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Steelers, Dolphins will talk to Pounceys about “Free Hernandez” hats

Pouncey Getty Images

The Steelers are saying nothing publicly about center Maurkice Pouncey’s decision to don a “Free Hernandez” hat with his twin brother, Mike, during their recent birthday party.  As we correctly surmised (for a change), the Steelers will be talking to Maurkice Pouncey privately.

John Clayton of ESPN reports that the Steelers will talk to Maurkice about the situation.

Clayton says the Dolphins plan to have a similar talk with Mike Pouncey.

Though both players were on one hand expressing support for a former college teammate and friend, Aaron Hernandez stands accused of first-degree murder, and he reportedly is being investigated for an unsolved double murder that occurred last July in Boston.

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Vick knows enough about new team to find Martavis Bryant

Michael Vick AP

Michael Vick made his Steelers debut on the second series of the team’s Saturday preseason game in Buffalo and, even after an abbreviated week of practice work in unfamiliar surroundings, knew exactly where to go with the ball.

Vick threw a 63-yard pass to Martavis Bryant on his first play as the Steelers moved inside the Bills’ 20-yard line. Three plays later with the Steelers facing third down, Vick lofted a pass intended to Bryant into the end zone and Bryant drew a pass interference penalty to extend the drive.

The Steelers, by the way, are really going to miss Bryant during his four-game suspension to start the season.

Vick visited the Steelers Aug. 25 and signed with the team after a workout with Steelers coach Mike Tomlin. The team needs a veteran backup because Bruce Gradkowski was placed on injured-reserve and because third-year quarterback Landry Jones has done little to make the team believe he can produce if Ben Roethlisberger was to suffer an injury.

Vick, 35, figures to get more work today and in next week’s preseason finale, and as long as he’s healthy and catches up to the playbook he’ll likely open the season as the primary backup to Roethlisberger despite being unemployed into the final week of August.

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Redskins, Trent Williams agree to big-money extension

Washington Redskins v Indianapolis Colts Getty Images

Maybe the timing is coincidental, or maybe the Redskins just needed to change the conversation away from the mess they have at quarterback. Either way, the team has made Trent Williams the highest-paid offensive tackle ever.

Per Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network, Williams and the Redskins have agreed to a five-year, $66 million contract that includes more than $43 million in guarantees and $32 million at signing.

That’s a lot of money.

Williams, 27, has been to three straight Pro Bowls and his preseence at left tackle gives the Redskins one thing they don’t need to worry about amidst another mess of injuries and miscommunication.

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NFL admits ref wrongly applied new rule on defenseless receivers

Titans Texans Football AP

The NFL implemented a new rule this offseason protecting receivers from being hit in the head immediately following an interception. But when a referee applied that rule this offseason, it was not done correctly.

NFL head of officiating Dean Blandino admitted as much in a video distributed to the media, saying that in an unnecessary roughness penalty called on Bills safety Aaron Williams last week against the Browns should have been enforced under the old rule that already protected the intended receiver from taking a hit while he’s in a defenseless position. Instead, the referee applied the new rule as if the hit had taken place after the interception, awarding the ball to the Bills when it should have stayed with the Browns.

“We talked about the new rule that was instituted this year, the intended receiver in that action during an interception gets the defenseless player protection,” Blandino said. “But this is not the intended receiver after an interception. This is a receiver trying to catch a pass. This receiver has always been protected under the defenseless player rule. This foul should be enforced on the previous spot, and the offense should keep the football. It was not enforced correctly. The defense kept the football.”

No one is going to get too worked up about that because no one cares who wins or loses in the preseason, but a call like that could cost a team a game if it’s called wrong in the regular season. The officials have to work out some kinks in the preseason, too.

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No one knows who Washington’s Week One starter will be

GriffinCousins Getty Images

Washington coach Jay Gruden has insisted all offseason that Robert Griffin III will be the team’s Week One starter. And the closer we get to Week One, the less believable those statements become.

In fact, reports coming out of Washington are now indicating that Kirk Cousins will not only start tonight’s third preseason game but will also start the regular-season opener against the Dolphins. ESPN reported this morning that the team plans to start Cousins for Week One, while Albert Breer of NFL Network says there’s been no decision yet on the Week One starter.

The reality is that even if the report about Gruden planning to start Cousins is right on the money, that doesn’t mean much, because plans can change. And nothing we’ve seen coming out of Washington in the last few weeks would suggest that this is a team that will make a plan and stick to it.

