Vick's training camp goal: to become a blitz-beater

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Vick's training camp goal: to become a blitz-beater

BETHLEHEM, Pa. He had it all planned out.

Michael Vick decided as soon as last year ended that by 2011, hed have a much deeper grasp of blitz recognition. If he was going to get the Eagles where he wanted, he had to.

So hed spend the offseason working with Eagles offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg and quarterbacks coach Doug Pederson on recognizing formations and alignments and figuring out where the blitzes were coming from, when they were coming, and how they were coming.

And by opening day, hed be an even more effective, even more dangerous quarterback.

Then the lockout came. And his plan became impossible.

I couldnt study, Vick said. I couldnt pick up where I left off at the end of the year last year. I thought I made strides at the end of the year last year, but youve got to be out on the field and do it and see it.

You can make a film and say, I can do this and I can do that, but until you get out there and be able to rep it its not going to make a difference.

Vick knows. Until he masters the blitz and figures out how to beat it with his arm instead of trying to beat it with his legs, hell never reach his full potential.

And that means the Eagles wont reach their full potential.

Just getting comfortable with what were doing and seeing the field really well, understanding what were trying to do in our protection schemes, just focusing on how to beat the blitz, Vick said. You know, we got blitzed a lot last year, and I just wanted to make sure Im top of it this year so teams cant get to me like they want to.

And thats really what this preseason is all about. Juan Castillos defense will show Vick every blitz imaginable up here at Lehigh and once the Eagles get back to the NovaCare Complex.

On Saturday, the defense focused all morning on the blitz game. Snap after snap, Vick stood tall in the pocket in the face of blitzers and delivered the football.

Under pressure. On target.

He only rarely scrambled. He only rarely took his eyes off his receivers down the field. If last year was about becoming a winning quarterback, this year is about becoming a complete quarterback.

And despite a lost off-season, it looks like hes on his way.

Hes doing great, tight end Brent Celek said. Hes picking up everything. The throws hes having are on point every single time. I cant say enough good things about him. Hes really impressed me. Hes even becoming a bigger leader on this team.

Mike wants to be the best quarterback in the league. Hes just keeping his nose down. Hes grinding, working hard. He wants us to be the best. And you can see it out there. He expects it from the guys, he expects it from himself. When youve got a guy like that at quarterback, youve got a good situation.

When youve got a guy like that I mean, dont get me wrong, were all going to give it our all but when you got a guy like that thats giving it all on every single play, you dont want to let him down.

Vick did what he could during the lockout. He ran, he lifted, he watched film of all his 13 games in 2010. He did everything he was allowed to do.

But without minicamps, without OTAs, without study sessions with his coaches, it was impossible to truly evolve the way he did in 2010.

Really, the only way to learn how to face blitzes is to face blitzes. So now hes trying to squeeze six months of work into six weeks.

Its very challenging, Vick said. Its actually harder than I thought. At the same time were doing a great job of adjusting, our coaches are doing a great job of keeping us in tuned and making sure things arent so fast that were able to understand it.

Fortunately, the areas Vick wants to improve in match up with what the Eagles defense wants to do.

If youre a quarterback who wants to face blitzes in practice, this is the right team to be on.

Its to my benefit to be able to see it every day, to know when its coming, to know the looks, to watch it on film to rep it in the a.m. and the p.m. and it just works out for you, he said.

How far does he still have to go?

Vicks numbers were terrific last year -- his 100.2 passer rating was second-best in franchise history and fourth-best in the NFL.

But as the year went on, teams began attacking Vick more and more. He began turning the ball over more, getting intercepted, fumbling, getting sacked, making mistakes. The Eagles allowed an alarming number of sacks and hits on Vick. The last six weeks of the season, he wasnt quite as efficient or productive as he had been.

The blitzes were to blame.

So for Vick, virtually every minute at Lehigh is devoted to turning the blitz from a chance for the other team to make a big play into a chance for the Eagles to make a big play.

