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Steelers finally will make heavy use of no-huddle, supposedly

Steelers AP

In recent years, the Steelers have been talking about using the no-huddle more frequently.  This year, perhaps they mean it.

In 2013, the Steelers indeed found the gas pedal after an 0-4 start, increasing the use of the no-huddle attack from (per Alan Robinson of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review) 6.5 percent of the time to 25 percent of the time.

We practice it all the time,” center Maurkice Pouncey said, via Robinson.  “When we’re in the no-huddle, guys are locked in and communicating at a high level. It’s been very, very good for us, and we’ve got to keep building on it.”

“It’s big for us,” receiver Antonio Brown said. “[It's] going to be a key for us this year to get things going fast and catch defenses off-balance and let Ben pick and read his reads, and it gives us the opportunity to play fast.”

In Thursday night’s dress rehearsal against the Eagles (a team that used the no-huddle extensively in 2013), the Steelers have a chance to experiment with the placement of the proverbial pedal to the metal.

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Jimmy Smith, Asa Jackson ruled out for Ravens

Baltimore Ravens v Cincinnati Bengals Getty Images

The Ravens are going to be light on cornerbacks when they play the Redskins on Saturday.

Coach John Harbaugh said Thursday that neither Jimmy Smith nor Asa Jackson would play, although he said that Smith, who injured his chest against the Cowboys last week, could probably play if it were a regular season contest. He and Jackson, who is battling an ankle injury, join Lardarius Webb on the inactive list.

Chykie Brown and Dominique Franks will get the start for the Ravens with Terrence Brooks handling slot duties with the first team. Harbaugh sees an upside to the situation for the players and the team.

“It’s going to be an opportunity for those guys to go against the best for a long period of time,” Harbaugh said, via ESPN.com. “It’s going to be a good chance to evaluate where we’re at and give those guys an opportunity to prove they can play with the best.”

All three of the injured corners are expected to be healthy in time for the start of the regular season, although they may be a bit rusty if the injuries keep them off the field much longer.

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Bill O’Brien: Randy Bullock has edge to keep Texans’ kicker job

Shane Lechler, Randy Bullock AP

If Chris Boswell is going to win the Texans’ kicking job, he is going to have to catch incumbent Randy Bullock.

Texans coach Bill O’Brien indicated Thursday that Bullock is “in the lead” in the kicking battle, according to Deepi Sidhu of HoustonTexans.com.

A third-year pro from Texas A&M, Bullock connected on 26-of-35 field goals in 2013 for Houston, forcing touchbacks on 29-of-67 kickoffs. All nine of Bullock’s misses were from 40 yards and out.

Both Boswell and Bullock have hit each hit one field goal try this preseason. However, Boswell, an undrafted rookie from Rice, missed a pair of extra points in Houston’s 32-7 win vs. Atlanta on August 16.

The NFL’s longer extra point experiment has ended, leaving the customary chip shots for the rest of the exhibition season. But those one-point misses couldn’t have helped Boswell’s cause. That said, he’s still in the competition with Bullock, which gives him a chance to show Houston (and other clubs) what he can do.

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Pete Carroll: It’s time to get Marshawn Lynch some carries

Marshawn Lynch, Dan Quinn AP

The Seahawks started training camp without running back Marshawn Lynch because of Lynch’s holdout and they started working him back into the lineup during last week’s game against the Chargers.

Lynch played a handful of snaps, but never touched the ball before turning things over to Robert Turbin. Coach Pete Carroll said that Lynch will do more when the Seahawks face the Bears on Friday night.

“It’s time for him to get some carries and get involved a little bit. I really could not be more pleased with the conditioning level that he’s had, the consistency of practice and his preparation has been great. He’ll be ready to go and I know he’s looking forward to that too,” Lynch said, via Curtis Crabtree of PFT.

Lynch probably doesn’t need much preseason work to get ready for September and his body may even benefit from the lighter workload that he took as a result of his extended time away from the team this offseason. Turbin and Christine Michael have looked good in the first two games, giving the Seahawks enviable depth behind Lynch.

Carroll didn’t say whether or not Lynch and company would be running behind the team’s starting offensive line, which has yet to play together during the preseason, but they were practicing as a unit this week. That puts the Seahawks offense pretty close to ready for Week One heading into their regular season dress rehearsal.

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Jadeveon Clowney is OK, but status for Saturday undecided

Matt Ryan, Jadeveon Clowney AP

The Texans and Broncos wrapped up their joint practices on Thursday without linebacker Jadeveon Clowney.

