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Will Cam Newton bounce back? Answer could determine Patriots’ 2021 fate – New England Patriots Blog

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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Want to generate a passionate reaction from New England Patriots followers? Just say the name Cam Newton.

What a lightning rod.

No player in recent memory has sparked such extreme reactions on both ends of the spectrum: “He’s done!” vs. “He never had a fair chance!”

Patriots coach Bill Belichick’s view, which ultimately is the most important, seems to be somewhere in the middle.

If Belichick believed Newton had little to offer, he simply could have moved on in 2021 with no strings attached and a big thank you. Instead, he surveyed other free-agent quarterback options, and the price to acquire them, and landed back on Newton as QB1 .

But it was hardly a decisive vote of confidence.

Newton’s one-year contract is modest — which keeps the door open for another potential addition — and is more stop-gap than long-term answer. The Patriots will work to build on their experience with Newton in 2020, while also pursuing a quarterback of the future, possibly in the 2021 NFL draft (April 29-May 1 in Cleveland, ESPN/ESPN App).

Barring something changing between now and the start of the season, such as the San Francisco 49ers taking a more aggressive tack in attempting to trade Jimmy Garoppolo or Patriots quarterback Jarrett Stidham making an underdog push for the top job, the most likely odds are on Newton to be at the controls of the offense in the season opener.

It would be Cam 2.0. In the spirit of finding the middle ground in a sea of extremes, let’s examine some of the top narratives surrounding Newton.

He can’t throw anymore

Some of Newton’s misses were so bad, bouncing at the feet of receivers, they overshadowed his on-the-mark throws. It was something that seemed to be on Newton’s mind late last season when he said, “I can still be more consistent. Some of the throws I had, I wish I could have had back.”

He also had 13 passes batted down at the line of scrimmage, tied for second most in the NFL behind Ben Roethlisberger, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Newton completed 65.8% of his passes last season, the second best mark of his career. Tom Brady, in his final season in New England, completed 60.8%.

In the Week 2 loss to the Seattle Seahawks, for example, Newton delivered 28 accurate passes — those deemed in film review to be hitting pass-catchers in a catchable window so they could make a play after the reception.

That was some of the best of Newton, balanced by being pulled in games against the 49ers and Buffalo Bills in the second half because they were blowouts and the passing game wasn’t functioning at an acceptable level.

He played well before testing positive for COVID-19

This was something owner Robert Kraft said in his Q&A with reporters on March 31 at the conclusion of the NFL’s annual meeting, noting how Newton’s positive test “changed a lot when we were in a good place.” The Patriots were 2-1 at the time, but lost four in a row en route to a 7-9 season.

In that sense, it’s hard to argue with Kraft’s view.

Newton was 62-of-91 for 714 yards, with two touchdowns and two interceptions in the first three games, while adding 35 rushes for 149 yards and four TDs.

If there’s a pushback, however, it’s that Newton had struggled in a 36-20 win against the Las Vegas Raiders in Week 3. He threw into triple coverage multiple times and forced an interception early while trying too hard to keep a play alive.

That was easily his worst game of the first three, sparking questions as to whether that was the beginning of a greater slide, regardless of his COVID-19 setback in early October.

Going back to his final six games of 2018, he has a 7-16 record and as a pure passer has 17 touchdowns and 20 interceptions.

His mechanics need a significant tune-up

Independent throwing coach Tom House, who has worked with Newton in the past, shared his view on the Patriots Talk podcast that Newton invested so much of his efforts in competing, it might have taken away from a focus on mechanics.

That might seem like a stretch on the surface, as the start of every practice usually includes a focus on mechanics. But it makes sense to think Patriots coaches picked their spots on how much to drill Newton on his mechanics, as the situation required added patience to get him up to speed in the offense. In other words, they probably didn’t want to overload him.

Even the casual observer could see Newton’s feet/bottom half were often not aligned with his right arm/upper half last season. He seemed to be making throws harder than they needed to be.

Newton, who threw eight TD passes and 10 interceptions last season, is taking steps to fine-tune his footwork this offseason, according to those familiar with his workouts.

He didn’t have enough weapons

The Patriots’ free-agent activity this offseason speaks loudest, investing big money at tight end with Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry and receiver with Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne.

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Rob Ninkovich addresses concerns that Bill Belichick is finally feeling the heat from the Patriots.

