NFL roster cuts: AFC | NFC

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LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Chicago Bears coach Marc Trestman wants to wait a couple more days before making a decision about whether to keep Marquess Wilson on the active roster.

With the receiver expected to miss the next month, the Bears can free up a spot on the active roster Tuesday at 3 p.m. by placing Wilson on the injured reserve with a designation to return.

Wilson
“I think I could better answer that after Wednesday’s practice, and it’s simply because there’s a lot of technical CBA rules involved in this thing,” Trestman said. “I think that to bring clarity to it, I’d rather give you that answer as we move through the week.”

If the Bears decide to place Wilson on the injured reserve with a designation to return, he won’t be able to participate in practice until Week 7 and won’t be eligible to play until Nov. 9, when the team travels to Green Bay coming off its bye week.

If Wilson remains on the active roster, he’ll continue to occupy a spot the team could use to bolster another position. But the positive side of that is Wilson could return to action as soon as he recovers instead of waiting until Week 7 just to be eligible to practice.

Every team is allowed to use the IR with designation to return only once per year. The Bears used their short-term IR designation last season on Charles Tillman after he suffered a triceps injury during a November loss to the Detroit Lions.

The team might opt to use the short-term designation on Wilson given the presence of veteran receiver Santonio Holmes, who is now expected to take on the No. 3 role. Now that the Bears are in game-planning mode, the playbook will be narrowed significantly for the Week 1 matchup against Buffalo, which would give Holmes a better opportunity to fully absorb the aspects of the system the team will utilize against the Bills.

“At this point, there’s no comfort level [in the offense],” Holmes said. “Still learning the system, working my way into one of the core guys for this team, and I still have a lot to learn. [I’m] spending a lot of time with Coach [Mike] Groh learning the offense, going over plays, formation, personnel and things like that on a daily basis to keep me caught up with the team.”
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Chicago Bears coach Marc Trestman drew laughs Monday attempting to repeat the word “trepidation” in response to whether he feels any regarding the defense, as the club prepares to open the regular season against Buffalo.

While the defense performed average to below average most of the preseason, Trestman remains unconcerned about the unit’s ability to get the job done once the season kicks off.

[+] EnlargeMarc Trestman
Patrick McDermott/Getty ImagesCoach Marc Trestman is hoping that the Bears' defense can build cohesion in the coming weeks.
“I don’t feel that word trepi, trepi … what was it again?” Trestman asked, smiling. “Trepidation? If it’s more than three syllables, I’m out of business. I don’t feel that trepidation. The whole defense wasn’t together at one time during [the preseason]. We’re going to have to come together. It’s going to be a process working together, getting to know each other, how each other works. But the talent level’s there.”

The Bears revamped the defensive line by adding Jared Allen, Willie Young and Lamarr Houston in free agency, in addition to drafting defensive tackles Will Sutton and Ego Ferguson. The club also signed several players to compete for two open spots at safety, and used its first-round pick to select rookie cornerback Kyle Fuller.

But throughout the preseason, the entire group hasn’t performed together. Allen played in only the club’s second preseason outing against the Jaguars after missing the opener due to family reasons and exhibition contest No. 3 due to a bruised shoulder. Safety Chris Conte didn’t make his preseason debut until Aug. 22.

The Bears held out all the starters on defense for the preseason finale at Cleveland.

“There's always concern, but I think we're going to have our guys hyped up, ready to go,” cornerback Tim Jennings said. “It's a full game. We're not going to just play a quarter here, two quarters here. We're going to play a whole 60 minutes of football. So this first one is a good test to see where we're at. It's still hard to tell [how good we can be] because we were missing Jared Allen some games. We finally are going to get everybody back together and play a whole game. We played one quarter, two quarters here, and Seattle was a tough test for us. It lets us know that we still have some work to do and we've got to get it together and work hard this week and see what we have for Buffalo.”

Trestman declined to name the starters at safety, saying, “We’ll talk more about that on Wednesday,” while Conte hasn’t yet been cleared to play after suffering a concussion on Aug. 22. Meanwhile, veteran linebacker Lance Briggs missed Monday’s workout with Trestman saying his absence was excused.

