Rounding Up the Latest Buzz from NFL Minicamps
With every NFL team having completed its rookie minicamp and a few more in the midst of OTAs, we are officially full steam ahead on the march toward the 2013 season.
This is the time of year where teams and fans alike can dream, as practice reports praising rookies as the "next big thing" flood the Internet and social media, working people into a lather as they ponder the possibilities of what might be.
Let's examine the latest buzz emanating from NFL minicamps.
Buffalo Bills GM Buddy Nix Steps Down
The Buffalo Bills opened OTAs yesterday, and the most important piece of news emanating out of it was that general manager Buddy Nix would be stepping down from the position, presumably in favor of assistant general manager Doug Whaley.
In my opinion, this is a fantastic development for the Bills.
While the 73-year-old Nix certainly had a fantastic career in the NFL as a personnel man, he failed the Bills in the two areas it matters most: quarterback and head coach.
It didn't help that Nix admitted he'd be asleep at the start of the free-agent period in 2010; I'd argue he was asleep for most of his reign in Buffalo.
I've gone on record in this space before, saying that Nix should have been relieved of his duties at the conclusion of last season, but the Bills opted to keep him through the draft.
While it remains to be seen if Nix's next head coach (Doug Marrone) and quarterback (EJ Manuel) will be more successful than his last pair, I view this move as a positive for the Bills and their fans.
Quite simply, Nix didn't get the job done in his three years on the job. It was time for a change.
Oakland Raiders Rookie QB Tyler Wilson Turning Heads
Every year, there are rookies and undrafted players who impress in minicamps, causing massive amounts of hype to be placed on their shoulders by fans and media alike. Aaron Nagler, B/R's lead NFL video analyst, summed up this phenomenon perfectly.
Perhaps no player was the recipient of more hype from rookie minicamps than Raiders quarterback Tyler Wilson, the team's fourth-round selection out of Arkansas. His performance has some wondering aloud if he could end up as the starter in Oakland.
While Wilson turned heads this past weekend, I'd be careful to lavish the neophyte with too much praise.
In my opinion, this is a make-or-break season for head coach Dennis Allen, and I doubt he'd want to go down while starting a rookie. I expect Allen and general manager Reggie McKenzie to give Matt Flynn every opportunity to win and keep the starting job, as the pair fights for as many wins as possible in 2013.
The Chip Kelly Era Is Under Way in Philadelphia
High-tempo practices that feature an eclectic set of songs constantly blaring are the new normal in Philadelphia.
This isn't Andy Reid's team anymore, folks. New head coach Chip Kelly steers this ship.
I'm a big believer in Kelly, and his approach will work at the NFL level. His unorthodox methods came up aces in his time at the University of Oregon, and I'm confident that he'll succeed with the Eagles, both in 2013 and beyond.
The Eagles needed a fresh start after firing Reid.
It hasn't taken Kelly long to provide just that for Philadelphia.
Manti Te'o Impressing in San Diego
Perhaps no rookie will be under more scrutiny this season than former Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o, the second-round pick of the San Diego Chargers.
While the early returns on Te'o are positive, as he's reportedly impressed veterans with his poise, he hasn't yet come under the media crunch that surely awaits, as the Chargers PR staff has been extra careful to shield him from the throng.
Te'o, who should step into the Chargers' 3-4 defense at inside linebacker immediately, has the skills and physical tools to get it done on the football field.
What remains to be seen is how he handles himself with the media, and with his teammates, particularly at training camp, where the razzing over his fake girlfriend hoax is sure to reach an all-time high.
Rookie Tight End Tyler Eifert Providing Bengals Offense with Flexibility
Last week, I wrote that I have Bengal Fever, and that I'm currently driving the Cincinnati Bengals bandwagon all the way to the playoffs in 2013. A big part of that is the team's selection of Notre Dame tight end Tyler Eifert in the first round of last month's draft.
I believed Eifert would pair with receivers A.J. Green, Mohamed Sanu and Andrew Hawkins, along with fellow first-round tight end Jermaine Gresham, to form one of the more dynamic offenses in football, and to help third-year quarterback Andy Dalton make The Leap."
