10 NFL Rookies Already Impressing Their Coaching Staffs
Players get one chance to make a good first impression on their coaches and a few players have really stood out to their respective teams. The impression they have made is a very positive one, assuring each team that the selection that they made in the draft was the right one.
Rookie mini-camps are over and OTA's have begun. Young players are learning on the fly and some have stood out as players that have great potential to help their teams immediately. A lasting impression is one of the best things a young player can do at the start of his career.
Some players impress by making plays on the field and some take what they have learned while studying the playbook and quickly implement what they have learned. If a team is very lucky, a player can do both.
These are some players that have really helped themselves out by impressing their teams early in the offseason.
Courtney Upshaw, LB, Baltimore Ravens
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The Baltimore Ravens got a very productive player early in the second round of the 2012 NFL draft in Courtney Upshaw. He does not have elite athleticism but he is considered to be a very good football player. Upshaw's strength is not in workouts like the combine and he fell a little in the draft because some considered him to be an average athlete.
The Ravens do a great job of acquiring talent in the draft and the addition of Upshaw became very important when Ravens linebacker and 2012 Defensive Player of the Year Terrell Suggs was sidelined for the 2012 season after tearing his Achilles in early May. Upshaw will need to step in and play well with Suggs out.
“I’d say very positive impression that Courtney made. You know he is really sharp, really knows football, does all those things you might not expect a bigger guy to do, he does those things well. He gets into coverage well, just a quick learner, he is off to a good start” said Harbaugh.
Courtney Upshaw is a gift for the Baltimore Ravens as he is the perfect kind of football player for them. He doesn't look real pretty but he will get the job done and the Ravens really need him to be productive as they are missing a huge piece of their defense. The selection of Upshaw looks very good for the Ravens so far.
Trent Richardson, RB, Cleveland Browns
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Trent Richardson is a fantastic running back and a football player that is going to do great things in the NFL. It is not a reach to consider Richardson one of the best young running backs in the game. He is a workhorse type of running back—the kind of running back that never needs to come off of the field.
Both head coach Pat Shurmur and running backs coach Gary Brown have talked about Richardson in a very positive way.
Coach Shurmur talked about how Richardson was naturally tough to tackle.
“Wow!” coach Pat Shurmur said according to Tony Grossi of ESPNCleveland.com. “He’s a very powerful man. He’s powerfully built. Don’t let the 5'9" fool you. He’s almost 230 pounds. That’s a lot of muscle packed into that body. I just think he’s got a very powerful build, much like we thought, and it shows up on the field.”
He also talked about how elusive Richardson is.
“Depending on how they’re built, runners get used to their size and it drives their running style,” Shurmur said. “Trent can get his foot down and slash it up in the line of scrimmage. By the nature of his build, it’s hard to get your arms around him and tackle. That natural leverage that he has also gives him great balance.”
Coach Brown discussed Richardson's physique and whether Richardson's short stature will help him on the field.
“I think everybody is amazed (by Richardson’s physique),” said running back coach Gary Brown.
“It’s a smaller target,” he said. “Guys lose you behind the big O-line. What happens, guys can stay low, find creases and make big runs. You look at guys like Ray Rice, (Maurice) Jones-Drew, those guys take advantage of that. And when they get loose, they have enough power and enough speed where they’re hard to tackle. You do finally catch up to them.
“What happens, when you’re not a tall back and you’re strongly built, your balance is better. That’s a tremendous advantage when guys try to arm tackle you. You bounce off and keep going.”
Richardson is as talented as any running back that has come into the NFL in some time. He is going to be productive right away for the Browns.
Andre Branch, DE, Jacksonville Jaguars
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Andre Branch was selected by the Jaguars early in the second round of the 2012 NFL draft. Branch is a player that showed that he could get to the quarterback in college and he will need to do that to help the Jaguars defense.
Cullen has been impressed with Branch over the past few weeks.
“He’s better than I thought,” Cullen said. “He’s working harder and getting better every day. Just a little bit, but he is better than I thought.”
Cullen talked about the things that Branch is willing to do as far as being coached and working hard.
