Early Studs and Duds from NFL Training Camps
These are the dog days of summer.
That phrase typically entails the warmest part of the summer, and in most NFL cities, that is certainly true. However, for NFL players young and old, these are the days that try a man's endurance and his will. These are the days that, as the idiom goes, separate the men from the boys—the wheat from the chaff.
One mistake can be the end of a football career. An inadvertent injury can crush a young man's dreams. Moreover, it's possible to do absolutely everything correctly within one's power and still lose out because another guy is bigger, faster, stronger or simply younger.
It's survival of the fittest during the dog days of summer.
Throughout training camp and heading into the preseason's second week, some have shined and others have lost their luster. Click ahead to see who's standing out and who's sticking out like a sore thumb.
Stud: Denard Robinson—OW, Jacksonville Jaguars
Go ahead, read that slide title again.
No, no...Robinson isn't in pain. His official title for the Jacksonville Jaguars is "Offensive Weapon." Hopefully that conjures up all sorts of awesomeness in your mind (or, at least, a vague Wolverine recollection).
Robinson is the professional equivalent of a college recruit labeled "ATH" for athlete. Only, rather than shoehorning him into one position as colleges are wont to do, the Jaguars are just going to let him do his thing wherever he matches up best with the other team.
Defensive coordinators around the league just put on another pot of coffee.
When Robinson first got to Jaguars camp, he was overwhelmed, until the coaching staff realized they had put a ton on his plate. Since then, Robinson has improved steadily and rushed for 32 yards in the preseason opener. He also lined up at wide receiver and quarterback.
Offensive weapon, indeed.
Dud: Matt Barkley—QB, Philadelphia Eagles
"I coulda been a contender."
Those words, first made famous by Marlon Brando in On the Waterfront, perfectly describe Matt Barkley's first NFL offseason. When he was drafted in the fourth round of the 2013 NFL draft, he should have had a chip on his shoulder. Taking the reins of the Philadelphia Eagles would've been the perfect revenge for all the teams that passed on him.
Instead, Barkley has made it perfectly clear that it's a two-way competition in Eagles camp—between Michael Vick and Nick Foles—and he's clearly on the outside looking in for the starting job. These facts were evident to people who'd watched practices, even if the coaching staff still held out hope. Then, Barkley was forced to play in front of a national audience and crumbled like his former USC team against his current head coach, Chip Kelly.
Stud: Brice Butler—WR, Oakland Raiders
If the name Brice Butler doesn't ring a bell, don't worry. Butler was a seventh-round draft pick and is a speedy wide receiver from San Diego State. If that sounds like the exact type of player the Oakland Raiders have been drafting ad infinitum for the past decade, it's because it is.
If you think that's a good reason to look past Butler, you'd be incredibly incorrect.
Butler isn't just some small-school scrub. Originally a USC Trojan, Butler transferred to San Diego State. He also has a dad that happened to be an All-American cornerback at Florida State and later an Atlanta Falcon.
Butler rolled into Raiders camp and immediately put the receiver depth chart on notice. He's pressured second-year player Juron Criner, according to Vic Tafur of the San Francisco Chronicle, for a spot in the receiving rotation. He's also had one of the must-watch catches of the first week of preseason action.
Dud: Mikel Leshoure—RB, Detroit Lions
A couple of years ago, the Detroit Lions traded up into the bottom of the second round to take Mikel Leshoure because they felt he was a perfect complement for running back Jahvid Best. Now, Best is gone due to concussion issues, and Leshoure might be next to go with lingering injury issues of his own.
Leshoure tore his Achilles tendon in his rookie season and has not regained the speed, burst or agility he had pre-injury. He's supposedly second on the depth chart, but he looks slow and plodding both on the practice field and in game action. Moreover, running back Joique Bell brings real value as a receiver out of the backfield and flashes more burst.
Leshoure will probably be kept around for now because of his draft status and what he was before the injury, but do not be surprised if he continues to underwhelm and gets caught in the numbers game toward the end of training camp.
Stud: DeAndre Hopkins—WR, Houston Texans
Another offseason, another search for the Houston Texans No. 2 receiver. It's a tradition seemingly as old as the expansion Texans and had replaced praying for the well-being of quarterback David Carr as the fanbase's No. 1 hobby.
