20 Things We Learned from NFL Minicamps
Minicamps are a great way to see what trends are developing in the NFL. We get a look at which players are ready to emerge as superstars, which veterans appear on the decline and how teams plan to get their stars involved in the game plan.
This year we've seen several interesting story lines, such as players holding out for new contracts and rookie quarterbacks pushing to begin the season as starters.
Here are 20 things we've already learned this offseason.
Starting Rookie Quarterbacks Has Become the Norm
Patrick McDermott/Getty Images
There's a school of thought that it's best to sit a young quarterback until he's able to develop a better understanding of the NFL game. However, the recent trend is to quickly work a young quarterback into the starting lineup. Teams seem to think that learning on the go is a better approach.
This season, rookies Andrew Luck in Indianapolis and Robert Griffin III in Washington have been named the starting quarterbacks. It's likely Brandon Weeden starts the season as the Cleveland Browns starter, while both Ryan Tannehill in Miami and Russell Wilson in Seattle are being given a chance to win the job in training camp.
Starting a young quarterback early in his career isn't necessarily a mistake, but it has its downside. Organizations should take each situation separately and only start a quarterback who's ready to play.
If You Want a New Contract, This Is the Best Time to Hold Your Ground
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Skipping minicamp workouts doesn't impact the season as much as missing training camp, so this is the perfect time for players looking for a new contract to use their leverage.
This year we've seen Matt Forte, Maurice Jones-Drew, Darrelle Revis, Chris Clemons and Ray Rice skip workouts in order to put pressure on their teams to negotiate new deals.
However, this starts to get really interesting as training camp begins. In recent years, players like Revis and Chris Johnson saw their regular-season performances suffer because of missing time in training camp. This missed time hurts a player's conditioning and comfort level with the game plan.
There's plenty of time for continued negotiations, but it will be interesting to see which players are serious about holding out. For players like Forte, Rice and Jones-Drew, this will likely be their last major deal. They must do what's needed to ensure they are financially secure.
It Looks Unlikely That Johnny Knox Will Play This Season
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Johnny Knox is struggling to work his way back from a terrible injury to his spine late last season. A report from Chris Silva of ESPN Chicago suggests that Knox will miss most of the season, if not the entire season.
This type of injury is different from the typical sports injury. Knox not only needs to think about his football career, but also his overall health.
As for the football side of things, the Chicago Bears will miss Knox's speed but seem to have enough weapons to overcome his loss. The addition of Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery signals a change in the Bears' approach. These bigger targets figure to get significant playing time, with Devon Hester playing the speed receiver role.
Don't overlook Earl Bennett either. He's been the Bears' most consistent target over the past several years. Even if healthy, it could have been tough for Knox to work his way into the lineup.
Vince Young Doesn't Have Much of a Future in Buffalo
Bob Levey/Getty Images
Despite his physical talents, Vince Young has struggled to live up to expectations. His career doesn't appear ready to rebound with the Buffalo Bills. Young sits behind Ryan Fitzpatrick on the depth chart and is locked in a battle with Tyler Thigpen for a roster spot.
Chan Gailey didn't sound too optimistic about Young's progress so far, stating the following in regards to Young's ability to pick up the offense:
It would not have been as hard two years ago, but we are in so much more of an advanced stage now than we were two years ago. He is trying to learn what the base concepts are and how we have advanced to where we are today without the benefit of going through the baby steps.
At this point, it appears that Thigpen has the upper hand. Being cut by the Bills would be a low point in Young's career.
Julio Jones Is Going to Have a Monster Season
Chris Trotman/Getty Images
By all accounts, Julio Jones looked amazing during Atlanta Falcons minicamp. His combination of size and speed gives him the raw talent to produce game-breaking plays. Having a full season and complete offseason under his belt should help him take his game to the next level.
Jones and Roddy White could be the focal point of the Falcons' attack. With Michael Turner now 30 years old and his carries piling up, these two are by far the most explosive playmakers on the roster
Without a dominant rushing attack, the Falcons figure to turn to their talented wide receivers to make plays. Look for Jones to establish himself as one of the brightest young stars in the game.
