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Newton got more votes, but Luck gets the Pro Bowl start

Luck AP

The ultimate reality show has found a way to inject a little manufactured drama into a game that otherwise doesn’t have much of it, artificial or otherwise.

According to Joseph Person of the Charlotte Observer, the team captained by Deion Sanders and coached by Chuck Pagano has opted to give Colts quarterback Andrew Luck the start on Sunday night in the Pro Bowl — even though Panthers quarterback Cam Newton had more combined votes from fans, players, and coaches.

In contrast, Panthers coach Ron Rivera has chosen to configure the depth chart for the team drafted by Jerry Rice based strictly on voting.

“We talked about it prior to this,” Rivera said Saturday, via Person.  “He asked and I asked and we both said, ‘Hey, why don’t we just start them according to votes so there’s no hurt feelings?'”

Under the prior AFC-NFC format, starters and backups were determined by the voting results.

League officials had expected Newton to get the start.  The “flip card” to be distributed in the press box shows Newton as the starter for Team Sanders.

Luck was the first quarterback taken by Sanders in Wednesday night’s player draft, so it makes sense that Luck would get the start.  Moreover, Luck plays for Pagano.  It’s hard not to wonder whether Newton’s history in the Pro Bowl was a factor; in his only other appearance two years ago, he completed nine of 27 passes with three interceptions.

Then there’s this recent assessment from former 49ers long snapper Brian Jennings regarding Newton’s debut:  “We have Drew Brees with his playbook all week, studying. . . .  We have Cam Newton with his head phones on all week goofing off. . . .  We go into the game, and this guy is chucking the ball all over the place, and everybody is looking around going, ‘What’s this guy doing? Are you kidding?’ . . .  He went in there and stank it up.”

Newton now has a reason to prove Pagano wrong for picking Luck, similar to the way Newton proved people wrong all year long.  And we all now have a reason to watch and see what Luck and Newton can do.

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NFL considers a Scouting Combine in Australia

Jarryd Hayne, Steven Johnson, Josh Bush AP

The success of Australian rugby player Jarryd Hayne with the 49ers this preseason has the NFL thinking about identifying more talent Down Under.

NFL executive vice president of international Mark Waller told the Sydney Morning Herald that the league needs to do a better job of finding talented players all around the world, and a Scouting Combine in Australia could be the way to do that.

“We’ve not really done a good job, I don’t think, of actually thinking through how you build a system for that,” Waller said. “It’s odd because we have a very good system in the US – the Combine. That mechanic is a great way for providing a very clear focal point. It lays out very clearly what the skill requirements are, and in recent years we’ve extended the Combine from a single event to a series of regional events that lead into the Combine itself. It would seem logical to start with ‘well I wonder if there’s an extension of the Combine that we ought to look at’ that could look at bringing in athletes from elsewhere or holding a combines in some other markets. Should we extend that thinking maybe we need a global infrastructure and maybe we test it initially in a couple of markets. Maybe Australia would be a good market to test it in.”

The league is betting that there are other athletes as talented a Hayne, available if scouts can find them.

“It’s definitely stimulated a lot of thought here about what can we do better to create a system for great talented athletes to find their way to the NFL more easily,” Waller said. “Essentially, Jarryd basically took that decision himself and found his own way here. All credit to him. But we should probably be thinking about how we can make that easier. Not everyone is going to be as brave as he’s been or potentially not as immediately talented. That’s one aspect of thinking.”

As the NFL attempts to expand overseas, we may eventually see Scouting Combines all over the world.

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Steelers passing on Phil Taylor because of knee problem

St. Louis Rams v Cleveland Browns Getty Images

The Steelers might still be interested in finding a veteran defensive tackle, but it won’t be former Browns first-rounder Phil Taylor.

According to Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Steelers are taking a pass on the recent visitor because they think he has a bad knee which will require surgery.

Although the Browns released Taylor without any type of injury designation, he will receive his base salary of $5.477 million, most likely without offset.

Taylor visited the Steelers Wednesday, but they determined he wouldn’t be able to help them soon. They need some immediate depth up front, so expect them to continue to comb through the discard pile the next few days to look for a big body.

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Pierre Garcon hails Kirk Cousins’ leadership

Washington Redskins v Atlanta Falcons Getty Images

Never before in the history of the NFL has a team been so eager to have people talk about their quarterback controversy.

But at least it beats that other thing in Washington right now.

With Robert Griffin III out and Kirk Cousins in just before the start of the season, players are having to adjust to a new leader in the huddle, and they think the new guy will do just fine.

Wide receiver Pierre Garcon said during an appearance on SiriusXM NFL Radio that Cousins has a good chance because of his leadership.

