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Kyler Murray says Arizona Cardinals must master the ‘little things’ to win



TEMPE, Ariz. — Quarterback Kyler Murray believes there is “a lot” to do in order for the Arizona Cardinals to become a playoff team, and it starts with “not taking the little things for granted.”

“We started out hot, and we were kind of a team where you just didn’t know what we were bringing to the table each and every Sunday, just kind of going with the flow,” Murray told ESPN.

“Those organizations that are used to winning, they do everything right, and I don’t think that we are there yet. And I think that’s what we need to get to doing is, do everything right, the little things right. The little things matter in the grand scheme of things.”

Murray then rattled off a list of those little things: convert on third-and-short, score in the red zone, make field goals and not turn the ball over.

And that was just the beginning. Murray said he could’ve kept going but decided to stop his list at those.

“I think we do those things right and we win a couple more games and we’re in the playoffs and we put ourselves in position to be where we want to be,” he said.

Murray threw for 3,971 yards and 26 touchdowns against 12 interceptions and had a passer rating of 94.3, which earned him his first Pro Bowl nod a year after winning Offensive Rookie of the Year. Arizona finished 8-8 and missed the playoffs by one game. The Cardinals started 5-2 but then went 3-6, which included a stretch of losing four out of five. They faced a win-and-they’re-in situation in the final two games of the season but lost them both to backup quarterbacks and missed the playoffs for the fifth straight season.

Murray spent the early part of the offseason trying to get his body healthy and refining his fundamentals.

He dealt with a shoulder injury midway through the season and an ankle injury late in the year. He said both of those injuries are healed.

Part of his offseason routine was spent “getting back to my roots,” which meant bringing his throwing motion back to what it was before the shoulder injury.

“I had a little shoulder deal during the season which caused me to kind of get out of whack as far as mechanically, throwing the ball and stuff like that, which, I was fine, but I want to get back to myself,” Murray said. “If you go back and you watch my college highlights and then if you go watch this past year’s highlights, my release is a lot longer due to me having to deal with being a little hurt, banged up.”

With the Cardinals a week into their offseason program, Murray said he would like to continue this year’s offseason virtually. He’s still in Texas, working out and training with his longtime trainer Stephen Baca.

While Murray is focused on the coming season, he’s not worried about getting his contract extended, which can happen starting after his third season. In the meantime, Murray is closely watching what the Cardinals will do in this week’s draft, when they pick 16th overall. He thinks they’re in a “weird spot” because they pick in the middle of the round and will have to make a decision based on what has happened ahead of them.

But Murray is “good” with the offensive pieces Arizona has around him at the moment and thinks they can help the Cardinals get to the postseason.

“I’m good with whatever,” Murray said. “I’m confident in myself. I’m confident in the guys that we have, and I think that if we are more detailed and do the little things right and are the most physical team on the football field every weekend, then we’ll be fine.”

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Eagles’ DeVonta Smith: Jalen Hurts, himself are best young QB/WR tandem – Philadelphia Eagles Blog



PHILADELPHIA — There are some intriguing young quarterback and wide receiver combinations in the NFL right now:

Joe Burrow and Ja’Marr Chase in Cincinnati.

Tua Tagovailoa and Jaylen Waddle down in Miami.

And there’s a case to be made for Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts and reigning Heisman Trophy winner DeVonta Smith.

Asked recently who the best tandem is, Smith replied: “Me and Jalen.”

“I believe if you ask Waddle and Tua, or if you ask Joe Burrow and Ja’Marr, they’re going to say themselves,” Smith said earlier this week, shortly after arriving in South Philadelphia for rookie minicamp. “That’s what you’re supposed to say. You’re supposed to feel confident about that.

“I believe me and Jalen will continue the connection that we had [at Alabama]. That’s just the confidence in it. If you’re not confident in what you’re doing, then you’re in the wrong business.”

Hurts and Smith were teammates at Alabama during Smith’s freshman and sophomore years (2017-18), when he was earning his stripes while sharing the field with heavyweights such as Calvin Ridley (Atlanta Falcons), Jerry Jeudy (Denver Broncos) and Henry Ruggs III (Las Vegas Raiders). Smith and Hurts connected for 12 receptions, 207 yards and two touchdowns during their time together in Tuscaloosa.

