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Column: It’s a big season for the 2021 QB class — and Justin Fields and the Chicago Bears will match up against 4 of the top 5

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Column: It’s A Big Season For The 2021 Qb Class — And Justin Fields And The Chicago Bears Will Match Up Against 4 Of The Top 5
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With young quarterbacks being pushed into action seemingly faster every season, it’s notable that no NFL team will start a rookie at the position in Week 1 for the first time in 15 years.

This has everything to do with the evaluation of the most recent crop of passers and nothing to do with a shift in thinking for when it’s best to throw young players into the fire at the game’s most important position.

The ballyhooed quarterback class of 2021, which featured quarterbacks selected with the first three picks and five of the first 15, will be on nearly full display. The only one that will not start is Zach Wilson, the No. 2 pick by the New York Jets a year ago, because he’s sidelined by a minor knee injury.

But significant questions are lingering: Is any quarterback from 2021 prepared to take a jump forward like Lamar Jackson did in 2019 when he won MVP in his second season? Can any passer from the class galvanize a franchise like Josh Allen did in Buffalo?

Jackson and Allen were two of five quarterbacks taken in the first round in 2018. Before 2021, the only other times that occurred in the post-merger era was in 1999, when five quarterbacks went in the first 12 picks with the Chicago Bears getting Cade McNown at No. 12, and in 1983 when a record six quarterbacks were chosen in Round 1. The 1983 draft remains the gold standard for quarterbacks with John Elway, Jim Kelly and Dan Marino all reaching the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Last year’s class was largely disappointing. A case can be made the most impressive 2021 rookie quarterback was Davis Mills of the Houston Texans, who made 11 starts as a third-round pick. Dig into the numbers and Mills was better in some ways than Mac Jones, who went 10-7 as a starter for the New England Patriots.

  • Round 1, No. 1: Trevor Lawrence, Jacksonville Jaguars. Threw more than one touchdown pass in only two games, finishing with a 3-14 record. Like Fields, he’s now playing for a new head coach.
  • Round 1, No. 2: Zach Wilson, Jets. Struggled to a 3-10 record as a starter with a poor cast around him. Finished with nine touchdowns and 11 interceptions, but was picked off only once in his final six starts.
  • Round 1, No. 3: Trey Lance, San Francisco 49ers. Played behind Jimmy Garoppolo, starting only two games when the veteran was injured.
  • Round 1, No. 11 Justin Fields, Bears. Highlight of his season came in the second half of a rally that wound up just short at Pittsburgh in Week 9. Accuracy, particularly on throws from the pocket, was a critical problem.
  • Round 1, No. 15: Mac Jones, Patriots. Completed 67.6% of his passes but in a wild weather game in Week 13 at Buffalo, coach Bill Belichick trusted him to attempt a grand total of three passes.
  • Round 3, No. 67: Davis Mills, Texans. Threw nine touchdown passes with two interceptions in his final five starts but had an ugly 2-9 record on a bad team.

There is feel-good energy about Fields at Halas Hall for the commitment he has made to improving in a new system and the changes made to his footwork and pocket presence. There is a similar storyline for all of the above teams with each quarterback.

Lance will be a fascinating study this season. Did the decision to have him learn under Garoppolo pay off? It raises the age-old question of nature vs. nurture and with Garoppolo, possessing a newly reworked contract, as a backup there will be questions about San Francisco’s commitment to the quarterback the franchise mortgaged so much for to acquire.

“We didn’t draft Trey to just fix this year,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said last year.

The Bears didn’t draft Fields to fix last season, either. A previous regime drafted him with the idea he could be the organization’s long-sought answer at the position. Now, general manager Ryan Poles, coach Matt Eberflus and offensive coordinator Luke Getsy are charged with finding answers to questions left open at the end of 2021.

Optimism for Fields has been elevated since the end of preseason when he led three touchdown drives in the first half at Cleveland. Exhibition football doesn’t count, and when the regular season kicks off it’s almost as if it didn’t happen.

