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Is Camaron Cheeseman, aspiring dentist, the NFL draft’s top long-snapper?

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Back in 2018, No. 12 Michigan was holding on to a 13-7 lead over No. 15 Wisconsin during the first drive of the second half.

The Wolverines were facing a fourth-and-6 from their own 44 and lined up to punt. As they got the kick away, a flag came out for roughing the snapper, giving Jim Harbaugh’s squad a fresh set of downs.

Five plays later, the Wolverines were in the end zone, the first of 25 consecutive points in a 38-13 rout of the Badgers.

But that would all come later. For a moment, those watching the game were consumed by the name of the long-snapper on the receiving end of the penalty: Camaron Cheeseman.

“All the Wisconsin fans are like, ‘Why didn’t he come to Wisconsin?'” Cheeseman said.

Ever since he could remember, his last name has always been a point of discussion.

“People always ask me, ‘Is it Cheese-man or is it Cheese-min?’ And I’m like, ‘I think it’s Cheese-min.’ … But yeah, people just call me ‘Cheese.'”

And Cheeseman notes that the fun doesn’t stop there, since his first name means “shrimp” in Spanish.

“So it’s like Shrimp Cheeseman is my name,” he said. “I’ve never seen anybody else spell it that way, and I can never get a keychain at a [gift shop].”

But in a couple of weeks he might be able to find his name on an NFL draft card. Because while the name might be the first thing you notice about Cheeseman, he’s also one of the nation’s top long-snappers, currently at No. 2 in Mel Kiper Jr.’s rankings. (Each of the past six drafts has seen one long-snapper selected.)

There’s not a lot of glory for long-snappers. Their greatness can’t be measured by completions, yards or touchdowns, and attention usually comes only when they make a mistake.

To have one of the 32 long-snapping jobs in the NFL requires consistency, and that’s what Cheeseman and his coach Casey Casper of Kohl’s Kicking, Punting, and Long Snapping go for. Keeping that consistency after the past year has been a challenge, but one he’s been able to meet.

Cheeseman says he opted out of the 2020 season because Harbaugh told him a scholarship wasn’t available. (The former walk-on had been awarded a scholarship back in 2018.) At the time, Cheeseman needed to know if he would have one before renewing the lease on his apartment in Ann Arbor.

A native of New Albany, Ohio, Cheeseman and his family weren’t in a position to pay out-of-state tuition and, with the added uncertainty due to the pandemic, he decided to forego a final season and train for the NFL from home.

“A few weeks later, that’s when they brought the Big Ten season back and I was home,” Cheeseman said. “And I couldn’t do anything about it. I was helpless at that point. I already left, I graduated.”

“It was emotionally draining,” he added. “It was unfortunate. It was tough for me. That was my first season in 14 years I hadn’t played football.”

At that point, Casper said, “I told him, ‘You know that taking a year off like this kind of sets you back because these guys that are still playing are going to be training with the team and working with the team. And you know, the food, resources, you name it, just gotta work that much harder.

“‘It’s gonna be that much more enjoyable when you make it, but it’s going to be that much harder. You need to stay after it.'”

So throughout the fall of 2020 and into 2021, Cheeseman held himself accountable. He purchased a tripod for his iPad so he could take better film of himself. He would send film to Casper, and they’d go over it trying to pick out things he could do better.

“It’s cool where he’s gotten to with his knowledge of the game, just the little nuances,” Casper said. “It’s been fun for him and I because that’s what I do for a living, I break down long-snapping and film, tens of thousands of clips a year and figure out little things and why, and talk to guys like him and other NFL guys, and it’s just cool to have that. Guys that take it to that level where he’s a student of it, it’s like he’s becoming an expert kind of thing.

“How can we get better? How can we get faster, better rotation, more accuracy, all that stuff?”

Cheeseman takes those little details with his mechanics to his workouts, and takes it a step further by making his workouts feel as close to game situations as possible.

“A lot of times you’ll see snappers just want to keep snapping back to back to back, you may have five snaps in a minute,” Cheeseman said. “That’s unrealistic to how the game is. I kind of like to picture the situation. I may just stand over the side, and then I might do a little jog out to the ball. Visualize the fronts, visualize four guys on my left, four guys on my right, or five guys on my left, three guys on my right. And picture what the personnel protection is going to tell me and take my specific steps.”

Michigan’s pro-style punt system is also an advantage for Cheeseman. Most college teams run spread punts, where they snap the ball, and immediately run downfield. So for most long-snappers entering the NFL, there’s an adjustment.

“Easily the hardest part of being a good NFL snapper is your blocking,” Casper said. “Because you have to snap a ball, backpedal, catch up to a guy that’s in a dead sprint next to you. It’s very, very difficult to do and that’s why guys lose their jobs, is blocking. Cam’s been doing that already for three, four years, and he’s training on that. He’s not having to learn all that stuff now.

“He just checks every box. He really does.”

