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August 31, 2015
by Chris Adamski


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Adamski: Steelers well-accustomed to backup QB merry-go-round

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Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: The Steelers are breaking in a new backup quarterback after an injury to one of the players behind Ben Roethlisberger on the depth chart.

 

It’s been an all-too-common occurrence.

 

Roethlisberger has appeared in 159 of the 176 regular-season games the Steelers have played since he entered the league in 2004, and he’s been the starter for all but one of them. Entering his 12th season, though, eight different times a Steelers backup quarterback has had a significant injury. Five of those occurred during the preseason, and seven were season-ending (including four of the five from the preseason).  Seven have occurred over the past eight years.

 

The most recent of which was Pittsburgh native Bruce Gradkowski, whose third season with the Steelers and 10th in the NFL was cut short five throws into the preseason because of hand and shoulder injuries. Mike Vick was brought in to replace Gradkowski.

 

It’s just the lastest in a long string of injuries to a group of players who are limited to, on average, less than four halves of preseason football each, and have combined to start just 17 regular-season games over the past 11 years. Yet, time and again, they have found themselves unable to play.

 

A list:

  • In 2004, Charlie Batch underwent knee surgery during the preseason that landed him on season-ending injured reserve. (As an aside: Who knows what would have happened if Batch remained healthy that summer – maybe Roethlisberger, then a rookie, is merely the No. 3 behind Tommy Maddox and Batch to begin the season, meaning Batch relieves an injured Maddox in Week 2, and Roethlisberger therefore never gets the opportunity to have one of the greatest rookie quarterback seasons in NFL history for the 15-1 Steelers).
  • In 2008, Batch sustained a broken right collarbone during a preseason game against the Eagles. The Steelers signed veteran Byron Leftwich two days later, and Batch ended up on IR before the season began.
  • In 2009, Batch made it through the preseason – but he injured a wrist over the course of throwing two passes during a November overtime game, and the resulting surgery ended his season.
  • In 2010, the Steelers were more in need of quality backups than ever before because Roethlisberger was suspended for the first four games of the regular season. Leftwich, who spent 2009 with Tampa Bay, was traded back to the Steelers in April 2010 after Roethlisberger’s infamous Milledgeville, Ga., excursion. Leftwich, though, sustained a knee injury during the preseason finale.  That left Dennis Dixon to start. He did so… until injuring his left knee early during his second game. The Steelers went back to Batch for the next two contests until Roethlisberger returned.
  • In 2011, Leftwich didn’t make it out of the third preseason game unscathed, his left arm breaking while falling to the ground carrying the ball. Batch and Dixon were still around; Batch started the penultimate game of the regular season.
  • In 2012, Leftwich made it through the preseason intact for the first time in three years… but it took less than a game’s worth of regular-season work for him to get hurt. Leftwich replaced Roethlisberger in a Week 10 win, but broke a rib during a game he started the following week against Baltimore.

 

 

 

 

At least Gradkowski and Landry Jones left the Steelers backup quarterback situation stable in 2013-14, when both made it through the two full seasons healthy. Neither, however, was asked to throw a regular-season pass.

 

 

Looking at the Steelers’ recent history with bad luck for their backup QBs, maybe Vick should sit out Thursday when they close out the 2015 preseason at home against the “preseason rival” Carolina Panthers.

 

 

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August 21, 2015
by Chris Adamski


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Adamski: ‘Real chill person’ Bud Dupree says practice fracas ‘going to make us closer as a team’

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Bud Dupree was back to being the self-described “real chill person” after practice Thursday. He stood in the early-evening sun and spoke calmly and pleasantly, often cracking a smile.

 

A far cry from the maniacal, enraged ball of fire he was late in Wednesday’s practice, when he touched off a mini-melee during a team drill – needing multiple players to pull him away and work to calm him down – and then, apparently no less livid even after a few minutes had passed, getting thrown out of a drill after exchanging blows with Marcus Gilbert before the two had even engaged in a rep.

 

“Everything is good now,” Dupree said warmly on Thursday.

“It’s going to make us closer as a team.”

 

Dupree, the rookie pass-rusher, couldn’t suppress a chuckle when asked if he and Gilbert, the Steelers’ veteran right tackle, had, to paraphrase, hugged it out.

 

“Coach T made us do it anyway. But it’s all good, though. It is football, just an aggressive game… We’re good now. As soon as it was over. You can’t let something like that keep going in the locker room, because at the end of the day, we’re all a team.”

 

It was a good look for Dupree, who as a first round pick both faces external pressure to succeed and can perhaps be (even subconsciously) treated differently by veterans than any of the other rookies.