“We think the talent level is in a place right now where we’ve got a chance to go out each and every week, get better and improve,” Trestman said. “That’s what we’re going to try and do as we work through this week of practice and the start of the season.”
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Chicago Bears coach Marc Trestman provided a little insight Monday on how the staff put together the final 53-man roster.

Draughn
The Bears plan to start the regular season with five running backs for the first time since 2012, after keeping four at the position last season. For the fourth consecutive season, the Bears elected to keep eight offensive linemen.

Asked about the decision to go heavy on running backs, Trestman said, "I think part of the reason running-back wise is their value to special teams. We’ve got a couple of linebackers who don’t play special teams. So we picked it up with running backs, which not only can give us return ability, but gunner ability and return ability as I said. Playing on the punt team like Shaun [Draughn]. Shaun can be a three- or four-core guy. So that’s part of the reason why they made the football team, was not only their ability to play offense, but their ability to bring value, special-teams wise."

As for the count along the offensive line, Trestman provided a similar explanation. The Bears typically dress seven offensive linemen on game days.

"We just thought those were the best eight for right now, and where we've got them, and the guys who can contribute most," Trestman said. "When we get to numbers, it’s not just about that group. It’s about how we fill out the 46 on a game day and the 53 overall. So those numbers, could we have had nine or 10 [offensive linemen]? We certainly could have. But the roster filled out the way it did because of the connectivity that we have with all different phases, special teams and defense."
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Second-year right tackle Jordan Mills missed the entire preseason as the Chicago Bears took a conservative approach to his rehabilitation from offseason foot surgery, but the expectation is he’ll be ready to play Sunday when the club hosts the Buffalo Bills in the season opener.

Mills
Mills participated in practice at Halas Hall on Monday, and later compared his absence to riding a bike, saying, “You never forget how to ride it.”

“I had to knock a little rust off, and once I got in, it’s like I never left,” Mills said.

Mills missed two weeks of work due to soreness in his left foot before returning to practice on Aug. 20. But he was held out of all the club’s preseason outings. Mills underwent surgery back in January to repair a fractured metatarsal in his left foot, and the team has since brought the tackle along slowly.

As a rookie last season, Mills started in all 16 games but left the season finale against the Green Bay Packers after the first series due to the foot injury. Throughout the preseason, Mills continues to express optimism about his availability for the Sept. 7 opener, and on Monday nothing had changed.

With the team taking such a cautious approach in bringing him back, Mills hinted on Monday that he wouldn’t have missed so much time had the preseason been the regular season.

Asked how ready he is to start the regular season, Mills said, "I'm very ready."

“If I had to [play], I would have,” Mills said. “But if the trainers felt [I] needed to sit out, I would’ve tried my best to get back in. But we have a great training staff, and they’re here for my best interests. So if I had to sit out, I’d sit out. But I would’ve fought every chance I got to get back on the field.”

Given all the time Mills has missed, it’s natural to question whether Chicago’s offensive line will hit the field against the Bills as a cohesive group. Offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer said last week that Mills’ absence along with others along the offensive line gave the staff extra opportunities to evaluate potential backups.

“The positive of that is it has given us an opportunity to give reps to other players, and it has opened the door for them,” Kromer said.
Most significant move: After finishing last season on the injured because of a hamstring injury in training camp, veteran cornerback Kelvin Hayden made it through the preseason healthy and appeared to perform well throughout camp and the preseason to make the team. Perhaps Hayden became a victim of the numbers game, as the Chicago Bears decided to go into the regular season without him. The Bears drafted Kyle Fuller in the first round, and he turned heads throughout the preseason which likely gave the club enough confidence to use him opposite Charles Tillman on passing downs, while sliding Tim Jennings inside to the nickel. Hayden has proved to be a capable at both cornerback spots and at nickel. So by cutting Hayden the Bears lose solid veteran depth at corner.

Too little, too late: Eben Britton could be considered somewhat of a surprise cut. Britton played 13 games last season and started in four games, but pulled a hamstring early in camp which limited his availability throughout the preseason. Britton played in only the preseason finale at Cleveland because of the injury, and didn’t perform particularly well when called upon. Receiver Chris Williams entered training camp as one of the favorites to win the job as Chicago’s primary return man. But like Britton, Williams missed too much time because of a hamstring injury suffered Aug. 8 while catching a 73-yard touchdown pass against the Philadelphia Eagles. Britton and Williams should catch on with other teams as both are capable of playing in the NFL. But hamstring injuries limited their opportunities to show what they could do for the Bears, and the team couldn’t give either the benefit of the doubt in making Sunday’s decisions.