Those days look long-past with the selection of DeAndre Hopkins in the first round of this year's draft. Hopkins was a physical, talented receiver out of Clemson and has almost immediately endeared himself to both the coaching staff and the fanbase with his penchant for big plays.
First came reports that he was "steadily getting better," per CSN Houston's Dave Zangaro, out on the practice field. Then came the first preseason game where he went off for 52 yards and a touchdown—this touchdown. No, seriously, go watch that touchdown right now.
Dud: A.J. Jenkins—WR, San Francisco 49ers
Sometimes players are put in rough situations and fail. Other times players are put into perfect situations and still fail. Those are sad times.
This is a case of the latter for A.J. Jenkins and the San Francisco 49ers.
Drafted on a team that was willing to wait for his talent to blossom, Jenkins wasn't utilized in his first season because he wasn't ready, and clearly the 49ers didn't need his help en route to the Super Bowl. Jenkins was put on the shelf and given reps against one of the greatest defenses on the planet to develop as wideout.
In 2013, his opportunity to make his mark with the team is there for the taking. Receiver Michael Crabtree has gone down with an Achilles injury and the receiving corps was ripe for a man of Jenkins' physical talents to ascend to the forefront. Instead, Jenkins finds himself on the roster bubble, his coach frustrated with him, and fumbling his lone reception in a preseason game.
Stud: David Bakhtiari—OT, Green Bay Packers
If A.J. Jenkins is missing his chance to vault atop the depth chart due to injury, David Bakhtiari is doing the polar opposite. He's taken that chance, pancake-blocked it into the frozen tundra of Green Bay, kicked dirt in its eye and flexed over the twitching form below.
What I guess I'm trying to say is, he's having a good camp.
Bryan Bulaga was supposed to move to left tackle this season, but he tore his ACL. So, as everyone assumed the line would get shuffled around and maybe Bakhtiari might have a chance on the right side, he just stepped up and took the most important spot on the line—as a rookie. He was also one of the lone bright spots in the Packers' preseason opener.
Dud: Jonathan Martin—OT, Miami Dolphins
In the last slide, we talked about how the Green Bay Packers had a good plan for the left tackle spot, had the plan shattered due to injury, and still might come up roses because a mid-round pick is stepping up.
Now, check out the Miami Dolphins, who had zero plan for left tackle, and the guy who fell into the position—Jonathan Martin—is failing wildly.
Martin is exactly who we thought he was (cue Dennis Green) coming out of Stanford. He can run block as well as anyone, but he's going to get beaten early and often in pass protection. It's why he was a solid fit on the right side, but he may be career homicide for quarterback Ryan Tannehill on the left.
Stud: Sio Moore—LB, Oakland Raiders
Sio Moore was drafted in the third round of this year's draft.
Now, he's already been handed a starting position. That's how impressive his training camp has been. We're barely into the meat of the preseason, and the coaching staff is already talking about utilizing him like Denver Broncos linebacker Von Miller, as Vic Tafur of the San Francisco Chronicle reported.
That's not just high praise. It's a sign of things to come for a young man who has all the athleticism in the world and a nose for the football.
If you want to check out more about Moore, B/R Video took a closer look earlier this offseason. Get your sneak-peek now. He'll be a household name sooner rather than later.
Stud: Tyrann Mathieu—DB, Arizona Cardinals
Last name on the list, and one good enough to end on a high note. Tyrann "Honey Badger" Mathieu made headlines at LSU as a player who "just didn't care." Of course, that high-risk attitude morphed from big plays on the football field into a year-long vacation from the sport he loves as he sought help for what he believes is marijuana addiction.
Any team drafting him was going to have to dig through a pile of red flags, but the Arizona Cardinals pulled the trigger in the third round. They've installed him as their nickelback, and he's shined.
Note: Before the draft, I noted how his size might limit him to only nickelback, but in a passing league, that role still has amazing value for the Cardinals.
An unnamed scout already called Mathieu the Cardinals' best football player—high praise on a team that has a wide receiver named Larry Fitzgerald. If Mathieu can make an immediate impact on an already solid Cardinals defense, he could be one of the best comeback stories of the 2013 NFL season.
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.