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The Miami Heat announced Thursday that fans who attend home games this upcoming season will only be able to get through the gate with tickets on their phones.

In doing so, the team becomes the first in the NBA with mobile-only entry. Other teams, like the Minnesota Timberwolves and the Cleveland Cavaliers, have mobile-only ticketing, but they permit fans to use a driver’s license and credit card to get in.

Fans who walk up to Miami’s AmericanAirlines Arena on game night will receive Heat tickets on their phones, even though they are at the box office.

In a statement, the Heat said they decided to adopt the system after finding that roughly one in three fans entered with a mobile ticket last season. The ticket on the phone is still transferable.

Teams are gradually shifting to mobile tickets, they say, in part to reduce fraud, but also to get valuable information about the fan who actually winds up in a specific seat.

Critics of the shift to mobile-only cite lack of ease with transferability and wanting to have a physical keepsake from the game.

Some teams that have shifted to mobile offer season-ticket holders the right to have their tickets printed on paper, but it often comes at a cost.

Just last month, the NHL’s Montreal Canadiens announced the change to digital entry. The team offered paper tickets for the season for an additional charge of $118, plus taxes and fees.

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Carlos Hyde entered the offseason in a precarious place atop the San Francisco 49ers running back depth chart. Questions surrounding his fit in new coach Kyle Shanahan’s offense coupled with the team gushing about the selection of rookie Joe Williams in the draft caused many to ponder Hyde’s future with the team.

Since training camp started, however, we’ve only heard glowing reviews of Hyde’s work ethic, playmaking and slimmed down physique.

“I can tell he’s put in the work and has given himself a chance to have a good season,” Shanahan said of Hyde, via Cam Inman of the San Jose Mercury News.
During Wednesday’s practice Hyde plowed over rookie corner Ahkello Witherspoon at the goal line after catching a pass out of the backfield. The play left starting quarterback Brian Hoyer giddy.

“That was awesome,” Hoyer said. “… He sees the opportunity ahead of him. He’s in the right scheme. Kyle knows how to run the ball and we have a good offensive line, a good fullback, receivers who block their butts off.”

The scheme-fit comment from Hoyer is notable, after it was pondered whether Hyde’s running style would fit Shanahan’s system — most notably from GM John Lynch. Hyde shedding weight seems to have made a big difference after he was vided as a slow, indecisive runner during 49ers’ OTAs.

Reports out of the Bay Area have rookie Williams off to a slow start in camp, making Hyde’s adaptation to Shanahan’s scheme more noteworthy. Expect Hyde to open the regular season as the lead-back with veteran Tim Hightower spelling him until Williams gets his feet under him.

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The Jacksonville Jaguars dumped a pile of money into center Brandon Linder’s lap on Tuesday. Could receiver Allen Robinson be the next in line to break the bank?

The receiver told reporters his agent has talked with the team about an extension ahead of training camp opening.

“They have [talked], but at the end of the day, that’s my agent’s job and I’ll let him do his thing and I’ll do my thing on the field,” Robinson said, via The Florida Times-Union.

Robinson is coming off a statistically down season, catching just 73 passes for 883 yards after his breakout season of 1,400 yards in 2015. If the Jags try to squeeze their leverage into Robinson taking a lesser long-term deal, he could play out his rookie contract in hopes of hitting the free-agent market.

Either way, Robinson isn’t fretting his contract situation.

“I’m not 100 percent sure of where that process is at and that’s not my No. 1 focus,” Robinson said. “My No. 1 focus is to go to camp ready go for my teammates, be a great teammate and help us win games.”

When new executive vice president Tom Coughlin discussed the reason the team exercised the fifth-year option on Blake Bortles, he mentioned the move kept the franchise tag open for other players. We were left to assume Robinson was player No. 1 in that scenario.

Both Robinson and the team could decide that wading through the 2017 season might be their best option before striking a long-term solution. The franchise tag for receivers this year was $15.682 million.

