PHILADELPHA -- Steelers coach Mike Tomlin suddenly has a lot more to worry about than his top two running backs facing citations for marijuana possession.

The Steelers' third preseason game turned out about as well as the infamous car ride that landed Le'Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount in trouble and in unflattering headlines a day earlier.

The Steelers struggled in every aspect Thursday night at Lincoln Financial Field, and they were dominated when it mattered most in a 31-21 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles.

The Eagles, crisper and more physical than their in-state rivals, raced to a 17-0 halftime lead when starters from both teams were in the game, and it could have been worse for the Steelers.

Philadelphia quarterback Nick Foles just missed on a few throws that would have netted big gains, but he still completed 19 of 29 passes for 179 yards and a touchdown before calling it a night.

Ben Roethlisberger played two series in the second half, and he salvaged something from an otherwise forgettable night by leading a six-play, 79-yard touchdown drive in the third quarter.

Roethlisberger, who struggled with his accuracy and threw a bad interception in the first half, capped the drive with a 27-yard touchdown pass to tight end Heath Miller.

That march wasn't nearly enough to offset the ineptitude that the Steelers showed at times in all three phases of the game.

Some other thoughts from the Steelers' third preseason game:
  • Blount's play, ironically enough, was among the few positives that the Steelers could take away from the thorough beating they received from the Eagles. Blount, who alternated with Bell, rushed for 32 yards on seven carries and showed the nifty footwork that is unique for such a big back. Bell started the game and Blount also played on the first series.
  • If the preseason is any indication, the Steelers still haven't fixed a run defense that yielded 115.6 rushing yards per game last season. The Eagles repeatedly gashed the Steelers in the running game even though LeSean McCoy played just two series because of a thumb injury. The Eagles have one of the best offensive lines in the NFL, but Tomlin won't be happy with how they pushed around the Steelers. Defensive end Brett Keisel, who re-signed with the Steelers on Wednesday but didn't play against the Eagles, should help the defensive line. Improvement must be made across the board.
  • Wide receiver Justin Brown has faded and his hold on a roster spot should be tenuous after he failed to catch a pass despite getting extended work with the first-team offense as the No. 3 wide receiver. Brown, playing in place of Lance Moore, drew Roethlisberger's ire early when he ran a comeback route and had a pass sail over his head. The 2013 sixth-round pick was later flagged for offensive holding. In three preseason games Brown has three catches for 15 yards. Darrius Heyward-Bey, meanwhile, caught a 33-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter.
  • The Steelers didn't sustain a lot of injuries, but the two that were announced are worth watching. Linebacker Sean Spence left the game in the third quarter with a right knee injury and outside linebacker Jason Worilds didn't play again after hurting his right knee in the same quarter. Worilds may have been the Steelers' best defensive player before getting hurt. Of course that's not saying much considering that the Steelers gave up just under 500 yards of total offense.
  • There has to be some concern over Shaun Suisham, who has already missed two field goals in the preseason, the same number he missed all of last season. The 10th-year veteran has also missed a 33-yard extra point in preseason play.
BEREA, Ohio -- Browns coach Mike Pettine said the playcalling of defensive coordinators could be affected if officials continue to call illegal contact and defensive holding at an unprecedented rate during the regular season.

"You might see more press (coverage) because of it because the penalties are occurring above 5 yards," he said. "If you're sitting back and trying to catch a guy or contact him at the top of his route, that's when a lot of flags are being thrown -- at the top of the route, not necessarily within the first 5 yards."

Pettine said press coverage lends itself to fewer penalties because you're able to get your hands on receivers immediately at the line of scrimmage.

"If you're grabbing, that's a foul. To me, there's no debating that. If there's any form of grab or restrict, that's definitely a foul. (But) when you press, you have to get hands on without grabbing."

Pettine said coaches are anxious to see how officials are going to call games during the season. League figures show penalties are up nearly 44 percent over the same point last year: 756 infractions to 526. Illegal contact or defensive holding have accounted for 134 of the additional 230 infractions.

"I think the league is still in the process of trying to figure out how they want to call it," Pettine said. "We've had some interaction with the league office. We have our weekly routine where we send in plays and we get answers back. I don't want to go into the details of it, but we feel very comfortable with where we are with it based on the results coming back -- what should've been called, what shouldn't have been called. The whole league is curious to see if it's going to drop off."

