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‘Culture guy’ Robert Saleh brings new energy to New York Jets – New York Jets Blog

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FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — A look at what’s happening around the New York Jets:

1. Video star: Defensive end Carl Lawson researched coach Robert Saleh on YouTube. Wide receiver Corey Davis did something similar, going online to watch Saleh’s media interviews.

Welcome to 2021 NFL free agency. To paraphrase sportscaster Warner Wolf, players go to the videotape.

In Saleh’s case, they liked what they saw. They also came away impressed after speaking to him during the two-day “recruiting” period.

Frankly, this was one of the key takeaways from the first wave of free agency: The Jets found themselves a coach who can connect with players.

Let’s not be naive. Players always chase the money, but a charismatic coach with a strong reputation can play a role in the decision-making process. It’s just a gut feeling, but the vibe is different from past years. That shined through during Davis’ Zoom call with reporters. Here was an offensive player raving about his defensive-minded head coach, whom he described as “a culture guy.” That sort of cross-complimenting wasn’t common under former coach Adam Gase (offense) and coordinator Gregg Williams (defense).

“It starts with Coach Saleh,” Davis said. “He’s the right guy to come in here and turn things around. That’s what I believe. That’s why I came here. I believe his message and I believe what he brings to the table. He brings great energy, you can tell. It’ll be great to play for a guy like that.”

Some perspective: The biggest signing of the Gase era, running back Le’Veon Bell, spent his first media session commenting on reports that Gase didn’t want him.

Many predicted Saleh, 42, would charm some of the San Francisco 49ers‘ free agents to come to the Jets, but the only one he landed was running back Tevin Coleman. Take a closer look, though: While he missed on cornerback K’Waun Williams, the other so-called losses actually were dictated by money.

Like I said, money is king. But it helps to have a coach who can attract players, and Saleh can do that.

2. Ready for a first? The Jets’ quarterback decision might be the most talked-about personnel issue in the NFL. As I mentioned two weeks ago in this space, the sense I get is they will end up replacing Sam Darnold with BYU’s Zach Wilson in the 2021 NFL draft. If that’s how it goes down, it will be historic. They would become the first team in the common-draft era (since 1967) to pick two quarterbacks within the top three in a four-year span. That’s probably not something you want to advertise in the team media guide.

3. Don’t double down: There’s a scenario floating out there on social media about how the Jets could keep Darnold, trade down from No. 2 overall and pick a quarterback somewhere in the top 10. It’s intriguing but flawed. You get the windfall of a trade and plenty of quarterback insurance, but there’s too much downside.

The following reasons support how it just wouldn’t work, and ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. echoed those sentiments when I posed this scenario: For one, there’s a chance the Jets would get the third, fourth or even fifth quarterback on their board, depending on how far down they go. Two, they would miss out on an elite pass-catcher, either tight end Kyle Pitts or one of the Big Three wide receivers. Three, they would squander Darnold’s trade value; he could bolt in a year as a free agent. Four, it would be tremendously awkward, an instant quarterback controversy.

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Zach Wilson rolls to his left and unloads a perfectly thrown deep ball at his BYU pro day.

4. QB’s best friend: When the Jets’ quarterbacks threw the ball into a tight window last season, the odds of a completion were slim. That’s not a made-up opinion; it’s a fact. They completed a league-low 16% (12-for-75) on pass attempts in which the separation between the wide receiver and the nearest defender was less than 1 yard, per NFL Next Gen Stats. Five of the Jets’ 14 interceptions came on these plays.

Corey Davis can help bring those numbers up. He’s 6-foot-3 with a 77-inch wingspan, which explains why he’s so good at contested passes. He posted a league-high 63.2% catch rate on tight-window throws last season for the Tennessee Titans. The Jets haven’t had a big, physical receiver since Brandon Marshall.

“I do consider myself a wide receiver 1,” Davis said. “My ability to get open … my speed, separation and releases … I feel like I can do it all. Last year showed that.”

5. (Almost) Twin Titans: The Jets made a play for coveted tight end Jonnu Smith, according to ESPN colleague Jeremy Fowler. Pairing Smith and Davis, two of the Titans’ top pass-catchers last season, would have been a coup. It’s no surprise the Jets are looking to upgrade at tight end. Incumbent Chris Herndon, coming off a bad season, is entering the final year of his contract. Smith wound up signing a four-year, $50 million deal with the New England Patriots, so now the Jets will see him twice a season.