The best guess is that if Cousins plays great tonight, he’ll start Week One. If Cousins struggles, that opens the door to Griffin, assuming he’s medically cleared to play. And the wild-card possibility is that Colt McCoy could play better with the backups tonight than Cousins plays with the starters, and Gruden will decide to go with McCoy.

Whatever decision Gruden makes, he’d better get it right. Gruden’s first season as a head coach was a 4-12 campaign marked by a season-long quarterback controversy. If Gruden’s second season goes the same way, he may not get a third season.

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Animal Rescue League pulls event from Heinz Field over Vick signing

Michael Vick AP

The Steelers are continuing to face backlash from dog lovers over the signing of Michael Vick.

The latest comes from the Animal Rescue League, which has pulled an October event from Heinz Field because it doesn’t want to have any connection to Vick, who was convicted of a felony for his involvement in a dog fighting ring.

“While we understand that Mr. Vick has made an effort to atone for his past mistakes and has worked to help strengthen animal abuse laws, we do not believe that it is appropriate for him to continue a high-profile and influential public career,” the organization said, via the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “Our hope is that the very public discourse taking place across Steeler Nation this week raises awareness of the brutality and inhumanity of dog fighting. With increased community knowledge of the issue, we can all play a role in helping to end dog fighting once and for all.”

Steelers coach Mike Tomlin says the team stands by its decision to sign Vick this week. Even if that costs them some dog-loving fans.

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Kirk Cousins starts tonight, in what really might be his biggest game

Kirk Cousins AP

When Joe Theismann claimed this week that Washington’s upcoming preseason game was the biggest game of Robert Griffin III’s life, it seemed like extreme hyperbole.

But tonight’s game really might be the biggest yet for Kirk Cousins.

Cousins, who according to multiple reports has been declared tonight’s starter in Griffin’s place, now gets a great opportunity to perform with Washington’s first-string offense. In the first two weeks of the preseason, with Griffin as the starter, the offense has looked terrible. If Cousins looks poised and efficient and leads the starting offense on multiple scoring drives, coach Jay Gruden may have no choice but to make Cousins the starter for the regular season.

On the other hand, if Cousins struggles tonight just as mightily as Griffin has struggled, everyone will say it shows that Washington’s entire offense is a mess, and it goes far beyond the starting quarterback.

Theismann, the former Washington quarterback who is now the team’s preseason TV commentator, said on NFL Network that he believes Cousins will in fact be the Week One starter if he plays well tonight.

“[Griffin’s] future depends on what happens with Kirk,” Theismann said. “. . . If Kirk goes out and plays well, you have to assume that he’s going to be the guy who has to start because he hasn’t missed any time.”

Today could be the day that Griffin loses the starting job in Washington, for good.

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Gruden said Friday that RG3 was cleared, would play if he felt ready

Jay Gruden AP

Hours before the team announced on Friday that a doctor was keeping Robert Griffin III out of Saturday’s preseason game with a concussion, Washington coach Jay Gruden said that Griffin had been given final medical clearance from multiple doctors, and that the big remaining question was whether Griffin himself felt ready.

“He’s cleared from all the doctors, the neurologists — they’ve been cleared. We still want to talk to the player and make sure he’s ready to go mentally and our trainers make sure they feel like he’s ready to go also. Being cleared from the doctor doesn’t mean the player feels 100 percent so we’ve got to make sure he feels ready to go, too,” Gruden said on NFL Network, in an interview taped at 2 p.m. on Friday.

Only a few hours later, the team said a doctor had checked Griffin and declared him unable to play. So what happened? The team hasn’t offered a full explanation. Given that Gruden said the remaining issue was whether Griffin “feels ready to go,” the most likely answer would seem to be that Griffin told the doctor he had a headache or some other symptom associated with a concussion, and as a result the doctor said Griffin couldn’t go.

Gruden’s comments put Griffin in a tough position. Fair or not, when a coach says a player will play if he feels ready, and then that player doesn’t play, there’s a perception that it’s the player’s fault for not being willing to tough it out and get on the field.

The doctor’s Friday evening statement suggested that Griffin could still need a week or two to recover. Of course, at this point we can’t trust anything we hear about Griffin’s status.

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Tottenham soccer star Harry Kane says he’d like to play in the NFL

Leicester City v Tottenham Hotspur - Premier League Getty Images

Harry Kane, a star for the English soccer team Tottenham Hotspur, says he’d like to give kicking an American football a try some day.

“It depends on how my football career goes but, when I am finished, I would love to go the NFL and be a kicker. Even if I got to play just one game it is something I would like to do. It’s a long way off yet. But it is definitely something I have thought about,” Kane told The Sun.