Interestingly, Pettine said the Browns will monitor not only what's being called, but by whom.

"Will it very greatly by crew?" he said. "A lot of it is so subjective we'll really have to pay attention to each individual crew and how they're calling it. Everybody is a little anxious to see how it plays out."

In other developments:
  • Pettine said the starters would play "in the neighborhood" of a half Saturday against the Rams, with some possibly working into the third quarter. Teams typically play their starters the first three quarters of the third preseason game, then sit their key regulars the following week in the fourth and final exhibition game. Pettine is taking a slightly altered approach because he plans to use his starters for an unspecified number of snaps next week against Chicago. "It's safe to say for most of the ‘ones' that they'll be in the neighborhood of a half -- just depends on how the (snap) counts go on each side of the ball," Pettine said. "If we felt that one side didn't get enough work in a half, I could see extending them."
  • The Browns will conduct their walk-through at the FirstEnergy Stadium on Friday morning. Pettine said it's a chance for newcomers -- players and coaches -- to get comfortable with the building, adding: "Just to get them familiar with, ‘OK, here's where you go. Here's where the locker room is.' "
  • Pettine said wide receiver Nate Burleson is "day-to-day" with a hamstring injury that has sidelined him since Aug. 7, though Burleson told the media Thursday he hopes to play against the Rams.
  • Reminding players about new rules or enhanced enforcement of others is a constant chore for coaches. For instance, after seeing running back Ben Tate finger-roll a ball over the crossbar during a recent practice, Pettine had to remind him that the move would draw a flag during games. "Some guys hear but they don't listen," Pettine said. "(Ben) was surprised to hear that (the finger roll was illegal), so as we get closer to the start of the regular season (there will be) a review of everything, a review of the rules changes."
CINCINNATI -- Vontaze Burfict missed his second straight practice for the Cincinnati Bengals on Thursday, sidelined with an ailment defensive coordinator Paul Guenther previously called a "stomach bug."

Burfict
The linebacker's second day of rest came one day after reports surfaced suggesting he and the Bengals had agreed on a multi-year contract extension that will pay him about $20 million by its conclusion. According to ESPN Insider Adam Schefter, he'll be making $7.6 million in the first year of the new deal. Before the extension was agreed to, Burfict had been expected to make $570,000 in this, the last year of his rookie deal that was signed when he was an undrafted free agent in 2012.

Burfict wasn't at Paul Brown Stadium most of Wednesday after being permitted to go home because of the illness. He was long gone when news of the deal first trickled out late Wednesday.

As for Thursday, not only was Burfict seen often in the locker room talking with teammates, but he also made appearances on the sideline during the day's practice. He wasn't in uniform. He only wore a windbreaker and hat to keep him dry during the rainy practice session.

There hasn't been any indication why the Bengals have yet to formalize the extension.

Burfict wasn't the only player to miss the practice. Nine others were either held out in some capacity, including veteran offensive lineman Mike Pollak, who has been off and on all preseason as the eases back from an offseason knee injury.

As was mentioned in Wednesday's injury update, since the Bengals aren't required this preseason to file a daily injury report like they will be in the regular season, it can be tough determining which banged-up players were limited or in full participation in a workout. Media are only permitted to view the first 30 minutes of the closed practices. Here is what was observed Thursday:

Did not practice
LB Vontaze Burfict (stomach bug)
OL Mike Pollak (knee)
RB Rex Burkhead (knee)
LB J.K. Schaffer (head)
WR Marvin Jones (foot)
QB Tyler Wilson (head)
QB AJ McCarron (shoulder)
DE David King (undisclosed)

Wore jersey, but didn't practice
CB Darqueze Dennard (hip)
CB Lavelle Westbrooks (undisclosed)
OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Baltimore Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith has been ruled out for Saturday's preseason game against the Washington Redskins, according to coach John Harbaugh.

Smith bruised his chest on the opening drive of Saturday's 37-30 preseason win at the Dallas Cowboys. Harbaugh said earlier in the week that he anticipated Smith playing in the third preseason game. But the Ravens are taking the cautious route with Smith.

