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Stistch Arizona Cardinals Kyler Murray Jersey Reddit 2019

TEMPE, Ariz. — Kliff Kingsbury was already hot on Kyler Murray’s recruitment when he walked into an indoor football facility in suburban Dallas to meet with Murray during his junior season of high school.

He walked over to Murray and Ryan Hoogerwerf, Murray’s senior backup, while they were warming up together. Hoogerwerf gave a slight wave. Kingsbury waved back. Then Kingsbury and Murray started talking like they had known each other forever.

It felt to Hoogerwerf like the two had been in “cahoots for a while.”

“It was like they were old family friends,” Hoogerwerf told ESPN.

Kingsbury began recruiting Murray in 2012, when Murray was a sophomore at Allen High and Kingsbury the offensive coordinator at Texas A&M.

Now, the new Arizona Cardinals coach is looking at Murray again, though this time he’s eyeing him as the No. 1 pick in this week’s NFL draft.

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Kingsbury continued to recruit Murray in 2013 after becoming the head coach at Texas Tech — as did every other major program in America. But something between Murray and Kingsbury clicked. They found a bond. That wasn’t easy to do, said Murray’s high school coach, Tom Westerberg, because Murray didn’t trust many people.

Kingsbury and Murray struck up a relationship that, through the long recruitment process, grew stronger. Even after Murray signed with the Aggies and didn’t follow Kingsbury to Texas Tech, their relationship continued.

“I had a great relationship with him,” Murray said at this year’s NFL combine, perking up as he started talking about Kingsbury.

“He’s always been very fond of me and I respect that. I’ve always never taken that for granted. He’s always someone I can go to if I ever need anything.”

Besides both being from Texas, both being quarterbacks and both having their fathers heavily involved in their football careers, Kingsbury and Murray found common ground in their personalities. Both are quite intelligent, relatively quiet, don’t like the spotlight and share a similar air of confidence.

“Both cool guys,” said Marcus White, who was an offensive analyst at Texas Tech in 2013. “I can see that conversation going on a long time with those two.”

But Hoogerwerf saw one more thing the two had in common: their football minds.

“I think the biggest thing for [Kyler] and Kliff was the more modern coaching style of Kliff Kingsbury,” Hoogerwerf said. “I think Kyler has a very modernized football mind. He plays the game how the game is being played currently and Kliff coaches that way.

“I think that just resonated with him a lot. I can’t really pinpoint one specific thing that led to it. I just know that there was some sort of — not even hidden — respect level or admiration for Kliff that Kyler had.”

Kliff Kingsbury and Kyler Murray shared a few words following Oklahoma’s victory over Texas Tech last November. AP Photo/Brad Tollefson
The feeling was mutual.

“I’ve known his father [Kevin] for a long time and have always kind of seen how he did things [with] Kyler, how he coached the game, how he played the game,” Kingsbury said. “As a quarterback myself, I’ve always had an appreciation for how he plays the game, how he coaches the game.”

When Kingsbury and Kyler Murray talked, it was effortless. The ease with which Kingsbury and Murray interacted still stands out to Hoogerwerf, who got the sense that Murray and Kingsbury hit it off quickly.

Murray referred to Kingsbury as “my guy Klifford.” He also talked about Kingsbury “all the time” in high school — about his coaching style, his leadership style, his character and his charisma.

Hoogerwerf, who played baseball at the University of Portland, said he hasn’t seen a player-coach relationship “as free and as loose” as that between Murray and Kingsbury.

“Being able to respect the coach that knows what he’s doing that much, as much as Kyler did, but also being able to talk to him like he’s kind of one of your boys, it was just a cool dynamic to see, especially at such a young age when we’re in high school,” Hoogerwerf said.

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But that didn’t mean it would lead Murray to Lubbock.

When Kingsbury was hired by Texas Tech, he made landing Murray his goal.

“I remember him being, for a lack of a better term — well, I won’t say infatuated — but we all have that guy that we see up and coming, that we kind of, ‘OK, that guy can really change a program,’ or, ‘That guy can really make this team go,’” White said.

That guy for Kingsbury was Murray.

White quickly pointed out, however, that Kingsbury is “a poker player, too.” He didn’t fawn over Murray — but “really liked the kid,” White said. When the Texas Tech coaches went over the stats every week from Friday night’s high school games, Kingsbury made sure to point out Murray’s numbers, White said.

