NFL Training Camp 2012: Ranking the Most Disappointing Players in Early Showings
After months of agony, NFL football has resumed. Millions of fans around the country—and world—are riveted to their TVs, computers and smartphones, waiting for any kind of news to break from live, padded practices.
For the most part, training camp news is positive; drills and scrimmages only tell so much. Without being tested against an opponent firing “live bullets,” every defense looks sharper, and every offense looks more potent. Every rookie looks impressive, and every veteran looks improved. Hope and optimism abound.
But even without any real competition, some players are already falling short. Fans have been waiting for any kind of news about them at all, and what little they’ve gotten already isn’t any good. For some, their coaches or executives have bet their jobs on them working out...and they already aren't.
Whether they're a high draft pick, high-priced free agent or just someone playing a key role at a thin spot on the roster, an underperformer can hurt the whole team all season. Here are the top 10 training camp disappointments fans should be worried about.
No. 10: Cincinnati Bengals CB Dre Kirkpatrick
Frank Victores-US PRESSWIRE
When Jason La Canfora of NFL.com reported that Bengals CB Dre Kirkpatrick would be missing a portion of training camp due to a broken leg, it was disappointing, but perhaps not shocking that the troubled youngster somehow managed to suffer a setback without even playing.
No. 9: New England Patriots QB Ryan Mallett
David Butler II-US PRESSWIRE
When the New England Patriots drafted quarterback Ryan Mallett, it was an intriguing fit. Mallett, a passer with elite physical tools but a questionable mental game, would be groomed by one of the smartest coaching staffs in the NFL.
After a year under Bill Belichick's wing, though, Tom Curran of CSNNE.com reports that Mallett's game looks unchanged: slow, erratic decision-making paired with inconsistent delivery. Not what the Patriots were hoping for from the heir apparent to 35-year-old Tom Brady's throne.
No. 8: Dallas Cowboys CB Morris Claiborne
Matthew Emmons-US PRESSWIRE
The Dallas Cowboys needed talent and youth at the cornerback position, and they paid handsomely to get first-round draft pick Morris Claiborne. Not only did they use a first-round pick on him, they traded their second-round pick away to move up eight spots for him.
The Associated Press (h/t The Washington Post) quoted Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan as saying Claiborne had been "making mistakes"—possibly due to "lack of conditioning"—in early camp. Then Claiborne strained his MCL, meaning he'll be sidelined for a week or more.
No. 7: Seattle Seahawks QB Matt Flynn
Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images
It should come as no surprise, then, that head coach Pete Carroll tabbed Flynn to start the first preseason game, according to USA Today.
What's disappointing is that Carroll announced that this start was part of an ongoing evaluation of Flynn relative to the other two quarterbacks: holdover Tarvaris Jackson and project rookie Russell Wilson.
It's turned out that it's going to fit together and then we'll see how we go at the end of the week. To make a big decision like this, it's about the information you can gather. And I want really, really good information coming in so that we can make a real clear-cut choice as we do this.
Here's a clear-cut piece of information: The Seahawks paid Flynn to be a starting-caliber quarterback because they didn't have one. Flynn has to claim that job.
No. 6: Jacksonville Jaguars WR Justin Blackmon
Rick Dole/Getty Images
Jacksonville Jaguars rookie receiver Justin Blackmon was drafted with great expectations. As the No. 5 overall pick, which the Jaguars traded up for, the two-time Biletnikoff Award winner is expected to be the first impact WR in Jacksonville since Jimmy Smith.
However, Blackmon held out longer than any other rookie, missing the first 12 days of camp. While he was busy not learning the Jaguars' "complicated" playbook—as tight end Marcedes Lewis called it—Blackmon was arrested for his second DUI.
No. 5: Green Bay Packers RB James Starks
Jamie Squire/Getty Images
After electing not to re-sign veteran running back Ryan Grant, the Green Bay Packers seemed ready to give the starting job to James Starks. Unfortunately, according to Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel, Starks hasn't been practicing well, and he "appears to have regressed as a receiver."
For a team coming off a 15-1 season, hoping to win their second Super Bowl in three seasons, having a starting running back who "needs to establish himself" in the first preseason game is disappointing—and frightening.
No. 4: Detroit Lions RB Jahvid Best
Leon Halip/Getty Images
Former first-round pick Jahvid Best entered Detroit Lions camp rested, healthy, in fantastic shape and running extremely well. Unfortunately, doctors still have not cleared him for full-contact practice following the concussion that ended his 2011 season in Week 6.
According to John Kreger of CBSSports.com, Lions GM Martin Mayhew is "a little bit surprised, a little bit disappointed" that Best isn't ready to go. “Everything was trending toward him being ready to go the first day of training camp. It didn't happen that way, so you have to kind of adjust.”
With 2011 second-round pick Mikel Leshoure suspended for the first two games (and nursing a hamstring injury), the Lions—a team with title aspirations—need Best available, and soon.
No. 3: Cleveland Browns RB Trent Richardson
Jason Miller/Getty Images
The Browns looked to change that by adding Alabama running back Trent Richardson with the No. 3 overall pick in the 2012 draft and quarterback Brandon Weeden with the 22nd pick of the same first round.
But Richardson, who had his left knee scoped in February, has struggled to get healthy and in game shape. Per ESPN.com's Chris Mortensen, Richardson had a second surgical procedure on that same knee, this time to remove a loose piece of cartilage.
If the Browns are going to score more points in 2012, Richardson has to get on the field as soon as possible.
No. 2: New York Jets DE Quinton Coples
Jim O'Connor-US PRESSWIRE
The New York Jets rely on a relentless pass rush to power their famous defense. They drafted North Carolina defensive end Quinton Coples in the first round of the 2012 draft to help fuel that pass rush.
But after a training camp where Coples has appeared to be consistently overwhelmed, defensive coordinator Mike Pettine has removed Coples from the first-team base defense, according to the Star-Ledger's Jenny Vrentas, and is trying to "keep his plate small."
If the scoring defense that regressed from the best in the NFL in 2009 to the 20th best in 2011 is going to improve, Coples had better get hungry for more responsibility—fast.
No. 1: Pittsburgh Steelers OG David DeCastro
Charles LeClaire-US PRESSWIRE
Former Stanford guard David DeCastro was the perfect example of the public and media declaring a draft prospect a "late riser"—based first on ignorance of his potential and then an eye-popping combine performance.
By the time draft rolled around, DeCastro was being touted as a possible top-10 pick, with ESPN's Mel Kiper projecting him to go at No. 11 in his final mock draft.
Instead, DeCastro was there for the Pittsburgh Steelers at No. 24; as the Steelers needed immediate help at both guard and tackle, it was deemed a no-brainer selection and a fantastic value.
Mike Bires of the Beaver County Times reports DeCastro "hasn't exactly been a camp sensation," and unlike fellow rookie offensive lineman Mike Adams, he hasn't claimed a starting job. DeCastro is running with the ones while starter Willie Colon is injured, but he "certainly hasn't dazzled."
If the Steelers are going to get back to the top of the NFL mountain, they'll need DeCastro to recover the form he sported in Indianapolis this spring.