Rounding Up the Latest NFL Offseason Rumors, Buzz and Speculation
Things are about to get really interesting around the National Football League.
Right now, players are on their last extended break of the year. When next they gather, it will be for training camp, which leads into the preseason.
Before you know it, the Green Bay Packers and Seattle Seahawks will be kicking off the 2014 season in the Pacific Northwest on September 4.
However, just because the madness has yet to get rolling in earnest doesn't mean that there's nothing going around the NFL. Quite the contrary, in fact.
Here's a look at the latest.
Less Work for Eddie Lacy in 2014?
Eddie Lacy was a revelation for the Green Bay Packers in 2013. With quarterback Aaron Rodgers sidelined with a broken collarbone, the rookie running back carried the Green Bay offense for half the season.
However, as Weston Hodkiewicz of the Green Bay Press-Gazette wrote, after Lacy played on a sprained ankle down the stretch last year, the Packers are looking for a way to lessen Lacy's workload this season.
With that said though, offensive coordinator Tom Clements admitted that the workload split has yet to be determined, especially in light of second-year pro Johnathan Franklin's sudden retirement last week.
We haven’t sat down and figured out an ‘X’ number of carries for Eddie. Eddie was a workhorse for us last year, and then when James got in there last year, he ran very hard. That was a great one-two punch. Now you factor in DuJuan and the other guys, it’s going to be interesting to see how that plays out.
Lacy, for his part, told the team's website he's ready to shoulder whatever load the Packers need. "Just being that guy my team can depend on when necessary, that's the main drive for me," Lacy said.
Lacy carried the ball for 278 times for 1,181 yards and 11 touchdowns en route to being named the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2013.
Did Jadeveon Clowney Play Through a Sports Hernia Last Year?
Leading up to the 2014 NFL draft, one of the prevailing knocks on South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney was the big drop-off in his production during the 2013 season.
It turns out, there may have been a reason for that.
That's the latest from John McClain of The Houston Chronicle, who tweeted that according to Gil Brandt of NFL.com, Clowney played hurt with the Gamecocks:
I just spoke with Gil Brandt at rookie symposium. Clowney told him today he played with sports hernia last season at South Carolina.
— John McClain (@McClain_on_NFL) June 26, 2014
Clowney, who had surgery to repair the sports hernia earlier this month, told Brian T. Smith of the Houston Chronicle that he's unsure if he'll be recovered in time for the beginning of training camp.
Granted, this news would at least partly explain Clowney's precipitous drop in sacks last year. But, Clowney passed all his physicals at the combine, and just after being drafted Clowney told McClain, "Everything feels great to me right now. I’m just ready to get ahead and get going.”
In any event, at this point how and when Clowney was injured isn't as important as getting the first overall pick in the 2014 NFL draft back on the practice field as soon as possible.
The Ground-and-Pound Bengals?
Since the Bengals hired Hue Jackson as their offensive coordinator, there's been plenty of talk that Cincinnati will run the ball significantly more than in 2013.
You can add Geoff Hobson of the Bengals' website to the list of people who agree, although Hobson wrote that it may not be for the reasons many think:
They’ve been sloppy on offense. I think Jackson’s panacea on cutting down the turnovers is to be a more ball possession team that runs it more, but sets up more explosive pass plays more efficiently. Fewer passes, but more bang for the buck off play-action is what is sounds like. At least that’s what he did in Oakland.
For the Bengals to pull that off in 2014 the team is going to need to be more effective on a per-carry basis. The Bengals struggled in that regard a year ago, ranking 27th in the NFL at 3.6 yards a pop.
Hobson also thinks the Bengals need to ratchet up the tempo offensively, something they experimented with in OTAs:
I’m wondering what they’re waiting for. With matchup nightmares Giovani Bernard and tight end Tyler Eifert running around, the no huddle would seem to be the perfect way to get those matchups a la James Brooks and Rodney Holman.
(Sorry kids. Timeout for a history lesson. James Brooks is the mighty mite 5-10, 180-pound running back/wide receiver and Rodney Holman the game-breaking tight end who went to a combined seven Pro Bowls thanks to Sam Wyche’s no huddle.)
Dalton is a Princeton point guard, not a pure passer. Heady. Resourceful. Tough. A facilitator and I think he’d do well leading a fast break.
The Latest on Johnny Football
In the summer of 2014, no article about speculation and rumors would be complete without a look at the latest regarding this year's most scrutinized rookie.
It's been an eventful first couple of months in the NFL for Manziel, and most would say it's been for all the wrong reasons.
However, a couple of Manziel's old teammates came to his defense this week.
According to Mary Kay Cabot of the Northeast Ohio Media Group, wide receiver Mike Evans, who played with Manziel at Texas A&M, gave his former quarterback a vote of confidence while speaking at the NFL Rookie Symposium:
In training camp, I don't think he'll go out at all. He'll be committed and devoted and fighting for a starting job. He's a great guy. He practiced hard. He came to work. He's one of my best friends. So I wouldn't trade him for anybody. I think he'll be a great pro. He's a great guy. He's a better guy than most people give him credit for.
