Bleacher Report thinks Tennessee Titans UDFA Alex Barnes is the one who is turning heads the most at training camp, but that’s a bit off the mark.

If you were to pick one Tennessee Titans UDFA who is turning heads at camp, it likely wouldn’t be running back Alex Barnes.

Bleacher Report’s Maurice Moton was tasked with picking one UDFA from every team’s training camp that is turning heads, and his choice for the Titans was Barnes.

Here’s Moton’s write-up on the Kansas State product.

Barnes comes into the league as a bigger ball-carrier (6’0?, 226 lbs) who can wiggle away from defenders in open space. Last year, he handled a large load at Kansas State, registering 256 carries for 1,355 yards and 12 touchdowns on the ground. The former Wildcat also flashed his pass-catching ability with 20 receptions for 194 yards. The rookie may push David Fluellen for his roster spot.

While Barnes has done a nice job in camp and had a ton of hype coming in, he’s been consistently outperformed by fellow back and former 2017 fifth-round pick, Jeremy McNichols, who has seen first-team reps in the absence of Derrick Henry.

That’s why I gave McNichols a shout out in a recent article about under-the-radarTitans players who could make the roster. He’s stepping up in a big way with Henry having been sidelined since the very first day of practice.

As far as Barnes pushing David Fluellen for a roster spot goes, chances are it won’t happen. Fluellen has bulked up during the offseason so that the Titans can use him as a fullback in 2019. Obviously, that fact also hurts McNichols’ prospects of making the team, as well.

Fluellen’s versatility in that regard gives him a leg up on every other running back aside from Henry and Dion Lewis. Even if Fluellen wasn’t in the picture, an argument can be made more for McNichols making the cut over Barnes at the moment.

The best hope either McNichols or Barnes have in making the roster is if the Titans carry four running backs. It’s certainly possible, but I wouldn’t bet on it.

The real answer: Derick Roberson

If I was going to pick one UDFA who has been turning heads at camp, it’s outside linebacker, Derick Roberson. In his final collegiate season at Sam Houston State, Roberson finished tied for the FCS lead in total sacks with 15.

That’s part of the reason I love his potential, but he’s also showing up in practice. Roberson is regularly beating the offensive lineman in front of him, and his speed and bend as a pass-rusher make him a force to be reckoned with.

In fact, keep an eye on him during the preseason. I have a feeling Roberson is going to make some noise and his name will be more well known once he sees some game action.

by Michael Moraitis

About a year ago, Hayden Hurst was high-stepping his way into the end zone in a joint practice against the Los Angeles Rams. The first-round pick looked like he was on his way to a big rookie year.

Then, a few weeks later, Hurst injured his foot and went under the knife. The injury derailed Hurst’s rookie season, in which he played in 12 games and made just 13 catches for 163 yards and one touchdown.

Fast forward, and Hurst says he’s back to that top form physically and ready to have a breakout sophomore season because of improvements in the mental side of the game.

“I feel a lot better than where I was at last year,” Hurst said. “My head was spinning a little bit last year, but everything is starting to slow down.”

Hurst made two big plays in Thursday’s practice, coming down with a juggling sideline catch and then a long touchdown on a busted coverage. Both highlighted, once again, what Hurst can offer with his unique blend of size and speed.

Ravens fans didn’t get much of a taste last season because Hurst sat out the first four games and by the time he returned, Mark Andrews was gobbling up much of the snaps and quarterback looks.

But this year, even though Andrews could be even more featured in Baltimore’s attack, Hurst will also see a lot more opportunities come his way. He says the biggest thing is understanding the playbook so coaches have the confidence to throw him into games.

“I feel like I’m making a lot of plays out there. I’m catching every ball that comes my way. I just go out there and do my job. I know what I’m capable of on a football field,” Hurst said.

“I know when you get injured, you kind of get put by the wayside, and I totally get that. You’re out of sight, you’re out of mind. But preseason last year I was doing some pretty good things, and I’m starting to do that this year. I’m just going to stay on the field and do what I do.”

The South Carolina product is 17 pounds heavier than he was last season, putting him at 264 pounds, but he doesn’t feel he’s lost any of his speed. He also feels like he’s moving people better at the point of attack as a blocker.

Veteran Pass Rushers Are Starting to Stand Out

Much of the pundits’ concern about the Ravens’ defense centers on the pass rush, but the two veterans Baltimore signed later in the offseason – Pernell McPhee and Shane Ray – are impressing in training camp.

