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Undrafted Elijah Holyfield has a fighter’s chance to make Panthers – Carolina Panthers Blog

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Carolina Panthers running back Elijah Holyfield was 14 when he stepped into the boxing ring against a highly ranked 16-year-old. It was a chance to make a name for himself in a world where his father achieved greatness, maybe even carve a path to his own career in the sport.

Evander Holyfield, a four-time heavyweight champion and the only boxer to hold undisputed titles in two weight classes, was confident that his son was up to the challenge.

“I remember saying, ‘He can handle that guy. Just don’t tell his momma, because I know she’s going to think about all the fight this guy has,'” the elder Holyfield recalled last week during quarterback Cam Newton’s celebrity kickball tournament, which was held while Elijah participated in a Panthers rookie minicamp.

“He was rugged and hit real hard.”

Elijah hit real hard, too. He was holding his own in the match, but unlike his father he had a habit of holding his head up and exposing his face to punches instead of his forehead. That led to a nosebleed and a disqualification.

Elijah never stepped back into the ring competitively.

“I was, ‘I don’t want to get hit that much,'” Elijah recalled. “So I just kept with football, and it’s worked out for me.”

Whether Elijah becomes the real deal in the NFL the way his father was in boxing remains to be seen. The Panthers signed him as an undrafted free agent out of Georgia after a slow 40-yard-dash time of 4.78 seconds at the NFL combine hurt his draft stock.

His undrafted status means he has a lot to prove in the hotly contested battle to back up Christian McCaffrey, who last season fell just shy of becoming the third back in NFL history to have 1,000 yards rushing and receiving in the same season.

Among Holyfield’s competition is fifth-round pick Jordan Scarlett out of Florida and 2015 fifth-round pick Cameron Artis-Payne, along with Elijah Hood and Reggie Bonnafon.

Again, Evander believes his son is up to the challenge.

“It’s kind of disappointing he wasn’t drafted,” he said. “The fact of the matter is, it’s part of life. If you’re fast enough and score touchdowns, what difference does it make [what your 40 time was]? If it just had to do with how fast you are then they would have all the track stars go in the NFL.”

Bad decision?

Had it been up to Evander, his son would have stayed at Georgia one more year.

“I felt that was a bad decision,” he said. “Didn’t nobody inform me of anything. I read it in the paper. … You had a lot of people saying, ‘You don’t understand.’ I said, ‘It’s not like I don’t understand. You start something, you finish it.’

“But it has been made already, so you might as well push forward and make the best of it.”

At Georgia, Elijah split time with rising junior D’Andre Swift, and the backfield would have been more crowded this fall at Georgia with James Cook emerging and Zamir White returning from injury.

“Just trying to figure out the options for me, where I could have the most success at,” Elijah said of his decision process. “Would I have had a better season and made myself better or wasted a year?”

He ultimately decided not to risk potential injury. He rushed for 1,018 yards and seven touchdowns last season and averaged 6.4 yards per carry, believing that proved he was ready for the NFL.

“I’m a very hard worker and a very physical runner who does have speed to make people miss at the same time,” Elijah said. “So I feel I bring a nice element to this team.”

The Panthers believed what they saw on tape made up for his 40 time.

“You really see the explosiveness between the tackles; you see his ability to run between the hashes,” Panthers coach Ron Rivera said. “I know he didn’t run a good 40 time, but when you put the tape on … it was pretty impressive.

“I don’t think [the 40 time] really speaks to who he is as a football player. It’s one of those things, it doesn’t add up.”

Finish what you started

Evander gave up football for boxing at about the same age Elijah gave up boxing for football.

It was his 10th-grade year for now-defunct Fulton High School in Atlanta. Evander, then around 110 pounds, told the coach he wanted to play running back and linebacker.

The coach gave him a choice of offense or defense.

“I said, ‘If a guy hits me, I’m going to hit him back,’ so I went defense,” Evander said. “I wanted to play linebacker. He said I was too small, so they put me at corner. He didn’t like it because I was hurting the good guys.

