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DeAngelo Hall on penalty emphasis: Seahawks got their ring, now we have to deal with consequences

DeAngelo Hall AP

The amount of flags for defensive holding and illegal contact have been a major talking point throughout the preseason and one player affected by them thinks he knows why the league moved to emphasize those calls this season.

Redskins cornerback DeAngelo Hall said there are “no ifs, ands or buts” about the league’s reaction coming as a result of the Seahawks’ victory over the Broncos in the Super Bowl. The Seahawks secondary was one of the most, if not the most, physical defenses in the league and Hall thinks they used that to their advantage and that the rest of the league’s defensive backs are paying the price.

“Seahawks got their ring, they did it their way … now we have to pay the consequences,” Hall said, via Dianna Marie Russini of NBC Washington.

This year’s shift hasn’t really hurt the Seahawks, who have been called for a relatively low three illegal contact penalties, although it’s not the first time that anyone has drawn a line between the Seahawks’ style of play and the league’s decision to crack down on those types of infractions. It is hardly the first time that the league has moved to make life more difficult on pass defenders in recent years, though. Defensive backs have been paying the consequences of the league’s moves to create more passing offense for a while now and this year’s emphasis on holding and illegal contact falls right in the same line.

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Report: Jaguars agree with fullback Eric Kettani

New England Patriots 2011 Headshots Getty Images

The Jaguars are reportedly set to add another fullback.

The club will sign blocking back Eric Kettani, who was most recently with the Chiefs, Aaron Wilson of National Football Post reported Wednesday. Kansas City waived the 27-year-old Kettani in May.

To sign Kettani, the Jaguars will have to clear a roster spot, as they are at the 90-player limit.

A Navy product, Kettani (5-11, 240) has also had stints with Washington and New England. His NFL career has twice been put on hold for naval service.

Before adding Kettani, the Jaguars had two fullbacks — Will Ta’ufo’ou and Harvey Unga.

UPDATE 2:52 p.m. ET: The Jaguars have made the signing of Kettani official. They have also waived/injured tight end Fendi Onobun.

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Five questions: Miami Dolphins

Ryan Tannehill Getty Images

The Dolphins held their playoff destiny in their hands heading into the last two weeks of the regular season, a fairly remarkable position given the turmoil on and off the field caused by an offensive line that was far harder on members of the Dolphins than they were on the opposition.

Miami couldn’t beat either the Jets or the Bills in those final weeks, however, and Miami missed the playoffs before making major changes this offseason. General Manager Jeff Ireland was fired, four-fifths of the starting offensive line changed and a new offensive coordinator, Bill Lazor, was brought in to help coach Joe Philbin try to make the playoffs for the first time since coming to Miami.

If you saw our preseason power rankings, you’ll know that there isn’t much optimism at PFT about that happening. If the Dolphins are going to prove us wrong, these are five areas where they’ll need to get positive answers.

1. Is Ryan Tannehill the answer at quarterback?

Tannehill entered the NFL with limited experience as a starting quarterback, but the Dolphins took him eighth overall in 2012 and teamed him with his college coach Mike Sherman in hopes of making a quick transition to the NFL. Tannehill has done that in one respect as he’s made all 32 starts through his first two seasons and he’s shown the kind of tools that you want to see from a starting quarterback. Consistency has been an issue, though, and it remains unclear whether or not he can vault to the next level.

Having an offensive line interested in stopping defenses from pounding him to the turf would be a good start, but Tannehill can also help himself by making quicker decisions before the pressure gets to him. Playing in Lazor’s system should help with that, although there will still be a need for Tannehill to show he can make the right decisions whether or not a defender is bearing down on him.

One way to help could be to get Tannehill throwing on the move more often as he’s been more successful in that area than he’s been when he delivers his passes from the pocket. His athleticism has always been a plus and Sherman’s scheme didn’t always take full advantage of that in Tannehill’s first two seasons. He’s played well in the first two preseason games, which creates some optimism for what’s to follow.