Pernell McPhee caught Owner Steve Bisciotti’s attention at Saturday’s practice at M&T Bank Stadium. Standing next to Head Coach John Harbaugh, Bisciotti noted how good McPhee looked on a rush off the left side.

“People talk about, ‘He’s getting older,’ and, ‘He can’t move.’ He can move. He can run,” Harbaugh said. “He looked really explosive. He looks good to me.”“He’s the old guard, or the ‘OG,’ as the players say it, and you can see that power and that old Raven rough, tough mentality,” Defensive Coordinator Wink Martindale added the next day. “He’ll help bring that along with that group. We’re excited about our potential pass-rushing.”

Ray missed the first day of training camp practice, but he was ready to go the next day and has looked fast off the edge. On Thursday, Harbaugh agreed with a reporter’s assessment that Ray looks more comfortable now.

“I feel like Shane is starting to get a feel for the defense and starting to get his legs under him a little more, and he looks good,” Harbaugh said.

If McPhee and Ray can get back to producing at the level they were at a couple of years ago, it will greatly help the Ravens’ pass rush stay at a high level. McPhee posted 14 sacks with the Chicago Bears from 2015-2017 and Ray had eight sacks with the Denver Broncos in 2016.

Justice Hill’s Pass Protection Is Impressing Harbaugh

Everyone knew rookie running back Justice Hill was fast. So when he was difficult for Ravens linebackers to keep up with in one-on-one coverage drills Thursday, it wasn’t a surprise.

But what will help Hill see more time on the field is if he can be trusted in pass protection, and that’s what Harbaugh has noticed about the fourth-round pick, who stands in at 5-foot-10, 200 pounds.

“The thing I’ve been impressed with when the pads have been on, he’s looked solid in pass protection, which for a little bit of a smaller back is something you always concern yourself with,” Harbaugh said.

Harbaugh said he’ll have a better feel for the growth of the Ravens’ young running backs once the team practices and plays against other teams, such as the Jacksonville Jaguars beginning next week.

Ryan Mink
BALTIMORERAVENS.COM STAFF WRITER

The First Point

Georgia has produced a couple of quality NFL quarterbacks recently in Cam Newton (Westlake High) and Deshaun Watson (Gainesville), who are starring in the league for Carolina and Houston, respectively.

In the coming draft, former Mississippi State quarterback Nick Fitzgerald is an NFL draft prospect from Richmond Hill, which is about 20 miles southwest of Savannah.The NFL draft is set for April 25-27 in Nashville. In the coming years, Georgia’s Jake Fromm and Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence will go through the NFL draft process.Fitzgerald, who was unheralded coming out of high school, went on to have a productive career as a three-year starter for the Bulldogs and is attracting interests from NFL teams.

“Most of the teams that I’ve talked to told me that they want me as a quarterback and that’s it,” Fitzgerald told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution via phone Thursday. “I’m really excited about that because I think that’s the position I should be playing as well. Some have kind of mentioned playing quarterback, but also maybe doing some special teams or something like that. That’s just an easier way for me to get on an active roster.”

The Second Point

Fitzgerald, who’s 6-foot-5 and 230 pounds, completed 511 of 942 passes (54.2 percent) for 6,207 yards. He threw 55 touchdown passes and had 30 interceptions.He rushed for more than 1,000 yards in two seasons as he finished with 3,504 yards rushing on 581 carries and scored 45 touchdowns on the ground.

“They all think that I have great size,” Fitzgerald said. “So, I pass the eye test. I have an extremely strong arm. I think I have a talented arm. I just have to work on my consistency with it.”Fitzgerald is still a diamond in the rough. He didn’t play quarterback until he was a senior in high school and he played in a triple-option attack. “He has all of the measurables,” said his cousin Charles Pledger, who played at Georgia (1990-94) and has been a mentor and adviser to Fitzgerald. “You look at a Jake Fromm, a lot of these quarterbacks around the SEC, they’ve been dealing with quarterback coaches since they were kids in middle school.“Nick didn’t play quarterback until his senior year in high school. He started three years at Mississippi State. He’s a raw talent. Obviously, he’s proven that he’s athletic, and I think the best football is ahead of him.”Fitzgerald participated in the scouting combine.

