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Tony Gonzalez: Hit me in the head, not my knees

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Atlanta Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez is among the group of NFL players taking issue with the play that ended Miami Dolphins tight end Dustin Keller’s season last week.

Houston Texans safety D.J. Swearinger dove into Keller’s knee while trying to make a tackle in their game against the Dolphins on Saturday night. The play tore Keller’s ACL, MCL and PCL and dislocated his knee in the process. It was a brutal injury that landed Keller on injured reserve.

Gonzalez hates the play. It’s the last thing he wants to see a defender to do when trying to tackle him. As far as he’s concerned, he’d rather take a blow to the head than have a player diving at his knees.

“It should be a fineable offense. That’s just not part of football — hitting a defenseless player in his knee, that’s something we all dread as players. That’s my nightmare,” Gonzalez said, via Jim Corbett of the USA Today. “Hit me in my head (instead).”

Gonzalez called the hit by Swearinger “ridiculous.” Swearinger has claimed that he tried to tackle Keller low because of the league’s mandate against blows to the head. He said the rule changes have forced defenders to lower their angle of attack.

Gonzalez doesn’t buy it. He said there’s “a whole target area” between the knees and neck where a defender can legally hit a player.

“I’d rather have a guy hit me head than knife at my knee,” Gonzalez said. “You’re talking about a career-ending injury. It’s going to be so hard for Dustin to come back off of that. It should be a fineable offense, just like going for the head is.”

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NFL apparently having trouble finding temporary venues in L.A.

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The NFL has asked venues in Los Angeles to let them know by tomorrow if they’re interested in being temporary hosts of a professional football team.

And mostly, what they’re hearing is “No, thanks.”

According to Nathan Fenno and Sam Farmer of the Los Angeles Times, there isn’t a land rush to offer the Chargers, and/or Raiders and/or Rams a place to play before a new stadium can be built in Carson and/or Inglewood.

The Coliseum is the only venue to publicly admit interest.

The 27,000-seat StubHub Center, home of the MLS L.A. Galaxy, is the latest venue to pull out of the running, joining the Rose Bowl as expressing no interest.

We’ve really just begun,” NFL L.A. point man Eric Grubman said. “Aug. 5 was a date that helped us know what venues might be available in a traditional sense and I think that has sorted itself out. . . . Other, more complex opportunities could very well present themselves as the picture becomes clearer.”

That seems to point to the baseball stadiums of the Angels and Dodgers, and those facilities aren’t expected to submit proposals on the NFL’s timeline, on account of the whole maybe hosting playoff games of their own thing.

 

But Grubman remains confident, saying: “In any event, I think this works itself out by the end of this year.”

Of course, the NFL has been expressing that kind of optimism throughout. Whether the buildings of Los Angeles have any more interest than the citizenry remains to be seen.

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Richie Incognito: No hard feelings toward anyone from Dolphins

Richie Incognito AP

Richie Incognito has been installed as the starting left guard in Buffalo, which puts him in position to face former teammates with the Dolphins twice this season.

During an appearance on the Zaslow and Joy Show on 104.3 The Ticket in Miami, Incognito admitted that he’s circled those games in red on his calendar but says it’s not because of any hard feelings about the team suspending him in the wake of bullying allegations during the 2013 season.

“Not one bit. I don’t have one hard feeling about anybody I ever played with in Miami,” Incognito said. “I still got a lot of love for those guys, a lot of respect for those guys, still got a lot of close friends on that team. What went down went down and it was a crazy time and things were said, but I really don’t have any hard feelings toward anybody.”

If there’s another reason to pay special attention to the meetings with the Dolphins, it could be the arrival of defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh in South Florida. Incognito said that the Bills are going to have their hands full dealing with Suh, Cameron Wake and the rest of the Dolphins defensive line as they try to keep pace in the AFC East this season.

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Report: Arian Foster dealing with groin injury, may need surgery

Arian Foster AP

Texans running back Arian Foster spent most of Monday night’s practice on the sideline, but coach Bill O’Brien said after the workout that it was just a rest day for the veteran back.

“We’ve got to monitor Arian, like I told you guys that in the offseason and I think that’s what that’s all about today,” O’Brien said.

A pair of ESPN reports that there was more to the decision than that. Adam Schefter reports that Foster came up limping after a pass play that was his final action of the evening and Tania Ganguli reports that he suffered a groin injury on the play.