The rest of Cheeseman’s days are filled with taking an anatomy class at Columbus State Community College in order to be able to attend dental school at Ohio State. He took the Dental Admission Test (DAT) back in August, and scored over the 92 percentile on the exam, which helped him get into Ohio State.

Along with his workouts and classwork, Cheeseman has been working at an orthodontic practice in Gahanna, Ohio. He checks the wellness of patients who come in by taking temperatures, handing out mouthwash and having them fill out symptom forms.

And while Cheeseman has dental school in front of him before he can actually practice dentistry (presumably after football), he already has impressed Dr. James McNamara in Ann Arbor, who has been working in the field for half a century.

“He’s taking this NFL thing really seriously,” McNamara said. “But he’s taking the dentistry thing just as much. I mean, he got admitted to Michigan and Ohio State on his own merits. This wasn’t because he was a football player, I can tell you that.”

McNamara has known Cheeseman since 2018, and started inviting him to observe at his office. Eventually McNamara hired Cheeseman as a research assistant through the University of Michigan, where the two co-authored the first significant article on the carriere appliance, which is a method of fixing an underbite.

“To be a co-author on a major paper as your first paper was a big deal,” McNamara said. “And that doesn’t happen very often that I would put somebody in that, but he worked so hard and was not just putting in the hours, but was putting in the mental time to understand the significance of what we were doing.”

As far as dentistry and dental school goes, Cheeseman said, “It’s kind of just like a security blanket. I wasn’t sure what was gonna happen, and I applied, and I got accepted. So I have that in my back pocket.

“But if the NFL works out this year, then I’ll just reapply.”

For now, he’ll keep grinding in the run-up to the draft.

“Long-snapping is unique, you have to be perfect,” Casper said. “That’s the expectation. And it’s unachievable, but you can keep working towards it.”

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Dr. Laurent Duvernay-Tardif says watching Kansas City Chiefs kept him ‘grounded’ while working pandemic front line

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — While opting out of last season during the pandemic to work in a long-term care facility more than 1,000 miles from Kansas City and across an international border, Laurent Duvernay-Tardif had one thing to connect him to the Chiefs: watching their games on TV.

“Being able to watch the Chiefs on Sunday was kind of the thing that was keeping me grounded,” Duvernay-Tardif said after Tuesday’s mini-camp practice, his first work with the Chiefs in more than a year. “It was fun. It was fun to watch my teammates, fun to stay in touch with them as well throughout the season, even though I wasn’t there. I don’t regret my decision. I was in the right place at the right moment and I was able to put my medical training to use.”

Duvernay-Tardif, a doctor, started at right guard for the Chiefs in February 2020 in their Super Bowl LIV win over the San Francisco 49ers. Duvernay-Tardif decided to sit out the season in order to help with the COVID-19 pandemic in any way he could in his hometown of Montreal.

He worked at the long-term care facility, taking days off to watch the Chiefs. His duties varied from serving as an orderly to working as a nurse.

“I was basically helping where help was needed,” he said. “It was tough. We lost a lot of patients. We know that long-term care facilities were pretty badly affected. It’s been a pretty challenging year for all of us.”

Football, other than on game day or the occasional communication with teammates, seemed far away. Fitness centers were closed in Montreal, and without a place to keep in shape, Duvernay-Tardif fashioned a weight room on the balcony of his apartment.

“That’s all I was allowed to do through quarantine and curfew,” he said. “I had a pretty good setup. Don’t get me wrong, it was cold. But I had some heaters on the side and I basically trained four times a week for the last year so I feel in pretty good shape.”

Duvernay-Tardif said football never strayed far from his thoughts.

“Football is in your DNA,” he said. “I remember throughout November and December and as we were heading into the playoffs, sometimes on Thursday I would wake up and be like, ‘OK, is it a shell practice? Is it a full speed practice?’ I kept asking myself those questions because I missed football. Of course I do want to play football. That’s why I train so hard. The last time I put a helmet on before today was the Super Bowl in Miami and we won it, so there are great memories from playing football with these guys and I want to build that chemistry back and hopefully get a starting job back to contribute to the team this year.”

Duvernay-Tardif’s starting spot was occupied on Tuesday by a rookie, sixth-round draft pick Trey Smith. But he was just getting started on his comeback and will have time at training camp to earn his job back.

“We’ll see throughout the next couple of weeks and heading into training camp how I really feel,” Duvernay-Tardif said. “So far I feel great. Being away from the game, of course you get rusty a little bit, but at the same time I’ve never benched, cleaned and squatted as much as I did throughout the past year, so I’m feeling in great shape so hopefully it will translate on the field this year.”

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Motivated Cam Newton unfazed by New England Patriots’ decision to draft quarterback Mac Jones, ‘the right pick in my opinion’

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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — New England Patriots quarterback Cam Newton said Tuesday that there is no extra motivation for him after the team selected Alabama’s Mac Jones in the first round of the NFL draft, 15th overall.

