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For NFL players, checking mentions and social media can be poison during training camp

Twitter was not kind to Richard Sherman after he was burned by Marquise Goodwin in practice last week.Ben MargotAP

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A video from 49ers training camp went viral this past week. As of Friday afternoon, 1.33 million people had watched Marquise Goodwin toast Richard Sherman on a deep pass.

Twitter was not kind to Sherman, with myriad comments about him being past his prime and broken down from an Achilles’ injury suffered last year.

It made Patriots safety Devin McCourty mad.

“I hate when I see that,” McCourty said on Thursday. “I’m like, it’s a one-on-one rep in training camp. These are battles — one guy wins, one guy loses every once in a while.”


Training camp is hard enough for the players. It’s hot, the days are long, you don’t see your family or sleep in your own bed, and you’re being evaluated on every snap.

But it has become even harder with thousands of media and fans watching every play, taking video and posting comments to social media and the Internet. Reporters keep detailed stats for the quarterbacks, and write thorough practice reports for their publications.

For many NFL players, it can be easy to get wrapped up in their social media mentions.

“I learned a long time ago to stay away from all the media,” Patriots linebacker Dont’a Hightower said. “It goes both ways. Sometimes it feels great hearing all the positivity, but then with the negativity, you want to run away. So I try to keep my nose clean from all that.”

Former Cowboys tight end Jason Witten, now with ESPN, wrote an interesting essay last week encouraging players not to ignore social media entirely, but to avoid their mentions and the back-and-forth with fans.

Witten wrote about seeing teammates checking their Twitter mentions at halftime, and of postgame locker rooms with every player’s face buried in his phone.


“Negative social media can ruin a player. Reading your mentions? It’s poison,” Witten wrote. “Some of my best-graded games came when my stat lines were not so sexy. Yet to fantasy football Twitter, those are bad games. If you had dozens of people telling you to catch more passes, you’re not immune to thinking, ‘Maybe I should have gotten a few more targets.’ That’s just human nature.”

“The bottom line is: The Twitter mob is not indicative of reality.”

“Can’t let people put you up, can’t let people knock you down,” James White said of navigating social media.Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff

Fans and media help sell the excitement and provide information for fans who can’t attend practice, but they often only provide half the picture. Many times they don’t know the play that was called, or if someone ran the wrong route, or if the coverage was supposed to be man or zone.

For the players, it’s important to remember that the only evaluation that matters is the one from the coaches.

“It’s OK to check [social media]. Just can’t let it consume you,” Patriots running back James White said. “Can’t let people put you up, can’t let people knock you down. Just got to focus on what you’re doing on the practice field, listen to what your coaches are saying.”

Plus, what often escapes media and fans watching practice is that sometimes it’s OK for players to make mistakes. That’s what training camp is for.

In Kansas City, Chiefs coach Andy Reid defended new quarterback Patrick Mahomes for throwing seven interceptions in six practices.

“I told you at the beginning of camp I don’t care about all that stuff,” Reid told reporters. “I want him to test the offense . . . If you don’t have the intestinal fortitude to go test it you’re going to be one of those quarterbacks who checks it down every time. That’s not what it’s all about.”


49ers coach Kyle Shanahan used the Goodwin/Sherman play as a teaching moment for his team, and not to embarrass Sherman. He instead praised the veteran cornerback for competing hard in his first one-on-one rep back from his injury.

“I respect Sherm because he doesn’t care. He’s not worried about anything,” Shanahan told reporters. “He’s out there working on his craft trying to get better and not caring what people say. That’s why you get better from that rep. It’s a good example to show young guys, to show everyone that that stuff doesn’t matter. You getting better is what matters so you can do it on Sunday.”

Kyle Shanahan speaks to quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo during a practice last week.Ben Margot/AP

Shanahan and most NFL players know that the outside grading doesn’t mean much. Jimmy Garoppolo was inconsistent during four training camps with the Patriots but has been stellar when the lights come on during the regular season, compiling a 7-0 record. Most of training camp becomes irrelevant or forgotten by halftime of Week 1 of the regular season.

“We didn’t used to get reports of stats on our practices, and I don’t get the reports and judge our guys off of them,” Shanahan said. “You tell everyone to ignore them, but I guarantee people hear it, their wives hear it, someone hears it.”


