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If hurdling football players in full pads were an Olympic sporting event, Todd Gurley might be going for gold in Pyeongchang right now. The Los Angeles Rams‘ star running back has turned heads numerous times for his ability to leap professional athletes in a single bound, especially while on his way to being named the NFL’s Offensive Player of the Year in 2017.

It doesn’t surprise those who know him best.

Gurley was a star hurdler at Tarboro High School in North Carolina. He was so good, so natural, that his track coach, Andrew Harding, used to think he could someday medal in the Olympics. Instead, Gurley utilized those talents on the football field. He doesn’t ever plan to hurdle opponents. “It just happens,” Gurley said. It’s instinctive — and yes, it’s also dangerous.

Asked about his hurdling while on Fox Sports 1’s “Undisputed” show last month, Gurley smiled and said: “I don’t know why I do it, man. … One day, it’s probably going to end bad. But until then, I’m going to keep jumping. For the most part, it’s more DBs. Most DBs are not going to hit a running back high, especially if they’re going a hundred miles per hour fast at them. It’s kind of just a reaction, and for the most part, it’s been working.”

Has it ever.

Below, we ranked five of Gurley’s hurdles from the 2017 season and assigned them a judge’s score. (Clips of the plays are linked to the “outcome” section.)

Hurdle No. 5

Situation: Second-and-11, ball at the Rams’ 19-yard line with 9 minutes, 9 seconds left in the fourth quarter of Week 14, leading 35-34.

Human hurdle: Philadelphia Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins.

Outcome: Jared Goff spins out of a sack and dumps it off to Gurley as he streaks across the field. Gurley then leaps over Jenkins as he crouches to make the tackle and picks up 5 or so extra yards for a total gain of 9. Two plays later, however, Goff coughs up a fumble for the key turnover in an eventual loss.

Score: 7.6. Gurley cleared Jenkins, but he didn’t have to jump as high to do so. He also changed his landing foot midair, which caused him to slip when he hit the turf. Gurley gets extra points for having to reach across his body to make the catch moments before hurdling a defender, but this was his least-impressive leap of the season — and that’s saying something.

Hurdle No. 4

Situation: First-and-10, ball at the opponent’s 47-yard line with 9:23 left in the third quarter of Week 4, trailing 24-16.

Human hurdle: Dallas Cowboys safety Jeff Heath.

Outcome: Gurley darts through a hole to his left, picks up a first down, then is confronted by Heath, who barely manages to bring Gurley down on his leaping attempt. Gurley picks up about 3 extra yards with his jump and 17 total yards on the play, getting deep into Cowboys territory to eventually set up a field goal.

Score: 8.1. Gurley didn’t stick the landing on this one. Heath’s head got just enough of Gurley’s groin to interrupt what would’ve been a superb hurdle. Had he not, Gurley might have gained an extra 30 yards for a touchdown. He still would’ve had to outrun linebacker Jaylon Smith, who was creeping up from behind and ultimately helped secure the tackle. But Heath was acting as the last line of defense.

Hurdle No. 3

Situation: Second-and-10, ball at the Rams’ 32-yard line with 7:09 left in the second quarter of Week 2, trailing 13-7.

Human hurdle: Washington Redskins cornerback Kendall Fuller.

Outcome: Gurley could’ve been stopped at the line of scrimmage, but his leap instead turned this into an 8-yard catch and run. That play was negated, however, because of a holding call on another Redskins cornerback, Josh Norman, prompting an automatic first down that helped set up a field goal in an eventual loss.

Score: 8.9. Gurley cleanly cleared the defender, then stuck the landing so well that he was able to immediately whip around the corner to get past another defender in linebacker Mason Foster. That’s huge. But the degree of difficulty wasn’t as high because Fuller was coming low and at an angle.

Hurdle No. 2

Situation: First-and-10, ball at the opponent’s 23-yard line with 10:41 left in the second quarter of Week 16, leading 6-3.

Human hurdle: Tennessee Titans safety Kevin Byard.