Kane says he has kicked a football with NFL kickers and has as strong a leg as they do, although he admits he would need to work on his consistency with an oblong ball.

“We’ve had NFL teams come to Spurs and I can kick the ball as high and as far as them, but not on a consistent basis so I would need a bit of practice first,” Kane said.

Players from other sports — notably Australian football and rugby — have made a successful transition to the NFL, with 49ers running back and return man Jarryd Hayne the most recent example. But there’s a fundamental difference: Australian football and rugby players have a financial incentive to play in the NFL because they can make more money in America. Top European soccer stars make more money than NFL kickers, so if the 22-year-old Kane continues to be a successful soccer player across the pond, he would be losing money by trying football. And if he tried kicking in the NFL only after he’s past his prime in soccer, he would probably be past the age when he’d be able to make a move to the NFL.

Realistically, Kane won’t become an NFL kicker. But the mere fact that he’s talking about will be taken as a success by the NFL, which is trying hard to establish popularity in England. A popular English athlete talking up the NFL is music to the ears of the league office.

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Chris Johnson gets $400,000 guaranteed

Chris Johnson AP

Running back Chris Johnson may not have been promised anything by the Cardinals. But he has received a pretty significant guarantee.

PFT has confirmed that $400,000 of Johnson’s $870,000 base salary is fully guaranteed, for skill, injury, and salary cap.

It means that, even if the Cardinals cut Johnson, he still gets the $400,000.

Prior reports have indicated that Johnson can make up to $2 million, with his salary shooting up another $1.13 million if he rushes for 1,300 yards. Per a source with knowledge of the situation, NFLPA records don’t include that term, but that’s not entirely uncommon.

As Kent Somers of azcentral sports recently noted, only one running back in franchise history has rushed for 1,300 or more yards — Ottis Anderson with 1,356 in 1980 and 1,376 in 1981.

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Browns remain patient with Terrelle Pryor

Terrelle Pryor AP

Roster cuts are coming very soon, with every team dropping from 90 to 75 on Tuesday and then to 53 by the weekend. For the Browns, those cuts will include a decision on receiver Terrelle Pryor, who has potential but who has been unable to develop it due to a hamstring injury.

How much potential? Browns cornerback Joe Haden perhaps put it best.

“I just can’t wait for him to go out there because he looks like Calvin Johnson, so if he goes out there and plays half like him he’d be solid,” Haden said recently, via Tony Grossi of ESPNCleveland.com.

The possibility that Pryor eventually could be very good could help him get a roster spot even if he’s not one of the best 53 players on the team right now.

“[H]is skillset, could he be?” coach Mike Pettine said of Pryor, via Grossi. “It’s hard to say, especially with the rules nowadays, even if he had stayed healthy and gotten every single snap, to go from a quarterback who has never played wideout a snap, to go through an NFL training camp when we have other players to get ready as well.

“To announce that, ‘Hey, the project is complete. He can do this,’ I think that would’ve been unrealistic. It is a projection and the projection is we have less information to make that projection based on how training camp went for him.”

The problem is that training camp hasn’t really gone at all for Pryor, due to a hamstring injury. But that may still get him a roster spot, since Pettine admits that the bar is low.

“We know he’s a project. We understand that,” Pettine said. “We’re not expecting him to go out there and light it up and catch 10 balls for 150 yards and two touchdowns. Just continue to get better.

“At the beginning, to just make that decision and come into a training camp and say, ‘Hey, I’m going to switch my position,’ our expectations weren’t real high for him by the end of training camp to be a viable player at wideout. We understand it’s a process. It’s just been unfortunate with the injury, the setbacks, that we haven’t been able to get as good of an evaluation as we wanted.”

It all sounds like Pryor will be getting a roster spot, based on his potential and not on his performance. Which is smart, given his enormous athletic talents.

But given that guys like Pat Devlin and Josh Johnson are still getting quarterback jobs, and in light of the reality that Jason Campbell’s phone is ringing, it’s hard not to wonder whether someone would be interested in Pryor as a quarterback, if the Browns would decide that he doesn’t deserve a roster spot as a receiver.

Actually, given the total quality of the Cleveland depth chart at the quarterback position (after all, they just signed Devlin), Pryor’s ability to serve as an emergency quarterback should make the Browns even more inclined to keep him around.