Whacked again: Defensive end Austen Lane wrote this great account of what it’s like to get cut last year for The MMQB. At the time, Lane was getting ready to try again with the Kansas City Chiefs, where he’d eventually be cut again. Lane ended up appearing in two games with the Detroit Lions last season, only to be waived 22 days after the club signed him. The Bears signed Lane on Feb. 27, but the veteran failed to nab a roster spot in what seemed to be a logjam at the defensive end position despite performing solidly.

What’s next: With cuts now out of the way, the Bears will establish a 10-man practice squad by the end of the weekend before turning their attention to the season opener against the Buffalo Bills.

Team moves: WR Josh Bellamy, C Taylor Boggs, DT Brandon Dunn, LB Jerry Franklin, OG Ryan Groy, LB DeDe Lattimore, CB Al Louis-Jean, WR Dale Moss, DT Lee Pegues, DT Tracy Robertson, S Marcus Trice, WR Chris Williams, CB C.J. Wilson, OT Eben Britton, CB Kelvin Hayden, DE Austen Lane, S M.D. Jennings.
Most significant move: The most significant move of the cut-down period for the Cincinnati Bengals was the decision to terminate veteran running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis' contract Friday. It wasn't too surprising considering the fact the Bengals drafted rookie Jeremy Hill in the second round in May. Still, the fact that a veteran as respected as Green-Ellis -- he played in one Super Bowl and didn't have a fumble before arriving in Cincinnati -- got cut was attention-grabbing. The most stunning move of the weekend came Saturday, when defensive tackle Devon Still was waived. A former second-round pick, Still's release was a clear sign the Bengals have established the type of depth that now makes parting with such high picks the norm. Still's release also was stunning because earlier this year his 4-year-old daughter, Leah, was diagnosed with stage-4 cancer. She just moved to Cincinnati for treatment last weekend. It was in part because of Still's personal situation that made coach Marvin Lewis mention multiple times Saturday how cutting him was among the most difficult decisions his staff had to make this year.

Same safety group: After signing veteran Danieal Manning in the offseason, the Bengals are going to end up entering the regular season in the exact same spot they were when the offseason began: with Taylor Mays and Shawn Williams backing up Reggie Nelson and George Iloka. Manning may have had versatility as a returner, and he may also have had some veteran savvy, but Williams still has promise and upside. He also has special-teams coverage ability -- a trait more valued on a team that already was chock full of possible return specialists. Mays also has potential and brings the added dimension of being able to play linebacker in certain nickel situations.

Hamilton the odd WR out: One of the more intriguing storylines to track this preseason had to do with the battle for the final wide receiver spots. Former practice-squad player Cobi Hamilton was slugging it out with rookie James Wright and veteran Brandon Tate. With bouts of inconsistency this summer, Hamilton long appeared to be the odd man out of the mix, and on Saturday he was. Although he still could be added back to the practice squad, Hamilton was cut while the other two stuck. Wright's penalties on special teams in games this preseason concern coaches, but his upside outweighs them, Lewis said.

What's next? For 10 of the 13 players who were waived, potentially the practice squad. Lewis didn't rule out the fact that many of them may make it on that list, which will be announced Sunday. For rookie quarterback AJ McCarron, the next six weeks will be filled with rehab and position meetings as he participates as part of the non-football injury list. He's unable to practice with the team until Week 7. Similarly, the Bengals are going to be monitoring rookie offensive guard Trey Hopkins, who was placed on injured reserve Saturday. They have until Tuesday to announce whether he will be on IR all year or if he can be IR'd with a designation to return after Week 9.

