Early Lessons from NFL Training Camps

Ryan AlfieriCorrespondent IIIJuly 29, 2013

Early Lessons from NFL Training Camps

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    After a long six months, the NFL offseason is finally over. Now, all 32 teams can get a true feel of exactly what they have in their brand-new roster as they finally put the pads on.

    In this environment, we will get a glimpse as to which players are developing into stars and which ones need to be replaced because of their diminishing skills.

    Here are some of the lessons that we have learned in the first few days of training camp.

Osi Umenyiora Could Play Some Outside Linebacker

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    After spending his entire career as a base 4-3 end with the Giants, the Falcons are toying with the possibility of Osi Umenyiora as a stand-up outside linebacker, according to the team’s website.

    Defensive coordinator Mike Nolan is known for his versatile fronts and outside-the-box thinking, and Umenyiora’s body type (6'3'', 255 lbs) is ideal for a 3-4 outside linebacker.

    The Falcons don’t run a 3-4, but Nolan is versatile enough in his use of different fronts that labeling the Falcons defense under the umbrella of one front would be inaccurate. Increasing Umenyiora’s versatility will only add pages to Nolan's already extensive playbook.

    However, while players have been successfully converted from defensive ends to outside linebackers in the past, changing positions so late in a player's career is much more difficult than molding a rookie. As we have seen with players like Aaron Kampman and Dwight Freeney, forcing a longtime veteran to change their ways is hardly an easy task.

    Still, there is little harm in at least trying this experiment in training camp to see how Umenyiora responds—after all, they can always scrap the plan if he struggles.

    After spending his entire career as a base 4-3 end with the Giants, the Falcons are toying with the possibility of Osi Umenyiora as a stand-up outside linebacker, according to the team’s website.

    Defensive coordinator Mike Nolan is known for his versatile fronts and outside-the-box thinking, and Umenyiora’s body type (255 pounds) is ideal for a 3-4 outside linebacker.

    The Falcons don’t run a 3-4, but Mike Nolan is versatile enough in his use of different fronts that labeling the Flacons’ defense with on front would be inaccurate. Increasing Umenyiora’s versatility will only add more elements of surprise to the Falcons’ defense.

    However, while players have been converted from defensive ends to outside linebacker in the past, changing positions so late in a players’ career is much more difficult than molding a rookie. As we have seen with players like Aaron Kampman and Dwight Freeney, forcing a longtime veteran to change their ways is hardly an easy task.

    Still, there is little harm in at least trying this experiment in training camp to see how Umenyiora responds—after all, they can always scrap the plan if he struggles.

Geno Smith Has an Arm

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    After getting used to the average pace of Mark Sanchez’s passes over the past four years, Geno Smith’s live arm has turned heads at Jets camp, as ESPN’s Rich Cimini reports:

    In the first practice, he displayed the ability to throw vertical routes and deep sideline passes. He throws a tight spiral with above-average velocity.

    Smith's challenge is learning where to throw the ball and when to throw it. At this point, that's where Sanchez has the advantage. When Smith's brain catches up to his arm ... well, it'll be very interesting.

    Perhaps one of the most overlooked shortcomings of Sanchez’s game is the fact that he has very average arm strength, which only exacerbates all of his other weaknesses.

    This battle is far from being decided, but the Jets have to be pleased with the arm talent they have to work with in Geno Smith, even if he is a bit behind Sanchez from a mental standpoint.

    After all, you can teach a player where to throw a football, but you can’t teach raw ability.

Injuries Are Already Taking Their Toll

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    After just one weekend of training camp, there have already been a slew of devastating injuries to hit multiple NFL camps. Below are some big ones.

    • Eagles wideout Jeremy Maclin tore his ACL.
    • Offensive lineman Ryan Miller of the Browns suffered a concussion which rendered him motionless for nearly 10 minutes. He was taken to the hospital. 
    • The Jets lost cornerback Aaron Berry to an ACL tear.
    • Ravens tight end Dennis Pitta will miss the season because of a hip fracture.
    • Broncos center Dan Koppen tore his ACL.
    • Chargers linebacker Jonas Mouton tore his ACL. 
    • Wide receiver Armon Binns of the Dolphins tore both his ACL and MCL. 

    Injuries happen every year in training camp, but there has been an unusual amount of season-ending injuries in just a few days of camp. Hopefully the worst is over and this seemingly high rate of breaks and tears will start to flatten out.

Tim Tebow Will Be More Than Just a Quarterback

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    As many expected, the Patriots did not bring on Tim Tebow to play the standard backup quarterback role. Based on some of the drills Tebow has been seen doing in his first few days of camp, there is a good chance we will see Tebow in a few new positions in 2013.

    Albert Breer of NFL Network reported Tebow was seen catching passes from Ryan Mallett in a drill he has “never seen before.”

    This is both good and bad news for Tebow. The good news is, the Patriots are clearly making an effort on their end to find a role for him on the team.

    On the other hand, the dream of being an NFL quarterback is starting to fade for Tebow, especially if he continues to turn in “horrendous” practice performances, per Tom Curran of CSN.

    The fact that Tebow is being worked as a multi-dimensional player is hardly a surprise, but it's uncertain if the Patriots can execute their plan for Tebow more effectively than their AFC East rivals did.

The Bears Are Still Warming Up to Marc Trestman

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    It’s no secret the decision to move on from Lovie Smith was an unpopular one in the Bears locker room. Brian Urlacher even cited Smith’s firing as a reason for his retirement.