There’s no word on the severity of the injury and there’s certainly no reason to push Foster through a muscular injury that could get worse at this point in camp, but it does offer a reminder that Foster has missed 11 games over the last two seasons with injuries. Even if this isn’t a serious issue, it’s a good bet that the Texans do what they can to rest Foster and raise the chances that he will be on the field to help take pressure off their quarterback come the regular season.

UPDATE 1:50 p.m. ET: Jayson Braddock of ESPN 97.5 in Houston reports that Foster may need surgery, something that Ganguli and John McClain of the Houston Chronicle are reporting as well. Braddock adds that Foster may be a candidate for injured reserve/return, which would keep him out of the lineup for at least eight games.

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Chip Kelly: DeMarco Murray was held out of practice because of hydration issue

DeMarco Murray AP

Eagles running back DeMarco Murray didn’t take part in team drills on their first day of training camp and told reporters he didn’t know why the team decided to hold him out.

Murray said he didn’t ask coach Chip Kelly for an explanation because he just does what he’s told, but Kelly did get a question about Murray’s absence from the field when he met the media on Tuesday. The coach who doesn’t like answering questions about himself had no problem sharing that dehydration was the rationale behind the team’s decision.

Kelly said the team checks players’ hydration levels and they didn’t want to put Murray on the field because they felt there was an increased chance of further problems.

“It was a training staff decision,” Kelly said, via NJ.com. “Especially, with the way the weather has been, we didn’t want to take any chances. It’s not just for [Murray], we treat every player on a daily basis.”

Murray is back to work and says he feels fine, so all should move forward without incident as long as Murray continues to check out on the sports science side of things.

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Jaguars don’t expect Justin Blackmon to play again

Jaguars Broncos Football AP

Three years ago the Jaguars used the fifth overall pick in the NFL draft on receiver Justin Blackmon. Now the Jaguars think Blackmon’s career is over.

Jaguars General Manager David Caldwell said today that Blackmon, who has been suspended by the NFL for the last 21 months because of repeated failed drug tests, appears to have decided that he’s not willing to put in the work to get himself back on the field.

“I have not heard anything and I guess I harbor a little bit of hope but realistically I think when you’re away from the game for two-and-a-half years what you were once is not what you probably will be,” Caldwell said. “Your skills do erode and especially if you’re not staying in tip-top shape and you’re not in football shape. I don’t know to expect but I would say common sense would probably be if you haven’t played football in two-and-a-half years apparently that’s not a priority for you.”

That’s a shame. Blackmon has great, great talent. He was a two-time winner of the Biletnikoff Award for the best wide receiver in college football, and he was the first wide receiver ever to win the Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year Award. He could have been something special in the NFL.

Instead, Blackmon will be a cautionary tale of a player whose great talent wasn’t enough to overcome his off-field problems.

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Patriots’ website spotlights anti-Goodell fans

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When NFL teams have a complaint with the league office, they usually address it behind closed doors. But the Patriots are taking their issues with Commissioner Roger Goodell into the open.

That includes the Patriots’ website, which has published a slide show featuring pictures of fans holding anti-Goodell signs.

Although the slide show is titled “12 awesome public displays of affection for TB12,” not all of the fans shown are simply supporting Brady. Some are going after the commissioner, with signs like “Stop Goodell” and “Free Brady, Fire Goodell.”

A great deal of anti-Goodell sentiment exists among NFL fans, especially in New England. The Patriots’ website has decided to turn the spotlight on some of those anti-Goodell fans.

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Stephen Jones: Lack of pass rush cost us chance at title last year

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The question of whether Dez Bryant caught the ball or not has been debated quite often since the Packers outlasted the Cowboys in the playoffs last season, but one prominent member of the Cowboys organization doesn’t think the ruling of no catch was the reason why Dallas didn’t advance to face the Seahawks.

Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones points to the other side of the ball as the reason why the Cowboys fell short in the postseason. The pass rush is what Jones feels was missing and says it is something the team is focused on improving this summer.

“At the end of the day, it’s probably what cost us a chance to win a championship last year, we just didn’t quite have the pass rush we needed to stop an Aaron Rodgers when we needed to stop him or make the play that needed to be made when you’re trying to win a Super Bowl, so these guys are getting a lot of good teaching,” Jones said on KRLD, via the Dallas Morning News. “Rod Marinelli is one of the best in the business, you’ve got Leon Lett, who’s certainly a Cowboys legend in his own right. It’s just a great group of guys out there helping these young guys hopefully get better at rushing the passer.”