At the NFL owner meetings in late March, Kingsbury said he felt Murray “understood” what Texas Tech was doing offensively with its quarterbacks.

“He knew what he could be in that system,” Kingsbury said.

Kingsbury continued to make trips to Murray’s high school until Murray committed to Texas A&M — without Kingsbury on staff. Texas Tech also brought Murray to campus “several times,” said Mike Jinks, a Kingsbury assistant from 2013-15.

The Red Raiders’ staff thought it had a chance — a good chance — at landing Murray.

“There was great interest,” Jinks said. “I think mutual interest with us. I really, really thought we were going to get him, to be honest with you.”

However, Westerberg didn’t think Texas Tech “was ever a part of it.”

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By the time Murray was narrowing his decision, Texas Tech was among the last five standing, a testament, Westerberg said, to Murray’s relationship with Kingsbury.

But Murray was the one that got away from Kingsbury, and that could change this week.

On Thursday, when the first round of the NFL draft begins with the Cardinals on the clock, Kingsbury has a chance to rewrite history and get the quarterback he’s always wanted.

“I don’t want to use the term ‘destined,’ but it’s almost in that respect,” White said. “With the comments that Kliff made about if he had the No. 1 overall pick — ‘He’s taking Kyler’ — you couldn’t even see this.

“The Cards had to come in last place, Kyler had to be the Heisman Trophy guy this year and Kliff had to get the job and now, all of a sudden, it’s like, ‘Holy crap, he eluded me in high school and now it’s all on me right now. That was your decision and now this is my decision.’”

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PHILADELPHIA — Eagles chairman and CEO Jeffrey Lurie rolled out a striking stat at the NFL owners meetings a couple of weeks back, noting that 65 percent of the league is composed of first- to third-year players.

The league is getting younger. Football Outsiders has a metric called snap-weighted age, which shows the average age of players on the field has steadily declined since the website began tracking it in 2006, reaching a record-low average of 26.46 years in 2017. An Associated Press study found that average experience on NFL rosters has shrunk from 4.6 years to 4.3 years since 2005, with the number of players with five-plus years of service dipping from 714 to 644 in that span.

Why, then, are the Eagles seemingly pushing in the opposite direction?

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The upcoming draft will increase this figure, but only 42 percent of the Eagles’ active roster is currently made up of first- to third-year players, well below the league average. An organization that used to be allergic to paying guys north of 30 years old was liberal in that department this offseason. It traded for DeSean Jackson (age 32) and signed Andrew Sendejo (31) and Vinny Curry (31). The other notable acquisition, Malik Jackson, is 29. According to ESPN Stats & Information research, the Eagles are one of two teams that added three players this offseason who will be at least 31 years old when the 2019 season begins, along with the Tennessee Titans. Philadelphia also gave new contracts to Brandon Graham (31), Jason Kelce (31) and Jason Peters (37).

Rosters change regularly, but Elias currently has Philly as the sixth-oldest team in the NFL (averaging 26.4 years of age), behind the New England Patriots (27.1), Buffalo Bills (27.0), Atlanta Falcons (26.9), New Orleans Saints (26.6) and Titans (26.6). The Eagles have 14 players who will be playing in at least their eighth NFL season in 2019.

There is risk involved in loading up on so many players with tread on the tire, but the Eagles see value in importing older players, in part because it is actually helping fuel the youth movement that is right around the corner.

There has been a philosophical shift in the way the organization views signing players that have hit the 30-year mark. Previously, the thought was that free-agent resources should be allocated to players in or entering their prime as opposed to those facing an inevitable decline. But the landscape has changed, and the Eagles’ approach along with it. Executive vice president of football operations Howie Roseman explained that teams are getting better at keeping their good, young players. The free agents who are making it to the market in their mid-20s now tend to be lower-impact players with inflated price tags. Why spend significant money on that level of talent when you can get a slightly older and more productive player at a discount?

“Players are playing longer, the science is better in keeping those guys healthier, and so you have opportunity to get these guys,” Roseman said. “We’d rather have really good players instead of maybe signing lower-level starters or guys who are rotational players or backups who are maybe two years younger.”

The Eagles also are getting heavy into the compensatory-pick game. Signing players who have been cut — including Malik Jackson and Curry — doesn’t count against the comp-pick formula, increasing the odds of getting extra quality draft choices when those comp picks are handed out.