    Several months removed from the coaching change, Bears players are still trying to feel out their new coach, Marc Trestman. According to Rick Telander of the Chicago Sun-Times, Jay Cutler claims that “guys are buying in” but “not everyone’s bought in.”

    How far are the Bears away from buying in to Trestman’s message? According to Cutler, “hopefully by the time the first game rolls around.”

    Rather than being mature about the situation and doing their best to make Trestman's system successful, the Bears are treating Trestman as if he were Buzz Lightyear.

    As with any change of management, there is a feeling-out period as players and coaches get to know each other—but the time for that is over. As beloved as Lovie Smith was to his players, the Bears cannot afford to wait until the first game “rolls around.”

    Eventually, the veteran Bears players will get over losing Lovie, but they need to do it a lot sooner than a few hours before their first game.

No Separation in Eagles QB Battle

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    If you’re an Eagles fan who was hoping to get a glimpse at who your quarterback for 2013 is going to be after this weekend, you were left disappointed.

    As John Gonzalez of CSN Philly notes, neither Nick Foles nor Michael Vick separated themselves as they split first-team reps. Even worse for Eagles fans is that, according to Gonzalez, neither “did much to impress.”

    In fact, Dennis Dixon and Matt Barkley, the only quarterbacks not (realistically) in the starting quarterback race, threw the best passes of the day.

    Vick was initially frustrated by the fact that he was splitting first-team reps in minicamp, but he has done nothing to prove that Chip Kelly is wasting his time by staging a quarterback battle.

    Granted, it is still early and there is plenty of time for either player to seize the job, but Kelly was probably looking for a more spirited competition with both quarterbacks throwing lasers all over the field rather than a yawn convention.

John Idzik Will Help Pick the Jets' New QB

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    Deciding on the Week 1 starting quarterback will be the most important decision the New York Jets will make all season—and it won’t be made by one person.

    According to Mike Vorkunov of The Star-Ledger, John Idzik will assist Rex Ryan in deciding who the quarterback will be, making the decision more of a collaborative effort than a pure coaching decision.

    No one knows exactly how this will affect the final decision, but it does reveal a lot about Ryan’s diminishing power over control of his roster. Ryan may have made a mistake when he rushed Sanchez into the starting role as a rookie—and Idzik wants to ensure that such a mistake is not made again.

    The idea of a general manager getting involved in setting the depth chart is a bit unusual, even if it involves the starting quarterback. Generally, the general manager picks the players while the coach sets the depth chart, regardless of position.

    Either way, the Jets are just hoping that one of the two passers emerges as a clear-cut favorite to make the decision as easy and painless as possible.

Rookies Are Still Holding Out

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    After the rookie wage scale was added to the new collective bargaining agreement, we all assumed that training camp holdouts from rookies would be, like the first day of high school, a distant, ugly memory.

    Things have not quite turned out that way, as two of the top 10 draft picks have yet to report to camp as they wait for new deals (Jonathan Cooper agreed to terms with the Cardinals, according to Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk.)

    The last two rookies to be signed are cornerback Dee Milliner (Jets) and guard Chance Warmack (Titans). If there is a rookie wage scale in place, then what is taking so long to get these guys under contract? (Update: Dee Milliner has agreed to terms with the Jets, per Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News).

    The contractual war is being waged over “offset language," which, if in place, would stop players from “double-dipping” if they are released and want to sign with a new team.

    In other words, if these players turn out to be total busts and fail to play out their contract, they want to somehow be rewarded for it.

    On the surface, this seems like a trivial reason to stage a holdout. However, this is one of the only areas of the contract that players can actually fight for, and teams don’t want to set a precedent by not protecting themselves from bad contracts.

    Jonathan Cooper’s deal, signed on Sunday, does include offset language, but it remains to be seen whether or not teams point to that as an excuse for players to cave in.

The Lions Are Getting the DT Combination They've Always Wanted

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    When the Detriot Lions drafted Nick Fairley in 2011, they were hoping that he and Ndamukong Suh would develop into the most feared defensive tackle combination in the sport.

    Unfortunately, because of injuries and inconsistent play from both players, the Lions have only seen flashes of the deadly combination they envisioned. Now with a few years of experience under their belt, Suh and Fairley appear ready.

    Suh passed his conditioning test without even breaking a sweat, as noted by the team’s official website. Fairley, who has lost weight over the offseason, is drawing reality-show comparisons from coach Jim Schwartz, as reported by Tim Twentyman of the team’s website:

    I’ll tell you what, he’s really impressive from where he left here at the end of mini-camp to his report...you know people make TV shows about Extreme Makeover and stuff like that and I like where he is right now.

    Hopefully, Fairley lost enough weight so there is no need to "move that bus!" to see his transformation.

    It is still early in camp, and weigh-ins only count for so much, but it is starting to look like the Lions are finally going to get the monstrous defensive tackle pair they originally ordered.

Change Is Everywhere in Jacksonville

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    With a new coach, Gus Bradley, and general manager, David Caldwell, the Jaguars have entered an era of change, which is certainly not restricted to the football operations.

    The Jaguars are in the midst of one of the fiercest camp battles to be fought across the league this August as they decide on a new P.A. announcer between 11 finalists. In true American Idol fashion, the fans will vote on the winner after the finalists are on public display during the Aug. 3 scrimmage.

    The Jaguars quarterback competition will certainly garner more media attention (Blaine Gabbert versus Chad Henne), but you can always bench a player. Once a P.A. announcer is selected, there is no turning back.