Clowney left Wednesday’s practice early and went to the medical tent. Texans coach Bill O’Brien channelled his former boss Bill Belichick after the session by saying that he nothing about what happened to the first overall pick in May’s draft and wasn’t much more forthcoming on Thursday.

John McClain of the Houston Chronicle reports that O’Brien didn’t elaborate on what was bothering Clowney, who had sports hernia surgery during the offseason, but that the linebacker was fine. O’Brien said he hasn’t decided whether or not Clowney would play against the Broncos on Saturday yet.

That’s one of many decisions O’Brien has to make before the game. Running back Arian Foster, wide receiver Andre Johnson and linebacker Brian Cushing are all waiting to find out if they’ll get to play after wrapping up the week of practice.

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Bucs trade Kelcie McCray to Chiefs for Rishaw Johnson

Kansas City Chiefs v Tennessee Titans Getty Images

The Buccaneers have spent the summer looking for guards and they added another name to the hat in a trade with the Chiefs on Thursday.

Tampa acquired Rishaw Johnson from Kansas City in exchange for safety Kelcie McCray. Johnson had been in the mix for the right guard job with the Chiefs, but it would seem rookie Zach Fulton has taken that job and made it his own. He’ll presumably plunge into a similar competition with the Bucs, who have plugged Oniel Cousins in at left guard as they try to cobble things together on the interior of the line after Carl Nicks’s retirement.

Johnson played three games and made one start for the Chiefs last season.

McCray played 11 games for the Buccaneers and four for the Dolphins last year, recording 12 tackles during his time in Tampa. The Chiefs were in need of depth at safety after Sanders Commings was injured and Steve Gregory retired shortly after signing with the team.

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Jay Gruden not sure if Stephen Bowen will be available for Week One

Stephen Bowen AP

Washington defensive end Stephen Bowen remains on the active/physically unable to perform list as he returns from microfracture knee surgery.

And it’s uncertain whether he’ll be available when Washington begins the regular season in 17 days.

Head coach Jay Gruden said Thursday that “it’s hard to say” whether Bowen will be able to play in the club’s opener at Houston on Sunday, September 7, the team’s Twitter feed reported.

The 30-year-old Bowen was limited to just 10 games in 2013 for Washington. A season ago, he was the club’s starting right defensive end in Jim Haslett’s base 3-4 scheme. At present, former Cowboys defensive lineman Jason Hatcher is listed as the starter at right end, with Chris Baker the starting left end.

Per NFL rules, if Bowen remains on active/PUP by Saturday, August 30, the club will have to decide whether to place him on reserve/PUP, which would necessitate a minimum six-game absence, or make another transaction, including keeping him on the active roster.

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Five questions: New England Patriots

Bill Belichick, Tom Brady AP

The Patriots winning the AFC East has almost reached the death and taxes level of certainty, which means the big question for them is always about something bigger.

Can they win the Super Bowl?

They’ve certainly got a chance to get there in a conference that many believe is set up for another title game clash between Bill Belichick and Peyton Manning. Winning that game for the first time since 2011 and challenging whoever survives in the NFC will take the right answers to the five questions we’re posing about the Patriots.

1. Can Gronk stay healthy?

If you can answer an unimpeachable yes to this question, you should probably do whatever you can to get in touch with the Patriots because they’d likely pay good money for help keeping tight end Rob Gronkowski on the field for an entire season.

The last time he did that was during the 2011 season, when he caught 90 passes for 1,327 yards and 17 touchdowns. Gronkowski played in seven games last year and the Patriots had 25 touchdown passes for the entire season.

During that brief period when Gronkowski was healthy last season, the Patriots were a buzzsaw on offense. They found the slogging much harder when he was out of the lineup recovering from back surgery or after he tore his ACL, though. The latter injury will him from cutting loose in a preseason game and Week One isn’t guaranteed, so there will be at least a few more weeks of wondering about when he’ll get the full green light.

And then it will be many more weeks for Patriots fans to worry about losing him every time he takes a hit.

2. How good can Darrelle Revis make this defense?

One need only look at the revolving door of cornerbacks that the Patriots have employed recently to know how much Revis changes things for New England. We’re not sure yet if he’ll be playing one side of the field or following a particular receiver each week, but it’s a good bet that Belichick will be doing things differently now that he has one of the league’s best corners to use on every snap of the ball.

It helps that he has so many other pieces to put in play around Revis. Chandler Jones, Jamie Collins and Donta’ Hightower have gained experience, Devin McCourty has transitioned well to safety, Jerod Mayo is back from last year’s pectoral injury and they’ll have Brandon Browner after he serves his four-game suspension. It adds up to the best defensive group on paper for New England in some time and Revis is the piece that could make it special.