Meanwhile, the team’s top tight end last season (Ryan Izzo) was traded to Houston for a seventh-round pick and the receiver who played the most snaps (Damiere Byrd, 89.1%) remains an unsigned free agent.

That’s strong evidence Belichick believes he didn’t give Newton the best chance to succeed last season. So while the Patriots ranked 32nd in touchdown passes and 30th in passing yards — which by extension reflects on Newton — it’s not out of the question that it could look different with better pieces around him this season.

Does he still have the arm strength to throw deep?

One notable throw from last season was Newton’s Hail Mary attempt at the end of a 27-20 loss to the Houston Texans on Nov. 22. He was at his own 38-yard line and the Patriots needed to get the ball to the end zone to have a chance.

Instead of stepping up to the 38, Newton unleashed his attempt at the 34 … and it came down 10 yards shy of the end zone.

So he isn’t Aaron Rodgers or Patrick Mahomes. Or Josh Allen, for that matter. But in that same game, Newton lofted one of his best deep balls of the year — a 42-yard high-arcing rainbow to Byrd.

He can’t run any more

Albeit against a downtrodden New York Jets team, Newton totaled 11 rushes for 79 yards in the 2020 season finale. That helped him finish the year 592 rushing yards on 137 carries (4.3 avg.) with 12 touchdowns — solid numbers for a 31-year-old said to be in decline.

Former Patriots defensive end Chris Long, on his Green Light podcast, has ranked Newton as the toughest ball-carrier to tackle over his career. But Long also expressed concern, noting despite his 2020 statistics, Newton doesn’t look the same as when he had faced him.

“His body is just not there, and I don’t know if it comes back,” Long said. “I really believe the attrition has caught up to him.”

Like most everything surrounding Newton, there’s strong opinions on both sides.

One thing most can agree on, however: How Newton answers the questions will factor into what type of season the Patriots have in 2021.

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Le’Veon Bell says he’d retire before playing for Kansas City Chiefs coach Andy Reid in social media post

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Kansas City Chiefs showed no interest in re-signing running back Le’Veon Bell, and the feeling seems to be mutual.

Bell, responding to a comment on Instagram about his time with the Chiefs in 2020, said, “I’d never play for Andy Reid again … I’d retire first.”

Bell didn’t specify his complaint with Reid, the Chiefs’ coach.

The Chiefs signed Bell last year after his release from the New York Jets, but he played sparingly. Bell played in nine games, starting two, and rushed for 254 yards and two touchdowns.

By season’s end, he wasn’t much of a factor for the Chiefs. Despite the absence of injured starter Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Bell got the ball just twice in the Chiefs’ divisional-round win over the Cleveland Browns.

He was inactive for the AFC Championship Game against the Buffalo Bills, and though he was in uniform, did not play in Super Bowl LV against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Bell is a free agent but has not signed with any team.

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This Philadelphia Eagles player found key to happiness: He quit social media – Philadelphia Eagles Blog

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PHILADELPHIA — Eagles offensive lineman Andre Dillard was asked last week about the competition with Jordan Mailata for the starting left tackle spot and speculation Dillard will end up on the trading block should he lose said competition.

“I haven’t heard anything because I don’t have any social media anymore as of last year,” said Dillard, the Eagles’ 2019 first-round pick out of Washington State, who has faced sharp criticism since arriving in Philadelphia for having not yet lived up to expectations. He started four games as a rookie, with mixed results, then missed all of last season after tearing his biceps in late August.

“I try not to pay attention to any of that stuff because it’s all noise. My job is to just keep my head down and work.”

Dillard came across as a man transformed during his Zoom session with reporters. Indeed, he said he felt like a “completely different” person in some aspects, from the physical strength he gained in the offseason to the surge in confidence that was on full display. Once withdrawn, guarded and at times defensive in his interactions with the media, he was at ease, forthright and engaging. He seemed healthier. Lighter.

One of the changes he made over the past year was ditching social media, joining a growing number of athletes who are deleting apps such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to eliminate distractions and improve their mental health. In March, renowned former Arsenal soccer player Thierry Henry announced he will no longer be using social media until the platforms do more to tackle racism and bullying. New York Mets first baseman Pete Alonso revealed he got rid of social media in February, noting he wants to “live in real life.” And then-Kentucky Wildcats basketball forward Isaiah Jackson said in December he and “a lot of guys on the team” temporarily deleted their social media accounts because of severe fan reaction to their 1-6 start.