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Alex Smith looks good, Andy Reid says the Chiefs’ offense is rolling

Avery Williamson, Ropati Pitoitua, Alex Smith AP

The Chiefs went the entire 2014 season without a single wide receiver catching a touchdown pass. This year, things will be different.

That’s what Chiefs coach Andy Reid thinks after seeing his first-string offense get extended work in the third preseason game. Alex Smith completed 16 of 18 passes for 171 yards, and No. 1 receiver Jeremy Maclin caught seven of the eight passes thrown to him, for 65 yards and — yes– a touchdown.

“One of the things we needed to get better at was to get the offense rolling,’’ Reid said. “We did kind of more of what we do.”

Maclin, who arrived as a free agent from Philadelphia this offseason and is the Chiefs’ No. 1 receiver, said Smith is running the offense just the way the Chiefs need.

“We have everything we need to do the things we want to achieve this year,” Maclin said. “It all starts with the guy under center and we have all the faith in the world in him.”

The Chiefs beat the Titans 34-10, but that’s meaningless. What matters is that the Chiefs’ offense looks like it has more weapons than it had a year ago. That long streak of games without a touchdown pass to a wide receiver will end soon.

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Brees walks home after practice at Tulane Stadium

Brees

Prior to Super Bowl XLVIII, former Broncos safety Mike Adams vowed to walk 12 miles from MetLife Stadium to his hometown of Paterson, New Jersey in full pads if Denver won the game. Adams ultimately didn’t get the chance to do it.

On Friday, Saints quarterback Drew Brees sort of did what Adams had planned to do.

Following a night practice at the football stadium on Tulane’s campus, Brees signed autographs roughly an hour after the team buses left. So when he was done, he grabbed his pads and walked home.

It wasn’t a 12-mile hike, but the distance of approximately two miles is far enough after football practice.

Brees posted a photo of the journey on Twitter, as a group of young Saints fans walked with him.

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Concussion timeline creates some doubt about RG3 in the opener

Robert Griffin III AP

At this stage, assuming there’s anything logical or normal about the Washington quarterback situation would be a mistake.

But with every passing day, it gets stranger and stranger.

Tonight’s statement from an independent neurologist that Robert Griffin III wasn’t actually cleared to play because of the thing that he wouldn’t acknowledge as a concussion, was weird enough on its own merits.

But as pointed out by Rich Tandler of CSNMidAtlantic.com, the one- to two-week period mentioned by the doctor today could easily put the regular season opener in jeopardy.

Two weeks from today would be two days before the start of the regular season, and you’d think coach Jay Gruden would like his starter to work with the ones all week (they need the work).

But while Gruden has gone out of his way to not create a quarterback controversy, circumstances have absolutely created one.

If Kirk Cousins (or, heck, why not Colt McCoy) plays well in the rest of the preseason and takes all the work the week before the opener, it’s easy to justify starting him instead of an RG3 who may or may not be physically able, or prepared to go.

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Break up the Jaguars: Blake Bortles looking impressive in preseason

Blake Bortles AP

Much in the same way we should probably not overreact to Tom Brady’s preseason struggles, maybe we should temper our expectations of those who are doing well.

Otherwise, you’d be inclined to think the Jaguars might be good at football this year.

As noted by Mark Long of the Associated Press, the Jaguars first offense has looked exceedingly competent, scoring on seven of eight preseason possessions.

Blake Bortles has led a pair of impressive touchdown drives against the Lions tonight, and has looked remarkably settled in the process.

The Jaguars might still be a year away from having the kind of personnel around him to make them a contender, but they’re definitely making progress, and that’s something they haven’t enjoyed in Jacksonville in some time.

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Tom Brady isn’t really looking like Tom Brady this preseason

Green Bay Packers v New England Patriots Getty Images

If he hadn’t won four Super Bowls and a couple of MVPs, you’d almost think Tom Brady was distracted by something.

The Patriots quarterback has looked a bit shaky this preseason, and has already thrown two interceptions against the Panthers.

Again, it’s far from time to worry about what this means for the regular season, regardless how many games he plays because of his #DeflateGate suspension.

But it’s hard to ignore the fact he’s looked rather un-Tom-like so far.

In his first two games, four of his five drives were three-and-outs, while completing just 3-of-9 passes. If it’s possible, he’s been even worse tonight, throwing a pair of picks to a Panthers defense which is good but missing a number of key pieces.

It feels mandatory to say this is not a time to panic. It’s still Tom Brady. But it’s also reasonable to wonder whether the time he’s spent defending himself this offseason has caused him to not be singularly focused on the game, such that he ever has to be during the preseason.

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