Hes doing an outstanding job, Mornhinweg said. Hes a very bright guy. He picks things up very quickly. Hes got a natural feel of the game. Hell be very, very good against the blitz, and thats part of that last step in his sort of evolution.

He can light it up as a quarterback right now. And then now he takes that extra step and he becomes a surgeon. Thats the next step.

It says a lot about Vick that as brilliant as he was last year he started the Pro Bowl, he finished second to Tom Brady in MVP voting, he went 8-3 in 11 starts theres no sense of complacency. No sense that hes content.

Just a burning desire to become proficient at the one aspect of his game that isnt where he wants it.

Going back to when we first acquired Michael, that was one of his goals, Mornhinweg said. He wanted to play the quarterback position at the highest level he possibly could, and hes really put the hard work and preparation in. He got himself to a really high level. Previous to that he was one the great dynamic players in the game. He wanted to make sure he mixed that great ability and then playing that quarterback position at the highest level, and I think were right on track there.

He can throw it a mile. He can run faster than anybody. Just imagine if he learns to read defenses even more proficiently and start beating those blitzes with quick and correct decisions?

Its terrifying.

I believe this year hes going to surprise more people with beating the blitz with his arms, and the legs will be his backup against the blitz, Jason Avant said. I believe his arm will get us out of a lot of the blitzes.

He has the athletic ability, the greatest of all-time as far as athleticism. Bar none. And now hes going to go to being a quarterback as far as picking up the blitz and seeing things, hes going to take that to another level. We expect him to go to another level.

The Eagles open the season against the Rams and Falcons two teams with tough, young defenses that play in domes where its very difficult for opposing quarterbacks and offensive lines.

Vick believes hes already dramatically better against blitzes than he was last year. Well know soon.

Last year was probably like 50 percent, he said. Now its like 75 percent. Ive still got a ways to go. Just being able to see and recognize and know when its coming, learning each and every day.

As a quarterback youll never know it all. Im just pleased with where Im at right now, and with the offense that were running, its going to pay dividends.

But when? The preseason begins Thursday, and opening day is only 31 days after that.

Is that enough time in this brief and bizarre offseason?

We have time, Vick said. Ill be ready.
E-mail Reuben Frank at rfrank@comcastsportsnet.com.

MLB Notes: Rangers' Rougned Odor's suspension reduced to 7 games

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MLB Notes: Rangers' Rougned Odor's suspension reduced to 7 games

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Rangers second baseman Rougned Odor started serving his suspension Friday for punching Toronto's Jose Bautista after the penalty was reduced from eight to seven games.

Odor was out of the lineup for the series opener against Pittsburgh. He will be eligible to return June 4 when Texas is home against Seattle.

Bautista was suspended one game, and he was serving that Friday, when the penalty was upheld a day after his appeal was heard.

The Rangers promoted former top prospect Jurickson Profar from Triple-A Round Rock, and he was in the lineup against the Pirates as the leadoff hitter playing second base. Odor had been leading off.

Odor's penalty was cut by Major League Baseball special assistant John McHale Jr. The appeal over Odor's role in a May 15 brawl between the Rangers and Blue Jays was heard Tuesday. The league disciplined 14 players and staff over the melee in Arlington (see full story).

Red Sox: Struggling RHP Clay Buchholz to bullpen
TORONTO -- Struggling Red Sox pitcher Clay Buchholz is being moved to the bullpen and left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez will take Buchholz's spot in the rotation, starting Tuesday at Baltimore.

Buchholz is 2-5 with a 6.35 ERA in 10 starts and has allowed five earned runs or more six times. He gave up season-highs of six runs and three home runs in Thursday's 8-2 loss to Colorado.

Rodriguez (right knee) is on the 15-day DL has not pitched for the Red Sox this season. He's 0-3 with a 3.54 ERA in five rehab starts at Triple-A Pawtucket. He went 10-6 with a 3.85 ERA as a rookie in 2015.