When Smith arrived at the NovaCare Complex on April 30, a day after being selected No. 10 overall by Philadelphia in the 2021 NFL draft, Hurts was there to greet him. The QB waited in the wings while Smith did the obligatory photo shoot before the duo headed down the street to take in a Sixers game.

It was a reunion several years in the making.

“We always talked about the possibility of us getting back together and being teammates again,” Smith said. “We spoke it into existence. It happened, so we’re excited.”

The addition of his old friend comes at a good time for Hurts, who is entering a critical Year 2 in the NFL. He is in line to be the starting quarterback in 2021, but all signs point to this being a tryout for the gig on a longer-term basis. The Eagles have as many as three first-round picks next April, resources they can use to either draft a QB or trade for a veteran such as Houston’s Deshaun Watson or Seattle’s Russell Wilson should Hurts not impress this season.

The presence of Smith should help Hurts as he looks to solidify his spot and improve on his rookie passing numbers (52% completion rate, 6 TDs, 4 INTs).

“What I saw in DeVonta was just a guy who can consistently win one-on-one,” Eagles coach Nick Sirianni said. “When you have a guy like that in your offense that can do that, it makes everybody else around him better. Quarterback can go one, two, three, four, five, hitch, throw … and get the ball out of his hands.

“He has very good [yards after catch] ability, easy touches to get the ball out of the quarterback’s hands and into his hands, and he just showed that in a very competitive league, obviously.”

Smith dominated last season despite playing against SEC competition, leading the NCAA in receptions (117), receiving yards (1,856) and receiving touchdowns (23).

Much has changed since Smith and Hurts last played together, but some familiarity with one another is ideal as they take their show to the NFL.

“Just because we had the connection in college doesn’t mean it’s the same now,” Smith said. “We’ve both grown as players. We both have things that we’ve added to our game. So we have to build from there and get better now.”

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Chargers’ Asante Samuel Jr.’s inherited inspiration goes beyond father – Los Angeles Chargers Blog



COSTA MESA, Calif. — For all the hard work that comes with becoming a college football player in a Division I power conference, and then being drafted by the Los Angeles Chargers in the second round of the 2021 NFL draft, there is one series of moments that Asante Samuel Jr. points to as being the key to who he is.

That came when he was 14 and his mother, Candace Doe, came back from the doctor after a week of dizzy spells and announced to her family that she had been diagnosed with a brain tumor.

Samuel Jr. (known as AJ) was the oldest of nine siblings in a blended family and was about to begin freshman football at St. Thomas Aquinas, a powerhouse high school football program in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. And Doe rarely missed a game.

Until now.

“I was scared,” Doe said back then. “That’s the only thing I could think of — ‘Please, I need to be here for them.'”

She had surgery, and doctors gave her the good news that the tumor wasn’t cancerous and she would, in time, be just fine. Doe had a lengthy recovery and couldn’t attend Samuel Jr.’s games until midway through the season. But she did then. And she stayed in charge of the family.

Samuel Jr.’s father, Asante Samuel, was a standout cornerback in the NFL, making four Pro Bowls in an 11-year career with the New England Patriots, Philadelphia Eagles and Atlanta Falcons — winning two Super Bowls with the Patriots and compiling 51 career interceptions. But it was his mother whose strength guided Samuel Jr. through college and into the NFL.

“Seeing her overcome that, that motivates me,” Samuel Jr. told “Seeing how strong she is and how she kept the family together. It just helped me.”

“He really stepped up,” Doe said of her son. “I really felt like, after that experience, he became a young man.”

Doe ended up recovering well and went into real estate. Samuel Jr. went to Florida State over offers from many other college football powers, including Alabama, Miami, LSU and Ohio State. But he didn’t commit to the Seminoles immediately because he wanted his mom to check out the school first.

“She loved it up here,” Samuel Jr. said.

As a sophomore for the Seminoles in 2019, Samuel Jr. was the only Power 5 defender with 14 pass breakups and more than 45 tackles. In 2020 as a junior, he started eight games before opting out and had 30 tackles, 6 pass breakups, 3 interceptions, 1 forced fumble and 2 fumble recoveries. He was named first-team All-ACC.

From there, he was drafted in the middle of the second round (No. 47 overall) by the Chargers and became the first member of their draft class to settle the terms for his contract, agreeing Wednesday to a four-year deal worth a little more than $7 million.