Despite struggles connecting with Bortles early last season, Robinson continues to be a premier receiving talent. He owns the ability to high point the ball, is an extraordinary boundary receiver with plus hands and run-after-the-catch speed. If the salary-cap-space flush Jags won’t pay Robinson big money now, someone else surely will down the road.

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Given all of the moves made by the Patriots during their monster offseason, landing longtime adversary David Harris could get lost in the shuffle.

The former Jets linebacker was cut by the team on June 6, just one week before minicamp. Despite spending his first 10 seasons with Gang Green, he didn’t hesitate at the chance to become a Patriot, signing a two-year deal with New England two weeks later.
“They reached out to me and I pretty much accepted on the spot that I wanted to play there,” Harris told Saturday at his 11th annual football camp in Grand Rapids, MI. “Great organization. They’re the gold standard of the NFL. Why wouldn’t you want to be a part of that?”

Taken in the second round of the 2007 NFL Draft (a rare hit in that round by the Jets in this millennium), Harris was a staple at middle linebacker during an up-and-down stretch for New York. He missed only one game over the past eight seasons, and was a model of consistency. Even in his age-33 campaign in 2016, Harris led the team with 62 solo tackles.

Harris’ first crack against his old team takes place on Oct. 15 at MetLife Stadium. A majority of Jets fans will be weirded out that he’ll be wearing a color other than green. While Harris did choose his new team, if it were up to him, he would have stayed put until hanging up his cleats.

“When I got released by the Jets, it was kind of disappointing,” Harris said. “I wanted to finish my career there.”

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Heading toward training camp, football fiends thirst for breakout potential. Who or what is the next big thing in football? In Around The NFL’s “Making the Leap” series, we spotlight emerging players and units to keep an eye on in 2017.

Mike Tomlin has been waiting for this defense, his defense, for a decade.

Two years removed from legendary Steelers coordinator Dick LeBeau’s exit, Tomlin is running a scheme in Pittsburgh closer to the one that helped build his reputation as a coaching prodigy. Unsung Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert has constructed a foundation of defensive players entering their primes who combine explosiveness and continuity, led by front-seven disrupters Cameron Heyward, Stephon Tuitt, Ryan Shazier and Bud Dupree. Three promising defenders from last year’s rookie crop look ready to take the next step. Pittsburgh’s offense possesses an unfair amount of talent, taking pressure off the defense.
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▹ Steelers | Bengals | Ravens
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▹ Steelers Defense
If Tomlin doesn’t deliver a return to Steelers defensive dominance now, it’s never going to happen.

A strong core
Tomlin has identified his guys. The same 11 Steelers defenders barely left the field during two playoff victories last season, largely because they stopped drives by the Dolphins and Chiefs so quickly. Ten of those 11 players are back this season, with the exception being linebacker Lawrence Timmons, a veteran whose departure was telling.

Colbert previously made mistakes by holding on to Steelers stalwarts too long. Timmons was a great contributor for a decade, but keeping him would have slowed down an otherwise-speedy linebacker group. Not to mention, Timmons’ old position as an every-down inside linebacker might no longer exist in Tomlin’s vision.

This is not your drunk uncle’s Steelers 3-4 defense. Tomlin and defensive coordinator Keith Butler mix up their alignments like most of the rest of the NFL, playing with four down linemen often (depending on the opponent’s strength). The secondary incorporates more of the Cover 3 and Cover 2 zone-defense looks Tomlin grew up with. He’s able to get more creative up front because his foundation players are so versatile.

The Steelers were a different defense after outside linebacker Bud Dupree returned from a sports hernia surgery in Week 12. Dupree picked up sacks lining up from three different positions and had a surprisingly big role in coverage.