Buchholz has made two career relief appearances, one in his rookie season in 2007 and another in 2008.

Manager John Farrell said Buchholz will make multi-inning appearances in order to remain stretched out and could return to the rotation later in the season.

NBA Playoffs: Cavs blow out Raptors for second straight Finals appearance

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NBA Playoffs: Cavs blow out Raptors for second straight Finals appearance

BOX SCORE

TORONTO -- LeBron James scored 33 points, Kevin Love had 20 points and 12 rebounds, and the Cleveland Cavaliers advanced to their second straight NBA Finals by beating the Toronto Raptors 113-87 in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals Friday night.

It's the third finals appearance in team history for the Cavaliers. Cleveland lost to Golden State in six games last year and got swept by San Antonio in 2007.

For James, it's his sixth straight trip to the finals, including four with Miami. He broke the 30-point barrier for the first time this postseason and finished with 11 rebounds and six assists.

"We needed LeBron to set the tone for us early and I thought he did that," coach Tyronn Lue said.

James will be the eighth player in NBA history to appear in six consecutive finals and the first who didn't play for the Boston Celtics.

"He's just a great player," Lue said. "He's a proven winner. He's always won over the course of his career. To go to six straight finals is unbelievable."

James got there by taking down a Toronto team that set a franchise record with 56 wins and reached the conference finals for the first time in 21 seasons.

After a second-quarter dunk, James shared some verbal barbs with rapper Drake, the Raptors' global ambassador and the man who popularized the nickname `6ix' for Toronto.

Kyrie Irving had 30 points and J.R. Smith added 15 for the Cavaliers, who will face the winner of the Golden State-Oklahoma City series on Thursday.

Cleveland would open at home against the Thunder but would be on the road against the 73-win Warriors, who trail 3-2 against Oklahoma City heading into Saturday's Game 6.

The Cavs will be seeking to end Cleveland's 52-year championship drought, the longest by any city with at least three professional teams. No Cleveland team has won it all since the Browns blanked Baltimore 27-0 to win the NFL championship in 1964.

"This city has been craving a championship," Lue said. "We have the right team and we have the right talent."

Kyle Lowry scored 35 points and DeMar DeRozan had 20 as the deepest playoff run in Raptors team history ended, much to the disappointment of a sellout crowd of 20,605 dressed in red and white T-shirts that formed a maple leaf pattern on either side of the court. Fans stood and cheered "Let's go, Raptors! Let's go, Raptors!" throughout most of the final three minutes.

Raptors coach Dwane Casey said reaching the conference finals was "a tremendous learning experience" for his young team, one that's "a step ahead" in its process of becoming a championship contender.

"We're learning," Casey said. "We're not where (the Cavaliers) are right now. We're going to be."

A dejected Lowry said it was hard to see the positive side of Toronto's best season ever.

"Of course you're going to look back at some point but right now I'm disappointed," he said. "Simple as that, I'm disappointed."

Toronto prolonged the series with back-to-back home wins in Games 3 and 4 but never mounted much of a challenge to the conference champions in Game 6, falling behind by 21 in the third quarter.

The Cavaliers came in 0-4 at Air Canada Centre counting the regular season and playoffs, but looked much more like the team that handed the Raptors a trio of lopsided losses in Cleveland this series.

The Raptors trailed 88-78 on a jumper by DeRozan with 10:23 remaining but James scored six points in a 14-3 run that gave the Cavs a 102-81 lead with about 6 minutes left.

James scored 14 in the first and five of Cleveland's nine field goals were from long range as the Cavaliers led 31-25 after one.

After video review, the officials waved off a basket by Biyombo with 3:18 left in the period and gave him a flagrant foul for knocking down Love.

Tempers flared again early in the second when Richard Jefferson reacted angrily to catching an elbow from Jonas Valanciunas as the two battled for a rebound. Patrick Patterson came over and shoved Jefferson out of the way. Both Patterson and Jefferson were given technical fouls.

