Boot camp, NFL style, for military members

Boot camp took on new meaning this week for military service members.

Participants got to train at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in New Jersey like NFL stars for a day as part of “USAA’s Salute to Service NFL Boot Camp.” They performed drills similar to those used by NFL coaches to evaluate talent, under the watchful eye of Pro Football Hall of Famer Brian Dawkins.

“Members of my family have served in the military, so I respect the simple impact that saying ‘thank you’ can have, and that’s what USAA’s Salute to Service NFL Boot Camp is all about,” Dawkins said. “It was great to get onto the field and help coach military members through drills that I did as a player.”

In addition to active duty participants, military veterans from the Wounded Warrior Project took part.

“It was very competitive,” said Senior Airman Brandon Castillo, one of the participants. “We had different branches out there today and everybody was itching to go. We all wanted to compete and put up the best scores we could for all of the drills.”

The seventh such boot camp is part of the military appreciation events that USAA and the NFL have created.

RING BEARERS

The eight inductees in the 2018 class for the Pro Football Hall of Fame will receive their rings during special halftime ceremonies this season.

First up in the second week of the season will be Packers guard Jerry Kramer on Sept. 16 when Green Bay faces Minnesota.

The next night, Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher gets his when Chicago plays Seattle.

A week later, it will be Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis when Baltimore takes on Denver. Three weeks later, Robert Brazile, an outstanding linebacker for the Houston Oilers — the forerunner of the Titans — will be honored when Tennessee plays Baltimore.

Eagles and Broncos safety Brian Dawkins will be next up on Oct. 21 during the Eagles-Panthers game. On Nov. 1, Terrell Owens, who didn’t show for the inductions in Canton, Ohio, gets his ring as the 49ers play the Raiders in a Thursday night game.

Finally, former general manager Bobby Beathard will be honored when Washington takes on Houston in Week 12, and Vikings receiver Randy moss gets his ring on Nov. 25 during a Packers-Vikings matchup.

The Hall of Fame Ring of Excellence is set in 14-karat gold with a total diamond weight of 1¾ karats.

URLACHER APPROVES

Count Hall of Famer Brian Urlacher among those thrilled to see the Chicago Bears swing a blockbuster trade with the Oakland Raiders for two-time All-Pro Khalil Mack.

He was “ecstatic” to see his former team land one of the league’s best defensive players. And he was “shocked” the Raiders would trade Mack.

“I love it,” Urlacher said this week. “They want to win now. I feel like they feel they have the people in place to win now. The NFC is a tough conference. The NFC North is a tough division. But you look at that roster on the Bears, they match up with everybody in that division.”

Urlacher was promoting FanDuel’s weekly Gridiron Pick’em contest, where users select the winners of each game for a chance at a share of a $10,000 prize pool. They can also play alongside him this week.

Mack’s arrival capped a busy offseason for a team with four straight last-place finishes in the NFC North. But Chicago’s defense ranked 10th overall last season. And the Bears added one of the league’s best players.

They paid a high price, sending two first-round picks to Oakland as part of the deal. They also gave their new star a six-year, $141 million extension that guarantees $90 million and makes him the highest-paid defensive player in league history.

“To give up two first-round picks is really, in my opinion, minor for the kind of player they got,” Urlacher said. “Last year, the Bears were a top 10 defense. Now, you add him to the mix, it’s gonna be even better.”

Urlacher said having Mack should create more opportunities for Leonard Floyd on the other side at outside linebacker. He also thinks the trade will benefit Mitchell Trubisky and the offense. And he dismissed the idea that there will be more pressure on the young quarterback with the Bears in a win-now mode.

“You’re supposed to win every year,” Urlacher said. “Your mindset should be we have to win right now, every single season. The pressure shouldn’t change based on that.”

MULLET MAN

Bengals tight end Tyler Eifert is keeping his mullet for the season, adding a new look to what he hopes is a resurgent time in his career.

Eifert was limited to two games last season because of another back injury that required surgery. During his latest rehab, he decided to let his hair down. He made it through training camp without physical problem, and he’s going to let the hair hang out of the back of his helmet starting with a game Sunday at Indianapolis.

He has no plans for getting a haircut.

“I’m just kind of rolling with it,” Eifert said. “It kind of started as — not really a joke, just a ha-ha thing. It’s taken a lot of work getting through the awkward stages of it, but it’s turned out pretty good.”

The Bengals signed Eifert, their first-round pick in 2013, to a one-year deal for 2018 that’s loaded with incentives. He’s been limited to 24 games in the past four seasons because of back, elbow, shoulder and ankle injuries as well as a concussion. The Bengals limited him to 14 plays in the preseason to keep him healthy, although that’s not a concern for Eifert.

“I feel like every injury has been somewhat of a fluke thing,” he said. “That’s not even a thought when I go out there.”

PEYTON PITCHES IN

To celebrate the 2018 Smarter Football winners announcement by Riddell, Peyton Manning surprised the Rogersville Middle School football team in Tennessee with new equipment.

Manning serves as a brand ambassador for Riddell, and the program was named “18 in 18” this year in his honor. Manning’s personal contribution increased the number of equipment grants from 10 in 2017 to 18 in 2018, and for the second consecutive year, he played a role in evaluating applicants and choosing the grant winners.

Through an online application process, this year’s recipients successfully demonstrated their commitment to teaching smarter tactics on and off the field while continuing to grow their programs and engage the broader community. Winners include teams from all backgrounds and across levels of play: one college team, 12 high school programs, two middle school teams, and three youth organizations.

Nearly 1,400 teams applied. Along with Rogersville Middle School, the recipients were:

Apple Springs (Texas) High School Eagles

Brandywine (Wilmington, Delaware) High School Bulldogs

Ecole Secondaries Franco Site, Sturgeon Falls, Ontario

Englewood (Jacksonville, Florida) High School Rams

Fayette (Missouri) High School Falcons

Finlandia University Lions, Hancock, Michigan

Florence-Carlton High School Falcons, Florence, Montana

Florence (South Dakota) Henry High School Falcons

Madras (Oregon) High School White Buffaloes

Molokai High School Farmers, Ho’olehua, Hawaii

North Texas Youth Cowboys, Dallas

Poinciana High School Eagles, Kissimmee, Florida

Scott’s Branch Middle School Eagles, Manning, South Carolina

Spring Valley High School Vikings, Columbia, South Carolina

Stearns High School Minutemen, Millinocket, Maine

United States Virgin Islands Department of Education: Christiansted, USVI

West Las Vegas (New Mexico) High School Dons