But what Fields showed was improved patience and a greater understanding of how he fit in the design of the offense. When he reached the top of his drop, the ball was out. He still made second reaction plays, such as the touchdown pass to tight end Cole Kmet, getting outside of the pocket but doing so to buy time to locate a receiver downfield and not to just run.

That’s always going to be a huge part of his game, the part that leads to highlight plays. Fields’ ability to operate within the structure of the offense and be a rhythm passer will ultimately tell if he has what it takes. That’s the next step for him and he has to do it behind an offensive line that remains a work in progress going against an elite 49ers defensive line Sunday.

Comparing Fields against quarterbacks from his draft class will be easier this season. Of the quarterbacks listed above, everyone is on the schedule except Lawrence and the Jaguars. It starts with Fields and the Bears against Lance and the 49ers.

There has been an offseason full of talk and analyses. Now, we get to see what’s real when it comes to quarterback talk.

Scouting report

Fred Warner, 49ers linebacker

Information for this report was obtained from NFL scouts.

Warner, 6-foot-3, 230 pounds, is in his fifth season in San Francisco after the 49ers made him their third-round pick in 2018. Warner was a first-team All-Pro selection and Pro Bowler in 2020. He led the 49ers in tackles with 137 last season and had four pass deflections and three fumble recoveries. Warner has not missed a game in his career.

“He has all of the traits of a top-five stack linebacker in the NFL,” the scout said. “He’s got run and hit sideline-to-sideline speed. He’s very good in coverage, someone who can match in their zone schemes and match and carry underneath versus the flat. He can cover a running back and he can match up versus the majority of tight ends in the NFL on inside vertical concepts.

“As a blitzer, he is excellent. He’s a perfect fit for DeMeco Ryans’ scheme as because they will give you so many different fronts, tilted fronts, five-man surfaces and they use Warner as a blitzer and someone on twists and stunts to get home to the quarterback. That’s where you see the high-level ability of his closing speed, that short area burst in a confined space.

“On top of that, he’s super physical at the point of contact. He’s a guy who just piles up more impact plays than Roquan Smith. I really like Roquan — he’s a great football player — but Warner is an overall better player. Warner has a little more thump in his pads and he’s just a little better in coverage. Roquan is good in coverage too but this guy is really good.”

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Vikings bring back linebacker Ryan Connelly on practice squad

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Vikings Bring Back Linebacker Ryan Connelly On Practice Squad
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It was an eventful week for Ryan Connelly.

The Vikings on Thursday signed the linebacker to the practice squad. That came after Connelly, an Eden Prairie native, was activated off the physical unable to perform list Tuesday and then waived Wednesday. He rejoined the Vikings immediately after clearing waivers.

Connelly, in his fourth NFL season, first joined the Vikings in 2020 after being waived by the New York Giants. He got into 14 games in 2020 and 12 in 2021 for Minnesota before suffering a torn ACL last December.

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Youth is served: Heat’s Nikola Jovic still awaiting his . . . high school final exam

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Youth Is Served: Heat’s Nikola Jovic Still Awaiting His . . . High School Final Exam
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Nikola Jovic had the Miami Heat locker room abuzz after Thursday night’s 109-80 exhibition victory over the Brooklyn Nets at Barclays Center, and for more than the first-round pick out of Serbia closing with 10 rebounds and five assists.

Instead, it was the reaction to what coach Erik Spoelstra had revealed moments earlier about the skilled 6-foot-10 19-year-old.

“He’s extremely unique,” Spoelstra said, before turning his attention to Friday night’s exhibition against the Memphis Grizzlies at FedExForum. “And he’s so young. To put it in perspective, he’s still waiting to do his final exam to graduate from high school, and doing that over Zoom.”

Wait? What?

That essentially was the reaction from teammates, once Spoelstra’s revelation circulated.