“He said I wasn’t playing the position right. I said, ‘I didn’t ask to play that position.’ He picked me up by my shoulder pads and put me on the bench. I didn’t get a chance.”

But Evander didn’t quit. His mother mother said, “Go back, you still have to finish.”

“She said, ‘Son, when you box, you’re the last one to make a decision. Coaches make a decision in football who is the best,'” Evander said. “I was Holyfield then, but nobody knew who I was.

“So I went back.”

That mentality is what Evander always tried to instill in Elijah, who before high school moved out of the home of his mother and stepfather and into his father’s 44,234-square-foot mansion, which is now owned by rapper Rick Ross.

Elijah and Evander got up for early-morning runs and workouts with a personal trainer. They spent a lot of time talking about what it took for Evander to succeed in boxing, something Elijah hopes he brings to football.

“Just the mindset,” said Elijah, who achieved black-belt status in taekwondo, working with five-time Pro Bowl linebacker Greg Lloyd. “You have to have a very strong mindset with working out in boxing and also fighting, just winning one-on-one.

“I try to bring that to football any time it’s a one-on-one.”

Just dad

Growing up, Elijah never looked at his father as a boxing legend the way many do, including the herd of autograph seekers at Newton’s kickball tournament.

“I just kind of looked at him as dad,” he said. “I never looked at him as this big figure until now. I always get asked about him. I realize how big of a figure he was.”

A hard worker is what Elijah saw in the man many remember for having his ear bitten off in a 1997 bout against Mike Tyson.

“If you outwork people, you always end up on top,” Elijah said of his dad’s life lessons. “That’s what he did. That’s what I plan on doing.”

Evander compared his son’s challenge to the one he faced after winning a bronze medal in the 1984 Summer Olympics, when he turned pro.

“It’s a brand new start,” he said. “You’ve got to prove it again. You played college ball. You played well. Now that’s behind you. You’ve got to realize you have to take it up another step.”

Going undrafted has given Elijah even more motivation “to show what what I can do.”

“I just tried to find my own way,” Elijah said. “And I found it with football.”

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Rams’ Todd Gurley stiff-arms QB Jared Goff’s compliment

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THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. — Last week, Los Angeles Rams running back Todd Gurley let his head coach shoulder the blame. This week, it’s his quarterback who intended to deliver a compliment, but perhaps didn’t find the right words.

“Sounds like I suck and then I made a good play,” Gurley said, straight faced with a shrug. “So, yeah, I guess so.”

Gurley, who has seen his workload increase in three of the Rams’ last four games, was referring to a stiff-arm touchdown run in which he battled Seattle cornerback Tre Flowers in a 28-12 victory over the Seahawks that caught the attention of quarterback Jared Goff.

So much so, that Goff stood at the podium after the win and lit up when asked about it. “He’s a bad dude,” Goff said. “It was vintage Todd.”

Vintage? Gurley didn’t think so … and made it known Thursday.

Against the Seahawks, Gurley rushed for 79 yards and a touchdown on 23 carries and caught four passes for 34 yards. And that stiff arm? Nothing special. “Not my first time stiff arming nobody,” Gurley said. “Just a regular stiff arm.”

The Rams are 8-5 and chasing the Minnesota Vikings for the final wild card berth. On Sunday, they play the NFC East-leading Dallas Cowboys (6-7) at AT&T Stadium.

Gurley has played an increased role in the offense and indications point to the trend continuing Sunday.

“The approach for us is that Todd is a big-time player,” Rams coach Sean McVay said. “He’s shown that he’s feeling good and when he’s doing those kind of things — whether it be through the pass game, through the run game — good things seem to happen for the Rams.”

After averaging 14.9 touches per game through the first 10 weeks, Gurley’s touches have increased to an average of 21 over the last four games.

