Lions still figuring out backfield rotation, but LeGarrette Blount will have role

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LeGarrette Blount is accustomed to sharing the backfield. So, if the Lions have a rotation with Blount, Kerryon Johnson, Theo Riddick and/or Ameer Abdullah, the veteran running back will fit right in.

“I came here with the intent to help out in every manner that I can,” Blount said, via Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press. “Whatever that may be, that’s coach [Matt] Patricia’s call. I just came out here to make sure that my presence [is felt], and take advantage of everything that I could possibly take advantage of while I’m out here.”

Blount led the Patriots with 299 carries in 2016, but he started only eight games. Dion Lewis and James White also got starts and carries. In 2017 in Philadelphia, Blount shared the backfield with Corey Clement and then Jay Ajayi when the Eagles traded for him October 31.

The Lions signed Blount in free agency and then drafted Johnson in the second round as they seek to improve the league’s worst running game. Riddick and Abdullah were Detroit’s top-two rushers last season.

“It’s kind of hard to judge those guys right now,” Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford said. “We don’t have pads on, nobody’s really trying to tackle them. Those guys make their money on missed tackles and running. But [Blount is] obviously a big dude. Big, physical guy, obviously has played in some big-time games for some successful teams, so it’s nice to have him in that room, I think, and have some of our younger guys kind of pick his brain and just see what he’s all about.”

Report: Some “star” players consider sitting out until Kaepernick, Reid have jobs

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As noted here last week, the adjustment to the national anthem policy should remove any impediment to the employment of quarterback Colin Kaepernick and safety Eric Reid, since neither will be able to kneel during the national anthem. Some players reportedly have come to the same conclusion.

Shaun King, an independent reporter who has had several anthem-related stories in recent months, contends that “[s]everal NFL stars have told me they are considering sitting out the season until the de facto ban of Eric Reid and Colin Kaepernick is removed and both men are given spots back on rosters.”

King also claims that the unnamed “star” players hope to get 25 percent of all players to sit out with them.

If they’re truly considering staying away from training camp and/or the regular season, it will get very expensive. Teams can fine players up to $40,000 per day for skipping camp. In addition to any forfeited game checks, players will be susceptible to an attack on any unearned amounts of signing bonuses they previously have received.

And while teams often will look the other way when holdouts arising from contract disputes end, it’s safe to say that owners wouldn’t react well to walkouts based on the status of Kaepernick and Reid.

Besides, if players truly thinking about sitting out at great expense later, why not sit out at little or no expense now? The Organized Team Activities are voluntary, and more than a few players are skipping them for a variety of reasons. If “several NFL stars” are thinking about sending a message later, why not send a message immediately?

The fact that there’s been no chatter about players choosing not to show up on Tuesday for the next round of OTAs, either due to the new anthem rule or to the ongoing unemployment of Kaepernick and Reid, makes it hard to believe that any star players (or any non-star players) would give up money — and potentially give plenty of money back — all in the name of helping Kaepernick and Reid.

Teddy Bridgewater turning heads in Jets’ organized team activities

AP

When the Jets drafted Sam Darnold with the third overall choice, it was presumed that Teddy Bridgewater was the odd man out. It seemed almost certain veteran Josh McCown would provide the bridge to Darnold when the rookie from USC was ready.

But Bridgewater apparently has other plans.

According to ESPN’s Rich Cimini, Bridgewater created “a legitimate buzz” during organized team activities last week. Bridgewater could end up starting for the Jets, but the quarterback’s trade value also is “trending upward.”

The Jets could look to get something for Bridgewater in a deal before the season starts.

Bridgewater still has to show his surgically repaired knee can stand up to game action. He played only nine snaps last season with the Vikings after missing all of the 2016 season.

The only thing certain at quarterback for the Jets is they have better options than a year ago.

This time last year, the team was hoping Christian Hackenberg or Bryce Petty could beat out McCown for the job. Instead, Hackenberg and Petty played their way out of town.

