The Biggest Early Revelations from NFL Training Camps
Training camps in the NFL may have begun only a few days ago, but that doesn’t mean we can’t learn anything significant this early into the summer. It is true that most teams are barely getting familiar with fully padded practices at this point and are still shaking off the rust of a long, contact-free offseason.
Far be it from me to step dangerously into the realm of speculation based off of a few practices against players wearing the same colored jerseys, right?
I suppose now is as good a time as any to throw caution into the wind and reveal what I’ve already learned about the much-anticipated football season. Some of these “much too early” revelations from NFL training camps are recent developments, while others have been long-standing views reinforced through the early stages of camp.
Read on to find out about these early revelations and what they could mean for the 2013 NFL season.
Eddie Lacy Has Guts
After an unflattering photo of Packers rookie running back Eddie Lacy began to circulate earlier this week, many were reminded of everything NFL.com’s analyst/scout Bucky Brooks had to say via Twitter immediately following Lacy’s pre-draft workout back in early April (h/t Patrick Clarke of Bleacher Report).
Whether the photo was simply a bad angle or a sign of something more ominous, we do know one thing for sure: Lacy is clearly a thick running back who should provide the Packers with a physical presence in the backfield.
What we aren't sure of is whether or not he can run away from defenders or carry a full load for 60 minutes.
It’s safe to assume that Lacy will need to learn how to train and prepare his body at a level he’s unaccustomed to. Though this type of stuff is not uncommon for rookies entering the NFL, it is perhaps more concerning for a player whose work ethic has already been brought into question before ever being drafted.
After all, we have seen this sort of thing before, and we would hate to see him go the way of former USC Trojan and Tennessee Titan LenDale White.
Sam Bradford Ready to Break Out
For the first time in Sam Bradford’s four-year career, he will not be learning a new system. Instead, he gets to build upon the foundation he established a year ago. (You can see more on his preparation this offseason in an interview he did with NFL Network here.)
In addition, Bradford should benefit from the added protection provided by newly acquired left tackle and former Miami Dolphins No. 1 overall pick Jake Long.
Anyone who watches Bradford play can see that he has struggled thus far in his career, in part because of the amount of relentless pressure he has faced from opposing defenses. His strength is as a true pocket passer, as he has never performed well while under duress. If he can work in a clean pocket with just a little bit of time, there’s no telling what his limits are.
Another exciting bonus to the season will be his new targets via free agency and the draft. Expect rookie wideout Tavon Austin to provide a lot of electricity to the offense, while free-agent tight end Jared Cook serves up a reliable dump-off option and lifeline in case of emergencies.
Tyler Eifert Will Have Huge Role in Bengals Offense
Tyler Eifert is already looking like one of the most versatile offensive weapons in the league, and he has yet to play in a single NFL game.
“He's running routes and catching the ball," said offensive coordinator Jay Gruden (h/t FoxNews.com). "He's very natural at what he does. He can beat man coverage no problem. He can beat zones. He's got a great feel for the game.”
Teammate Terence Newman had this to say about Eifert from the same article:
He's got a different skill-set than a lot of tight ends, I think, as far as the way he runs routes, he's a big guy, but he moves kind of like he could be a big wideout. It's kind of like the 49ers, what they do with Vernon Davis. He's versatile and he can do anything they ask him to do.He's going to be somebody to be reckoned with this year, for sure.
I've been very vocal about this young kid out of Notre Dame and expect him to be one of the best rookies this year. It appears as though the Bengals have the right idea on how best to utilize his unique set of skills.
With most opposing defenses focused on A.J. Green, Eifert should see some nice looks all year long.
Philadelphia Eagles Have Locker Room Issues
Recent video obtained through CrossingBroad.com (warning: offensive language) of Eagles wide receiver Riley Cooper shouting a racial slur at a Kenny Chesney concert has put the fourth-year pro in some serious hot water.
Cooper may have apologized to his teammates and the media on Wednesday, but all is definitely not forgiven, despite what quarterback Michael Vick had to say publicly to Jim Corbett of USA Today. In reality, many of Cooper’s teammates will have a hard time ever trusting him again.
Some teammates have spoken out against Cooper already, such as running back LeSean McCoy, who told NFL Network's Albert Breer that he "can't respect a guy like that." Defensive back Cary Williams told Jim Corbett of USA Today that he's "angry," noting that there were "several other words he could have said" that would've been less hurtful.
Corbett also reported the following: "Receiver Riley Cooper spent much of Thursday's practice standing alone, isolated from teammates when he wasn't participating in first-team repetitions."
It is not so much about the specific slur that he used; rather, it is about the malicious manner in which he used it. What his teammates will have trouble getting over is that in a conflict with an unknown man, he decided to turn his anger into a boisterous declaration of violence against an entire race of people. That race just so happens to make up the bulk of his Eagles brethren.
You can be sure that his teammates will be wondering why he suddenly wanted to fight any available black person in the entire concert. They will know that his anger toward one black man in that moment was redirected toward any and every black man around, which could easily have been one of the several black guys he sits next to every day at the facility.