Outcome: Gurley runs a drag, makes about a 3-yard catch, runs toward the left sideline, then hurdles Byard and picks up a first down on an eventual 16-yard gain. It extended an eventual 16-play drive that absorbed more than eight minutes. New kicker Sam Ficken couldn’t finish off the drive, missing a field goal. But the Rams won the game and thus clinched a division title.

Score: 9.2. There was a lot of traffic on this jump, but a closer look makes you really appreciate what Gurley did. Immediately after he regained his momentum after catching a throw that was behind him, he cleared Byard, then, as he was coming down, used his right leg to propel himself off the body of linebacker Wesley Woodyard to pick up even more yardage. All with very little room to work with.

Hurdle No. 1

Situation: First-and-10, ball at the opponent’s 18-yard line with 8:53 left in the third quarter of Week 2, trailing 20-10.

Human hurdle: Redskins cornerback Bashaud Breeland.

Outcome: Gurley turned what would’ve been a modest 8-yard gain into an 18-yard touchdown off a screen pass. After hurdling Breeland, he burst toward the end zone and stretched out his left arm just far enough to cross the plane before Deshazor Everett could push him out of bounds.

Score: 9.9. In the annals of football hurdling, this one should stand as the model. Breeland was barely even crouching, probably because he saw what Gurley did to his poor teammate in the prior quarter of this game. But Gurley still cleared him cleanly with a jump that must have taken him about six feet off the ground. That it led directly to a touchdown because of another impossibly athletic play takes it to another level.

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Former Tennessee Titans star Eddie George named Tennessee State Tigers coach

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee State is naming Eddie George its new head football coach, sources told ESPN’s Adam Rittenberg.

George starred at running back for the Tennessee Titans from 1996 to 2003, and the Tigers hope he will bring a much-needed spark to the program. The school is taking a path similar to the one taken by Jackson State, which hired NFL Hall of Famer Deion Sanders to take over its program in September. Jackson State is 4-3 in Sanders’ first season as its coach.

Like Sanders, George doesn’t have extensive coaching experience. Since retiring from the NFL in 2004, George has stayed connected to Nashville while also becoming an actor, with performances on Broadway and in film.

George replaces Ron Reed, who had been with the Tigers since 2010 and compiled a 60-69 record.

George has been a mentor for various Titans players, especially Derrick Henry, who credits a heart-to-heart conversation with George as a contributing factor to his breakout season in 2018. The Tigers hope having a big name like George will help recruiting and bring more attention to the university. The coaching staff already includes former NFL cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.

Prior to his time in Tennessee, George was a star at Ohio State, winning the 1995 Heisman Trophy. His No. 27 is retired by both the Buckeyes and the Titans.

Stadium first reported the news of George’s hiring at Tennessee State.

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New York Jets deal their way into franchise-changing game of ’21’ – New York Jets Blog

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

1. Card shark: Joe Douglas wants to build through the draft. Every general manager says that. When was the last time you heard a GM say, “I don’t care about draft picks. I want to spend a ton of my owner’s money on free agents so we can be in salary-cap hell”?

In Douglas’ case, it’s not lip service.

Because of the Sam Darnold and Jamal Adams trades, he’s sitting on a war chest of draft picks. The Jets have 21 picks in 2021 and 2022; the last time they made that many selections in back-to-back drafts was 1997 and 1998, Bill Parcells’ first two years in charge.

Those 21 choices include seven in Rounds 1 and 2. If the Jets use all those picks, it would be the most in the first two rounds over a two-year period in franchise history. The best comparison is 2000-01, when they made six picks — including four first-rounders in the watershed 2000 draft.

From a leaguewide perspective, this sort of thing doesn’t happen often. In 2018 and 2019, the Indianapolis Colts made eight picks in the first and second rounds — thanks to the Jets, ironically.

The Cleveland Browns also hit the eight mark in 2017 and 2018. Prior to them, you have to go back to the New England Patriots (2010-11) to find a team that reached seven.

All three teams wound up drafting generational-type players — guard Quenton Nelson (Colts), defensive end Myles Garrett (Browns) and tight end Rob Gronkowski (Patriots).

