School is in session.
Playbooks are nearing installment, and NFL rookies are under the microscope. Vital decisions are already being made about a team's planned methods of attack.
With a week of training camp in the books, it is now time for a progress report. We all know the importance of first impressions.
NFL first-round rookies, here is your first training camp report card.
No surprise here. The Colts may well be a sinking ship this season, but there is no doubt among players, coaches and staff alike who will be manning the controls.
Andrew Luck has done and said all the right things during camp. Most importantly, he has earned the respect of his teammates.That is not easy for a rookie QB, even if you are a rookie QB on a very young team in dire need of strong leadership.
Luck has taken advantage and has been looking like a near-future franchise quarterback. He's a straight-A student so far, but I do sense a few Cs and Ds coming down the pipe once September rolls around, though.
Again, big surprise. Robert Griffin is looking fantastic.
I covered RG3 during college, but just like Mike Shanahan and Daniel Snyder, it was his pro day that blew my mind.
The Redskins are currently getting what they thought they were getting. An incredibly athletic, mobile QB who prefers to utilize his cannon arm to make football plays. He picks and chooses when to deploy his rushing weaponry, and it's usually in great spots. Daniel Jeremiah of NFL.com reports he has gained the respect of his teammates, and RG3 is clearly leading court in D.C.
Sorry, Rex Daniel Grossman III, there is a new RG3 in town.
Richardson was one of three players in this draft who had the ability to change the Browns franchise the minute he walked in the door.
Pat Kirwan of NFL Radio on SiriusXM interviewed Browns HC Pat Shurmur at training camp Thursday, and Shurmur had a lot to say about the five possible rookie faces we may see starting in Cleveland next season.
Richardson is certainly one of those and will come into the regular season as the outright starter. Kirwan reported that Richardson had missed Thursday practice with a case of migraines, but he has otherwise been productive and adapted well to the offense.
Shurmur went on to mention that he really liked Richardson's hands and that he is a natural receiving back for checkdowns (which may occur frequently).
He sure does look the part in these drills.
I love a guy that comes into camp and shows he's not scared. It's like going to prison: They say you need to pick a fight early to show the other inmates how you roll.
Kalil picked that fight with the toughest dude on the cell block in Jared Allen.
Kalil has been impressing his coaches with his understanding of the game, which has never been in doubt. I believe Kalil is a year away from being a true, dominating NFL offensive tackle, but he's off to a great start.
Easiest grade of them all. A big, fat F for Justin Blackmon.
Not only did he get his second DWI when he should have been working out, but he still hasn't even signed his contract with Jacksonville. That is ridiculous for two reasons:
1) Contract negotiations are not rocket science under the new CBA. It is a slotted system that should never cause this sort of issue.
2) He's hurting himself. Blackmon is setting himself back to a point that may soon become virtually irreparable in one season.
Unless Jaguars second-year QB Blaine Gabbert pulls a total 180, we will not be seeing great QB play in Jacksonville once again this year. It is a new coach, new system, new owner—the beginnings of a new culture. This a lot for a young QB to take in, and Blackmon is missing out on the opportunity to integrate himself into the learning phase with his future signal-caller.
It is an opportunity to create a symbiotic relationship from the start. Ask A.J. Green and Andy Dalton about the benefits of being brought up together.
So, their offseason sentiment was pretty clear.
They traded up for Claiborne, who has been getting burned in drills, sometimes by guys who probably won't even end up on the roster.
As Brad Gagnon mentions in the article linked above, the learning curve for CBs as NFL rookies is a steep one. It is a "read and react" position like no other in the NFL, or any sport I can think of. When the pace of the game changes even in the smallest bit (and the NFL is no small leap in speed of play), it takes getting used to. Defensive backs have to form muscle memory.
Claiborne is a natural talent and phenomenal athlete who is having to be re-taught some things.
Tanard Jackson was a terrible safety who missed 24 tackles last season, leading the NFL.