 

Dupree was contrite without looking weak. Accountable while still sticking up for himself.

 

Asked if he agreed with the adage that some veterans were heard saying in the immediate aftermath of the Wednesday histrionics that “Rookies should know their role and their place,” Dupree said: “I don’t believe in that. I’m on the team trying to make plays, just like everybody else trying to make plays.”

 

Were there any positives to come out of an incident that likely – in some ways, positively – changed the way Dupree’s teammates look at him?

 

“(The offensive linemen) stuck together – everybody stuck together. It’s good to see the defense stick with the defense, and the offense stick with the offense. Because in the game, you’re going to need that. You don’t want to back down from people.”

 

Dupree laughed off the obvious – no, he won’t let himself get out of control like that during a game. “You’ll get fined, you’ll get kicked out of the game. So when it comes to the game, you’ve got to walk away.”

 

 

Speaking earlier in the day, Gilbert likewise shrugged the incident off: “The game of football is physical. It’s nothing personal; we’re just out there competing, having fun and just finishing guys. And that’s what we want to continue to do.”

 

Gilbert echoed the thoughts of the media – and, apparently, the rest of his teammates – when he said of Dupree’s temporary temper tantrum, “Obviously, that’s the first we’ve seen it from him.” But he also said it was “what we like to see – not the fighting, but bringing nastiness to his position.”

 

 

Forget the Wednesday Fight Day. It’s over. And it won’t have any lingering locker-room effects. Of much more important to the Steelers is the development of a player who is a big part of their future. Here is more of what Dupree had to say Thursday…

 

Dupree, assessing his own camp: “I feel like I’m doing my job, but I feel like but I feel like I haven’t been in position to make many plays. I feel like as the season goes on, I’ll be right where I want to be.”

 

Dupree, on his learning of the scheme and the NFL level: “I’m way more comfortable than I was in July – now it’s just to the point of finding out exactly how to attack other teams.”

 

Dupree, on his improvement since OTAs: “I’m definitely starting to play faster – just because I’m getting more reps. I think that’s helped out a lot.”

 

 

Dupree added that he (as well as, on the other end of the experience spectrum, 37-year-old James Harrison) will be rotated in with the first-teamers Sunday against Green Bay. “Definitely going to play a lot,” he said. “That’s a good thing, too.”

 

 

So is the fact that his first practice scrum as a professional is behind him.

 

 

 

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August 18, 2015
by Mark Kaboly


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Kaboly: Steelers will go for 2 more often this year … I think

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It was really a simple question directed to Mike Tomlin by myself following the Jacksonville game.

“Coach,” I said, “obviously, the 2-point attempt was planned. Was that just because you have been working on it so much during camp?”

What I was expecting as a response was something along the lines of “we have put time into it” or “I wanted to see how it works” or something about wanting to be thoughtfully non-rhythmic.

Instead, I got a response, and I am paraphrasing now, “none of your business.”

OK, I wasn’t expecting that.

But after a little thinking, maybe there is a lot in what Tomlin didn’t say to my 2-point conversion question.

To me, I truly believe the Steelers are going to go for 2-points more often than first suspected, and it has nothing to do with Shaun Suisham’s injury or the extra point being moved back.

If you don’t remember, the NFL amended its extra point rule earlier in the year that pushed the ball back 13 yards making the attempt after touchdowns a 33-yard kick instead of 20 yards, which was converted a more than 99 percent last year.

While the numbers doesn’t suggest that there will be much of a difference in conversion percentage with the change in distance (kickers made 32 of 33 field goals from exactly 33-yards out last year), Tomlin appears to be more than contemplating attempting more 2-point conversions.

Tomlin has been quite successful with 2-point conversions over his eight years as Steelers coach. The Steelers are 10 of 13 converting 2-point conversions under Tomlin including converting all four attempts last year.

And if you see how successful the first-team offense has been during training camp while practicing 2-points, I’d consider going for it more often as well.

“You’d have to ask Coach about that,” Darrius Heyward-Bey told me the other day.

I tried, DHB, and Tomlin said he wasn’t going to divulge his “strategy.”

I don’t know, maybe I am reading too much into this, but I don’t think I am.

The Steelers are going to go for 2-points more this year, especially early in games and I am all for it.

 

As always, check out the Kaboly Show Podcast —–> http://files.triblive.com/podcasts/sportstalk/817KAB15.mp3

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August 18, 2015
by Chris Adamski


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Adamski: Cam Thomas much more ‘comfortable’ in Year 2 with Steelers

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In a tacit acknowledgment of what was, to put it politely, not the best season of Cam Thomas’ career, the sixth-year defensive lineman couldn’t withhold an uneasy chuckle when asked if 2014 was wrought with frustration.

