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Gain 20 pounds by Week 1: Inside Al Villanueva’s race to 335 – Pittsburgh Steelers Blog

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LATROBE, Pa. — When Alejandro Villanueva isn’t in his blocking stance, he might be holding a tray full of food or standing on a weight scale.

The magic number is 335, and the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Pro Bowl tackle is five pounds away. Getting there by Week 1 will leave him in a constant state of discomfort.

“It’s terrible,” the 6-foot-9 Villanueva said about his weight-gain process. “I would say it’s harder than losing weight because you feel gross.”

But here’s the problem: He simply doesn’t feel right if he’s not at 335, and the stresses of the season suppress his eating. Villanueva estimates he’s played at as low as 295 pounds in the past due to long hours of game prep and the all-consuming desire to perform better next week.

Hitting a high number in August helps offset the inevitable dip, and Villanueva has learned to manage the in-season process better, finishing last season somewhere in the 315-320 range. Regardless, he’ll keep reaching for plates that might not actually aid production.

“I’m self-conscious about my weight, so I feel I need to be at 335,” Villanueva said. “If I feel I’m too light, I feel I’ll get lifted off the ground. With a solid 335, I can take on bull-rushes. But in reality, everything I just told you is not scientifically proven whatsoever and might have absolutely no effect on the game. It’s just a matter of confidence.”

Every morning, Villanueva pounds five to six waters — former Eagles coach Chip Kelly taught him body cells need water to grow — then eats massive breakfasts and lunches, weighing himself in between each session.

He doesn’t count calories or even pick his food. He just downs what’s in front of him, and the Steelers’ cafeteria makes that easy, providing an assortment of grass-fed beef, fish, carb sources and vegetables.

“In the military, you go down the line and just take what they have. There’s no negotiation,” said Villanueva, a former Army Ranger before turning his attention to the NFL. “If I’m stable at a weight and need to add more pounds, I will go back for more until I feel I’m stuffing myself.”

That process gets crazy at times. Villanueva and guard David DeCastro once had an eat-off, testing who could consume the most baked ziti during a one-hour dinner setting. They weighed themselves after, DeCastro said, and Villanueva had gained nine pounds. DeCastro wasn’t far behind.

Though DeCastro, a seven-year veteran, confidently maintains a 320-pound playing weight, he understands the big-man struggle.

“As an offensive lineman, you always have a little bit of a body dysmorphia like a bodybuilder would,” DeCastro said. “You can look strong and big but you’re always trying to get to a certain point, and if you’re not at that you start questioning yourself. It’s just part of the routine.”

What makes Villanueva a good player isn’t weight, DeCastro says. It’s smarts. He picks up football concepts quickly. And even Villanueva admits a 275-pound tackle with good technique can thrive in today’s quickness-above-all game.

But that won’t protect him from the “stressful cycle” of 17 NFL weeks as Villanueva predicts he’ll drop a pound following each game.

The new maintenance goal: Don’t drop below 320 pounds during the season. Sometimes that means eating so much that “I’ll stay up all night and my stomach gets shut,” knowing he won’t be right until Maurkice Pouncey’s Thursday night linemen parties offering ribs, steaks and potatoes.

If the late-week eating doesn’t help, Villanueva’s got a hairy backup plan.

“I shave my beard, and since food gets stuck in my beard, that (extra) usually gives me a boost around the December timeframe,” he said.

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What now for Antonio Brown? Answering the biggest questions around his release

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Antonio Brown has been released by his second NFL team in less than two weeks. The New England Patriots announced Friday that they were parting ways with the star wide receiver, whom they signed when he was released by the Oakland Raiders just before Week 1.

Brown has been publicly accused of sexual misconduct by two different women in the time since the Patriots signed him, and once new allegations of his behavior toward one of those women surfaced overnight Thursday, the Patriots decided they’d had enough.

It has been a bizarre saga for Brown since he forced his way out of Pittsburgh via trade during the offseason. His time with the Raiders was marked by controversy over his preferred choice of helmet, the accidental freezing of his feet in a cryotherapy chamber and a public feud with team management over fines for missing work. The Patriots agreed to terms with him hours after his release from Oakland on Sept. 7, but it wasn’t long before far more serious controversies began to surface.

Brown is under NFL investigation and without a job. Here’s a look at some of the key facts of the situation as it stands:


Why did the Patriots cut him now?

The Patriots claim that they did not know, when they signed Brown on Sept. 9, that his former trainer Britney Taylor was planning to file a lawsuit against him alleging sexual assault. She did that three days later, but New England kept him on the team last week, and he played in their victory over the Miami Dolphins.