Bengals' moves: Terminated -- RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis, S Danieal Manning, OT Will Svitek. Waived -- LB Brandon Joiner, QB Tyler Wilson, DT LaKendrick Ross, DT Devon Still, OG Trevor Robinson, WR Colin Lockett, H-back Orson Charles, FB Nikita Whitlock, RB James Wilder Jr., CB Victor Hampton, CB Onterio McCalebb, WR Cobi Hamilton, OT Dan France, DT David King, DE Sam Montgomery, DE Dontay Moch. Suspended -- CB Chris Lewis-Harris. Non-Football Injury List -- QB AJ McCarron. Injured Reserve -- OG Trey Hopkins. Waived/Injury Settlement -- CB Lavelle Westbrooks.
CINCINNATI -- Along with earlier reported cuts, the Cincinnati Bengals made a series of additional moves Saturday afternoon to reach their 53-man roster limit entering next week's regular season.

Manning
Among the biggest cuts were contract terminations of veteran safety Danieal Manning and offensive tackle Will Svitek. Those cuts were announced by the team not long after reports indicated defensive tackle Devon Still, H-back Orson Charles, offensive lineman Trevor Robinson and receiver Colin Lockett had been waived.

Those reports were all accurate.

In addition, the Bengals waived offensive tackle Dan France, cornerbacks Onterio McCalebb and Victor Hampton, receiver Cobi Hamilton, defensive tackle David King, defensive ends Dontay Moch and Sam Montgomery, fullback Nikita Whitlock and running back James Wilder Jr. All the players who were waived are eligible to join the team's practice squad, which will be named Sunday.

The Bengals expect to use all 10 practice squad spots.

Along with those moves, the Bengals also had a series of others to get down to the 53-man active roster. Offensive guard Trey Hopkins, an undrafted rookie free agent from Texas, was placed on the injured reserve with a leg injury. Hopkins was carted off the field in the fourth quarter of the Bengals' Week 3 preseason game at Arizona. Hopkins joins linebacker J.K. Schaffer on the IR.

In a corresponding move, seventh-round cornerback Lavelle Westbrooks, who cleared waivers this week after getting a thumb injury, was released with an injury settlement Saturday.

Cincinnati made one other injury-list designation when it put quarterback AJ McCarron on the non-football injury list with a shoulder issue that has plagued him since arriving in May. It means the Bengals will keep two quarterbacks, the same as they typically do. As part of the NFI list, McCarron can remain with the team for rehab and meetings but can't practice until Week 7. At that time, he will begin a window of eligibility to return to practice under a roster exemption, if medically cleared.

Additionally, cornerback Chris Lewis-Harris went on the suspension reserve list after violating the league's substance abuse policy in July. He will miss the first two games.

Here is the complete list of moves made Saturday:

Contracts terminated
S Danieal Manning
OT Will Svitek

Waived (but eligible for practice squad)
OT Dan France
OL Trevor Robinson
RB James Wilder Jr.
FB Nikita Whitlock
H-back Orson Charles
WR Cobi Hamilton
WR Colin Lockett
DT David King
DT Devon Still
DE Dontay Moch
DE Sam Montgomery
CB Onterio McCalebb
CB Victor Hampton

Moved to Injured Reserve
OG Trey Hopkins (leg)

Given Injury Settlement
CB Lavelle Westbrooks (thumb)

Suspended (for 2 games)
CB Chris Lewis-Harris

Moved to Non-Football Injury List
QB AJ McCarron (shoulder)
CINCINNATI -- The Cincinnati Bengals have parted ways with defensive tackle Devon Still and H-back Orson Charles, according to Pro Football Talk.

A former second-round pick out of Penn State, Still was part of the same 2012 rookie class that brought linebacker Vontaze Burfict to Cincinnati as an undrafted free agent. Charles was a fourth-round Bengals selection in that same draft. He came to Cincinnati as a tight end but was moved to H-back last season.

In his two seasons with the Bengals, Still appeared in 18 games and recorded just 21 tackles. He also had one half sack, which came his rookie year.

Injuries overshadowed much of Still's career with the Bengals, including two major injuries he fought through in 2013. After bouncing back from a dislocated elbow, he suffered a back injury that held him out of the last two games of the regular season, as well as the Bengals' opening-round playoff loss to the Chargers. This offseason, Still underwent back surgery to repair a ruptured disc. He returned in time for training camp.

Still was hopeful that he'd contribute this season, going as far as telling me last week that he felt in the best health he had been in for quite some time.

