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Eagles’ Jenkins talks mental health at summit

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The topic was mental health. Michelle Obama, addressing a crowd of more than 50 first-generation college-bound students at her annual Beating the Odds Summit at Howard University on Tuesday, looked over at Philadelphia Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins as she finished her point and signaled for him to take the floor.

“I know for me, mental health wasn’t anything we talked about when I was in school. But … I am in therapy once a week at this point in my life because I recognize that I’m somebody who’s responsible for a lot of things and I put a lot of pressure on myself, and so with that comes stress and a little anxiety,” he said.

“A lot of you, if you’re a first-generation college student, you’re the first one to do it, you feel like your family is counting on you, depending on you, you have these outside pressures that are on top of being a college student, you have to find ways to recognize that and deal with that in a healthy manner.”

This is how Jenkins spent his final day before the start of the Eagles’ training camp: A chair over from the former First Lady, speaking to a group that had overcome everything from homelessness to special needs to be in a position to receive a post-secondary education. Tuesday’s workshop was designed to equip the students with strategies to ensure they see things through, and Jenkins was called on to help in that messaging.

“For me, that was an easy yes,” Jenkins said.

The Players Coalition, co-founded by Jenkins, has supported Obama’s Reach Higher Initiative before. In May, coalition members including Anquan Boldin, Demario Davis and Josh Norman traveled to California for its college signing event.

A first-generation student herself, Obama started the Reach Higher Initiative during her time in the White House. According to stats provided by Obama’s camp, students from the bottom income quartile have a nine percent six-year college graduation rate, compared to a 73 percent graduation rate for students from the upper-income quartile. In some communities, as many as 40 percent of students who are accepted to college never make it there, for reasons that include financial burden and fear of leaving home.

“Every single one of you here had to get over some deep, dark obstacle, whether it was in your own mind or something that was real that was going on in your lives and that has given you the strength to do what you have to do next,” Obama said. “So I just want you to know: You can do this. You belong here. This was not a mistake.”

The Players Coalition has three main areas of focus: Criminal justice reform, community and police relations and education and economical advancement. Much of the effort since the coalition’s inception in 2017 has gone towards criminal justice reform. They are beginning to ramp up the other two pillars of the operation.

“We’ve already shifted some of that [focus] already. … We’ve started to roll out a little bit more in that area and will also be rolling out some campaigns around policing this fall,” Jenkins said. “We’re still growing in the development of all of these focus areas.”

The focus on the educational side was on display Tuesday, as Jenkins offered some advice to the students that Obama’s event had gathered.

“Allow yourself to grow. Allow yourself to grow into whoever it is you’re going to become. College is not the end goal, it is just a process,” he said. “So there is going to be plenty of times when you fail. You might meet some confusion. You may change majors. Whatever it is, you might take some time to figure out what you really want to do. Your beliefs may change as your experiences change. But treat college as just that: An opportunity to learn and grow as an individual and really find your own purpose.”

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Roc Nation to lead NFL entertainment endeavors

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NEW YORK – In a major boost to the NFL’s efforts around social justice, Roc Nation, the entertainment company founded by iconic rapper, businessman and activist Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter, has agreed to lead the league’s endeavors in music and entertainment.

As part of the surprising long-term partnership, Roc Nation will advise on the selection of artists for NFL tentpole events, including the Super Bowl, as well as play a key role in the production and promotion of new music. The NFL’s union with Roc Nation kicks off as the league celebrates its 100th season, and serves as a commitment from both parties to amplify the league’s Inspire Change initiative.

Among the most important benefits to the NFL is that Roc Nation, through its position as a global entertainment leader, could enhance the Inspire Change platform in ways that the league likely would not be able to on its own. The program, which is run by the league and its players, focuses on education and economic advancement, improving police-community relations and criminal justice reform.

Carter believes Roc Nation and the NFL will accomplish big things together.

“With its global reach, the National Football League has the platform and opportunity to inspire change across the country,” the entertainment mogul said. “Roc Nation has shown that entertainment and enacting change are not mutually exclusive ideas – instead, we unify them. This partnership is an opportunity to strengthen the fabric of communities across America.”

Likewise, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell is excited about the possibilities.

“Roc Nation is one of the most globally influential and impactful organizations in entertainment,” Goodell said. “The NFL and Roc Nation share a vision of inspiring meaningful social change across our country. We are thrilled to partner with Roc Nation and look forward to making a difference in our communities together.”

The deal calls for Roc Nation, which will also reach out to artists who are not attached to the company, to quarterback the creation and distribution of music content across multiple music and streaming services, as well as consult and collaborate on the production, promotion and marketing of live music events. A Pro Bowl community concert, original music, artists podcasts and a live visual album may be produced under the new banner. For the NFL, the potentially positive impact of Carter being willing to join forces with it — especially at this time — cannot be overstated.

The fact is, despite its significant recent efforts to back players in championing social justice, the NFL still lacks credibility with many African-Americans, even some who identify themselves as being among the league’s fans, because of the Colin Kaepernick situation.