His closest competition for this statistic just so happened to be Tampa's other safety, Ronde Barber.
Let's just say safety was a position of need for the Bucs in 2012, and their first-round pick, Mark Barron, is as gifted as they come.
He has come in as the immediate starter, but has missed some time due to an unspecified toe injury. I'm keeping him out of the "A" class of rookies because the ailment is a little bit worrisome for a change-of-direction player until we hear it is not a turf toe.
I guess it says something that the QB competition in Miami is still a three-man race.
Tannehill, of course, knows the playbook having played under new Dolphins offensive coordinator Mike Sherman at Texas A&M. That doesn't mean he can make all the throws.
I taped every throw of his pro day, and what I saw was Tannehill clearly exhibiting power and accuracy in intermediate routes, 10- to 15-yard outs, crossing patterns and even deep-seam routes. He can set his foot and drill these from a high three-quarter delivery.
It's the deeper out routes that are concerning. Even against air, he throws his receivers out of bounds and has nowhere near the confidence. That's what only starting 19 games in college will get you. Tannehill needs time to develop, and I sense what may happen could be unfortunate for both Tannehill and Dolphins fans.
Tannehill will come in—not quite ready—in Week 7 or 8, because the season will already have tanked.
Kuechly may be the most productive inside linebacker I have ever analyzed coming out of college. He was always involved and always making tackles (16 per game his senior year). He just has a nose for the ball.
Kuechly is physical at the point of attack, and he plays with as "blue-collar" a style as one could conceivably imagine.
Judging by this report from Scott Adamson from the Anderson Independent Mail, Kuechly has already gained one important admirer in camp in fellow linebacker Jon Beason. He said:
He kind of stays in his lane because he’s a rookie, but we’ve opened the door and said, "Hey, you’re one of us." We don’t treat him like a rookie, and we don’t expect him to play like a rookie, either.
Neither do I.
John Clayton of ESPN.com reported from Bills camp that Gilmore was looking extremely polished. Clayton said, "He's a big, physical player who can challenge every throw from man coverage."
That echoes every report anyone I have spoken to has gotten from camp, and it is a little different from the reports we are getting on Morris Claiborne.
To be fair, CB is a position that takes a while to transition to as you ascend the levels. It goes without saying the Bills are pleased with how quickly Gilmore seems to be catching on.
If history tells us one thing about these defensive tackle prospects, it is that they are prone to being busts.
They are prone to catching fat boy disease and turning into on/off players like Shaun Rogers.
Out of the top three DT prospects in the 2012 NFL draft—Michael Brockers, Fletcher Cox and Dontari Poe—it is reasonable to expect one bust.
Poe needs to prove he isn't a workout warrior. He barely reported to camp on time and has been lining up with the second team interspersed with the first team as well. Chiefs head coach Romeo Crennel is not one to give anybody a job without earning it, but given his competition, I have no doubt Poe will begin the season as their starter at nose tackle.
I need to see him play against players who are not Conference USA guys just once before he gets onto my honor roll.
The thought of Fletcher Cox and Eagles defensive line coach Jim Washburn paired together is enough to make a grown man's knees tremble.
Unlike Dontari Poe, Cox's on-field production in college stands on its own. He was SEC Defensive Player of the Week four times last season. That's not easy.
He doesn't come into camp guaranteed a starting spot, but he is virtually guaranteed a role in the D-line rotation. Furthermore, the entire projected starting defensive line is currently not practicing, all four dealing with injuries. This provides Cox with a much larger dose of training camp's biggest treasure.
Michael Floyd was my top-rated receiver in the 2012 draft class. The combination of speed, size, precision in routes—Floyd has the highest ceiling of all these guys.
I thought this might have been the case while watching his tapes, but it took seeing him live at the combine to fully grasp what an amazing specimen Floyd is. Every route is crisp, in and out and on time.
He is a natural hands catcher. The torque his right leg creates when cutting into a dig route looks like it should shred the artificial turf right off the field's surface. He plays angry like Sterling Sharpe.