Smith

"He probably could play if it was a regular-season game," Harbaugh said.

Harbaugh also ruled out cornerbacks Lardarius Webb (back) and Asa Jackson (ankle). It's interesting to note that Harbaugh said his top three cornerbacks wouldn't play, which insinuates that Jackson is above Chykie Brown on the depth chart.

With all of those cornerbacks sidelined, the Ravens will start Brown and Dominique Franks and use Terrence Brooks as the nickelback. They'll have to match up against the Redskins wide receivers DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon.

"It's going to be an opportunity for those guys to go against the best for a long period of time," Harbaugh said. "It's going to be a good chance to evaluate where we're at and give those guys an opportunity to prove they can play with the best."
OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Long before the ALS ice bucket challenges dominated social media, the Baltimore Ravens have been reminded of the courage it takes to fight the devastating disease every time linebacker C.J. Mosley steps onto the field.

Mosley, the team's first-round pick, is wearing No. 57, a privilege not bestowed upon a Ravens player for the past six years.

It's more than a uniform number for the Ravens organization. It has become a symbol of O.J. Brigance, a member of the 2000 Super Bowl champions and the team's senior adviser of player development who has been battling amyotrophic lateral sclerosis for seven years.

[+] EnlargeO.J. Brigance
AP Photo/Steve RuarkO.J. Brigance, senior adviser of player development, shown Feb. 5, 2013, at a celebration for the Ravens' latest Super Bowl win.
Ravens coach John Harbaugh came up with the idea of letting Mosley wear No. 57 after the team selected him with the No. 17 overall pick in the draft.

"The time is right now because of what O.J. has meant to us here," Harbaugh said. "The timing was right to bring his legacy -- and he's living it still -- back to the forefront."

Harbaugh would only give that jersey number with Brigance's blessing and asked him about it in an email.

Wheelchair-bound and unable to use his voice, Brigance communicates through eye-recognition software, which allows him to choose a letter when he blinks at it.

"I was initially surprised when Coach Harbaugh asked about C. J. wearing 57," Brigance wrote. "It was such a great honor that he removed the number from circulation. Once he explained the character and tenacity of the man that he would like to wear it, I was honored to have him wear 57."

Brigance was an undersized but overachieving linebacker and special-teams player in the CFL and NFL. Wearing No. 57, he charged down the field on the opening kickoff to make first tackle in the Ravens' 2000 Super Bowl win.

In May 2007, when he was the team's director of player development, he was diagnosed with ALS, a progressive and fatal disease that shuts down nerve cells responsible for movement but doesn't impair the brain or any of the senses.

Told he had five years to live, Brigance is outliving the prognosis with each passing day.

Mosley
Brigance, who will celebrate his 45th birthday next month, frequently comes to the Ravens' facility. He attends the linebacker meetings, watches practice and remains connected with the organization.

He has dedicated himself to being a guiding hand to the Ravens' players, preaching to them that adversity makes you stronger.

"I think we can all learn something from O.J.," said linebacker Bart Scott when he wore No. 57 for the Ravens from 2002 to 2008. "If I can be half the man, player and husband he is, I think I will accomplish a lot in my life."

No Ravens player had worn No. 57 after Scott left the Ravens. Like three others -- Ray Lewis' No. 52, Jonathan Ogden's No. 75 and Ed Reed's No. 20 -- Brigance's jersey number had unofficially been retired.

Though all those numbers are associated with greatness, the No. 57 is an inspirational touchstone. It's important for everyone to see it, a tribute to Brigance and his ongoing work through his ALS research foundation, the Brigance Brigade.

It was also important that the number was given to the right person.

"It makes me very proud to see not just someone wearing 57, but somebody wearing 57 who is a humble leader, who will strive for excellence in all he does," Brigance wrote. "Being a NFL player is a difficult undertaking. Talent might get you in the door, but character, discipline and fortitude will keep you there. From what I have seen and heard of C.J., he will have a bright future and will honor the 5-7."

Mosley, a starting inside linebacker for the Ravens, immediately tweeted that it was an honor when he was given Brigance's number in May.

