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Don Coryell, not Robert Kraft, Hall of Fame finalist from among 12 coaches and contributors

Don Coryell shared a moment with Chargers tight end Kellen Winslow after beating the Raiders in a Nov. 1981 game.Paul Sakuma/Associated Press

Innovative offensive coach Don Coryell, who helped usher in the modern passing game to the NFL, was picked as a finalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s class of 2023.

The former Chargers and Cardinals coach was announced Wednesday as the candidate from a group of 12 coaches and contributors. Coryell will get into the Hall if he is supported by at least 80% of the full Hall of Fame panel of voters next January.

The committee considered 11 other candidates: Roone Arledge, Mike Holmgren, Frank Kilroy, Patriots owner Robert Kraft, Art Modell, Buddy Parker, Dan Reeves, Art Rooney Jr., Mike Shanahan, Clark Shaughnessy, and John Wooten.

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Coryell had a 111-83-1 record in 14 seasons, won three playoff games, and never reached a Super Bowl.

But his impact on the game with his famous “Air Coryell” offense in San Diego was transcendent as he took advantage of rule changes that opened up the passing game in the late 1970s and put together an offense that still influences the game today.

After a successful collegiate stint at San Diego State where he helped groom future Hall of Fame coaches John Madden and Joe Gibbs, Coryell took over the St. Louis Cardinals in 1973.

He led a franchise that won at least 10 games only twice in 53 seasons before he arrived to three straight double-digit win seasons and the team’s only two division titles in St. Louis with Jim Hart as his quarterback. Coryell won Coach of the Year in 1974.

But his greatest success came when he took over the Chargers early in the 1978 season and teamed with Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Fouts to form one of the NFL’s most dynamic passing games.

In San Diego, quarterback Dan Fouts helped power the Coryell offense.Lenny Ignelzi/Associated Press

With an offense that featured pre-snap motion, only one running back, and thrived on throwing the ball downfield, the Chargers changed how offenses played the game.

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The success was immediate with the Chargers making the playoffs in Coryell’s first four full seasons with back-to-back trips to the AFC title game in 1980 and ‘81.

A poor defense prevented San Diego from reaching the Super Bowl and the team then failed to post a winning record in his final four seasons.

But during his tenure, the Chargers led the NFL by scoring 26.2 points per game, averaging 390.8 yards per game with 279.5 yards passing per game.

The gap in yards passing between the Chargers and second-place San Francisco (223 per game) was bigger than the gap between the 49ers and the third-worst passing team of that era, the Rams (170.5 yards per game).

Coryell, who was the first coach to win at least 100 games in college and the pros, died in 2010.

Last week, a separate panel picked Super Bowl V MVP Chuck Howley and All-Pro defenders Joe Klecko and Ken Riley as finalists in the seniors category. They also will get in if they get support from at least 80% of voters in January.

The selection committee also could vote in up to five modern era candidates from a pool still to be determined.

The Class of 2023 will be formally enshrined next summer in Canton, Ohio.

Chargers’ J.C. Jackson could be ready for opener

J.C. Jackson could be ready to play when the Chargers begin the regular season after undergoing right ankle surgery Tuesday, coach Brandon Staley said.

Staley said Jackson’s availability will depend on how quickly his incision heals, meaning there is a possibility he could make his debut for the Chargers against the Raiders on Sept. 11.

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The Chargers initially said the former Patriot cornerback was looking at a two-to-four-week recovery, a timeline that meant their their top free agent acquisition could miss the first two games.

“If the wound heals quickly, it could be on the low side. If it takes a little bit of time, it could be on the high side,” Staley said. “This is a minor procedure, and he’ll be back somewhere in that time.”

Could J.C. Jackson be ready to go sooner rather than later?Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

Jackson began feeling discomfort in his ankle about three weeks ago, Staley said. Jackson tried rehabilitation and had an injection in an effort to alleviate the irritation before having surgery.

“It’s not a structural problem,” Staley said. “There’s no injury, so to speak. That’s why he didn’t miss practice. It’s just more about comfort moving forward and him feeling his best overall. He’ll be back here shortly.”

Jackson signed a five-year contract worth $82.5 million in March following four seasons with New England.

Colts lose punter for season

The Colts confirmed that punter Rigoberto Sanchez suffered a season-ending torn Achilles’ tendon during Tuesday’s practice.

“I have to say I’m extremely upset for him,” special teams coordinator Bubba Ventrone said. “He put in so much hard work this entire offseason and I feel it’s like my son who got hurt. I just, I really feel for him. You’re not going to replace him. He does so much for our team.”

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Sanchez has been one of the Colts special teams staples since he won the punting job as an undrafted rookie in 2017. He’s played in all but two games — missing those while undergoing cancer treatment in 2020.

Sanchez also is the team’s kickoff specialist and the holder on extra points and field goals.

Bengals’ Jessie Bates out to show his worth

Bengals safety Jessie Bates said playing under the franchise tag this season will give him a chance to show NFL teams — including his current one — what he is worth.

The 25-year old Bates reported to training camp Tuesday and signed a one-year contract for $12.9 million after staying away amid the contract dispute. He said he loves the game too much to sit out for the season, which was his other option.

“I’m looking at this as an opportunity to prove I’m one of the best safeties in the league,” he said in his first public comments Wednesday.

“I just thought it would be a good time for me to come back a week before the preseason (ends) to be able to start building relationships with guys that just got here, guys that are going to be making the team these next couple weeks.”

Bates said he’ll be ready for the Sept. 11 season opener against Pittsburgh.

Former Seahawk Shaquem Griffin calls it quits

Griffin was a fifth-round pick of the Seahawks in 2018.Aaron Doster/Associated Press

Former Seahawks linebacker Shaquem Griffin, who had his left hand amputated at age 4, announced his retirement. Griffin wrote for The Players Tribune that he intends to help others working with the NFL Legends Community. Griffin, 27, was a fifth-round pick of the Seahawks in 2018, which reunited him with his twin brother, Shaquill, Seattle’s starting cornerback. Shaquem Griffin played 46 regular-season games with Seattle. He signed with Miami before last season but was cut … Cowboys left tackle Tyron Smith exited practice early with a left knee injury that was to be further evaluated. The team said an MRI was planned Thursday for the eight-time Pro Bowler, who was injured during 11-on-11 drills when he went to engage linebacker Leighton Vander Esch about 5 yards downfield before crumpling to the turf. He walked off the field without help and later walked past reporters outside the locker room without a brace or sleeve on the injured knee … Veteran receiver Sterling Shepard returned to Giants practice, a little more than eight months after tearing his Achilles’ tendon against Dallas in late December. The 29-year-old took part in the afternoon workout, one day before a joint practice with the Jets … Falcons linebacker Deion Jones came off the physically unable to perform list ahead of practice after recovering from right shoulder surgery that sidelined him throughout the offseason.

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