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After losing his mom to cancer, Titans’ Caleb Farley leaned on faith to help realize his NFL dream – Tennessee Titans Blog

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Robert Farley was sitting at a card table playing spades when his phone rang. His son Caleb was on the other end and burst into tears as he began to explain that he just tore the ACL in his knee.

Caleb was then a freshman wide receiver at Virginia Tech and thought his playing career was in jeopardy.

“OK, it’s all right,” Robert said, recalling that 2017 conversation. “No, baby, the advancement with medicine and everything they have going now, they’ll have you back in no time. You still have your career ahead of you.”

Robert was right. Caleb, who developed into a top cornerback prospect, was taken by the Tennessee Titans at No. 22 in the 2021 NFL draft.

The knee injury turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Not playing afforded Caleb opportunities to travel back to Maiden, North Carolina, to spend time with his mother, Robin. She was being treated for a second bout with cancer. She was first diagnosed with breast cancer when Caleb was in junior high, but it went into remission after two years of treatment.

But the cancer returned and this time it was too much — Robin died when she was just 53 years old. But what Caleb learned from his mother’s struggles with cancer ultimately strengthened his faith and prepared him to deal with his own health challenges that laid ahead before he could realize his NFL dream.

According to Robert, his wife never asked why God allowed her, a faithful person, to get sick. Despite the bad days that came from chemotherapy treatments, Robin made sure it wasn’t obvious how much she was struggling.

Robin’s strength and steadfastness to her faith while enduring such a trying fight left an impression on Caleb, underscoring the importance of having a close relationship with God.

“I can say that was the start of me maturing in my faith,” Caleb said. “I’ve always been built up in the scriptures and known what you should and shouldn’t do. It wasn’t as intimate or as pure of a relationship as it could have been.

“When I saw my mother go through that and believe that she could be healed and then I saw it come back and kill her, it hurt my faith in the beginning. But I believe you have to serve the Lord when it’s good and bad. I made the decision that I was going to trust God. I would be lost without him.”

Working through the loss of his mother was a test, but Caleb knew his mother would want him to press onward toward his goal of being a professional football player — something he wanted to do since he was little.

Like many young kids, Caleb was told his NFL goals weren’t realistic. But his mother was always the one telling him he could do whatever he put his mind to doing.

“My mother had a crazy belief in me and things that I could do,” Caleb said

Robert added: “It was all about his little will. He was so determined at such a young age.”

Caleb was a star quarterback at Maiden High School, passing for 1,776 yards and 21 touchdowns and rushing for 2,574 yards and 37 touchdowns as a senior. But after enrolling at Virginia Tech, he became a wide receiver. Then came the knee injury that ended his freshman season.

That will Robert noticed in Caleb at an early age was put to the test when he changed positions again, this time converting to cornerback before the 2018 season.

But Caleb quickly found success. He notched two interceptions and a sack against Florida State in his first start at corner. Then in 2019, Caleb established himself as one of the best cornerbacks in the country when he posted four interceptions, one of which he returned for a touchdown, along with 12 passes defended.

Then adversity struck again.

Caleb suffered a herniated L5 disk and bulged S1 joint while doing a deadlift exercise. The injury caused him to miss the final two games of the 2019 season. He had a discectomy performed on the L5 in February 2020 and was advised to let the bulged S1 heal on its own.

Next came another curveball: The COVID-19 pandemic, which complicated things even more because of the uncertainty surrounding the college football season. Caleb understood how much another year of experience would bolster his draft stock.

Robert thought another season would solidify Caleb as the best corner in the 2021 draft class.

“I knew that if he came out of college playing another year, he was going to grow by leaps and bounds,” Robert said. “I knew if he played another year, it would be without question that he was something special, something you don’t see often.”

But Caleb’s mind was on his family. Having lost his mother already, he was not about to put his father at risk by exposing him to COVID. He wasn’t comfortable with how procedures were being followed at Virginia Tech. In July, he made a decision to opt out of the 2020 season.

“My faith taught me to be smart and cautious,” Caleb said. “I had to identify and target what was disturbing my peace. With everything going on with my living arrangements, I couldn’t see me playing being the best decision. I had to be cautious and protect my father.”

Robert wanted Caleb to play, but understood his reasoning. He didn’t want Caleb to carry that weight on his shoulders, so he supported the decision.

Caleb was still widely projected to be top-10 draft pick, but adversity found its way back into the picture.

The bulged S1 was still causing Caleb discomfort when training for his pro day. He elected to have a microdiscectomy in March, which kept him from being able to perform at his pro day, where he could have showcased his speed and athleticism for NFL personnel executives and scouts.

Suddenly a player who was a likely top-10 pick was projected to go in the latter half of the first round. But Caleb remained positive and maintained his faith that everything would work out. This was what all of the other obstacles he faced prepared him for.

“For him to have endured that and went through that adversity, there could not have been any bigger adversity that he could have faced,” Robert said. “He faced that and moved past it. The rest of it is just small matters.”

But there was one more twist in store for Caleb: The NFL invited him to Cleveland for the draft, but he was unable to attend when he tested positive for COVID.

Instead of traveling to Cleveland to celebrate, the Farleys spent the day at Robert’s home. Caleb tested negative the morning of the draft, but the family celebrated in separate rooms to be safe. Caleb was in his father’s living room by himself while everyone else was in the garage.

Caleb says he views what happened to him over the past year as a chance to prove his faith and not take anything for granted.

“This whole situation has been eye-opening,” Caleb said. “I’ve gotten closer to my family and to God. I am just thankful to wake up every day and breathe air and still have football and carry out my dreams.”

He remains confident he will be ready to play when the Titans report for training camp and says he’s felt great since the day he had the surgery in March. Caleb laughed as he reflected on how he woke up from surgery and walked out a day later to jump on a flight from Los Angeles to Virginia to attend the Hokies’ pro day.

Caleb knows that in due time he will fulfill his dream of being an NFL player with his mother proudly looking down from above. He is dedicating this season to his mother.

Added Caleb, “If she were here, I would be talking trash to her about what I’m about to do to everybody and she’d be telling me, ‘Yeah, baby, that’s what you’re going to do.'”



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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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Arizona Cardinals put J.J. Watt on PUP list with sore hamstring

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GLENDALE, Ariz. — Arizona Cardinals pass-rusher J.J. Watt was put on the physically unable to perform list Wednesday after experiencing soreness in his hamstring after Tuesday’s conditioning test that kicked off his first training camp.

The injury kept Watt out of Wednesday’s practice, the Cardinals’ first of camp, and he said he didn’t expect to practice Thursday, as well. He later said he didn’t know when he’d be back on the field.

“We’re gonna take it very slow and be very smart about it,” Watt said. “I mean, it’s a hamstring, obviously, so you want to be very smart. Take your time.”

Watt said his goal is to be healthy for the Cardinals’ Week 1 game at the Tennessee Titans.

“Being in the league 10 years and the biggest thing that I know is that it’s all about Week 1, so it’s all about being ready for Sept. 12 and just making sure that we’re taking a smart, smooth approach to that day,” he said.

Watt, 32, signed with the Cardinals in early March after playing the first 10 years of his career with the Houston Texans.

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