Douglas has no excuses. Whether you liked the trades or not, he set himself up to re-stock the Jets roster with talent. It also affords him tremendous flexibility. If a high-profile player hits the trading block, which is happening with greater frequency, the Jets will have the draft capital to make a deal. Prepare for rumors galore over the next 12 months.

“Ultimately, with the premium picks — your first-, second-, third-round picks — those are the picks you’re looking to become starters on your team,” Douglas said. ” … We do have a lot of assets as we sit here now, but we have to make the most of this opportunity.”

2. Turning three into eight: Douglas knew this was going to be a tough job, which explains why he insisted on a six-year contract. After the Darnold trade, he hinted it’s tougher than he imagined.

“When I walked in this building in June of 2019,” he said, “I never thought we’d be sitting here and talking about … trading Leonard [Williams], trading Jamal. I know Darron Lee was traded before I even took this job. Now, Sam.”

Think about it: Douglas already has traded three former first-round picks, all of whom were drafted by his predecessor. Not just any former first-round picks, but the No. 6 (Williams, 2015), No. 6 (Adams, 2017) and No. 3 (Darnold, 2018) overall picks in their respective drafts. They were 25, 24 and 23 years old, respectively, at the time of the trades.

Mind boggling.

To different degrees, economics played a role in all three decisions. Douglas opted for draft capital instead of investing big money on extensions. He parlayed those three players into eight picks. Using the trade value chart as a guide, and projecting 2022 draft position based on 2020 records, the point total is 2,551. A typical draft for a middle-of-the-pack team is 1,700 points.

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As Patriots’ Bill Belichick turns 69, Marv Levy says there’s no reason to stop now – New England Patriots Blog

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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Quick-hit thoughts/notes around the New England Patriots and NFL:

1. Belichick at 69: Coach Bill Belichick will celebrate his 69th birthday on April 16, which highlights his place among a group of the oldest to serve as a head coach in the NFL.

Romeo Crennel (73) became the oldest to do so last season, and is followed by George Halas (72), Marv Levy (72), Tom Coughlin (69) and Dick Vermeil (69). In the current coaching ranks, only Seattle Seahawks‘ Pete Carroll (turning 70 in September) is older than Belichick.

Belichick famously once said he wouldn’t be coaching into his 70s like Levy, but two years ago in a radio interview, backed off that declaration. Levy understands why.

“Age is only an approximate thing. You’re involved and you’re going at it hard, and you love it, that’s it,” the longtime Bills coach, now 95, said in a phone interview with ESPN. “You just coach as long as you love it. I finally retired because the great core of our team had gotten old, and they were all retiring. And I had it finally. I felt I needed some time away.”

That decision, in 1997, wasn’t an easy one for Levy. He said then-Bills owner Ralph Wilson tried to talk him out of it, giving him a week to mull it over.

Levy had no regrets, as it allowed him to write multiple books and travel, but later acknowledged wondering if he made the right decision.

“Maybe a year or two later, to tell you the truth. I said, ‘Wow, maybe I did it too soon’ when I was back rested up. I probably could have done another 3-4 years, easy,” he said.

As for how many more for Belichick — who previously said he enjoyed the book, “Younger Next Year: A Guide to Living Like 50 Until You’re 80 and Beyond” by Chris Crowley and Henry Lodge — the all-time win charts might provide a helpful guide.

He has 311 victories (regular season and playoffs combined), third all-time behind Don Shula (347) and Halas (324).

If the Patriots average nine-to-10 wins per season, that puts Belichick within striking distance of Shula in about four years, or when he’ll be 72.

2. Carroll counts by fives: Carroll was insightful with Patriots reporters last September on his coaching longevity, saying he was inspired by author David Brooks, the longtime New York Times reporter/op-ed columnist, to take a five-year mindset. So essentially, Carroll said he feels great and each year resets the clock to another five. “Why are you looking year to year?” he asked.

3. Winovich’s weight: Third-year outside linebacker Chase Winovich shared behind-the-scenes insight with Patriots season-ticket members last week on his offseason goal to gain weight. Winovich said a meeting with former Patriots outside linebacker Rob Ninkovich inspired him to do so. Listed on the team’s roster at 6-foot-3 and 250 pounds, Winovich relayed that he has hired a personal chef to help him reach his goal. Of Ninkovich, who advised a weight of 260 to help him set the edge, Winovich said: “I looked him in the eyes and said, ‘I’m going to get my weight right.’ That dude’s words get me fired up.”