6. Dangerous corner: A lot of folks are upset by the Jets’ inactivity at cornerback. It’s a fair concern, considering the current depth chart, but know this: The draft is loaded. Kiper believes as many as 40 corners could be drafted, including four or five in the first round. That likely explains general manager Joe Douglas’ strategy.

7. Minshew? Joe Flacco‘s departure, not unexpected, leaves an opening at the QB2 spot. It might seem like wasted energy to spend time on this, considering we don’t know the QB1 yet, but it shouldn’t be dismissed.

Whether the starter is Darnold or a rookie or someone else (Houston’s Deshaun Watson?), the Jets need a veteran backup. James Morgan, a 2020 fourth-round pick, can’t be entrusted with the job; he doesn’t even have preseason experience. The only free-agent option who makes any sense is former Washington Football Team quarterback Alex Smith, who has an obvious durability issue.

Here’s a thought: What about Gardner Minshew II? He will be the odd man out with the Jacksonville Jaguars, who figure to trade him. He has starting experience and a friendly contract (two years, $1.6 remaining). It’s worth noting that Mike LaFleur was part of the 49ers staff that coached Minshew in the 2019 Senior Bowl.

7a. Philly/N.Y. special: Flacco signed with the Philadelphia Eagles, continuing the long-running “Jersey Turnpike” shuttle. Former Jets quarterbacks who went to the Eagles include Mark Sanchez, Josh McCown, Ken O’Brien and Pat Ryan. From Philly to New York: Michael Vick and Bubby Brister.

8. Still speedy: Coleman is a decent bargain addition to the backfield (one year, $1.1 million), but let’s make one thing clear: He’s a complementary back, not an RB1. The Jets still don’t have one of those.

One thing about Coleman surprises me, though: He has maintained his speed. His max speed last season was 21.78 mph (post-knee sprain), according to tracking data by NFL Next Gen Stats. For perspective, consider the max speeds of the Jets’ backs in 2020: La’Mical Perine, 19.72; Ty Johnson, 19.29; Josh Adams, 19.10; Le’Veon Bell, 18.31; Frank Gore, 18.08.

Speed always is important, but it’s especially so in the new offense, a zone running scheme that requires backs to make one cut and accelerate quickly.

9. By George: About half of George Fant‘s 2021 base salary ($4.45 million of $8.5 million) became fully guaranteed last Monday, according to Overthecap.com. This all but secures a roster spot. If the Jets draft a right tackle in the first round, it probably would require a position change for Fant or the rookie — unless they’re OK with Fant being one of the highest-paid backups in the league.

10. The last word: “It’s an incredibly huge decision to make. In the history of the game, do you remember a decision that was as critical to an organization as this one is to Joe Douglas and the Jets?” — Kiper on the Darnold/quarterback choice.

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Lamar Jackson’s absence delays growth of Ravens’ passing attack – Baltimore Ravens Blog

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OWINGS MILLS, Md. — After the news circulated that Lamar Jackson had tested positive for COVID-19, a fan tweeted Wednesday morning that he was boarding a flight from Los Angeles to see Jackson at training camp and the former NFL MVP was not going to be there.

Jackson responded with the images of five broken hearts.

Ravens coach John Harbaugh wouldn’t disclose how many days Jackson would miss. What is known is Jackson’s absence will delay the growth of the NFL’s worst passing attack from last season.

What’s the emoji for utter disappointment?

The Ravens remained positive, or as positive as a team can be when you begin training camp without your star quarterback. The players talked about next man up. Harbaugh said the situation is one “you almost kind of rejoice in” because it gives an opportunity for others to step up.

But this was a critical training camp for Jackson and this offense. Baltimore invested heavily in upgrading its weapons and pass protection this offseason after producing only a field goal in the 17-3 divisional-round loss at the Buffalo Bills.

The Ravens added two new wide receivers, drafting Rashod Bateman in the first round and signing Sammy Watkins in free agency. Baltimore revamped its offensive line, bringing in free agents Kevin Zeitler and Alejandro Villanueva in addition to selecting Ben Cleveland in the third round.

All of that money and draft capital generated plenty of chatter and optimism around the city for the start of training camp. Over 1,000 fans poured into the first practice, which was supposed to be the unveiling of Jackson and the new offense. On Saturday, a crowd of over 30,000 is expected to watch practice at M&T Bank Stadium, where many wanted to see Jackson slinging the ball all over the field to his new targets.

But any notion that the Ravens moved past the pandemic and returned to normalcy ended when Trace McSorley, Tyler Huntley, and Kenji Bahar were the only quarterbacks suited up for Baltimore.

What’s the emoji for buzz kill?

