Biggest Standouts from NFL OTAs
Every year it's the same song and dance: Players who won't play a single down during the regular season stand out during OTAs. Some players stand out for their impressive plays in shorts and shells, while others stand out for their consistently poor play.
Whatever the reason, fans and media members alike enjoy covering the spectacle. During one of the NFL's slowest seasons, any relevant news tends to draw observers in. Which is exactly why OTAs are becoming more and more popular on an annual basis.
Let's take a look at 10 players who have stood out during the first week of organized team activities.
Joe Webb, WR, Minnesota Vikings
After last year's playoff debacle against the Green Bay Packers, the Minnesota Vikings knew they couldn't stick with the hope of Joe Webb becoming their quarterback. He only managed to complete 11 passes on 30 attempts for 180 yards and one interception.
During the offseason, the Vikings shored up the No. 2 quarterback position when they signed former Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Matt Cassel. This, in turn, allowed Webb to move to wide receiver, where he'll have a better opportunity to showcase his speed and playmaking ability.
According to Tom Pelissero of 1500ESPN.com, “Joe Webb has caught everything in workouts. Hands aren't an issue. It's learning everything else.”
This is exciting news for Minnesota’s front office.
Aside from Percy Harvin, the Vikings lacked game-changers at wide receiver last year. It’s doubtful that Webb will make the same impact Harvin did, but he should add versatility and a new dimension to offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave’s offense.
Webb is currently listed as Minnesota’s No. 5 receiver behind Greg Jennings, Cordarrelle Patterson, Jerome Simpson and Jarius Wright. However, one should expect that positioning to change by the start of the 2013 season.
Lane Johnson, OT, Philadelphia Eagles
Last year, injuries ravaged the Philadelphia Eagles' offensive line. Left tackle Jason Peters ruptured his Achilles' tendon, Jason Kelce tore his MCL in his right knee and Danny Watkins dealt with a recurring ankle injury for most of the season.
Those three injuries not only set the offense back; they set the entire team back. So, head coach Chip Kelly made it a point to upgrade Philadelphia’s offensive line during the draft. With the fourth pick in the draft, he selected the most versatile offensive linemen the draft had to offer.
Drafting Lane Johnson out of Oklahoma not only shored up the right tackle position, but it provided much-needed depth across the entire offensive line. Johnson has the flexibility to play both offensive tackle positions if need be.
Apparently, the pick is already paying dividends, according to offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland (via John Gonzalez of csnphilly.com), who said, “From a skill set standpoint, [Johnson's] really good. He’s long. His arms are long. He’s explosive. He’s everything that we thought he would be.”
The Eagles are hoping his play during the first week of organized team activities carries over into the 2013 preseason and regular season.
Danny Amendola, WR, New England Patriots
After six years, the New England Patriots decided it was time to move on from their aging slot wide receiver. Wes Welker had a good run in New England and exceeded everyone’s expectations. But at the end of the day, they determined the five-time Pro Bowler was replaceable.
Instead of re-signing Welker, the organization opted for the younger, less-experienced Danny Amendola. Over the course of Amendola’s career, he has been compared to No. 83. Both players went to Texas Tech, were undrafted out of college and have flourished in the slot.
Per Mike Reiss of ESPN.com, Amendola made his presence felt right away during the first week of OTAs.
“I think Danny is going to do a great job," said tight end Aaron Hernandez to radio host Zig Fracassi (h/t Reiss). "He looks good so far this year. I think he’ll fill the role pretty well.”
Reiss went on to add that Amendola was often first through receiver drills and was as quick as advertised. If he can stay healthy, the 27-year-old wideout is in store for the biggest receiving season of his career.
Elvis Dumervil, OLB, Baltimore Ravens
When free agency began this past offseason, the Baltimore Ravens were in desperate need of leadership on the defensive side of the ball. Middle linebacker Ray Lewis retired, safety Ed Reed departed for the Houston Texans and Paul Kruger signed with the Cleveland Browns.
Fans and media members alike wouldn't have believed you if you would have told them Elvis Dumervil would be Baltimore's newest vocal leader at the start of organized team activities. Dumervil was slated to return to Denver at a reduced rate, but a faulty fax machine and an agent who dropped the ball allowed the 2009 All-Pro to hit the open market.
A week after he hit the open market, he signed a five-year deal with Baltimore that maxes out at $35 million. Without question, Dumervil piqued the Ravens' interest because of his high level of play on Sundays, but one of his more underrated qualities is his leadership inside the locker room.
Here’s what Dumervil had to say when Matt Zenitz of Carroll County Times asked him about his leadership in Baltimore:
I’ve come to a first-class organization [from] the owner, down. Head coach, [general manager and executive vice president] Ozzie [Newsome] and those guys really demonstrate the way they want things to be done. And coming in, obviously, the reputation with Ray Lewis, Ed [Reed], those guys – it’s kind of [like] the picture is there of what you need to do, and I just try to come in and do what I need to do to win.
The Ravens not only upgraded their right outside linebacker position; they added a leader to a locker room that needed it after key departures.
Tyson Jackson, DE, Kansas City Chiefs
Former first-round pick Tyson Jackson has had a less-than-impressive NFL career thus far. As a 3-4 defensive end for the Kansas City Chiefs, he has notched five quarterback sacks, 113 total tackles and zero forced fumbles in 59 games.
At this point, fans shouldn’t expect Jackson to ever live up to his lofty draft status. At this point, the Chiefs know they overdrafted him in 2009, but that doesn’t mean they can’t turn No. 94 into a solid contributor. That’s the best-case scenario right now.