Some of the reasons Dillard, 25, gave for the move were relatable: He’d open his phone and start browsing through videos and whatnot, and the next thing he knew an hour had flown by and he had nothing productive to show for it. He wanted to block out the “general negativity in the world” that social media can bring. He learned of the dangers and behavior manipulation associated with social media, brought to the fore by documentaries such as “The Social Dilemma” on Netflix.

But one element was more unique to his profession. The public now has unprecedented access to pro athletes. Fans are able to send their praise, and vitriol, directly to a player’s feed. Criticism en masse is a scroll away.

It was clear from early on Dillard was scrolling. “Most of ’em roast my hairline because I have my widow’s peak. Little do they know, I want that there,” Dillard said of the fans on social media following his first day of rookie minicamp in 2019.

“They all think I’m oblivious, but I like it. They all like to joke around. They’re all very passionate, happy for me to be here overall. … It’s really fun to be a part of this culture.”

The judgment didn’t stop there that season, however. He was dinged for getting emotional on the field following a training camp scrap with defensive end Derek Barnett. He was bashed for yielding a blindside sack during a preseason game against the Jacksonville Jaguars that left quarterback Cody Kessler concussed. (The sack, coaches later said, was not on Dillard). He came under fire for his play over his four starts, particularly against the Seattle Seahawks after he was abruptly moved from left to right tackle that week, struggled and was benched at the half.

Dillard was 23 at the time.

“In terms of social media and stuff that’s directly aimed at me … I never realized that’s kind of how it is once you get to [this] level. Just whatever sort of negativity gets pointed at you, it was kind of a shock for me,” Dillard said. “But as the years went on, I kind of learned how it goes, and certain things, you can’t feed into it. You can’t feed the negativity or else it’ll just keep growing and growing and weigh on you.”

Social media and the expectancy theory

Ben Newman is the mental conditioning coach for the Alabama and Kansas State football teams and works one-on-one with more than 25 players in the NFL.

Part of his job is to provide athletes with the tools to mitigate distractions, including those brought on by social media.

“Certainly there are games where people become impacted,” Newman said. “There’s one player that I can think of right now, where as a result of social media getting in his head, there was a string of games where he was actually listening to the noise of the fans at the game. So it went from reading it on his screen to actually actively listening when he was at the game. And then finally, once there was the awareness and the acknowledgment, we had a conversation with it, he realized what it was doing and then shut it down.

“There’s a psychology principle called expectancy theory, that what you focus on expands, so if they don’t do anything to replace the negativity, all they’re going to focus on is the negative. … They’ll almost be inclined to actually search their own name on Twitter. ‘Can I find more? What are people saying?’ When the reality is, we have to teach the athletes to not even be inclined to do that. Just stay focused on what you can control.”

That’s not a discipline easily learned, especially when you’re young and the critics are in full throat. Such was the case for Eagles wide receiver Jalen Reagor, the No. 21 overall pick in the 2020 NFL draft. He was hampered by injuries as a rookie and, like Dillard, did not match the lofty expectations of a first-round pick.

Reagor was also the victim of circumstance. The Eagles chose him over LSU’s Justin Jefferson, who was selected by the Minnesota Vikings with the very next pick and went on to tear up the league to the tune of 88 catches, 1,400 yards and seven touchdowns in 16 games. Reagor had 31 catches for 396 yards and a score over 11 games. Comparisons between the two were relentless, as was the critiquing of Reagor’s game.

“What everyone does is, they go directly to social media and voice their opinion, so now [Eagles quarterback] Jalen Hurts‘ family is seeing it on social media, Jalen Reagor’s family is seeing it on social media, Andre Dillard’s family is seeing it on social media and now … they have to answer questions by the media that was generated from Joe Blow on social media,” said Jason Avant, the former Eagles wide receiver who served as an assistant receivers coach in 2020.

“So yes, I saw it last year: Social media affected Jalen Reagor, Dillard, a bunch of different people. Because social media tries to steal the narrative of the expectation; the expectation is no longer on the team’s schedule, it’s on whoever is coming up with the big-eye talent assessment. Jalen Reagor didn’t have a chance to please Philadelphia because of the firestorm that is on social media about Justin Jefferson and all those things.”

Added Eagles receivers coach Aaron Moorehead: “[If] you start listening to everything, whether it’s good or bad, it can affect you. And that’s not just Jalen [Reagor], that’s every young player. They want to see their name on social media and they kind of get off on that. We all have egos, right? … But in reality, you do your job to the best of your ability and it all takes care of itself.”

