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Labriola on practice squad, NFL on TV, $$$ for signings

Ready or not, here it comes:

• ‘Tis the season. With roster cuts due by 4 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 1, the issue of practice squad eligibility is more at the forefront than at any other time of the NFL calendar. And since figuring out practice squad eligibility is similarly complex to figuring out compensatory draft picks, my procedure is to rely on the experts to provide a list of eligible players rather than try to figure it out myself.

• And so, here it is. A list of the 55 players on the Steelers’ current 90-man roster who have practice squad eligibility, and for those who like to play the guess-the-53-man-roster game, they will be listed by position.

• One additional note: Players listed with an (e) designation are “exception” players, and each team is permitted to have four “exception” players among its 10-man practice squad. For the Steelers, their practice squad can contain 11 players, as long as the 11th is Christian Scotland-Williamson, the former rugby player who was given an exemption as part of the NFL’s international player program.

• QUARTERBACKS (2): Joshua Dobbs and Mason Rudolph.

• RUNNING BACKS (4): James Conner (e), Jarvion Franklin, Jaylen Samuels, and James Summers.

• TIGHT ENDS (3): Xavier Grimble (e), Bucky Hodges, and Pharoah McKever. Christian Scotland-Williamson is also a tight end.

• WIDE RECEIVERS (8): Trey Griffey, Quadree Henderson, Tevin Jones, Damoun Patterson, JuJu Smith-Schuster (e), Justin Thomas, Marcus Tucker, and James Washington.

• OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (10): Zach Banner, Joseph Cheek, B.J. Finney (e), Larson Graham, Patrick Morris, Chuks Okorafor, Oni Omoile, R.J. Prince, Jake Rodgers, and Chris Schleuger.

• DEFENSIVE LINEMEN (7): Parker Cothren, Joshua Frazier, Greg Gilmore, Javon Hargrave (e), Lavon Hooks, Casey Sayles, and Kendal Vickers.

• INSIDE LINEBACKERS (4): Matt Galambos, Keith Kelsey, Tyler Matakevich (e), Matthew Thomas.

• OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS (4): Keion Adams, Ola Adeniyi, Farrington Huguenin, and T.J. Watt (e).

• CORNERBACKS (6): Brian Allen (e), Artie Burns (e), Mike Hilton (e), Malik Reaves, Jamar Summers, and Cam Sutton.

• SAFETIES (5): Marcus Allen, Jordan Dangerfield (e), Sean Davis (e), Terrell Edmunds, and Malik Golden.

• SPECIALISTS (2): Kameron Canaday (e) and Matt Wile.

• For much of the last 12 months, we have been reading and hearing about a decline in interest in the NFL, about how viewership is down, etc. Well, Michael Mulvihill is the Executive Vice President, Research, League Operations & Strategy, and he is responsible for scheduling, strategic planning, analytics and advertising sales, and communications support within FOX Sports.

• Citing data from Nielsen, in the demographic of adults 18-49 years old, Mulvihill found that in 2017, 71 of the 100 most-watched telecasts in America were NFL games. In 2007, that same figure was 22 of the 100 most-watched telecasts were NFL games.

• It’s possible that both things can be true – that total viewership is down and that 71 of the 100 most-watched telecasts in America last year were NFL games. The overall numbers matter, certainly, but it’s also difficult to make the point – or to imply – that NFL games are losing their appeal as television content. Even if someone tweets that NFL games are losing appeal and USES ALL CAPITAL LETTERS TO DO IT. Sad!

• When Joshua Dobbs came to the Steelers as a fourth-round pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, he arrived after a career at Tennessee in which he didn’t have a full-time quarterbacks coach. When the Steelers got him here, they had Randy Fichtner working with him daily on his footwork and mechanics, and during the process it became evident that Dobbs was especially lacking in these areas when throwing to his left.

• In the first two preseason games, Dobbs completed 21-of-31 (67.7 percent) for 283 yards, with three touchdowns, two interceptions, and a passer rating of 101.9. He also rushed for 46 yards on seven carries, and those numbers don’t include the two-point conversion run he had in Green Bay.

• The worst of Dobbs’ three interceptions came on his first attempt of the second half in Green Bay, when Josh Jackson stepped in front of an out-route intended for Damoun Patterson an returned it 22 yards for a touchdown. That ball was thrown to Dobbs’ left.

• Sean Davis recently returned to practice and is expected to see his first preseason action on Saturday at Heinz Field against the Tennessee Titans. This wouldn’t initially appear to be a big deal, because Davis is going into his third NFL season, and in his first two he appeared in 32 games and started 25, during which he accumulated 123 tackles, four interceptions, and 2.5 sacks.

• But Davis was a strong safety during his first two seasons and will be playing free safety in this one. Defensive backs coach Tom Bradley says that’s not an insignificant adjustment. “It’s much different than where he’s been,” said Bradley about free safety as opposed to strong safety. “Sean’s the last guy back there most times, and he’s got to understand the importance of his decision-making.”

• Free safety is a position where one false step can lead to the kind of play that’s then followed by an extra point.

• A faction of Steelers fans want their favorite team to add a veteran inside linebacker before the start of the regular season, with their preferences being either NaVorro Bowman or Lawrence Timmons. But neither of those guys can play anymore, or at least neither can play to the level those fans have in their memories when they’re thinking about those guys.

• During the 2013 NFC Championship Game, Bowman tore both the ACL and the MCL in his left knee, a sufficiently serious injury that he missed all of the 2014 season. In 2015, Bowman started all 16 games and was voted to the Pro Bowl, but then four games into the 2016 season, he tore an Achilles.

• Timmons is 32, a former No. 1 pick of the Steelers, the first first-round draft choice of the Mike Tomlin era. Unlike Bowman, Timmons never has sustained traumatic injuries to his legs, but he has 186 NFL games on his body, including playoffs, and in his final game with the Steelers – the 2016 AFC Championship Game in Foxboro – he was exposed consistently in coverage by the Patriots.

• Timmons was released by the Dolphins a few months ago after they signed him to a two-year guaranteed contract in the 2017 offseason. Bowman started the 2017 season with the 49ers, but after being benched during a game against Indianapolis in mid-October, Bowman asked for, and was granted, his release after San Francisco was unable to trade him. The Raiders signed him, and he finished that 2017 season in Oakland.

• Both Bowman and Timmons are currently street free agents, and they have been available for any team to sign since before the 2018 NFL Draft in late April. If they still were what they once were, they would be street free agents today.

• What might be the Steelers’ interest in that level of signing at this stage of the process? Sometimes, it’s necessary to read between the lines, and that can prove to be a helpful strategy in looking at the contract extensions signed yesterday by Chris Boswell and Vince Williams.

• Based on early reports, each of the contracts will pay roughly $5 million a year to each of the players. While that’s not necessarily going to be the salary cap hit in 2018, the Steelers clearly decided against prioritizing going into early September with a sizable cap cushion in the event a big-name player becomes available either on the open market or via trade.

• So the way it looks now, based on these two recently signed contract extensions anyway, the Steelers aren’t going to be able to be as active around the Sept. 1 cut-down date as they were last summer, when they signed unrestricted free agent Joe Haden and made trades for veteran tight end Vance McDonald and veteran safety J.J. Wilcox.

• Last year, the Steelers had the cap space, and they actively pursued guys who played for other teams. This year, it looks like they’ve decided to spend the money on their own.

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