The Ravens know how valuable every training camp practice is. Last year, no offseason practices and a shortened camp due to the pandemic played a factor in Jackson not matching his 2019 MVP season.

Baltimore beat the odds by going 11-5 while throwing for only 171.2 yards per game. The Ravens became the fourth team since the playoffs expanded to 12 in 1990 to make the playoffs despite finishing last in passing yards, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Harbaugh has dismissed the No. 32 passing ranking, pointing out Baltimore attempted fewer passes than any other team. But the Ravens understand that Jackson has to throw the ball better and the offensive line has to block better in order for them to make an extended championship run.

Now, Jackson will have a reduced number of passes that could help him build chemistry with Bateman and Watkins, who are projected to be among his top three wide receivers. He’ll also have fewer snaps with his new center Bradley Bozeman and the rest of the new-look offensive line. He’ll also have reduced time working under center and throwing to running backs, both of which are wrinkles being implemented into the passing game this year.

As Ravens tight end Mark Andrews put it this week, training camp “is where, as a team, you kind of find out what you’re about and what you’re made of.” If Jackson is sidelined 10 days — that is the protocol for unvaccinated players who test positive — he would miss eight practices and join the team one week before the preseason opener.

“Of course having reps with [Jackson] means a lot,” said Ravens wide receiver Marquise “Hollywood” Brown, Jackson’s closest friend on the team. “But, as a receiver, if we’re out here working and wide open, he’s just going to have to come back and get us the ball. While he’s out, we’ve got to do the best we can to make sure we’re better for him.”

The Ravens were surprisingly impressive without Jackson on Wednesday. McSorley and Huntley, who are battling for that backup job, had their best practices with the team. They stretched the field and put the ball in tight windows. Not having Jackson will allow Baltimore to have more tape to evaluate who will become the No. 2 quarterback.

“Those guys had all the reps, and they did well, didn’t they?” Harbaugh said. “It’s only going to bolster those two guys and make those guys stronger than they would have been otherwise. That helps our team get better.”

For the Ravens to get better in their passing game, Jackson has to be out on the field throwing the ball. That might not happen until the end of next week.

What’s the emoji for frustration?

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Coach Reich ‘still a part’ of Carson Wentz’s first Colts camp, despite COVID-19 absence – Indianapolis Colts Blog

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WESTFIELD, Ind. — Carson Wentz took the field for his first training camp as the new starting quarterback of the Indianapolis Colts on Wednesday morning.

But a significant piece was missing — the same piece that played an instrumental part in the quarterback being traded to Indianapolis from Philadelphia.

Head coach Frank Reich.

Reich won’t be there in person during the early portion of training camp to talk to Wentz in between series in practice, applaud him for making the right read on a throw or for throwing the ball away instead of taking a sack, or to give him any guidance on anything else that may come up in practices.

And what Reich missed on Wednesday was a quarterback feeling like it was Christmas morning.

“I was telling (offensive coordinator Marcus) Brady I’m a little amped, I have to tone it down a little bit,” Wentz said. “It feels like the first day of school a little bit, coming out here, beautiful setting for training camp. You have farm lands all around you. My type of place.”

Wentz, the rest of his teammates and the entire coaching staff will spend at least the first few days of training camp preparing for the start of the regular season without their head coach. Reich is currently away from the team after testing positive for COVID-19 late last week. He said in a statement Monday that he’s fully vaccinated and asymptomatic. There is no set timetable for when Reich will return to the team. The Colts will practice four straight days before taking a day off Sunday. The hope is that Reich will be back by at least Aug. 2.

The pandemic has been around for more than 16 months, but this is the first time that Reich will spend time away from the team due to COVID-19. Special teams coordinator Bubba Ventrone missed some time, including a game, due to it last season.

“It’s going to be tough without the head coach,” receiver T.Y. Hilton said. “He’s being involved. He’s at home recovering.”

Duties in Reich’s absence will be divided up, as general manager Chris Ballard said they will not name an interim head coach for the time being. Duties will be split up pretty evenly between Ventrone, Brady and defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus.

“Bubba is a little more free during practice, so he’ll handle some of the practice duties,” Ballard said. “Frank is still a part of it. With everything we learned a year ago with Zoom, he’s still involved. He’s in meetings through Zoom, he’ll be in team meetings through Zoom. We have staff meetings every morning, and he is in constant contact with everybody. We just keep moving forward.”

Brady, who is in his first year as offensive coordinator of the Colts, handled the post-practice media session that Reich routinely does. Eberflus will address the media Thursday.