  • “I’ve been working
  • out on my own,” Fitzg
  • erald said. “I’ve really enjo
  • yed the whole process. I had
  • a good showing at the combine.
  • I had a good showing at my pro day. I j
  • ust kind of been enjoying the freedom of not h
  • aving to work out all day.”
The Third Point

In 2015, Fitzgerald backed up Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott at Mississippi State. “My career at Mississippi State was definitely one with a lot of memories in it,” Fitzgerald said. “A lot of good ones, but some bad ones, too.”When Dan Mullen left to take the Florida job after the 2017 season, the Bulldogs fortunes begin to dip.“Throughout my career I had some high points and a couple of low points,” Fitzgerald said. “I think that everybody has those, but I wouldn’t change anything about my college career…I’m definitely ready to move on to the next level.”Fitzgerald believes that with some more polish, he can become a fine NFL passer. “My accuracy wasn’t always there, but I had a lot of passing yards and success through the air throughout my career,”

The Third Point

Fitzgerald said. “I still have a very high ceiling. I have a lot of things to get better at. It’s only going to increase my skill level and therefore increase my productivity.” Fitzgerald has some pocket awareness and ability to escape from pass rushers. “They are going to be impressed with how I extend plays and get out of the pocket,” Fitzgerald said. “Break a tackle if I have to.”Teams what to know what Fitzgerald was able to learn from Prescott.“While we were in college together I learned a lot from him,” Fitzgerald said. “He was always happy to help and explain something within the offense if I needed it. Then he graduated and went on to do this own thing. I tried to use what I learned from him and continued on being myself.”

By D. Orlando Ledbetter,
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

The Indianapolis Colts are re-signing cornerback Pierre Desir, a source told ESPN.

Desir will get a three-year, $25 million deal that includes $12 million guaranteed, a source told ESPN’s Adam Schefter.

Desir will be rejoining a cornerback group that also features Kenny Moore and Quincy Wilson.

The 28-year-old was arguably the Colts’ best cornerback last season after having his 2017 season cut short due to a shoulder injury.

Last season was just the second time in Desir’s five-year career that he played at least nine games in a season. He finished with 60 tackles and an interception while starting 12 of the 16 games that he played in.

Desir played with the Browns and Chargers before joining the Colts in 2017. Cleveland selected him in the fourth round (127th overall) of the 2014 draft.

 

NFL careers are so much more circumstantial than anybody realizes.

People ask me all the time what playing in the NFL is really like and what the biggest misconceptions are that fans have about it and that is usually the second thing I say right after I let them know it is not nearly as glamorous as you think it is growing up.

When I was younger, I thought you just went to an awesome party every night and showed up for the games on Sunday as opposed to the reality of working extremely hard every day in constant pain and stress while getting fired four times and bouncing around from team to team but I digress …

Back to the highly circumstantial nature of NFL careers. Before I get to a player who will be in Sunday’s Super Bowl, I’ll use myself as an example. I played in the NFL for seven seasons, started 24 regular season games, and played in 45 total including one playoff game. I was your prototypical “journeyman,” playing for five teams as I got…

more…

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The “Reitz” Stuff With Special Guest Colts All-Time Sack Leader Robert Mathis

Colts pass rush consultant and franchise sack leader Robert Mathis joins Joe Reitz on this week’s edition of The “Reitz” Stuff. The two discuss Mathis’s role from player to coach, Reggie Wayne’s induction into the Ring of Honor and Mathis reveals which quarterback he enjoyed sacking and the toughest offensive lineman he’s faced.

by Paul Domowitch, STAFF WRITER  @pdomo  pdomo@aol.com

Spoiler alert for you ground-and-pound devotees who are hoping against hope that the Eagles will play ball-control football Sunday and run the ball 30 to 35 times against the high-scoring Saints.

Not gonna happen.

The game likely will turn into a track meet very early, with Doug Pederson relying on Carson Wentz and the Eagles’ passing game to try to keep pace with Drew Brees and the Saints, who are averaging a league-best 36.6 points per game.

If and when the Eagles do run the ball Sunday, though, the guy who will get first dibs is Josh Adams.

The undrafted rookie from Notre Dame by way of Central Bucks South appears, at least for the moment, to have moved ahead of Wendell Smallwood and Corey Clement in the running-back pecking order after impressive performances against Jacksonville and Dallas.

He rushed for 61 yards on nine carries in the 24-18 win over the Jaguars, including 21- and 17-yard runs on second-half scoring drives.

Last week, he rushed for 47 yards on seven carries, including an impressive 29-yard run early in the second quarter of the Eagles’ 27-20 loss to the Cowboys. He also lost 3 yards on a pivotal fourth-and-1 play later in that drive. But a missed block by tight end Zach Ertz torpedoed that play, not a bad run by the rookie.

Adams is averaging a team-high 5.7 yards per carry, and 6.7 yards per carry on first down.