But he has character concerns. A DWI falls under a much more focused microscope at Notre Dame than it does elsewhere. You spend your senior year in a freshman dorm, and the Dean calls for public announcements about it.
As reported by RosterWatch, new Cardinals teammate Larry Fitzgerald charged Floyd in a tweet with a different kind of "DWI" just prior to training camp. Floyd was missing multiple private practices at the Wellefast training facility in Minnesota. In this case, it stood for "Don't Want It." Perhaps Fitzgerald didn't know about Floyd's previous transgressions when tweeting the acronym.
Floyd will not have the No. 2 WR position in Arizona handed to him. He hasn't earned anything yet.
Michael Brockers is a beast and simply scary.
My love for the Rams' 2012 draft has been well documented, and Michael Brockers was a huge reason why, along with CB Janoris Jenkins and RB Isaiah Pead. And Brian Quick. And Trumaine Johnson. And Chris Givens.
It was the perfect storm.
Brockers walked into the starting spot in St. Louis because new head coach Jeff Fisher knows that dominating line play wins divisions. Brockers has gotten a little banged up in camp, getting his ankle rolled Sunday, but as reported by Dan O'Neill of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Fisher does not seem overly concerned.
Brockers is picking everything up mentally. He came in in really good shape. His strength is good. It's just a matter of, wait until we get the pads on, get him in some preseason games and see how he can compete against starting offensive lines.
Seahawks coach Pete Carroll learned the value of a "situational pass-rusher" very quickly while playing in the same division as the 49ers and Aldon Smith in 2011.
Carroll seemed giddy on the Seahawks' war-room cam during the 2012 draft when selecting a very rare breed of player in pass-rush specialist Bruce Irvin. Everyone else was shocked.
Irvin was viewed as "raw" and "one-dimensional." But upon further review, if he is "one-dimensional," then the one thing he is good at is wreaking havoc. The guy is incredible.
The honeymoon period apparently isn't over in Seattle between Carroll and his new QB-killing toy. He told Seahawks team blogger Clare Farnsworth after Wednesday's practice:
Irvin got beat on the reverse then came back and took the football out of the guy’s hands because he is so fast... I am really excited about what’s going on. It’s fast – these guys are fast now. Bruce has made an impression already. He has a million miles to go to learn how to take advantage of all that.
If that doesn't get you excited, then we are different types of people.
According to Rich Cimini of ESPN New York, Coples will be starting in their 4-3 sub package, but he is still behind Mike DeVito when it comes to the standard 3-4 front.
This makes perfect sense. Coples is a natural 4-3 DE, and I did not see him transitioning well to a 3-4. The skills that he has (when he chooses to use them) are dominating at the point of attack, but not as a precision conversion rusher. It isn't his game.
I also think he has a short attention span and the recently-typical UNC prospect lack of discipline that I find perplexing. Jets defensive coordinator Mike Pettine went on record with Cimini on the subject of cutting back Coples' reps.
On our defense, you have to earn stuff. As the install got bigger, it got a little overwhelming for him. You could see the gears grinding a little bit. He's almost relieved that more has been taken off his plate and he can play a little faster... Q is where we expected him to be. We have a plan for him in place.
My question is whether "the plan" the Jets have in place for Coples is the original plan, or whether they have already resorted to the backup plan. Coples avoids a "D" by cementing a role in the sub package, where he may be able to apply himself in order to reach his full potential in limited NFL snaps.
Albert Breer of NFL.com is reporting that Dre Kirkpatrick is in a bit of a funk. Kirkpatrick told Breer:
I've probably only practiced with the team four times. I want to be out there, I want to let these guys know that I'm ready to step up any time my name is called. Right now, it's just staying focused mentally.
But all is well according to Breer. Kirkpatrick is getting expert advice from a person who I would consider one of the worst advice-givers humanly possible: Adam Jones himself. The artist formerly known as "Pacman."