Bengals coaches apparently didn't quite see Still's playing prospects as well as he did. Defensive coordinator Paul Guenther intimated ahead of last week's third preseason game at Arizona that he wanted to see more from Still.

"I still think the fourth tackle spot's kind of open right now," Guenther said. "So hopefully somebody can take the lead on that one."

That "somebody" should have been Still, the backup to Domata Peko who played at times alongside fellow 2012 draft pick Brandon Thompson. With Geno Atkins sidelined with an ACL injury last season, Thompson stepped up and filled in admirably. He continued that strong play this preseason.

Still presumably will be replaced by Christo Bilukidi. Rookie Ryan Hewitt has been Charles' challenger all preseason, and is his expected replacement.

The news on Still getting cut has some poor timing for the lineman who is going through personal hardship right now. His 4-year-old daughter, Leah, was diagnosed earlier this offseason with a serious pediatric cancer. Just last weekend she moved from Delaware to Cincinnati, where she will be almost exclusively treated at Cincinnati Children's Hospital.

Charles had his own off-field situation this offseason. In March, he was arrested for waving a gun at a motorist in Kentucky while he traveled along Interstate 75. His legal proceedings are still pending.

Along with Still and Charles, the Bengals have also reportedly cut ties with offensive lineman Trevor Robinson and receiver Colin Lockett. With cornerback Chris Lewis-Harris set to begin serving a two-game suspension for violating the league's substance abuse policy, the Bengals -- as of this posting -- are now in need of cutting another 13 players to get to the magical number of 53 by Saturday's 4 p.m. ET deadline.

Live: NFL roster cut-down day

August, 30, 2014
Aug 30
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NFL teams must cut their rosters to 53 players on Saturday by 4 p.m. ET. Follow along with NFL Nation as the announcements are made.
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CINCINNATI -- After 112 days, finally, the news came.

BenJarvus Green-Ellis was cut.

[+] EnlargeJeremy Hill
AP Photo/Rick ScuteriJeremy Hill can expect the Bengals to use him in a variety of ways this season.
Most around southwest Ohio had anticipated hearing of the running back's release since May, when the Cincinnati Bengals drafted his replacement, Jeremy Hill. A second-round pick, Hill vowed that weekend to learn from and play along with Green-Ellis, even while it was apparent that the veteran's days were numbered.

Those days officially ran out Friday afternoon.

Green-Ellis' release means the Bengals have turned to the next chapter of their backfield plans, and that they are embracing having Hill as an option out of the backfield. It's safe to say that in Cincinnati, the Jeremy Hill Era has begun.

You actually could rewind your clock back to Thursday night in order to pinpoint the exact moment Hill's tenure with the Bengals began. During a 35-7 win over the Indianapolis Colts, the running back shouldered the load, receiving 26 touches. He ran 20 times for 90 yards and caught six passes for 63. With the star rookie playing until deep into the third quarter, many criticized coach Marvin Lewis for not taking him out sooner.

There was a method to Lewis' apparent madness.

"Jeremy has to understand what it's like to be an NFL running back," Lewis said. "We aren't five deep. When we get to Sundays and we got down to 46 guys, and if he's going to be the guy, then he's going to have to be able to shoulder the load."

It should be pointed out that he won't be the only guy for the Bengals this season. Second-year back Giovani Bernard also will be contributing out of the backfield. Bernard is expected to see the bulk of the touches out of the backfield, but Hill should have his share, too.

Bernard is more of a shifty, outside runner who can punch the ball inside if he needs to. Hill is more of a power-running ballcarrier who happens to have next-level speed, too.

Green-Ellis no longer had that combination, and it factored into the reasons he had to go.

When you saw Green-Ellis and Hill run in practices during the spring and earlier this summer, it was a night-and-day difference in how fluid Hill looked compared to the veteran. The rookie's cuts were sharper. His feet were quicker. His strides were longer. Matched with Green-Ellis' comparatively plodding pace, Hill looked more like an NFL rusher than Green-Ellis. There was no contest.

After Thursday night's game, Hill was asked about getting such an exhaustive workload on a warm, humid night. He said he felt fine with it because it was good preparation for what's to come.

