Biggest Takeaways from 1st Week of NFL Mandatory Minicamps
We're a week into team minicamps, and while there is a lot of time left before the NFL season actually kicks off, we're starting to see some interesting signs of what's to come.
Of course, there are plenty of lies to be told as well. You can tell them by the fact that a coach's lips are moving.
OK, cheap shot, but we all know you can only believe so much of what comes out of camps. All during camps, both mini and regular, a coaching staff's job is not only to weed out those who cannot help the cause but to build up the team as well.
So it's hard to say whether what you hear is true or whether it's smoke—good or bad.
But here's what we think we might know.
Ben Tate Thinks His Job Is Secure, but It's Not
Cleveland Browns running back Ben Tate may think he's going to be fine, according to Nate Ulrich and George Thomas of the Akron Beacon Journal, but it’s not that simple.
Rookie Terrance West is challenging Tate whether he wants to admit it or not. According to Glenn Moore of the Northeast Ohio Media Group, West has been getting a lot of the first-team reps so far and is expected to take a big role in the offense.
Tate is already banged up, and we haven’t even hit full training camp yet.
It may only be a matter of time before he loses his job if he can't stay healthy.
He may not feel like he could lose his job, but he should.
Johnny Manziel Is Going to Be the Starter
Remember when everyone in the Cleveland Browns organization said that Brian Hoyer was the starter and Johnny Manziel would have to earn the job?
Remember when I said in the introduction that you can tell when the coach is lying by whether his lips are moving?
Well, we've now got new head coach Mike Pettine telling reporters such as Cleveland.com writer Mary Kay Cabot that, while Hoyer will enter training camp as the starter, the lead he has over Manziel isn’t insurmountable.
That's code for "yeah, we really weren’t very serious about Hoyer" in my book.
Maybe Manziel sucks in camp and maybe Hoyer shines. So far we’ve seen a little bit of both good and bad from them.
But it sounds an awful lot like the Browns are setting things up for Manziel.
Conditioning a Problem and Caution Is the Plan
We're seeing a lot of injuries such as hamstring strains, ankle twists and groin pulls. Looking at the injury update I did last week, I'd say easily half or more of what I wrote about pertained to those kinds of small injuries.
Injuries like those tend to be conditioning-related, and you have to wonder if the fact that the new collective bargaining agreement (CBA) has altered workouts before training camp might have a hand in that.
Another obvious aspect of this is how cautious teams are being with players suffering from these injuries. Many would probably play this Sunday if we were in season, and more than a few are capable of hobbling out onto the field now.
But teams know how a long season grinds on their players and are making sure they take good care of their players.
Guys such as Chicago's Matt Slauson (per the Chicago Tribune's Brad Biggs), Green Bay's Clay Matthews (per the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's Lori Nickel) and Seattle's Richard Sherman (per Seattlepi.com's Richard Cohen) could all play today, but teams are being more careful with them because they know it's a marathon, not a sprint.
Teams Continue to Be Willing to Cut Players Who They Can’t Trade
What's the old saying? That the NFL stands for "not for long"?
We saw this all offseason, but if a team cannot trade a player, it has no compunction about cutting him, no matter how "big" a player he is.
It's interesting for two reasons. First, once upon a time a big name didn't get cut due to discontent or salary issues. Teams were able to work it out or trade players.
A guy like Brandon Flowers didn't get cut—not often. When the Kansas City Chiefs couldn't find a trading partner, though, they cut him loose, as relayed by Marc Sessler of NFL.com.
But, and this is the second reason, nobody trades for these players because they know they'll be on the "street" eventually.
It's almost a self-fulfilling prophecy.
In the end, teams will eat cap space more readily than roster spots, as we saw again this past week with Detroit releasing Chris Houston, via ESPN.com's Michael Rothstein.
Second-Year Quarterbacks Still Have a Lot to Prove
Two quarterbacks are in critical positions already, and it's only their second years.
It's early, yes, but Mike Rodak of ESPN.com has reported that Buffalo Bills quarterback EJ Manuel is struggling with accuracy. The team has put a lot of weapons around Manuel, so expectations are high.
The Bills desperately need to see his skills advance this year. It's just minicamp and OTAs, but so far we're not seeing it.
Manuel has the full backing of his club, though, and none of the quarterbacks behind him are going to do any better than he can.
It's all riding on the line for New York Jets quarterback Geno Smith as well.
Rich Cimini of ESPNNewYork.com is reporting that so far things are looking up for Smith, though.
Cimini reports Smith looks "decisive in the huddle" and is "showing more vocal leadership" than he did last year.
Of course, we need to see him under pressure, but it sounds promising.
And really, both guys have it better than Mike Glennon in Tampa Bay, who is already replaced by Josh McCown.
It's a Hard Knock Life for the Falcons
The long wait is over.
No, not the season finale of Game of Thrones, though that was quite good.
I'm referring to the announcement that the Atlanta Falcons will be this year's subject of the HBO series Hard Knocks.
As Jay Adams wrote on the Falcons' official site, a crew of 30 people will head to Flowery Branch, Georgia, and shoot 1,500 hours of footage for the five-week series.
Howard Katz, COO of NFL Films and NFL senior vice president of broadcasting, says the Falcons are "allowing us unprecedented access into their training camp."
How much behind-the-scenes stuff we'll see is hard to know for sure, but after last season's mess, you can bet this team will be laying it all on the line.
How will the Falcons fare without Tony Gonzalez? How will they do with their new "don't call it a 3-4/4-3" defense? How will all the new pieces fit on both sides of the ball?
You can bet a lot of people will be tuning in as we get through training camp.
We’ve Got Some Holdouts Coming
The Seattle Seahawks and Houston Texans have one thing in common.
Both teams may not have a key player coming to training camp. They certainly don't seem to have them coming to minicamps.
ESPN’s Tania Ganguli reported in May that Johnson wasn't coming to OTAs and minicamps and wasn't sure Houston was the place for him.
Lynch has two years left on his contract but will be turning 30 when he hits free agency. We saw this offseason that teams are not paying a premium to veteran backs, even proven ones. So he wants to get paid now.
That doesn't seem in the offing any more than a trade does for Johnson.
So it looks very much like both players may be skipping some of training camp this year, or at least the minicamps.
***updated 6/19/14: Lynch has shown up for camp according to Nick Eaton of SeattlePI.com (which sounds like a CBS procedural). It's worth continuing to monitor, but it now sounds as if either Lynch is willing to wait for a new deal or is fine with what he has.
Rookies Are Hitting the Ground Running
We talked about West and Manziel potentially getting an early start to their careers, and they aren't the only ones.
We're not even in full camp yet, and we’re hearing about rookies being poised for a lot of work early.
And it's not just first-rounders.
Jordan Matthews was a second-round pick for the Philadelphia Eagles, but Jimmy Kempski of Philly.com says he's been the best receiver in camp and "it hasn't been close." The Inquirer's Jeff McLane says it's "only a matter of time" before Matthews has the slot job all wrapped up.
Manziel and West's teammate, Justin Gilbert, looks like he could have a strong chance to win the Browns' No. 2 cornerback spot, according to the Akron Beacon Journal's Nate Ulrich.
Every year rookies get in the lineup, but this year guys such as Gilbert, West, Eric Ebron in Detroit and Mike Evans in Tampa Bay are getting handed responsibility in larger amounts earlier than ever.
We'll see how they handle it, but it's clear as we hit the end of minicamps and OTAs that teams want their picks to hit the ground running.
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