Join us for a Memorial Day edition of PFT Live

PFT Live

Bad news (or good news, depending on your perspective): There’s no PFT Live on NBCSN tomorrow.

Good new (or bad news, depending on your perspective): The show will be heard on NBC Sports Radio.

It’s a just-me, Stats-free edition of the three-hour NFL tour, from 6:00 a.m. to 9:00 a.m. ET, with a re-air from 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. ET.

I’m in the process of planning the show now, and here’s where you come in. If there’s any topic you’d like to hear discussed or question you’d like to have answered, make yourself heard in the comments.

On Tuesday, we’ll be back on NBCSN, with Chris Simms in studio and plenty of content to discuss as another week of OTAs approaches.

John DeFillippo has high praise for Stefon Diggs

AP

The Vikings want to sign receiver Stefon Diggs to a new contract. The team’s new offensive coordinator possibly has given Diggs a little extra leverage at the bargaining table.

John DeFillippo heaped praise on Diggs after the team’s first three Organized Team Activities.

“More of the tape study of what I had of the Vikings was when I got here, the tape doesn’t do that justice,” DeFillippo said, via Sid Hartman of the Minneapolis Star Tribune. “His ball skills are fantastic. The way he tracks the football in the air.”

The admiration is mutual; Diggs is into DeFillippo.

“I bring the energy a lot, and he’s one of those guys that give you that positive energy,” Diggs told Hartman. “As a coach he gets me going and definitely keeps me focused out there. He keeps you minding your P’s and Q’s, because he has a lot of things that he likes to do.”

The Vikings like the idea of keeping their nucleus of key players in place. Diggs has one more year under his initial rookie deal. And if the Vikings won’t pay him big money, someone else surely will.

Tyler Eifert “methodically moving forward” after back surgery

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Wide receiver John Ross is doing 11-on-11 work for the Bengals during OTAs, but another player the Bengals are hoping to see play a big role in their offense isn’t quite that far along yet.

Tight end Tyler Eifert played just two games last season before having back surgery and has played in only 24 games over the last four seasons because of injuries, which has the team taking things slowly despite Eifert’s insistence that he could handle a full workload. Eifert is watching 11-on-11 work right now and says he’s on track for a full workload come training camp.

“I feel good. I’m on schedule,” Eifert said, via the Cincinnati Enquirer. “This has been part of the plan to stay monitored as we progress through here. I don’t want to go out there and have any setbacks or anything, so just methodically moving forward. The plan is to go into camp full speed but there’s nothing keeping me back from doing that right now. It’s part of the plan, or progression.”

Memories of Eifert’s 13 touchdowns in 13 2013 games helped him land another one-year deal in Cincinnati and a healthy campaign would be a boon to the team’s offense. History says the team can’t count too heavily on seeing that happen, however.

John Ross makes much earlier debut in 11-on-11 drills this year

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As Bengals receiver John Ross tries to turn the page on a disappointing rookie season, he’s already ahead in one key respect.

As noted by Jim Owczarski of the Cincinnati Enquirer, Ross participated in 11-on-11 drills for the first time this season on May 22. Last year, it didn’t happen until August 14.

It’s been a while,” coach Marvin Lewis said, via Owczarski. “He’s had so few snaps around 11 guys on the other side of the ball, so this was great work for him and great experience for him that he was not able to get a year ago. He’s had so few of these days. . . . This is a good chance for him over the next nine days to get another opportunity to play 11-on-11 football that he hasn’t had a whole lot of opportunity to do.”

Injuries contributed to ineffectiveness for Ross as a rookie, making the ninth overall pick in last year’s draft a borderline bust. This year, he’s looking to make some significant steps forward.

“The steps forward have to come out here,” Lewis said. “There’s nothing he did otherwise that’s going to show anything different but just coming out here and getting comfortable playing football again. And doing it and making the adjustments and doing all the things he has to do as a receiver.”