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“It definitely goes into the equation when we’re looking at players,” Roseman said. “If you have a player that’s a comparable talent level or maybe even a little bit better talent level but is maybe a year or two older, and you can combine that with the draft pick that you’re getting, that’s a huge factor for us when we’re looking at that equation.”

In that way, these older players are helping the Eagles get younger.

Philly has no regrets about trading away a wealth of picks to move up and select Carson Wentz No. 2 overall in 2016. The Eagles believe they have landed a franchise quarterback who will give them a chance to do some special things for the next decade. But it did come at a cost. They have had just seven picks in the first three rounds over the past three years, mostly because of that trade with the Cleveland Browns. In that sense, they’ve had little choice but to bring in older players over that time to field a competitive roster.

They have since built the draft capital back up. The Eagles hold three picks in the first two rounds of this month’s draft and seven overall; and by Lurie’s estimation, the team will have a total of about 20 selections over the next two drafts, when you factor in the comp picks. That will infuse the roster with a host of cheaper, younger players just as the Eagles get ready to sign Wentz to a mega-deal.

“So, when you look ahead over the next 13 months, we’re going to be adding about 20 draft choices, you’re going to have some undrafted players make the team, and so you can imagine there’s going to be about 20 to 25 players that are going to be 22 years old, 23 years old, on our roster. And we planned for that,” Lurie said.

“An interesting stat in the league … is that I think 65 percent of the players in the league are in their first to third years. So, when you think about that, and where we’ll be in about 13 months, I bet we’re pretty close to that.”

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PHOENIX — New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick met with reporters on Tuesday at the annual coaches breakfast during the NFL owners meetings, and Jeff Howe of The Athletic tweeted a unique breakdown of how it unfolded.

Jeff Howe

@jeffphowe
Bill Belichick fielded 116 questions over 43 minutes this morning (2.7 questions per minute). He said 1,790 words, an average of 15.4 per response. His most frequent phrases were “we’ll see” (21 times) and “I don’t know” (13 times).

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Belichick, per the norm in this setting, was not especially talkative. There is no decisive word on whether the unofficial total of 21 “we’ll see” responses is a career high (this reporter only counted 20), but here is the breakdown with a little creativity added:

Question: How will the acquisition of defensive end Michael Bennett help the team?

What BB said: “We’ll see when we get everyone out there and practice. We’ll see how it goes.”

What he means: I wasn’t investing a $6 million base salary in him this year without having an idea of how he will help — as a tough, physical end-of-the-line defender in certain packages who can reduce inside as a sub-rusher. But I’ll keep that to myself because there’s no need to advertise that to our opponents right now.

Question: Has the onside kick become a noncompetitive play, and does that contribute to your thoughts on the proposal that would allow a fourth-and-15 play instead?

What BB said: “There’s a lot of things to consider. So let’s listen to all the different points of view, and we’ll see what everyone has to say.”

What he means: I’m happy to share my unfiltered thoughts with my fellow coaches. Reporters? No thanks.

Question: A follow-up on Michael Bennett, whom you were complimentary of prior to Super Bowl XLIX. Is he still the same player?

What BB said: “We’ll see. He hasn’t been in our system before. We’ll see how it goes.”

What he means: Good try. You already asked me that.

Question: What made tight end Matt LaCosse a worthwhile pursuit as a free agent?

What BB said: “We wanted to have him on our team. We’ll see how it goes.”

What he means: He played well against us in the 2017 preseason finale when he was with the Giants (5 catches, 60 yards, 2 TDs). I’ve had my eye on him since he was a young, developing player.

Patriots coach Bill Belichick speaks to the media during Tuesday’s NFC/AFC coaches breakfast at the annual NFL football owners meetings in Phoenix. Matt York/AP Photo
Question: How is Isaiah Wynn’s recovery going?

What BB said: “We haven’t done anything since the beginning of February. We’ll see when we get out there.”

What he means: Things seem to be promising, but I don’t talk about injuries publicly.

Question: Do you have any input on the onside kick proposal?

What BB said: “We’ll see how it goes today. I’m sure there will be a lot of discussion on that.”

What he means: Come on, man! I already (non) answered that. Try to pay better attention, please.