“I thought Josh played well,’’ Pederson said this week. “He’s improved each week. Do I think he can have a few more touches? I do. So I hope that answers everybody’s questions right there. I do feel like he could touch the ball a few more times.’’

The Eagles’ ground game hasn’t been nearly as good this season as it was during last year’s Super Bowl run. Jay Ajayi, who was supposed to be the team’s workhorse back — or as close to one as Pederson likes to have — suffered a season-ending knee injury in Week 5. Darren Sproles has missed eight of nine games with the hamstring from hell.

Smallwood has looked good at times but also has looked not so good, and is an unreliable pass protector.

Clement, who had four catches for 100 yards and a TD in the Eagles’ Super Bowl win, appeared to be a rising star. But he missed two games with a quad injury and has averaged just 1.5 yards per carry in three games since returning.

In the last three games, Clement and Smallwood collectively have averaged just 1.7 yards per carry on first down.

Last year, the Eagles finished third in the league in rushing (132.2 yards per game) and fourth in rush average (4.5). Through nine games this season, they’re 22nd in rushing (102.7) and 23rd in rush average (4.1).

Adams went undrafted after league doctors discovered a broken foot bone at the scouting combine. That kept him sidelined during spring OTAs. Then, he injured a hamstring early in training camp and missed more time.

He spent the first two weeks of the season on the team’s practice squad before getting a promotion. He rushed for 30 yards on six carries in a Week 3 win over the Colts, then got just one carry in the next three games.

He had 17 yards on four carries in a four-point loss to Carolina in Week 7, then followed that up with impressive performances the last two games.

“With experience, the more I play, the more reps I get, the more I practice, I’m getting a [better] feel for myself and growing into the player I want to be,’’ Adams said Wednesday.

“I just wanted to make sure I was prepared whenever I got out there. I have confidence in what I’ve been working on throughout the week, and have confidence in my ability to get in there and do my job. It’s just about being prepared and being ready for when your number is called.’’

Adams is a big back – 6-2 and 225 pounds. That size can be a detriment for a running back, but Eagles running backs coach Duce Staley didn’t feel it would be a problem for Adams.

“He was a big back who could bend and burst and explode,’’ Staley said. “One of the things I look for when I’m scouting is, can a guy bend and burst? Because when a guy’s 6-1, 6-2, you’re thinking it’s hard for him to get down. But not Josh.

“You go back and watch film on him [at Notre Dame], one of the things that intrigued me was his ability to lower his pad level and still get yards. Because if you can’t get your pads down, you’re going to have a short career.’’

Staley said Adams showed a glimpse of that in the Jacksonville game when he took a short swing pass from Wentz and turned it upfield for 6 yards.

“He was going up the sideline and he was able to lower his pads and still get 2 extra yards,’’ Staley said. “Those little things matter to me.’’

Adams has played just 55 snaps in the first nine games and has 28 touches. So he hasn’t been asked to do a lot of pass-pro yet.

But unlike Smallwood and Clement, who were asked to do very little blocking in college, Adams had to learn how to block in South Bend.

“My sophomore year, I really got to get down and learn specifically what it meant to be a running back,’’ he said. “[Notre Dame running backs coach Autry Denson] said if you can pick up the blitz, you can play anywhere.

“So I took that to heart and tried to set myself apart in that area. I made some great plays and had some not-so-great ones. But it was all about learning from them and growing as a player.’’

I don’t want to be here.

That was the main thought racing through my mind as I sat in the plain room in Jacksonville, Florida waiting for my session to begin. I’d spoken to multiple therapists. They all had their own different methods. But at this point I was getting desperate. I needed to fix what was going on with me if I was going to save my career.

As I tried to get comfortable, the woman with a soothing voice sitting across from me instructed me to close my eyes, and then began counting down very slowly.

5… How did this happen? How did I get here?

4…I was one of the top pro pitching prospects in the country coming out of high school.

3… keep listening to the sound of my voice Hayden

Now, I couldn’t even hit a catcher’s mitt from 10 feet away.

2… I’d tried just about everything to get my mind right and nothing worked.

And 1… So why not try hypnotism?


Of course that didn’t work either.

Nothing against the practice itself, but the thing about hypnosis is that you have to want to be hypnotized in order for it to be effective. I think the idea is that once you tap into your subconscious, you can find the root of your anxieties, which hopefully results in some clarity when it comes to fixing whatever problem you have.

I was only 19 years old and living on my own for the first time in Bradenton, Florida after being drafted in the seventeenth round by the Pittsburgh Pirates. Up until that point, there hadn’t been a ton of uncertainty in my life. For as long as I could remember, I’d been pretty positive about what the future held for me: I was going to be a Major League pitcher.

