Biggest Winners & Losers from OTAs so Far
It's never too early to start reading into what's happening on the NFL practice field.
Some of this might only be worth a grain of salt, but first impressions matter. It's important to note that certain NFL players have kicked off the on-field portion the 2013 season in grand fashion while others haven't been as fortunate.
Here's a breakdown of the early winners and losers as organized team activities (OTAs) continue across the National Football League.
Winner: Washington Redskins QB Robert Griffin III
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Four-and-a-half months after undergoing reconstructive surgery on his right knee, Robert Griffin III surprised some by dropping back and throwing passes to rehabbing teammates while working on the side during the Washington Redskins' OTA practice last Thursday.
"Griffin was able to put pressure on his surgically-repaired right leg as he threw," wrote eyewitness John Keim of The Washington Examiner. "Not as much as he normally would, but definitely more than he could (in the wild-card playoffs) vs. Seattle, for example."
The Offensive Rookie of the Year from last season has yet to conquer "explosive sprinting" or cutting, but he told reporters last week his goal is to be cleared in time for training camp.
It's still early in the process, but it appears RG3 is well on track to make a full recovery in time for Washington's Sept. 9 opener.
Loser: New York Giants QB Eli Manning
With Cruz and Nicks missing, the guy on the right had to take first-team receiver reps for the Giants last week.
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Eli Manning is a nine-year veteran, and Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz have enough experience in the New York Giants' system that neither receiver's absence should have a negative long-term impact on the Giants' passing game.
Still, it's a little concerning that neither receiver was present when New York kicked off OTAs last week.
Cruz, of course, is still trying to make a statement as he and the team try to iron out a long-term deal. A tender is on the table for the restricted free agent, but he has yet to sign. Nicks is entering the final year of his rookie contract, so his absence was a little more surprising.
With fullback Henry Hynoski also out long-term after suffering a leg injury during practice last Wednesday, Manning is left to operate without three key cogs for the time being.
Winner: Arizona Cardinals WR Michael Floyd
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After a slightly disappointing rookie season in which he failed to reach 50 catches and 600 yards while catching only two touchdown passes, early indications out of Arizona Cardinals OTAs are that 2012 No. 13 overall pick Michael Floyd is ready to take a big step forward in his second NFL season.
Darren Urban of AZCardinals.com wrote last week that "it looks like Michael Floyd has made a big leap—at least at this point in the offseason—from Year One to Year Two."
It helps that he has a real quarterback now.
Veteran Carson Palmer has come over from Oakland, and Michael Silver of Yahoo! Sports wrote on Friday that the former Pro Bowler "feels reborn" in Arizona. After the Cardinals posted a league-low team passer rating of 63.1 in 2012, that's encouraging for every receiver on the roster, especially the extremely talented Floyd.
Loser: New York Jets QB Mark Sanchez
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Mark Sanchez's job is in jeopardy now that second-round pick Geno Smith has joined the New York Jets. With that in mind, everyone was curious to see how the much-maligned veteran quarterback was going to react during his first OTA sessions of the 2013 NFL offseason.
It did not go well.
Sanchez threw three interceptions during practice last Wednesday, according to USA Today's Mike Garafolo.
Said a disappointed Rex Ryan:
It's funny because you look at the practice and he did a lot of great things, and then those negative things. At the end of the day, that's what gets you beat. And so we've got to do a better job of eliminating those turnovers.
Meanwhile, ESPNNewYork.com's Rich Cimini already believes Smith has become the favorite to win the starting quarterback job in New York.
Winner: New York Jets QB Geno Smith
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We mentioned that ESPNNewYork.com's Rich Cimini has already concluded that rookie Geno Smith is the "preferred candidate" for the starting quarterback job with the New York Jets.
There is, however, a lot of time for that to change.
Loser: San Francisco 49ers WR Michael Crabtree
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It happens each May to at least one key player. The first major injury of the 2013 NFL season hit San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Michael Crabtree, who suffered a completely torn Achilles' tendon during an OTA session last Tuesday.