“Absolutely not. He was the right pick in my opinion. He was the best player available, and that’s what the NFL draft is for,” Newton said Tuesday in his first remarks to New England reporters since re-signing in March.

“As far as having any chip on the shoulder, you’re stating the obvious. I don’t need too much to get myself going. It’s no disrespect to Mac. It’s no disrespect to Bill [Belichick] and his decision. I support it 110%, because you still have to do what’s right for the organization, for the long haul.”

Belichick has said that Newton is the team’s quarterback while leaving the door open that he could face a challenge for the job in the future. That could come in training camp, a more competitive environment in which Belichick often says the focus shifts more to evaluation.

Newton has taken top repetitions in spring teaching-based practices, and over the last two days of mandatory minicamp, he’s been followed by Jones. Newton, who has a long list of nicknames for teammates, refers to Jones as “Mac and Cheese.”

“Mac and Cheese, he’s pretty cool. He’s quiet. I think he’s trying to figure everybody out,” Newton, 32, said. “I’ve been there before. I’ve been a rookie and I’ve been a first-round pick, where so much is asked from you.

“He’s doing a great job with being everything that’s advertised — from a leadership perspective, he’s holding himself accountable. That’s all you can ask from a young player.”

Jones, 22, referred to Newton as a “good mentor.” The two are joined in the quarterback room by third-year player Jarrett Stidham and veteran Brian Hoyer, and Newton said they all push each other.

“As a competitor, I’d be a fool if I didn’t think Brian Hoyer wants to be a starter. I’d be a fool not to think ‘Mac and Cheese’ wanted to be a starter. I’d be a fool if Jarrett Stidham didn’t want to be a starter. You’d be a fool to think that I don’t want to be a starter,” said Newton, who previously missed three spring practices with a right hand injury before returning on Friday.

“But those things happen with the comfort of understanding the system. We all know nothing is going to be given to nobody. And it’s just that competition each and every day with yourself that is going to bring the best out in everybody else.”

When Newton first joined the Patriots in 2020, it wasn’t until July, and he acknowledged Tuesday that the challenge of keeping up with the team’s vast offensive system was overwhelming by the end of the season. He said he’s “grateful to have another opportunity” to learn it, this time with the benefit of spring practices.

“In the latter part of the season, it just caught up to me. I was thinking too much. There just wasn’t enough hours in the day,” he said. “You can’t simulate real, live bullets and that’s what it came down to.”

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Cincinnati Bengals’ Joe Burrow still on track for Week 1, hopes to reach ‘100%’ before training camp

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CINCINNATI — The best-case scenario occurred for Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow on his road to recovery: absolutely nothing.

Burrow’s surgically repaired left knee showed no troublesome signs through the team’s 10 offseason practices, including Tuesday’s mandatory minicamp. Burrow’s optimism for playing in Cincinnati’s season opener against the Minnesota Vikings remains intact. With the knee still around 85%, he said, the goal is for the 2020 top overall draft pick to get back to full strength ahead of training camp.

“The knee still has a little ways to go, but my upper body, my right leg, everything else feels better than it ever has before,” Burrow said. “When I’m on the field and executing, I’m playing better than I ever have before. So I’ll continue the program we were on and get back to 100% before camp.”

Burrow participated in all nine of the team’s organized team activities and the mandatory minicamp that ended after the first of three scheduled days. Bengals coach Zac Taylor canceled the last two days, citing the team’s full participation and quality work over the past month. Bengals safety Jessie Bates suggested the team’s rising COVID-19 vaccination rates also played a role in the early dismissal.

Burrow displayed his progress during Tuesday’s workout at Paul Brown Stadium. He worked on rolling out of the pocket and throwing on the move. In 7-on-7 drills, Burrow didn’t throw a single incompletion, with the session highlighted by a pass down the right hashmarks to wide receiver Stanley Morgan. Burrow watched from behind during the team’s 11-on-11 drills as quarterback Brandon Allen took reps.

Throughout the offseason workouts, the Bengals have worked extensively to protect their franchise quarterback, who tore multiple ligaments in his left knee. Burrow hasn’t faced a pass rush yet — even during the team’s half-speed walkthrough sessions closed to the media — for precautionary reasons, Taylor said.

However, the coach was encouraged by Burrow’s activity and progress in recent weeks.

“He’s done a great job,” Taylor said. “He looks good, certainly not all the way there yet, so there’s still a process we have to follow leading into training camp, but you guys have been out there. I think everybody’s optimistic.”

Taylor didn’t want to make any definitive statements on Burrow’s Week 1 availability, or even on whether Burrow will get reps in preseason games.

But Burrow said he was happy with the state of his knee as the team prepares for the start of training camp at the end of July.

“I’ll be ready to go for the season as long as there’s no setbacks,” Burrow said. “Right now, it’s looking good.”

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