There were plenty of teams staying away from both Greg Hardy and Randy Gregory this offseason because of off-field red flags, but you need not look too far beyond Jones’s comments to understand why the Cowboys rolled the dice on both players. If they perform as hoped, Demarcus Lawrence makes strides in his second season and Tyrone Crawford keeps providing pressure on the interior, the Cowboys should be providing more pressure on quarterbacks and a weakness will turn into a strength.

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Six months later, Mortensen deletes inaccurate Deflategate tweet

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On January 20, Chris Mortensen of ESPN tweeted that 11 of the 12 footballs used by the Patriots in the AFC Championship Game were under-inflated by two pounds of pressure per square inch. That report was incorrect.

So Mortensen deleted the tweet. Unfortunately, he waited more than six months to do so.

As of early this morning, we noted that Mortensen’s incorrect tweet was still live. And then we noticed later this morning that the tweet is gone. Presumably, Mortensen decided at some point in the last few hours to delete his tweet, although he hasn’t explained it publicly.

To his credit, Mortensen has admitted that the tweet was a mistake. But as many people have learned when they tweeted something and then wished they could take it back, just deleting a mistake doesn’t make it go away. Mortensen’s tweet (“NFL has found that 11 of the Patriots footballs used in Sunday’s AFC title game were under-inflated by 2 lbs each, per league sources”) still lives in the many news stories that quoted it. And Mortensen’s tweet was used for months to shape the Deflategate story. Even though PFT and others cast doubt on the report almost immediately, and even though the Patriots pleaded with the league office to correct the record, official confirmation that the balls were not as under-inflated as Mortensen’s source claimed didn’t come until the Wells Report was released months later.

That’s been one of the maddening things about the whole Deflategate mess: Accurate information has been hard to come by, and the gaps have been filled with inaccurate information.

Mortensen’s “2 lbs each” tweet was one of the big pieces of inaccurate information. It’s now off Mortensen’s Twitter timeline, long after the damage was done.

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PFT Live: Patriots talk with Ben Volin, Raiders talk with Vic Tafur

New England Patriots Training Camp Getty Images

We’ll be spanning the country on Tueday’s PFT Live to bring you everything you need to know about the NFL.

On one coast, Mike Florio will be talking to Ben Volin of the Boston Globe about that latest developments in Patriots quarterback Tom Brady’s push to have his four-game suspension wiped out in federal court. We’ll also ask Volin for some early thoughts about what the team’s been doing at training camp.

From the other coast, Florio will welcome Vic Tafur of the San Francisco Chronicle with a look at the Raiders. Some topics that may come up for discussion include the positive reviews for wide receiver Michael Crabtree, Derek Carr’s play at quarterback and the team’s stadium situation. And smack dab in the middle is John Glennon of the Tennessean with the latest on the Titans.

Author Monte Burke will also be on the show to discuss his new biography of Alabama coach Nick Saban with a particular focus on Saban’s years in the NFL.

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.

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Jameis Winston having some growing pains, but Bucs are OK with that

Jameis Winston, Mike Glennon, Seth Lobato AP

Long before the Buccaneers picked Jameis Winston first and the Titans took Marcus Mariota second, we knew that Mariota was the careful one with the ball.

And while the Titans rookie hasn’t thrown an interception yet in camp, Winston is having a bumpier ride.

According to Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times, Winston threw three interceptions during his first five passes of a live blitz period.

As you might imagine, Buccaneers coach Lovie Smith was quick to praise his defense for making three plays, while tempering expectations for the No. 1 overall pick.

“Our goal is to get Jameis ready,” Smith said. “We’re doing a lot of things that we normally don’t do this early, too, to try and give him as many looks as we possibly can. And it was the one blitz period is where he had his most trouble and that’s how it should be for a young quarterback.

“We’re not inventing defense or anything like that with what we’re doing on the other side. Jameis will tell you on some of those plays he just can’t make, but it’s part of the process of becoming a good quarterback in the league to go through some days like this. Keep in mind there are some scholarship players on the other side that we feel pretty good about. With my glass being half full, I’m pretty fired up about those takeaways we got on the defensive side.”

The reviews on Winston have been generally positive through camp, and the Bucs have already named him their starter (such that that was a mystery).

But his willingness to take chances for the shot at making a play downfield is something that was evident from his days at Florida State — he had 18 interceptions last year, whereas Mariota had four playing in a different offense.