Remember, locker room chemistry is extremely important.
UPDATE: August 2: the Eagles have released a statement through their website regarding the status of Riley Cooper with the team:
As we have said, Riley Cooper will be seeking counseling and we have excused him from all team activities. This is all new territory and we are going to evaluate this timetable every step of the way. He will meet with professionals provided by the Eagles during this period of time to better help him understand how his words have hurt so many, including his teammates.
Brandon Weeden Is a Liability
The Cleveland Browns have a lot to look forward to as they continue to stockpile young talent onto their roster. The new coaching staff is also one of the most talented and experienced staffs in the entire league.
But if second-year quarterback Brandon Weeden is not up for the task at hand, the Browns could be facing yet another year of mediocrity.
According to reports from Rick Grayshock of WaitingForNextYear, a popular sports blog focusing on the Browns and Ohio State athletics, Weeden has struggled to find any sort of consistency with his throws. In some cases, he is overthrowing his targets so severely that his teammates are beginning to show signs of frustration.
This is not much of a surprise to me considering the type of year he had as a rookie and the feeling I had about him coming out of college.
Aside from the fact that he’s almost 30 years old and does not have a lot of time left for improvement, Weeden never demonstrated any real ability to read defenses in a pro-style offense, nor did he show the necessary mobility required in today’s NFL to buy time or make plays with your feet. He may have a nice arm, but success at the NFL level requires a lot more than just the ability to sling it, especially when your accuracy is as inconsistent as Weeden's.
Unfortunately for Browns fans, their highly talented roster will have to wait at least a year or two before they can make a real push for divisional dominance.
Weeden is not the answer in Cleveland, but hopefully he can play just well enough to give these guys a fighting chance in 2013.
Julio Jones Is Better Than Roddy White
Whether everyone inside the Atlanta Falcons organization is willing to admit it or not, Julio Jones is the far superior talent between he and Roddy White despite the fact that White just so happens to be the official No. 1 receiver on the team.
Regardless of labels, defensive coordinators are being kept up at night because of Jones, not White. Yet pairing these two talented receivers together has made the Falcons’ passing game nearly unstoppable.
Now entering his third season, Jones has improved on many of the nuances of the position, including route running and better body control, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL.com. Still, it’s hard to imagine how truly dominant this physically imposing specimen can be once you add a veteran’s refinement.
By midseason, it should be rather obvious that Roddy White will be the No. 1 wide receiver in title only. Hopefully, his transition into a complimentary role in this offense goes smoothly. If they can all still work as a unit on offense, the Super Bowl is not a far cry from reality, especially considering they fell just a few yards short of getting there last season.
Geno Smith Will Start in Year 1
Usually, the veteran quarterback on the team is able to show the coaching staff that his experience will give him a significant edge over a rookie that is about to enter his first training camp.
However, as stated by Rich Cimini of ESPN New York, Mark Sanchez has done nothing to outperform Geno Smith from an outsider’s perspective so far this summer. This is not to say that Smith is lighting things up, but it demonstrates Sanchez's lack of progression in all facets of the game.
Sometimes, our self-confidence can be completely stripped away, to the point where it never bounces back. Unfortunately, Sanchez may be in this category. The years of abuse from the media may have finally done enough damage to his psyche that he has become a mere shell of himself. The best he can do now is hide the pain and insecurities he has regarding his job from his teammates and the media. But if you watch closely enough, you can see his fear screaming through in his body language and facial expressions.
I truly believe that Sanchez will let out a huge sigh of relief once he is finally made into a backup quarterback once and for all. After that, he can collect his money, crack jokes and escape the brutal attacks from the New York media and its fans.
Given the lack of talent at the skill positions, the Jets should fall out of playoff contention rather quickly, but look for Geno to start a game well before that happens.
If only he had some better targets to throw the ball to...
Jamie Collins Will Be One of the Best Rookie Defenders This Year
In all honesty, I really didn’t need much evidence from training camp to make this claim, but it’s nice when those additional bits of evidence fall into place.
Rumor has it that Jamie Collins is blowing people away in Patriots camp, especially linebacker coach Pepper Johnson. As highlighted in an article by Doug Kyed of NESN.com, Coach Johnson sang Collins’ praises for over 10 minutes on Monday.
Johnson raved about his intelligence, work ethic, versatility and passion for the game. Apparently, the coaching staff has been moving Collins all over the defense in order to utilize his skills in various ways.
Collins started out as a safety in college before moving to linebacker, and eventually defensive end, so he is much more equipped to make the transition to the pro game than most guys his age.
In a previous article of mine which ranks the most physically gifted prospects of this year’s draft class, Jamie Collins ranked 14th out of over 250 possible prospects.
Clearly, he is the complete package. The only thing to watch for now is the creative ways they intend to get him on the field with such a crowded linebacker unit in New England.
Ryan Riddle is an NFL Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report and a contributor to Footballguys.com. Before B/R, Ryan played at the University of California. Afterward, he was drafted by the Oakland Raiders and spent time with the New York Jets, Atlanta Falcons, Baltimore Ravens and Los Angeles Avengers.