"When I realized what this number meant to this community and to this team, it made me feel special," said Mosley, who knew he wouldn't be allowed to wear his college No. 32 as an NFL linebacker. "It's keeping his legacy going on. It's my job to keep that legacy going up."
CINCINNATI -- With news late Wednesday that Vontaze Burfict had reportedly agreed to a multiyear contract extension with the Cincinnati Bengals, the organization sent a message it was serious about locking down its stars, and doing what was necessary to keep in place the structure that has made it successful these past three years.

Quarterback Andy Dalton's extension, signed Aug. 4, was the first sign of that this year. Dalton's slated to be behind center for the Bengals through 2020. Two other key defenders, Carlos Dunlap and Geno Atkins will be in stripes through 2018 after inking their blockbuster extensions last summer.

[+] EnlargeVontaze Burfict
George Gojkovich/Getty ImagesVontaze Burfict led the league in tackles last season with 171.
On the waiting list of signings, Burfict was always next, with receiver A.J. Green waiting in the wings. While Green might prefer to wait until after this season to get an extension, especially because he's already set to make $10 million next year with his fifth-year option exercised, he could be in position after Burfict's deal and pending cuts to work something out before this season officially begins.

Burfict's deal hasn't been formally announced by the Bengals, although it should be made official sometime Thursday morning. Once that happens, we should learn a few more details. For now, there are conflicting reports on the length of the extension. ESPN's Adam Caplan and Adam Schefter broke news of the signing, saying it was a four-year, $20 million extension. Schefter reported that he'll make $7.6 million this season. Other reports indicate it may be a three-year extension.

Presumably Burfict would have signed Wednesday had he been around. But he felt ill early in the day and was sent home before the afternoon practice.

Regardless of the specifics, we do know this: It was smart for the Bengals to lock up Burfict now and it was smart for him to get paid right now.

It was arguably more important for the Bengals to lock down their Pro Bowl second-year linebacker for what he provides off the field as opposed to what he has done on it. True, he's been a relative terror in between the white lines, blasting any offensive player who comes into his area of the field. He's the Bengals' enforcer, and in the two years he's been on the job, the defense's reputation has gone from good to nasty.

For years, Mike Zimmer's name was the one most associated with Cincinnati's defensive success. But now that the former defensive coordinator has left, it's Burfict. His style of play set the tone for a defense that was ranked third last year. It's the same tone new defensive coordinator Paul Guenther wants to see all season when he puts 11 of what he calls "smart bullies" on the field.

A smart bully -- that's exactly what Burfict is.

Though Burfict may be a trash-talking bully on the field, he is intelligent off of it. Guenther has long considered him his right-hand man, an on-field extension of his own mind. Guenther has often said he hasn't been around a player who can break down game film like Burfict can. When the coach was calling players up to the front of meeting rooms to diagram defenses earlier this preseason, his prized pupil was used the most regularly. Burfict, according to Guenther, knows his scheme better than anyone else around the team.

Guenther lauds the professorial side of Burfict. Combine that value with the talents of Atkins and Dunlap, and it made sense for the Bengals to lock Burfict down when they did.
PITTSBURGH -- During the last week of Steelers training camp at St. Vincent College in Latrobe, a golf cart used for the transport of players and coaches around campus pulled up near the cafeteria. Running back LeGarrette Blount surveyed the reporters loitering around the area where players regularly give interviews at camp and said something to the driver.

The golf cart promptly did a U-turn, carrying Blount away from the reporters with whom he conducted few interviews during camp.

Williams
Blount
Should the Steelers execute the same maneuver with one of their most significant signings of the offseason?

Blount had a checkered past before he and starting running back Le'Veon Bell were pulled over because the Camaro that Bell was driving allegedly had the wrong kind of smoke coming from it.

Blount and Bell will be cited with marijuana possession after they were pulled over a couple of hours before the Steelers flew to Philadelphia for their third preseason game. In the aftermath of the first real incident that the Steelers will have to sort through since the start of the preseason, it is fair to question why they were able to sign Blount, a running back with a career 4.7 yards per carry average, to a modest two-year, $3.85 million contract in March.

And it's fair to ask why Blount, who emerged as New England's best running back by the end of last season, wasn't retained by the Patriots.

It's also fair to wonder why Blount is now with his fourth team since entering the NFL in 2010 as an undrafted free agent because he was kicked off Oregon's team as a senior for punching a Boise State player following a season-opening loss.

