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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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Pittsburgh Steelers release guard David DeCastro, agree to terms with Trai Turner

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The Pittsburgh Steelers announced on Thursday that they released six-time Pro Bowl guard David DeCastro.

DeCastro was released with a non-football injury designation.

The Steelers later agreed to terms with former Pro Bowl guard Trai Turner on a one-year deal, his agent, Drew Rosenhaus, told ESPN’s Adam Schefter.

The 31-year-old DeCastro has been battling ankle issues and is evaluating whether surgery is required, a source told ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler, adding that retirement is a strong option for him.

He didn’t participate in minicamp recently. When asked a week ago about DeCastro, coach Mike Tomlin said, “If I thought injury circumstances or reasons why people were not participating were significant, I would share them with you.”

DeCastro was in the final year of his contract with a $14.2 million cap hit. Releasing him saves the Steelers $8.75 million in cap space. He was the Steelers’ first-round pick (24th overall) in the 2012 draft.

“David was without a doubt one of the premier offensive linemen during his time with us,” Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert said in a statement. “He helped us win a lot of football games, but it was David’s consistency, reliability and professionalism that stood out more than anything else. We wish him the best moving forward in his career.”

DeCastro missed the first two games of 2020 with lingering knee issues but appeared in 13 of Pittsburgh’s final 14 games.

With DeCastro’s release, the Steelers will have one returning starter on the offensive line: Chukwuma Okorafor, who is likely moving from last season’s spot on the right side to left tackle. Kevin Dotson also started for DeCastro a few times last season, but he’s slated to be the left guard.

The Los Angeles Chargers released Turner in March after first attempting to trade him. Turner, 28, was limited to nine games last season because of a groin injury, but he said recently he was “back at 100 percent.”

Turner had no guaranteed money left on a four-year, $45 million extension he signed with the Carolina Panthers in 2017.

Turner was selected to five Pro Bowls in his first six NFL seasons. Chosen in the third round of the 2014 draft by Carolina, he has played in 93 career games with 89 starts.

ESPN’s Brooke Pryor and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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San Francisco 49ers’ George Kittle says tight ends ‘do everything,’ deserve respect

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — San Francisco 49ers tight end George Kittle feels it’s time to put some respect on his position. That’s why he made it a point to gather 49 NFL tight ends together for this week’s Tight End University.

The program, which Kittle is conducting along with the Kansas City Chiefs’ Travis Kelce and former tight end Greg Olsen, began Wednesday and will continue through Friday in Nashville.

“100% it does,” Kittle told ESPN when asked if the way his position is being undervalued bothers him. “I think TE is the most unique and diverse position. It’s the most fun position because it’s the only one on the field where you get to do everything that a football player does. You run block, you pass pro, you get to run routes and catch the football. We do everything!”

Kittle said his position deserves a little more recognition, given how players such as himself, Kelce and others have become focal points of NFL offenses.

The group of tight ends at TEU got to share trade secrets in hopes of collectively helping each other sharpen their playmaking ability. The summit offered on-the-field workouts, film-study sessions and some evening activities.

“I’m a big believer that you surround yourself with good people which brings the best out of you. We’re sharing our strategy with guys. Our mindsets, how you approach the game. All of this is for the tight end position to take a step forward. I’m excited that we have such a great group of guys,” Kittle said.

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Alternate helmet approved by NFL for use with throwback uniforms in 2022, sources say

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The NFL on Thursday approved that teams can wear alternate helmets with their throwback uniforms starting in 2022, league sources told ESPN’s Adam Schefter.

Teams have been limited to one helmet since 2013, when the rule was put in place for safety reasons.

According to ProFootballTalk, the second helmet could also be used with an alternate or Color Rush uniform.

But allowing an additional helmet design would likely be most popular with throwback looks, which could include the Tampa Bay Buccaneers‘ white helmet with an orange buccaneer logo, the New England Patriots‘ Pat Patriot look and the Tennessee Titans‘ Oilers throwback.

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