Tomlin asks Steelers inside linebacker Ryan Shazier to similarly wear a number of hats. “Shoot the Gap: The Ryan Shazier Story” is a tale of a young man finding himself by attacking running plays with blinding confidence. It is breathtaking when Shazier takes over a game, like when he knocked Buffalo’s No. 1 rushing attack backwards almost on his own. There aren’t many humans who cross the line of scrimmage, then drop back into coverage on the same play before stealing a pass from a bewildered quarterback, like Shazier did against Matt Moore in the playoffs:
Shazier is an All-Pro waiting to happen, a player on the cusp who has yet to put it all together in one season. The same is true of so many Steelers defenders. Nose tackle Javon Hargrave was a beast down the stretch as a rookie, beating double-teams and showing surprising pass-rush savvy. Stephon Tuitt, only 24 years old like Shazier, can play inside or out depending on the formation. Tuitt was Pittsburgh’s best overall defender last season, a title that 28-year-old Cameron Heyward held in 2015. (A torn pectoral muscle ended Heyward’s season in Week 10 of last year.)

This trend of losing crucial players like Heyward is just one of the things Tomlin has to worry about …

Pittsburgh’s biggest obstacles
The Steelers have struggled to get all their best defenders on the field at once. Whether the group is injury-prone or unlucky, the key pieces have all missed significant time over the last two seasons. It is beyond preposterous that the most durable, most reliable Steeler on this side of the ball is James Harrison — the last defensive remnant of the Bill Cowher era in Pittsburgh.

Harrison is a walking folk tale, a man worthy of the legacy of his larger-than-life Steelers forefathers. Now 39 years old, Harrison was the single biggest reason Pittsburgh was so tough to run against down the stretch last season. (Not counting Week 17, when Pittsburgh rested its starters, the defense held opponents under 80 yards rushing in six of its final seven games — that included three playoff games where the Steelers gave up just 170 ground yards combined.) Harrison’s performance in Pittsburgh’s AFC wild-card win over Miami ranked among the best single-game efforts by any NFL defender a season ago.
Counting on Harrison to play at that level again is asking too much, so the Steelers drafted Wisconsin outside linebacker T.J. Watt in the first round. For all this unit’s talent, there is some risk Pittsburgh doesn’t have enough edge rushers.

The pass rush needs to excel to take pressure off an untested secondary. The team found instant, valuable snaps for 2016 rookies Artie Burns and Sean Davis a year ago. These two picks, along with 2017 third-rounder Cameron Sutton, show Tomlin putting a greater stamp on his defense. Tomlin spent his first five NFL seasons as a defensive backs coach and is looking to recapture his old magic with this group.

Davis showed toughness playing through a torn labrum and intelligence handling a variety of roles as a rookie safety. He made his biggest impact crashing down near the line of scrimmage, showing a heady feel for the game. Burns was not as raw as his reputation suggested. He competed well and has the size and athleticism to hold up if the Steelers mix in more man coverage this season. Tomlin’s reliance on his zone defense came back to haunt him in Foxborough last January.

This is generally a young Steelers secondary — with elder statesmen, like Mike Mitchell and William Gay, who make their share of mistakes. Will Pittsburgh be ready to handle the deepest Patriots receiver group yet when the teams face off on Dec. 17 or in the seemingly-inevitable AFC playoff game to follow?

The looming Patriots problem is why this Pittsburgh team may be strangely under-hyped. This 53-man roster rivals any that Tomlin has coached, yet the typically chatty Steelers fans appear to have a defeatist attitude when it comes to Belichick and Brady.

Those fans should take solace in the reality that it only takes one game to flip a one-sided rivalry; just ask Peyton Manning and the 2006 Indianapolis Colts. Dismissing this Steelers team’s chance is disrespectful to Ben Roethlisberger’s ability and to what Tomlin is building with this defense.

Tomlin’s time

Back in 2007, Tomlin was mature and confident enough to retain Dick LeBeau to run the defense. The team responded by ranking in the top two in points allowed in four of the next five seasons, but the decision delayed Tomlin’s development of his own set of Steelers defensive stars. After half a decade of regrouping on defense, Tomlin and Colbert have the recipe to make this team balanced again.

Tuitt, Heyward, Hargrave, Shazier and Dupree form the rarest of NFL assets in this free agency era: A talented, versatile group of guys who can come of age together. A third Super Bowl appearance for Tomlin is within reach, this time with a defense he molded from Day 1.