Offensive tackle Jake Matthews echoed those sentiments:
Just his determination, his attitude, his work ethic -- he gets after it. When he's on the field, he's got the mindset that no one's better than him. I really enjoyed blocking for him. I'm proud to say I blocked for him and I blocked for a Heisman Trophy Winner and I think he's going to do a lot of really good things here. I'm looking forward to seeing his career.
According to Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk, Hall of Fame quarterback Warren Moon told Sirius XM Radio Manziel would be well-served to dial it back a notch:
My biggest problem with him and it’s something he has to get used to and temper down a little bit, all guys are gonna go out and have a good time. Quarterbacks, all different positions. But you don’t want to make it as public. You want to keep it more of a low profile when you are out having a good time. He tends to make it more of a high profile thing when he’s out, so that just opens up all this speculation and criticism by everybody out here. . . . It gives everybody a chance to have an opinion upon him. And a lot of that he brings upon himself by exposing everything that he does.
Moon didn't explain how exactly Manziel is supposed to be "less public" in public, but have no fear because Manziel told Mary Kay Cabot of the Northeast Ohio Media Group he's on the case:
I'm not going to change who I am for anybody. I'm growing up and continuing to learn from my mistakes and trying not to make the same ones over and over again, but am I going to live in a shell or am I just going to hide from everybody and not do anything? I don't think that's the way I should live my life and I'm not going to do it.
Never said which case he was on. To the swan!
Breakout Time for Toby Gerhart?
After four seasons toiling in relative obscurity as Adrian Peterson's understudy with the Minnesota Vikings, Toby Gerhart is finally getting his shot to start at running back in the NFL after signing a free-agent deal with the Jacksonville Jaguars.
The Jaguars have been talking up their new running back consistently since then, but now some outside voices are joining the fray.
That's the latest from Daniel Jeremiah of NFL.com:
Here's a name that keeps coming up in my talks with personnel guys around the league: Toby Gerhart. High expectations for 2014.
— Daniel Jeremiah (@MoveTheSticks) June 25, 2014
That jibes with the news that's been coming out of Florida. As Ryan O'Halloran of The Florida Times-Union reported, the Jags have lauded Gerhart's receiving skills and ability to gain yards after contact while touting the former Stanford star as an every-down back:
He’s a horse," explained RBs coach Terry Richardson. "He’s a big guy, and I talked to one of his former [position] coaches, and he was saying Toby had the strongest legs he’s been around in terms of his leg drive and leg power.
Gerhart, for his part, told USA Today (via Mike Coppinger of NFL.com) that he's ready to carry the load:
Gus (Bradley) comes from the Seattle Seahawks' model of playing good defense, relying on the run game where Marshawn Lynch was their 'Beast Mode' out there. Hopefully, I'll be the 'Beast Mode' down here for the Jaguars. I want to be a guy who helps turn this program around with a physical, punishing offense.
Kenbrell Thompkins Looking Good
The New England Patriots passing game struggled in 2013, largely due to injuries that forced rookies into a number of prominent roles.
As Mike Reiss of ESPN reports, at least one of those rookies is doing his best to put an uneven (at best) first season behind him.
With fellow second-year pro Aaron Dobson recovering from foot surgery and sitting out OTAs, Reiss passes along word that Kenbrell Thompkins has been turning heads in minicamp.
I still give the edge to Dobson if he's on the field for the first day of training camp (he should be), but if the season was starting today I think it would be Thompkins. He's built some nice momentum in spring camps, and Dobson now has to try to do the same in training camp. Among the many competitions on the roster, that should be a fun one to watch. Dobson was drafted in the second round last year for a reason; they are expecting big things from him.
Granted, there's still a long way to go before the Patriots travel to Miami to face the Dolphins in Week 1, but an improved Thompkins added to a healthy Dobson, Danny Amendola and Rob Gronkowski would certainly put quarterback Tom Brady in a better position to throw the ball than last year.
Sammy Watkins and EJ Manuel off to Slow Start
The Buffalo Bills made Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins the first player at his position taken in the 2014 NFL draft, dealing their first-round pick in next year's draft for the right to move up and take Watkins fourth overall.
Many have pegged Watkins as the early leader for Offensive Rookie of the Year honors, but recent reports indicate that Watkins and quarterback EJ Manuel are off to something of a slow start together.
Those reports came from Watkins himself, who spoke with the NFL Network's Alex Flanagan (per Chris Wesseling):
It's not fully there. I mean, we've been connecting at minicamp, and OTAs. But at the same time, I could be wide open, and if he don't feel it, or if I run it a different type of way, he won't throw the ball. So it really just got to come with him believing in me. I believe in him. He can throw just about any ball. So it just comes down to ... we just need a lot of reps.
At this early juncture, this is hardly a surprise. After all, we're talking about a rookie wideout catching passes from a second-year quarterback on a team that ran the ball more than any other in the NFL last year.
Watkins is an incredibly talented young player, and odds are he'll be fine. But, folks who are expecting Watkins to do to the AFC East in 2014 what he did to the ACC in 2013 may want to temper those expectations.
Gary Davenport is an NFL Analyst at Bleacher Report and a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association and the Pro Football Writers of America. You can follow Gary on Twitter @IDPManor.