The blazing fast receiver, if healthy, could become a major factor for the Bengals. Given all the attention that defenses devote to containing A.J. Green, Ross could get plenty of favorable matchups, if/when he’s healthy and able to contribute.

Julian Edelman’s presence help fills leadership void for Patriots

AP

With quarterback Tom Brady and tight end Rob Gronkowski not participating in Patriots OTAs, the young players don’t have the benefit of the examples they set and the leadership they bring. To balance that out, receiver Julian Edelman is back, after a torn ACL wiped out his entire 2017 season.

“Having him out there brings leadership to this team, he brings excitement to this team and he brings an aggressive nature to this team,” Patriots safety Duron Harman recently told Karen Guregian of the Boston Herald. “Having him out here makes the team better.”

“He’s definitely in the category of one of the most competitive players I had as a teammate,” Faulk said. “Man, he was fearless. It goes back to a young age when someone tells you that you can’t do something. He’s had that chip on his shoulder for a long time.”

The Patriots will need that chip during the season, given that both Danny Amendola and Brandin Cooks are gone. For now, they’re benefiting from the leadership that Edelman brings, especially with two of the teams other great leaders not around to provide some of their own.

And that really is the biggest impact on the team from the absence of Brady and Gronkowski. Even though they arguably don’t need the reps, the young players who are learning how to do things the right way don’t have the ability to watch them and learn.

But at least the young players can watch Edelman.

Julio Jones on OTA absence: I’m working on myself, no bad blood with the Falcons

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Falcons receiver Julio Jones is skipping Organized Team Activities, but he doesn’t want anyone to read anything into that.

Asked by TMZ about his contract situation, Jones downplayed any talk that he might be unhappy with the Falcons.

“We’re good,” Jones said. “It’s not even about that. Everyone wants a story right now. There’s no story. I’m just working on getting myself better. There’s no bad blood with the team or anything like that. . . . I’m not going anywhere.”

Falcons owner Arthur Blank and coach Dan Quinn have both indicated that they’re not particularly concerned about Jones missing voluntary workouts, and have both indicated that they expect him to be there when players are required to be there.

So whatever Jones’ reasons for choosing to stay away, it’s not about unhappiness or about not being on the same page as the Falcons. Jones sounds excited about the upcoming season, and ready to get to work.

Adam Thielen, Stefon Diggs working to get to know Kirk Cousins

AP

Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins previously spoke about pre-offseason workout workouts with his new receivers. One of those receivers has spoken more recently about the effort to get to know the man who will be the team’s fifth starting quarterback since the 2015 season.

It was awesome,” Adam Thielen said of the time that he and Stefon Diggs spent working out with Cousins in Atlanta, via Sid Hartman of the Minneapolis Star Tribune. “I think the biggest part of that was to get to know him on a personal level and just try to get that first initiation of how he likes guys to run routes and what he feels comfortable doing, and then just try to get on the same page. I think it was a really good start for Diggs and I to get a jump start on that.”

Part of the transition entails getting to know how Cousins does things, especially when the Vikings receivers have had in little more than two calendar years to work with Teddy Bridgewater, Shaun Hill, Sam Bradford, and Case Keenum.

“I think everybody individually does things a little differently,” Thielen said. “As a quarterback, every quarterback has their strengths and their weaknesses. I think the thing [Cousins] really brings to the table is the way that he leads, and his passion for the game of football. It has been really fun working with him and learning this offense together.

“As a receiver group, we’re really excited to keep getting some reps with him, and especially in some live situations. It has been a while since we’ve gone against a live defense so we’re excited to do that.”

Thielen added that Cousins is “an easy guy to be around,” that Cousins “makes it easy” for the receivers, and that he “gets along with everybody.”

It’s a lot easier to do that when the team is 0-0. But if the Vikings keep winning like they did with Keenum at the helm, the relationship will get better and better.

New kickoff rule present plenty of opportunities for creativity, strategy

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Even if the current change to the kickoff amounts to a half-measure toward the elimination of the kickoff altogether, teams will have to figure out how to implement the new formation in a way that enhances the overriding effort to win, for as long as the new formation is in place. And coaches already have begun to brainstorm regarding the opportunities created by an alignment aimed at reducing injuries.

