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Seahawks head toward Super Bowl with minimal injuries

Marshawn AP

On Friday, Seahawks coach Pete Carroll declared the shoulder injury to safety Earl Thomas to be “over.”  Technically, it isn’t.  As a practical matter, it is.

Thomas fully participated in the team’s “Competition Wednesday” practice session despite the shoulder injury.  Ditto for tackle Justin Britt (knee), running back Marshawn Lynch (back; pictured), cornerback Richard Sherman (elbow), and guard J.R. Sweezy (ankle).

No injured players practiced on a limited basis or not at all.

The Seahawks will place an official availability label on each player after Friday’s practice.  Barring a setback, it’s hard to imagine any of them to be less than probable.

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Broncos hiring Wade Phillips as defensive coordinator

Wade Phillips AP

Wade Phillips is back for a second tour with the Broncos.

Phillips has agreed to become Denver’s defensive coordinator, the team announced Wednesday night.

Phillips, 67, was the Texans’ defensive coordinator from 2011 through 2013, working with head coach Gary Kubiak, with whom he will team again in Denver.

Phillips’ hiring could signal changes ahead for the Broncos’ defense. A move to a 3-4 scheme is likely; the club employed a “40” front a season ago.

Phillips was the Broncos’ head coach from 1993 through 1994 after a four-season stint as their defensive coordinator (1989-1992). This is his eighth stint as an NFL defensive coordinator. In addition to his prior work in Denver and Houston, he oversaw defenses in New Orleans, Philadelphia, Buffalo, Atlanta and San Diego.

Phillips also has a solid resume as a head coach, posting an 83-69 record. He was 16-17 in his two seasons with Denver.

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Revis, Patriots not talking yet

Revis AP

In March, the $20 million in 2015 compensation due and owing to Patriots cornerback Darrelle Revis becomes fully guaranteed.  If the Patriots can’t work out with Revis a new deal before then, they’ll have to decide whether to pay the money or to cut him.

Per a league source, negotiations have not yet commenced between the Patriots and Revis on a new deal that would replace the current one.  The starting point presumably will be a package that pays out at least $20 million in the first year.

If the Patriots aren’t willing to go that high, the question becomes whether other teams will be willing to offer more than what the Patriots would put on the table.  Any team that provides that information to the player’s agent engages in tampering; agents, however, call it “gauging the market” in order to better assess the player’s value.

Multiple teams are expected to be interested in Revis, if he becomes available.  Teams currently believed to be interested include the Jets, Bills, Chiefs, and Browns.

Some think that the tampering charges filed by the Patriots against the Jets, based on public comments made by owner Woody Johnson about his interest in re-signing Revis, were intended primarily to scare the Jets away from pursuing Revis.

Drafted in 2007, Revis was traded to the Buccaneers in 2013.  After one season in Tampa, the Bucs opted not to continue his year-to-year $16 million annual arrangement, due in large part to the shift in defensive philosophy to the Cover 2.  Revis then signed with the Patriots a contract that was viewed as a one-year deal for cap purposes, with a trigger aimed at forcing a new contract or putting Revis back on the market.

To keep Revis off the market, there’s a chance the Patriots will have to fork over 2.5 times the amount they’ll be paying to quarterback Tom Brady in 2015.

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Two more candidates for Eagles job didn’t interview

Chip Kelly AP

The list of folks still in the running for the vacant personnel executive position in Philly could be a lot shorter than the list of men either who said “no thanks” or whose teams said “no touchy.”

Per a league source, the list of men who have declined interviews for the job includes Packers director of college scouting Brian Gutenkunst and Ravens director of college scouting Joe Hortiz.  Their teams either denied requests for permission or the candidates declined the opportunity.

Teams can deny permission because the job does not entail final say over the draft or the 53-man roster.

Earlier this month, Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie promoted G.M. Howie Roseman to the position of executive V.P. of football operations, gave coach Chip Kelly full power over personnel, and authorized Kelly to hire his own table-setter from a player standpoint.  Kelly has not yet made a hire, and some believe the perception of a power struggle between Kelly and Roseman has caused some candidates to decide to avoid becoming essentially the buffer between the coach and the guy in charge of negotiating contracts.

Jeff McLane of the Philadelphia Inquirer recently reported that uncertainty exists in the agent community regarding Roseman’s role.  That uncertainty will linger until Kelly’s right-hand man in hired — and possibly longer.

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Report: 49ers likely to hire Geep Chryst as offensive coordinator

Washington Redskins v San Francisco 49ers Getty Images

The 49ers are likely staying in-house to fill their offensive coordinator vacancy.