Backup center Dewayne Dedmon was taken aback, with the 33-year-old big man incredulous about a teammate young enough to have yet to complete high school.

Jovic: “I was supposed to finish it this summer.”

Dedmon: “Supposed to?”

Jovic: “I’m finishing.”

Dedmon: “So you not even graduated high school?”

Jovic: “I’m finishing it right now.”

Dedmon: “And you in the NBA?”

Jovic: “Yeah.”

Dedmon: “You know you can’t go from high school to the pros?”

Jovic: “You can do it from Europe.”

Dedmon: “Apparently.”

With that, head shaking, Dedmon headed for the team bus, leaving his Serbian teammate to explain.

“They were doing it when I was doing the draft workouts,” he said of his high-school finals while he was working in Miami ahead of the June draft, “so I didn’t have time, especially because of the time difference.”

There will, Jovic said, be a diploma.

“It’s not that hard,” he said of his lone remaining test. “I need to take it. I don’t have time to take it right now.”

But he has reason to make sure it is completed sooner rather than later.

“My mom,” he said, “she wants me to finish school.”

While the NBA draft rule is written with high school in mind, it actually requires a player to be at least 19 in his draft year. Jovic was born June 9, 2003.

“As soon as I get some time, I’ll do it,” he said, having been in Miami since August preparing for his inaugural NBA season after playing professionally in Europe, “as soon as I get in contact with my teachers and stuff. Like I said, the time difference.”

And there will be more.

“I”m really glad I’m finishing it now,” he said. “I’m looking forward to doing something else after this, some college or something.”

All of which made his comments about his first NBA road game all the more fascinating.

“In high school, I used to go home and watch some of those guys on TV or on YouTube,” he said, “and to play against them is different.”

As in this year in high school.

To Spoelstra, it is a whole new world with the lithe 205-pound No. 27 pick.

“We’ve had a lot of different developmental projects over the years,” he said. “He’s a little bit of a unique one. We haven’t had a European so young. But his skill set is unique. Because of his size, he’s really just starting his weight lifting program with us for the last six weeks. So we won’t even see the benefit of that until next summer.

“But his ability to handle, to shoot, to put the ball on the floor, he’s a really good passer. That’s probably, at this point, his best skill. And he’s developing all the rest of it.”

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N.D. man pleads guilty to murder charges in deliberate Minnesota crash that killed 2 teens

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N.d. Man Pleads Guilty To Murder Charges In Deliberate Minnesota Crash That Killed 2 Teens
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A Grand Forks, N.D., man pleaded guilty to two counts of third-degree murder for the deaths of two teenagers in a head-on crash that occurred last year in northeastern Minnesota.

Valentin Mendoza IV, 21, pleaded guilty to two counts of murder in the third degree — perpetrating eminently dangerous act and evincing depraved mind. He used the Norgaard plea, which is used when the defendant has no recollection of the event.

Mendoza maintained not-guilty pleas for the four other charges: two counts of second-degree murder — with intent (not premediated), and two counts of criminal vehicular homicide — operating a motor vehicle in a grossly negligent manner.

If the plea agreement is accepted by the court, Mendoza will be sentenced to 180 months for one charge and 150 months for the other. He will serve the sentences consecutively, for a total of 330 months, or 27.5 years.

According to an affidavit in the case, around 3:08 p.m. June 17, 2021, the East Grand Forks Police Department was dispatched to a two-vehicle head-on collision. The crash occurred on Highway 220, about a mile north of Polk County Road 19 in Polk County, Minn.

Mendoza was located in a red 2004 Ford Ranger pickup with severe damage on the front driver’s side; the vehicle was tipped over onto the passenger’s side. Police noted the speedometer was locked at 75 miles per hour and the posted speed limit for that location is 45 miles per hour. Mendoza was transported to Altru Hospital in Grand Forks.

