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Thursday NFL Notes

Le'Veon Bell will start over Isaac Redman and Jonathan Dwyer in Pittsburgh's preseason opener against the Giants on Saturday. Bell became the favorite to lead the Steelers' backfield the moment he was drafted in the second round, and it sounds like he's only gained ground since then. The Steelers are hoping that he can emerge as a true three-down back, which should be music to the ears of his fantasy owners. Bell clearly has an edge on Redman and Dwyer when it comes to running the ball, but Bell will also have to prove that he's a capable receiver and pass-blocker. Dwyer and Redman could get right back into the mix if Bell struggles in those crucial areas during the preseason.

Blaine Gabbert will get the starting nod over Chad Henne in Jacksonville's preseason opener Friday. The competition between the two is thought to be close, so this could be an indication that Gabbert has a slight advantage. The Jaguars are not expected to make a final decision any time soon.

Moving on to the more functional parts of the Jacksonville roster, Maurice Jones-Drew recently said that his foot is pain-free, but he still won't be suiting up for Friday's preseason game. His absence isn't anything to worry about, as the veteran running back will still have three more chances to get some work in before the season begins. The important thing to note is that Jones-Drew isn't having any issues with his foot.

Darrius Heyward-Bey returned to the field Thursday, but his knee injury flared up again, forcing him to leave practice early. It sounds like a minor setback, but this will probably be enough to keep him out of the Raiders' preseason opener Friday. Assuming Heyward-Bey sits, T.Y. Hilton figures to get the starting nod across from Reggie Wayne. Hilton and Heyward-Bey are in a stiff competition for the No. 2 wide receiver spot.

Eddie Lacy, who is dealing with a hamstring injury, missed practice for the second day in a row. He doesn't look like a good bet to suit up for Green Bay's preseason opener against the Cardinals on Friday, but the hamstring injury is not thought to be serious. Look for James Starks, Jonathan Franklin, and Alex Green to handle the workload Friday night.

In other news involving Green Bay running backs, head coach Mike McCarthy said that he views DuJuan Harris (knee) as the team's starter. Harris is currently on the PUP list, and is expected to return at some point during the preseason. We don't necessarily buy what McCarthy's selling, but it also wouldn't be surprising if Harris has a significant role. Eddie Lacy still looks like the back to own if you're choosing one, while James Starks and Alex Green are both on the roster bubble. Jonathan Franklin is a sure thing to make the roster, and could compete for playing time if he proves to be a capable pass protector.

The Raiders are implementing a new offense, and head coach Dennis Allen wants Darren McFadden to play in all four preseason games. McFadden's extensive injury history makes him an obvious candidate to sit, but the Raiders apparently believe that the benefits outweigh the risks.
Pierre Thomas is dealing with an undisclosed (and presumably minor) injury, leaving Mark Ingram as the likely starter for Friday's preseason opener against the Chiefs. Thomas is listed atop the depth chart, but Ingram could earn the starting job with a strong preseason. Regardless of how the depth chart shakes out, both backs will split playing time with Darren Sproles.

Jeremy Ross and Jarrett Boykin, both entering their second NFL season, are competing for the No. 4 wide receiver spot in Green Bay. Normally, such a battle wouldn't have much fantasy relevance, but the Packers love to throw the ball around, and Jordy Nelson looks highly questionable for Week 1.