NFL Training Camps: 5 Rookies Under Pressure to Help Their Team Immediately
Every team depends on their rookie draft class to some extent. Some coaches like to bring their rookies along slowly, only giving them limited responsibility and allowing them to progress slowly in the system that they are learning.
Other coaching staffs want to throw as much as they can at their rookies. Sometimes this isn't really so much a philosophical decision as it is a survival instinct, trying to get new talent on the field as quickly as possible—presumably to replace old talent that has faded or fallen off completely.
Today, we look at five rookies who will not only be given all they can handle from day one of training camp, but whose teams desperately need them to produce results right away. Obviously, there are a couple teams here who drafted in the top 10 in this past April's draft. It only makes sense that the worst teams would need their big first-round picks to come through right away.
These guys will be counted on to come in and play like seasoned professionals pretty much from the start. They'll take their lumps along the way—every rookie does. But if each of them can reach their potential, their respective team should end 2012 in better shape than they ended 2011.
5. Brian Quick, WR St. Louis Rams
No one expects Appalachian State product Brian Quick to come in and take the NFL by storm, but the Rams need Quick to hit the ground running and absorb the many lessons he received in OTAs and minicamp and apply them the moment training camp starts.
Coming into Brian Schottenheimer's new offensive system, Quick should be able to make some noise immediately in the red zone and on smash-and-slant routes underneath some of the zone coverage he'll see. If he is able to get on the same page with Bradford relatively quickly in regards to what both are seeing from cornerbacks at the line of scrimmage, Quick could certainly impact a Rams offense that is desperate for a spark in the pass-catching department.
Quick will most likely start the year behind a pair of Philadelphia Eagles castoffs in Danny Amendola and Brandon Gibson, but the Rams need him to make an immediate impact to improve upon the woeful offensive showing of 2011.
4. David DeCastro, OG Pittsburgh Steelers
The Pittsburgh Steelers have fielded one of the better offenses in the NFL (last year's ranking of 21st overall notwithstanding) the past several seasons, despite having to annually patch together an offensive line with little more than warm bodies.
So Pittsburgh general manager Kevin Colbert did what he needed to do this past April when Stanford's David DeCastro fell into his lap toward the bottom of the first round. The offensive guard should start for the Steelers for the next decade and perhaps beyond.
Of course, just because everyone in the football world thinks DeCastro is a can't-miss prospect doesn't mean he is. Maybe teams feared a Robert Gallery-type disappointment when 23 of them passed on him, but the Steelers obviously hope they and DeCastro will have the last laugh.
Head coach Mike Tomlin has said that DeCastro will begin at right guard, and he'll be tested in 2012 when asked to block division foes like Haloti Ngata and Geno Atkins. The Steelers need this rookie to step in and be as good as his press clippings—if not better.
3. Trent Richardson, RB Cleveland Browns
The Cleveland Browns aren't as far away as some people think.
Yes, they play in a brutal division with three legit playoff contenders (if not Super Bowl contenders), but the Browns played some very good defense last year, have an underrated offensive line and an emerging weapon at wide receiver in Greg Little.
Obviously, the battle for the quarterback position needs to play out in camp. No serious observer thinks the starting job won't go to rookie Brandon Weeden, but I'm not sure it matters much who is under center.
What does matter is if the third overall pick in the draft, Alabama's Trent Richardson, is as good as advertised.
We've heard—ad nauseum over the course of the past four months, it seems—how Richardson is the most talented back to come into the league since Adrian Peterson was drafted by the Minnesota Vikings back in 2007. Now he has to show it on the football field against NFL talent.
If Richardson can live up to his billing, this team could surprise a lot of people. His presence could (and should) make things much easier on Weeden or, indeed, whoever the quarterback ends up being.
2. Courtney Upshaw, OLB Baltimore Ravens
Whether Baltimore Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome had a crystal ball is up for debate, but there is no denying how fortuitous his drafting of Alabama's Courtney Upshaw was now that Ravens outside linebacker, and engine of the defense, Terrell Suggs will miss a significant amount of time in 2012 with an injured Achilles.
Now, no one expects Upshaw to even begin to replicate what Suggs does on the field for the Ravens. The entire Baltimore defense feeds off of the pressure he is able to generate on passing downs. And it's not like this team doesn't have other means of getting to the quarterback.
However, the Ravens need Upshaw to make up for more than the absence of Suggs for what could be the entire 2012 season. The team let outside linebacker Jarret Johnson walk in free agency, and while he's not the pass-rushing demon Suggs is, his tough, steady play will need to be replicated.
In some ways, Upshaw could be used to paper over several different cracks—if he makes the transition from college ball to the pros as well as most of Nick Saban's college players do. Already we've heard a bit of a warning bell with Upshaw, as he reportedly failed the Ravens' conditioning test on his first attempt, according to John Eisenberg of CSN Washington. (He reportedly passed it on his second attempt later that same day.)
The Ravens hope that is the only hiccup during Upshaw's transition from college to the pros.
1. Robert Griffin III, QB Washington Redskins
Unlike Andrew Luck, the man to whom he will forever be linked, Bob Griffin (thanks, Osi) goes to an NFL team that has enough pieces in place to make them competitive right away—if he plays well.
While no one will mistake the Washington Redskins for a Super Bowl contender any time soon, they have an underrated defense and enough talent on offense to make things interesting in the NFC East, a division that loves to beat itself up.
Griffin should be an excellent fit for what Shanahan likes to do on offense, from the bootleg off of stretch play-action to making the reads necessary in Shanahan's version of the West Coast offense. On top of this, Griffin has demonstrated the ability to extend plays with his legs while keeping his eyes downfield instead of searching for lanes to run through.
All of this, of course, is projection based on what we've seen him do at the collegiate level. If he can make the jump to the pros that we saw Andy Dalton and Cam Newton make last year (though both of those young quarterbacks had a legit No. 1 wide receiver), the Redskins could surprise a lot of people in 2012.