“Kirk is a very enthusiastic guy,” Garcon said, via the Washington Post. “He commands the huddle, he has a lot of faith in us, that we can help him do well. He is a natural-born leader, he’s definitely been planning for that for a long time. You can tell from what kind of person he is that he’s a leader, he’s been doing it for a long time and he’s excited about the opportunity.

“We definitely want to keep him excited and never want to, you know, have him lose that faith in himself. He’s definitely ready and eager to get the season started to prove to everybody what he can do.”

Of course, Garcon was in a good mood, so he also thought highly of Griffin’s chances of returning to his pre-injury form of 2012.

“Oh yeah, he definitely can,” Garcon said. “You know, football is all about learning and advancing. We all come into the league, we’re excited, we play well, and then the second year or third year, people start to catch onto you. You have to find other ways to be better and continue to stay better, and keep working hard on what got you there. Sometimes, we all need help coaching, we all need personal help or mental help. It’s all finding what makes you better. And most of the time it’s actually film study and, you know, just continue to have that hustle mentality, like Alfred Morris does.

“He definitely can be a great player in this league. But Robert has been a great player himself, already. So he’ll definitely be a great player on any team that he goes to and help them out.”

The suggestion that he’s going to some other team isn’t farfetched, and might be preferable if they want Cousins to be able to grow into the job.

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Sammie Hill to miss three games after surgery on knee

Sammie Hill AP

Tennessee Titans nose tackle Sammie Hill had surgery to repair an injured MCL in his knee on Wednesday.

According to Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network, Hill is expected to miss the first three games of the season for the Titans but will be able to play after the team’s bye in Week 4.

The team was still debating a course of action for Hill on Tuesday for the injury suffered last week, either in practice or early in the Titans preseason game against the Kansas City Chiefs.

Hill suffered a knee injury during OTAs in May that kept him on the Physically Unable to Perform list for the start of training camp. He passed a physical and last week’s game against the Chiefs was his first game action of the preseason.

Hill played just four snaps against the Chiefs before being sidelined again.

Hill appeared in 15 games for the Titans last season and recorded 34 tackles and three sacks.

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Former Seahawks pro personnel director Tag Ribary dies at 48

tagribary

Tag Ribary, a long-time member of the Seattle Seahawks front office, died Friday at the age of 48.

The former Seahawks executive had parted ways with the franchise in May after working for the team since 2009. Ribary  (pictured right) worked for Seattle as an assistant director of pro personnel from 1990-2000 before joining the Washington Redskins as director of pro personnel in 2001. After one year, Ribary became a pro scout for the Carolina Panthers until returning to Seattle.

Ribary served as a scout for the Seahawks in 2009 before being promoted to director of pro personnel under new head coach Pete Carroll in 2010. He was promoted to director of team operations in 2013, where he spent his last two years working for the franchise.

Ribary is survived by his wife Eva, two children Regan and Bennett, his father John Ribary [wife Sharon], his mother Marsha Brody [husband Steve], and his brother Chuck Ribary.  Step siblings include Shon Steger and Heather Meyer.

photo courtesy of Seahawks.com

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Pylon cameras are mainly “worthless”

Arizona Cardinals v San Francisco 49ers Getty Images

Patriots coach Bill Belichick has long been a proponent of fixed cameras. The NFL has resisted using them, due ostensibly to the expense.

So ESPN and CBS will be using them instead, with cameras installed in pylons. The chances of the NFL expanding pylon cameras to all games likely will diminish once the NFL sees the fruits of the networks’ labor.

An industry source predicts that the shots from the pylon cameras will be “worthless” in most cases, pegging the chances of a pylon camera providing a conclusive view of a play at one in 100,000.

“Short of someone spiking or dropping the ball before crossing the goal line this cam is a sham,” the source said.

The problem comes from the many legs and arms and torsos and helmets that will get in the way of the pylon cameras, which are low to the ground and easily obstructed.

And it’s not a fresh take; the viability of pylon cameras was first questioned here three years ago.

The far better system currently is used by NBC at AT&T Stadium in Texas, with a series of cameras allowing for a 360-degree rotating view of the red zone through the back of the end zone. It’s a far more expensive system than pylon cameras, but it allows for a much more comprehensive look at the action.

Besides, the NFL can afford it, whatever it costs.

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ESPN “obviously extremely disappointed” by wife of Scot McCloughan

Scot McCloughan AP

ESPN has released a statement backing its reporter in a bizarre dustup with the wife of Washington General Manager Scot McCloughan.