 

“It was. Pretty much…. Yeah, it was.”

 

In the very (VERY) early going of 2015, though, things are looking much better for Thomas, who became a lightning rod for Steelers fans, who themselves were frustrated having watched their long-dominant defense turn into one of the shakiest in the league.

 

Look, ask Mark Kaboly what he thinks of Pro Football Focus – or at least, of its limitations or of the idea of relying on it as a foolproof, unalienable truth when it comes to evaluating players.

 

Also, we all recognize it’s only been two preseason games. And roughly half of preseason practice before the real games begin — a laughably early and small sample size.

 

WITH THAT ALL SAID… Thomas has enjoyed a total reversal of fortune so far from 2014 (his first with the Steelers after four seasons with the Chargers) to 2015. In 2014, Pro Football Focus not only rated him the worst player on the Steelers defense, it also judged him to be the worst qualifying defensive end in the NFL.

 

Now, through two preseason games, Thomas is not only the highest-rated Steelers defensive player, he’s rated as the NFL’s second-best nose tackle through this (very) early juncture of the preseason.

 

Beyond PFF — and perhaps more importantly — Thomas is passing the “eye test” in practice: pushing centers into the backfield, rarely appearing to get “beat” for a play.

 

“It’s been a pretty good so far, but I never try to be too excited with one thing,” Thomas said Monday. “I just try to be consistent with it and keep it going.”

 

Thomas expounded on why things have gone much more smoothly – so far – in Year 2 with the Steelers.

 

“Just more understanding of the plays and stuff, a better understanding of what’s going on, an understanding of what’s going on around me and an understanding of what other guys around me are doing to make my job easier,” Thomas said. “Just understanding the whole scheme of things.”

 

Thomas, who signed a two-year, $4 million contract in 2014 and is set to make $2 million this season, was thought by some to be a prime candidate to be released over the offseason. Conventional wisdom, even as recently as the start of this camp, said that his roster spot was by no means 100 percent secure.

 

That’s seemingly changed in a big way. Clifton Geathers –  his primary competition as a top backup on the defensive line – was placed on injured reserve Aug. 7. Less-major injuries, at times and to varying degrees, to Steve McLendon, Daniel McCullers and Stephon Tuitt have thrust Thomas into more reps and more game action. His versatility – Thomas can play end or nose tackle – has shined through.

 

“Basically, (defensive line coach John Mitchell) always says, ‘Be ready – you never know where you might be needed,’” Thomas said. “…I feel real comfortable at both positions. I just know to be ready when your number is called.”

 

Thomas probably can breathe a little easier that his number will likely be called when the Steelers finalize their 53-man roster in 2 1/2 weeks.

 

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August 13, 2015
by Chris Adamski


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Adamski: ‘They’re going to be some headhunters’ — Steelers teammate on rookie OLBs

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After two episodes broadcast from the hillside overlooking Chuck Noll Field at St. Vincent College, the weekly TribLive Radio Steelers Roundtable Show made it back to Pittsburgh this week. It also included all three of myself, Mark Kaboly and Ralph Paulk for the first time this preseason.

 

Among the myriad of topics covered were Antonio Brown’s agent desiring a new contract, the status of Landry Jones and the other backup quarterbacks, the sudden depth the Steelers possess at cornerback and the present and future composition of the offensive line.

 

Also mentioned were the youngest players at a position that long has been a prominent one for the Steelers, outside linebacker. The team spent two picks over the first six rounds of the May draft there: Bud Dupree and Anthony Chickillo.

 

I mentioned that, for being a first-round pick, there is not an intense amount of pressure on Dupree to perform in Year One — the Steelers have depth at the position, and Dupree’s profile suggests he wouldn’t peak for another year or two.

 

Chickillo received the dreaded “Arrow Down” from Kaboly on this week’s show — not so much because he’s been that bad but because he was the early darling of camp the first week and since has plateaued.

 

What are the people closest to Dupree and Chickillo — their OLB teammates and position coach — saying about them?

 

 

Jarvis Jones: “They’re going to be some headhunters. They’ve got professional type bodies, they’re very smart and Coach Porter is doing a great job of implementing the system to them. And mentally because they got the physical attributes.”

 

Arthur Moats: “They’re not making any mental errors. They’re definitely working on things and getting better everyday. They’re getting off the ball fast and making sure their games are well-rounded.”