Blount is immensely talented, and the addition of the 6-foot, 250-pound thumper and the drafting of the ultra-fast Dri Archer makes running back one of the positions where the Steelers have upgraded themselves the most following consecutive 8-8 seasons.

Bell, who broke Franco Harris' record for yards from scrimmage by a rookie (1,259) in 2013, and Blount have been inseparable since they became teammates. That augured well for the time-sharing agreement the Steelers have planned for them in the backfield.

Now, it is worth wondering if the Steelers have to separate the two for the good of Bell, though the second-year man should in no way be absolved following an incident that appears to be as selfish as it was stupid.

The Steelers have little behind Bell and Blount with the diminutive Archer splitting time between running back and wide receiver -- and no other back emerging that the Steelers can count on to revive a ground attack that averaged just 86.4 rushing yards per game last season.

Now more questions have been raised about the Steelers' run game -- and whether the Bell-Blount pairing that looked so good before a dual moment of idiocy is worth it.
CINCINNATI -- A couple weeks ago, while walking out to one of the Cincinnati Bengals' open training-camp practices, I was asked about how Vontaze Burfict has looked coming off his Pro Bowl season.

"Like he's in Week 18," I replied.

The third-year player seemingly hadn't lost a step during the offseason. If anything, he gained one. As Burfict begins closing out the first stage of his promising career, it will be important he keep gaining and keep pushing.

[+] EnlargeVontaze Burfict
Tom Uhlman/AP ImagesA tireless work ethic and Pro Bowl-caliber production has reportedly earned Vontaze Burfict a four-year, $20-million contract extension.
As of approximately 5:15 p.m. ET Wednesday afternoon, Burfict moved from the "overlook me" phase of his career to the "show me" phase.

"Show me," as in show the Bengals you're worthy of the four-year, $20 million contract extension he reportedly agreed to Wednesday afternoon. It's a deal ESPN's Adam Schefter says will pay $7.6 million this season, completely dwarfing the $570,000 Burfict had previously been scheduled to make this year.

"Show me," as in continue to show opposing running backs, receivers and tight ends why they ought to fear running into the second level of the Bengals' defense. Burfict's hard-hitting, brash and intimidating style of play is starting to get recognized across the league.

"Show me," as in show the rest of the NFL that last year's league-leading 171 tackles weren't a fluke, and the Pro Bowl appearance wasn't a one-time occurrence.

It shouldn't be hard for Burfict to do any of that. After all, he's made it this far -- to his second professional contract.

Fittingly, the Bengals are heading to the very same metropolitan area this weekend, where they'll play Arizona on Sunday, that Burfict spent three years making a name for himself. At Arizona State, he was known for his ferocious and fearless style of play that had many believing he'd be a lock to be an early-round pick. But off-field problems, purported disciplinary issues and a poor showing at the combine made him slide completely out of the 2012 draft.

In all, 256 men heard their names called in the April 2012 draft.

Burfict was not one of them.

That's when the "overlook me" phase of his career began.

Burfict was out to prove wrong every draft coach, scout, scouting director and director of player personnel who didn't think he could cut it. When Bengals coach Marvin Lewis called him immediately after the draft and told Burfict he wanted him to sign with the Bengals as an undrafted free agent, Burfict knew exactly what he had to do. He knew he had to prove he was overlooked, and show he belonged.

He's done that so far, which is why the Bengals entertained the idea of signing him to a contract extension before his rookie deal ended. When you take into consideration how valuable Burfict's aggression, tackling ability and leadership presence has been you would imagine he would be worth more than $5 million a season. That's a figure that puts him in the same salary neighborhood as linebackers Tyson Jackson, Stephen Tulloch, Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil. Of that group, Suggs signed his contract the latest, a four-year contract renegotiation agreed upon in February.

Burfict has more tackles in the last two seasons than any of those four. Tulloch, who had 247 tackles in 2012 and 2013, is the closest to Burfict's 298. Only Luke Kuechly (320) and Paul Paul Posluszny (301) have more in that time span.

Poslusnzy currently makes $7.5 million per year. Kuechly is still on his rookie contract, earning $3.1 million. Like Burfict, he'll probably receive a significant bump to his second contract once his deal ends after next season.