3. Will time catch up to Tom Brady?

Brady turned 37 this year and he’s coming off a season that saw him take 40 sacks while posing his lowest completion percentage in a decade, all of which can be seen as reasons to argue that a quarterback could be starting the decline phase of his career.

Others would point to Gronkowski’s absence and a shortage of reliable wide receivers as reasons why Brady was less successful than in past seasons. The receiver question hasn’t been settled as the team is still hoping for Aaron Dobson and/or Brandon LaFell to provide a steady threat next to Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola, who Brady jokingly called pygmies this summer.

The gut feeling here is that a better cast of characters would lead to better things from Brady, but age catches up with all of us sooner or later.

4. Can their defensive tackles hold up?

If Vince Wilfork, Tommy Kelly and Dominique Easley are all healthy, they should make for an imposing trio in the center of the defensive line. It’s a big if, though.

Wilfork tore his Achilles last year and turns 33 in November while Kelly is coming back from a torn ACL and nearing his 34th birthday. Easley is a first-round pick and much younger, but he suffered the second torn ACL of his playing career last season. When Wilfork and Kelly went down last year, the Patriots defense took a serious hit and a similar turn of events this year would mitigate the good things discussed above.

5. How many fumbles is too many for Stevan Ridley?

Ridley lost a fumble in the team’s preseason game against the Eagles, an unhappy reminder of the four fumbles he lost last season. Those fumbles landed him in Belichick’s doghouse for a time and kept Ridley from building on a strong 2012 season.

LeGarrette Blount left as a free agent, but Shane Vereen and fourth-round pick James White are on hand as options should Ridley’s fumbles become a problem again this season. With free agency looming for the 2011 third-round pick, that would probably work out worse for him than it would for the Patriots.

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Report: Kyle Cook retiring after six seasons

Kyle Cook AP

Center Kyle Cook never caught on with another team after being released by the Bengals in March and now it looks like he won’t be doing it in the future either.

Adam Caplan of ESPN reports that Cook has decided to retire after six seasons. Cook went undrafted out of Michigan State in 2007, made his debut with the Bengals the next season and moved into the starting lineup in 2009. He started 66 games before his release, including all 16 last season.

Caplan writes that Cook was the best free agent center available, an opinion he shares with PFT’s Michael Wilkening, and that makes one wonder if he could be persuaded to rethink his decision if a team came calling after an injury during the regular season. Cook wasn’t great last season, but that kind of experience has value at an important spot on the offensive line.

The Bengals drafted center Russell Bodine in the fourth round and the signs coming out of Cincinnati are that he’ll be the starter come September 7.

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Half-baked plan: Both Blount and Bell to play tonight

Buffalo Bills v Pittsburgh Steelers Getty Images

The Steelers are going to take their time deciding how to handle running backs LeGarrette Blount and Le’Veon Bell after last night’s marijuana possession arrests.

And they’re definitely going to wait longer than a day.

According to Aditi Kinkhabwala of the NFL Network, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin will play both of them tonight against the Eagles.

Bell, who was also charged with DUI, has paid his own way to Philadelphia to join the team, so apparently he’s going to get something for his money. Blount was on the team charter.

The move to play them seems dicey in light of potential punishment, but the Steelers also have to pick a roster after tonight’s game, and having their regular runners in there will give them a better chance to evaluate the rest of the offense.

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PFT Live: Steelers talk with Ed Bouchette, 49ers talk with Matt Maiocco

Britain Steelers Vikings Football AP

Two Steelers players were caught with grass in Pittsburgh, they’re tearing up the grass in Santa Clara and we’ll be talking about all that and much more during Thursday’s edition of PFT Live.

Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette will join Mike Florio to discuss the arrests of running backs Le’Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount on Wednesday and the possible fallout if they are charged with marijuana possession and, in the case of Bell, DUI in the future. That will include Pittsburgh’s plans for the pair when they face the Eagles in Philadelphia on Thursday night.

Matt Maiocco of CSN Bay Area will also be on hand to discuss the work underway at Levi’s Stadium to replace some of the sod after 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh stopped Wednesday’s workout at the team’s new stadium because of problems with the field. They’ll also talk about the team that the 49ers will be putting on that field during Maiocco’s visit.

It all gets started at 1 p.m. ET and you can watch it all live by clicking right here.