During the 2016 season, the-then San Francisco 49ers quarterback knelt during the national anthem to draw attention to police brutality and systemic oppression. Since the end of that season, Kaepernick has gone unsigned. Many activists, fans and players believe that NFL owners are conspiring to blackball Kaepernick, who in February settled his collusion grievance against the league for an undisclosed financial settlement.

Carter, who has been public in his support for Kaepernick, is among the most revered figures in the black community, more for his astonishing overall financial success build on a foundation of intelligence and hard work than his second-to-none skills as a hip-hop artist. Carter is also a vocal activist.

Through REFORM Alliance, a nonprofit advocacy group he founded with acclaimed hip-hop artist Meek Mill, Carter aspires to overhaul the criminal justice system by “changing the laws, policies and practices that perpetuate injustice,” according to the organization’s website. In a league in which the on-field workforce is almost 70 percent black, having Carter involved at a high level will please many players.

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OL Toth seeks Army OK to join Eagles

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Former Army offensive tackle Brett Toth is ready to play in the NFL and is awaiting a decision from senior Army leadership that would allow him to play for the Philadelphia Eagles, per sources familiar with the situation.

President Donald Trump said in May that he would allow military academy athletes to get waivers to join pro sports teams upon graduation. Air Force draftee Austin Cutting became the first military graduate to sign with a team, the Minnesota Vikings, under the president’s change of policy.

Toth, a second lieutenant who graduated as a nuclear engineer in May of 2018 and fulfilled his first year of active military service, is waiting for Army leadership to allow him to sign his contract with the Eagles and try to win a spot on their roster.

Toth became the first player from West Point to play in the Senior Bowl and teams immediately took notice of his abilities. Toth has drawn interest from multiple NFL teams in addition to the Eagles, who have one of the NFL’s top offensive line coaches, Jeff Stoutland.

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Fantasy fallout: Can rookie sleepers David Montgomery, Miles Sanders be lead backs? – NFL Nation

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Two rookie running backs have generated some of the loudest buzz during the first two weeks of NFL training camp.

Unfortunately, both the Chicago Bears’ David Montgomery and the Philadelphia Eagles’ Miles Sanders are stuck in crowded timeshares that could limit their fantasy value — for now, anyway.

ESPN Bears reporter Jeff Dickerson was slightly more optimistic that Montgomery could break out of the pack by season’s end, and he suggested that the third-round pick from Iowa State “has real fantasy value.”

“It’s a stacked Bears backfield with Tarik Cohen and Mike Davis, but Montgomery is the only one that (someday soon) projects as a true, three-down back,” Dickerson said of the 5-foot-10, 222-pounder, who boosted his stock with an impressive stutter-step, 7-yard touchdown run in his preseason debut while catching three passes for 30 yards.

“Montgomery is known for his tackle-breaking ability, but he’s also displayed good hands out of the backfield — a must for any running back in Matt Nagy’s offense,” Dickerson said. “Montgomery might not break out early in the regular season, but he’s a good player to stash on your fantasy roster for future use.”

ESPN reporter Dan Graziano also got the sense during his visit to Bears camp that the team would like Montgomery to develop into an every-down back.

Graziano pointed out how much respect Montgomery is earning from veteran teammates such as safety Eddie Jackson, who said, “He’s a dog. He’s got it early. A lot of guys don’t have it early, but he’s got it early. … He’s the truth. He’s going to be something special.”

If that sounds familiar, well, maybe you read Eagles reporter Tim McManus’ piece on the early impression Sanders is making in Philly.

“That boy is a beast, man. You’re going to see. Oooh, I like him,” defensive end Brandon Graham said of the 5-foot-11, 211-pounder from Penn State, who was drafted in the second round. “I don’t want to give out too much. I’m going to let him be a surprise to some.”

Sadly for fantasy owners, it would be a surprise if any Eagles back emerges as a leading man, given that the team generally treats the backfield like a hockey line change.

“Fantasy owners will meet similar frustration when it comes to the Eagles’ backfield rotation,” McManus said. “Sanders’ ability stands out even among a talented group that includes Jordan Howard, Darren Sproles and Corey Clement. You watch him jump cut and accelerate upfield, finish off a wheel route with an over-the-shoulder catch or slice through a small hole for a goal-line TD, and you can see the lead-back potential. But there have been no signs thus far that Doug Pederson and running backs coach Duce Staley will stray from their committee approach. And it’s certainly possible that Howard [18 TDs the past two seasons] gobbles up a lot of red-zone carries.

“Sanders’ role will almost certainly grow as the year goes on, assuming he can hold on to the ball. It may be worth stashing him early to ride him late, but go into the fantasy relationship with eyes wide open.”

As for the only running back taken in Round 1 of this year’s draft, the Oakland Raiders’ Josh Jacobs still looks like the best bet to be a true featured back right out of the gate, as ESPN Raiders reporter Paul Gutierrez has noted. However, coach Jon Gruden said fans “will have to wait and see most” of Jacobs’ skill set in Week 1, rather than seeing a heavy preseason workload.

