NBC Sports’ Josh Norris attempts the combine

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The lengths I go to entertain you.

Since I attempt to evaluate these prospects’ athleticism, my friends at NBC Sports thought it was only fair if I went through the same circuit of drills and tests as the future NFL players.

So what did I learn? I learned that I am no longer an in shape 18-year-old. I learned how important flexibility is for every single drill. I can’t even touch my toes, which does not help with the broad jump or turning the corner on a three cone. And I’m jealous of the rest these prospects get between their attempts.

For more of Josh’s drills, check out the full lineup here

It’s time for the Raiders to send Antonio Brown a strong message

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There is No More To Say About Antonio Brown and His Helmet

NAPA, Calif. — But I’ll say it anyway: The Raiders should put Brown on notice today by sending him the dreaded “five-day letter,” which every agent and knowledgeable player would absolutely dread. This letter would mean that Brown would have to return to the team by Friday and (be an adult and) play with a league-approved helmet, or he would be put on the reserve/left squad list, meaning he couldn’t play for the Raiders or any team in 2019. It’s also Belichick insurance, preventing the Patriots or some other contender figuring they can deal with the Brown headache for four or five months if it allows them to win a game or three more.

I did consider urging the Raiders to just fire Brown. It just might come to that. But the five-day letter is a good starting point, because it draws a line in the sand immediately. As Mike Florio reported at Pro Football Talk, not reporting after receiving that letter would end Brown’s season and prevent the Raiders from having to pay $29.1 million future guarantees on Brown’s Oakland contract. It’s worth doing. Brown has driven the franchise to this, and he deserves this.

Today is not the day to make any judgment about Brown’s mental stability or his frame of mind. He might be fine; he might be legitimately troubled in a way we don’t know. I just know the Raiders went out on a limb to acquire him from Pittsburgh, then paid him a rich contract. Since then, Brown has been beyond childish about an issue that more than 2,000 players have coped with: wearing only safety-approved helmets in accord with a $60-million initiative in 2016 to ensure that every player wear a helmet that has been approved by a joint NFL/NFLPA testing process. Every team has 63 active and practice-squad players. So 2,015 players (some of whom might be ticked off about it) will start the season wearing approved helmets. One wants to wear a non-approved—and relatively unsafe—helmet. That one is Brown.

The NFL and NFLPA are not softening on this. They can’t. Last season was the first the NFL mandated that players wear only the approved helmets, with the proviso that veterans who wore other helmets would have a one-season grandfathering of the rule so they could wear unapproved helmets in 2018. About 33 players, including Brown, took advantage of the grandfather clause and wore unapproved helmets last year. This may be an outlier, but preseason and regular-season concussions fell from 281 in 2017 to 214 in 2018, a decline of 23.8 percent. Addressing head trauma is the hottest-button issue in football today. The last thing, then, that the NFL will do is to start making exceptions for players, or to allow players to sign waivers to wear unsafe helmets. Where would that stop? And what would happen if Brown signed a waiver, played with the unsafe helmet, and was diagnosed with a brain disorder at 45? Would the public sympathize with the league or Brown? And the courts? It’s not morally right for the sport with an issue as explosive as head trauma to start making exceptions.

On Monday, I met with rookie Raiders GM Mayock in his office at Raider camp. The Raiders thought the Brown issue had been quashed, and he’d abide by whatever ruling an independent arbiter made on whether he could wear his obsolete Schutt Air Advantage helmet. Though Brown had been a headache to that point, Mayock told me: “Unfortunately there is a sliding scale—the more talent a guy has, the more opportunities he’s going to get. But in the case of Antonio, Jon [Gruden] and I both had the advantage of being in the media and seeing Brown up-close over the years and seeing him practice as hard as anyone we’ve seen. We felt like and still feel like when he’s on the field he’s the best receiver in football. We support him and we’re behind him.”

Then Brown, late Monday, lost his grievance to be able to wear his old Schutt helmet; the NFL argued that a clause in the rules that said players could not wear helmets more than 10 years old—which Brown’s was—automatically disqualified the helmet from further use. The arbitrator agreed. Brown thought if he found any Schutt helmet that was less than 10 years old he’d be able to wear that going forward, but in midweek the league ruled that even the later model of the Schutt Air Advantage (discontinued in 2014) that Brown wanted to wear didn’t pass the testing process. So Brown would have to wear one of the NFL/NFLPA-approved helmets.

On Sunday, Brown was absent from camp. Mayock stood in front of writers at Raider camp and issued a terse 39-second statement that made it clear the organization has had enough. “He’s upset about the helmet issue,” Mayock said. “We have supported that. At this point we’ve pretty much exhausted all avenues of relief. So from our perspective it’s time for him to be all in or all out. We’re hoping he’s back soon. We’ve got 89 guys busting their tails. We’re really excited about where this franchise is going and we hope AB will be a big part of it starting week one against Denver. End of story. No questions.”

Mayock is pissed off. Gruden is pissed off. Maybe they can scotch-tape this together and Brown will pout a little and find a helmet that he’d tolerate; I suppose if he does and reports in the next couple of days, they’ve got to try to make it work. But when is the next time Mount Antonio’s going to blow? Make no mistake—it’ll happen. How many things did Mike Tomlin tamp down in Pittsburgh that we didn’t know about? It got to the point that a top-three receiver in football just wasn’t worth the constant BS that Brown brings to a team. So whatever the financial cost—and though the Raiders paid Brown only a $1-million signing bonus, he and agent Drew Rosenhaus would file a grievance to get the guaranteed money in the new contract—the tightrope Gruden will have to walk just isn’t worth it unless Brown surrenders right now.