Question: Why is it your preference to have every play allowed to be reviewed (including pass interference)?

What BB said: “We don’t have any proposals on the table this year. There are several out there. We’ll see how it all goes. It’s a good discussion.”

What he means: I’m not getting into any rules topics with the media, but you haven’t seemed to have figured that out, yet.

Question: What did you think outside linebacker John Simon brought to the team last year that led you to re-sign him?

What BB said: “John works hard. He’s a tough kid. We’ll see how it goes.”

What he means: He was a valuable contributor for us in a variety of roles and a priority to re-sign. But I’m not going through a detailed personnel report here at breakfast.

Question: Brandon Bolden and Terrence Brooks are good special-teams players signed by the team as free agents. Was improving the coverage units a top priority?

What BB said: “I think both of those players will help our team. So we’ll see what their roles are.”

What he means: Absolutely.

Question: Would you say 2018 seventh-round pick Ryan Izzo’s strong suit at tight end is his blocking?

What BB said: “I think he can do several things. But we’ll see. Give him an opportunity this year and we’ll evaluate him.”

What he means: He flashed enough promise as a rookie to make the initial 53-man roster before we moved him to injured reserve. We obviously think there’s something to work with there.

Question: Have you seen Michael Bennett play some of the techniques he projects to play in New England? Those seem like considerably different schemes he’s played in.

What BB said: “There are some differences. Maybe there are some similarities. We’ll see what happens when we get on the field and start practicing.”

What he means: Another Bennett question? I already answered two of them before. We’ll see if you’re smart enough to figure out I’m not going to answer them.

Question: With all the young players who were on IR last year, what do you look for to gauge their progress?

What BB said: “Those guys have been working every day. They’ve continued to get better. They’ll continue to work and we’ll see where they are.”

What he means: A few of our six draft picks from last year who landed on IR will hopefully find a way to carve out roles. If not, that means we didn’t have a good draft.

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Question: What did you see from 2018 sixth-round pick Braxton Berrios last offseason before he went on IR?

What BB said: “Didn’t see a lot. He didn’t have a lot of opportunity to participate. So we’ll see what happens this year. New year. Braxton has worked hard. I’m sure he’ll give his best effort.”

What he means: He needs to stay healthy so we can evaluate him. That uncertainty contributed to our heavy pursuit of free-agent slot receiver Adam Humphries this year.

Question: Do you feel instant replay is possibly heading in the right direction by expanding it to review for pass-interference penalties?

What BB said: “There is a lot of discussion about that. A lot of great discussion. I’m sure there will be some more. We’ll see. We’ll see what those thoughts are.”

What he means: Already answered this one earlier. So I’m going to say we’ll see twice for effect.

Question: [Saints coach] Sean Payton said the competition committee has agreed to put out a proposal to allow a challenge for a play that wasn’t called as pass interference, which would address the play in the NFC Championship Game. Are you in favor of that?

What BB said: “We had a lot of discussion about that yesterday. We’ll see what — I know Sean and Mike [Tomlin] met with the competition committee last night, and we’ll see what the results are that come back. Just have to see how it goes.”

What he means: Repeat question again. So a repeat we’ll see is what you get — again.

Question: With free-agent wide receiver Bruce Ellington, does his experience in systems similar to yours give you an idea of how he might fit with you?

What BB said: “He’s got plenty of plays on tape. We put the players in our system and we’ll see how they do.”

What he means: We’re light on the wide receiver depth chart — which you seem to write about every day — and he was available. So let’s not over-analyze it.

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ALAMEDA, Calif — The Oakland Raiders are giving Trent Brown the richest contract for an offensive lineman in NFL history, signaling a sea change for what had been one of the best and most dominant units in the NFL.

It could also spell the end of Kolton Miller’s time at left tackle and the conclusion of Donald Penn’s tenure with the Raiders.

What more can you extrapolate from Brown’s four-year deal worth up to $66 million, with $36.75 million guaranteed, after one successful year at left tackle, protecting Tom Brady’s blind side for the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots?

That’s left tackle money for Brown and Miller, the Raiders’ first-round draft pick last season, No. 15 overall, who might be moving to right tackle to take over from third-round pick Brandon Parker, who started the final 12 games there but had his struggles.

