charlotte Observer, Williams has a high ankle sprain, and has been ruled out of this week’s game against the Bears.

Williams is in a cast at the moment, which will be removed Friday. But the fact they’re willing to say now that he’s not playing should be a clear indication that it was never close for this week.

Jonathan Stewart did return to practice today, though it’s unclear if he’ll be able to play with a knee injury. Even fullback Richie Brockel and running back Fozzy Whittaker are still out of practice, leaving the cupboard bare.

They signed Chris Ogbonnaya as an emergency backup, to go with practice squad promotion Darrin Reaves.

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