Early Lessons from NFL Workouts
Ask any NFL coach, and he would tell you that rookie camps and organized team activities (OTAs) are valuable and necessary. Offenses and defenses, he would tell you, are complex and need to be installed and drilled over the course of weeks.
Most players, on the other hand, would quibble with that notion. Offenses and defenses aren't really as complex as coaches make them out to be, and either way, that's what training camp is for. That's why offseason workout times were cut in the most recent collective bargaining agreement negotiations.
Really, the only people who suffer are those at the very end of the roster, and even that might be questionable. After all, the coaches might not really need every single workout to make roster-cutting decisions.
So, what fans are left with is a period of time where any football activity is dissected and overanalyzed by the media because it's the only show in town. Snaps are counted, though they mean nothing in June, and play is broken down by the same people who spend their entire time complaining about "shirts-and-shorts workouts" before the draft.
In many ways, it is one of the more nonsensical times of the NFL season.
Still, the summer months are not devoid of any news. It just takes a discerning eye and a healthy dose of skepticism to weed out the useless optimistic fodder. Thankfully for you, dear reader, I have both.
Veteran Receivers Aren't as Valued as They Used to Be
Chad Johnson, currently in jail for treating his lawyer like a teammate, recently said on ESPN's First Take: "With life, I'm at peace with everything. I would love to finish my career off the right way." If you've caught the fact that "at peace" and "the right way" are terribly contradictory, then you've found a small part of the joy that comes with covering Johnson.
He's not "at peace"; he wants to play football again, because playing football is what defines him. It's natural, and no one should blame him for those feelings.
It's not going to happen, but that's beside the point.
The same can be said for Terrell Owens, who is staging the worst hostage negotiation ever when he says that he'll retire if he isn't signed this offseason. If you're personally surprised that Owens wasn't retired already, welcome to the club. It contains everyone not named Terrell Owens.
The list goes on and on: Brandon Lloyd, Randy Moss, Donte Stallworth and others. We're seeing a youth movement at receiver across the league, and aging receivers who don't offer vertical separation are seeing less dollar signs and getting fewer phone calls.
The Houston Texans Finally Found Their No. 2 Receiver
That aforementioned youth movement at wide receiver has found its way onto the Houston Texans. They plugged their longtime hole at No. 2 receiver with DeAndre "Nuke" Hopkins, whom they drafted in the first round this past April.
We knew Hopkins was a talented receiver during the predraft process, but he's been impressive during OTAs for the Texans and is quickly finding a role for himself. It's important to remember that receiver is often a tough position to transition to the NFL, but Hopkins is ahead of the curve.
Look for him to continue to improve throughout his first season and have a stranglehold on No. 2-type targets by midseason.
Don't Look Now, the New York Jets Could Be Making Some Moves
Sheldon Richardson—drafted by the Jets in the first round out of Missouri—is a big man, but the biggest concern after he was drafted was where exactly he would play. The obvious choices are nose tackle or defensive end, and "all of the above" seems like a weird role for such a high pick.
The selection of cornerback Dee Milliner gives the Jets the ability to move Kyle Wilson back to a more natural nickelback position, which strengthens the Jets' subpackages (which were horrible last season).
Add in a new offense and the possible addition of Geno Smith to the starting lineup, and the Jets should be interesting, even if not yet back in contention, in 2013.
That Cleveland Browns Offense May Not Be so Explosive After All
After the hire of new head coach Rob Chudzinski, it seemed like every story needed to talk about how explosive the new Browns offense would be. The addition of Norv Turner as offensive coordinator did little to quell those notions.
Well, the idea of Brandon Weeden quarterbacking a vertical offense was always a little far-fetched, but things are even more in question after Josh Gordon found himself suspended for two games for violating the league's substance-abuse policy.
The running back, Trent Richardson in this case, is usually a big component of a vertical offense. The idea is that a defense can choose to stop the pass (usually in a nickel package) or stop a potent rushing attack in its base set, but it can't do both effectively.
The problem is that Richardson might be back for camp, but he might not be in game shape, and he may not hold up if asked to carry a heavy load.
The Jacksonville Jaguars Could Be Awfully Fun to Watch
Longtime readers will probably find themselves troubled by my continual positivity about the Jaguars. Those fans in Jacksonville may need to eventually replace their computer screens because of the constant spit-takes.
I'm still not a Blaine Gabbert fan, but I can admit he has fringe-starting quarterback potential as long as there is a good team around him. From all accounts, Jacksonville is starting to do just that in the post-Gene Smith era.
