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Tyreek Hill, Dolphins success shows value of elite WRs

Source image: https://apnews.com/article/miami-dolphins-cooper-kupp-nfl-sports-eb553602722c339421bf09340f68672a

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. (AP) — Miami Dolphins running back Jeff Wilson Jr. mostly practices wide receiver drills during his offseasons, partly because running back drills are second nature to him, but also because he understands the importance of being a pass catcher in today’s NFL.

“I remember one point in time, it was a running back league,” Wilson said. “Even growing up, around when Adrian Peterson was in the league, you would have three or four every year come out, a running back, in the first round. But the game has changed. Quarterbacks have changed. Speed has changed.”

Wide receiver value has soared in the past decade with rule changes that favor offense, unprecedented levels of talent and speed, and teams using receivers in different areas of the run game and pass protection.

“With the amount of talent at the quarterback position in this league, where guys can place the ball down the field in really tight windows, there is no coverage or defensive philosophy or matchup that can replicate having an elite player at that position,” Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel said.

Few teams understand that better than the Dolphins, whose offseason acquisition of Tyreek Hill has been a massive part of their success.

Miami has the NFL’s No. 2 passing offense and sixth-best scoring offense thanks largely to the nearly unstoppable connection between Hill and quarterback Tua Tagovailoa.

Entering Sunday’s game against San Francisco, Hill leads the league in yards receiving (1,233) and trails only Buffalo’s Stefon Diggs with 87 receptions.

Hill reached 1,104 yards receiving in Week 9, the most by an NFL player in a team’s first nine games in the Super Bowl era. He could be the first NFL player to surpass 2,000 receiving yards in a single season and break Calvin Johnson’s single-season record (1,964) set over 16 games in 2012.

“Every play he’s in the game, you’d be hard-pressed to think that in a majority of those, the defensive coordinator would be calling the exact same call if he didn’t exist,” McDaniel said. “Or they wouldn’t be emphasizing it.”

Part of those impressive numbers is just Hill being really, really fast. Another part is McDaniel’s scheme that allows Hill and other Miami receivers to get wide open.

But Wes Welker, a former pro receiver and currently Miami’s receivers coach, said elite receiver play is a product of today’s NFL.

“At the end of the day, the game is going to come down to a third-and-4,” Welker said. “It’s going to come down to a third-and-5. … It’s going to come down to you having to throw the ball, and you have to be able to have guys that are going to get open.”

And receiver contracts are skyrocketing because of it.

After Los Angeles Rams receiver Cooper Kupp led the NFL in every major receiving category in 2021, the Rams made sure to lock in their Super Bowl MVP with an extension worth $75 million guaranteed.

The Dolphins made Hill the NFL’s highest paid receiver when they brought him to Miami, and now he’s in MVP and Offensive Player of the Year conversations. Hill’s $120 million, four-year contract extension made him the highest-paid player at his position in NFL history.

Wilson said Hill’s speed and second-year receiver Jaylen Waddle has opened up Miami’s short passing game, where Wilson and running back Raheem Mostert have been able to contribute.

“With the receivers we got, you got to keep everybody deep,” Wilson said. “Sometimes when doing that, you tend to forget about all the short. And that’s where we step in. … All we have to do is break the second level, and we’re rolling.”

Wilson has had more than 20 yards receiving in two of his three games with the Dolphins since being acquired at the November trade deadline. He ran for 119 yards on 17 carries against Cleveland in Week 10.

In preparing to face the Dolphins on Sunday, San Francisco defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans noted Miami’s success in the quick passing game.

“I think that’s where this offense really lights it up,” Ryans said, “because each throw, it doesn’t have to be a 50-yard bomb down the field, it can be a screen behind the line of scrimmage, and these guys have the speed and the playmaking ability to make guys miss and go to the house.”

Ryans also complemented not only Hill’s speed, but his strength.

“No one else in the league has that ability that Tyreek has,” Ryans said, “his ability to separate and not only is it just his speed, but he is very strong. When he gets the ball in his hands, he is a very strong runner and he can bounce off of tackles and make guys miss.”

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Source: https://apnews.com/article/miami-dolphins-cooper-kupp-nfl-sports-eb553602722c339421bf09340f68672a

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LeBron’s off-court legacy complements his basketball success

Mya Smiley is a student at the University of Akron thanks to an assist from LeBron James, and she is determined upon graduation to become a social worker that helps foster kids.

Her education and career path would not have been possible, the sophomore says, were it not for a scholarship and counseling that she received from the LeBron James Family Foundation. “He’s life-changing,” Smiley said.