But unless the Buccaneers are going to be able to create turnovers at that kind of rate against every opponent, Winston is going to have to learn and learn quickly.

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Pats reward Gronk with reworked deal

gronk1 AP

The New England Patriots drafted tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez in the same year. One worked out really well. One, for reasons unrelated to football, didn’t.

The one who did has now gotten another reward from the team. Three years after signing a long-term deal (when teams could sign draft picks to new contracts after only two seasons), the Patriots have reworked Gronkowski’s contract to accelerate a significant payment that wasn’t due until after the 2015 season.

PFT has confirmed that the Patriots have shifted Gronkowski’s $10 million option bonus into 2015, with Gronkowski getting $4 million as a signing bonus. The other $6 million will be paid out before the $10 million decision otherwise was due to be made.

The move, per a source with knowledge of the deal, came at Gronkowski’s request.

The restructuring was first reported by Field Yates of ESPN.com.

While his performance in 2014 made the team’s decision to pick up the $10 million option bonus more likely, his long-term status was a little tenuous after multiple arm surgeries (the injury initially happened on an extra-point try) and a December 2013 torn ACL. Since he doesn’t need the money (in his new book, Gronkowski makes it clear that he has spent none of his football money, using his endorsement revenue instead), Gronkowski apparently wanted to secure his future with the team.

And now he has, with a contract that runs through 2019. Which means he’ll definitely be spiking footballs (and possibly pushing some of the air out of them) for the duration of Tom Brady’s career, and beyond.

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RGIII: If they want me to be ordinary, that’s what I’ll be

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Jay Gruden didn’t always have the most positive things to say about Robert Griffin III last season, but the Redskins coach said last week that the quarterback is “starting to realize” the work he has to do in order to be successful in the NFL.

One of the things that Gruden stressed was that Griffin has to play quarterback from the pocket rather than running the heavy amounts of read-option that he ran during his rookie season in 2012. Griffin didn’t look good playing that style last season and doesn’t sound like it’s his dream system to run as a quarterback, but says he’ll whatever Gruden asks him to do on offense.

“They are not asking me to be Superman,” Griffin said, via TheMMQB.com. “They are asking me to be basic and take the plays that are there. If that’s what Jay wants me to do, that’s what I am going to do. It doesn’t mean you take everything out of your game. When those opportunities come up to make plays out of the pocket I will do it and not think twice about it. But if they are asking me to do the ordinary, that’s what I am going to have to do.” 

Mastering the ordinary sounds a lot more ordinary than it has proved to be for plenty of pro quarterbacks. That group includes Griffin to this point in his career, but he thinks a second year in the offense “is really going to help” his execution. If it doesn’t, there’s a good chance he’ll be somewhere else next season. It’s a possibility that Griffin says he isn’t worried about right now, but it’s sure to be on many minds in Washington once the regular season gets going.

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Dolphins VP Mike Tannenbaum won’t say no to Evan Mathis pursuit

Evan Mathis AP

Because of their glaring need at the position, and their willingness to write the big checks for name players, the Dolphins are going to be linked with veteran guard Evan Mathis until he signs somewhere.

And Dolphins vice president Mike Tannenbaum did little to quiet that talk Tuesday, saying on WQAM that it was still a possibility.

Asked about making a run at the former Eagles Pro Bowler, Tannenbaum replied: “We’ll have to continue to get better, we’ll see where our guard situation goes.

I’ll never rule out getting this team better,” he said, via the Palm Beach Post.

Tannenbaum said nice things about other players, specifically Dallas Thomas, but the Dolphins could clearly use an upgrade.

The Jets have also inquired, but don’t seem to like the price. But that also doesn’t hurt any potential bargaining position with an AFC East rival, either.

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Hard Knocks is coming, but does it really benefit a team?

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Many (including me) think the Jets broke the Hard Knocks mold in 2010, and that every year since then the show has been trying to live up to something that won’t be recaptured until another Rex Ryan-coached team enters the spotlight again.

Before the Texans were selected as this year’s Hard Knocks guinea pig, Ryan danced around the possibility for doing in his first year with the Bills what he did in his second year with the Jets. Maybe he was being uncharacteristically coy. Or maybe he now realizes that his team didn’t really benefit from the assignment.

As the Texans prepare for the first episode of their turn under the Hard Knocks microscope, that’s the biggest question: Does it really help?

