Reviewing OTA Buzz Around 13 Big-Name NFL Rookies
Organized team activities, which are most commonly known as OTA’s, have begun for the majority of teams in the National Football League.
As a result, beat reporters who have been around their team’s OTA’s have made some intriguing observations about rookies who are expected to be immediate contributors for their teams in the upcoming season.
Going through the buzz around NFL OTA’s, I highlighted buzz surrounding rookies from 13 NFL teams and broke down what it could end up actually meaning when the season rolls around.
Indianapolis Colts: No Luck
The Colts’ future rides heavily upon the success of quarterback Andrew Luck, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2012 draft, but his presence has yet to become the presence in Indianapolis.
Luck is still finishing up his degree at Stanford and does not graduate until June 8. Luck will not be able to participate in OTA's until following his graduation.
Will Luck’s late arrival be a significant delay in his development and preparation? Colts head coach Chuck Pagano correctly characterized the scenario as “days lost,” per the Indy Star.
That said, one of the reasons Luck was such a highly-regarded quarterback prospect is because he has a polished game and has played in a pro-style offense, making him a player who should be NFL-ready very early on.
Luck’s absence from OTA’s is a minor setback, but the Colts have much bigger issues to worry about.
Washington Redskins: RG3 Impressing Veterans with Work Ethic
For any quarterback, as the signal-caller of the offense, it is important to establish oneself as a hard-working, high-character leader. For a rookie quarterback, it is especially important to make a positive first impression on the team’s veteran leaders.
Robert Griffin III appears to be doing exactly that in Washington. One of the Redskins’ top leaders, inside linebacker London Fletcher, commented strongly on his team’s new quarterback.
"You can obviously see the maturity, the leadership, all the intangibles you would like in your quarterback,'' Fletcher told SI. "He's very humble, very respectful, and not coming in feeling like he's entitled to anything. He's willing to work, he works hard, he's here early, and he's in the playbook.”
Cleveland Browns: Weeden Splitting QB Snaps with McCoy
According to Paul Kiska of NewsNet5, first-round pick Brandon Weeden is splitting snaps with the first-team offense with incumbent starting quarterback Colt McCoy, indicating that there is an open competition between the two.
Given that Weeden is 28 years old and that the Browns invested a first-round selection in him, that should be a strong indication already that they want him to start as early as possible.
McCoy has the talent to win the competition against Weeden, but I would handicap the rookie as having the early advantage in a battle that will likely continue into the preseason.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Rave Reviews for Andre Branch
The Jaguars needed another pass-rushing defensive end, so it made sense when they used their second-round pick to select Clemson’s Andre Branch. According to John Oehser of Jaguars.com, Branch is even better than defensive line coach Joe Cullen anticipated.
“He’s better than I thought,” Cullen said.
Cullen said that Branch will start as a situational pass-rusher but will “have to earn” a starting spot. This is no different than what I would have expected, as Branch may be best suited to play in a situational role. Still, he was drafted in the second round with the expectation of being a starter at some point.
That said, Cullen expressed confidence in Branch’s ability to set the edge and play the run, which, paired with his ability to pressure the quarterback, gives him big potential.
Miami Dolphins: Ryan Tannehill as Third-Team QB
According to the Miami Herald, Matt Moore and David Garrard have been splitting the majority of snaps under center with the first-team offense in OTA’s, while Ryan Tannehill has been working with the reserves.
This could be an indication that the Dolphins plan to give Tannehill time to develop this season while Moore and Garrard battle it out. But not necessarily. As Tannehill continues to gain more experience in the Miami offense, his first-team repetitions should continue to increase.
That said, if the Dolphins are looking at what is best for them long-term, their best move may be to keep Tannehill, who is not NFL-ready coming out of Texas A&M, on the bench to learn and grow as a rookie before giving him the reins in his sophomore season.
Carolina Panthers: Luke Kuechly to Play Weakside Linebacker
With two of the Panthers’ starting linebackers, Jon Beason and Thomas Davis, coming off serious season-ending injuries, the Panthers drafted Boston College’s Luke Kuechly to add to their linebacker corps.
Kuechly was a tremendous middle linebacker in college, but according to the Charlotte Observer, Kuechly will move out to weakside 'backer for the Panthers in 2012.
This move is contingent on Beason staying at middle linebacker, but in my opinion, the Panthers would be better off moving Beason to the outside (a more natural position for him), with Kuechly taking over as the leader in the middle.
Kuechly has the skill set to be a tremendous middle linebacker for many years to come, and they should have him playing in that role as soon as possible.
Nonetheless, the statuses of both Beason and Davis could remain in question as they continue to recover from their injuries, leaving James Anderson at strongside as the only starter whose role seems set.
Kuechly could move around as injuries and performance dictates, and he has the skill set to be versatile enough to play any of the three linebacker spots.
