James White getting first-team reps for Pats, Stevan Ridley doesn’t

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As Chip Kelly said last week, reading into a team’s unofficial depth charts during the preseason can be somewhat of a fool’s errand.

However, how teams divvy up reps during practice can be a more clear indicator of how teams truly view the players on their roster.

According to Phil Perry CSNNE.com, fourth-round rookie James White and Shane Vereen got the majority of the work with the New England Patriots first-team offensive on Wednesday.

Veteran Stevan Ridley? Not so much.

Ridley’s frequent fumbling problem has been a continual thorn in the side of Patriots head coach Bill Belichick. Ridley has fumbled four times in each of the last two seasons, with all four resulting in turnovers for New England last year.

With White only had four carries for nine yards in the Patriots preseason opener against the Washington Redskins last week, he appears turning heads in training camp and earning extra reps in practice.

Belichick has seemingly always made due with lesser heralded options at running back with Tom Brady manning the control of the New England offense. With White’s increased workload, it may be an indication to stay away from Ridley in your fantasy drafts this year. If you weren’t already, that is.

Bench at Steelers’ training camp site dedicated to scout Bill Nunn

The Steelers’ training camp home has dedicated a bench on a hill overlooking a practice field to the late Bill Nunn, a long-time Pittsburgh scout who has a key place in team and football history.

According to the Steelers’ website, Nunn’s wife and two children, as well as numerous club officials, were in attendance as the bench was presented in a ceremony Wednesday at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, Pennsylvania. Also taking part was Bills G.M. Doug Whaley, who worked in the Steelers’ personnel department with Nunn.

Nunn, who passed away in May at age 89, spent 46 years with the Steelers as an evaluator, and he scouted for the team as it put together a powerhouse roster in the 1970s.

Before joining the Steelers, Nunn was the managing editor of the Pittsburgh Courier, where he compiled the Black College All-American team. He was among the Black College Football Hall of Fame’s inaugural inductees.

According to Steelers’ website, Nunn would routinely watch practice on the bench above the field.

“This year, it’s been different not being able to visit with Bill, and so we wanted to have a place where we always can remember him and carry on the tradition of sitting and watching practice for just a little while,” Steelers president Art Rooney II said Wednesday, according to the team.

The team says the Bill Nunn Memorial Bench will include a plaque detailing Nunn’s contributions to the club.

[Photo courtesy of the Pittsburgh Steelers.]

Cassius Marsh to have MRI on injured knee

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Seattle Seahawks rookie defensive end Cassius Marsh left practice early on Wednesday as he slowly walked into the locker room at the team’s headquarters while flanked by members of the training staff.

Marsh banged his knee in a running drill with a couple teammates and retreated inside the team’s facility. He later returned to the sidelines in street clothes.

However, Marsh is expected to have an MRI on his knee to determine the severity of any injury.

Marsh has drawn praise from the Seahawks coaching staff for his quick hands and explosive off the snap, in addition to his ability to play both inside and outside on the defensive line. Marsh was one of Seattle’s strongest performers in the team’s preseason opener against the Denver Broncos last week, racking up four tackles and the team’s only sack in the game.

Marsh has been expected to contribute as a rotational player this season after being selected in the fourth round of the draft.

Asa Watson landing with Cowboys


It’s been an odd week for tight end Asa Watson.  The brother of Saints tight end Benjamin Watson, Asa entered the Patriots’ preseason opener as the starting tight end.

Then, Watson was cut.

Then, he cleared waivers — possibly due to a rookie contract that contained $17,000 in guaranteed salary.  Now, per a league source, Watson will be signing with the Cowboys.

Watson played college football at North Carolina State.  He signed with the Patriots after going undrafted.

League’s latest leak may be bad news for Gordon

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In the NFL, there are few coincidences, big or otherwise.

And the cynical view in the wake of the leak from the league office to Mark Maske of the Washington Post that the NFL will be beefing up the penalties for future domestic violence cases is that the league hopes to take some of the sting out of the looming decision to suspend Browns receiver Josh Gordon for a full year.

Applied as written, Gordon’s suspension becomes a no-brainer.  He tested positive while in Stage III of the program, which compels a full-year suspension, and nothing less.

Fully aware that the media and plenty of fans will point to the discrepancy between Gordon’s full-year ban and the two-game suspension imposed on Ray Rice for assaulting his then-fiancée, the only way to deflect attention regarding the comparison between the two cases would be to send the message that, in future cases like Rice’s, the punishment will be three times greater.