“That stuff worries me for players because now I’m afraid they’re going to go there and be like, ‘Man, I know you want to try this new thing, but I don’t want this to go viral for the next week, I don’t want people to say I can’t throw this type of ball.’ Then they don’t get better and they just try to survive the day so they can please people who don’t really know what they’re working on. It takes a very mentally strong person to not care about that.”

And no matter what, Hightower said, don’t engage with anyone ripping you on Twitter. That can only make things worse.

“It’s not really that bad to look at the messages. Replying is kind of the temptation in all of it,” Hightower said. “Your reply definitely comes with consequences and repercussions. There are a few guys that kind of get carried away with social media. Just have to let those guys know they’re under a magnifying glass.”


Holdouts having varying success

The Falcons caved quickly to Julio Jones’s demands, and the Titans reached a long-term extension with left tackle Taylor Lewan. But not every holdout has been successful so far. Let’s take a look at how contract talks are progressing, if at all, for a few notable stars:

■  In Oakland, not only have the Raiders not discussed a new contract with star pass rusher Khalil Mack, coach Jon Gruden hasn’t even spoken with Mack since taking the job in January.


Mack is scheduled to make $13.846 million on his fifth-year option, and is incurring a $30,000 fine for every day of camp that he is skipping. As noted by the Las Vegas Review-Journal, the team’s move to Nevada in 2020 could be complicating matters. California has a 13.3 percent income tax rate, while Nevada has no income tax.

■  Down the road in Los Angeles, Ndamukong Suh told USA Today that Aaron Donald “deserves more than I got,” but Suh is in camp at $14 million while Donald continues to hold out over his fifth-year option salary of $6.892 million.

Donald is believed to be seeking $20 million per year. Rams chief operating officer Kevin Demoff told The Mighty 1090 this past week that Donald’s agents aren’t “unrealistic,” but the sides remain far apart.

“It doesn’t make them right and us wrong. We just don’t agree,” he said. “And hopefully we can find that magic bullet to go get there and agree.”

■  In Seattle, safety Earl Thomas wrote a piece for The Players’ Tribune this past week demanding the Seahawks give him a pay increase from the $8.5 million he is set to make or trade him.

“I’m standing strong when it comes to getting what I deserve,” he wrote.

Let’s see how long Thomas lasts. No trade offers have emerged, and the Seahawks haven’t said a peep. In 2015, Seattle safety Kam Chancellor held out for two regular-season games and lost about $1 million in salary, and didn’t get a new contract.

■  Meanwhile, Odell Beckham Jr. didn’t hold out in New York, and he and the Giants are finally talking about a new contract, although owner John Mara wouldn’t put a timetable on it. “Depends on how reasonable they want to be,” he told WFAN.

Running back David Johnson didn’t hold out in Arizona, but his contract talks were put on hold for general manager Steve Keim’s five-week DUI suspension.

And Le’Veon Bell technically isn’t holding out, since he hasn’t signed his franchise tag with the Steelers. The deadline has passed for him to reach a long-term deal for this year, so Bell will likely sign his contract right before Week 1, like last year.


Changes being put in place

We all know that the NFL changed its catch rule this offseason in response to the Jesse James non-catch in the Steelers-Patriots game last December. But did you know that the Patriots are responsible for a second rule change that quietly took place?

The NFL never announced it, but in its 2018 Official Playing Rules, rule 3.2.5 has now been changed to say, “It is not a fumble if the player immediately regains control of the ball.”

Per former referee Terry McAulay, now the rules analyst for NBC, this change was a direct result of the Austin Seferian-Jenkins non-touchdown call in last year’s first Jets-Patriots game. Seferian-Jenkins dived for the pylon, lost control of the ball with both hands for a split second, regained control, crossed the pylon, and landed out of bounds. The play was initially ruled a touchdown but reversed on instant replay to a fumble out of the end zone and a touchback for the Patriots. Now, the play would still be ruled a touchdown.

Rule 3.2.7 also was changed, the one spelling out how to identify a catch. The terminology “going to the ground” has been removed, replaced with “perform any act common to the game,” “maintain control long enough to do so,” and “movement of the ball does not automatically result in loss of control.” All three phrases relate to the James play against the Patriots.