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Raiders have no worries about Khalil Mack

Khalil Mack, Kellen Moore AP

Texans linebacker Jadeveon Clowney got a lot of attention for his sack of Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan during last week’s preseason game, but there was no such acclaim for Raiders linebacker Khalil Mack after his own sack.

That’s because Mack’s sack came against backups for the Lions, which isn’t exactly what you’d call a crowning achievement for the fifth overall pick in the draft. Vic Tafur of the San Francisco Chronicle reports that Mack has had a “ho-hum” training camp for the Raiders and that the rookie “has looked slow getting off the line of scrimmage,” something that Mack says is because he’s thinking too much in the heat of the moment.

None of that is a cause for concern for Raiders coach Dennis Allen, who said he believes Mack will be an impact player in 2014. Safety Charles Woodson said that Mack just needs time to digest everything in front of him before he starts making plays.

“He has a lot on his plate,” Woodson said. “Not just from the standpoint of him being a high pick and everybody expecting that ‘wow’ factor out of him, but as far as the plays, knowing the positions and different things they have him doing, there is a lot expected of him in that sense, too. You just allow him to grow as a player … This guy is going to be OK, and I think the sky is the limit for him.”

Clowney and plenty of other highly touted rookies have has rough moments during their first preseason outings as well, so there’s nothing unusual about it taking some time for things to come together for Mack. Based on his college exploits and size/speed mix, there’s every reason to believe big things will follow once they do.

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Jason Garrett: DeVonte Holloman advised to end career after neck injury

DeVonte Holloman AP

One of the Cowboys’ young defensive players has reportedly received some unfortunate news.

Second-year linebacker DeVonte Holloman has been advised by doctors to give up football due to a neck injury, Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said Thursday, according to Charean Williams of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

Holloman injured his neck in the Cowboys’ Saturday exhibition vs. Baltimore. Moreover, he suffered a spinal contusion last season.

The 23-year-old Holloman appeared in nine games (two starts) for Dallas in 2013, recording 26 tackles and two sacks. A South Carolina product, Holloman was a sixth-round pick of the Cowboys in 2013.

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Chargers preseason tickets going for next to nothing

pennies-on-the-dollar-3

Each week during the regular season, we monitor the Chargers for blackouts.

But in the preseason, it’s hard for some people to give away the tickets they’ve already paid for.

According to Jonathan Horn of U-T San Diego, the secondary market for Chargers tickets underscores the (lack of) value of the preseason for consumers.

They found tickets for next week’s fourth exhibition game as low as $6.55, with most seats available on StubHub going around 85 percent off face value.

Of course, it doesn’t help that the game features the Cardinals, who will be back 11 days later for a real game on Monday Night Football, or that few if any stars will appear.

“It’s got all the factors of being a dud,” said ticket broker John Nelson, owner of Premier Tickets in Mission Valley. “I’m prepared to take $10 a ticket just to get something.”

Considering it’s the secondary market — meaning they’ve already sold that ticket once — it’s hard to know how much NFL owners care about the low demand.

But it’s also a sign of growing dissatisfaction with the preseason at a time when there’s little movement from owners to shorten it.

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Will Packers keep three quarterbacks?

Akeem Ayers, Karl Klug, Scott Tolzien AP

One year ago, the Packers had Vince Young, B.J. Coleman and Graham Harrell competing to back up starting quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

But by the beginning of the 2013 regular season, all three reserves were gone.

A total backup QB reshuffling isn’t in the cards this season for Green Bay, which has two capable reserves in Matt Flynn and Scott Tolzien. But as Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel noted in a story published Wednesday, the Packers may have to decide whether to keep one or two backups behind Rodgers.

The competition between Flynn and Tolzien is “neck and neck,” Packers QBs coach Alex Van Pelt told the Journal Sentinel.

Rodgers expressed similar sentiments.

“I think they’re both playing well and it is close,” Rodgers said, per the Journal Sentinel. “I think they have made the No. 2 decision difficult and also keeping three quarterbacks difficult.”

According to Journal Sentinel, Flynn has practiced as the top backup this week and looks likely relieve Rodgers in Friday night’s dress rehearsal against Oakland.

There are downsides to keeping two or three quarterbacks. If the Packers keep just two, they will have let go of either Flynn, who’s risen to the occasion in relief of Rodgers throughout his career; or Tolzien, who may have more long-term upside than Flynn.

However, if the Packers go with three quarterbacks, they will lose a depth chart spot at another position.

That said, the Packers look to be a facing a more pleasant decision than a year ago, when it was quite clear Rodgers’ backup might not be on the roster.

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