Jones told Breer, "I wish I had someone do that for me when I was coming in the league. On the field and off the field. I ain't trying to be no hero, I'm just trying to be me and do my part."
If I know one thing, it's that Melvin Ingram is bringing an eccentric, hilarious personality to the Chargers defense if nothing else.
He is without a doubt a teammate and coach favorite. Always making jokes or breaking out ridiculous break-dance moves. Even standing backflips. Yes, an NFL outside linebacker. Yes, backflips. What a natural.
I loved the Chargers drafting Ingram and Kendall Reyes. Two powerful pieces, built to create their own unique forms of disruption. With the addition of Atari Bigby, who by all reports has already established himself as an outspoken veteran leader, San Diego is geared up to compete at a whole different level defensively.
Ingram is currently splitting reps with the likes of Shaun Phillips and Cam Thomas (another member of the UNC slacker club). That will not last long. Ingram is a winner and a leader.
He gets a B for not coming in and snatching his own spot right off the bat.
According to most reports, Shea McClellin has looked terrible.
I have said since the draft that I was puzzled by the pick. I felt like former GM Jerry Angelo was back running things, like when Angelo drafted more defensive linemen that didn't fit the system he's hired people to run.
I don't think the Bears need the amazing versatility that McClellin has the potential to bring as much as they could use a developmental, powerful speed rusher to back up Israel Idonije opposite Julius Peppers, who keeps being the same, amazing Julius Peppers.
I'll just say it like this. I identified Bears LT J'Marcus Webb as the NFL's biggest offensive line liability after much film work and research. In my opinion, Webb is the single most disastrous offensive lineman to roll out as an NFL starter. This man should not be dominating a first-round pick.
His teammates and coaches alike seem unanimously impressed, and trust me, Kendall Wright is a player who can impress you.
I can't give Wright an "A for effort," because he hasn't really done anything yet, but I do like hearing quotes like this (as reported by Rybaltowski) from Titans head coach Mike Munchak: "He's too smart a kid, he caught on so quickly in our OTAs, so I think it'll end up working out fine.”
I know this is the time of year for hot air, but I will just say this as a member of the Central Texas media: I have never heard Wright praised for his attention to a playbook or to assignments.
I hear "K-Dub" overtly praised for his attitude on the field and his fiery, competitive spirit. For his selfless intensity blocking and taking the hit on crossing routes. This quote from Munchak gives me positive hope that he is learning.
He gets a C+ for getting off to a great start after the holdout.
Chandler Jones is the brother of MMA star Jon Jones, which easily explains his long arms and violently powerful movements in small spaces.
Jones started out practice running exclusively with the second team, but by Sunday and Monday he was lining up for more reps with the ones. He is usually at right defensive end, and he comes out of a two-point stance about 70 percent of time.
A beastly version of the NFL's newest en-vogue position. The situational pass-rusher.
Jones converts his power to speed with fluid awareness, which is important for a guy his size. Going against Pats OT Nate Solder predominantly, Jones has more than held his own, frequently using his octopus arms and bear paws to get Solder off balance and create pressure.
Sadly, a B grade is going to be good enough to win Weeden this job. Colt McCoy already seems like a dead man walking, wondering how this all happened.
According to this report from Nate Ulrich of Ohio.com, the Browns organization has already been showcasing rookie RB Trent Richardson and Weeden as the representation of their offense's future, as they are "frequently propped in front of cameras as the faces of the Browns’ revamped offense."
The writing is on the wall.
Weeden has been the subject of both praise and criticism during camp and the period leading up to it. There is something to be said for the "aggressive" gunslinger mentality that Weeden has embraced in seven-on-sevens, as reported by Mary Kay Cabot of The Plain Dealer.
There is also the fact that this is not an AFC North division game that he is tossing the ball around in. When those little moments of "aggressive gunslinging" turn into interceptions, the feeling may be decidedly more tilted toward the negative.
The Lions' offensive line has been a liability for years, and the only difference this year is that they are one year older.