“Everything ties in,” Cullen said. “He has the willingness to be coached hard. He’s been really excellent. He has made tremendous progress. All of the things we saw, the qualities we liked, are there. He’s competing hard.”
Branch has the opportunity to get pressure on the quarterback right away as he should get a chance to fight for a job. The Jaguars will really get a nice boost in their defense if he can be productive as a rookie.
Stephen Gilmore, CB, Buffalo Bills
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Stephen Gilmore was selected with the number 10 overall selection in the 2012 NFL draft. He is expected to play a major role in shutting down the opposition's top wide receiver. Gilmore is a very good cornerback, a player that has a chance to make a difference right away.
“He did a great job during the weekend. He is a big, long corner that can run and has a great feel for the game. He did a very good job during the weekend.”
Gailey also talked about Gilmore's confidence and his ability to play well in his rookie season.
“You know, confidence is something that’s vital especially at the cornerback position. It’s vital at some other spots, but it’s really vital at the cornerback position. And he played well and did well in this camp. Now, when he goes against the other guys, he’s going to lose some. How does he handle getting beat? He didn’t get beat a lot out here, so how does he handle that? He’s going to go through some emotions so that maturity and that confidence will help him, I think. He’s played in a tough league [the SEC], he knows what it’s about.”
Gilmore has great potential and the Bills are really turning things around as they have struggled for years. They now have an elite defensive front with newly acquired defensive end Mario Williams and defensive tackles Marcel Dareus and Kyle Williams. Gilmore has a chance to make some plays for the Bills as they are going to get serious pressure on opposing quarterbacks.
Tahir Whitehead, LB, Detroit Lions
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The Detroit Lions traded a 2013 fourth-round pick to move up in the fifth round of the 2012 NFL draft to select linebacker Tahir Whitehead out of Temple. Whitehead played in a 3-4 scheme at Temple and will be asked to transition to the 4-3 defense that the Lions play.
"That's by far the biggest surprise I've had in quite a while as a coach. I think (linebacker coach) Matt Burke and the scouts did a great job with him," Cunningham said. "He's much better than a fifth-round draft pick. He is something."
Whitehead has a great chance to make the Lions 53-man roster because of his special teams abilities, but it sounds as if he is really turning heads with his play as a outside linebacker that can get pressure on the quarterback in passing situations.
Whitehead stands to be one of the steals of the draft if he can come in and produce as a depth player and on special teams. It will certainly help the Lions on defense to get good production out of a young player.
Josh Robinson, CB, Minnesota Vikings
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The Minnesota Vikings need much better play out of their secondary, especially playing in the NFC North. The Vikings used two of their first three picks in the 2012 NFL draft on players that play in the secondary. They are addressing needs with these selections.
Robinson is lightning fast and is expected to be able to run with some of the best wide receivers in the NFL. If the Vikings are to have any chance in this division, they will have to defend the pass.
“Josh caught a punt, and he took off like a guy shot out of a rocket,” Frazier said. “And I thought, ‘Man, that guy has a nice little burst. Let me see who that is,’ and it was Josh Robinson. I said, ‘That’s a good sign.’ That burst, it sticks out.”
Frazer then discussed what kind of player that he wants Robinson to be.
“Well, that’s what we drafted him for, to play corner,” Frazier said. “We will continue to throw things at him and watch him progress. We want him to compete for a job, not just in the nickel position, but we want him to compete for a starting job and we will see how he does.”
Robinson has elite physical tools as he can run incredibly well. The Vikings are going to need him to turn into a special player that can hang with the likes of Calvin Johnson, Greg Jennings and Brandon Marshall. These are all players that the Vikings will face twice every year and that is a tough task for any team.
Shea McClellin, DE, Chicago Bears
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Shea McClellin was drafted 19th overall by the Bears and he is expected to put pressure on the quarterback immediately. McClellin should be a shot in the arm for the Bears' pass rush and they really need it. Outside of Julius Peppers, the Bears really have no one that can consistently get pressure on the quarterback.
Considering that the Bears will face Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers and Detroit Lions quarterback Matt Stafford twice, it will be a priority to get some pressure on them. McClellin is expected to really help in this area.