Cleveland made five more 3-pointers in the second and outscored Toronto 9-3 over the final 71 seconds to lead 55-41 at halftime. The Cavaliers made 10 of 15 3-point attempts in the first half, while Toronto was 2 of 12.

The Cavs led 78-57 after a 3 by Love at 3:53 of the third but Lowry scored 15 points as Toronto closed the quarter with a 17-8 run, cutting it to 86-74.

Tip-ins
Cavaliers: Shot 17 for 31 from 3-point range. ... Outscored Toronto 17-5 in fast break points.

Raptors: Finished their playoff run by playing every other day from April 29 onward, a 15-game run that started with Game 6 of the first round against Indiana.

NFL Notes: Jets' offer to QB Ryan Fitzpatrick stands at 3 years

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NFL Notes: Jets' offer to QB Ryan Fitzpatrick stands at 3 years

NEW YORK -- A person familiar with the negotiations says the New York Jets made a three-year offer to quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick in March that includes $12 million guaranteed in the first year.

That offer has remained on the table for Fitzpatrick, according to the person who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because neither side is commenting publicly on the negotiations.

The New York Post first reported the terms of the offer Friday.

Fitzpatrick and the Jets have been locked in a contract stalemate. The 33-year-old quarterback is a free agent and coming off a season in which he threw a Jets-record 31 touchdown passes and led New York within a victory of the playoffs.

Both the Jets and Fitzpatrick have said they would like a reunion, but have unable to agree on a deal.

Bears: First-round pick Leonard Floyd agrees to deal
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- The Chicago Bears and first-round draft pick Leonard Floyd have agreed to a four-year contract with an option for a fifth year.

The Bears drafted the outside linebacker from Georgia with the ninth pick after trading up two spots in a deal with Tampa Bay. Chicago hopes he will add some athleticism to a team trying to build on a 6-10 season. The 6-foot-6, 244-pound Floyd led the Bulldogs in sacks for the third straight year with 4 , and tied for the team lead with 10 1/2 tackles for loss last season.

With the announcement Friday, the Bears have agreed to contracts with eight of their nine picks. Defensive end Jonathan Bullard, a third-rounder, is the exception.

NFL: Navy's Reynolds, Carter can defer military service
ANNAPOLIS, Md. -- Keenan Reynolds will get his chance to play in the NFL this season.

Defense Secretary Ashton Carter announced Friday that the record-setting Navy quarterback Reynolds and fullback Chris Swain can defer their military service to play in the NFL.

Carter made the announcement during his graduation speech to the academy in Annapolis. As students cheered the news about their graduating classmates, Carter said: "Go get 'em."

Reynolds was drafted in the sixth round by the Baltimore Ravens. He is the NCAA's career leader in touchdowns with 88. He had 31 touchdown passes while leading Navy's triple-option offense. The Ravens plan to use him as a running back, receiver and kick returner.

Swain has signed with the San Diego Chargers (see full story).

Redskins: Activists criticize poll on team name
WASHINGTON -- Native American leaders and activists have criticized a recent US national poll that found nine of 10 Native Americans aren't offended by the Washington Redskins' name.

On a conference call held Friday by the National Congress of American Indians and "Change the Mascot" campaign, panelists voiced opposition to a Washington Post poll that surveyed 504 Native Americans, 90 percent of whom said the name doesn't bother them.

James Fenelon, a California State San Bernardino sociology professor, called the poll "immoral," adding it was not representative of Native American communities. Amanda Blackhorse, lead plaintiff in the trademark case against the Redskins, said the "misguided" poll will not affect attempts to change the name.

National Congress of American Indians Executive Director Jackie Pata said: "This issue is not about polling. This issue is about human rights."

D.C. council member David Grosso said he hadn't been swayed and that the government would not support the team moving back into the District unless the name was changed.

The team currently plays its home games in Maryland, with its headquarters and training facility in Virginia.