Now let’s tour the league for fantasy insight from ESPN’s NFL Nation reporters:

Quick hits

Baltimore Ravens: Jamison Hensley wrote about the leap that quarterback Lamar Jackson has made as a passer so far in Year 2.

Buffalo Bills: Running back LeSean McCoy said he knows fans and fantasy team owners can be fickle. But as Marcel Louis-Jacques wrote, McCoy still thinks it’s “kind of weird” how much skepticism there is around him.

Dallas Cowboys: Todd Archer explained why Ezekiel Elliott isn’t likely to pull a Le’Veon Bell and skip the entire season (Elliott’s contract would carry into next year, but Bell became a free agent). However, that doesn’t guarantee that Elliott will be back by Week 1 — or even Week 10. If you draft Elliott, you might want to snag both veteran Alfred Morris and rookie Tony Pollard as handcuffs. Cowboys owner Jerry Jones praised Pollard after the preseason opener, saying he could “if he really needs to, carry the whole load.” Archer said Morris has looked good in camp, and he would expect them to split work.

Green Bay Packers: Jimmy Graham has drawn praise for the way he looks in his second year with Green Bay after battling injuries last season. As Rob Demovsky wrote, maybe the 32-year-old tight end doesn’t look like the Graham of New Orleans, but at the very least, he’s the Graham of Seattle in 2016-17.

Houston Texans: Newly acquired RB Duke Johnson Jr. could be a great fit in Houston, Sarah Barshop wrote. She suggested that Johnson could be second on the team in receptions — and that was before receiver Keke Coutee suffered an ankle injury in the preseason opener.

Indianapolis Colts: Scan through Mike Wells’ daily updates on Andrew Luck‘s health status for lots of good details. So far, the Colts don’t seem too worried about the fact that Luck has practiced three times since April. Can fantasy owners be equally optimistic?

Los Angeles Chargers: If you need Melvin Gordon insurance, running back Austin Ekeler is an obvious handcuff who brings value even when Gordon plays. But as Eric Williams wrote, even Ekeler thinks fellow RB Justin Jackson adds some “razzle dazzle.”

Los Angeles Rams: With Cooper Kupp looking good in his return from a torn ACL, Lindsey Thiry wrote that the Rams have a “four-headed monster” at receiver.

Miami Dolphins: Yet another RB timeshare! But this one offers some potential value. Kenyan Drake is being drafted 80th in average ESPN fantasy drafts, and Kalen Ballage is all the way down at 156. Cameron Wolfe wrote about how Ballage has emerged as an X factor in Miami, and he predicts something like 45% of the touches for Drake and 40% for Ballage. “Drake will still be the better fantasy player due to his receiving prowess and likely status as at least 1A in the backfield duo,” Wolfe said. “But I see Ballage as the better value, given his current ADP, and he has weekly touchdown upside as the Dolphins’ goal-line back.”

New England Patriots: The Patriots could have two rookie receivers making an impact: first-round pick N’Keal Harry and undrafted Jakobi Meyers. As Mike Reiss wrote, Meyers is still a little raw. But he took his strong performance from the practice field to the preseason opener, with six catches for 69 yards and two touchdowns.

New Orleans Saints: As ESPN’s Saints reporter, I’m trying to temper my enthusiasm for tight end Jared Cook, knowing he hasn’t always lived up to expectations (and knowing that Coby Fleener recently proved free-agent tight ends don’t automatically thrive in New Orleans). But so far, the 32-year-old has exceeded the Saints’ expectations. And it’s hard to ignore how good he looks on the practice field.

Meanwhile, don’t expect Alvin Kamara‘s workload to dramatically increase now that former running mate Mark Ingram is in Baltimore. The Saints pounced on veteran Latavius Murray early in free agency to help replace Ingram. Sean Payton has stressed that he likes Kamara’s “pitch count” and added that Kamara’s usage will be “similar to what we’ve been seeing.”

New York Jets: The Jets think Sam Darnold’s arm strength has grown along with his confidence in Year 2, per Rich Cimini.

Seattle Seahawks: Chris Carson should split some time with 2018 first-round pick Rashaad Penny. But there should be plenty of carries to go around in Seattle’s run-heavy offense, which no longer includes Mike Davis. Coach Pete Carroll and offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer both insisted that they plan to throw the ball more to Carson, as Brady Henderson noted.

Tennessee Titans: Is this finally the year that receiver Corey Davis lives up to his potential? Signs are positive, including his maturity, confidence and big-play ability, Turron Davenport wrote.

Washington Redskins: John Keim knows he needs to brace for fantasy blowback every time he mentions how good 29-year-old Jordan Reed looks in practice, given that injuries have repeatedly derailed the tight end’s promising career. But there is no doubting Reed’s value when healthy. So far, both Reed and injury-plagued Redskins running back Chris Thompson have looked like their old selves.

“The passing game still centers around [Reed], and he does look really good. This is the first time in a few years he has been healthy in camp,” Keim said. “The danger of course is, ‘How long will that last?’ But if nothing else, he’s probably a real good pick late in fantasy drafts.”

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