"Bigger backs are always accustomed to getting the workload," Hill said, adding that he still wants to work on his conditioning a little more.

A physical runner himself, Green-Ellis has gotten his share of carries in recent seasons. In his two years with the Bengals he averaged 249 carries. Prior to that, though, he never had more than 229 in a single season with the New England Patriots, the only other team Green-Ellis has played for.

You won't ever hear Green-Ellis admit it, but perhaps his slower, less effective play last season was partially the result of overuse. He was, after all, the primary back on the roster in 2012 when he had 278 carries. Last season he had Bernard to share the runs with, but he still far outpaced any other Bengals rusher, collecting 220 carries.

While coaches won't say how often they expect to use Hill this season, based on Thursday, it's clear they expect to use him in a variety of ways. The rookie ran up the middle, hit the edge a few times and even caught a number of screen passes.

"He likes to attack every corner of the field," backup quarterback Jason Campbell said.

Now that Green-Ellis is no longer ahead of him, Hill will be able to touch as much of the field as he wants.
An important development occurred in the final week of the NFL preseason: Calls for illegal contact and defensive holding -- two key points of emphasis in 2014 -- dropped significantly Thursday night.

The league still finished the preseason with a total of 271 calls (accepted or declined) for those two penalties, nearly five times the total for the 2013 preseason -- and almost matching the total for the entire 2013 regular season. Details are in the chart, provided by ESPN Stats & Information.

Earlier this summer, the NFL acknowledged it planned to use the 2014 preseason as a platform for rewiring techniques among pass defenders. Vice president of officiating Dean Blandino said the league wanted to accomplish two goals: Eradicate contact with eligible receivers after 5 yards and eliminate the grabbing of jerseys downfield. As penalty totals skyrocketed, Blandino made clear that he expected them to regulate as everyone adjusted to new expectations.

Hopefully, we saw the beginning of that normalization Thursday night. In 16 games, officials called a total of 41 penalties (accepted or declined) for illegal contact or defensive holding. That works out to a rate of about 1.28 per game. In the first 49 games of the preseason, that rate was 4.69 per game.

You might ask why the NFL went through this process if it planned all along to pull back when the regular season arrived. First, I don't think we can say for certain that the pullback has occurred. The final preseason game is hardly a template, given the number of backups playing and the desire to keep the clock moving and prevent injuries.

Second, players and coaches aren't the only people who needed to adjust. I think it's fair to say that officials might have overreacted a bit to their initial instructions and, simply, thrown too many flags over the first three weeks.

I would expect to see illegal contact and defensive holding called more often in the 2014 regular season than it was in 2013. But in all likelihood, those calls will be made closer to the rate of Thursday night than over the first three weeks of the preseason.
Three takeaways from ESPN's #NFLRank reveal of the top 100 offensive and top 100 defensive players in the league. Today: 1-10.

1. QB shuffle: Everyone loves a quarterback ranking, and #NFLRank brought a unique take to the traditional top four. For the second consecutive year, the panel tapped Green Bay Packers ace Aaron Rodgers as the best quarterback in football. If anything, the 2013 season shook loose anyone who might have grown numb to Rodgers' skills and value. The Packers won only two of eight games he either didn't play in or couldn't finish because of a fractured collarbone, but he returned in Week 17 to lead the team to a division-clinching victory at the Chicago Bears. Meanwhile, the panel reacted to Tom Brady's down season for the New England Patriots by pushing him down to the No. 4 QB after Rodgers, the Denver Broncos' Peyton Manning and the New Orleans Saints' Drew Brees. Brady is still considered the seventh-best offensive player in the game, but you'll find no argument here about his standing among other elite quarterbacks.

2. Burying the lede: In a quarterback-driven league, it's fascinating that a receiver was named the best offensive player in the game. Yes, in 2014, Rodgers and Detroit Lions receiver Calvin Johnson have swapped positions. Quarterback is the game's most important position, but the prime of Johnson's career is proving to be historically productive even in the NFL's age of passing. In 46 games over three seasons, Johnson has caught 302 passes for 5,137 yards and 33 touchdowns. That means in his average game -- average! -- Johnson catches 6.6 passes for 111.7 yards. Johnson has accounted for 1,120 more yards over that period than the NFL's next-most productive receiver, Brandon Marshall. There is no other player in the NFL who has outperformed his peers at that level in recent years.