Defensive lineman DeForest Buckner understands what Reich is going through. He said it was “terrible” and he was “frustrated” having to miss a game while being stuck at home due to COVID-19 last season.

“Sent him a text a couple of days saying he was in mine and my wife’s prayers,” Buckner said. “I know the type of guy he is, I know he’s frustrated, not being able to be out here physically with the team, kicking off the season. I’ve been in his shoes. It’s very frustrating.”

Not having Reich for the start of another training camp with a new quarterback in Wentz isn’t ideal no matter how you look at it because he is the head coach and the team’s offensive playcaller.

The good thing — if you want to say there’s anything good about Reich’s absence — is that he already has a two-year relationship with Wentz, when he was the offensive coordinator during the quarterback’s first two years in the NFL with the Philadelphia Eagles (2016-17).

“He tunes into every meeting,” Wentz said. “We talk individually or as a position group. He’s just as involved as he can. I know it’s killing him not being out here. He’s doing well. He’s doing everything he can to be a part of it.”

Brady, the first-time NFL offensive coordinator, has been on Reich’s staff since Reich became head coach in 2018. And Reich, even though he is the offensive playcaller, has never been overbearing with his coaching staff. It also helps that the Colts have the majority of their offensive starters back from last season’s team that went 11-5 and reached the playoffs.

“I don’t think it’ll be any different,” running back Nyheim Hines said. “First of all, Frank is a very laid-back guy. He’s not hands on, so he’s laid back, very quiet. … Our draft class has a lot of leaders on this team. We’re going to hold it down for Frank. We’re going to give him something to be excited about when he comes back.

“We know we’re losing our leader, but we have a lot of other leaders on this team and we’re going to be asked to step up.”

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Joe Burrow puts injury out of his mind as Bengals try to be cautious – Cincinnati Bengals Blog

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CINCINNATI — Of all the things that happened during the Cincinnati Bengals‘ first practice of training camp on Wednesday, one development mattered more than anything.

Joe Burrow felt great.

A black brace supporting Burrow’s surgically-repaired left knee was the only indicator that the quarterback was a little more than eight months removed from a season-ending injury. Aside from that, Burrow went through all the usual motions that indicate the regular season is a few weeks away.

He lined up under center. He participated in 11-on-11 drills. He rolled out of the pocket with no issues. Burrow gave every indicator that he was close to full strength, which he indicated before Wednesday’s practice.

“It feels almost 100%,” Burrow said. “At this point, I’m not even really thinking about it.”

Throughout the offseason, the 2020 top overall draft pick said he was on track to start on Week 1 against the Minnesota Vikings. He participated in every organized team activity and in a one-day minicamp while he waited to get full clearance from his medical team. That came earlier in July, when he was authorized to resume all football activities.

Earlier this week, team owner and president Mike Brown indicated that Burrow would not participate in the three-game preseason. Third-year coach Zac Taylor echoed those sentiments on Wednesday.

“We’ll look at everything, every scenario about what would we gain out of it,” Taylor said. “If we’re going to put him out there, what exactly is that going to look like? Can we control it or not control it? We don’t have to make that decision today.”

Burrow, however, has a different idea. He said he wants to get a few snaps to feel the rush and even get hit a couple of times. And as beneficial as it might be for his rehab progress, feeling the contact has always been an indicator that football season was on the horizon.

“It doesn’t really feel like football until you get hit a little bit,” Burrow said. “That’s how it’s been for me since eighth grade. In scrimmages, I was always lobbying to be live. That’s how it’s always been. It’s just what I need to feel ready for Week 1.”

Fortunately for all the members of Bengals ownership who were watching practice, Burrow never came close to getting hit. He was perfect in 7-on-7 drills, the highlight a completion to rookie Ja’Marr Chase down the sideline with Chase dragging his feet before he went out of bounds.

The low point was on a type of movement Burrow said he lacked confidence in during OTAs. Toward the end of Wednesday’s practice, Burrow started right before he rolled back to his left to look for an open receiver. Linebacker Jordan Evans batted Burrow’s pass into the air in what could have been an interception.

Aside from that throw, Burrow showed all the progress of someone gearing up for a big second season in the NFL. Burrow completed 65.3% of his passes for 2,688 yards, 13 touchdowns and five interceptions before he was injured.

He said he’s a better all-around player than he was a year ago, and he’s excited to show everyone the improvements.

On Wednesday, Burrow exuded confidence — in his knee, his rehab process and his abilities. He still needs to prove to himself he can make some of the plays he made as a rookie. But at the start of training camp, there was no apprehension.

“I’m just ready to go out and play some football,” Burrow said.

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