Matt Flynn and the NFL's 5 Biggest Training Camp Standouts
NFL training camps are home to so many different aspects: Learning, installation, meetings, practice, cuts, positional battles, depth charts, over-reacting and under-reacting.
But training camps are also home to "standout" players, and 2012 camps have given us more than a few so far.
In the following five slides, we give you five players who have stood out at their respective training camps so far. Not everyone that has played well in camp was included on the list, so feel free to insert your own thoughts on who should have been added in the comment section below.
Matt Flynn, Seahawks
Photo: Ted Warren, AP
The Seattle Seahawks never had any intention of giving Flynn $10 million guaranteed to be a pricey backup, but the former Packers quarterback entered training camp in a three-way battle to decide the starter.
So far, he's lived up to the hype in camp.
Head coach Pete Carroll also acknowledged that starting Flynn Saturday was a step towards finding a starter to begin the regular season.
Matt has done a fantastic job so far. He's learned the system. He's on it. He can make all of the adjustments, all the calls. He sees the defense really well. I love that he's moving well in the pocket, and all of the things that we're asking him to do, he's fit that together so far, but now I need to see him in a situation where now he takes over and see what that looks like.
Flynn has only started two games in his NFL career—both as a injury replacement for Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay—but it appears he's well on his way to winning the Seahawks' job to start the 2012 season. If his performances in camp translate to the preseason, it's a virtual guarantee that Flynn will be the opening day starter.
Doug Martin, Buccaneers
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The Buccaneers first depth chart of the 2012 season had LeGarrette Blount as the team's starting running back, but don't let that piece of mostly useless information fool you about the kind of camp rookie Doug Martin has had so far.
The Pewter Report raved about Martin early in camp, stating that he "has been one of the stars of camp and has done virtually everything right from running with decisiveness, quickness and authority to catching the ball cleanly to being as good as advertised in pass protection."
Later in camp, Bucs guard Davin Joseph compared Martin to Maurice Jones-Drew and Ray Rice—both elite NFL backs.
According to the Tampa Bay Times:
He made some explosive runs (Sunday) where you really see why they drafted him so high. He reminds you of a Ray Rice or Maurice Jones-Drew. He's very crafty and he really understands the run game.
And for the most part, Martin has received the majority of first-team reps at running back, not Blount. While he's likely to split some of the touches early on, Martin will be very difficult to keep off the field if the training camp performances spill into the regular season.
Kyle Rudolph, Vikings
The NFL's revolution at the tight end position continues in Minnesota, where Rudolph has been the standout of Vikings' camp.
The Minneapolis Star-Tribune wrote that Rudolph has "10-foot fishing nets for hands," which sounds like the perfect weapon for a young offense still evolving with second-year quarterback Christian Ponder at the helm.
According to head coach Leslie Frazier, Rudolph has a chance to be "special."
Frazier, via ESPN NFC North blogger Kevin Seifert:
He's a guy that has a chance to be special. He works very hard and is very talented, there's no question about that. But the way he can catch the football is second-to-none. … His catching radius is amazing. If Christian gets it close to him, he knows that Kyle is going to come up with the football. That gives him a lot of confidence.
Unless Ponder has a Matthew Stafford-type breakout season in 2012, Rudolph's ceiling statistically will still be somewhat limited. But there's no doubt that Rudolph has positioned himself to be one of the Vikings' most targeted receivers this season. Expect a big season from No. 82.
Antonio Gates, Chargers
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As a 32-year-old, Gates doesn't exactly fit the profile of the rest of the players on this list. But he's clearly been one of the standouts at Chargers' camp thus far.
Completely healthy for the first time in a long time, Gates has looked like his old self throughout training camp.
Pro Bowl safety Eric Weddle had glowing words for Gates' play so far in camp. He also made a big prediction for his season, too, according to ESPN AFC West blogger Bill Williamson:
He’s going to be the best tight end in the NFL this year. The best. You can’t guard him … I know there are a lot good tight ends coming up in the league, but Antonio is the best. He looks that good. He hasn’t looked this good since my rookie season.
Gates at his best was a sure bet for 80 catches, 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns. If he's healthy for 16 games in 2012, those numbers appear attainable again.
Jordy Nelson, Packers
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Coming off a season in which he hauled in 15 touchdown passes, it may be difficult for Packers receiver Jordy Nelson to "stand out."
But so far in Packers camp, Nelson has done just that.
According to long-time beat writer Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Nelson has arguably been the "best player" at camp so far.
If wide receiver Jordy Nelson hasn't been the best player on the Green Bay Packers' practice field the last two weeks there certainly haven't been many better. Beginning his fifth season, Nelson's inexorable march into the upper reaches of his profession has been on display daily at Nitschke Field.
Packers receiver coach Edgar Bennett had plenty of nice things to say about Nelson's camp so far.
"Wow! This guy just continues to improve," Bennett said. "He is an elite receiver...He has those three 'S' words: size strength and speed. This guy is a difference-maker."
Replicating, or even surpassing, last year's numbers will be a difficult task for Nelson. But it appears he's given himself every opportunity to do so with a big camp this summer. Don't sleep on another huge season.