Like a lot of kids who grew up dreaming of becoming of professional athlete, pretty much my whole identity growing up was tied to sports. If I wasn’t playing baseball, you’d find me tossing a football around with friends. It was always one or the other. From a young age sports was how I related to my family, how I met my friends and what I liked most about myself. I was the kid who was always picked first on the playground. For one reason or another, sports just made sense to me. When it became clear that I had the potential to be drafted by a Major League team as a high schooler, I decided to quit football and turn my focus to baseball. That was my ticket.

So the idea that I could all at once just forget how to throw a ball was something that was almost impossible for me to understand. This was the thing I was the best at, that people knew me for. How could something that once came so naturally suddenly feel so foreign? How could I fix a problem that I couldn’t begin to understand?

And most of all, if I didn’t have baseball, who was I?

 

You might have heard the common term for what was going on with me. People call it the yips. When you say it out loud, it sounds almost silly. Like a hiccup disorder or something. But it’s real and it absolutely turned my life upside down.

I can actually trace it all back to one specific moment. I was playing catch with a teammate during my first instructional league, which is setup to give players some extra reps after the minor league season ends. Up to that point, I’d pitched pretty well. People seemed excited to have me there. When a guy with my size and who was my age is able to hit the upper-90s with precision, there’s a certain buzz that builds up. I was almost ready to head back home and enjoy my first off-season as a professional. All I needed to do was just get through these last few games.

Then something weird happened. For no reason in particular, I overthrew my teammate. I overthrew him badly. He went and retrieved the ball, threw it back and then I overthrew him again. At that point he kind of looked at me and said, “What the hell?”

And that was all it took. Somehow that one exchange planted a seed in my mind that affected my ability to throw a baseball.

When I came back for the following spring training, I ended up injuring my biceps and had to sit out for a week. After that everything kind of spiraled. Now I wasn’t just missing throws during warmups — I couldn’t find the strike zone during games. And every time I missed, there was this voice in my head that got louder and louder.

Before I even threw a ball, my mind would be consumed with all of the possible negative outcomes that could occur.

If I hit the backstop, I’m going to look like an ass.

If I throw it short, I’ll look weak. 

Who’s watching me pitch right now?

Come on man, what the hell is wrong with you just throw a strike. This shit’s easy. 

Pitching by nature is a very isolating experience. You’re out there on a mound by yourself trying to do something that requires a bunch of different skills. The thing is, for most of my life that wasn’t really much of a challenge. Pitching was something I was able to do without much thought or even effort. From the first time my dad first taught me the basics as a kid, it was something that just made sense to me.

When I started struggle, I tried really hard to keep the problem to myself. I didn’t want my friends or family to worry about me. But around the clubhouse I definitely noticed as people’s perception of me shifted. A lot of my teammates became more distant. In all likelihood they just couldn’t relate to my situation. They just saw a young hotshot who couldn’t come close to hitting a catcher’s glove. And it was when I started losing the respect of my teammates that I learned just how isolating being a pitcher can be.

I had one coach who had more of a militaristic approach and he definitely made things worse. He changed up all of my mechanics and when I still failed he just yelled at me. He vocalized all of things I feared people thought about me. He’d yell about how pathetic my arm looked and how bad I looked throwing. He questioned my toughness and desire to succeed. And at that time I was basically still a kid, and I looked up to him as a coach, so I internalized everything he said because the coach must be right.

Of course, he wasn’t right.

And neither were the other coaches.

Or the therapists.

Or the hypnotist.

Or the guy who had me tap on different spots of my head in order to unlock my mind (like I said I tried just about everything).

By the time I began my third spring training, the organization had me practicing hitting and playing first base. I wasn’t what would be considered a young prospect anymore — now I was a project. When I struggled with the transition to a new position, the organization decided to try to move me back to pitching as kind of a last resort. By that point, baseball wasn’t something I loved anymore. Now the act of going to the ballpark filled me with a sense of anxiety and dread. That was a lot to come to terms with.

I kept trying to push through but whenever I got on a mound, it was back to where I started. Finally, there was one bullpen session with Scott Elarton — a coach of mine who had pitched professionally and was really supportive — when I threw yet another pitch that went sailing on me and my spirit just broke. I dropped my glove on the dirt and walked to the clubhouse and started crying. All along this was the moment I’d actually been fearing — the time when I’d hit the realization that I couldn’t fix this. I was lucky to have Scott there to comfort me, but that was the first time I said out loud that I was done.