The club “is expected” to tab assistant Geep Chryst to oversee the offense, Albert Breer of NFL Media reported Wednesday night.

The 52-year-old Chryst was the 49ers’ quarterbacks coach the last four seasons. He was last an NFL offensive coordinator with the Chargers under Mike Riley in 1999 and 2000. Chryst also has been an offensive assistant with the Panthers (2006-2010) and Cardinals (1996-1998, 2001-2003).

The 49ers’ offense struggled in 2014, with San Francisco finishing 30th in passing yards and 25th in points. It will be interesting to see what changes Chryst makes after a tough season for a talent-laden attack. The progress of starting quarterback Colin Kaepernick bears watching, and some changes could come at the skill positions. Stalwart tailback Frank Gore and wideout Michael Crabtree are both slated to be free agents.

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Fred Jackson: Rex Ryan the right guy to get us over the hump

Kansas City Chiefs v Buffalo Bills Getty Images

Running back Fred Jackson has been with the Bills for the last nine years and he’s seen a lot of coaches come through the organization in that time.

The last of those coaches was Doug Marrone, who opted out of his contract after two years this month. Jackson, a Bills captain in 2014, said on PFT Live Wednesday that he received a mass text from Marrone about his decision and hasn’t heard anything else from the coach about his choice to leave the Bills.

Not that Jackson seems to mind the result of the change all that much. Mike Florio asked Jackson about Rex Ryan and the veteran running back said he thinks Ryan’s the man to get the Bills back into the playoffs.

“I’m extremely excited about it. Rex is Rex. Everybody knows who he is. He’s a boisterous coach that’s gonna come in and have things go his way,” Jackson said. “Teams usually take on the persona of their coaches. I think he’s gonna give us the push we need to get over this hump. We went 9-7, the best we finished in 10 years, and I think he’s going to be the guy that gets us over that hump.”

Given the histories of Ryan and offensive coordinator Greg Roman, Jackson should be in line for plenty of work in 2015 whether or not C.J. Spiller re-signs with the team. The 2014 history for both coaches speaks to the need of strong quarterback play to balance out the work on even the strongest work on the ground, however.

Jackson also outlined an unlikely career path from Coe College and the Sioux City Bandits to NFL Europe and the Bills that includes cameos from Marv Levy and 49ers coach Jim Tomsula during his visit with Florio, which you can check out in its entirety below.

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Prop Challenge, Day VI — Over-Under on LeGarrette Blount’s rushing attempts: 13.5

LeGarrette Blount AP

Leading up to Super Bowl XLIX, we’ll take a closer look at one proposition bet per day, something we’ve dubbed PFT’s Prop Challenge.

Here’s the idea: we present a prop, do some light analysis, then let you decide which side to take — hypothetically, of course. (Previous examples are at the bottom of this post.)

When the Super Bowl wraps up, we’ll tally the votes and see how well PFT Planet did.

Now, let’s get to today’s prop, which is courtesy of oddsmaker William Hill U.S.:

Over-Under on Patriots tailback LeGarrette Blount’s Super Bowl carries: 13.5.

Over: -110. Under: -110.

When the Patriots and Seahawks met last back in 2012, the Patriots threw 58 passes and attempted 26 rushes. The Patriots played at a quick pace, stuffing 85 plays into 34 minutes. Overall, New England ran one play per 24 seconds.

The question is, will the Pats employ a similar approach this time around? If so, Shane Vereen, not Blount, could be New England’s key back.

On the other hand, if the Patriots have a more balanced attack, then the 6-foot, 250-pound Blount could be busy. He might not get, say, the 30 carries he had vs. Indianapolis in the AFC title game, but clearing 13.5 carries could well be within his reach. If the Patriots want to stick with the run, then Blount will be the back they lean upon.

Blount has only twice received more than 13.5 carries since returning to New England in November, but the oddsmaker’s total seems appropriate. After all, Blount has taken 78.6 percent of the Patriots’ tailback carries in the postseason (33-of-42).

In short, the prop probably comes down to how you see the game playing out. If New England gets ahead, Blount will be busy. If New England falls behind  . . . well, OVER 13.5 carries could be in trouble.

Furthermore, this is a prop that Seattle fans should have a feel for, too. They know their team’s defense well. Can New England establish the run? Will it even try?

Cast your votes and let us know in the comments.

Previous props studied:

Day I: Over-Under on Brandon LaFell’s receiving yards.

Day II: Over-Under on Doug Baldwin’s catches.

