Breaking Down the Latest Updates from OTAs Around the NFL
OK, now we're really off and rolling.
On June 3, the St. Louis Rams kicked off organized team activities. They were the last NFL team to do so.
Over the next few weeks, rookies and veterans alike will gather across the country in shorts and shells, in order to acclimate to the playbook and improve their conditioning in advance of training camp next month.
Given the lack of pads and contact, one would think that OTAs wouldn't be big on storylines, but as the season-ending injury to Dallas Cowboys linebacker Sean Lee last week showed, one would be wrong.
So, whether it's position battles or the return of injured stars, here's a look at the latest from OTAs across the NFL.
We'll kick things off with the happiest man in the NFL.
That would be San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick. Or maybe Kaepernick's agent. Perhaps his investment broker.
After leading the 49ers to a Super Bowl and two NFC title games in his first two years as the starter, San Francisco rewarded the 26-year-old with a contract extension.
And what an extension it was.
According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, the deal, which will keep Kaepernick in the Bay Area through 2020, will pay Kaepernick a staggering $110 million. That includes a record $61 million in guaranteed money.
As SportsNation pointed out, the deal served another purpose as well:
Colin Kaepernick agrees to 6-year/$110 million extension with 49ers. Now he is FINALLY making more money than his backup, Blaine Gabbert.
— SportsNation (@SportsNation) June 4, 2014
That's a paradox that could have caused the cosmos to implode.
Sam Bradford on Track
We'll stick with quarterbacks in the NFC West for a bit.
As the last of the "old CBA" quarterbacks, Sam Bradford already got one fat payday from the St. Louis Rams to the tune of $50 million in guaranteed money before he ever set foot on the field for the team.
Last year, it appeared Bradford might finally be on the way to earning some of that coin, but a torn ACL derailed his season.
As the Rams gathered for OTAs, there's been some good news regarding Bradford's return to action from ESPN's Adam Schefter:
When Rams open minicamp this week, QB Sam Bradford will be ready to go; OT Jake Long will not. Both expected to be ready for regular season.
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) June 4, 2014
Head coach Jeff Fisher is bullish on Bradford's prospects in 2014, according to Chris Wesseling of NFL.com:
"Everybody does projections. We projected his numbers out had he stayed healthy last year," Fisher told NFL AM. "They would have been quite impressive, and who knows what would have happened down the stretch."
In the meat grinder that is the NFC West, we'll see.
RG3 Putting on a Show
Last year at this time, Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III was a spectator, watching OTAs as he rehabbed his torn ACL.
Now, after a lousy second season, Griffin is healthy for OTAs and minus the knee brace he wore all of last year.
As Griffin told Mike Jones of The Washington Post, just being on the practice field with his teammates has made a world of difference:
As everyone knows, last year I was rehabbing and getting ready for the season, and now, I get to go out there and be with the guys. That’s the most important part: to be with your teammates. That’s what I’ve had a chance to do. I thoroughly enjoy it, and hopefully they have, too.
That's only part of the story, though. Griffin worked with head coach Jay Gruden and quarterbacks coach Terry Shea in the offseason on his throwing motion.
The difference, according to USA Today's Jim Corbett, has been dramatic:
RG3 looks like a different QB, effortless in his drops and throwing mechanics without that ball and chain knee brace
— Jim Corbett (@ByJimCorbett) June 4, 2014
If Griffin can recapture his 2012 form, the Redskins should be right in the thick of a wide-open NFC East.
Von Miller Lite
The 2013 season went pretty well for the Denver Broncos (well, except for that last part), but the same can't be said for linebacker Von Miller.
A year that began with a six-game suspension ended with a torn ACL in December. In between was the worst season of Miller's three-year career, with a paltry five sacks.
The Broncos are counting on a bounce-back year from Miller, and there may be more chance of that happening because less of Miller showed up at OTAs.
After playing his first two NFL seasons at about 255 pounds, Miller played last year at a bulked-up 270 pounds. It was, as Miller told Lindsay Jones of USA Today, an "experiment that didn't work out."