Then there’s Penn, a three-time Pro Bowler at left tackle who moved to the right side with the drafting of Miller and has had each of his last two seasons end early due to injury, a Lisfranc to his right foot in 2017 and a groin in Week 4 last season. Penn, who turns 36 on April 27, has a cap number of $7.225 million for 2019, and with his dead money hit of $1.75 million, the Raiders could save $5.475 million in cap space should they cut Penn before June 1, per OverTheCap.com.

Trent Brown played right tackle with the 49ers before moving to the left side with the Patriots. Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire
The Raiders had already agreed to trade away an All-Pro left guard in Kelechi Osemele, along with a sixth-round draft choice, to the New York Jets for a fifth-rounder, and saved $10.2 million against the cap, so the rebuild in the trenches is in full effect.

The Raiders had $36 million committed to their offensive line in 2018, the fourth most in the NFL, according to ESPN Stats & Information. But that unit underperformed greatly last season; according to ESPN’s pass rush metrics powered by NFL Next Gen Stats, the Raiders had the third-lowest pass-rush win rate in the NFL, sustaining their blocks for at least 2.5 seconds just 41 percent of the time. Raiders quarterback Derek Carr was sacked a career-high 51 times after being sacked a combined 36 times in 2016 and 2017.

Enter … Brown, until last year a career right tackle for the San Francisco 49ers, who drafted him in the seventh round in 2015.

Miller had a 70 percent pass block win rate as a rookie left tackle, the fourth-worst such rate among tackles with at least 300 pass blocks, per NFL Next Gen Stats. Brown, meanwhile, had a PBWR of 82 percent.

Could the Raiders simply put him on the right side? After all, Oakland has doled out huge left-tackle-type deals to the likes of Osemele and Austin Howard in the past, and they played left guard and right tackle, respectively.

Then there’s the gaping hole left by Osemele. Might the Raiders simply move right guard Gabe Jackson, who was called a “foundation piece” by Raiders owner Mark Davis, back to left guard and insert the recently re-signed Denzelle Good at right guard? What about re-signing versatile Jon Feliciano, who is an unrestricted free agent and started at left guard when Osemele was hurt before going on injured reserve himself late in the season and was also Rodney Hudson’s backup at center?

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How does this grab you as a potential, and massive, Raiders O-line in 2019 — LT Brown (6-foot-8, 380 pounds), LG Jackson (6-3, 335 pounds), C Hudson (6-2, 300 pounds), RG Good (6-5, 345 pounds), RT Miller (6-8, 309 pounds)?

The power scheme employed by Oakland in 2016 has been all but scrapped by O-line coach Tom Cable, Brown, the largest man in the NFL, fits Cable’s zone-blocking scheme.

Pro Football Focus had Brown giving up three sacks and 39 pressures in 744 pass-blocking snaps in the regular season for the Patriots. In the playoffs, Brown did not surrender a sack among four pressures in 127 pass-blocking snaps.

The fear, then, is that Brown was merely a byproduct of the Patriots’ success. The Raiders are more than willing to pay to find out.

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The Miami Dolphins are hiring former Oakland Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie as senior personnel executive, a league source told ESPN.

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It’s unclear what McKenzie’s official title will be, but he will have notable influence helping general manager Chris Grier rebuild the Dolphins into a contender.

It wasn’t too long ago that McKenzie was considered one of the NFL’s top general managers. He won the Pro Football Writers of America Executive of the Year award in 2016 while playing a significant role in lifting the Oakland Raiders from 3-13 in 2014 to 12-4 in 2016.

McKenzie was fired by the Raiders in October after new Oakland coach Jon Gruden took a bigger role in football operation decisions.

The Dolphins hired former Buffalo Bills national scout Marvin Allen as assistant general manager earlier this offseason along with a number of internal promotions.

Grier was promoted to oversee football operations after the 2018 regular season when coach Adam Gase was fired and former executive vice president of football operations Mike Tannenbaum was reassigned.

McKenzie will try to help Grier and new coach Brian Flores steer the Dolphins out of mediocrity. Miami has finished between 6-10 and 10-6 in each of its past 10 seasons, and owner Stephen Ross has made it clear he wants that to change beginning in 2019.

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PITTSBURGH — What was once the NFL’s most formidable threesome has one Killer B left.

Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown are top-10 playmakers in their primes who will — barring a major upset — no longer be Steelers in 2019.