3. Anonymously elite: You could probably name the NFL sack leader over the past two seasons. The Houston Texans' J.J. Watt has 31 since the start of the 2012 season, and for that and other reasons, he is the No. 1 defensive player in this year' #NFLRank. But can you identify the player who totaled the second-most sacks over that period? Robert Quinn of the St. Louis Rams might be the least known player among the #NFLRank top 10s, but he grew into an unblockable force during last season's 19-sack campaign. (He has 29.5 since the start of 2012.) One linebacker and three defensive backs separated Watt and Quinn in this ranking, and at this point Quinn has to be considered the top edge rusher in the NFL. You'll be hearing more about him.
CINCINNATI -- Vontaze Burfict has barely begun his second professional contract, but he wants the Cincinnati Bengals to know that he already has deal No. 3 on his mind.

Burfict
When he signed his new three-year contract extension worth about $20 million Wednesday, Burfict let front office officials know that he'd be back in a little more than two years when it's time to renegotiate. His plan? To stay in stripes as long as possible.

"I told Troy [Blackburn] I'll be back in 2016," Burfict told ESPN.com in the Bengals' locker room after Thursday night's preseason finale. "Obviously they trust me, and like I've said, I want to be a leader of the defense. We have great things to come for the next three years while I'm here."

Blackburn is one of the Bengals' two vice presidents. He's also the husband of executive vice president Katie Blackburn, the daughter of president Mike Brown. Brown's father, Paul Brown, founded the team in 1968 and owned it until his death in 1991.

With Mike Brown beginning to transition out of the team's daily operations, the Blackburns -- most notably Katie -- have been behind some of the more recent big-salary moves the Bengals have made. It was under Katie Blackburn's guidance that Burfict's extension, as well as extensions for quarterback Andy Dalton and defensive tackle Geno Atkins, were drawn.

Burfict said he liked the way the contract was set up.

"It's front-loaded," he said, nodding slowly, "and I'll make a lot of money in the next six months."

He clearly wasn't trying to brag, but he was telling the truth. He stands to make $7.6 million this season, with additional bonus money coming in March. Within the next six months, he'll make $10.8 million. As an undrafted free agent who signed out of Arizona State just two years ago, Burfict had been scheduled to make a little more than $570,000 this season. He certainly received quite the pay day.

As we pointed out Wednesday, you'll be hard-pressed to find too many other players make that type of raise after only two years in part because of the way the new collective bargaining agreement is set up. A player basically has to follow Burfict's path -- be undrafted, but perform really, really well right away.

"Me getting a new contract in two years was huge, and it's rare," Burfict said. "But I've put in a lot of work and I feel like I deserve it."

Burfict has 298 career tackles. Of those, a league-leading 171 came in last season's Pro Bowl campaign.
CINCINNATI -- Marvin Lewis' expectations for Cincinnati Bengals defensive end Margus Hunt were simple Thursday night.

The coach just wanted Hunt to dominate.

And that's exactly what he did.

[+] EnlargeMargus Hunt
Aaron Doster/USA TODAY SportsMargus Hunt had a mammoth finish to the preseason, registering three sacks on Thursday night.
With a battered and bruised Colts offensive line opposite him, and series of inexperienced backup tackles and guards shuffled in and out of the preseason finale, Hunt had no choice but to dominate. If he couldn't handle the down-on-the-depth-chart players tasked with facing him, then the Bengals would have found that they had some work left before anointing him a key piece of their pass rush.

Thanks to Hunt's focus on finishing his rushes, he didn't have to worry about that happening.

"You know, he should dominate in a game like this and he did it," Lewis, the Bengals' 12th-year head coach, said. "That's what you want to see. You want to see him dominate. That's the confidence he needs, the opportunity, the chance to critique himself."

Hunt ended the game with four tackles -- all for loss. Three of his stops resulted in sacks. One of the sacks, the last one, came as a blocker was draped all over him. Despite the offensive lineman's valiant attempt at trying to keep Hunt off his quarterback, the second-year defensive end finished the play off and secured the sack.