The early returns on Eifert have made me look prescient, as he lined up all over the field at the Bengals rookie minicamps, and he'll surely be a matchup nightmare for opposing defenses this season.
His involvement in the offense has me feeling very good about my Bengal Fever.
Texans Rookie WR DeAndre Hopkins Looks Like the Real Deal
If you were to ask a savvy NFL fan which position is the hardest for a rookie to come in and make an impact, he or she would likely say wide receiver.
Well, conventional wisdom hasn't stopped Houston Texans head coach Gary Kubiak from lavishing praise on his team's first-round pick, Clemson wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins.
The Texans have long needed an explosive, playmaking receiver to pair with Andre Johnson, and while Hopkins certainly possesses the physical tools to be that player, it's still very early, so I'd urge Houston fans to pump the brakes for the nonce on their Hopkins man crush.
Panthers Need Emotional Stability from QB Cam Newton
Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton wasn't present at the team's rookie minicamp, but he was still the primary topic of conversation, and fairly so, as his continued development is critical to the team's potential success in 2013.
While no one would question Newton's physical gifts, there's no doubt that he needs to work on reining in his emotions, a subject that new Panthers offensive coordinator Mike Shula discussed at minicamp.
The problem for Carolina? This is now a recurring refrain, with head coach Ron Rivera having said basically the same thing in training camp last year.
If the Panthers are to compete in the very solid NFC South, they will need Newton to show greater maturity than he has in his first two years in the league.
If he doesn't, it's likely that Rivera and Shula will both be unemployed, and the team's next group of coaches will have to deal with Newton's lack of emotional control.
Who's Calling the Plays in Dallas? Not Even Jason Garrett Knows
As I've written before, 2013 is a make-or-break season for Dallas Cowboys coach Jason Garrett, and I don't believe owner Jerry Jones will give Garrett the best opportunity to save his job.
Remember back at the Senior Bowl, when Jones announced that Garrett, hired because of his offensive aplomb and play-calling ability, would no longer call the plays? The story has taken on new life, as Garrett told reporters at the team's rookie minicamp this past weekend that no decision has been made on who will call the plays in 2013.
Wow. I mean, wow. Somehow, the Cowboys never cease to amaze.
It's May. The Cowboys begin OTAs next week. There still isn't a play-caller in place? It's unbelievable.
Whether Garrett or new offensive coordinator Bill Callahan ends up as the play-caller, this speaks to the kind of organizational dysfunction that has become way too prevalent in the Jones era.
Bears Coach Marc Trestman Using Helmet Cam to Assess QB Play
New Bears coach Marc Trestman has been hailed as an innovator, and through the team's rookie minicamp, that moniker has proved to be accurate.
Trestman had a small camera installed on the helmet of quarterback Matt Blanchard so he can watch everything that Blanchard sees as a play develops.
It's an interesting experiment from the very interesting Trestman, and one that could catch on in league circles if it proves successful. If anything, it should provide Blanchard with invaluable feedback as he tries to make the roster.
Geno Time for the New York Jets?
After Smith's sparkling performance at Jets rookie minicamp, the organization might be starting to feel the same way.
This is an outstanding development for the Jets and their fans.
Sanchez might have some good football left in him, but it won't be as a Jet. He's done in New York, and everyone knows it.
If Smith has the physical tools and mental wherewithal to handle the starting job, then it should be his to lose.
I very much expect Smith to start the majority of games for the Jets in 2013.
Packer Rookie RBs Eddie Lacy and Johnathan Franklin Are Roommates, Buddies
I really like this story that has come out of Green Bay, as the team's pair of rookie running backs, Eddie Lacy (Round 2) and Johnathan Franklin (Round 4) are rooming together at a hotel near the airport during offseason activities and have become fast friends.
For a Packers rushing attack that averaged less than four yards per carry in 2012, it's extremely important for Lacy and/or Franklin to make an immediate impact.
With the two talented youngsters pushing each other on the field and being buddy-buddy off it, I think the team has a real chance to improve its moribund ground game in 2013.