Riley Reiff was drafted with the hope that he would be the anchor of the offensive line for years to come.
Reiff started out camp on the third team, but he has seen extra time as a result of Jeff Backus sitting out with a thumb injury. This week, he has lined up mainly with the twos and occasionally even with the ones.
I wasn't a huge fan of Reiff as a top-10 prospect, but I believe the Lions got excellent value at No. 23 at a true position of need. I stand by my original thoughts, though: He will need time to develop. His core strength, power positioning and balance are a far cry from the Joe Thomases and Jake Longs of the world.
Head Coach Jim Schwartz seems to share a similar sentiment. According to Jeff Seidel of the Detroit Free Press, Schwartz said, "He's a smart guy, been well coached, he is going through things for the first time, and there is going to be a learning curve for him, but he's doing well."
Depending on what depth chart you look at and which day of practice you take into consideration, it seems there is a bit of a logjam at the guard position for the Steelers featuring four guys fighting for two spots.
The good news for David DeCastro and Steelers fans is that the job will soon belong solely to DeCastro.
He is the best interior lineman the draft has seen in many years, and he is lightning in a bottle. Rarely do I get excited watching tape on an offensive guard, but DeCastro is an exciting, wrecking, run-blocking force.
He's been in and out of practice with an ankle injury and is missing important reps, though. Trai Essex has also been banged up, making the true state of the guard position in Pittsburgh even more muddled. I love DeCastro, but if we are rating them on their performance thus far through camp, he hasn't shown too much.
Hightower is getting a ton of reps in a variety of different situations. At least a couple of times a day he's even calling the defensive plays.
Belichick is throwing the book at him.
I interviewed Hightower at the combine, and he was smart as a whip. Startlingly forthright and insightful in answering interview questions.
He has been lining up on the inside and on the outside at camp, and like his reputation would predict, he's moved all over the place. Versatile. The Austin Chronicle has Mike Loyko reporting from Patriots camp this week. He told me very simply:
(Hightower) looks ready to play football. Coverage-wise, learning two or three positions, he takes it all in stride, doesn't make mistakes. He needs to work on down the middle coverage, he's better in the flats covering backs, not receivers crossing his face. He had a tough time against Gronkowski and Hernandez, but who doesn't?
When I interviewed Whitney Mercilus at the NFL combine, I learned that he came from a bit of a tough upbringing. He is as neat a guy as they come, and like many others I met, he could easily kill me with his bare hands.
I asked him what he thought about being labeled a "one-year wonder" in college, and I was immediately scared that he might take it the wrong way and throw me across the room like a rag doll. Mercilus has an inherently intimidating presence, perfectly suited for a salty Houston defense full of true NFL alpha males.
He told me that it was in his final year of college at Illinois where things just "clicked." He told me that he didn't know what to say. "You can't just fall over and get those." (Speaking of the 16 sacks he managed in 2011, having only had two for the entirety of the rest of his college career.)
Mercilus will be part of a three-man rotation with Brooks Reed and Connor Barwin to start, and Texans coach Gary Kubiak seems pleased with him so far, according to Texans.com. Kubiak said, “He’s looked very good, (Mercilus) is moving around very good, and he’s going to be a great addition to our team.”
Hard to watch this Bengals OL and not be impressed. Powerful unit. Very stout all the way across. Big key to young skill guys development— Jason La Canfora (@JasonLaCanfora) July 31, 2012
After watching this clip of the Oklahoma Drill on the Bengals website, I must say I agree.
Those are some fired-up, large, large men. Zeitler sits atop the Bengals' depth chart at right guard and is an obvious part of the offensive line's continued assimilation as a group. He gets an A by association and potential.
The Packers pass rush needs a major upgrade. That is why they selected Nick Perry.
Any time a guy comes right in and gets credit for bringing excitement to the first-team defense on an elite club in this regard, he gets an A+ from me. A pass rush is that important, especially in the NFC North. They need it.