The Baltimore Ravens Need to Strike a Deal with Ray Rice
Jim Rogash/Getty Images
Ray Rice's production is what gives the Baltimore Ravens offense its consistency. He helps the team with his running, pass-catching and willingness to protect the passer. His impact on the offense is why he's justified in seeking a long-term deal.
The Ravens have been slow to strike a deal with Rice, which could be a major issue if it continues. Baltimore's other options at the position don't really inspire much hope. The competition for the No. 2 job is between Bernard Pierce, Anthony Allen and Damien Berry. Pierce figured to have a leg up on the competition, but he failed to impress during minicamp.
If Rice's holdout continues through training camp, the Ravens offense could struggle in the beginning of the season. Remember how Chris Johnson's holdout impacted his play last season.
Percy Harvin Is an Enigma Wrapped in a Riddle
Hannah Foslien/Getty Images
Percy Harvin's young career has been filled with some interesting story lines. It all started as draft day approached and teams were uncertain where Harvin would fit in an offense. However, the Minnesota Vikings felt that they knew how to utilize him.
After a strong rookie season, Harvin's migraine issues started to raise questions about his future. The migraines forced him to miss practices, part of training camp and some game-time snaps. His situation is so unpredictable that the Vikings never know when he might be forced out of the lineup.
The latest story surrounds the odd timing of his request for a trade. Nobody seemed to know that Harvin was unhappy, so when he demanded a trade it took everyone by surprise. The situation only got stranger, as a day after the trade request Harvin reported for the last day of Vikings minicamp.
Despite all his talent, Harvin always seems to find a way to cause some interesting headlines.
Michael Turner Is a Top Candidate to Have a Significant Drop-Off
Chris Trotman/Getty Images
Michael Turner has had an excellent run with the Atlanta Falcons, but that run has taken a toll on his body. Over the past four seasons, Turner has touched the ball more than 1,200 times. Combined with his age, that makes Turner a likely candidate to see a drop in production this season.
The presence of Jacquizz Rodgers and the developing passing game may contribute to Turner's decline in production. The Falcons no longer need to lean on him. During his rookie season, Rodgers showed flashes of game-breaking ability. His quickness and toughness give him a bright future.
The combination of Roddy White and Julio Jones is too explosive to not be a major part of the game plan. Atlanta's offense would look much more dangerous if these two were the focal point of the attack.
BenJarvus Green-Ellis Will Have to Share the Load in Cincinnati
Andy Lyons/Getty Images
BenJarvus Green-Ellis is a steady and productive running back. However, that doesn't mean he will dominate the carries this year for the Cincinnati Bengals. During his run with the New England Patriots, Green-Ellis never topped the 230-carry mark. That doesn't figure to change this year.
Despite all his strengths, Green-Ellis lacks the explosiveness and pass-catching ability to be an every-down back. This means we will see plenty of Bernard Scott this season. He is a home-run threat with the speed to score from anywhere on the field.
Green-Ellis will get a big chuck of the carries, but Scott will also be featured prominently.
Plaxico Burress Is Less Desirable Than Chad Ochocinco
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
Despite all the negativity surrounding Chad Ochocinco's run with the New England Patriots, he was able to land a job before Plaxico Burress. The market is quickly drying up, and Burress still finds himself without a job.
According to Joe Person of the Charlotte Observer, the Carolina Panthers decided against bringing him in to help Cam Newton.
Burress's production last season was actually pretty impressive. He put up solid numbers despite having to work himself back into shape while coping with the erratic play of quarterback Mark Sanchez. It seems that he still has something left in the tank, and I'm a little surprised to see such a dead market for his services.
Some organizations might be concerned about his age and off-field troubles, They also might not want to stunt the growth of a younger player.