Moorehead said Reagor is being “very diligent” about listening to the voices in the building and within his family structure in an attempt to block out the noise.

Everybody’s distractions look different

The impact of social media certainly has the attention of the NFL Players Association.

The NFLPA has recently made it a point to have at least one session focusing on social media at all of its major events, from the annual board of player representatives meeting to the Collegiate Bowl to the Rookie Premiere, focusing on the good (how to leverage and monetize the players’ brand and platform) and bad (how to silence the noise, ignore the trolls and stay focused on the job).

The point was raised at the virtual Rookie Premiere last month that the union’s efforts to protect the health and safety of its members aren’t limited to the field or the locker room, they now stretch to social media.

A panel was put together for that event in which former wide receiver Brandon Marshall served as moderator and Brittany O’Hagan (head of athlete/sports talent partnerships at Twitter), Dev Sethi (head of sports at Instagram) and Horace Flournoy (SwayBrand founder) were panelists.

Speaking on the benefits of social media for athletes, Marshall got the players’ attention by telling them he is projected to make $250,000 a month on social media by the end of the year, according to a source who attended the event. Clearly, there can be a benefit to logging on from a dollars and cents standpoint, as well for branding purposes and to champion causes athletes are passionate about.

For some players, the benefits go even further.

“There are athletes who social media actually fuels them, right? They actually enjoy the engagement,” Newman said. “And those players who understand they’re fueled by that, I think social media is not a bad thing. But the players who clearly understand, when I read something negative, that impacts how I show up to the facility, those individuals need to set some barriers or parameters.”

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Joon Lee, Buster Olney, Tim Kurkjian and Jeff Passan discuss the culture shift in baseball as players understand and use social media and marketing more than in previous generations.

One practice for athletes is to shut down social media once the season starts. Others will go dark in the days immediately before and after a game. Newman notes it’s typically wise for a player who didn’t play well to avoid social media afterward, as his name might be trending for all the wrong reasons.

Eagles offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland said this week there’s “definitely” a battle between Dillard and Mailata for the left tackle spot heading into training camp. Mailata has the benefit of starting 10 games last season, but in Dillard, Stoutland sees a player who is now “hungrier” and “more serious.”

“I really do like what he’s done in the offseason,” Stoutland said.

Competition at his position or not, for Dillard, staying off social media was the answer. He said it feels like he’s leading a simpler life now. He gets up, goes to work, studies, reads and relaxes. He gets his news, but “not once do I flip open my phone and just read stuff,” Dillard said, “and it’s helped me a lot, I think.”

“You’re willing to do so many things to become a better football player, right — what you put in your body, how you work out,” Eagles coach Nick Sirianni said. “The sacrifices that you give to be a good football player are almost endless. So if a distraction to you is social media, and you feel like you’ve got to give that up, you’re doing all these other sacrifices, why not make it that as well?

“Andre is aware of what his potential distractions are. That’s the first step, being aware of what is going to stop you from getting better every single day. So I heard about that and his comment there, and I was really excited for him that he’s figured out what his distraction is.”



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Austrian Bernhard Seikovits gets second shot at NFL with Arizona Cardinals – Arizona Cardinals Blog

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TEMPE, Ariz. — When Arizona Cardinals tight end Bernhard Seikovits looks back at his path to the NFL, he thinks he should’ve been a little more patient, maybe even a little more objective.

Thanks hindsight.

The NFL wasn’t on Seikovits’ radar as he grew up playing for the Vienna Vikings of the Austrian Football League in his home country. Then the NFL invited him to its International Combine in Germany in the Fall of 2019. From there, he was invited to the NFL’s International Player Pathway Program (IPPP) and started training at IMG Academy in Florida. But that opportunity was was cut short by the pandemic and he wasn’t allocated to an NFL team.

He was disheartened but didn’t let it put a damper on his new goal of playing in the NFL.

“If I would have looked at it a little bit more objective, maybe I would have said to myself, ‘Yes, maybe it’s going to be a two-year thing,'” Seikovits, 23, said. “But when I came in, of course I went in and I thought I did a really good job and I thought a team would pick me. So, I was, of course, really disappointed.

“But my family and my friends really lifted me up again after the decision and I really used this as motivation for the next year, so I really devoted the last year to get better, stronger and faster.”