Now Miller is back at 255 and on track to return to the field in Week 1.
Miller told Jones he can't wait for the opportunity to put last year's fiasco behind him:
I've been through a whole bunch. And to still be here and still have everything that was set out before still be able to get it now, it's a true blessing. I come to work every day, and it's just different now. I love coming to work, not that I didn't love coming to work before. But you know, I just have a huge opportunity to come here and play with the Broncos.
Given that Miller will now be lining up opposite DeMarcus Ware, opposing quarterbacks would probably prefer Miller take his time in coming back.
Dee in the Doghouse
Things haven't exactly gone as planned so far in the NFL for New York Jets cornerback Dee Milliner.
Tabbed as the man who would replace Darrelle Revis with Gang Green, Milliner was the first cornerback drafted a year ago. However, Milliner struggled mightily as a rookie, grading out 66th at his position, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
Things aren't going much better in 2014.
After missing significant time due to injury a year ago, Milliner has already been sidelined in OTAs by a strained hamstring.
He has to understand that he has to be in extraordinary shape. His challenge is to be in world-class shape because we have to have you out there. He needs to be out there. He needs to get work because that’s how he’s going to get better.
Ahmad Bradshaw Back in Action
The Indianapolis Colts tried on any number of ways to upgrade their running game in 2013. For the most part, the team wasn't successful.
However, there's been some good news in that regard. As the team conducts OTAs, that backfield is one step closer to being fully healthy.
Ahmad Bradshaw, who joined the time in free agency last year and may actually have been the Colts' most effective back on a per-touch basis before suffering a season-ending neck injury, was cleared to practice and joined the Colts for workouts, according to Stephen Holder of The Indianapolis Star:
I got cleared Friday and started (practicing) on Monday. I'm just so happy to be out here with the team. I'm able to get some camaraderie with the (offensive) line and the quarterbacks. And just to be out here putting the playbook on the field is great.
Bradshaw, who will battle Vick Ballard for the right to back up Trent Richardson in 2014, told Holder he anticipates needing another level of medical clearance before training camp gets rolling in earnest in July.
Hawkins Standing out for Browns
With Josh Gordon staring at a suspension that will probably last between one year and eternity, the Cleveland Browns are as hard up for wide receiver help as any team in the NFL.
That's put more than a little pressure on a new arrival to step up his game, but early in OTAs at least Andrew Hawkins has been up to the task.
The 28-year-old, who spent the last three seasons in Cincinnati before joining the Browns in free agency, has been the "best receiver on the field by far" in workouts, according to Terry Pluto of The Cleveland Plain Dealer.
Pluto writes, "This type of football (no tackling) is perfect for a 5-foot-7, 170-pound speedster. I knew he was quick, but he has shown outstanding hands. Rookie Justin Gilbert said he'd rather cover Josh Gordon than Hawkins."
Johnny Manziel Is Mortal!?!
We'll wrap this article with the league-mandated check on how Johnny Manziel is faring in training camp with the Browns.
OK, so it isn't league-mandated. It just feels like it, and we're barely into June.
This is going to come as a surprise to his legions of fans, but it turns out that in some respects Manziel is just like any other rookie quarterback.
As Pluto put it, "Watching this practice, you can see why the Browns have designated Brian Hoyer as the starter -- and keep insisting Johnny Manziel has to beat out the veteran."
Manziel had a very rough go of it Tuesday, tossing a pair of pick-sixes, but Pluto cautions fans not to read too much into that:
Johnny Football fans, please calm down. This is not about ripping the kid from Texas A&M. It's more like saying, "The NFL is tough for any rookie quarterback." Coach Mike Pettine believes one of the interceptions might have been because a receiver ran the wrong route. I'm not going to play the expert and pretend I know who made the mistake. But on the other throw, Pettine simply said "bad read" by Manziel.
All in all, it was a frustrating day for Manziel. "Manziel made a couple of nice throws," Pluto said, "but it was a difficult day for him. And he knew it, based on his body language."
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