Apparently one of Perry's teammates doesn't share some of the same enthusiasm as the media reports we have been hearing. Bob McGinn of the Journal Sentinel reported that Erik Walden replaced Nick Perry at LOLB during some team drills.
"I've been a starter before," Walden said. "It's not a surprise."
Walden gets an "F" in my book every day of the week, and I do know one thing for sure: He will not be the starter Week 1, because he is suspended for Week 1.
Jeremy Fowler of The St. Paul Pioneer Press recently released this very interesting piece regarding Harrison Smith.
He brings up a terrific point. With the new restrictions on contact and hours allowed for particular drills in the CBA, "hitting" seems to be at an all-time low at every training camp I have been to. The 11-on-11s period just seems go by so much faster than usual.
Smith is going to be a great player. He is a big hitter and the kind of safety I like to call a protector. A linebacker inside an athletic safety's body.
To show what he is completely capable of, we'll need more time. We'll need to see him in a full-contact setting, because that is his game. He just can't really play it right now.
I have little doubt Smith will be an amazing addition as depth that could step into a starting role soon, and I can't imagine a better option for consideration in gunner duties for special teams.
I have no room in my class for slackers, and A.J. Jenkins came into minicamp out of shape. If not for some recent lip service from Jim Harbaugh, he would be receiving an automatic F and possibly detention.
Jenkins had no idea he would be such a high pick when the 49ers pulled the second-biggest surprise move of the 2012 draft behind Seattle's selection of Bruce Irvin. No one did. It is concerning to me he wouldn't seem more opportunistic in parlaying his recent good fortune.
But, of course, when the hard hats go on in San Francisco, Harbaugh has a way with these guys. The "who has it better than us" mantra is real. It's a culture, and a surprisingly deep one after only one year.
Something tells me it will be hard to break into the rotation of Crabtree, Williams, Moss and Manningham without really wanting it. We'll see if he does soon enough.
It was almost a foregone conclusion that Doug Martin would eventually unseat LeGarrette Blount for rights to the starting RB position in Tampa. It just wasn't supposed to be this soon.
Martin has been taking a high percentage of first-team snaps, and here is why that matters: It is universal knowledge that new head coach Greg Schiano loves a workhorse runner.
These reps, in a new offense?
This is a fervently scripted installation, and it is a fight against time in Tampa. With so many new faces on offense and an entirely new system, there is no time to mess around with courtesy reps or lip service.
As reported by TBO.com, Schiano did not sound like he was in the best mood during this interview with WFLA, but he did address the possibility of Martin having the ability to have a featured workhorse role in his system. Schiano said, "I think what allows him to have a chance is that he is a stout guy. If he was 5-9, 185, I'd say no. But he's not. He's close to 220 pounds and he's pretty rocked up."
In a new "thunder and lightning" combo of one speedy playmaker and one bruising inside runner, rookie RB David Wilson comes in as the spark of electricity the Giants staff believes will serve as a complement to the projected workhorse in Bradshaw.
In addressing the media Wednesday, coach Tom Coughlin touched on a few items that we have thought to be true since the 2012 NFL draft took place. He said that the Giants system is predicated on a two-rusher attack. He said that RB was their biggest position of need coming into the draft and that Wilson was the highest-rated player on their board at Pick 32.
He said Wilson's skill set was, and is, viewed by the staff as ideal to serve the complementary role in which they envision him.
Wilson spent his first three practices of training camp taking third-team snaps, but once the pads went on, he became interspersed with the second group as well. This means double the reps, which is the most important thing right now. That's what tells me something.
While you would like to eventually see the Giants break off some first-team reps for a player who they may be depending on sooner than later given Bradshaw's injury history, Wilson is coming along. I believe he will continue to become more involved in a focused role as the playbook gets shored up in a few weeks.
From all accounts, he needs to work on his pass protection, but he looks terrific catching the ball, which is not a surprise to anyone who saw him play at Virginia Tech.