This week, a Sports Illustrated story was published that included a fresh allegation of sexual misconduct against Brown by a different woman. That woman told Sports Illustrated on Thursday that Brown had sent her intimidating and threatening texts after the story ran, and her attorneys said Thursday they were sharing those texts and that information with league investigators. The Patriots woke up to that news Friday morning and, according to sources, held a series of meetings to determine the best course of action in light of the most recent development and all of the issues that were piling up around Brown.

Coach Bill Belichick, who has control over the composition of the team’s roster, walked out of his regular Friday news conference because he didn’t want to answer questions about Brown and the reporters who cover the team understandably kept asking them anyway. Several hours later, the Patriots released a short statement that read, “The New England Patriots are releasing Antonio Brown. We appreciate the hard work of many people over the last 11 days, but we feel that it is best to move in a different direction at this time.”

Will the NFL take action against him, too?

The NFL’s investigation into Brown’s off-field conduct began Monday when league investigators interviewed Taylor, who filed the lawsuit last week accusing Brown of sexual assault. That investigation, a league source said Friday after Brown’s release, “will continue.” The league has been interviewing other witnesses besides Taylor this week and has been gathering information on all of the accusations against Brown. At this time, the league is not scheduled to interview Brown. Usually, the interview with the player happens at the end of the investigation, after the league has compiled all of its evidence against him.

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Rams without TE Higbee; Donald questionable

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THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. — The Los Angeles Rams on Friday officially ruled out tight end Tyler Higbee and listed defensive tackle Aaron Donald and right guard Austin Blythe as questionable for Sunday’s game against the Cleveland Browns.

Higbee suffered a lung contusion on Sunday in a win over the New Orleans Saints. The fourth-year pro, who has six catches for 41 yards and a touchdown, did not practice throughout the week.

Third-year tight end Gerald Everett will start in Higbee’s absence. Johnny Mundt, who is typically inactive on game day, will be the backup.

Donald has been dealing with a back strain suffered in the second quarter against the Saints, but the two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year said Friday that he was “100 percent” and would play against the Browns.

“I feel good,” Donald said.

When asked how he suffered the strain, Donald responded: “I’m just so fast, I was moving so fast and I strained it. That’s what happened, honestly.”

Donald was limited in practice throughout the week and was listed as questionable for Sunday’s road game out of caution, Rams coach Sean McVay said.

“Unless something really unforeseen happens, this guy is going on Sunday night,” McVay said.

A Pittsburgh native, Donald is expecting several family members to make the two-hour drive to attend the game.

“I got to show up and show out,” Donald said.

Blythe, a second-year starter, sprained his left ankle on Sunday.

“With these ankle injuries, it’s one of those deals we’re going to use all the time that we do have,” McVay said. “See if we can get some of that swelling out and if he feels good enough, then we’ll make a decision on that.”

If Blythe is unable to play, the Rams will have three first-year starters on the interior of their line with Jamil Demby expected to start in Blythe’s absence.

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Browns lose Njoku to IR; DBs uncertain vs. Rams

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BEREA, Ohio — The Cleveland Browns placed tight end David Njoku on injured reserve with a wrist injury, the team announced Friday.

Njoku, who was injured in the first quarter of Monday’s game and also suffered a concussion, could require surgery for the wrist, a source told ESPN’s Adam Schefter.

The news comes as the team’s entire starting secondary missed Friday’s practice with injuries heading into Sunday night’s game against quarterback Jared Goff and the Los Angeles Rams.

Both of Cleveland’s starting cornerbacks, Denzel Ward and Greedy Williams, are questionable after suffering hamstring injuries this week. Safety Morgan Burnett (quad) also didn’t practice Friday and is listed as questionable. The Browns have already ruled out safety Damarious Randall for Sunday due to a concussion.

In response, the Browns signed cornerback Robert Jackson to the active roster off their practice squad and claimed safety Juston Burris via waivers from the Raiders.

“The guys that are there [against the Rams], I expect us to show up and play well, compete every snap,” Browns coach Freddie Kitchens said. “The expectations haven’t changed. I just need 11 on each side of the ball to show up and play.”

The Browns were already without linebacker Christian Kirksey (chest), who could be out for an extended time. Kitchens said Kirksey is getting opinions on whether he will need surgery.

Other starters listed as questionable for Sunday include right tackle Chris Hubbard (foot) and wide receiver Rashard Higgins (knee).

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