10 Biggest Surprises from NFL OTAs
Offseason team activities (OTAs) are underway throughout the National Football League, and there are surprises at every corner.
While some surprises are positive—like the exuberance of Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley—others are sobering, such as the injury to Raiders rookie cornerback D.J. Hayden.
Regardless, this fresh batch of news means that football is ever closer to returning. We're now under 100 days until the season begins in Denver with the Ravens and Broncos, but hey, who's counting?
Without further ado, here are the 10 biggest surprises from NFL OTAs:
Steelers OC Todd Haley Talking Super Bowl
The last time Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley coached in a Super Bowl, his Arizona Cardinals team (he was the OC there, too) lost to Ben Roethlisberger and Pittsburgh in Super Bowl XLIII.
For the Steelers, this is a positive development. They've faced their share of criticism this offseason, prompting Tomlin to say in March that he'd see his critics "in September."
The fact that Haley is talking about the Super Bowl should have Steelers fans very excited and is a bit surprising, given the lack of hype the team has received this offseason. The Lombardi Trophy is the goal in Pittsburgh each and every season, and Haley has his eye on the prize.
Giants WR Hakeem Nicks Willing to Play out His Rookie Contract
While all the talk this offseason concerning the contract status of Giants wide receivers has revolved around Victor Cruz, Big Blue has another issue on their hands with a pass-catcher, as Hakeem Nicks is entering the final year of his rookie contract.
It was reported earlier this offseason that the Giants were more keen to extend Nicks than Cruz, but it appears as if the negotiations for Cruz are winding down. As for Nicks? He seems apt to play out his rookie contract and address it next offseason, which qualifies as a surprising decision.
That is because Nicks—who missed time with injuries last season—is taking a bit of a gamble with his approach, albeit at the benefit of the team, who is working hard to bring Cruz into the fold.
If Nicks gets hurt this season, it could hurt his earning potential. But, on the other hand, if Nicks dominates like he's capable of doing, he will be in line for a major payday.
Chiefs DE Tyson Jackson Impressing New Coaching Staff
While Tyson Jackson hasn't lived up to the lofty expectations associated with being the third overall pick in the 2009 draft, he has shown flashes of good play, last season in particular.
Thus far, the early returns are promising. If Jackson is able to contribute along the Chiefs defensive line in surprising fashion, the team with the worst record in football in 2012 could be looking at better fortune in 2013.
Cowboys RB DeMarco Murray Nagged by Injuries
The Cowboys desperately need a healthy DeMarco Murray at running back to balance their offense in 2013, and right now, he's one of the walking wounded.
Murray, who has missed Cowboys OTAs thus far with a hamstring injury, is likely set to return soon, but this is not a good surprise for the Cowboys. Murray has missed nine games in his first two seasons with leg injuries.
While the fact that Murray is injured doesn't necessarily present a surprise, the team will certainly be in for one if it thinks that it can compete in the NFC East without an effective rushing attack.
Texans RB Arian Foster Carted off with Injury
Perhaps the last surprise that the Texans and head coach Gary Kubiak wanted to see was star running back Arian Foster being carted out of practice with a strained calf. It's a surprise no Houston fan wanted to see or read about.
While it's still May and the injury doesn't appear to be serious, this is disconcerting for the Texans and their fans. Foster led the NFL last year with 351 carries, and he's a key cog in the Houston offensive machine.
Expect the Texans to apply extreme caution with Foster as the team continues through the offseason. It cannot afford to have him injured.
Jaguars WR Cecil Shorts Primed for a Big Season
Jaguars receiver Cecil Shorts had a breakout campaign in 2012, catching 55 passes for just 979 yards and seven touchdowns. That was a surprise in itself.
Now Shorts, a product of Mount Union and entering his third season, is looking to surprise again—this time by becoming the first Jaguars receiver not named Jimmy Smith or Keenan McCardell to go over 1,000 yards receiving in a season.
If Shorts is able to accomplish that while either Blaine Gabbert or Chad Henne is his quarterback, that would be one heck of a surprise—almost as big of a surprise as a franchise that's been playing since 1996 only having two 1,000 yard receivers.
You go, Jacksonville.
Raiders CB D.J. Hayden Hospitalized with Abdominal Injury
While Raiders rookie cornerback D.J. Hayden has provided an inspirational story in his trek to being selected in the first round of this April's draft (see the above video), he was hospitalized with an abdominal injury during team OTAs.
That's not exactly the kind of surprise that coach Dennis Allen and general manager Reggie McKenzie were looking for.
Hayden will miss the remainder of OTAs as he recovers from his procedure, and with the Raiders very much needing him to play well in 2013, this is bad news.
What could possibly be even worse news are the health implications for Hayden. He severed his inferior vena cava during practice last season at the University of Houston, and so much blood built up in his abdomen, that doctors had to cut through his sternum to find the torn heart vein—making this news about his ab injury even worse.
The Raiders are hoping Hayden can see extensive playing time in 2013, but the focus will be on making sure the young man is healthy and fit to play.
Jets QB Mark Sanchez Has Been Accurate at Jets Camp
Sanchez, accurate? That is a surprise!
Jets fans shouldn't put too much stock into this report. OTAs are football in pads, and oftentimes, too much is made over the results of these practices.
The bottom line is if rookie Geno Smith is ready to play, you can bet your bottom dollar that he'll be the starting quarterback for the Jets in Week 1 against Tampa, regardless of how accurate Sanchez is in May.
The Cleveland Browns Will Have an Attacking, Exciting Offense
Stop the presses. The Cleveland Browns are going to have an exciting offense? What year is this, 1986?
Don't look now, but it appears to be true, with head coach Rob Chudzinski and offensive coordinator Norv Turner set to usher in a new era in Cleveland.
Turner recently said that he sees the Browns being an "attacking" offense. With Cleveland possessing several young, talented players on offense—like left tackle Joe Thomas, receiver Josh Gordon and running back Trent Richardson—it certainly has the capability of attacking opposing defenses.
A big-time Browns offense would be a surprise for Browns fans and a tremendous one at that.
Robert Griffin III Could Play in Week 1 Despite Idle Preseason
Redskins fans across the nation are holding out hope that their star quarterback, Robert Griffin III, will be ready in Week 1 despite him tearing his ACL in the team's wild-card playoff loss against Seattle.
Griffin recently provided a jolt of hope, saying that he could see himself starting in Week 1 even if he didn't play in the preseason.
For Redskins fans, it's a major surprise. Washington coach Mike Shanahan will surely employ excess caution in the team's dealing of Griffin, so it would definitely be surprising to see Griffin put back into the lineup if he wasn't 100 percent ready.
Now, Griffin could feasibly get ready during practice. But nothing is like playing in a game. It would be a surprise if Griffin started in Week 1 if he were idle during the preseason.