If Josh Gordon will indeed be suspended for a full year, the NFL owes it to the Browns and to Gordon to implement the decision now, so that Gordon can start the 365-day clock ticking on his return.  Chances are the league plans to wait a couple more days, until roughly 4:59 p.m. ET.

Pettine stops short of ruling out a Hoyer trade

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The timing of the decision to sign veteran quarterback and trusted Kyle Shanahan lieutenant Rex Grossman invited speculation regarding whether the Browns would consider trading Brian Hoyer, if Johnny Manziel becomes the Week One starter.

Coach Mike Pettine has addressed the situation several times since Grossman arrived.  On Tuesday, Pettine was asked whether Grossman’s arrival makes Hoyer expendable.

“No, absolutely not,” Pettine said.

In a Wednesday appearance on ESPN Radio’s Mike & Mike in the Morning, Pettine elaborated on the decision to sign Grossman.

We were looking to upgrade that third spot,” Pettine said, via Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer.  “We think the world of Brian and he’s been really solid for us.  He’s done nothing to have that job taken away and we’re really pleased with where he is.  A lot of people don’t realize when he played in Detroit, it was his first live action since coming off a serious knee injury and we thought he handled himself very well.”

Asked again about the topic at a Wednesday press conference, Pettine downplayed the possibility but didn’t completely and unequivocally rule it out.

“We’re not going to comment on every story that’s out there,” Pettine said in response to the question of whether there’s absolutely nothing to a report that the team would like to trade Hoyer.  “We made a move to strengthen our quarterback room, and you just get these stories coming out.  I don’t want to be in the habit of commenting on all of them.”

Still, if the Browns are prepared to go with Manziel and if they believe that Grossman provides a competent backup option in the event Manziel gets injured, why not trade a guy who otherwise will be a free agent in March?  Two large ifs reside in that sentence, but if those ifs are satisfied, Hoyer is indeed expendable.

Patriots waive rookie TE Terrence Miller

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Rookie tight end Terrence Miller, who signed with the Patriots just three days ago, has been waived by the club with an “injured” designation, according to the NFL’s Wednesday transactions.

If the 22-year-old Miller clears waivers, he’ll revert to injured reserve.

Miller (6-4, 234) caught 40 passes for 467 yards and one touchdown in 2013 for the University of Arizona. He signed with the Jets as undrafted free agent in May but was waived a little more than a month later.

The Patriots now have one open roster spot, which ostensibly will go to ex-Packers defensive lineman Jerel Worthy. With Miller’s removal from the roster, the Patriots have five tight ends and a running back (James Develin) who can be used like a tight end.

Here’s an idea: NFL getting serious about domestic violence

Now that the first cow is out of the barn, and they only still love that cow in Baltimore, the NFL is thinking about building a fence.

According to Mark Maske of the Washington Post, the NFL is considering stiffer penalties in the future for domestic violence cases.

The report said potential punishment would be four to six games for a first offense, and a possible one-year ban for a second offense.

“We need to have stricter penalties,” said one source. “I think you will see that. I believe the commissioner and others would like to see stricter penalties. We need to be more vigilant.”

Of course, this comes after the league was almost unanimously pilloried for its two-game suspension (plus a fine of a week’s worth of his much-lower 2013 salary) of Ravens running back Ray Rice for knocking his wife unconscious.

Commissioner Roger Goodell cited precedent for that level of punishment, which seems comically light in light of collectively-bargained drug and PED suspensions.

“A lot of us were disturbed by what we saw [regarding Rice],” the person said. “I think you will see something in probably the next few weeks. A first offense could be four to six games, definitely more than two. A second offense might be a year.”

If the suggested toughening of the policy actually happens, it will be interesting to see if Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy is grandfathered into the old precedent or the new one. He’s been found guilty of assault and communicating threats for an incident involving a former girlfriend. He has appealed his conviction, and his jury trial is scheduled for Nov. 17.

PFT Whiparound: Slew of Texans return to practice

ProFootballTalk: Mike Florio and Russ Thaler break down the latest news from around the NFL, including Tony Romo’s decision to play this Saturday, a trio of Texans returning to practice and exiting practice early after suffering a hamstring injury. Plus, Rex Ryan takes a jab at the Patriots and Mike Pettine.

ProFootballTalk: Will Blake Bortles start in Week 1?

ProFootballTalk: The PFT crew talks about the expectations for the Jacksonville Jaguars for the 2014 season. Hines Ward says he would be shocked if the Jaguars don’t start Blake Bortles during Week 1.