Kansas City Chiefs: Dontari Poe Starting at Nose Tackle
Less than a week into Chiefs’ OTA’s, first-round pick Dontari Poe has moved ahead of Amon Gordon on the nose tackle depth chart and earned a role on the first-team defense, according to KCChiefs.com.
Considering that Gordon is not a starting-caliber nose tackle, this comes as no surprise, but it is a good sign that Poe, who was considering a raw talent coming out of Memphis, has picked up the Chiefs defense quickly and has emerged as a starter.
Seattle Seahawks: Russell Wilson Competing to Start at QB
The Seahawks did not draft Russell Wilson in the third round set on him being a backup quarterback. The Seahawks have been giving equal repetitions with the first-team offense to Wilson, free-agent acquisition Matt Flynn and incumbent starter Tarvaris Jackson, according to Pro Football Weekly.
PFW also stated that Flynn “did the best job” among the three QBs. Flynn should be expected to start. The Seahawks did not sign him to a three-year, $26 million contract to be a backup, and he has been very impressive in his limited starting experience with the Green Bay Packers.
Wilson is getting a fair chance at earning the starting position, but his competition will most likely be with Jackson for the second-string spot on the depth chart.
Tennessee Titans: Kendall Wright Lining Up as 'X' Receiver
As the Titans’ top vertical deep threat, Kenny Britt has held the role of the team’s “X” receiver over the past three seasons, when healthy.
Britt’s role is not expected to change, aside from the fact that Kendall Wright has been added to the receiving corps. According to The Tennesseean, Wright is also being trained to play the X, where he could end up splitting time with Britt.
This, in my opinion, is the wrong decision for the Titans. While Wright could be an effective sideline receiver, his quickness and ability to make plays in space makes him a terrific fit to play slot receiver.
Having him on the field at the same time as Britt in three-receiver sets will add explosion to the Titans’ passing offense.
Detroit Lions: Riley Reiff Lining Up at Left Tackle
According to Detroit News, first-round selection Riley Reiff started out in Lions’ OTA’s working as the second-team left tackle.
While the expectation for Reiff is that he will eventually end up as the team’s franchise left tackle, Jeff Backus remains the starter at LT, and Reiff’s quickest path to starting may be at right tackle or to kick inside to guard.
For now, the plan seems to be to develop him at left tackle, where he is splitting reps with Jason Fox on the second-team.
That said, I believe he could end up pushing Gosder Cherilus at right, and he will have the versatility to step in at any of four positions on the offensive line if poor performance or injury dictates.
Green Bay Packers: Nick Perry, Jerel Worthy Getting Early Reps
The Packers’ first two picks from the 2012 draft—USC pass-rusher Nick Perry and Michigan State defensive lineman Jerel Worthy—have been getting first-team repetitions from the beginning of the team’s OTA’s, according to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.
Perry has lining up as the starting left outside linebacker across from Clay Matthews III, while Worthy is playing next to B.J. Raji in the Packers’ two-man defensive front in nickel packages.
Neither should come as a surprise, and both players are in the right roles. Perry was drafted to be the pass-rushing threat that the Packers need across from Matthews in order to keep double-teams away from Matthews and get pressure from both sides of the line.
It remains unclear how exactly Worthy will fit in on the three-man defensive front, but he is a perfect fit as an interior penetrator in the nickel package.
Baltimore Ravens: Courtney Upshaw Competing to Start
In what should come as no surprise, Courtney Upshaw is in the mix right away to be the primary replacement for injured Terrell Suggs as the Ravens’ rush outside linebacker, according to Ravens Football Machine.
Upshaw, Paul Kruger and Sergio Kindle have all been splitting reps with the first team at Suggs’ spot, but they have also all been working at the strongside spot, where a replacement for Jarret Johnson is needed. The best fit for Upshaw (and where he will likely end up) is at the spot where Johnson once occupied.
This would enable Kruger and Kindle to platoon at the rush spot until Suggs returns from injury, whereas Upshaw is likely to earn a long term starting spot across from Suggs.
Nonetheless, Upshaw should be a key part of the Ravens’ outside linebacker rotation from Week 1, as the Ravens will rotate rush linebackers in and out.
New York Giants: Rueben Randle Should Have Immediate Role
The Giants drafted LSU wide receiver Rueben Randle to fill the role vacated by Mario Manningham, who left for the San Francisco 49ers via free agency, as the team’s No. 3 wideout.
However, star wideout Hakeem Nicks broke his foot early in OTA’s, which has opened up repetitions for Randle to fill in for him as the X receiver.
According to ESPN’s Chris Mortensen (via Pro Football Talk), the Giants like what they have seen from Randle thus far and are confident in his ability to step up in Nicks’ absence.
Nicks is expected to be sidelined until at least August, and if he is unable to play in the season opener, Randle appears to be the early favorite to end up in their starting lineup for Week 1.