 

OLB coach Joey Porter: “I don’t put pressure on them because I know what they are – they’re rookies. Now what they did in college  and what we are going to ask you do to here is totally different; it’s going to be greatly different. What you did in college was good, because it was college. But this is you’re playing for your livelihood now; you’re playing for a whole different reason – we’re chasing world championships here. And they’re going to be scrutinized enough by the media to where I don’t have to. They’ll know where they fit by how they play. And they know the legacy (of Steelers’ outside linebackers) they came into. And they know what the job they signed up for is. And the pressure that you guys put on them is going to be enough; I don’t have to add no extra pressure to them. I just try to tell them, ‘Just play football and play it hard.”

 

 

Make sure you listen to the Steelers Roundtable (if you haven’t already) by clinking here.

 

Kaboly is with the team in Jacksonville this weekend. Plenty to watch for in Preseason Game No. 2. Take care for now.

 

 

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August 6, 2015
by Mark Kaboly


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Kaboly: AB, Boykin and the Candy bar incident

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Snickers-brokenAntonio Brown referred to Brandon Boykin as a candy bar.

Brandon Boykin responded with an elbow.

Now, the two are teammates and friends.

The Steelers traded a conditional fifth-round pick for Boykin on Saturday and the two had a good laugh about the candy bar comment of three years ago.

“We were talking about that when we first got here,” Boykin said. “My rookie year he talked to me about that candy bar situation. He said ‘Man, I don’t even remember who told me to say that.’ Somebody was calling me that something like the offensive coordinator. He said I was a little mad about that because I bowed him during the game. Yeah, I had to get him back.”

Rewind to Boykin’s rookie year in 2012 and the Steelers were set to host the Eagles in a Week 5 game. Brown predicted that the Young Money Crew of Brown, Mike Wallace and Emmanuel Sanders were going to take advantage of Boykin so he referred to him as a candy bar.

Boykin allowed only 3 receptions for 39 yards in the game that included just one catch by Brown.

The Steelers won the game, 16-14.

“He is a really cool guy and we already linked up and he’s helping me with my transition,” Boykin said.

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August 4, 2015
by Mark Kaboly


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Kaboly: Steelers LB Jarvis Jones puts on some weight

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-- Photo by Chaz Palla Jarvis Jones celebrates his sacks against the Giants on Saturday.

— Photo by Chaz Palla
Jarvis Jones celebrates his sacks against the Giants on Saturday.

You can call Steelers linebacker Jarvis Jones a lot of things, but you can’t call him too small anymore.

Jones sheepishly told me on Monday that he us up about 15 pounds from last year to 258 putting him closer to the weight the Steelers typically like to have their outside linebackers.

Jones didn’t want to reveal his increased size because “people will make a big deal of it.”

Jones, the Steelers first-round pick in 2013, has always balked at the idea of needing to add weight citing that he never has been put on his back by a lineman before.

Jones spent a portion of his offseason in Arizona working out with teammates James Harrison, Vince Williams, Sean Spence and others.

The Steelers are counting on Jones to take over the full-time role as right outside linebacker even though Harrison was re-signed in the offseason.

Jones appeared to be well on his way of having a solid second year in the league a season ago. Jones had two sacks in 56 pass rushes and also forced a fumble before dislocating his wrist on possibly his most disruptive play of his career.

Jones sacked Carolina quarterback Cam Newton and forced a fumble early in the third quarter of a 9-3 game. The Steelers turned it into a touchdown and went on to a 37-19 road win.

Jones spent the next 10 weeks on the injured reserve/designated to return list before coming back for a Week 14 game against the Bengals, where he split snaps with Arthur Moats.

After Harrison returned in Week 16, Jones rarely got on the field. Jones played 16 snaps over the final three games to cap a second unproductive season.

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August 2, 2015
by Chris Adamski


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Adamski: Who’s an unlikely mentor for first-round pick Dupree?

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Le’Veon Bell: AFC’s leading rusher, Steelers’ record-breaking receiver out of the backfield – and 23-year-old well-respected mentor…

 

…for linebackers?

 

“I’ve kind of taken him by my side… to make sure he’s taking care of his body,” Bell said Saturday, referring to first-round pick Bud Dupree.

 

“He’s the kind of guy who’d come around if he’d see me in a cold tub and ask ‘How long you in here?’ I’d tell him 25 minutes or whatever it may be… I remember my rookie year, my guy was Jerricho Cotchery; he was a guy I looked up to. Now it’s my third year in the league, I’m kind of helping the younger guys out a little bit.”

 

Bell likes to wear his shirt up, exposing his washboard abs. That, and his production (a team record 2,115 yards from scrimmage last season) are proof that if you’re new to the NFL, Bell is someone worth listening to when it comes to fitness and conditioning.