At that point, I had a lot of stuff to figure out.

If baseball was out of the picture, the only thing I had left was some college eligibility. Even if I wasn’t able to throw a ball accurately anymore, I was still a pretty decent athlete. My desire to compete was still there, I just needed a new way to direct it.

I talked it over with my dad and we decided that maybe it was time to try something a little different.

Maybe it was time to see if I could still play football.

 

So I guess the obvious question is “Why football?”

Honestly, yes, it was a pretty ambitious pivot. And a lot of people thought I was crazy. I mean, even my mom thought I was crazy. And maybe I was. But still, I knew that I wasn’t ready to stop dreaming. As long as there was the smallest chance that I could keep playing sports, that was enough.

Even when I decided to quit playing football in high school so that I could put all of my focus into baseball, my attachment to the game never quite faded. It was always sitting there in the back of my mind, almost as a ‘what if,’ if that makes sense. I knew that it was a sport where your success relied on your effort and will. When you boiled everything down, it was a game about being better than the person lined up across from you. It was about imposing your will. I loved that.

No, I couldn’t throw a strike anymore. I didn’t have what it took to become a professional pitcher. But I did still have my work ethic and drive. I still had the ability to compete and be great. And I had a dream of becoming a professional athlete that I wasn’t going to let die without a fight.

So that’s why football — even if, yeah, it was kind of crazy.

I knew if I was serious about becoming a great player, the SEC would probably be the right place to start.

My first choice was to attend University of Florida. Being from Florida and having family who followed the program for decades, it just seemed like the sensible fit. But when I reached out to the coaches and tried to secure a walk-on spot on the team, they didn’t seem as into the idea as I was. I didn’t really let that discourage me, actually in retrospect I’m kind of th

ankful for the motivation they gave me. I figured if Florida didn’t want me, I’d do everything I could to make them regret that decision.

I had a connection to South Carolina’s program through Perry Orth, a friend of mine who played on the team. After speaking with a couple of the coaches, they decided to give me a shot. That was all I asked for. I knew that if I had the opportunity, the rest would fall on me.

I’ll admit being a 21 year old freshman was, well, different. Most people go off to college to discover themselves, but I felt like I’d already lived an entirely different life by the time I stepped on campus. I came into the experience with probably a different kind of focus than I would have if I was 18.

But the thing is, once I got on the field, I really did feel like a kid again. I was just happy. And yeah, it was a lot of work. I had a ton to learn. But I found out really quickly that playing football gave me this sense of joy that I had lost near the end of my baseball career. And if nothing else, that made it feel like I was doing something right.

So that first year, I tried to learn as much as I could about the game. I spent a lot of times with coaches trying to soak up as much information as I could. I also more or less lived in the weight room so I could bulk up. Those SEC defenses hit hard. I ended up playing in every game my freshman year. I even got my first career start against Florida. I won’t lie, that felt pretty good.

I feel like I definitely hit my groove in my second year. I earned a scholarship, which was cool. I also became the first sophomore in South Carolina history to be voted a team captain. I guess there are a ton of different ways for a person to track progress, but personally I knew I was on the right track when I began to gain the respect of my teammates. I think that gesture really made me feel like I’d done the right thing. Like even though letting go of baseball had been so difficult, it was ultimately the right decision. The fear and anxiety I’d at one point associated with pitching had been replaced by a sense of joy and freedom I experienced on the football field. I felt in my element again.

My junior year was when things really came together. I was named team captain again, first-team All SEC and we even beat Florida, which I’ll admit felt pretty damn good for plenty of reasons. And suddenly, the idea of playing in the NFL wasn’t a distant dream anymore. Now the discussion centered more on when I’d get drafted, not if. All this was happening only three years after I was crying in that dugout after coming to terms with the fact that my baseball career was over.

How crazy is that?

 

When I looked down at my phone on draft day and saw a 443 number, I picked up immediately.

“Hello, is this Hayden?” Ozzie Newsome, the GM of the Baltimore Ravens, asked.

“Uh, yeah,” I said, barely able to contain my excitement.

Then he asked, “So, what are you doing?”

“I’m sitting with my family, watching the draft.”

He responded, “Oh, good… have you eaten today?”

I was like, “Uh, yeah?”

Then he asked, “Oh did you eat a sandwich?”

And at that point, I was like, “Wait, what’s going on right now?”

As it would turn out, Ozzie was trying to buy time with small talk as the Ravens officially submitted the card saying they were going to draft me. No, it wasn’t the most conventional way to get selected, but given my path to that moment, that seemed fitting.