For more, read the rest of this week’s Football Morning in America

Kyler Murray will lead a fast-paced offense with Cardinals

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GLENDALE, Ariz. — This is not even a story about Kyler Murray’s long-term future, or to speculate about whether, when he’s 35, he might try to take a shot in the twilight at roaming center field for the A’s, his drafting team in baseball. He can’t know the future now, so it’s futile to speculate on it, and he’s certainly not going to ruminate on it in his first training camp. My point: Bypassing the baseballs was jarringly interesting to me and said he’s pretty much all-in, as he should be, on being great in this game and parting the Red Sea, as the Cards like to call their all-red game-day crowds. I saw and heard nothing in my day here as evidence of anything other than Murray being a football nerd in training camp, studying the Kliff Kingsbury offense, pushing Kingsbury to take the reins off him so he can actually play the attacking version of the game he loves instead of the milquetoast show-nothing preseason version. The only non-football thing he does, in the Renaissance Hotel next door to the Cards’ stadium, where they hold camp practices, is try to kill teammates at Fortnite. “Not much bothers him,” Kingsbury said Saturday afternoon, “except, I think, losing at Fortnite.”

When Kingsbury got the coaching job at Texas Tech after the 2012 season, one of his first acts was to offer a 5-foot-8 quarterback from Allen, Texas, a full ride to come play quarterback for him in August 2015. When I met Murray after practice, I asked him if that surprised him, a Big 12 coach offering high school sophomore a full ride.

“No,” Murray said matter-of-factly. “I got my first offer from Clemson after the state championship game that year.”

Well, okay. Talk about how college football history may have changed. Kingsbury has been chasing Murray ever since, and now their partnership could impact football for a long time.

It’s always dangerous to make any judgments on a team based on one football practice, and I shall not do that here. Except to say three things:

• This offense is going is going to be fast, and it’s going to rely on spread principles, and it’s going to put lots of decision-making on the quarterback’s shoulders because of the multiple choices he has to make when he surveys the field. Murray threw a couple of interceptions Saturday, one by trying to fit a throw into way too small a window. My guess is Kingsbury will stress to him that if the receivers are running precision routes, he should have a fairly clean option on most plays.

• David Johnson will still have a chance to be a dominant back. He’s going to be Murray’s sidecar an awful lot. One of the most interesting plays I saw Saturday reminded me of a CFL play, with the pre-snap speed. There were two backs in the backfield, on either side of Murray in the shotgun, and smurfy second-round UMass rookie Andy Isabella came in jet-motion (sort of a sprint motion behind the backfield) and two receivers flanked left. At the snap, your eyes focus on Isabella and then quickly to the action left, and you missed Johnson leaking out to the right, away from all the shiny traffic, for a big gain on a swing pass. In Kingsbury’s last full season as Texas Tech coach, 2017, the Red Raiders threw it 551 times and ran it 459. So keep in mind that Kingsbury’s last team for a full season at Tech averaged 35 rushes a game. Johnson will not go hungry, in the running or passing game.

• Murray throws such an effortless and beautiful deep ball, a consistently perfect spiral. No question in my mind that with a couple of speed guys (Isabella and Christian Kirk) and a breakout camp performer in KeeSean Johnson—all three are 22 years old—as well as old reliable Larry Fitzgerald, Kingsbury will be tempted to challenge the deep areas for four quarters.

Overall, there is something weird and illusory about watching the Arizona Cardinals this summer. People have come to two preseason games here wanting to see the Kyler Murray show, and they see the Joe Gibbs Washington teams or something old-fashioned like that. Thursday night against Oakland, you saw a bunch of two-tight-end plays, three on a couple of snaps. There were 76 snaps played by Arizona tight ends in all, conservative and slow … stuff you won’t see when the season starts and Kingsbury is calling his offense. It’s ridiculous to ask people to pay for what is nothing but a faux dress rehearsal, but that’s what the Cardinals have put out when the games begin. Here, in the practices, that’s when Kingsbury can mold the real offense.

“The games, we’re trying to keep it close to the vest, obviously,” Kingsbury told me, sitting on a golf cart before practice. “We’re trying to get our players used to playing with each other. But … it’s interesting for me, because this is the NFL, and I’ve never called a game in my life where I wasn’t in straight attack mode. Kyler and I are adjusting to that.”

“So what can you do that’s just not going through the motions?” I asked.

“That’s a great question,” said Kingsbury, choosing his words carefully now. “For us, it’s operations. Getting guys lined up. Proper footwork. Things like that. It’s a challenge for Kyler. He wants to play. He wants to have success right away. He wants to light up every field he gets on. He’s been trying to get more put in to these game plans. ‘Are we game-planning this week? Are we game-planning? Can we do what we do?’ That’s been fun to see. He wants to go out and shine. He always has been the best, wherever he’s played. He expects to be the best. That’s what drives him.”

Of all the practices I saw on my camp tour, this one was the most interesting, Kingsbury worked with the quarterbacks constantly. When the offense was on the field in 11-on-11 work, he wore the headset and talked to his quarterbacks—Murray and Brett Hundley mostly—and Murray, in particular, played with tempo. You got the feeling, with seven of the eight receivers in serious contention for the final 53-man roster 26 or younger, and six in their first camp with the Cardinals, that Kingsbury and GM Steve Keim have hand-picked receivers specifically for the spread coach to use as modeling clay.

For more, read the rest of this week’s Football Morning in America