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That leaves Ben Roethlisberger working with an offense that must utilize different parts to win games.

Bell and Brown are irreplaceable talents. More pointedly, the chemistry between Roethlisberger and Brown might never be replicated in Pittsburgh. The duo broke records with Brown’s six straight 100-catch seasons. But what many have described as a love-hate relationship seemed to boil over in late 2018, and Brown wants his proverbial fresh start.

The Steelers never got to a Super Bowl with these three as primary playmakers, and now they have no choice but to make a retooled offense work.

This is how it happens.

JuJu’s Year 3 jump: JuJu Smith-Schuster is on a historic pace through his first two seasons.

Putting Smith-Schuster’s early-career success in perspective: His 11 career 100-yard receiving games tie Hall of Famer Randy Moss for most ever before a player’s 23rd birthday, according to ESPN Stats & Information. And Smith-Schuster has until Nov. 22 to break the tie.

But 2019 will be his toughest test. Without Brown drawing safety help, Smith-Schuster must show he can beat the top corners consistently.

Comparing Smith-Schuster to Brown is difficult because they are different players. Brown’s quickness and footwork have gone unmatched for the last half-decade. Smith-Schuster has quickness but relies more on strength, body control and sure hands to make his plays.

It’s up to Smith-Schuster and Roethlisberger to take their connection to a new level. Late last season, the two found a rhythm in the back-shoulder play that could become their signature.

Embolden James Washington: Tight end Vance McDonald said it best when discussing the offense last year: The Steelers need Washington to realize how good he can be. McDonald brought up that point unprompted. Talent is not an issue with Washington, who makes difficult catches look routine in practice. The issue was confidence, which is common for rookies.
James Washington will have to translate his potential into big plays in the absence of Antonio Brown. Joe Sargent/Getty Images
If Smith-Schuster finds the safety shading his way more often, he’ll need Washington to make defenses pay for that decision. Washington showed signs of life late in the year with games of at least 60 yards in Weeks 15 and 17.

Washington is a low-key Texan who enjoys working on cars and the family farm. If his play catches up with his talent, the Steelers will have a long-term solution at the No. 2 receiver spot.

Rely on the running game: Roethlisberger was prolific last season with 5,129 passing yards, but even team president Art Rooney II said he’d like to see more balance in the offense.

Pittsburgh’s 689 passing attempts led the league by 45. That’s more than a full game’s worth. The Steelers pride themselves on having one of the league’s best lines, and good lines love to run the ball.

Not that Roethlisberger shouldn’t decide games with a healthy number of attempts. But a lineup of James Conner, Jaylen Samuels and perhaps a veteran (Frank Gore, anyone?) can stabilize things.

New England’s Super Bowl run is a reminder of how devastating a good ground game can still be.

Vintage Big Ben: Relying too heavily on a running game lessens the chance for Roethlisberger to get hot. There’s a balance to be found, but when Roethlisberger’s no-huddle offense is humming, not many quarterbacks leaguewide can catch fire like him.

The Steelers don’t want to lose that spark, which is why Roethlisberger has so much freedom within the offense. They will take the occasional mistake — including 16 interceptions last year, tied for the league lead — because the rewards are great.

The onus is on Roethlisberger to keep the offense prolific without Brown. Though the Steelers clearly will miss Brown’s infusion of playmaking, Roethlisberger excels at getting several playmakers involved. With Brown out of the offense, the need to force the ball lessens.

Find the right fits externally: The free-agency crop of receivers is not packed with star power, but Pittsburgh could comb for potential deals on a deep threat such as John Brown or a steady all-around player such as Randall Cobb or Tyrell Williams.
The Steelers’ offense values versatile receivers who can handle all three positions. The team’s coaches and personnel tend to value fit and ability over measurables — just get the best players. Antonio Brown’s cousin, 5-foot-10 receiver Marquise Brown, might be an intriguing draft prospect because of his ability to stretch the field vertically.

Landing a high draft pick in a Brown trade would give the Steelers three picks in the first two rounds, which they could use to bolster the offense from the outside in.

Spread the wealth: McDonald is poised for a third-year leap in the Steelers’ offense. Assuming he stays healthy, there should be enough plays over the middle for McDonald to increase targets from last year’s modest 72. The team could re-sign Jesse James, a reliable option in two-tight-end sets.