For all his accomplishments on the basketball court — four championships, 19 All-Star Game nominations and an imminent coronation as the NBA’s all-time leading scorer — it is James’ ambitious pursuits off-the-court that may ultimately distinguish his legacy from other superstar athletes’.

James co-founded a successful media and entertainment company, bought stakes in storied professional baseball and soccer franchises and, with a big assist from product endorsements, his net worth is estimated to have grown above $1 billion. The off-court achievement that James is most proud of, he says, is working to uplift the lives of people like Smiley in his hometown of Akron.

Many athletes have excelled in one or more of these areas. But few have done all of them as well as James, who is closing in on passing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for the NBA’s career scoring record.

“His goal, I believe, is to have 10% of his wealth go to causes and support communities, which is an amazing goal,” said Lisa Delpy Neirotti, a professor of sports management at George Washington University. “I would say he’s maybe above and beyond others, just on that aspiration alone.”

James is, by any measure, an overwhelming success. And he makes Smiley — one of the many people in Akron who have received financial support from his foundation — believe that she can be a success as well.

“If I did not have the LeBron program, I probably wouldn’t have ever gone to college. I would be living in a not-so-positive environment,” said the 19-year-old Smiley.

“His ability to help people’s futures,” she added, “is what makes LeBron a great person.”

James, who entered the NBA straight after high school in 2003, planned early on to use his talents, fame — and, yes, his growing financial resources — to have on impact on the world beyond basketball.

“Even before I got into the NBA, I knew I wanted to find a way to give back to my community,” said James. Although James bounced from home to home during his childhood, and experienced financial insecurity for many of those years, he also was given enormous support from friends, neighbors and educators.

The LeBron James Family Foundation, founded in 2004, at first gained local attention by giving away bikes and backpacks. Then it began looking at after-school programs, with students scattered across several dozen schools, and eventually created a public school currently serving about 575 third through eighth graders. Today the school includes a family resource center that provides a wide-range of services to parents, including mental health, financial literacy, legal aid and GED courses.

Just down the street from the school, the foundation provides rent-free housing to as many as 16 different families — when needed — and it has plans to build 50 units of affordable housing.

“I couldn’t have guessed how much it would grow,” James said in late January. “But we got here by listening and responding to our community and what they need.”

James has made over $400 million in NBA salary during his time with Cleveland, Miami and the Los Angeles Lakers. Another $100 million is on the way in the next 2-1/2 years or so.

James is a pitchman for Nike, GMC, AT&T and many more multinational companies. He owns a piece of the Boston Red Sox and Britain’s Liverpool football club. His entertainment company, SpringHill — named after the modest apartment complex he grew up in — is valued at $725 million and has produced movies for HBO and Netflix.

“He’s been a brilliant example for millions of kids, especially kids with lesser opportunity and haven’t had the same advantages as others,” San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich said in 2018, a sentiment he’s repeated many times since. “They see in this guy somebody who has consistently exhibited excellence in the workplace and gives them a voice and lets them know that you can speak about anything.”

James puts so much focus on giving back to Akron because of the help people there gave to him and his family. “He’s never lost sight of that,” said Michele Campbell, the executive director of James’ foundation. “I think that keeps him grounded.”

Just how down to earth “King James” really was got called into question in 2010. That’s when he went on television to announce that he was leaving Cleveland to play in Miami. Billed as “The Decision” — and broadcast on ESPN — the live event was widely ripped as egotistical. But from James’ perspective, the broadcast raised around $4 million for charity, a fact was largely overlooked.

Just a couple of years later, James would use his star power to help draw attention to a cause bigger than himself.

In the aftermath of the 2012 death of Trayvon Martin — a Black Florida teen who was wearing a hoodie when he was fatally shot by a neighborhood watch volunteer — James tweeted a photo of Heat players wearing hoodies and bowing their heads that included the hashtag “WeWantJustice.”

In 2020, James helped lead the “More Than A Vote” movement, which included registration and early-vote drives and stressed the need for people — particularly Black voters — to get to the polls to fight disenfranchisement.

Also in 2020, in the aftermath of the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd, James was one of the players calling for an end to racial inequality and police brutality.

“Everything I do,” James said late last year, “has to have a purpose.”

James has all the money and all the fame that he ever wanted or needed. His NBA records, including the scoring title, are going to last for a very long time.

As will his off-court endeavors.

“His ability to help others and put others first is what makes him a great person,” Smiley said. “Not the baskets he shot.”

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Kyrgios pleads guilty to assault, has no conviction recorded

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Nick Kyrgios had suffered severe depression, suicidal ideation and insomnia in the past, a psychologist told a court on Friday when the Australian tennis star pleaded guilty to pushing a former girlfriend to the ground two years ago.

