The Most Important Takeaways from 2013 NFL Rookie Camps
Rookie camps are all about learning.
At rookie camp, dozens of young men step onto an NFL field for the first time. Some of them already hold guaranteed multi-year contracts and some have already cashed their signing-bonus check, but many will never get anything more from an NFL team than the bus ticket that got them here.
In just a few short days, rookies have to cram as much of what they're taught into their heads as possible and prove they know it well enough to show off every bit of their talent. They have a handful of reps to prove they "have it" physically and they "get it" mentally.
The best receive invitations to come back for OTAs—the rest go home, unlikely to ever return.
Who has "it" and who doesn't? Who "gets it" and who doesn't? Who proved they learned their lesson in rookie minicamp, and what have we learned from rookie minicamps?
With the help of local reporters who cover these closed-door practices, here are the most important takeaways from the first NFL action of the 2013 season.
Oakland Raiders QB Tyler Wilson Impressed
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The Oakland Raiders quarterback competition was already intriguing before they drafted Arkansas standout Tyler Wilson in the fourth round.
According to Steve Corkran of the Contra Costa Times, Wilson made a dramatic impact at the Raiders' rookie minicamp. His strong arm and quick, confident release gave the defenders—and sometimes, the receivers—problems.
With only the talented-but-troubled project Terrelle Pryor and journeyman backup Matt Flynn in front of him, Wilson ensured himself a place in the training camp quarterback battle.
San Diego Chargers OT D.J. Fluker Is a Vocal Leader
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After his off-field intangibles—i.e., his nonexistent girlfriend and surrounding media hoax—Manti Te'o's on-field intangibles were his second-most talked about attribute.
While the Chargers thought they were drafting a vocal leader with Te'o, it was first-round pick D.J. Fluker who led like a veteran in rookie camp.
According to Michael Ghelken of U-T San Diego, new Chargers head coach Mike McCoy called Fluker "a leader out there on offense." McCoy said he "wanted to see who was going to step up," and Fluker did.
If Fluker brings effort and leadership to the Chargers offensive line, as well as his massive frame and athletic potential, his immediate impact could be tremendous.
Houston Texans WR DeAndre Hopkins Is 'Special'
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The Houston Texans have been looking for Andre Johnson's partner in crime practically since they drafted him. If Texans head coach Gary Kubiak is right, they've finally found him in first-round draft pick DeAndre Hopkins.
"[Hopkins is] special," said Kubiak.
Per Nick Scurfield of the Texans official site, Kubiak continued: "He’s going to help us early, and we know that, and that’s why we brought him here.”
If Hopkins can finally make defenses pay for covering Johnson, the Texans could finally go from championship contender to champion.
San Francisco 49ers WR Quinton Patton 'Nowhere Close'
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The San Francisco 49ers have such a deep, talented roster that all of their rookies might struggle to make an impact.
Louisiana Tech's Quinton Patton seemed to be an exception: With the departure of Randy Moss and Ted Ginn Jr., the incredibly productive 6'0", 204-pounder had a chance to carve out top-three reps for himself.
Instead, as Comcast SportsNet Bay Area's Matt Maiocco reports, Patton is "nowhere close" to being ready, displaying very raw route running and an inability to dominate less-heralded rookies.
Seahawks TE Luke Willson 'Jumped Out'
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The Seattle Seahawks are having fantastic luck with mid-round picks named "Wilson," assuming spelling doesn't count.
Last season, it was third-round quarterback Russell Wilson who surprised, beating out free-agent acquisition Matt Flynn for the starting job in preseason. This season, fifth-round tight end Luke Willson got an early start on claiming real playing time.
According to Dave Boling of the Wellington Herald, Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll said Willson "jumped out." With his 6'5", 250-pound frame and (per Boling) a 4.51 pro-day 40-yard dash time, Willson has the raw material to make a significant impact on one of the NFC's best teams.
Buffalo Bill WR Robert Woods Is Ready to Start
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The Buffalo Bills' best receiver is Stevie Johnson, but he might be the most dangerous coming from the slot. Though Johnson's starting spot is secure, the Bills went into the offseason needing a true outside receiver, one who could give them the flexibility to move Johnson around.
USC's Robert Woods, not the tallest, fastest or most explosive out of a fantastically deep receiver class, may have been the most NFL-ready. His polished all-around game made him a perfect fit for the Bills; luckily, early reports from camp indicate he's exactly as advertised.
Joe Buscaglia of WGR 550 notes that Woods "stood out" in camp, his resume and pedigree shining through in his route running and hands.
Green Bay Packers QB B.J. Coleman Looks Like a Veteran
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Eligible to participate in rookie camp because he was parked on the practice squad all last season, second-year Green Bay Packers quarterback B.J. Coleman looked exactly that: a veteran amongst rookies, reports Tom Silverstein of the Journal Sentinel.
Given the jump he's made mentally, Coleman could be a real threat to No. 2 quarterback Graham Harrell. As Silverstein put it, "If you were to pick between Harrell and Coleman based on physical talents, Coleman would win in a landslide."