When asked Thursday how he felt at this point of the season, compared to last season, Gurley responded, “It’s Week 15 in the league, ain’t nobody feeling rested. It’s Week 15, no one in this league is feeling well rested.”

Gurley had a season-best 28 touches in a Week 11 win over the Chicago Bears. In a Week 13 blowout over the Arizona Cardinals, he had 20 touches and last Sunday when the Rams defeated the Seahawks, he had 27.

McVay recently shouldered the blame for not giving Gurley more opportunity early in the season.

“Me not being an idiot,” McVay said last week, when asked what caused him to get the ball to Gurley more.

Gurley offered no alternative to McVay’s explanation.

“He said it, I didn’t,” Gurley said, chuckling. “That’s all I got to say. I don’t have anything else to say.”

The Rams offense has appeared to benefit from Gurley’s increased production, as Goff broke a month-long touchdown drought to pass for four touchdowns in the last two games.

Gurley was asked Thursday if the offense and other teammates benefitted when he was in rhythm.

“I feel like we all feed off of each other. I don’t really have to explain too much, you see the results over the last couple of years,” said Gurley, who rushed for more than 1,200 yards in each of the last two seasons, as the Rams won back-to-back division titles and last season advanced to Super Bowl LIII. “When we’re running the ball, stuff is going well, stuff is opening up – so it’s like, it’s not too much really to explain, just got to go out there and do it, whether it’s in the passing game or the running game.”

Gurley has rushed for 721 yards and nine touchdowns on 177 carries in 12 games this season. He also has caught 26 passes for 168 yards and a touchdown.

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Ravens QB Lamar Jackson breaks Michael Vick’s single-season rushing yards record

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BALTIMORE — Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson set the most impressive record of his young NFL career on Thursday night, breaking Michael Vick’s single-season rushing mark by a quarterback.

Jackson, the electric dual-threat quarterback and NFL Most Valuable Player front-runner, eclipsed his childhood idol in the first quarter against the heavy underdog New York Jets on a chilly night at M&T Bank Stadium. He entered the game needing 23 yards to eclipse Vick’s mark of 1,039, set in 2006, and gained 27 on Baltimore’s opening drive, breaking the record on a 5-yard run that preceded a 6-yard touchdown by Mark Ingram to put the Ravens up 7-0.

After the score, the Fox broadcast cut to a taped segment of Vick congratulating Jackson.

“Lamar, I just want to say congratulations on making history,” Vick said. “One of many milestones that you will surpass in your career. Best of luck in everything that you do. You deserve it. Keep up the hard work, and I’ll always be rooting for you.”

With the way Jackson has run the ball this season — from his spinning around two defenders on a touchdown run in Cincinnati to juking defenders off their feet on a weekly basis — it had long been anticipated that Jackson would shatter Vick’s record. Jackson recently said it would be “an honor” to surpass Vick, reiterating that the four-time Pro Bowl quarterback is his favorite player.

Just like many of his elusive runs, Jackson established the new standard for rushing quarterbacks in staggering style, doing so in his 14th game of the 2019 season (which includes not playing a full fourth quarter in four games). He entered Thursday’s game as the leading rusher for the NFL’s No. 1 ground attack and on pace to rush for 1,251 yards rushing this season.

Jackson, 22, broke the record despite not being at full strength. He was limited in a couple of practices this week and was listed as questionable after injuring his quadriceps five days earlier in a 24-17 victory over the Buffalo Bills.

What makes Jackson’s achievement even more special is that no one previously got close to Vick’s record, which stood for 13 years. Before Jackson began sprinting past tacklers, the most rushing yards by a quarterback since 2006 came from Russell Wilson, who ran for 849 yards in 2014 — which were 190 yards shy of Vick. Last month, Vick acknowledged that he didn’t think his record would ever get broken.

Jackson and Vick are the only quarterbacks to reach 1,000 yards rushing in a season, but they reached that milestone in different ways. Vick’s rushing yards were a near-even split between designed runs (52%) and scrambles (48%), according to ESPN Stats & Information research. With Jackson, 65% of his rushing total is off designed runs, most of which come on zone reads.

