The players are the lifeblood of the NFL — and at last the NFL can check the blood of the players.
The league began its human-growth-hormone testing program Monday. Each week, five randomly selected players on eight randomly selected teams will have their blood tested for HGH as part of the standard weekly collection process for the performance-enhancing-drug program. The testing pool consists of players on the active roster, practice squad and reserve list who are not already subject to reasonable-cause testing.
The league will conduct a combined 950 tests during the regular season and postseason, and approximately 385 during the off-season. By comparison, Major League Baseball conducts 400 HGH tests year-round.
Appeals of positive tests under the PED policy, including HGH, will be heard by a third-party arbitrator chosen jointly by league and players union officials. For steroid/HGH violations other than a positive test, such as a conviction for possession of controlled substances, Commissioner Roger Goodell retains his disciplinary authority.
Coming off another exciting Sunday of games, the NFL is holding its breath that its Thursday night showcase finally will be something other than a hard-to-watch blowout.
So far, that midweek matchup has been a bust.
In four Thursday night games, the average margin of victory has been 31.3 points and none has been competitive, even though the league ramped up the importance of the matchups this season by making each a division game.
On Thursday, the Houston Texans play host to Indianapolis, and league officials are keeping their fingers crossed that the game is closer to the first such meeting in 2013 (a 27-24 win by the Colts) than the second (a 25-3 Colts blowout).
The topic is sure to arise at the NFL's annual fall owners meetings, held Wednesday in New York.
What the league needs to do next season is arrange the schedule so teams playing Thursday have their bye the previous week. That would give them 11 days between games — as opposed to four — and they wouldn't have to play again until a week from the following Sunday. That would be a true rest.
As it stands, teams don't have enough time for their players to recover, the sore bodies make for sloppy tackling, and well developed strategies are an unaffordable luxury. Many teams simply rely on the same game plan they put in place the previous Sunday, drawing from the leftover portions they didn't use.
That's not good for teams (especially with the importance of division games), puts players at even greater risk of injury, and doesn't put the product in anything close to the best light.
With all the talk and speculation lately that San Francisco Coach Jim Harbaugh might not be long for the 49ers, one of the team's players vented his frustration about the chatter.
"I'm really kind of sick of everybody talking about my coach, especially because he's like a brother to me," guard Alex Boone told reporters after Sunday's home victory over the Kansas City Chiefs. "So if I were everybody I'd just keep their mouth shut because they don't want me coming after them.... I'm kind of sick of it. Leave my coach alone."
Various reports say 49ers players have turned on Harbaugh, in his fourth season, and Fox's Jay Glazer said Sunday he doesn't see "any way [Harbaugh] comes back next year … even if they hoist the Lombardi Trophy."
Like Boone, several players voiced their support after Sunday's game for Harbaugh, and the coach said his "destiny lies between these walls with these men."
Asked about the team's response to the reports, Harbaugh said: "The team doesn't have to respond. The team has to do their job and play football. It's my job to love them, those players, those coaches, everybody in the organization. It's their job to love each other. They don't need to respond in any other way than their job. The football team has done good. The better you do, the more you do, the more people try to trip you up."
Arizona Coach Bruce Arians called it the dirtiest block he's ever seen, but Denver Broncos tight end Julius Thomas said Monday that he had no intention of hurting Cardinals defensive end Calais Campbell when he hit him low during Sunday's game.
"There was no intent to hurt anybody," Thomas said. "I definitely want to make sure that that is the No. 1 most clear thing. I respect what everybody does in order to play this game — how much hard work goes into it — and I would never want to take away somebody's ability to go out there and play football."
The Broncos were flagged for an illegal chop block on the third-quarter play because Thomas blocked Campbell at the thigh or lower while tackle Ryan Clady was engaging Campbell's upper body.
Campbell left the game with what was later diagnosed as a strained medial collateral ligament in his right knee. Arians reacted strongly to the block after the game, a 41-20 Broncos victory.
"I've been coaching for 37 years and that was the dirtiest play I've ever seen in the National Football League," Arians said. "It was a chop block that put him out of the game. I've never seen anything like that. Something has to be done about that. I know John Fox and he's a great coach and a great guy, but somebody has to answer to that.
"I was disappointed with the outcome, but I'm more concerned with our injuries than the score."
There's a difference between a low "cut block," which is legal, and an illegal "chop block," which entails throwing a low block at a player whose upper body is already engaged.
Broncos Coach Fox said the chop by Thomas was "in no way was intentional."
"[It's] never been coached by me or anybody on my staff or any player we have on our football team in four years," Fox said. "I believe that's probably our first chop-block call in our tenure here over four years."
Campbell is expected to miss one to three weeks. Arians said Monday that a fine is not enough for Thomas.
The coach's suggestion?
"The guy that did it doesn't play until the other guy comes back, but that's not the way it is," Arians said. "But you'll never convince me it wasn't premeditated."