Day III: Will Rob Gronkowski score a touchdown?

Day IV: Will there be a one-yard TD in the Super Bowl?

Day V: Over-Under on Tim Wright’s receiving yards.

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Lynch is already among the all-time great postseason runners

Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch runs for a first down against the Redskins during their NFL NFC wildcard playoff game in Landover Reuters

Everyone is talking about Marshawn Lynch not talking this week. Which means no one is talking about what Lynch does best, which is run with the ball in his hands, particularly in the playoffs.

That’s too bad, because Lynch has already put together one of the all-time great postseason resumes of any running back in NFL history.

Lynch’s record of postseason runs starts, of course, with the Beast Quake. On January 8, 2011, in Lynch’s first career postseason game, he destroyed the Saints’ defense on his way to a 67-yard touchdown run to seal the Seahawks’ win late in the fourth quarter. Some people consider that the best run in NFL history.

But that game, in which Lynch carried 19 times for 131 yards, was far from Lynch’s only big postseason game. From that postseason debut through his 157-yard day against the Packers in the NFC Championship Game, Lynch has topped 100 yards in the playoffs five times, and topped 130 yards four times. Only former Broncos running back Terrell Davis, with five 130-yard playoff games, has reached 130 yards in the postseason more often than Lynch.

Players on the Patriots understand what they’re up against when they’re up against Beast Mode.

“I’ve said many times I think he’s the best back in the game,” Patriots defensive tackle Vince Wilfork said today. “With the ball in his hands, catching the ball, running the ball, blocking, yards after contact, you name it. All those areas he leads. He’s amazing when he gets the ball in his hands.”

Added Patriots defensive end Chandler Jones, “Marshawn Lynch is a guy that could run through and run over your whole defense if you let him.”

If Lynch does run over the Patriots’ whole defense, he may add a Super Bowl MVP award to his already great postseason resume. Lynch may just go down as the best big-game running back ever.

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Raiders still don’t have a defensive coordinator

Todd Grantham AP

At this point in the offseason, teams without full coaching staffs are scrambling a bit.

Now the Raiders are looking for another defensive coordinator.

According to Brett McMurphy of ESPN.com, Louisville defensive coordinator Todd Grantham is staying in college.

He had been offered a two-year deal to take the same job with the Raiders, but apparently decided to stay put.

Whether that’s a bad thing for the Raiders is open to interpretation, but being turned down by a college coach is a bad look for an organization trying to overcome a tradition of bad football and bad decisions.

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Report: Nathaniel Hackett to be Jaguars quarterbacks coach

Blake Bortles, A.J. Bouye AP

The Rams interviewed Nathaniel Hackett in their search for a new offensive coordinator, but it looks like he’ll be coaching elsewhere in 2015.

Ian Rapoport of NFL Media reports that Hackett has pulled his name from consideration in St. Louis and will be joining Gus Bradley’s staff in Jacksonville. Per Rapoport, Hackett is expected be the team’s quarterbacks coach.

Moving the Jacksonville would allow Hackett to continue working with Doug Marrone, who hired Hackett as his offensive coordinator at Syracuse and again with the Bills when Marrone was a head coach. Marrone will be working with the offensive line in Jacksonville while Greg Olson runs the offense.

The move will give Hackett another chance to work with a young quarterback after spending the last two years tutoring Bills 2013 first-round pick EJ Manuel. Manuel was benched after four games in 2014, a development that the Jaguars presumably don’t want to see happen with Blake Bortles in his second season.

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Benson’s former heirs want him to undergo psychological tests

Benson Getty Images

The bizarre family feud that has clouded the future of the Saints has taken another strange turn, which for this story is saying something.

According to Andy Grimm of the New Orleans Times-Picayune, the daugher and grandchildren of Saints owner Tom Benson have asked a judge to order a psychological evaluation of the 87-year-old.

The court filing cites “a pattern of bizarre behavior,” by Benson, and they want to have him evaluated by a geriatric psychology specialist.

This is the latest in a string of filings from his daughter and grandchildren, after he took control of his sports teams and assets away from them and put them in the hands of his wife Gayle Benson.

Stay tuned, as this story only promises to get weirder and weirder.

 

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Washington hires Matt Cavanaugh as QBs coach

Chicago Bears v Pittsburgh Steelers Getty Images

Washington has added a former offensive coordinator for a Super Bowl winner to its coaching staff.

The club announced Wednesday it had hired Matt Cavanaugh as quarterbacks coach. Cavanaugh had served in the same position for Chicago the last two seasons.

