8 Players Feeling the Heat Heading into NFL Training Camp

Andrew GardaFeatured ColumnistJune 29, 2014

8 Players Feeling the Heat Heading into NFL Training Camp

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    New York Jets QB Geno Smith
    New York Jets QB Geno SmithMel Evans/Associated Press

    Every summer when we reach the time for NFL training camps to begin, we talk about players with something to prove. It can be someone trying to steal a job, an undrafted free agent aiming to make a roster or a veteran in a new situation.

    This week, we're looking at players who are on the proverbial "hot seat."

    Some of these guys need to hold off younger players, while others will be under scrutiny because they have underperformed over time. Still others have put themselves in the spotlight because of things they have said or done.

    Not all of them could lose their jobs, but each has something on the line.

Johnny Manziel, Cleveland Browns

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Johnny Football is going to be Johnny Football, and he says he's not going to change for anybody, according to Fox Sports Ohio's Zac Jackson.

    Which is all well and good, but come training camp, he'd better be all about business.

    Even if Manziel really is Cleveland's backup and has no shot at starting, everyone will be watching him. He will be under a microscope. That he put himself there in some ways is irrelevant.

    The fact is that if he implodes or even struggles a little, he's going to have a lot of people pointing fingers his direction.

    It's possible that nobody in any training camp across the NFL will be under as much scrutiny as Manziel. It's also possible that's just how he likes it.

Antonio Cromartie, Arizona Cardinals

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    USA TODAY Sports

    When you proclaim yourself one of the two best cornerbacks in the NFL, as Antonio Cromartie did on NFL Total Access not long ago (as relayed by NFL.com's Chris Wesseling), the spotlight will shine on you.

    In that case, you need to perform.

    Cromartie followed his boasting up with a video on Instagram showing him sprinting, accompanied with an explanation that he ran a 4.34 and a 4.36 40 after a workout.

    He’s going to have to do more than post videos.

    Across from Patrick Peterson, Cromartie is going to see a lot of targets. Last season was a huge step back for him, enough to where his price tag was too high for the New York Jets to keep him on the roster. And the slip in his play limited his market to the point that Arizona signed him to just a one-year deal.

    We'll know very quickly which team was right.

Geno Smith, New York Jets

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    Mel Evans/Associated Press

    The Jets have bet heavily that Geno Smith will be able to carry them forward as their franchise quarterback.

    Of course, they hedged that bet by bringing in Michael Vick.

    The assumption is that Smith will have a short leash during the season, but the reality is the Jets made significant moves to improve on last year's 8-8 record. Smith has to prove he can do it.

    While he may have the job as it stands, everyone will be watching what he does in camp (or doesn't do) very closely.

    The Jets want Smith to hang on to the job, but they want to win more.

    General manager John Idzik and head coach Rex Ryan would hate to be wrong about Smith. But they'll hate to lose more, and it could cost them their jobs. So if Smith isn't on point during training camp, he's going to hear about it.

Trent Richardson, Indianapolis Colts

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    USA TODAY Sports

    When the Indianapolis Colts traded for Trent Richardson, they thought they might be getting a steal from the Cleveland Browns.

    When Richardson continued to struggle, though, the deal looked bad for the Colts.

    As the Colts enter training camp, that trade is still under scrutiny, which means Richardson is feeling the heat. Last October, Bleacher Report's Matt Miller broke down some of Richardson's issues and mentioned Richardson's clear lack of instinct when running.

    ESPN's Jim Trotter recently reported that Richardson is running without overthinking it, running more on instinct.

    That sounds nice, but he'll have to show it during training camp and preseason because he's likely running out of chances to prove he can carry the load.

Sam Baker, Atlanta Falcons

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    In 2013, left tackle Sam Baker signed a six-year, $41.1 million contract with the Atlanta Falcons and then missed a dozen games with a knee injury.

    Baker has never been a top-level tackle, even if he was paid like one, and the first-round selection of Jake Matthews could be a sign that the Falcons have buyer's remorse.

    Right now, Matthews is at right tackle and Baker is holding on to the left tackle position, but Baker has to prove he is worth the money he signed for last offseason.

    If he is outplayed by Matthews, he's going to find himself replaced by the rookie and way overpaid for the right tackle position.

Stephen Hill, New York Jets

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    When the New York Jets selected Stephen Hill with the 43rd overall pick in the 2012 NFL draft, Alshon Jeffery was still on the board, as were Rueben Randle, T.J. Graham, Mohamed Sanu and, just to rub salt in the wound given the quarterback issues they've had, Russell Wilson.

    Since he's been with the Jets, Hill has struggled, dropping numerous passes, looking lost in the Jets' offensive schemes and battling injuries that have shortened both his seasons.

    The Jets brought in Eric Decker and drafted three wide receivers and one tight end, so they aren't taking chances.

    Hill had a very nice outing in OTAs, according to the New York Daily News' Seth Walder, but that's just guys in shorts and shirts. Everyone will be watching to see if he can hang on to his job when the pads come on in training camp.

Kenny Britt, St. Louis Rams

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    Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

    It seems as if we've made it through the bulk of the offseason without a Kenny Britt arrest. So that's a good first step in his overall image rehabilitation.

    Now he just has to make it through camp on a packed roster without ending up hurt.

    Britt has missed games every season but his rookie one, whether due to injury or suspension, and has to find a way to stay on the field.

    When he played last season, he struggled, which is a kind way of saying he really sucked at his job. We've seen his talent before, though, and while this roster has a lot of receivers, very few of them can hold a candle to Britt when he's on point.

    He's just frequently anything but on point.

    You can be sure the Rams and their fans will keep a sharp eye on Britt during training camp. He's running out of chances to prove himself, so this summer will be critical for him and his career.

Matt Schaub, Oakland Raiders

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    Rich Pedroncelli/Associated Press

    Let's make no bones about it: Matt Schaub had a horrendous 2013. It was bad enough that the Houston Texans are willing to go into the season with decidedly mediocre Ryan Fitzpatrick under center rather than Schaub.

    The Oakland Raiders see things differently and are hoping his 2013 struggles were an aberration.

    Things didn't start out well for Schaub, as the San Francisco Chronicle's Vic Tafur reported Schaub threw a pick-six in his first practice with the team.

    That's a grim omen for a guy who gave out interceptions like candy last season.

    Contra Costa Times reporter Steve Corkran reported that same day that Raiders head coach Dennis Allen believes Schaub to be a "top-10 quarterback."

    Schaub's 2015 salary isn't guaranteed, according to NBC Sports Network's Ross Tucker, so this is essentially a one-year deal.

    It might not even be that if he implodes like he did last season.