Eli Rogers caught 12 passes in a three-game return from a torn ACL and could return on a low-cost one-year deal. Ryan Switzer is poised to return as a kick returner who adds receiver depth.

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If Eric Smith had accepted the status quo, he’d be going to Super Bowl LIII as a member of the New England Patriots’ practice squad — a rare chance to have an up-close view of perhaps another chapter in a sports dynasty. He’d be heading home, too, because he grew up in the Atlanta area.

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“Everything would’ve lined up perfectly,” Smith said last week in a phone interview.

Instead of a fabulous homecoming, the big offensive tackle will be watching the game from his apartment in South Florida. With two weeks left in the regular season, Smith voluntarily left the Patriots to join the New York Jets’ 53-man roster. He went from a first-place, playoff-bound team to a last-place team on the verge of firing its coach.

Who does that?

Smith knows how that decision might be perceived, but he has no regrets. He loved his time in New England, but he believed the best opportunity for long-term growth was with the Jets. There also was a slight bump in pay. He made $65,000 from the Jets for the final two weeks; he would’ve made $40,000 on the Patriots’ practice squad. Yes, he has missed out on the trappings of a postseason run, but he says he’s cool with that.

“I know how they approach every game, so I had no doubt they’d make it to the level they’re going to now — the Super Bowl,” Smith said. “I knew all of that could be a possibility. As a young guy, it would’ve been easy to just say, ‘Oh, I’m around Tom Brady every day … [Rob] Gronkowski … all those great players.’ All of that stuff was great, you know what I’m saying? It was a hard decision to leave those guys.

“The day I left, I shook everybody’s hand before the team meeting that day,” he continued. “It was hard, knowing I’d be done in two weeks and knowing what I’d be giving up with the Patriots, just being part of that dynasty they have going on. It wasn’t an easy decision, but I’m happy with it.”

Smith is an outlier in that he chose to leave the Patriots; it’s not like he was sent packing. That should make him popular in New York. He probably deserves a billboard on the New Jersey Turnpike.

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The Jets were persistent. They tried to sign Smith to their practice squad at the end of the preseason, when he was cut by the Miami Dolphins. (He wound up with the Patriots.) They made another run at him around Week 11. When starting right tackle Brandon Shell went on injured reserve in Week 16, the Jets offered a place on the 53-man roster and a two-year contract (non-guaranteed).

“I’ve always been a believer in that third time is the charm,” Smith said.

The Jets have only two tackles under contract: Shell and left tackle Kelvin Beachum, both of whom will be free agents after the 2019 season. Smith will have a chance to compete for the swing-tackle job. In New England, it would’ve been a tougher climb up the depth chart. Even though left tackle Trent Brown will be a free agent, the Patriots still have Marcus Cannon and first-round pick Isaiah Wynn, who will return from injury in 2019. Their interior is rock solid with David Andrews, Joe Thuney and Shaq Mason, as Smith noted.

Smith misses his former linemates and his coaches, the legendary Dante Scarnecchia and assistant Cole Popovich, but he had to make a business decision.

“I don’t regret it,” he said. “On my end, I felt it was a positive thing. The Jets are a young team with a young vibe, new coaches and new players coming in. They’re trying to build and I can make a name for myself.”

Smith will be reunited with new Jets coach Adam Gase, whom he described as a “really chill dude.” But he admittedly didn’t know Gase that well during his time in Miami, as he spent most of the 2017 season on injured reserve. A rookie free agent on IR is on the “back of the back burner,” Smith said. He has a much better feel for the Patriots. After all, he practiced on their scout team for 15 weeks. Peeling back the famous iron curtain that protects the Patriots’ bunker, he described what fueled them this season.
“Being part of the team all year, I heard the naysayers and everybody saying, ‘This is not your year. You’re not performing, blah, blah, blah.’ Me being on the inside and seeing how they avoid all the naysayers and all the negativity, it was really inspiring.

“We ignored everything people had to say, whether it was positive or negative. Coach [Bill] Belichick, he stood in front of us in all those team meetings and he said, ‘Forget the media, forget what everybody has to say. They aren’t here with us, they aren’t working with us and we’re going to continue to do what we do.’ Everybody said it’s not our year, and they’re heading back to the Super Bowl.”

Minus a 6-foot-4, 308-pound lineman who will be rooting for them, one last time.