The 58-year-old Cavanaugh also has NFL coaching experience with the Jets (offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach, 2009-2012), Ravens (offensive coordinator, 1999-2004), Bears (offensive coordinator, 1997-1998), 49ers (quarterbacks coach, 1996) and Cardinals (quarterbacks coach, 1994-1995).

Cavanaugh played quarterback for 14 NFL seasons (1978-1991), with stints with the Patriots, 49ers, Eagles and Giants, usually as a reserve. He played on two Super Bowl winning teams (1984 49ers, 1990 Giants), and he was on the Ravens’ staff when the club won its first Super Bowl in the 2000 season.

Washington’s quarterback play largely disappointed in 2014, with Robert Griffin III losing a good deal of the season to injury, then struggling upon his return. Backup Kirk Cousins flopped in his run in place of Griffin. Then, third-stringer Colt McCoy flashed promise only to have a neck injury end his season.

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Ike Taylor open to switching positions, changing teams

Buffalo Bills v Pittsburgh Steelers Getty Images

When the Steelers season came to an end, cornerback Ike Taylor said he was “cool” if 2014 was his final season as a player and that he wanted to remain with the team whether he was in an on-field or off-field role.

It’s been a few weeks since the Ravens bounced them out of the playoffs and Taylor’s opinion has changed. During an interview with Mike Florio on PFT Live from the Super Bowl on Wednesday, Taylor said that he was training as if he’ll be playing again in 2015 and that he’d like to play two or three more years.

Taylor also said that he’d be open to playing elsewhere in 2015. One thing that would appeal to him would be following former Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, who Taylor praised during the interview, to another team.

“If Coach LeBeau’s there, yes. If the time and money is right, yes,” Taylor said.

Taylor’s play at corner when healthy in 2014 left something to be desired, which helps explain why Taylor’s also open to a move to safety if it allows him to continue his playing career. He’ll be a free agent when the new league year opens in March if he doesn’t re-sign with the Steelers before that point.

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Vince Wilfork: Bill Belichick has turned into a big softy

belichickwilfork AP

Apparently, it’s not just adorable children and monkey puppets which can bring out the softer side of Bill Belichick.

Veteran defensive tackle Vince Wilfork said he’s seen the generally gruff Belichick change over the years.

“Yeah, I’ve seen the difference in Bill in the 11 years that I have been here, and I tell him he is getting soft,” Wilfork said, via Jeff Legwold of ESPN.com. “But this is a different era of football now — with how the team has shaped up and how a lot of guys are younger guys.

“You don’t really have that veteran team that he used to have. When I first came in the league, he had a veteran team that didn’t take much to get those guys going. But if I have to say anything, I think over the years he got a soft heart. He’s more understanding now.”

That change in approach has been out of necessity, as this is a far younger team than he’s brought to the Super Bowl in the past. Wilfork and Tom Brady are the only players left from their last Super Bowl win, which means Belichick had to adjust.

“I think Bill had to do a good job of that ever since I’ve been in the league because we’ve changed so much,” Wilfork said. “We were a veteran team. [Then] it was a younger team — at one point we were the youngest team in the league. So I think he had to try to find the identity in what works for that team. And I think he’s done a great job over the years of doing that.

“But at the end of the day, he is still Bill. He coaches the same way. He demands everything the same way. But I think he’s got a little soft heart now. Over time, he got a little softer, though.”

That doesn’t always come through, however.

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Bortles and Jaguars’ receivers plan on an offseason of hard work

Bortles Getty Images

There have been questions raised recently about the work ethic of the second quarterback chosen in last year’s NFL draft, Cleveland’s Johnny Manziel. But the first quarterback chosen in last year’s draft says he has an offseason of hard work ahead of him.

Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles knows he and his teammates need to be a whole lot better in 2015 than they were in 2014, and Bortles said today on PFT Live that he and the Jaguars’ offensive skill position players have already agreed that they’ll be getting together in California next month, at a time when players aren’t allowed to work out at team facilities, for their own player-run minicamp.

“We’ve got to have a lot of improvements. We’ve got to get out and get better this offseason. We’re going to get together and work together. I’m excited for it, I’m excited for the opportunity for the guys we have in the locker room to come together and get after it. Offensively, it comes down to execution — that’s something we’ve lacked and I was obviously a big part of it.”

Bortles said he has arranged for training this offseason that will include “A lot of working out, stretching, trying to get the body right and better, and then obviously a ton of both mental and physical quarterbacking.”

The Browns can only hope that Manziel will be doing that kind of work this offseason.

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