After a report from ESPN’s Dianna Russini about dissension within the organization about whether to move on from quarterback Robert Griffin III, Jessica McCloughan directed a tweet at Russini saying, “Please tell us how many BJ’S you had to give to get this story. And did they laugh at you before or after?”

Although the team initially claimed the tweet came from a fake Twitter account, Jessical McCloughan has now admitted that she did, in fact, write the tweet. ESPN is understandably not happy about that.

“Dianna is an excellent reporter who should never have to be subjected to such vulgar comments. We are obviously extremely disappointed by today’s developments,” ESPN said in a statement.

ESPN is, obviously, correct in standing by its reporter, as the accusation that Jessica McCloughan leveled is completely inappropriate, and dragging Russini’s name through the mud is unacceptable.

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Wife of Washington G.M. admits to “disparaging remarks” about ESPN reporter

Scot McCloughan AP

After initially insisting that a controversial tweet apparently sent by the wife of Washington G.M. Scot McCloughan had come from a fake account, the team now admits that she indeed posted a disparaging comment about ESPN reporter Dianna Russini.

“I deeply apologize for the disparaging remarks about an ESPN reporter on my personal Twitter account,” Jessica McCloughan said in a statement issued by the franchise to PFT. “The comment was unfounded and inappropriate, and I have the utmost respect for both the reporter and ESPN. I regret that my actions have brought undeserved negative attention to the Redskins organization and its leadership. My comments in no way reflect the opinions or attitudes of the organization and I regret that my behavior has in any way negatively impacted the team and its loyal fan base.”

On August 30, Jessica McCloughan directed this message to Russini, via BlackSportsOnline.com: “Please tell us how many BJ’S you had to give to get this story. And did they laugh at you before or after?”

Many were skeptical of the denial, due to the apparent interaction of the account with an account belonging to Jessica McCloughan’s son..

PFT previously asked ESPN for a comment on the story, before the admission and apology from Jessica McCloughan. A response is expected soon.

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Gruden is concerned about Manziel’s elbow problems

Buffalo Bills v Cleveland Browns Getty Images

Former NFL coach Jon Gruden loves him some Johnny Manziel. Gruden doesn’t love him some Manziel elbow tendinitis.

It was a little bit of a surprise to me,” Gruden said Wednesday regarding Manziel’s elbow problems, via Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com. “I don’t remember hearing about a lot of arm problems until recently. I had not had that brought to my attention, so I would be very concerned. His arm never came up when I met with him.”

Gruden met with Manziel for two days in 2014 as part of the Gruden’s QB Camp series, and Gruden then worked with Manziel earlier this year. Gruden knew nothing about a supposedly chronic issue with which Manziel has been dealing for years.

“Hopefully it’s nothing severe, but I’d be very concerned anytime a young quarterback or any quarterback is on the shelf for arm reasons,” Gruden said. “I haven’t seen that anywhere else in pro football this year.”

The elbow problems have prevented Manziel from playing at a time when he was making real progress on the field. And the progress came after an offseason in which it seemed that the Browns were ready to move on from him.

While there’s no specific indication that Manziel may be in danger of not making the team, consider this: He’s owed a total of $3.257 million guaranteed over the next three seasons. If the Browns were willing to let Phil Taylor walk away with $5.477 million in fully-guaranteed salary with no offset for 2015, maybe the Browns would consider cutting the cord on Manziel, who has offset language in his deal.

Before doing that, they’d probably consider trying to trade him. But if he can’t play due to elbow problems arising from the primary thing a quarterback does, it would be tough to get anyone else to take on that commitment.

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Report: Chris Johnson will start for Cardinals Thursday

Chris Johnson AP

Chris Johnson is set to debut with the Arizona Cardinals Thursday night, and per ESPN’s Josina Anderson, Johnson will be the team’s starting running back in the preseason finale.

Johnson signed with the Cardinals Aug. 17, before the second preseason game, but has been slowed by a hamstring injury. The Cardinals know that Johnson, who’s three weeks from turning 30, isn’t the same player who had six consecutive 1,000-yard seasons in Tennessee to start his career but they hope he can still provide some big-play pop and catch up to a new offense.

Johnson’s contract option wasn’t picked up by the Jets after he rushed 155 times for 663 yards last year. He was shot in the shoulder last March in an incident during which his friend was killed in Florida.

The plan, Cardinals coach Bruce Arians told reporters Wednesday, is for Johnson to get 10-12 carries as the Cardinals evaluate him. Arians has said he believes Johnson can help the Cardinals but is guaranteed nothing.

The Cardinals won’t play their starters Thursday, so it will be Chris Johnson and rookie David Johnson getting the carries early. They’re competing for touches behind the team’s current starter, Andre Ellington.