2. Will shuffling the linebackers lead to better results?

The Dolphins brought in two free agent linebackers last year and said goodbye to Karlos Dansby only to see Dansby thrive in Arizona while Dannell Ellerbe and Phillip Wheeler helped man a linebacking corps that struggled against the run and the pass. Ellerbe played in the middle last year with Wheeler and Misi flanking him, but things will look different this time around.

Misi is in the middle, a new position for him, while Ellerbe has kicked outside in hopes that he’ll be freed up to make more plays from that spot in the defense. The group had a poor first preseason outing, which has opened the door for fifth-round pick Jordan Tripp to gain some snaps with the first team. Whoever winds up filling out the group come the regular season, there needs to be a serious improvement in execution if the Dolphins defense is going to be stingy.

3. Will Mike Wallace’s second year in Miami be more productive than his first?

Wallace came to Miami with a contract that says he’s a centerpiece of the offense, but he didn’t wind up making that kind of impact on the field. Wallace caught 73 passes, but averaged a career-worst 12.7 yards per catch as his speed never led to the kinds of big plays down the field (six catches in 36 attempts of more than 20 yards) that marked his career with the Steelers.

Lazor has plans to use Wallace in a wider variety of ways this season, but neither reports from camp nor preseason play has shown a serious difference on the field. As the most dynamic receiver on the team, Wallace will have to be a major part of the offense for Tannehill to make the kinds of strides that the team wants to see him take this season.

4. Can the offensive line come together on the fly?

The good news for the Dolphins is that the bar was set so low in 2013 that it shouldn’t be hard for this year’s group to be better. The bad news is that being better than the 2013 Dolphins doesn’t mean that the line will be good enough to keep the offense moving.

Left tackle Branden Albert is a clear and big upgrade, but the rest of the line is still a mystery. Center Mike Pouncey hopes to avoid the PUP list, but will miss some time as he recovers from hip surgery and the loss of that anchor could have a ripple effect on a line that will start inexperienced players (tackle Ja’Wuan James, guard Dallas Thomas and guard Billy Turner) and/or underwhelming veterans Shelley Smith, Daryn Colledge and Dallas Thomas.

While the pass protection got all the notice last year, the Dolphins also fell short in the ground game. The backs on hand aren’t world-beaters, so there will be pressure on the line to be much better in that area as well because a little more balance would go a long way in Miami.

5. Do they have enough in the secondary?

The Dolphins were dealt a blow this summer when starting safety Reshad Jones was suspended for the first four games of the regular season, leaving cornerback Brent Grimes as the only sure thing in the secondary to start the season.

They are going to need safety Louis Delmas to stay healthy, cornerback Cortland Finnegan to rebound from a poor 2013 season and at least one member of the Jamar Taylor/Will Davis/Walt Aikens group of young players to make strides in order to be a group that scares opposing offenses. If those things don’t fall into place, they’ll be short even after Jones returns to the lineup and there will likely be some long days for the Miami defense.

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Buccaneers release Lavelle Hawkins

Lavelle Hawkins, Kevin Fogg AP

The Buccaneers have some time before they have to start making any cuts, but they’ve already made at least one decision about players currently on the roster who won’t be there when the regular season gets underway.

Roy Cummings of the Tampa Tribune reports that the team has released veteran wide receiver Lavelle Hawkins. Hawkins signed with Tampa shortly after they traded Mike Williams to the Bills in April and some thought his prior relationship with offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford might help him nail down a spot on the final roster. Things didn’t play out that way.

Getting released now could potentially help Hawkins land somewhere else before the preseason comes to a close, although there are going to be plenty of other players hitting the street in the coming days. Hawkins played four games for the Chargers last season and was with the Titans for the previous five seasons, but has only caught five regular season passes over the last two seasons.

