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5 Biggest NFL Training Camp Headlines: Aldon Smith, Antonio Gates, Bernard Pierce

The latest on Aldon Smith’s suspension, Chargers’ tight end battle, Bernard Pierce’s rise, Darqueze Dennard’s potential, and more.

Aldon Smith
Aldon Smith

Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

As training camps across the NFL continue, XN Sports will report the top headlines of each day.

With the preseason nearing, there is no shortage of intrigue and optimism, key injuries, and potential holdouts, as well as late offseason signings.

Here are the top five headlines for Friday:

Nine-game ban for Smith?

The 49ers are “bracing” for linebacker Aldon Smith to receive a six- to eight-game suspension from the NFL, CSN Bay Area reported.

That is a longer timetable than what was originally anticipated, which was closer to a four-game suspension. Smith met with Commissioner Roger Goodell on Thursday and then watched the Niners’ preseason game from the sidelines.

It’s just the latest blow to San Francisco’s defense, which is already without NaVorro Bowman and Glenn Dorsey, and lost Donte Whitner and Carlos Rogers in free agency.

Chargers tight ends

Despite being 34 years old, ESPN.com expects Antonio Gates to “remain the most targeted tight end” in San Diego this season. Gates’ 2013 season was his best since 2009, but still nowhere close where he was during his prime years.

Still, the same report projects Ladarius Green to be a major factor in the Bolts’ offense. Entering his third year, ESPN.com says Green has “taken another step in his development” and “will be more featured more in the offense.” It’ll be interesting to see which one of these two — or both — is the top tight end in 2014.

Pierce looking sharp

ESPN.com reports Bernard Pierce has been the best running back so far in Ravens training camp. Pierce, 24, is entering his third season in Baltimore, and so far is adjusting best to Gary Kubiak‘s zone-blocking scheme.

Pierce will start at least the first two weeks of the season while Ray Rice is serving his suspension. If Pierce impresses, perhaps he can get a handle on the starting job for longer.

Best rookie corner … ever?

Marvin Lewis had some high praise for the Bengals’ first-round pick. On Thursday, the coach said Darqueze Dennard has been the “best rookie corner I’ve seen.”

With Adam Jones and Terence Newman on the downside of their careers, and Leon Hall coming off an Achilles’ tear, Dennard has a chance to start this season — or at least earn valuable playing time.

Lions ink a defensive back

The Lions signed veteran cornerback Drayton Florence, formerly of the Panthers.

Last season, Florence, 33, recorded 19 tackles and nabbed a pair of interceptions filling in at safety, corner, and nickelback. The Lions made few moves to address their secondary this offseason, and will compete for playing time behind Darius Slay and Rashean Mathis.

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