Jackson has repeatedly downplayed any individual milestones, saying his focus is on winning. But Jackson’s running has been a major key to Baltimore’s success. When Jackson has run for at least 70 yards, the Ravens are 12-0 (entering Thursday’s game).

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Pat McAfee likes what he sees every week from the Ravens and thinks Lamar Jackson deserves to be crowned MVP right now.

What sets Jackson apart from Vick is his ability to beat teams with his arm as well. In Vick’s record-setting season, he threw for 2,474 yards and 20 touchdowns (75.7 passer rating). Through 13 games, Jackson had already surpassed those numbers, passing for 2,677 yards and 28 touchdowns (109.2 rating). He could become the first quarterback in NFL history to finish a season with 1,000 yards rushing and a passer rating over 100.

This isn’t the first time Jackson passed a mark of Vick’s. On Dec. 1, against the San Francisco 49ers, Jackson recorded his fourth 100-yard rushing game of the season, breaking a single-season record Vick shared. Last month, Jackson became the fastest quarterback ever in the Madden video-game franchise, with a 96 speed rating, moving him past Vick (who had a 95 speed rating).

Jackson’s popularity has exploded in his first full season as an NFL starting quarterback. He is the current favorite to win NFL MVP with 9-to-1 odds at Caesars Sportsbook. He tops all players in Pro Bowl balloting. He also watched one of his autographed No. 8 jerseys get presented to Pope Francis a couple of weeks ago.

Jackson has led the Ravens to the best start in franchise history. Baltimore (11-2), which entered Thursday as the AFC’s top seed, can clinch its second consecutive AFC North title with a win over the Jets.

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I know Odell Beckham Jr. wants to be here

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BEREA, Ohio – Browns wide receiver Jarvis Landry said Thursday that teammate Odell Beckham Jr. wants to stay in Cleveland, despite reports and speculation that OBJ is looking for a way out.

“I think he wants to be here,” Landry said. “I know he wants to be here.”

Sunday morning, Fox Sports reported during its NFL pregame show that Beckham has been telling opposing players and coaches before games, “come get me” out of Cleveland.

Beckham, who declined comment on the report after Cleveland’s win over the Cincinnati Bengals, had fueled speculation days earlier when he was vague about his future with the Browns beyond the 2019 season.

“No one knows what the future holds, like tomorrow,” Beckham said then, when asked whether he wanted to be in Cleveland next year. “I couldn’t tell you what’s going to happen.”

Landry, one of Beckham’s closest friends dating back to when the two played together at LSU, was more definitive, even joking that he would “beat his a–” if Beckham were confiding in other people and not him.

“He doesn’t want to leave, and he’s not trying to leave,” Landry said.

Beckham has gone seven consecutive games without topping 100 receiving yards, the longest such streak of his career. He has also been playing through a hip and groin injury, which has hampered how much he can practice during the week and has limited his explosiveness in games.

“It’s not even about trying to go somewhere else,” Landry said. “I think for him, he’s been a leader, he’s a guy that comes to work every day, he’s a guy that’s playing through injuries, all the things you want out of a player. Inside of this organization, he has a voice, he has responsibility to himself, to all of us, to go out there and compete each and every Sunday, and he does that.”

Beckham has only two touchdowns, as he and quarterback Baker Mayfield have struggled to find a consistent connection in their first year together. Mayfield defended Beckham after Sunday’s game, saying that the injury “wasn’t handled right” by the team’s training staff (Mayfield later apologized and said he didn’t intend “to throw our medical staff under the bus”).

Wednesday, Mayfield was also asked whether he thinks Beckham wants to be in Cleveland long term.

“I can’t answer that for him,” Mayfield said. “I mean, there’s all the rumors going around. But I have my conversations with him and I know what we talk about, so I trust him wholeheartedly.”

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