4. Deion backs Cam: Count Super Bowl XXXIX Most Valuable Player Deion Branch among those who believe the Cam Newton of 2021 will be markedly improved from the 2020 version. “Given the offseason [he’ll have], I think we’ll see a better Cam,” Branch said at the Patriots’ season-ticket member draft preview. “Everybody is always talking about the 2015 [MVP] Cam Newton, but I’d like to go back to just the 2018 [version] — 67.9% passing, 24 TDs, 13 interceptions. If they can get that type of performance, I think this will be a great year.”

5. Corner market: Top cornerbacks Stephon Gilmore and J.C. Jackson (restricted free-agent tender) have contracts that expire after the 2022 season, so the position is a “sneaky” need for the Patriots. It’s a good year to try to fill it in the 2021 NFL draft (April 29-May 1 in Cleveland, on ESPN and ESPN the App), with South Carolina’s Jaycee Horn (son of former NFL receiver Joe Horn) one notable first-round consideration. “This is a year where you can find corners throughout the entire draft. I wouldn’t be shocked, right now, if 40 corners were drafted,” ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr., said.

6. Draft nugget: If quarterbacks Trevor Lawrence, Zach Wilson, Mac Jones, Justin Fields and Trey Lance are selected within the top 10, as some project, it would be a first. Five quarterbacks have never been drafted in any 10-pick span in the common draft era (since 1967), according to ESPN’s Stats & Information. The shortest span in which five quarterbacks were selected was in 1992, when five were drafted between picks 220 and 230 — a group that included eventual Super Bowl-winner Brad Johnson.

7. Two tight ends a “must”: Michael Lombardi and Scott Pioli, both of whom have been top personnel men under Belichick, have relayed in their current media gigs how each offseason is spent determining the team’s “musts, needs and wants.” Tight end was obviously a “must” for the 2021 Patriots — as evidenced by the contracts for Jonnu Smith (4 years, $50 million, with $31.25 million guaranteed) and Hunter Henry (3 years, $37.5 million, with $25 million guaranteed). Here is a telling stat as to why: The Patriots ran 3% of their snaps last season with two or more tight ends on the field, easily a league low, followed by the Bills (12%) and Steelers/Bengals (17%). Two-tight-end packages have long been a staple under Belichick, with the Patriots having scored a league-high 271 touchdowns since 2010 with two on the field, followed by the Minnesota Vikings (217) and Philadelphia Eagles (208). Simply, it was a “must” to re-introduce this to the attack.

8. Asiasi as No. 3 TE: While the signings of Smith and Henry could be viewed as a show of little support for 2020 third-round pick Devin Asiasi — the tight end from UCLA — an alternative thought is it could actually be the best thing for him; reducing pressure and expectations in a No. 3 role that could grow into more over time. Because the Patriots love the flexibility to run two-tight-end packages, they’re more likely to keep at least three tight ends on the 53-man roster for insurance. That’s even more important considering Henry’s injury history.

9. Martin’s $591: The NFL Management Council finalized its performance-based-pay payments, which is a collectively bargained fund that provides additional compensation for players based upon their playing time and salary levels. So the lower-salaried players who have the highest total of playing time receive the greatest reward, with guard Mike Onwenu‘s $554,792 leading the way for the Patriots. The lowest figure was center Marcus Martin‘s $591. That was a result of Martin being activated for the regular-season finale in his Patriots debut and playing one snap on the field goal protection unit. Hey, every snap counts.

10. Did You Know: Since Belichick became coach in 2000, the Patriots have had 22 players return for a second stint with the team to play in at least one game after playing in at least one contest for another team. That ties the Pittsburgh Steelers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers for third-most over that span, with the Seahawks (26) and Steelers (24) leading the way. Offensive tackle Trent Brown and outside linebacker Kyle Van Noy will up the Patriots’ total to 24 in Week 1.

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