“I think, in general, it’s going to change a lot, just fundamentally and from a scheme standpoint, what the teams are allowed to do, obviously the alignments,” Lions coach Matt Patricia recently said, via Justin Rogers of the Detroit News. “There’s certainly some different, we’ll call them, some dangers that are going to show up that I think all of them aren’t really identified yet until all the coaches kind of put their heads together and say, ‘Hey this is a way for us to attack here,’ or ‘There might be an area here we could go after.'”

That’s what the best coaches do: Identify the opportunities and figure out how to capitalize on them, while also figuring out how to prevent opposing coaches from doing the same.

“It will be interesting to see just exactly how teams approach the rule, and if they’re trying to force guys to return kicks or not, or pin them back and kind of use the field position battle there,” Patricia added. “It will be a lot of things to think about from a standpoint, ‘Are you playing inside? Are you playing outside? Are you playing altitude where balls are going to travel farther or you can hang it up higher?’ You know, all those strategic things that come into effect. It will just be a little different because of obviously the alignments where everybody’s in. So, we’ll have to see how that goes. We’re on it. We’re experimenting with it, taking a look at it, trying to scheme it up and then try to really problem solve it.”

The experimentation will continue during offseason workouts and training camp. Publicly, teams will be experimenting with the new kickoff procedures via 65 preseason games.

And then the regular season will begin, and who knows what will happen? Teams may decide when kicking off to always bang the ball out of the end zone, conceding the 25. Teams may decide when receiving to always take a knee.

Some teams may decide to try to figure out how to pin the opponent deep, with quick, athletic players who can slip past the blockers and converge on the returner and the two men who will be back there to block for him. Some teams may decide to try to drop a quasi-onside kick between the eight who must be within 15 yards of the kickoff point and the three who are lined up deeper. Plenty of other possible approaches can be attempted, with sky kicks, squib kicks, line drives, positional kicks, or whatever kind of strange hops and spins that a kicker can put on the ball.

If nothing else, it will make a play that was happening less and less a little more interesting. And it could be wise to enjoy it while it lasts, because it’s still very possible that the kickoff will end up becoming one less way that the foot will be used in football.

For more on the kickoff and other rule changes, check out Friday’s #PFTPM podcast, which includes a one-hour discussion with former NFL V.P. of officiating and FOX rules analyst Mike Pereira.

Jabrill Peppers expecting better things in second season

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The Browns made safety Jabrill Peppers a first-round pick last year in a bid to add a playmaker to the back end of their defense, but his impact was muted during his rookie season.

Peppers had 57 tackles and an interception in 13 games and part of the reason he didn’t produce as hoped was because the Browns put him all the way at the back end of the defense. Lining up so far behind the line of scrimmage became fodder for jokes, which Peppers heard but he doesn’t put all the blame on defensive coordinator Gregg Williams’ alignment.

Peppers said there “wouldn’t be jokes if I was making the plays I was supposed to make” and believes that he’ll start doing so this year thanks to the experience he gained in 2017.

“It allows you to play faster,” Peppers said, via Ohio.com. “You know what other guys are supposed to do as well. It allows you to help other guys play to your level, disguise certain things and make it look like a different scheme, things like that. It definitely helps having a year under my belt going through the offseason process with the guys, the whole offseason process, just relearning certain things, learning new techniques and how to play different schemes. It’s definitely going to be a tremendous help. I’m just looking forward to go out there, learn from my mistakes, playing that much faster, being in better shape now that I’ve got a year of conditioning with the guys under my belt, just going out there doing what I love to do and what I know how to do best.”

A year of experience isn’t all that will be different for Peppers. The Browns traded for Damarious Randall and his presence is expected to put Peppers closer to the line this time around. If the combination leads to more production for Peppers, it should brighten the outlook on defense in Cleveland.