The other vehicle was a white 2007 GMC Envoy, which also had severe damage to the front driver’s side. The speedometer was locked at 65 miles per hour. Two male juveniles were identified; both were unresponsive and severely injured, according to the affidavit. The two boys were removed from the vehicle and transported to Altru Hospital in Grand Forks.

At the hospital, the Minnesota State Police spoke to Mendoza’s mother, who said Mendoza was bipolar and had a history of making “suicidal comments.” According to the affidavit, Mendoza’s mother received a call from his girlfriend that day, stating Mendoza sent her a Snapchat video at 3:05 p.m. In the video, Mendoza was driving and said he was going to take his own life.

After analyzing the scene of the collision, Minnesota state trooper Adam Rochlin determined the Envoy had been traveling southbound on Highway 220 and the pickup was traveling northbound at the time of the crash. The roadway was noted as straight and flat, marked with a yellow center line, dry and clear of defects or damage.

“There were no tire or brake marks near the point of impact of the collision,” the affidavit says. The pickup crossed the center line and struck the Envoy head-on.

On June 23, 2021, one of the juveniles died from his injuries after being removed from life support. On June 29, 2021, the other juvenile died from his injuries.

Mendoza’s sentencing is scheduled to take place at 1:30 p.m. Dec. 14.

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Amy Klobuchar confirms she’ll see fourth Senate term in 2024

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Amy Klobuchar Confirms She’ll See Fourth Senate Term In 2024
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U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Minnesota’s senior senator, says she plans to seek a fourth term in two years.

A Klobuchar spokeswoman confirmed the Democrat’s intentions in a statement to the Star Tribune, the Minneapolis-based newspaper reported on Thursday.

“As the Senator has made clear, she loves her job serving the people of Minnesota and is planning on running for re-election,” spokeswoman Jane Meyer said in a statement, which followed a recent Politico article noting the large number of Democratic-held Senate seats on the ballot in 2024.

Klobuchar ran an unsuccessful campaign for president in 2020. With President Joe Biden planning to seek re-election in 2024, Klobuchar will back him, Meyer confirmed to the Minneapolis newspaper.

The 62-year-old senator was first elected to the Senate in 2006. A graduate of Yale University and the University of Chicago Law School, she previously served as the Hennepin County attorney.

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‘I’m coming back. Give me some time’: Ben Simmons, Nets preach patience after ugly loss to Heat

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‘I’m Coming Back. Give Me Some Time’: Ben Simmons, Nets Preach Patience After Ugly Loss To Heat
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As fans slowly filed out of the Barclays Center after the Nets’ second consecutive preseason blowout loss to an Eastern Conference playoff opponent — this time a 109-80 defeat to the Miami Heat after Monday’s 19-point thumping from the shorthanded Philadelphia 76ers — the in-arena DJ played an all-too familiar tune.

“Don’t worry. Be happy.”

It’s easy to worry after Thursday’s poor performance, a game two-time NBA Finals MVP Kevin Durant said he “didn’t like anything” about except the team leaving with no injured players. Poor defense and offensive miscues aside, Ben Simmons’ unwillingness to attack the basket underscored the Nets’ inability to take care of the basketball or generate quality offense against one of the NBA’s premier defenses.

Especially in a game both Kyrie Irving (paternity leave) and Joe Harris (sore ankle) watched from the sidelines.

Simmons, however, said there are some things he isn’t yet comfortable doing — like “getting to the rim, getting hit and hitting” other players — because he’s only a few months removed from offseason back surgery. He is confident, and so are his teammates and his head coach, about a  return to a more aggressive version of himself as he shakes off the rust associated with 480 days away from NBA basketball and works to get into a better place after getting a microdiscectomy to alleviate the pain stemming from the herniated disk he suffered after the trade to Brooklyn.

“It’s been a year,” Simmons said after posting four points, four assists and 10 rebounds to go with six turnovers on the night. “I’m coming back. Give me some time.”

Still, there were some plays that raised eyebrows more than others.