Samuel Jr. said his father was part of his draft process without being overly involved.

“He was there,” he said. “He just let me do my own thing but kept telling me, ‘Stay grounded and stay humble.'”

New Chargers head coach Brandon Staley was charged with putting together the right kind of secondary for his defense, which topped the NFL last year when Staley was the defensive coordinator of the Los Angeles Rams. Samuel Jr. wasn’t regarded as highly as Pat Surtain II or Jaycee Horn, first-round cornerbacks who are the sons of former NFL standouts Patrick Surtain and Joe Horn, respectively.

But Staley stood firm. Samuel Jr. was helped by fellow Florida State product Derwin James, who’s been lobbying for weeks for the Chargers to draft Samuel Jr.

“I’ve got to give Derwin props on that one. Hopefully the football gods were looking out for us,” Staley said. “This guy can get you the ball. That’s something we really value … somebody who can get you the ball. He’s an outstanding open-field tackler. So you put in the bloodlines, and man, you feel really good about this pick.”

An inheritance from Dad — and from Mom.

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Denver Broncos WR DaeSean Hamilton tears knee ligament in workout away from team facility, sources say



ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Broncos wide receiver DaeSean Hamilton, whom Denver was trying to trade in recent days, has suffered a torn knee ligament in a workout away from the team’s complex, team sources told ESPN.

Hamilton suffered the injury Friday morning, and had not been working out at the team’s suburban Denver facility, sources said.

Hamilton is the second Broncos player to have suffered a significant injury away from the team’s complex after tackle Ja’Wuan James suffered a season-ending Achilles tendon injury earlier this month. James was officially released Friday.

The Broncos were seeking to trade Hamilton, who was a fourth-round pick in the 2018 draft, over the past week and had talks with at least one team as recently as Thursday. The Broncos, given Courtland Sutton‘s return from last season’s ACL tear and the depth at wide receiver overall, were expected to waive Hamilton if no trade partner could be found before they began their OTAs later this month.

The Broncos will begin “Phase 2” of their voluntary offseason program Monday.

The NFL Players Association had advised players not to take part in voluntary workouts at team facilities this offseason. The Broncos players were among the first to issue a joint statement in April saying they would boycott the voluntary workouts, and the team has still had a little more than 20 veteran players working out at the facility at various times in April and May.

James’ injury has already been a flashpoint between the NFL and the NFLPA over the “non-football injury” designation. That designation means teams are not required to pay players their full base salaries if they were injured outside of team facilities.

The day after James was injured earlier this month, he was specifically named in a memo from the NFL’s management council to team executives and head coaches. In that memo it was outlined under the “Non-Football Injuries” designation that teams like the Broncos would have “no contractual obligation” to pay players like James who were injured away from the team facilities.

The memo also outlined why a player’s salary would be paid if the injury had been suffered during a workout at a team’s complex. The memo also said: “Clubs are encouraged to remind players of the significant injury-related protection provided if they choose to work out at the club facility and the risks they undertake in choosing to train at a non-NFL location.”

The NFLPA responded two days later in an email to players that said: “It was gutless to use a player’s serious injury as a scare tactic to get you to come running back to these workouts.”

The email added: “This memo is another sign of what they think of you and also affirms that they simply want to control you year-round in any and every way that they can.”

James’ release Friday had a vested veteran, non-football injury, post-June 1 designation.

The Broncos are essentially voiding $10.58 million worth of guarantees James had for the season — $10 million in base salary in addition to a 17th game check, added when the schedule was increased.

The Broncos will carry a $13 million “dead money” charge against this year’s salary cap after James’ release. James and the NFLPA could file a grievance to try to recover some of the money he lost with the release.

Earlier Friday, James had posted on social media that his “surgery went well,” adding: “Appreciate everyone reaching out. Always remaining positive & striving to be better than yesterday.”

Given the Broncos were trying to trade Hamilton and were poised to waive him if they didn’t find a trade partner, his situation might be handled differently than James’ by the team as both players are likely headed for injured reserve at some point.

Hamilton’s base salary for the 2021 season was scheduled to be $2.183 million, while James has a $10 million salary guarantee.

Hamilton, who has struggled with drops and some confidence issues that have followed some of those drops, had 81 receptions over his first three seasons combined and five career touchdowns. He had 23 catches for 293 yards and two touchdowns last season.

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