 

“If he can take care of his body that way and play like he plays, I want to do the same thing,” Dupree said. “He’s someone who knows how important taking care of your body is… He was in the same boat I was in – a heavier guy who had to drop weight (when entering the NFL), too. We had to do the same thing, and the things he does off the field after practice have helped him recover for the next day and helped him become a better player.”

 

An All Pro player helping out a highly-regarded rookie teammate? Commendable, but not too uncommon in the NFL. But when that “veteran” is not even a year older than the rookie and plays a position that is as disparate as running back is to outside linebacker – a little bit strange, no?

 

“Not at all in our (Steelers) culture,” coach Mike Tomlin said. “It’s about guys who know what to do helping guys that don’t. And obviously, if you look at Le’Veon from a physical-conditioning standpoint, he knows what to do, so it’s his job to grab younger guys in the system with that, just like guys were assisting him in his effort (when he was a rookie).”

 

One of the most impressionable lessons that Dupree has taken from Bell is use of the cold tub after workouts to help in body recovery and preservation. It was something Dupree needed to adjust to.

 

“Sometimes, he’s struggling,” Bell said with a chuckle. “I kind of see him shaking a little.

 

“But he’s sticking in there, and as a rookie, it’s hard to do that.”

 

Said Dupree with a smile while referring to the cold tub, “Some things you don’t wanna do. But then after you get done you go ‘Ah, I need to do this more to help myself out in long run.’”

 

 

Another chance to listen to the weekly Steelers Roundtable show on TribLive Radio with myself and co-hosts Ken Laird and Mark Kaboly.

 

 

And also check out our thrice-daily video updates from training camp at the Trib Sports YouTube page:

 

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July 30, 2015
by Chris Adamski


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Who’s the key to the defense? Whose stock is up/down? LISTEN to TribLive Radio Steelers Roundtable

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LATROBE — Over the past 6 1/2 months, the Steelers Roundtable show on TribLive Radio has been (for the most part*) on hiatus. It’s back!

 

Although it wasn’t the same with Ralph Paulk enjoying a day off back home (he’s missing the best weather day of camp so far at St. Vincent),  Mark Kaboly and I joined host Ken Laird for the first Steelers Roundtable episode of the 2015 season Thursday morning from high atop Chuck Noll Field in Latrobe.

 

Give it a listen by clicking on this.

 

 

 

And while you’re at it, enjoy the latest Steelers Trib One-Minute Update from camp (check out all the updates via Trib Total Media’s Sports YouTube page):

 

 

*-In the spring, we had two episodes previewing and reviewing the draft.

 

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July 28, 2015
by Mark Kaboly


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Kaboly: Who called Antwon Blake a “freakish athlete?”

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Antwon Blake (right) Chaz Palla Photo

Antwon Blake (right)
Chaz Palla Photo

Terrell Buckely, Ty Law, Sam Madison, Deion Sanders, Aeneas Williams … and Antwon Blake?

Well, that’s how renowned training guru Tom Shaw sees it.

While appearing on TribLive Radio on Tuesday, Shaw called Blake – the Steelers third cornerback – “probably one of the freakiest athletes that we have had at our facility.”

And that facility – located at the Disney Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando – has seen the likes of 11 Super Bowl MVPs, 10 No. 1 draft picks and 145 first-round picks.

Blake ranks up with all of them, according to Shaw.

“He can do everything you dream of doing on the football field,” Shaw said. “He is that guy. He is going to be a star. He has work ethic and dedication and those are two key opponents. And when you have speed and agility like the way he gets in and out of breaks and move and change direction … he is a freak of nature.”

The Steelers likely feel the same way, too.

They didn’t do much in the offseason to help out the maligned secondary immediately. That might be because of what they think Blake can do.

Blake is currently slotted at left cornerback when the Steelers go to their nickel package. William Gay and Cortez Allen are the starters.

It has been a quick ascent for Blake.

After getting released by the Jaguars in 2013 after playing four snaps as an undrafted rookie free agent, Blake was claimed by the Steelers, where he played four snaps.

Blake finally got his opportunity Week 9 last year against the Colts when he replaced a benched Allen and played in the nickel package the rest of the season.

Blake allowed only one touchdown the entire season and finished with five pass defenses, an interceptions and a key forced fumble and fumble recovery in the season finale against the Bengals.

 

*Take a listen to the Kaboly Show Podcast on TribLive Radio. It’s just a click away —à

http://sportstalk.triblive.com/download/727KAB15.mp3+share

 

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