With Hawkins gone, it looks like Chris Owusu and Louis Murphy will be joining Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans on the team this year. Tommy Streeter, Eric Page and Skye Dawson have played the most preseason snaps of the other receivers on the roster.

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Leodis McKelvin’s return from hip surgery slowed by groin injury

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Cornerback Leodis McKelvin has been limited all spring and summer as he recovers from offseason hip surgery, but he recently made the move to full practice and looked like he was on track to make his preseason debut against the Buccaneers on Saturday.

That debut may have to be put on hold. Mike Rodak of ESPN.com reports that McKelvin had to leave Wednesday’s practice early because of a groin injury. Coach Doug Marrone said after the practice that there was no decision yet about whether or not McKelvin would be able to play come the weekend.

“I have no idea. They haven’t told me that yet,” Marrone said.

Marrone made it clear while discussing wide receiver Sammy Watkins’s rib injury that he won’t be giving timetables for returns this season, so we’ll have to wait and see when McKelvin is ready to go. Given McKelvin’s spot as a starter across from Stephon Gilmore and the multiple injury issues that he’s working through, it wouldn’t come as a great shock if the Bills opt for a cautious approach to giving him any preseason action.

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Eagles waive RB David Fluellen

Senior Bowl Getty Images

One day after acquiring tailback Kenjon Barner from Carolina, the Eagles parted ways with a running back, announcing the waiving of rookie David Fluellen on Wednesday.

An undrafted free agent from Toledo, Fluellen (5-11, 224) rushed for 25 yards on six carries and caught a 14-yard TD pass in the Eagles’ preseason opener at Chicago. However, he did not play in the club’s Friday preseason game at New England, reportedly because of an injury. However, he was back practicing on Sunday, according to the Wilmington (Del.) News Journal.

The 22-year-old Fluellen rushed for 3,336 yards and 28 touchdowns in four collegiate seasons (2010-2013).

The departure of Fluellen leaves the Eagles with six tailbacks. The Eagles carried just three running backs on the roster in Week One of the 2013 regular season.

Philadelphia has one open roster spot.

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Mike Wallace: Dolphins receivers don’t get same calls as other teams

Mike Wallace AP

One of the biggest topics of conversation during the preseason has been the frequent flags thrown for defensive holding and illegal contact following the league’s decision to put a higher emphasis on those calls this season.

Many people have complained about the increase with reasons varying from making it harder to defend the pass to the stultifying pace that games take when flags fly on nearly every play, but at least one player feels that there haven’t been enough flags. Dolphins wide receiver Mike Wallace said that he and his teammates don’t see the same kind of treatment from the officials as the rest of the league.

“Not on our team. We don’t get those calls,” Wallace said, via the Palm Beach Post. “I don’t know why. That’s not our job to play for calls. We play to play football and make plays. The call, that’s extra.”

Wallace was answering a question about flags because he said he felt he was held while trying to catch a deep pass from Ryan Tannehill against the Buccaneers last week. The response about the hold came to the latest question about when Wallace and Tannehill might find the chemistry that’s eluded them since Wallace signed with the team last season.

Officials may have missed a call last week, but there’s not likely to be much sympathy for further comments about a lack of calls if those two don’t find a way to click in their second year together.

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Steelers sign Brett Keisel to two-year deal

Keisel Getty Images

It’s official — Brett Keisel is returning to the club for whom he’s played his entire career.

The Steelers announced Wednesday they had signed Keisel, a long-time defensive end in the club’s 3-4 scheme, to a two-year contract. The announcement was made on the club’s website.

The 35-year-old Keisel has appeared in 144 regular season games for Pittsburgh since 2002, making 110 starts.

Keisel’s re-signing with Pittsburgh came after Arizona — a popular landing spot for former Steelers in recent years — expressed interest in the veteran defensive lineman.

In a corresponding roster move Wednesday, the Steelers waived first-year defensive tackle Al Lapuaho.