Jon Gruden revels in ripping off the Chiefs

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That close friendship between Andy Reid and Jon Gruden could be tested, sooner or later.

Gruden, now the coach of the Raiders, recently did a victory lap regarding the team’s signing of former Chiefs linebacker Derrick Johnson.

“Last time I was here in Oakland, we stole [quarterback] Rich Gannon from Kansas City, we took [receiver] Andre Rison from the Chiefs, we took [defensive back] Albert Lewis from the Chiefs,” Gruden said in a conference call with Raiders season-ticket holders, via Pete Grathoff of the Kansas City Star. “We love stealing from the Chiefs. So now we’ve got Derrick Johnson, and I’m on my way to the Raiders store to pick up a Derrick Johnson Raiders jersey. I’m going to wear it home tonight.”

Of course, the Raiders didn’t exactly “steal” Johnson from the Chiefs. The Chiefs cut Johnson, and the Raiders signed him after an extended stretch on the open market. But those facts won’t get the fan base properly riled up, will they?

“Well, we feel like we have solidified the middle of our defense big time,” Gruden said. “We added Derrick Johnson, the all-time leading tackler in Kansas City Chief history. He started every game for them last year, they were the division champions.”

It’s surely just huffing and puffing, a little Gruden being Gruden. It’s one of the reasons why the NFL is better when he’s in it.

That’s ultimately why none of this will undermine the fact that Gruden and Reid are and have been close, for years. If their relationship didn’t trump team loyalty, there’s no way Reid would have let Gruden anywhere close to practice or production meetings in advance of Gruden’s final game at ESPN, a Titans-Chiefs postseason contest played at a time when everyone (most specifically Gruden’s former on-air partner Sean McDonough) knew that Gruden had a deal in place to coach the Raiders.

Tom Brady gets in a workout, in Monaco

AP

Tom Brady can’t plead the fifth regarding his offseason whereabouts. He’s in Europe, hanging out at the Monaco Grand Prix.

And he’s getting in a workout. Sort of.

Red Bull Racing has posted a video of Brady throwing a football from a mega-yacht to Daniel Ricciardo, who is standing on a small boat roughly the size of The Flying Wasp.

Yes, voluntary workouts are voluntary. But they’re not really voluntary, and Brady knows it. For him to being living it up (and given the heavy ad presence on the video, raking it in) when his football team is trying to get the most out of precious few OTAs in advance of precious few training-camp practices, chances are that coach Bill Belichick will be even more miffed when he sees this.

Chances are that’s exactly the reaction Brady is hoping to provoke.

So while those who like to downplay situations like this while continue to say, “It’s no big deal,” the reality is that 31 starting quarterbacks currently are all in. And one is all out. And he happens to also be the greatest quarterback of all time.

Packers refining offense rather than “starting from scratch”

AP

Packers coach Mike McCarthy said in April that it feels like his first offseason with the team rather than his 13th as the team has hired new coordinators on both sides of the ball.

On offense, McCarthy said the team went “back to Page 1 in the playbook” but it sounds like the differences from past seasons are going to be less dramatic. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers said it is not “wholesale change” and offensive coordinator Joe Philbin also said the alterations have stopped short of creating something different.

“As I said to them in the first meeting we had on April 16, ‘If you look at historically what this offense has done in the 12 years that Mike’s been here, I think it’s third in the NFL. So that’s like in the top 10 percent of your business over a long period of time.’ So they’ve done a lot of great things here,” Philbin said, via Jason Wilde of the Wisconsin State Journal. “It’s been a process of refining, enhancing, tweaking, as opposed to, ‘Yeah we scrubbed it down.’ Yes, we went page by page. [But] we’re not starting from scratch here. These players in that locker room, they’ve done some great things.”

One big reason why the Packers aren’t starting over is Rodgers. Passing game coordinator Jim Hostler said the offense “really won’t look any different from the eye” because having Rodgers around to run it ensures that things will remain familiar even with tweaks around the edges.