The more I hear about wrinkles for Ace Sanders and Denard Robinson, the more I look forward to breaking them down on tape. Luke Joeckel should provide some stability on the line—he's doing well in OTAs.
The player I'm most excited about, however, is wide receiver Cecil Shorts. With more weapons on offense and another year of acclimating to life in the NFL, not to mention a healthy Gabbert, Shorts should be prepared to raise a lot of eyebrows this year.
The Kansas City Chiefs Aren't Messing Around, Especially on Offense
Speaking of teams that are looking to improve immensely on offense from 2012 to 2013, the Chiefs have brought in a new offense and a new quarterback. Running back Jamaal Charles is awfully excited about the changes and isn't doing anything to temper enthusiasm.
Sure, the defense will look to improve as well with the additions of defensive lineman Mike DeVito, cornerback Sean Smith and linebacker Akeem Jordan, but it's the Alex Smith-led offense that is truly primed for a step forward.
For two years running, the Chiefs have had plenty of talent but were hamstrung by an Achilles' heel at quarterback (mixed anatomy metaphors!). Now, however, the offense should be able to keep pace—especially in a weak AFC West—and give them an outside chance at a wild-card berth.
The San Francisco 49ers Didn't Get Much Immediate Impact from This Draft
In 2012, the 49ers didn't get a lot of impact from rookies like wide receiver A.J. Jenkins and running back LaMichael James, though the latter did have a bigger role as the season went on. It didn't seem to matter, as the team headed to the Super Bowl anyway.
In 2013, much the same could take place.
Pass-rusher Tank Carradine may or may not be ready for training camp. Fellow pass-rusher Corey Lemonier is trying to make the conversion to linebacker and may need to play a highly situational role early on. Running back Marcus Lattimore may not be ready to contribute until 2014.
The biggest question mark is wide receiver Quinton Patton and whether or not he's able to beat out Jenkins in filling the spot created by No. 1 receiver Michael Crabtree's injury. If not, we could be seeing another class that could be helping San Francisco compete for Super Bowls later rather than sooner.
If You Didn't Catch This in April, Right Tackles Matter in Today's NFL
Previous slides have already referenced two new right tackles in the league—Jacksonville's Luke Joeckel and Kansas City's Eric Fisher. Another, Lane Johnson, was drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles.
While I can't speak specifically about Kansas City or Philadelphia, the Jaguars drafted Joeckel (in part) after buying in to a study that concluded right tackles were far more important than given credit for.
The draft taught us that this was a great tackle class and that linemen are still valued. The fact that all three of these top-five picks are practicing at right tackle goes a long way toward revolutionizing the way we talk about the right tackle position.
Some Big-Name Rookie Pass-Rushers Might Not Start, and That's OK
While certainly not the first, defensive end Bruce Irvin made a bunch of headlines last year when the Seattle Seahawks drafted him in the first round with little intention of starting him in 2012 or perhaps ever.
Irvin is a pass-rusher—that's it. He's not really a "defensive end" in the typical sense, and his value as a pass-rusher outweighs the supposed value of playing him every down—where his explosiveness may be eroded.
Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Larry Foote came right out and said that his new teammate, Jarvis Jones, may not start. This coincides with my predraft thoughts on Jones, whom I believe benefited from great play and scheme around him in Georgia. He's a very talented pass-rusher, but he's just a guy who may see a more limited role this year and beyond.
Cleveland Browns linebacker Barkevious Mingo, too, may not have the bulk or run-stopping ability to see every down as a rookie starter. He's currently running with the second team in Browns camp and will probably see a limited role in year one.
This is a question of role, not value or impact. Frankly, if these young men are able to match the production of Irvin's rookie season, this trend of situational pass-rushers in early rounds could certainly continue.
Tom Brady Is Going to Have His Work Cut Out for Him
Hold your Tim Tebow jokes, please.
Things are not exactly going as planned in Patriots land. While it seems as if New England still has plenty of talent on offense and shouldn't really miss a beat in the post-Wes Welker era, moving pieces can create trouble for even the best of teams.
Right now, the Patriots look like they're having some trouble.
There is still plenty of time to right the ship, and this goes back to what was said in the opening slide—training camp is the real test of a team, not OTAs.
Still, it's worth asking, "what if?" What if the rookie wideouts like Aaron Dobson don't mature as quickly as hoped? What if the running game isn't as potent as last year? What if Welker's yards aren't immediately replaced by Danny Amendola?
It is not the time to start worrying about these questions, but the questions are there and will provide fuel to the fire—both for the Patriots to improve and their rivals to sense weakness.
Michael Schottey is the NFL National Lead Writer for Bleacher Report and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. Find more of his stuff at The Go Route.
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