Seikovits, a former quarterback, transitioned from wide receiver to tight end after the NFL International Combine. The NFL wanted him to participate in the IPPP, which he started on Jan. 23, 2020, as a tight end because of his 6-foot-5 frame. They also advised him to start gaining weight, a recommendation he took to heart.

Seikovits went back to Vienna and honed his skills at tight end, getting help from his coaching staff. He was in the Vikings’ gym every day and even built a weight lifting platform in a friend’s garage so he could work out outside of the team’s facility. It paid off. He’s now 262 pounds and built like a tight end.

Vienna Vikings offensive coordinator Max Koessler adapted the offense around Seikovits, who played “sporadically” at tight end before last season.

“Just used him solely as a tight end to show give them a chance to showcase his skill set and try to coach him up as as good as we could,” Koessler said. “And just to put some tight end plays on film.”

Added head coach Chris Calaycay: “That was a huge part of our 2020 season is making sure that he was in that position to put that on film and work on it.”

Seikovits finished the season with plenty of good tape to show NFL teams. He finished 2020 with 21 catches for 262 yards and four touchdowns in three games. His stat line from last season had him on a pace for career highs in all three categories.

Seikovits was given another chance at this year’s IPPP and with a better grasp of the position, especially the schematics of playing tight end and improved techniques, he was picked, getting allocated to the Cardinals in early May.

Koessler, who’s known Seikovits since he was about 11, called and just yelled into the phone with excitement. Seikovits will be on the roster until the end of training camp and then will be eligible for either a practice squad exemption for international players or the active roster.

“I couldn’t be more glad to be honest that they didn’t pick me last year,” Seikovits said. “So, I think, however it goes in life, it always has a meaning, and I’m really glad I landed here.

“And I wouldn’t have been here if, last year, they pick me so I’m glad how it turned out.”

Seikovits, who took part in the Cardinals’ rookie minicamp in May, isn’t nervous about taking the field with veterans. The last two years have been building toward this moment.

“He’s got great ball skills and great hands and great football awareness,” Calaycay said.

Seikovits has a rare combination of size and speed. He can block like a tight end, move like a receiver and see the field from a quarterback’s perspective. Add it all up and Seikovits may just have what it takes to make the team.

“He played — and still plays the game — through the eyes of a quarterback so route adjustments, change-ups in the blocking scheme depending on front movement was like second nature,” Koessler said.

Seikovits’ first throw as a quarterback was an interception but he recovered to throw more than 400 yards and six touchdowns that game, Koessler said. He played the position until the Vikings added Kevin Burke, an American quarterback who went to Case Western and played for the Memphis Express of the now-defunct Alliance of American Football before he was released and replaced by Johnny Manziel. Once Burke was signed by the Vikings, Seikovits asked to change positions so he could play, which set in motion his ascent to the NFL.

Still, the call from general manager Steve Keim to welcome him to the Cardinals made Seikovits a “little bit anxious.”

He’s watched plenty of NFL football, whether it was on local stations in Vienna or through NFL Game Pass. The 1 p.m. ET slate of games started at 7 p.m. in Vienna, prime viewing time. Seikovits knows watching hours of games won’t be the same as seeing it up close on the field.

“It’s gonna be more physical, faster,” he said. “But, at some point, I think it comes down to effort and work ethic and how bad do you want it? And I really don’t know. I never saw a live NFL game and I never practiced with the guys. I just saw it on TV. So, of course, I don’t know what to expect, but I’m looking forward to it.”

Calaycay thinks Seikovits’ skill set will fit in well in Cardianls coach Kliff Kingsbury’s scheme, creating mismatches for tight ends — somewhat in the mold of former Cardinals tight end Dan Arnold, who’s now on the Panthers.

Koessler thinks it may take a year or two for Seikovits to get his chance on Sundays.

Seikovits has been playing football since he was 9 years old, then flag football. He switched to tackle football a year later. Like almost every kid in Europe, Seikovits’ foray into sports began with soccer but he didn’t enjoy it enough to commit. He also tried swimming when he was about 5 because his father was a swimmer but it got boring to “look in the water for two hours.”

The team aspect and physicality of football kept luring Seikovits further and further in.

“What I like most about football is, like, the physicality,” he said. “You can do stuff you can really not do in real life, like you can hit people and you can just lose your mind, basically, sometimes.

“So, that really, is, like, I don’t know, that really excites me.”

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