“He’s really moving quickly,” Marinelli said. “You can see that, the speed, the re-direction, all of the things we look for. The reaction to patterns and movements, those things can really help him, and then just start pounding the weights.”
Head coach Lovie Smith talked about the plans for McClellin in the future, as far as keeping him as a pass rusher and not dropping him to linebacker.
“He has his hand down in the dirt, trying to become a better pass rusher, and that’s what it’s all about,” Smith said. “We feel like we’ve gotten better with our pass rush by bringing him in.”
McClellin has a great opportunity in front of him—a chance to line up on the other side of Peppers and get after the quarterback. The Bears need some production from this spot on their defense as they have not gotten much for a few years. McClellin could fill a big hole for the Bears.
Janoris Jenkins, CB, St. Louis Rams
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The St. Louis Rams are rolling the dice on cornerback Janoris Jenkins. He is an extremely talented football player that could pay huge dividends to the Rams if he can stay healthy on the football field and stay clean off of it. Jenkins has a bad history off of the field but he is a shutdown cornerback that excels in press coverage.
Fisher talked about Jenkins having everything that an NFL team looks for in a cornerback.
“He’s very talented — obviously we knew that, and that has shown just in the last couple days,” Fisher said. “He’s got excellent football intelligence and he carries things from the classroom to the field. He’s going to be a really good player really soon for us.”
Jenkins is in a unique position to prove all of the people that are doubting him wrong. Sometimes this kind of motivation is all that players need to thrive and Jenkins will get that chance. He could be a very big part of the Rams resurgence. If Jenkins can keep himself out of trouble, he could be a real steal for the Rams.
Doug Martin, RB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
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The Tampa Bay Buccaneers need to get more playmaking out of their running back position. They used the 31st overall pick in the 2012 NFL draft to address this need by selecting running back Doug Martin. Martin is a three-down back, a player that can help the offense by running the ball and catching it out of the backfield.
Schiano talked about Martin's vision.
“He’s only done it two days (Monday and Tuesday), but he’s done some nice things,” Schiano said. “You can see he has good vision. That’s one of the things you can’t teach. You can teach a lot of things, but for me to see daylight over here when I’m looking over there, that’s a gift.”
Schiano talked about how they had been waiting to see exactly what Martin could do on the football field.
“It’s good to see him out there,” Schiano said. “You watch all the college tape but we haven’t actually had an opportunity to see him run our offense.”
The Buccaneers signed free agent wide receiver Vincent Jackson and tight end Dallas Clark. Coupled with third-year wide receiver Mike Williams, the Buccaneers look to be very potent on offense. The 2012 offseason has to have made quarterback Josh Freeman very happy.
Martin is quite possibly the final piece to the offensive puzzle for the Buccaneers. He should find lots of room to operate as the Buccaneers are now loaded at wide receiver and tight end. Look for Martin to have a very nice rookie season.
Bobby Wagner, LB, Seattle Seahawks
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Bobby Wagner was drafted by the Seattle Seahawks in the second round of the 2012 NFL draft. He was a very good linebacker at Utah State and he has a chance to start for the Seahawks early in his career. Wagner is an excellent athlete, the kind of linebacker that can both stop the run and defend the pass. He needs to step in and produce right away for the Seahawks.
Norton talked about what Wagner showed him right away.
"You only get one chance at a first impression. I'm really excited about him," Seahawks linebackers coach Ken Norton Jr. said of Wagner. "First thing you are looking at: can he run? Absolutely. Does he look the part? Absolutely. Is he strong and can he run the huddle? Absolutely. So we are very happy for our first impression."
Norton talked about what today's linebacker needed to bring to the game and how Wagner does it.
"It's a lot of sideways game. There's not a lot of downhill, two-back offenses, so there are more finesse-type linebackers out there," Norton said. "So, you get a lot of speed, and when you get speed, the size goes a little smaller. It comes down to: can he run, can he hit, can he fit into our profile and what what we do best here? That is absolute."
Wagner fills a big hole for the Seahawks and if he can step in and play right away it will do great things for their defense. He certainly has all of the physical tools to do so, and he will get the opportunity.