The Indianapolis Colts Will Run the Ball a Lot More This Season
Andy Lyons/Getty Images
The Indianapolis Colts offense is going to look a lot different with Peyton Manning out of the mix. Indianapolis brought in Bruce Arians to run the show and help Andrew Luck adjust to the NFL. The plan is for the Colts to feature two tight ends in the passing game and Donald Brown in the running game.
To this point in his career, Brown has failed to live up to his first-round expectations. Injuries and inconsistency resulted in him being shuffled in and out of the lineup. However, last season he showed some signs of life by averaging 4.8 yards per carry.
It appears that this season we are going to get a chance to see if Brown can live up to his potential. A strong running attack would be a great benefit for a young quarterback. Conversely, Brown will benefit from Luck if the rookie QB is talented enough to force opposing defenses to respect his ability.
The San Diego Chargers Offense Is Going to Look Different This Year
Jeff Gross/Getty Images
The San Diego Chargers had a busy offseason, adding several pieces to both the offense and defensive side of the ball. However, the changes made on offense figure to have the greatest impact.
The addition of Eddie Royal and Robert Meachem signal a change in approach at wide receiver. The Chargers typically have looked for taller targets, like the recently departed Vincent Jackson.
Both Royal and Meachem are more speed receivers who work the underneath routes and attack the deep part of the field. Look for San Diego to get Royal heavily involved out of the slot position.
This new-look offense will also feature more of a focus on the running game. Ryan Mathews will receive a heavier workload, with the North County Times' Rob Terranova predicting him to receive 20 to 30 carries per game. However, it's important to note that Mathews has a history of not being able to stay healthy. An injury to Mathews could derail the Chargers' hopes to change the offensive attack.
Pete Carroll Is the New Jon Gruden
Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images
Jon Gruden built a reputation for collecting quarterbacks, but now Pete Carroll has taken that title. In only three offseasons, Carrol has added Tarvaris Jackson, Charlie Whitehurst, Matt Flynn and Russell Wilson to the roster. Each has received, or will receive, an opportunity to earn the long-term quarterback role.
One of the reasons Carroll has added so many quarterbacks is the lack of a true franchise player at the position.
With the current depth chart, it's possible that the Seattle Seahawks will add another quarterback next offseason. Matt Flynn and Russell Wilson appear to be the two leading candidates to seize the long-term starting job. However, neither is a sure thing.
If neither plays well and the Seahawks have a poor season, they could look to add another quarterback early in the 2013 NFL draft.
Santonio Holmes Is a Magnet for Negative Media Attention
Rich Schultz/Getty Images
I'm not sure we're going to see many offseasons when Santonio Holmes doesn't generate negative headlines. He's dangerously close to wearing out his welcome with the New York Jets, just as he did with the Pittsburgh Steelers. At some point, organizations don't feel his production outweighs his distractions.
After his embarrassing end to last season, you would figure he would be on his best behavior. However, he continues to make waves. First, there was the big deal made about his attendance at "Jets West," followed by the recent issue with his coaches.
It doesn't look good when someone who has his salary complains that the coaches are working him too hard. Nobody is going to sympathize with him, especially after all the ill will he has caused over the years.
All I can say is keep an eye on Holmes. He's sure to cause more problems.
Quarterbacks Have a Short Leash
Jared Wickerham/Getty Images
A franchise's commitment to a quarterback seems to lessen each year. It appears that few quarterbacks have a secure hold on a starting job. The decisions made by teams like the Cleveland Browns show that a quarterback gets a small opportunity to prove he is the future.
Colt McCoy hasn't had great success, but he also hasn't looked terrible. McCoy's surrounding cast didn't help his development. During McCoy's tenure, the Browns' offensive weapons consisted of mid-round picks and converted return men. But McCoy didn't take advantage of his opportunity, and now Brandon Weeden looks set to replace him.
This season is a make-or-break year for quarterbacks like Ryan Fitzpatrick, Mark Sanchez, Michael Vick, Joe Flacco and Matt Cassel. Each needs a strong season if he hopes to remain in his franchise's plans.