Backing up the best quarterback in the NFL on a team with perennial Super Bowl hopes is a huge responsibility. If Coleman can earn the job in training camp, it could mean big things for him down the road.
Cincinnati Bengals TE Tyler Eifert Showed Versatility
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When the Cincinnati Bengals drafted tight end Tyler Eifert, there was some consternation. The Bengals already had a quality pass-catching tight end in Jermaine Gresham—what would they do with another one?
The answer, reports Joe Reedy of the Cincinnati Enquirer, is: whatever they want.
The 6'6", 251-pound Eifert represents a physical mismatch against nearly any defender. He's too big to be erased by a safety on downfield routes, and he's too athletic to be shut down by outside linebackers in space.
In Eifert's first practices, offensive coordinator Jay Gruden lined him up "all over the field," according to Reedy. Eifert could give AFC North defensive coordinators headaches as they try to draw up a way to step over him.
Detroit Lions CB Darius Slay Got Work In
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One of the draft's most intriguing combinations of size (6'0", 192 pounds) and speed (4.36 40-yard dash at the combine, per NFL.com), Detroit Lions cornerback Darius Slay was all set to step on the field and claim a starting job.
Then, he had arthroscopic knee surgery to clean up a meniscus torn during his pro day workouts. Per ESPN's Adam Schefter, the procedure was not expected to keep Slay off the field for long.
Mlive.com's Justin Rogers reports Slay got a lot of work in during rookie minicamp despite still technically recovering from surgery. Per Rogers, Slay breezed through warm-up exercises, including shuffles and skipping, before getting intense one-on-one instruction from defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham.
Green Bay Packers RB Angelo Pease Is Also in the Picture
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The Green Bay Packers' running back picture is incredibly crowded. Besides last year's surprise breakout starter DuJuan Harris, the Packers drafted Alabama's Eddie Lacy and UCLA's Johnathan Franklin in the second and fourth rounds, respectively.
Undrafted rookie free agent Angelo Pease made a big case for himself to be included in that picture during rookie minicamp. According to ESPNWisconsin.com, Pease ripped off a run that head coach Mike McCarthy called "big-time," and McCarthy admitted that at first, he thought it was Lacy toting the ball.
Will there be enough carries to go around? We'll have to wait until training camp to find out. In the meantime, Pease can't be cut out of the tailback picture.
New York Jets DT Sheldon Richardson 'Popped Out'
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Sheldon Richardson was one of the draft's most impressive pass-rushing defensive tackle prospects. Standing 6'2", with 294 pounds of beef on his frame, Richardson still has the explosion to run a 5.02 40-yard dash, vertically jump 32" and broad jump 9'8".
Richardson, then, has the tools to be a great 3-technique 4-3 defensive tackle or a 5-technique 3-4 defensive end. So why was he lined up as a 1-technique nose tackle at New York Jets rookie camp?
"There's several different things [Richardson] can do," said Jets head coach Rex Ryan, per Seth Walder of the New York Daily News. "Some guys will line up, depending on our call, you can have a guy at nose, you can have him at three, you can have him at five."
Ryan said it was "pretty obvious" that Richardson "popped out" on defense, meaning he could be off to the fast start second-year outside linebacker (and fellow converted 5-technique tackle) Quinton Coples didn't have last season.
Indianapolis Colts OLB Bjoern Werner 'Exceeded Expectations'
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For much of the draft evaluation cycle, Bjoern Werner was considered a top-10 prospect, primarily as a left (strong-side) 4-3 defensive end.
Many 4-3 teams currently prefer terrorizing edge speed over power and technique in their defensive ends. The 6'3", 266-pounder Werner didn't run the 40-yard dash fast enough at the combine (4.83, per NFL.com) to warrant the ultra-high picks several were touting him for.
Instead, Werner fell all the way to the No. 24 overall pick, where the Colts happily added him to their defense. Much like Baltimore Ravens outside linebacker Terrell Suggs, Werner might have fallen to the team that fits him best.
In fact, per Chris Burke of SI.com (via the Colts' official blog), Werner could push free-agent signee Erik Walden out of a job sooner rather than later.
Dallas Cowboys Safety J.J. Wilcox Accidentally Shows Physicality
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Rookie minicamps are non-padded practices, and they're supposed to be non-contact. Given that it's hard to run line drills without any blocking at all, 11-on-11 sessions often feature accidental contact that doesn't break the spirit of the law.
According to Jon Machota of the Dallas Morning News, Dallas Cowboys safety J.J. Wilcox accidentally showed the kind of running-game pop that got him drafted in the third round.
As Machota tells it, the 6'0", 213-pound Wilcox lowered his shoulder and laid into undrafted free agent tailback Kendial Lawrence, dropping both men to the turf. Wilcox didn't get into any trouble...this time.
“I’m a rookie, second day at camp," Wilcox said, "So they figure, ‘Hey, he don’t know no better, but next time he does it…’ I’ll probably get in trouble for it.”
Once the pads go on, though, Wilcox had better do it at every opportunity if he wants to start.