Simmons, for example, had a 10-inch height advantage on Heat guard Kyle Lowry and had the mismatch with a one-on-one on the high post. Instead of looking to power to the rim against the smaller opponent, he threw the ball back out to Durant on the perimeter.

When Durant immediately gave the ball back to Simmons — a sign for Simmons to take advantage of the mismatch and get to the rim — Simmons took one dribble towards the paint and shoveled a pass to Royce O’Neale on the opposite wing.

O’Neale, a capable marksman, missed the lightly contested three.

Then there were the back-to-back turnovers with just over two minutes to go in the first quarter.

Reserve lead guard Edmond Sumner threw an entry pass to Simmons, who posted up Heat All-Star Jimmy Butler on the baseline. Sumner then cut along the baseline behind Simmons to the rim, and Simmons floated a pass over his head under the basket.

The pass was tipped away and intercepted, leading to a Miami fast break.

On the very next possession, Simmons advanced the ball up the floor against second-year two-way signing Marcus Garrett. Markieff Morris screened Garrett at the three-point line and Simmons pushed within two feet of the foul line.

And then he flung a pass to O’Neale in the left wing. This time, Garrett was in position and made a play to get possession of the ball.

Some of Simmons’ passes were predictable because Simmons didn’t — and doesn’t — look to score often. Durant said the team “definitely” wants Simmons “to be more aggressive and look to score, especially if he’s got a small wing in the post,” and when he “has an advantage going downhill in transition.”

But he also knows how long of a layoff it’s been for Simmons and that Thursday only marked his second game back.

“I think he’s just finding his rhythm again. He hasn’t played in a long time, and to throw you back up in there with the game going fast?” Durant said. “You can play pickup all you want, but once you put someone in the game, all that stuff goes out the window.

“So, he’s getting his legs, (a) quick move here and he’s figuring it out. It’s only going to get better from here.”

Simmons admitted there needs to be more of a balance for when he looks to set his teammates up for shots versus when he looks to score on his own.

“Looking at the box score, I took three shots, which is definitely not enough,” he said. “Obviously offensively, I want to get to the post more, get some more touches down low, be more aggressive, get to the rim, get to the free throw line, which I didn’t do tonight.”

Nets head coach Steve Nash said he expects Simmons to grow in his aggression putting pressure on the rim. He also, rightfully, noted Irving and Harris’ absences put more pressure on Simmons to create by taking two floor spacers off the court.

“He’s gonna get more attempts. Right now obviously it’s a little clunky for us,” Nash said. “Ben will be fine. He’ll improve, he’s gonna get better every night, and he’s gonna be an engine for us and a big part of what we do. So I’m not really worried about him, but it is a process.

“He hasn’t played for a long time and he’s also assimilating to a new group. That takes time, it’s not gonna be perfect, and it probably won’t be any time soon. But if we can keep improving every day that’s all we ask for.”

Two preseason games isn’t full cause to be worried, but the Nets — other than glimpses of unrealized potential — haven’t given fans much to be happy about, either.

Durant finished with 22 points on 8-of-12 shooting from the floor but showed some frustration when he accidentally threw the ball away attempting to get the ball to O’Neale, kicking off a Heat fast break and putting them on the line.

Nash warned things would look ugly early as the Nets adjust to both new rotations and new schemes, and ugly described their loss to the Heat on Thursday. It’s only preseason, but the same can be said for the two other Eastern Conference contenders who have blown the cap off the Barclays Center.

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JKSSB Final Selection List-cum-Allocation of Cadres & Departments for remaining Class-IV Posts

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JKSSB Final Selection List-cum-Allocation of Cadres & Departments for remaining Class-IV Posts

JKSSB Final Selection List-cum-Allocation of Cadres & Departments for remaining Class-IV Posts under the provisions of the Jammu & Kashmir Appointment to Class-IV (Special Recruitment) Rules, 2020, advertised vide Notification No. 01 of 2020 dated 26.06.2020.

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