Once this deal ends for Burfict at the ripe age of 28, he'll have more leverage when negotiating his third contract. Combine that with the steady increase in salary-cap money teams will soon have, and there is no telling what that deal could command.

That of course assumes that he shows the Bengals the next four seasons that he's worth what they're about to pay him. All he has to do is arrive at each training camp like he did this one.
It was expected to see many of the Baltimore Ravens take a tumble in ESPN.com's player rankings. That's what happens when a team goes from being Super Bowl champions to finishing 8-8.

The Ravens placed four players in the ranking of the 71st to 80th-best players on offense and defense. Three of them -- quarterback Joe Flacco, cornerback Lardarius Webb and wide receiver Torrey Smith -- fell an average of 25 spots.

Let's take a look at where the four Ravens players landed in the rankings ....

OFFENSE

80. Joe Flacco, quarterback: His free-fall of 40 spots is no surprise. Flacco was the reigning Super Bowl Most Valuable Player last year, and he's coming off a season in which he was picked off 22 times. To be honest, I didn't expect him to make the top 100 list. Flacco, however, was ranked No. 1 on a recent ranking of the Ravens' players by local media.

78. Marshal Yanda, guard: This ranking is way too low for Yanda. He's one of the best guards in the NFL, and ESPN.com's rankings has him behind guards Ben Grubbs and Josh Sitton. At least Yanda was ranked this year. It's crazy that he was left off the list in 2013.

74. Torrey Smith, wide receiver: This is a little higher than where I thought Smith would land. He's one of the best deep threats in the game, but he struggles with consistency. There shouldn't be a 23-spot gap between Torrey Smith and Steve Smith, who is ranked No. 97.

DEFENSE

75. Lardarius Webb, cornerback: He dropped 25 spots from a year ago. Webb is one of the better all-around corners in the game, and he doesn't get enough credit for his physical run support despite only being 5-foot-10, 182 pounds. If he stays healthy, Webb will bounce back into the top 50 next year.
CINCINNATI -- The Cincinnati Bengals are one of seven NFL franchises valued at less than $1 billion, according to the Forbes NFL Team Values list that was released Wednesday.

The Bengals are worth about $990 million, according to the magazine. They outpace the Raiders ($970 million), Jaguars ($965 million), Lions ($960 million) and Rams ($930 million). The Chargers also are valued at less than $1 billion, generating a net worth of $995 million.

Dallas led all NFL teams with an estimated value of $3.2 billion. The Patriots ranked second, said to be worth $2.6 billion.

This is the eighth consecutive season the Cowboys have sat atop Forbes' valuation rankings. They have risen in value by $900 million to become the only NFL team worth more than $3 billion. Among global sports franchises, they trail only soccer club Real Madrid ($3.4 billion) in value.

According to Forbes, the average NFL team is worth $1.43 billion. That's 23 percent more than this time last year, marking the biggest year-over-year increase in average team value since 1999.

Per the magazine, the Bengals had $258 million in revenue last season while generating $12 million in income. As Forbes points out, the Bengals are in the process of asking Hamilton County (Ohio) to cede them naming rights to Paul Brown Stadium in exchange for allowing the county to build a nearby apartment building that is eight to 10 feet higher than the Bengals said was allowed under the team's stadium lease. Construction already is underway in the Riverfront area now known locally as "The Banks."
CINCINNATI -- When the Cincinnati Bengals returned to practice Wednesday after a day off Tuesday, they were once again without cornerback Darqueze Dennard and running back Rex Burkhead, among others.

Both were hurt in Saturday's 25-17 preseason loss to the Jets.

Burkhead
Dennard
Dennard was sidelined after appearing on just one play in the game. He jogged on the field to assist on a punt return. After the play was over, he hobbled back to the bench, favoring his hip.

"I was just running and pretty much felt something coming off the field and talked to the trainers and basically, it was just a smart thing to stop [playing]," Dennard said.

He added that he didn't believe the injury was serious. Dennard is hopeful to play Sunday when the Bengals travel to Arizona. Defensive coordinator Paul Guenther said he wasn't sure if Dennard would be healthy in time.

"Hopefully, we'd like to see him playing there early," Guenther said. "But if he can't, then we've got next week to look at him, too."