Crabtree was far and away the top receiver on a team that went to the Super Bowl last season, so this could be a biggie, regardless of the fact the Niners brought in Anquan Boldin earlier in the offseason. The 25-year-old is expected to miss a large chunk, if not all, of the 2013 campaign.
Naturally, that places him in the loser category.
Someone on the San Francisco roster—Boldin? A.J. Jenkins? Vernon Davis? Mario Manningham?—could "benefit" from this injury, making that player a winner, but we've yet to find out who that might be.
Winner: Green Bay Packers CB Tramon Williams
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Veteran Green Bay Packers cornerback Tramon Williams wasn't his usual self in 2012, he told 105.7 The Fan in Baltimore, because of a shoulder injury that he suffered in September of 2011 which was still giving him trouble.
However, he might finally have a chance to get back to the 2010 version of himself this year, because Williams has apparently brought a fresh feel to Packers' OTAs this offseason.
"The nerve damage in his shoulder from the 2011 season has dramatically healed," wrote Tyler Dunne of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel last week.
That's a good sign, because Williams was a Pro Bowler that year. Oh, and the Packers won the Super Bowl.
Loser: Cleveland Browns RB Trent Richardson
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First it was his knee; then it was his ribs. Now, it's his shin.
Injuries derailed Trent Richardson's rookie season in Cleveland, and now the 2012 No. 3 overall pick is missing time again as preparations begin for his second year.
A pulled shin muscle is keeping him out of Cleveland Browns OTAs, and he might also miss the team's mandatory minicamp June 4-6, according to Mary Kay Cabot of The Plain Dealer.
"It's precautionary,'' head coach Rob Chudzinski said, per Cabot. "We're holding him out. We've got minicamp in a week and a half. He may miss that. I'm not sure. We'll take it day-by-day.''
Richardson's starting job isn't in peril, but it would be beneficial for him to be on the field learning Cleveland's new offense. Plus, this isn't helping his reputation as a player who is prone to injuries.
Winner: Philadelphia Eagles OLB Brandon Graham
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With a "bust" label looming, Brandon Graham finally began to look like an elite pass-rusher as opportunities came his way last year in Philadelphia.
Now, however, the 25-year-old is being forced to make the transition to the 3-4 linebacker spot in the Eagles' new defense.
On that front, defensive coordinator Bill Davis said last week, per CSN Philly's Geoff Mosher, that both Graham and fellow edge-rusher Trent Cole have been "outstanding" in their transition.
A somewhat conflicting take comes from The Inquirer's Jeff McLane, who reports that Cole has been "a fish out of water" thus far but has nothing bad to say about Graham's early performances.
Loser: Free-Agent Wide Receiver Randy Moss
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When Michael Crabtree went down with an Achilles injury last week, many figured the San Francisco 49ers would turn to 36-year-old future Hall of Famer Randy Moss, who spent the entire 2012 season on San Francisco's roster.
Instead, we're hearing crickets in that regard.
ESPN's Ed Werder reported late last week that the Niners had not been in contact with Moss "before or after" the injury.
San Francisco head coach Jim Harbaugh also told local sports radio station 95.7 The Game, via Pro Football Talk, that A.J. Jenkins, Quinton Patton and Ricardo Lockette are the top candidates to replace Crabtree—with no mention of Moss.
Winner: Pittsburgh Steelers RB Le'Veon Bell
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The stars could be aligned in Pittsburgh for rookie running back Le'Veon Bell, whom the Steelers selected with their second-round pick in the 2013 NFL draft.
The Steelers appear to be installing one-cut, outside-zone blocking, which would benefit a player like Bell, and offensive coordinator Todd Haley is already talking up the Michigan State product as a workhorse runner.
The backfield could be quite crowded this year in Pittsburgh—notably, Jonathan Dwyer is still getting first-team reps—but early indications are that Bell will have a chance to earn plenty of reps in 2013.
Loser: Dallas Cowboys QB Tony Romo
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As OTAs were getting underway, Tony Romo received what was essentially a confirmation that Doug Free would once again be his starting right tackle in 2013 when Free took a large pay cut to stay in Dallas.
Then word emerged that Romo himself would miss all or most of the Cowboys' offseason practices after having surgery to remove a cyst from his back.