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Former NFL running back is in a pile of trouble now

Armond Smith AP

Armond Smith wasn’t able to rake up enough yards to keep an NFL job, and the latest news about him is going to leaf a lot of people disappointed.

According to Aimee Jones of the Rockdale (Ga.) Citizen, the former Panthers and Browns running back was arrested for stealing a leaf-blower out of the back of a landscaper’s truck parked outside the county courthouse.

Smith was charged with theft by taking (no word on whether he sped away by going fast) after a witness said he saw Smith place a $500 Stihl leaf blower in the back of his own truck.

The witness said Smith’s license plate was obscured by a T-shirt, but courthouse surveillance footage showed him, since he was at the courthouse regarding a domestic violence matter earlier in the day.

So it sounds like his issues may be really piling up.

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Rex Ryan shrugs off Bengals’ criticism of his late blitzes

Rex Ryan AP

Andy Dalton routinely lights up the Jets anyway.

But the next time they see each other, the Bengals have another reason to play their best.

Bengals offensive line coach Paul Alexander took exception to Rex Ryan’s blitz calls late in Saturday’s game.

Notice he didn’t bring that stuff when our starters were out there,” Alexander said, according to Cincinnati.com. “We’d have scored quicker. If he wants to put his starting defense out there and blitz all that garbage against our third-stringers, if he feels good about it, then all the power to him.”

Ryan wasn’t fazed by the criticism at all.

“I don’t know why they’d be shocked,” Ryan said, via the New York Daily News. “I don’t worry about their team.”

The Jets eventually came back to win the game, but not until Andy Dalton strafed them, going 8-of-8 for 144 yards and a touchdown.

Sadly, the two don’t play in the regular season, but it feels like this one has the legs to last until the postseason, or into future seasons.

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Brandon LaFell creating a niche for himself in New England

Brandon LaFell AP

Brandon LaFell is becoming more and more comfortable with Tom Brady, and the Patriots are envisioning more and more of a role for their new wide receiver.

Via Chris Mason of the Boston Herald, Patriots coach Bill Belichick has been impressed with the former second-round pick.

I think he’ll be able to carve out a role for himself here,” Belichick said. “Might be a big one. He’s finding different ways to contribute, whether it’s blocking, receiving or special teams. He’s done whatever we’ve asked of him, and he’s done it well. He’s gotten better at it.”

At the moment, that might include special teams, where LaFell was never really a factor for the Panthers. But he’s a physical receiver who is willing and able to block, which helps make up for hands that are unreliable at times.

But after spending time in Carolina with the improvisational genius of Cam Newton, he’s had to adjust to working with Brady, a completely different kind of quarterback.

“He expects you to be exactly where he wants you to be on every route,” LaFell said of Brady. “Not a yard off. Not a yard too deep. Not a yard too short. He expects you to be exactly where he wants you to be, because he’s going to put the ball placement exactly right.

“I’m feeling way more comfortable. Just being in the huddle with Brady, hearing him call the plays and stuff like that. I’m way more comfortable.”

He’ll have to catch the ball consistently to stay in Brady’s good gracces, but for now, the Patriots sound pleased with an under-the-radar acquisition.

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Jairus Byrd expected to make Saints debut on Saturday

Jairus Byrd AP

The Saints signed safety Jairus Byrd this offseason in a bid to improve their defense to a level that will allow them to compete for a Super Bowl, so they decided that it was better for him to have back surgery in May than to try to play through a disk injury during the season.

That meant Byrd would have to spend a spell on the sideline watching his teammates practice instead of being on the field with them, but that period has come to an end. Byrd took part in his first full-contact practice since joining the Saints on Tuesday and coach Sean Payton said that he expects Byrd to take another step forward on Saturday when he takes the field against the Colts.

“This is an important game, because he hasn’t been able to play in the first two,” Payton said, via ESPN.com. “Now, we’ll be smart with the reps we give him and the amount we give him, but I don’t think you can just throw the ball out there and play.”