While the Bengals might be without Dennard this weekend, they still anticipate seeing defensive tackle Geno Atkins for the first time. Guenther said Wednesday afternoon that the Pro Bowl lineman would be making his return to the rotation as his rehab from an ACL tear last season concludes.

It doesn't appear Burkhead will be part of the Bengals' game plan as he continues recovering from an injury that head coach Marvin Lewis on Wednesday called a "sore knee."

Still, Burkhead has made some progress. After sporting both a long leg brace and a pair of crutches Monday, Burkhead was only wearing the compression style brace that covered his right leg on Wednesday. He was walking around the locker room with it, without any assistance.

"He'll be out of that in a couple of days and be running in the pool soon," Lewis said. "I don't think much is going to hold Rex back very long, but he's going to have to go through the process of getting it right. He obviously plays a position at running back where he's going to have to be able to do what a running back does."

Burkhead was knocked out of last Saturday's game after taking a hard hit when tackled at the end of an early fourth-quarter run.

As the Bengals continue preparations for Sunday's game -- one backup quarterback Jason Campbell and offensive tackle Andre Smith anticipate playing -- the following are injury updates from Wednesday's practice. Cincinnati isn't required this preseason to file a daily injury report like it will in the regular season, so it's tough to determine which players were limited or in full participation. Media are only permitted to view the first 30 minutes of the closed practices. Wednesday's workout was in shells; shoulder pads, helmets and shorts.

Returned to practice
WR Dane Sanzenbacher (undisclosed)
WR James Wright (hip)
DE Dontay Moch (undisclosed)
DE Wallace Gilberry (undisclosed)
OL Mike Pollak (knee)
TE Tyler Eifert (shoulder)
LB Sean Porter (knee)
LB Marquis Flowers (ankle)

Not practicing
LB Vontaze Burfict (stomach bug)
DE David King (undisclosed)
CB Darqueze Dennard (hip)
RB Rex Burkhead (knee)
QB AJ McCarron (shoulder)
QB Tyler Wilson (head)
LB J.K. Schaffer (head)
PITTSBURGH -- Well, that didn't take long.

The ink had barely dried on the two-year contract that Brett Keisel signed with the Pittsburgh Steelers on Wednesday when he vaulted to the top of the depth chart at right defensive end.

Keisel
Keisel
The signing of Keisel led to several changes on a depth chart that coach Mike Tomlin said he pays scant attention to during the preseason.

Keisel is back at the position where he has started since 2006 with Stephon Tuitt, Nick Williams and Ethan Hemer listed behind him. Cameron Heyward is the starter at left defensive end with Cam Thomas, Brian Arnfelt and Josh Mauro listed behind him.

Prior to the re-signing of Keisel, Heyward had been the starter at right defensive end with Thomas the starter at left defensive end and Tuitt behind Thomas.

Keisel made the trip with the Steelers Wednesday afternoon to Philadelphia, but he is not expected to suit up for the Steelers' 7:30 p.m. ET game against the Eagles Thursday night.

What is clear is the Steelers did not bring back "Da Beard" to play a limited number of snaps and mentor their young defensive linemen.

Heyward has been practicing at right defensive end but he should be fine moving back to the position where he emerged as a starter last season. The fourth-year veteran has said there is not much difference in playing right and left defensive end.

Thomas appears to lose the most with Keisel back.

He is now relegated to the Al Woods role of swing defensive end/nose tackle. Thomas, however, also provides injury insurance at nose tackle and could push Steve McLendon there if the latter struggles this season.
CINCINNATI -- Marvin Lewis had to pause for a few minutes and file through his memory bank.

"The last time I talked to Carson," the Cincinnati Bengals head coach said, his eyes drifting as he visibly scanned his mind for the exact moment when he previously corresponded with former Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer, "I guess probably was when we played the Raiders. After that game. I think so."

Aside from one other text-message conversation, Lewis admitted Wednesday afternoon that he hasn't exchanged many formalities with Palmer since the Bengals faced the veteran quarterback when he played for Oakland two years ago. It just hasn't been one of Lewis' top priorities to check in on the quarterback who soured on the team near the end of his tenure, and months before his October 2011 trade to the Raiders. That previous April, the Bengals drafted Andy Dalton, giving a clear sign they were preparing for life after Palmer, as he previously hinted they should.