The College Game Is Very Different from the NFL
Joe Robbins/Getty Images
The college game is very different from the NFL. This results in an adjustment period for many rookies. One of the best recent examples is Dre Kirkpatrick. His time spent at Alabama didn't really prepare him for the system run by the Cincinnati Bengals.
This is a surprise. Nick Saban, Kirkpatrick's coach at Alabama, is regarded as a great defensive mind who employs pro-style concepts. However, Kirkpatrick is spending time learning how to properly backpedal and read the offense. Kirkpatrick had this to say about his transition:
I never backpedaled. We were always press man, Cover 2. It was never just sit there and reading the receiver on his route. It was something new.
This shows that even the most talented coaches can't fully prepare someone to make the transition to the NFL.
The Culture Is Quickly Changing in Tampa Bay
Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images
Heading into last season, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were considered a playoff contender and one of the NFL's up-and-coming franchises. However, the team was undisciplined, finishing with a 4-12 record that resulted in the firing of Raheem Morris.
This frustrating season prompted the Bucs to bring in Greg Schiano to restore order and change the culture. Schiano is a no-nonsense coach who doesn't tolerate mistakes or lack of focus. He'll make sure that his agenda is followed. If it isn't, changes will be made.
Schiano's culture change has already had its first victim in Kellen Winslow. Winslow gave the following reason for why he decide to skip OTAs:
Greg Schiano came over there [and said], ‘Toes on the line! Toes on the line!’ Blowing the whistle. You can’t laugh. You can’t joke around. So I decided not to go to OTAs.
The New York Jets Plan to Shake Things Up on Defense
Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images
Since Rex Ryan took over as the head coach of the New York Jets, his team has run a 3-4 base defense. While the 3-4 will still be incorporated, it appears that New York is changing the core strategy of the defense. This season you'll see a lot more four-man fronts as the Jets look to become a more versatile defense.
One of the reasons for this adjustment might be the personnel. The Jets used their first-round pick on Quinton Coples, whose ideal position is at defensive end in a 4-3 system. Adding Coples boosts the Jets' pass rush, especially from a 4-3 attack.
That the Jets were only able to get 14 sacks from the outside linebacker position is a cause for concern. They didn't add anyone in the offseason to improve that position, so they are likely looking to Coples to enhance their pass rush.
Randy Moss Is Determined to End His Career on a Positive Note
It appears that Randy Moss is determined to wash away the negative image he left when he last played in the NFL. This image was the result of being traded by the New England Patriots, waived by the Minnesota Vikings and only catching six passes as a Tennessee Titan.
Moss showed up for offseason workouts with the San Francisco 49ers in shape and ready to work. The reports out of 49ers camp is that Moss looks great and ready to have a monster season. Even with a great year, this could be the last of Moss's career.
At age 35 and with a poor reputation in the locker room, Moss could struggle to find work after this season. If he happens to have a strong season, he'll be looking for big money to end his career. But with the risks he brings, many teams figure to hesitate to give him the contract he wants.
However, he has a chance to finish his career on a high note. The 49ers have a great shot at reaching the Super Bowl, and Moss can be a major contributor to their cause.
The Arizona Cardinals Lack a Long-Term Plan at Quarterback
Christian Petersen/Getty Images
The package the Arizona Cardinals gave the Philadelphia Eagles for Kevin Kolb was built to land a franchise quarterback. Kolb received a lucrative contract worthy of such a quarterback. However, he didn't live up to expectations, and now there are questions about his future with the team.
Kolb will spend this offseason battling John Skelton for the starting job. At this point, there doesn't appear to be a clear leader. The Cardinals have to be frustrated that Kolb isn't able to distance himself from the former fifth-round pick.
I don't expect either quarterback to perform well enough to deter the Cardinals from bringing in another quarterback next season. The leash is short on both of these players, so don't be surprised if Arizona makes an aggressive more to land a quarterback early in next year's draft.