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Redskins deny that G.M. Scot McCloughan’s wife sent vulgar tweet (updated)

McCloughan AP

Several websites have published a tweet today that originated with a Twitter account purportedly belonging to the wife of Redskins General Manager Scot McCloughan. The tweet in question directed a vulgar message and alleged improper behavior by an ESPN reporter who has reported on the team.

But the team says McCloughan’s wife did not send the tweet in question. Redskins Senior Vice President Tony Wyllie tells PFT that Jessica McCloughan did not post the tweet, it came from a fake account, and it has been forwarded to the NFL’s security department. The Twitter account has since been deleted.

We’re choosing not to publish the identity of the ESPN reporter named in the tweet, or the specific contents of the tweet. We initially thought we’d just ignore the tweet entirely, but it’s been picked up in enough places that we decided we’d publish what we know.

And what we know is that the team is adamant that the tweet is a fake.

UPDATE 8:29 p.m. ET: The team has now admitted that Jessica McCloughan made the statement on Twitter, and she has issued an apology for the remarks.

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Phil Taylor visits Steelers

Cleveland Browns v Buffalo Bills 10-3-2013 Getty Images

On Tuesday, the Browns gave defensive tackle Phil Taylor $5.477 million to not play for the Browns. The Steelers may now be paying Taylor even more to not play for the Browns.

Per a league source, Taylor visited the Steelers on Wednesday.

It was only a visit, but it could lead to something more, given that the Steelers could use any help they can get on defense.

A first-round pick in 2011, Taylor asked to be released by the Browns after Danny Shelton emerged as a starter. The Browns made no request that Taylor reduce the money he’s owed or agree to provide any offset in exchange for his freedom.

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Peyton Manning visits Wednesday’s PFT on NBCSN

Denver Broncos v Houston Texans Getty Images

Peyton Manning doesn’t have (so far) a commercial in which he’s a really hip and cool Peyton Manning who has DirecTV and a dorky, undesirable Peyton Manning who has cable. But he was nevertheless hip and cool on Wednesday, because he visited Pro Football Talk on NBCSN via satellite as part of his annual preseason DirecTV promotional tour.

A clip from the interview appears below. For the whole thing, tune in to NBCSN at 6:00 p.m. ET. Rodney Harrison (who has caught a couple of passes from Peyton Manning that weren’t intended for Rodney), Paul Burmeister (crack about Paul throwing interceptions while playing quarterback at Iowa has been omitted), and yours truly will get you caught up on all the latest news in the NFL.

Including a full assessment of the #DeflateGate ruling. (There hasn’t been one yet; I’m just seeing whether you’re paying attention.)

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Raiders sign former Cards linebacker Lorenzo Alexander

Lorenzo Alexander,Devonta Freeman AP

Veteran linebacker Lorenzo Alexander wasn’t out of work long.

The Raiders announced that they had signed Alexander, a day after he was cut by the Cardinals.

Alexander had officially qualified as a journeyman long before he made the Pro Bowl as a special teamer with Washington. He’s also had practice squad stints with the Panthers and Ravens, back when he was a defensive tackle.

The former Cal standout grew up in Berkeley, so getting back to the Bay Area made sense. But he adds a stable, adult presence for a Raiders team that seems to have made strides toward stability this year.

They waived linebacker Horace Miller to make room for Alexander.

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Report: Dolphins shopping Will Davis

Miami Dolphins v Buffalo Bills Getty Images

The Texans were able to get a 2017 sixth-round pick for tight end Khari Lee in a trade with the Bears on Wednesday and they won’t be the only team trying to see if they can shake loose something in return for a player that might not be in their plans for the 2015 season.

Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald reports that Dolphins cornerback Will Davis is such a player. Salguero reports that the Dolphins are shopping the 2013 third-round pick around the league ahead of Saturday’s cut to 53 players, although it is “unclear” if the team will cut him if they can’t find a trade.

Davis doesn’t have the most appealing profile as a trade target. He’s played just 15 games over his first two seasons because of injuries, including a torn ACL that ended his 2014 season after 10 games. He’s played in all three preseason games this summer and coach Joe Philbin said recently that the team is trying to gauge where he is now against where he’ll be down the road.

“I think there’s a little bit of both,” Philbin said. “Obviously, he is coming off of an injury and we’ve seen development over the last five weeks and so we think there will be some more development there from a physical standpoint. Then obviously the performance, you’ve got to weigh all those things when you make a decision.”

That’s the same determination any team considering a deal for Davis will have to make, although it’s hard to imagine any evaluation resulting in more than a late-round pick coming back to Miami.

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