Chip Kelly downplays how innovative his offense is


Eagles coach Chip Kelly brought the fast-paced offense he had honed at Oregon to the NFL last year, and the results were great. But Kelly says he’s not as much of an innovator as he’s been made out to be.

Kelly said that offensive trends change in the NFL all the time, and his own emphasis on the hurry-up offense traces its origins to teams like the Bills of the early 1990s and the Bengals of the late 1980s.

“It’s cyclical,” Kelly said. “You watch Andre Reed go into the Hall of Fame, and the offense he ran with the Buffalo Bills was as exciting and outstanding as you get, with Jim Kelly at quarterback and Thurman Thomas and that group of guys there. You can go back to Sam Wyche and Boomer Esiason — they were doing it a long time ago. I think sometimes there’s just cycles that go through.”

Kelly said the kind of offense he ran at Oregon has become commonplace in college and high school over the last several years, and so the players now entering the NFL are very familiar with the fast-paced offensive approach. In fact, sometimes young players are more familiar with the Kelly-style offense than longtime NFL coaches who haven’t followed recent trends in college football.

“There’s a lot more being done at the lower levels, the high school levels and the college levels, so the people coming up, I think, have a better understanding of it maybe, and they can share with their coaches on how they get that stuff accomplished,” Kelly said.

In Kelly’s view, football strategy is always evolving and will continue to do so.

“The game is very cyclical,” he said. “It will change and go the other way. There was a time when no one ran the 3-4 and everyone was a 4-3 team. Now it seems like a lot more 3-4 teams are in existence. It’s a game that ebbs and flows and I think everybody is just trying to figure out how they can stay ahead of it, and what’s the new trend.”

Kelly’s offense feels like the new trend in the NFL right now. Soon it will feel like old hand, and some other system with some other strategic advantages will be the next big thing in football.

ProFootballTalk: Tony Romo will play this Saturday

Tony Romo announced on Wednesday that he will play this weekend against the Ravens; this will be Romo’s first game back since undergoing back surgery last December. Mike Florio says he doesn’t think Romo is 100% healthy, but that they must balance his health with the fact that he needs to get reps under a new offensive coordinator.

Bills G.M. says no one’s called him about C.J. Spiller

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The NFL is not like your fantasy league.

So no, the Bills are not trading C.J. Spiller to Bob from Accounting, no matter how many times he e-mails them.

Bills General Manager Doug Whaley said no one has contacted him about the possibility of trading for running back C.J. Spiller, via Mike Rodak of ESPN.com.

“Definitively, we have not been contacted by any team about C.J. Spiller,” Whaley said. “These rumors are news to me.

“It’s exciting for you [reporters] because I guess it gives you something to fill the newspaper with. But I’ll tell you guys, and you know I’m a straight shooter, we have not been contacted by any teams.”

Much like those who wanted to send Brian Hoyer to Houston (which isn’t happening), this seems like more of a case of putting two and two together.

Spiller’s entering the final year of his contract. The Bills just extended running back Fred Jackson’s deal another year.

“I can probably see where people see our depth at running back and try to connect the dots with teams that don’t have depth,” Whaley said. “But again, no one has talked to us.”

So, if you see Bob by the water cooler, tell him to quit pestering poor Doug in the Buffalo office.

Washington rookie Bashaud Breeland cited for pot possession


Bashaud Breeland, Washington’s fourth-round pick in this year’s NFL draft, has been cited for pot possession.

The Washington Times reports that Breeland was cited for misdemeanor possession of marijuana on the campus of Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond on Monday.

A team spokesman said in a statement that the team is “aware of the incident and we will not make any further comment.”

Breeland, a cornerback from Clemson, has shown promise in training camp and had six tackles in the preseason opener against New England.

Cushing on track for Week One

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Texans linebacker Brian Cushing left the PUP list and rejoined his teammates at practice on Wednesday, returning to action after his second season-ending leg injury in two years.

Per a source with knowledge of the situation, there’s currently no reason to believe Cushing won’t be ready to go by Week One.  Cushing was more guarded in his comments to reporters.

“I think we’re just going to go day-by-day and kind of feel it out and do what’s best for myself, the team and everybody else,” Cushing said regarding the timetable for his return to game action.  He didn’t rule out playing this weekend against the Falcons, but that would seem to be a stretch.

Cushing suffered a broken leg and a torn LCL last October.  A year earlier, he sustained a torn ACL on a low block.