The 2022 Wimbledon runner-up pleaded guilty in the Australian Capital Territory Magistrates Court to assaulting Chiara Passari during an argument in his hometown of Canberra in January 2021.

Magistrate Jane Campbell didn’t record a conviction against Kyrgios for reasons including that the offense was at the low end of seriousness for a common assault, and was not premeditated.

Campbell described it as an act of “stupidity” and “frustration.”

Kyrgios, who was using crutches following recent surgery on his left knee, didn’t speak to reporters as he left court but issued a statement through a management company.

“I respect today’s ruling and am grateful to the court for dismissing the charges without conviction,” Kyrgios said. “I was not in a good place when this took place and I reacted to a difficult situation in a way I deeply regret. I know it wasn’t OK and I’m sincerely sorry for the hurt I caused.

“Mental health is tough. Life can seem overwhelming. But I’ve found that getting help and working on myself has helped me to feel better and to be better.”

Kyrgios’ psychologist, Sam Borenstein, said in a written report and testimony by phone that Kyrgios had suffered major depressive episodes in the past and had used alcohol and drugs to cope. Kyrgios’ mental health led to impulsive and reckless behavior.

His recent knee injury had resulted in mild to moderate symptoms of depression, but his mental health was improving, Borenstein said.

“He’s doing very well,” Borenstein said. “His mental health has improved significantly.”

Lawyers for Kyrgios had sought to have an assault charge stemming from events two years ago dismissed on mental health grounds but the application was unsuccessful.

Kyrgios had been attempting to leave Passari during an argument at 10 p.m. on Jan. 10, 2021, outside her apartment in the inner-Canberra suburb of Kingston. He called an Uber but Passari stood in the way of him closing the front passenger side door. The driver wouldn’t leave with the door open.

Kyrgios eventually pushed Passari’s shoulders backward with open palms, causing her to fall to the pavement and graze her knee, according to agreed facts read to the court.

Passari signed a police statement alleging the assault 11 months later, after her relationship with Kyrgios had ended.

His current partner, Costeen Hatzi, wrote in a character reference that she had no concerns of violence in her relationship. Hatzi was among Kyrgios’ supporters who sat behind him in court.

Kyrgios, wearing a dark suit and using the crutches for support, first spoke in court when the magistrate asked him if he could stand to enter a plea.

Kyrgios replied: “Yep, no worries, Your Honor,” as he rose to plead guilty.

In February last year, Kyrgios opened up about his performance at the 2019 Australian Open, saying what appeared to be a positive time in his life had been “one of my darkest periods.”

“I was lonely, depressed, negative, abusing alcohol, drugs, pushed away family and friends,” he wrote on Instagram. “I felt as if I couldn’t talk or trust anyone. This was a result of not opening up and refusing to lean on my loved ones and simply just push myself little by little to be positive.”

Kyrgios made further references to his mental health struggles during his runs last year to the final at Wimbledon and the quarterfinals at the U.S. Open.

After ending Daniil Medvedev’s U.S. Open title defense last September to reach the quarterfinals, Kyrgios expressed pride at lifting himself out of “some really tough situations, mentally” and “some really scary places” off the court.

The 27-year-old Kyrgios had a career setback last month when he withdrew from the Australian Open because the knee injury which later required arthroscopic surgery.

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AP tennis: https://apnews.com/hub/tennis and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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Bengals’ Joe Mixon charged with pointing gun at woman

CINCINNATI (AP) — Cincinnati Bengals running back Joe Mixon has been charged in a warrant with pointing a gun at a woman and threatening her, according to court documents.

Mixon faces a misdemeanor charge of aggravated menacing, according to the documents, which were filed Thursday in Hamilton County Municipal Court and obtained by The Associated Press. No attorney is listed for him in court records.

According to the warrant, Mixon pointed the gun at the woman and told her, “You should be popped in the face. I should shoot you, the police (can’t) get me.”

The incident occurred on Jan. 21, the day before the Bengals beat the Buffalo Bills in a divisional-round playoff game.

The 26-year-old Mixon rushed for 814 yards and seven touchdowns this season, his sixth. He also had 60 receptions for 441 yards, both career highs, and two touchdowns.

A second-round draft pick out of Oklahoma in 2017, Mixon has spent his entire career with Cincinnati and rushed for career highs of 1,205 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2021.

In 2014, when he was 18, Mixon punched a female Oklahoma student in the face, an attack captured on surveillance video. He was suspended from the football team for a year and entered an Alford plea, in which a defendant does not admit guilt but acknowledges there is sufficient evidence for a conviction. He received a deferred sentence and was ordered to perform community service and undergo counseling.

The incident hurt his standing in the draft, with several teams saying they passed on him because of concerns about his character.

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