"A lot of guys can do good things in practice, but you have to go ahead and finish the rush [in a game], so you can kind of build through your repertoire of moves and stuff," Lewis said.

In the days that immediately followed the Bengals' loss at Kansas City during the preseason opener, Hunt emphasized how important finishing was for an end like himself. He didn't feel good about the way he cut short a few of his rushes. At least one of them could have been a sack had he not slowed his momentum so soon, he said.

Part of the problem back then had to do with the fact that Hunt and the Bengals' other defensive linemen were still looking to tap into that final bit of early-year recklessness that can sometimes be hard to showcase coming off an eight-month period in which they haven't been able to tackle. That problem got exacerbated when the linemen became used to pulling up on sack opportunities during training camp. When practicing against Cincinnati's offense, particularly the first-team unit Hunt was seeing so regularly early in camp, they weren't allowed to touch the quarterback.

They still aren't in practices.

In turn, bad habits can develop and bleed over into games. That's what happened four weeks ago with Hunt, and it's not at all what happened Thursday. He made sure to finish those plays. Hunt is confident he'll continue finishing once the regular season begins next weekend.

"It's just about speed, speed and trying to get it on the edge and trying to be disruptive," Hunt said.

CINCINNATI -- In their final preseason game last year, the Cincinnati Bengals were forced to look on as promising outside linebacker Emmanuel Lamur was loaded onto a cart, sidelined before the end of the first quarter with a season-ending shoulder injury.

It was far from what coaches had in mind when they trotted out the player who had been expected to be their starting nickel linebacker.

Clearly, they learned from that experience. When the Bengals took the field Thursday night for this year's preseason finale, they did so with virtually an all-backup offense and defense. The Bengals pulled all their starters in favor of other players who are trying to earn spots on the roster before Saturday's 53-man roster limit goes into effect.

Health was the top priority for the Bengals against the Colts on Thursday. The result of the game was secondary.

By the way, Cincinnati won, 35-7.

Here are a few more thoughts on the Bengals' preseason finale:
  • Lamur wasn't the only starter who began last year's preseason finale. Every other first-string offensive and defensive player was on the field on the first drives when the Bengals hosted the Colts in late-August 2013. This time around, only rookie starting center Russell Bodine received action. Every other starter on both sides of the ball rested and took the night off. In addition to Bodine, rookie running back Jeremy Hill also got extended playing time. While he isn't a starter, Hill is still viewed as a player who ought to be a regular contributor this season. He certainly was the Bengals' most-used back Thursday, receiving 26 touches. He rushed 20 times for 90 yards and caught six passes for 70 yards. He also came up a half-yard short of a touchdown.
  • It was surprising that Hill remained in the game in the third quarter after he injured an elbow while diving -- unsuccessfully -- for a first down near the end of the second quarter. After some evaluation on the sideline and at halftime, he came back on the field on Bengals' first offensive drive of the third quarter. It wasn't until the end of that drive that James Wilder Jr. came in for consistent game action. He appeared in two just plays in the game previous to that. I can't think of many reasons as to why Cincinnati stuck with Hill for so long. As it is, they're fortunate to have avoided serious injury with him.
  • In addition to Hill's rather impressive stat line, quarterback Jason Campbell had a strong one, too, against an all-backup Colts defense. Campbell was 13-for-16 with 123 yards, a 1-yard touchdown pass and a sack. His replacement, Tyler Wilson, had a 50-yard touchdown pass at the start of the fourth quarter to Cobi Hamilton, his former college teammate. It was an important catch for Hamilton, who enters Saturday's cuts still on the roster bubble.
  • Cincinnati's starting defense was dominant this preseason, holding opponents to only four field goals. It didn't allow a touchdown. The reserves tried hard to match their first-string teammates Thursday, and almost did. It wasn't until the final nine minutes of the game that the group allowed its first score of the contest. Otherwise, the back end of the defense looked about as good as the front half has much of camp. Second-year defensive end Margus Hunt played a key role in that, finishing with four tackles and three sacks. After struggling at the start of the preseason with finishing plays, he made sure he did against Indianapolis' reserve linemen and quarterbacks. His last sack came as he was simultaneously fighting through a block.

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