Byrd had 22 interceptions and 11 forced fumbles while he was a member of the Bills and the Saints would love to see his takeaway skills make the trip with him to Rob Ryan’s defense in New Orleans. If they do, it will fill in a piece missing from last year’s team and make the Saints an even tougher out than they were in making it to the Divisional Round last season.

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Short on QBs, Kendall Wright would love a chance to throw

Kendall Wright AP

With Clipboard Jesus resting (what has it been six days?) with a hand injury, the Titans might be down to just two quarterbacks Saturday night.

But even if Jake Locker and Zach Mettenberger could handle the load with Charlie Whitehurst out, the Titans do have another option.

According to Jim Wyatt of the Tennesseean, wide receiver Kendall Wright would be the emergency quarterback if it ever got to that point.

I’d put Kendall back there in the shotgun and let him run around with it,” Titans coach Ken Whisenhunt said. “He can throw it, too.”

Wright was a high school quarterback in Texas, and sounded excited about the chance.

“I’d be ready,” he said. “If he needed me to do that, I’d do it immediately for him, preseason game, regular season game, any game. … And I think I’d be pretty good back there. I think I could make something happen.”

Whitehurst is apparently dealing with a pinkie finger injury, since that’s what has been taped since last Friday’s game. He hasn’t talked to reporters, and there’s no sense that it’s a long-term injury.

He could probably rise and be fine in a few days, but in case they need him this weekend, Wright will be ready for the call.

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Von Miller: If I had to take my pick of 2011 draft class, I’d pick myself

Von Miller AP

There were several star players in the 2011 draft class, including Cam Newton, Von Miller, Patrick Peterson, A.J. Green, J.J. Watt and Richard Sherman.

That makes for an interesting barroom debate about which player you’d take first if you could have your pick of all the players selected that spring with the knowledge of how they’ve developed once they hit the NFL. Miller was the second pick in the draft, but the Broncos linebacker said Tuesday that he’d bump himself up a slot if he was given the chance to make such a selection.

“I spend a lot of time with myself, and I am most familiar with myself,” Miller said, via Mark Kiszla of the Denver Post. “If I had to make a pick, it would be me.”

Kiszla writes that Miller was laughing as he said it and it’s hardly a shock to hear a professional athlete express confidence in himself even if last year’s suspension and torn ACL make it difficult to see Miller as having provided the most return on investment from his selection.

With DeMarcus Ware now installed across from him, Miller could put up a strong counterargument to that this season and it would come at a very advantageous time. Like Watt, Miller is looking for a contract extension that boosts him to a bigger paycheck and a full return to form this year would be an excellent way to do that.

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Vikings coaches see value in keeping Christian Ponder

Christian Ponder AP

Apparently the Vikings have not been overwhelmed with trade offers for former first-rounder Christian Ponder.

So now they’re talking him up, and trying to salvage his value to their organization.

Clearly buried behind Matt Cassel and the latest savior Teddy Bridgewater, Ponder didn’t even play in Saturday’s preseason game against the Cardinals. But that doesn’t mean they don’t have a plan for him.

I don’t think there will be just two quarterbacks,” Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said, via Matt Vensel of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.

Offensive coordinator Norv Turner knows — after blowing through Brandon Weeden, Brian Hoyer and Jason Campbell last year in Cleveland — how quickly things can change.

“I was obviously very disappointed in the opening game the way our fans reacted to Christian because I think he’s done everything he can do,” Turner said. “He’s working his butt off. I think he’s a guy who is going to be valuable to our team.”

That value might not be tangible, but Ponder has at least handled this the right way, and hasn’t turned into a distraction such that they’ll be glad to get rid of him. And while his prospects are dim, he did lead (or handed them off) them to the playoffs two years ago, so they may be hoping they can find that spark of acceptability again.

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