I’m very impressed with Tyson. I’ve been impressed since we’ve been together here. Not many guys are going to outwork him on the field. Pass rush was not his forte, but he’s working like crazy to get better. As a coach, that’s all you can ask for. He’s a big man who can move a little bit.
Jackson’s attitude, work ethic and willingness to learn are shining through during OTAs. If he can keep up the good work, he may be well on his way to shedding the "bust" label that has recently been attached to his name.
Jared Cook, TE, St. Louis Rams
Ever since head coach Jeff Fisher and general manager Les Snead took over in St. Louis, they have made it known that they want to surround franchise quarterback Sam Bradford with a plethora of offensive weapons.
In 2012, they drafted two wide receivers (Brian Quick and Chris Givens) and two running backs (Isaiah Pead and Daryl Richardson). In 2013, they drafted two more wide receivers (Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey) and another running back (Zac Stacy). Those seven selections alone should provide enough excitement for years to come.
Even though the Rams have made it a point to build through the draft, they also felt key free agents were equally important. The biggest free-agent addition to date for Fisher and Snead was the acquisition of former Tennessee Titans tight end Jared Cook.
Cook has already proven during organized team activities that he is a multi-threat player who can exploit defenses at a moment's notice.
According to Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post Dispatch, “Quarterback Sam Bradford and new tight end Jared Cook seem to be clicking. Signed as a free agent, the ex-Tennessee Titan should be a huge part of the new-look Rams' attack.”
Don’t surprised if Cook leads the Rams in targets, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns. Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer will find creative ways to get the $35.1 million receiving tight end involved.
Tashaun Gipson, S, Cleveland Browns
When Ray Horton became defensive coordinator of the Cleveland Browns, expectations immediately shot through the roof. Many in league circles regarded Horton’s defenses in Arizona as some of the best in football.
In Cleveland, Horton inherits a young defense that features plenty of playmakers. Names like Phil Taylor, Paul Kruger, Jabaal Sheard, Barkevious Mingo and Joe Haden garner all the attention. Yet there is one name observers should keep an eye on during the offseason.
Free safety Tashaun Gipson may not be as well known as some of the names above, but he is bound and determined to make a name for himself during organized team activities. Mary Kay Cabot of The Plain Dealer believes the undrafted free agent out of Wyoming has an early lead on the starting free safety job.
In 10 games last season, Gipson amassed 29 total tackles and one interception.
During Cleveland’s most recent OTAs, he showed proper technique and ball-hawking skills.
Mark Sanchez, QB, New York Jets
Drafting Geno Smith in the second round of this year's draft should send a clear message to veteran quarterback Mark Sanchez.
Over the course of his four-year career, Sanchez has been viewed as one of the biggest underachievers in the NFL. He’s easily rattled in the pocket, his accuracy is below average and he makes too many bad decisions.
Even though Sanchez has more interceptions than touchdowns and a career completion percentage of 55.1, offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg told Rich Cimini of ESPN that Sanchez’s “completion percentage and accuracy percentage have been sky high up to date.” This statement came after No. 6’s three-interception performance on May 26.
Either Mornhinweg is being politically correct or he knows something we don’t know. Chances are it's the former. Even though New York’s offensive coordinator tracks completion percentage and accuracy percentage differently than most coaches do, Sanchez continues to stand out for all the wrong reasons.
Smith should have no problem wrestling the starting quarterback position away from Sanchez if the former USC man keeps completing passes to the defense during OTAs.
Luke Willson, TE, Seattle Seahawks
Everyone knows about Rice tight end Vance McDonald, but what about fellow Rice tight end Luke Willson? Chances are you don’t know much about the fifth-round pick who, as a senior in 2012, only caught nine passes for 126 yards and two touchdowns.
But that doesn’t mean Willson isn’t pushing for playing time. After backup tight end Anthony McCoy suffered a torn Achilles tendon, the three-year letter winner at Rice immediately saw an increase in reps as the Seahawks’ No. 2 tight end.
An uptick in practice reps didn’t overwhelm the rookie tight end; it only helped him stand out during organized team activities. Jayson Jenks of The Seattle Times noted a couple of Willson’s deep catches down the sideline—more specifically, a catch-and-run that he turned into a touchdown.
Head coach Pete Carroll noted his catch-and-run touchdown as a bright spot.
Aside from Willson’s underrated receiving skills, the Seahawks really like his work ethic. For what it's worth, Rice’s offensive graduate assistant A.J. Steward called Willson one of the hardest-working guys he’s ever been around (h/t Jenks).
Lamar Miller, RB, Miami Dolphins
The departure of free-agent running back Reggie Bush opened the door for a new starter in Miami. Some felt 2013 would be the year where former second-round pick Daniel Thomas raised to the top, but that doesn’t seem to be the case through the first week of organized team activities.
Instead, the Dolphins are solely focused on University of Miami running back Lamar Miller. Miller showed flashes in training camp last year, yet he had a hard time finding the field as a rookie. He only amassed 146 snaps in 2012, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
Despite a lack of playing time in his rookie season, Barry Jackson of The Miami Herald says, “There is a quiet confidence around Dolphins camp that Lamar Miller is ready to break out.”
Backup quarterback Matt Moore added:
He’s just so smooth. He’s different from Reggie Bush but can get similar results. His nature is go north and south, Reggie’s [style] was more to dance. And he has grabbed the leadership [reins].
At 218 pounds, Miller packs a big punch. The only question surrounding his game is his injury history, as he had a few nagging injuries in college. In 2013, he will have to show the coaching staff he can handle a full workload.