I know that despite everything I’ve been through, the greatest challenges I’m going to face are still ahead of me. I still have a lot of room for growth and potential to fulfill. But throughout this entire process, even at my lowest moments, I always tried to remind myself that everything happens for a reason. I failed at baseball for a reason. I rediscovered football for a reason. I was drafted by Baltimore for a reason.

I want to share my story not to serve as some example of how you can achieve your wildest dreams with hardwork and determination. Honestly, if that was the case, maybe I’d be pitching in the Majors right now. I think the main thing I want taken away from my story is the importance of the things you can control. I wouldn’t be in the NFL today if I hadn’t made a choice that seemed kind of crazy to a lot of people. But the only way to find what you are meant for is to never stop searching for it. Because once you do find it, I promise, the entire journey up to that point will make a lot more sense.

And then, the only question will be: Where do I dream from here?

Hayden Hurst
Baltimore Ravens

LONDON — Josh Adams left Wembley Stadium only 21 years old.

By the time the Eagles land in Philadelphia after an 8-hour overnight flight home, Adams will be 22. He’s a changed man.

Monday is Adams’ birthday, and he can celebrate knowing that he’s cemented himself as an NFL running back and a key member of the Eagles offense. He won’t be going back to the practice squad anytime soon.

He’s too good. Or, at least, he was in the Eagles’ 24-18 win against the Jaguars on Sunday.

“Josh,” Eagles coach Doug Pederson said, “had the hot hand.”

Adams went undrafted out of Notre Dame in April, was cut after the preseason in September, went unclaimed through waivers and opened the season on the Eagles’ practice squad. He was called up in Week 3, and then in his first five games, he only received more than one carry on two occasions.

He had zero against the Giants on Oct. 11, even as one of only three healthy running backs and in a blowout victory.

“When he does get the chance, he’ll take advantage of it,” Eagles running backs coach Duce Staley said recently.

Adams got his chance on Sunday. He took advantage of it.

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The rookie had a 21-yard run in the third quarter, which helped set up a 36-yard touchdown pass from Carson Wentz to Wendell Smallwood.

A 17-yard run with 10:33 left the fourth-quarter put the Eagles at the 7-yard-line, setting up another Wentz touchdown pass, this time to tight end Zach Ertz.

He finished with nine carries for a game-high 61 yards, plus one catch for six yards.

It was “just a little bit more responsibility,” Adams said. “It felt good to be able to get out there and just know that not only the guys on the field have trust in me, but the coaches as well. I just try to do my job and trust everybody else doing their job.”

Ever since the Eagles let LeGarrette Blount leave as a free agent, the Eagles have struggled to find a running back who can take on that role he played so well. That is, a powerful, strong runner who falls forward and can get tough yards in large chunks.

There’s been talk of the Eagles trading for a running back, to help get some of that back and to add depth to a position decimated by injuries to Jay Ajayi and Darren Sproles.

Perhaps the answer lies in Adams, a local kid from Warrington, Pa.

The numbers back it up.

Last season, Blount led the Eagles with 22 runs of nine yards or more.

This season, Corey Clement has five such runs on 50 carries. Smallwood has six on 60 carries. Ajayi had seven on 45 carries before suffering a torn ACL.

Adams already has five on his 20 carries.

He also rarely loses yards — only two of his carries lost yardage, and one came at a strange point in the Vikings game when the Eagles hadn’t played Adams at all leading up to that carry, or after it, and he lost a yard against a stacked defense.

Anyway, Blount-lite or not, he’s earned a larger workload, especially as Clement (12 yards on 12 carries the last two weeks) continues to struggle.

“I just tried to go and take advantage of every opportunity I got,” Adams said. “Just never know how long you’re gonna be out there, so I tried to treat each and every snap like it was my last and give it all that I had and it turned out pretty well for me.”

“I’m blessed to be here,” he added, “so I’m just staying patient for whenever my opportunity may come.”

Zack Rosenblatt may be reached at zrosenblatt@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on Twitter  @ZackBlatt

Tim Tebow never changed positions to play tight end but it’s a good thing former Florida Gators Trey Burton and Jordan Reed did.

Burton and Reed were in the quarterback meeting room together at Florida after then-coach Urban Meyer recruited them to follow in the footsteps of Tebow, who some thought would be an interesting tight end/H-back in the NFL. Burton and Reed have become successful tight ends in the NFL, part of a small group of passers turned pass catchers.