Heads-up approach

Patriots linebacker Elandon Roberts was an interesting interview this past week when I was asking players about the new leading-with-the-helmet rule. Roberts repeated the same answer many times.

“Just don’t put your head down,” he said.

“I don’t put my head down, so it don’t really bother me.”

“Nope. I don’t put my head down.”

He sounded, frankly, like someone who has been told many times this offseason, “Don’t put your head down.” Roberts is an undersized linebacker, listed at 6 feet and 238 pounds, and has made it this far into his professional career because he packs a big wallop. But he might have to curtail the way he plays.

Steelers guard Ramon Foster, who has had four documented concussions in his career, singled out Roberts this offseason.

“Last year when we played the Patriots, 52 [Roberts], the same thing, head first. He’s a heady guy. I hate heady guys,” Foster said during spring practices.

I asked Roberts about Foster’s comment, and he noted the height discrepancy between the players.

“He’s like 6-7 or something like that, right? (Actually 6-5). I’m 5-11,” Roberts said. “At the end of the day, they’re going to make their rules as a league, we just got to apply to the rules, and just keep your head up. You don’t want anything to go wrong.”

Greetings from Foxborough

■  Not only are the Patriots not holding any joint practices for the first time since 2011, but Bill Belichick confirmed on Friday that they’re not having an officiating crew work any of their training camp practices, either. Considering the new helmet rule, the new catch rule, and the new kickoff rules, you’d think the Patriots could benefit from a few days of practicing with the zebras.

Belichick said he didn’t watch the Ravens-Bears game on Thursday, but that he will study the tape to see how the officials called some of the rules and how the new kickoffs worked. Director of officiating Al Riveron is expected to make a video analyzing some of the calls in the game, and Belichick said he’s looking forward to watching it before the preseason opener against Washington on Thursday.

■  A couple of injured ex-Patriots at least left Foxborough with nice parting gifts. Tight end Troy Niklas, signed in April and released on the second day of training camp, still receives $250,000 from the team ($75,000 signing bonus, $75,000 offseason workout bonus, $100,000 base salary guaranteed). And receiver Jordan Matthews will walk away with $300,000 for his four months with the team ($80,000 signing bonus, $130,000 offseason workout bonus, $90,000 base salary guaranteed).

■  Interesting tweet from longtime Colts beat writer Mike Chappell this past week, pointing out that only five Colts are still left from the AFC Championship game loss to the Patriots in the 2014 season — Andrew Luck, Adam Vinatieri, Anthony Castonzo, T.Y. Hilton, and Jack Doyle. Turnover is the norm in the NFL, and the Patriots have had their fair share, as well. But the Patriots still have 15 players left from that game.

Extra points

Richard Sherman may have had a rough start to camp as he returns from a torn Achilles’, but he’s already achieved a big victory. By passing his physical on the first day of camp, he earned a $2 million bonus. Sherman will make a minimum of $7 million this year and a maximum of $9 million if he plays in all 16 games, plus another $4 million of incentives at stake . . . This past week, several more reminders that a whole lot more bad than good can happen in training camp. The Titans lost starting strong safety Jonathan Cyprien to a torn ACL, the Packers lost starting inside linebacker Jake Ryan to a torn ACL, and the Chargers continue to be snakebitten. Budding star tight end Hunter Henry tore an ACL in the spring, and the guy they signed to replace him, rookie Austin Roberts, tore his ACL this past week. Cornerback Jason Verrett also tore his Achilles’ during the team’s conditioning test . . . It’s probably just a motivational ploy, but Buccaneers coach Dirk Koetter wouldn’t commit to Jameis Winston regaining his starting job in Week 4 when he returns from his suspension. “Let’s worry about Week 4 in Week 4. Right now, let’s worry about preseason and getting ready for the Saints,” Koetter said . . . Defensive tackle Terrance “Pot Roast” Knighton, last seen being released by the Patriots at the end of 2016 training camp, has resurfaced as a defensive line coach and co-recruiting coordinator at Wagner University in Staten Island, N.Y.

Quote of the week

“Whoever said money don’t make you happy lied.”

— Rams running back Todd Gurley after signing a new contract that will pay him $40 million over the next three years.

Ben Volin can be reached at ben.volin@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @BenVolin. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.