[+] EnlargeCarson Palmer
Sam Greenwood/Getty ImagesCarson Palmer, a former Bengal, has found a home as Arizona's starting quarterback.
So far, that life has been good for the Bengals and for Palmer, who meets his old team in a Week 3 preseason game Sunday night in Arizona.

Last season, his first with the Cardinals, Palmer set a career-high in passing yards and had his highest completion rating since 2007.

"He's gone on, we've gone on and everybody's happy," Lewis said during his Wednesday news conference. "I mean, he's impressive to watch. He's still Carson. That's why it's hard coming in here and every time we look at a quarterback we bring these guys in from the street, man, it's hard to compare."

Added Lewis about Palmer's throwing ability: "It's hard to compare anybody else to [him]. I've never seen anybody like it."

Bengals offensive tackle Andre Smith spent parts of three seasons Palmer was a quarterback in Cincinnati's offense. He remembers the drama associated with Palmer's departure quite well, but he wasn't trying to discuss the inner workings of it. Three times he was asked to divulge his true feelings about Palmer's Queen City finish. All three times, Smith stuck with the same answer.

"I don't think anyone on this team has any bad blood against Carson," Smith said. "It was a situation that came up and he bettered himself in that situation and we bettered ourselves in that situation."

After reaching the playoffs in 2005 and 2009, Palmer grew tired of playing in Cincinnati when the Bengals had an abysmal 4-12 showing in 2010. The No. 1 overall 2003 draft pick told the team that selected him he either wanted out or would simply retire.

Months after Dalton's drafting, Palmer got his wish.

In the three seasons since, Dalton has started all 51 games the Bengals have played. He was handed the starter's role entering the 2011 season and hasn't looked back, leading the organization to three straight playoff appearances, and anchoring a top-10 unit last season. This month, the Bengals committed to Dalton long term, signing him to a six-year extension worth up to $115 million.

"Andy's been doing a great job here leading," said safety Reggie Nelson, who was on the roster when Palmer played for the team. "That's just it. I don't think nobody thinks any different, whether Carson was here or not. Andy's doing a great job leading this team and Carson's doing a great job leading Arizona."

Besides, Nelson added: "It's a business. Things happen."

Aside from exchanging greetings with Palmer, the business the Bengals really hope to concern themselves with Sunday involves winning. They are, after all, 0-2 this preseason.

"Whether [Palmer] is out there or not, we've still got a job to do," Nelson said. "Losing is not something we want to become used to."
Pittsburgh Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau would probably take issue with where linebacker Lawrence Timmons ranks among the NFL’s top 100 defensive players, according to ESPN.com.

Timmons
Timmons, a player whom LeBeau has said should have made several Pro Bowls by now, is No. 77, falling 15 spots from his 2013 ESPN.com ranking.

It’s hard to imagine why Timmons dropped so much considering the season he had in 2013. The eighth-year veteran led the Steelers with 155 tackles, tied for the team lead with two interceptions and also recorded three sacks. Granted, it was a down year for the Steelers' defense, but Timmons excelled despite playing alongside a rookie (Vince Williams) who was feeling his way at weakside inside linebacker for much of the season.

Timmons is versatile and durable -- the former first-round pick has started 53 consecutive regular season games -- and he is the Steelers’ best player on defense.

In another ranking, a handful of Steelers showed up on ESPN NFL Insider Mike Sando’s list of 50 players poised to break out Insider this season, including right guard David DeCastro (No. 3) and running back Le'Veon Bell (No. 9).

Here is what Sando wrote about DeCastro:
  • DeCastro was quite proficient as a run-blocker while playing 15 games last season after a knee injury wiped out his 2012 rookie campaign. He has a shot at ascending among the best guards in the league if he can stay on the field.

Here is Sando’s take on Bell:
  • Lots of people in the league believe the Steelers are primed for a big season, and Bell figures to play a prominent role in their success after a foot injury slowed him as a rookie in 2013. Look for the goal-line carries to go to LeGarrette Blount, however (consider that an alert to fantasy owners).

Also showing up on Sando’s list are defensive end Cameron Heyward (No. 26) and outside linebacker Jason Worilds (No. 27).

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