Catching you up on the latest must-read news and analysis from around the web…
• The NFL announced some major changes to the Pro Bowl, beginning with the Jan. 26, 2014 version of the game. One of those alterations: the elimination of kickoffs, a move no doubt designed to further protect players in the annual All-Star Game.
But that adjustment is not sitting too well with the return specialists around the league, including the Bears' Devin Hester, who told Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune that he's pretty upset with the league's decision.
"That was one of my goals for this season," Hester said. "I won't make the Pro Bowl. They can't do that. ...
"If you are taking the returner out of the Pro Bowl, you're taking two positions out. That will suck for me. They are trying to change up the whole game of football and they're messing with people's jobs and lives."
Hester has a point there, and it goes beyond simply wanting to earn a spot in the game itself. Many players have Pro Bowl bonus clauses included in their contracts, whereby they're given a little salary bump if they're awarded a roster spot. Hester and other special-teams stars around the league, like Oakland's Joshua Cribbs and Tennessee's Marc Mariani, now have virtually no shot of being Pro Bowlers in 2014, barring unexpected turns as top receivers for their respective teams.
Those guys may want to get used to this. There have been rumblings for some time now that one of the ways the NFL may make the game safer could be to eliminate kickoffs. The violent nature of those plays -- coverage teams charging 60 yards downfield and slamming into the blocking units -- are of great concern to the league. A few years back, the NFL enacted a rule change that eliminated "wedge blocking" on kick returns, in hopes that would decrease injuries.
• Already, it appears that the Philadelphia Eagles' potential three-man quarterback derby has been pared down to a head-to-head showdown. Rookie Matt Barkley is "likely a distant third," Jordan Raannan of NJ.com reported, with the former USC QB running exclusively with the third team so far in camp.
While that should come as no real surprise given that both Michael Vick and Nick Foles have NFL experience, Barkley was thought to be a sleeper candidate in Philadelphia's QB race after the Eagles traded up for him in Round 4 of this year's draft.
A heavy does of tight end action for the rest of this "Off the Snap" ...
First up, the Ravens and their ongoing quest to replace Dennis Pitta in the lineup for 2013. Ed Dickson's the favorite to take on most of Pitta's snaps as the first-team TE, but rookie Kyle Juszczyk (aka An Editor's Nightmare) might have an opportunity to pitch in, too.
Juszczyk told Garrett Downing of BaltimoreRavens.com, "I definitely see that as a possibility. ... I wouldn't be surprised if I started doing a little bit more of that."
Listed as a fullback on Baltimore's roster, Juszczyk actually led Harvard in receptions last season with 52. He even had a 15-catch game against Princeton in which he played more of an H-back role.
Juszczyk is behind the newly re-signed Vonta Leach at fullback and likely behind at least Dickson and Visanthe Shiancoe at tight end. Should Baltimore opt to be a little more creative sans Pitta, however, Juszczyk could get the call.
• The injury outlook is much brighter across the Beltway in Washington, where the Redskins are thrilled to have back the services of tight end Fred Davis. The sixth-year Redskin played just seven games last season.
He caught 24 passes in that short window, giving the Redskins reason to be excited that he'll gel again with QB Robert Griffin III this year. Such chemistry would benefit Davis, given that he's in a contract year ... again. Davis was hit with the franchise tag before the 2012 season, then signed a one-year deal this summer.Tom Brady