The power forward in basketball was the athlete NFL teams were looking to convert to tight end, a transition some of the game’s best at the position like Tony Gonzalez, Antonio Gates and Jimmy Graham made. The quarterback-to-tight end transition is another trend that has become more popular, a position change Burton, Reed, Travis Kelce and Zach Miller, among others, have made.

“It’s a very, very big advantage for them because they can feel the holes in the coverage,” said Charlie Weis, the offensive coordinator at Florida in 2011 when Burton was moved for good to tight end.

Weis boiled down the essence of the knowledge that helps former quarterbacks at the position: “If I were going to throw the ball to me, this is where I would want me to be. So you throw good skills in with that extra football intelligence that comes in the passing game, it is definitely an advantage.”

Burton, one of Bears general manager Ryan Pace’s marquee free-agent signings, was identified as a perfect fit for coach Matt Nagy’s scheme. He broke out for the first time last week with a career-high nine receptions on 11 targets for 126 yards in the 38-31 loss to the Patriots. He’s second among NFL tight ends with four touchdowns trailing only the Colts’ Eric Ebron (six). Burton is averaging 13.5 yards per catch, settling into the expanded role of the U-tight end the Bears envisioned for him after he spent four seasons as the third tight end and a core special teams performer for the Eagles.

The playbook is quite similar to what Burton learned with the Eagles and it’s easy to see the grasp he has on the system when watching him run routes. In his first catch against the Patriots, he sat down in a zone at depth of 13 yards between linebacker Dont’a Hightower and safety Devin McCourty for an easy catch that turned into a 22-yard gain. On fourth-and-4 in the second quarter, he found space in front of safety Patrick Chung for a clear throw and 17-yard gain.

“He’s very bright,” Bears tight ends coach Kevin Gilbride said. “He understands the concepts and how we’re trying to attack different coverages to the point where I can say, ‘What do you think about this? What do you like to beat this coverage and what techniques do you like?’ He then can tell me how he plans to win on the route. It’s impressive in that regard.”

The physical transition is the biggest hurdle for these converted quarterbacks to make. Burton is not going to have a lot of success as an in-line blocker and the same goes for Reed and Kelce. Miller wasn’t the best run blocker when he played but he improved and always had willingness to stick his nose in there. Blake Bell of the Jaguars and A.J. Derby of the Dolphins are also college QBs turned tight ends.

“It’s kind of a weird thing to describe,” said Miller, who was a quarterback at Nebraska-Omaha. “As a tight end, you have a sense of timing of where the QB is at in their drop and of where they’re at in the pocket. You can kind of feel when things need to be sped up or maybe when routes need to be cut down a little bit. You just have this different aspect of playing.”

Tebowmania was at its peak when Burton, from Venice, (Fla.) High School, committed to Florida. He wasn’t through his freshman season when Meyer first mentioned the possibility of a position change.

“He basically said, ‘You’re more athletic right now than a lot of the guys playing at the skill positions. We can’t afford for you to sit on the bench and be the backup quarterback.’ From my standpoint, I wanted to play. I knew I wasn’t going to start at quarterback. The guy in front of me (John Brantley) had been there for a while and he was a lot better quarterback than I was so I saw it as an opportunity to get on the field. I ran with it.”

Safety, running back and tight end were positions the Gators considered with Burton, who broke Tebow’s school record when he scored six touchdowns in a victory over Kentucky as a freshman. Burton was primarily a wildcat quarterback on that big day.

Will Muschamp came in as head coach the next year and Burton was playing safety for about a week before Weis called him into his office and delivered a message similar to what Meyer said.

“ ‘We need to find something to do with you’,” Weis said he told Burton. “He ran really well. And he had great hands. He had great offensive skills. You had to try to find a way to utilize them. He wasn’t the most physical person so lining up as a stationary on the line tight end but that second tight end was a perfect spot for him. You could get mismatches with him because he could run routes like a wide receiver and he can catch like a wide receiver.”

Burton marvels at his good fortune knowing that if Meyer had remained at Florida he likely would have continued as a quarterback. His background as a quarterback helped him adapt quickly as the Gators went through three offensive coordinators in his four seasons.

“We were learning a whole new playbook almost every single year so it helped a lot in the sense of learning concepts,” Burton said. “Going back to high school as the quarterback, I had to know what everyone had just in case someone forgot. From then on, I have always looked at an offense from the whole, not just what the Y has or the U has or the X. It makes it easier for me.”

Burton proved he still could throw the ball in Super Bowl LII with the Philly Special. Sooner or later you have to figure Nagy has something in his playbook to utilize Burton’s background as a quarterback.

bmbiggs@chicagotribune.com

Twitter @BradBiggs