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Colts players eagerly awaiting Pagano's return

Colts players eagerly awaiting Pagano's return

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) Bruce Arians stood at the podium Friday, answering questions and doing the same thing he's done since Oct. 1.

It may have been his last weekday appearance as Indianapolis' interim coach.

With doctors giving head coach Chuck Pagano clearance to return to his job, Arians sounded cautiously optimistic that Pagano would be running the team Monday for the first time since he was diagnosed with leukemia.

``It's still up in the air, but he feels pretty solid that he's ready to go,'' Arians said, reiterating the point he's made all week - he's eager to give the reins back to his longtime friend.

Pagano hasn't coached a game since a Sept. 23 loss to Jacksonville. Three days later, he was admitted to an Indianapolis hospital to begin the first of three rounds of chemotherapy.

But Arians wasn't told about the diagnosis until Sept. 30, and players and the other assistants didn't find out until a team meeting Oct. 1, the day the Colts returned from their bye.

Indy has gone 8-3 since Pagano left and has moved within one win - or one Steelers loss - of clinching an improbable playoff spot in what has been a historic turnaround from last season's 2-14 debacle. Arians needs one more win to tie the NFL record for most wins following a midseason coaching change (nine), and if the Colts win Sunday at Kansas City, they would join the short list of NFL's teams to win two or fewer games one season and 10 or more the next.

If Pagano is back Monday, it won't be the first time the Colts (9-5) have seen or heard from their recovering head coach. He has communicated with players and coaches through phone calls and text message, watched tape of practices and games on his computer and has given pregame and postgame speeches following home games.

But Indy is about to embark on an almost unprecedented coaching transition - just as the playoffs are about to begin - though the players and coaches are eager to make it work.

``It will be real special. He's our leader, he's our general,'' Pro Bowl receiver Reggie Wayne said. ``To get him back for the playoffs would be picture perfect. He's been through some tough times, he's fought through it and he's taught us how to fight.''

Wayne and Pagano have been friends since they worked together at the University of Miami. Defensive end Cory Redding, defensive tackle Brandon McKinney and safety Tom Zbikowski all followed Pagano from Baltimore to Indy. Arians and Pagano have had a close relationship for years, which was one of the reasons Pagano made Arians his first hire.

Most believe Monday morning's team meeting will be emotional.

``I'm sure there will be a bunch of excitement, a lot of joy,'' rookie tight end Dwayne Allen said when asked about Pagano leading that meeting. ``I'm sure he'll talk about what he's gone through and as we sit and listen to a man we all admire tell his story, I'm sure it will mean a lot to us.

Later, Allen added: ``I remember when he came into the locker room and told us that `we cannot allow circumstances to dictate who we are going to be' and he sure didn't let circumstances dictate who he was going to be, either.''

The big question is how much Pagano can or will do.

His physician, Dr. Larry Crape, said there are no restrictions, though he has advised Pagano, like his other patients, to scale back the workload if it becomes too overwhelming. Those who know Pagano think he will follow the doctor's orders.

``I believe he'll be smart enough to do that,'' Redding said. ``I know he wants to get back, but he still has to listen to his body. I believe he trusts the coaching staff and us to do what we've been doing.''

Winning.

``It's fantastic news,'' Arians said Friday. ``Hopefully, he's strong enough and can hit the road Monday. Like we've always said that's the best Christmas present we could have hoped for.''

Notes: Arians said Zbikowski would travel with the team for Sunday's game against the Chiefs. Backup running back Delone Carter, inside linebacker Kavell Conner and center Samson Satele have already been ruled out. Everyone else, including backup center A.Q Shipley, will be game-time decisions. ... If Shipley cannot play, Arians said right guard Mike McGlynn will start at center and backup Jeff Linkenbach will replace McGlynn at guard.

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Steelers will require fans to wear a mask at Heinz Field, should they be allowed

Steelers will require fans to wear a mask at Heinz Field, should they be allowed

If fans are permitted to attend Pittsburgh Steelers home games this fall, there's one item they can't forget: a mask.

Steelers' director of communication, Burt Lauten, explained the decision to require fans to wear a mask in a statement on Tuesday.

"Our goal is to still have fans at Heinz Field this year with the understanding that social distancing, as well as all fans being required to wear masks, will play a role in the capacity to ensure a safe atmosphere," Lauten said, via ESPN. "We will continue to work with the NFL and public health officials to finalize plans for fans to attend our home games."

Pittsburgh was one of the first franchises to alter its ticketing plans this season, as they decided in May to trim half of their individual game ticket sales due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

The news comes just hours after their AFC North rival, the Baltimore Ravens, announced that M&T Bank Stadium will be capped at less than 14,000 fans this fall, should fans be allowed to attend games.

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In June, The Athletic reported that the NFL will not place a limit on capacity at games, allowing each individual team to make the decision themselves.

"Attendance will be a state-by-state, county-by-county thing," an anonymous NFL source told The Athletic. "It will not be a one size fits all."

Additionally, the NFL has said that the first 6-8 rows of lower bowl sections, including field-level suites, will be blocked off this fall to help slow the spread of the virus. Those sections will be covered with tarps, which teams can use to sell advertising, similarly to what the Premier League in England has done.

With training camp still a few weeks away, there are a lot of virus-related questions the NFL must answer beforehand.

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Howard is a finalist for 2021 five-star defensive end Korey Foreman

Howard is a finalist for 2021 five-star defensive end Korey Foreman

The Howard University football program has moved a step closer to landing perhaps its highest-ranked recruit in years, if not ever.

Five-star defensive end Korey Foreman trimmed his college choice to seven on Wednesday evening, and the Howard Bison were on the list. The other six schools were Southern California (USC), LSU, Alabama, Oregon, Clemson, and Georgia.

In Foreman's tweet, he explained why Howard, a historically Black college (HBCU), was included in his list.

"I am a young black man that is happy and proud of my race," he wrote. "The Black Lives Matter movement is and forever will be powerful and definitely never forgotten. These are the schools I will now be focusing on the most. Set the standard and .. be different."

The news comes just a week after the Howard basketball program landed five-star Makur Maker, who chose the Bison over Division I schools UCLA, Kentucky and Memphis. Maker was the highest-ranked recruit Howard basketball has landed in its history. Mikey Williams, a top-five basketball recruit in the 2023 class, has already hinted about potentially playing at an HBCU as well.

Foreman, a 6-foot-4, 235-pound defensive end, is projected to commit to USC, according to 247Sports. Foreman is ranked the No. 2 overall prospect on 247Sports recruiting rankings for the 2021 class.

However, if the last few weeks are any indication, Howard can't be ruled out.

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