The Dolphins thought it would help. And it didn’t.

“When I see Bill Belichick allowing the Hard Knocks cameras into his organization, then I’ll believe the experience might be a good thing for the team,” Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald tells Richard Deitsch of SI.com. “I do not think it serves the teams and I do not think it helped the Dolphins. Indeed, it made multiple players upset with coaches when they heard how some coaches spoke about them in private. It created some embarrassment for the players and fostered some distrust of the coaches. This from what players told me.”

It also didn’t help the Dolphins from a strategic standpoint, given that one opponent said he picked up the Miami snap count from watching the show. That opponent’s name is J.J. Watt, whose Texans will risk having their snap count picked up by opponents who watch this year’s show.

The late Steve Sabol, who like his father, Ed, should be in the Hall of Fame, routinely defended the Hard Knocks approach by pointing out that former Packers coach Vince Lombardi loved it when cameras were at practice, because it made his guys go at it harder. Steve Sabol said on many occasions that Lombardi would direct the NFL Films crews to pretend they were shooting practice even when the cameras didn’t have film in them.

But it’s one thing for a snippet or a sound bite to be edited into a broader package that would show up weeks if not months after the fact through a rabbit-eared TV set that had no way to record the information. Today, every frame and every can be captured and dissected.

From the perspective of fans, the scenes that get dissected the most involve the termination of a player’s employment. During the otherwise forgettable 2012 version of the show, the only memorable moments involved coach Joe Philbin cutting receiver Chad Ochocinco and G.M. Jeff Ireland telling cornerback Vontae Davis he’d been traded to the Colts.

The following May, Commissioner Roger Goodell said the league wants to make the process of cutting players more “humane.” The best place to start would be to not put those moments on HBO every year.

That’s why some teams will never do it, at least not willingly. Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said in 2013 that he’d fight a Hard Knocks assignment “tooth and nail.”

I think it’s a total distraction, and I think it’s an embarrassment to players,” Arians said at the time.  “I think when players are released, some of the things that are said between coaches and players are too personal, and nobody else’s business.”

There’s another potential drawback that I hadn’t previously considered. The special access given to Hard Knocks potentially undermines the important relationship between the team and the non-league-or-team-owned media that covers it.

“I’ve watched every Hard Knocks for the exact reason I didn’t want the series showing the team I cover: They get access I don’t, so they get storylines I don’t get,” John McClain of the Houston Chronicle tells Deitsch. “They get information I don’t have a chance to get before they do. As a reporter, I don’t like it when anybody gets something I don’t have, but Hard Knocks gets access that isn’t fair to media who cover a team. . . . The Hard Knocks impact is behind the scenes, when the cameras shoot injuries and players being released. That’s where Hard Knocks will impact my job, and I won’t know it until I watch the series, which I would never miss, anyway. Watching in the past, I’ve always felt bad for the media who regularly cover the team.”

I’ve always felt bad for the players who have no say at all in the assignment, but who are the ones most directly affected by it. They’re trying to work, to compete, to earn a job or to keep a job. And they all have to deal with the presence of cameras and microphones that capture everything they do and say — and that capture everything said about them or done to them.

And even though the team has final say over what gets aired, there’s always a chance the team will make things even worse for a player by not removing an embarrassing exchange — like when former (and now current again) Jets cornerback Antonio Cromartie had trouble rattling off the names of his children.

So, no, it’s not a benefit for teams. But with the NFL making a long-term commitment to the project, it doesn’t matter whether the teams like it. If the arrangement lasts long enough, they’ll all eventually have to do it.

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Lions linebacker DeAndre Levy will apparently try anything once

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With the contract he’s eventually going to get (but isn’t worried about), Lions linebacker DeAndre Levy can buy just about anything he wants to eat.

But because he travels the world extensively during the offseason, he has the chance to make some interesting choices. This offseason, he went to Chile and the Easter Islands, and went sledding down an active volcano and walked on the wings of a moving airplane. And that might be the safe part.

Via Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press, previous adventures led him to eat rats and frogs, but this year was more subtle.

“Nah,” Levy said if he went that route again. “Chile’s pretty chill. I ate a llama, but that’s not really like [anything]. . . .

“[It’s] actually healthy. It’s lean. It’s like a dry steak. It’s like a lean, dry steak. It’s really lean.”

And if you eat it on your death bed —which you end up on from eating too many rats and frogs — you’ll receive total consciousness.

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