NFL Training Camps 2014: Updates, Rumors and Analysis for August 6
It's almost go time.
On Thursday, 12 NFL teams will play their first exhibition contests of the 2014 season. The slate includes eight of last year's playoff teams, as well as rematches of the past two Super Bowls.
Sure, it's "only" the preseason, but the first full day of games is just one more indicator that the regular season is approaching quickly.
As teams from New York to San Diego prepare to take the field for the first time this year, here's a look at the latest scuttlebutt from around the NFL.
JohnnyWatch 2014: Teammates Aren't Feeling Manziel Mania?
Ever since Cleveland Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel saw his first action of training camp with the starters on Monday, "Manziel Mania" has ratcheted up about six notches among fans of the team.
Actually, as Bleacher Report NFL National Lead Writer Mike Freeman reports, that may be putting it mildly:
"He's like a son to me," says a lifelong Browns fan who identifies herself as Pat. She has never met Manziel.
"My thinking is that Johnny can lead us to a title in just a few years, if not sooner," says another Browns fan at camp.
However, among the players it's been a different story. As Freeman wrote, "I checked with players early in camp and then weeks later, and the message was the same. Manziel's skill level hasn't stood out."
With that said, though, veteran wideout Nate Burleson thinks the Browns are in a win-win situation at quarterback:
I love Johnny. I do. Johnny is for real. I like confident quarterbacks. I like guys that are borderline cocky. Both of those guys have that. You can see it. Johnny makes a play. He walks back and he's got a swag to him. His shoulders are bouncing. Same thing with 'B'. Hoyer would throw a ball and throw a little wink at you.
That's what I like. I like getting in the huddle and seeing these quarterbacks basically saying, 'I'm the captain of the ship. Let's hit the seas and let's go pillage and plunder what we want.' That’s exactly what these two guys got. We're going to follow their lead. This is an intense sport. We're not here to play around. We're here to make the city proud. We’re working for that. We've got a long way to go, but we've got two guys competing for the same spot and we can’t go wrong either way. It's exciting.
Brian Hoyer is expected to start the exhibition opener against the Detroit Lions. If things hold true to form, that would mean a few series for Hoyer and then quite a bit of playing time for Manziel.
That playing time will come with reserves against reserves, but it won't matter.
If Johnny Football plays well, the fans are going to go nuts.
Shonn Greene to Start at RB for Titans?
When the Tennessee Titans bid adieu to running back Chris Johnson in the offseason, it left a hole atop the depth chart at the position in Nashville. When the Titans drafted Washington's Bishop Sankey in the second round of May's draft, prevailing wisdom was that the rookie would fill that hole.
That presumption may have been premature.
When the Titans released their first depth chart of the season, it was veteran Shonn Greene, not Sankey, who was listed as the starter.
Head coach Ken Whisenhunt cautioned not to read too much into the pecking order, telling Terry McCormick of Titans Insider that Greene was listed No. 1 because of his experience.
However, Whisenhunt also told ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky that after a pair of offseason surgeries the 28-year-old Greene looks as good as he has in quite some time:
I think on (Saturday) I saw lot more of what I thought Shonn was than I’d seen earlier. So I think it’s going in the right direction. So we’re staying with that protocol. The biggest thing is strength, getting strength back in that quad, so that helps protect the knee and we’re working on that.
Greene is the textbook definition of a plodder, but he does have two 1,000-yard seasons under his belt. All this isn't to say that Sankey won't still see a big role on offense in 2014. In fact, he may well lead the team in carries.
However, it's looking more and more like a Music City committee at running back in 2014.
Jaguars RB Toby Gerhart to Miss Preseason Opener
With Maurice Jones-Drew now in Oakland, it's the dawn of a new age in the backfield for the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Unfortunately for the team, the free-agent acquisition who was supposed to usher in that age won't be taking the field when the Jaguars host the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Friday.
As John Oehser of the Jaguars' website reports, Toby Gerhart will miss the game due to soreness in his hip flexor.
Jacksonville head coach Gus Bradley downplayed the injury while speaking with Michael DiRocco of ESPN.com. "He's made great progress but we just felt like at this point in time, for the number of carries he's going to get in there, we'd rather have that recovery time," Bradley said.
Still, with Gerhart expected to receive a heavy workload as the Jags' lead back in 2014, the fact that the 27-year-old is already nicked up is at least mildly distressing.
Dolphins RB Knowshon Moreno Activated from PUP
Knowshon Moreno had a career year with the Denver Broncos in 2013, but after signing with the Miami Dolphins in free agency, it's been one thing after another with the 27-year-old running back.
Now, seven weeks after Moreno went under the knife, there's finally been some good news.
As James Walker of ESPN.com reported, the Dolphins have activated Moreno from the PUP list. The sixth-year veteran told Walker it felt very good to get back on the practice field:
Today was testing it out and seeing how it feels. I feel good. What I did today, I felt pretty good doing it. Now, the next couple of days I'll just progress and do more and more each day.
Moreno will now have about a month in which to unseat Lamar Miller as the team's starting tailback, although to no one's surprise Moreno is unlikely to play in the team's preseason opener.
"It's a little too early to tell; I mean, this is his first practice out here," head coach Joe Philbin said. "So I don't know if it's a wise coaching decision for a guy that really hasn't participated to throw him in a game."
Washington Wideouts Dinged Up
There's been a great deal made of the Washington Redskins' offseason acquisition of DeSean Jackson and how that addition would affect a Washington passing game that already featured some weaponry in wide receiver Pierre Garcon and tight end Jordan Reed.
However, fans looking for a preview of that aerial attack Thursday evening are out of luck.
As Mike Jones of The Washington Post reported, Garcon won't play against the New England Patriots due to a strained hamstring. The injury didn't appear to concern Garcon, who told Jones, “It’s just football.”
Jones then passed along word that the Redskins may be without Jackson as well:
Wide receiver DeSean Jackson pulled up lame midway through a pass route during Wednesday morning’s practice and appeared to have suffered an injury to his left foot. Jackson lined up opposite Patriots cornerback Darrelle Revis and jogged through his route. The receiver made a cut to the inside but suddenly started hopping on his right foot and made his way to the sideline unable to put pressure on his left foot.
Head coach Jay Gruden told Albert Breer of NFL Network that Jackson got "cleated" and "twisted his ankle a hair."
Gruden also indicated that the injury, while not believed to be serious, will probably keep the 27-year-old off the field against the Patriots.
Steelers RB Le'Veon Bell Looking Slim and Trim
If the Pittsburgh Steelers are going to get back into contention in the AFC North in 2014, then second-year tailback Le'Veon Bell is going to have to improve on last year's 3.5 yards per carry.
In an effort to improve his quickness, Bell has apparently been practicing evading cheesecakes and Fritos in the open field.
Bell told Dulac he believes the weight loss will serve him well in the zone-blocking scheme the Steelers are implementing this season:
I wanted to be lighter; I feel like I move a little better. I'm still strong, I'm still a big back -- 230 is still big. So I don't feel like I need to be 240. Looking at my film, when I was lighter, I made cuts a lot quicker, I was faster. I feel better around that weight, so I'm going to stay around that weight.
Bell also said that he feels the new scheme meshes well with his skill set:
You got to be patient. That's what coach [Kirby] Wilson is always teaching me. It's something as a runner I've always been blessed with. I'm a patient-type of runner. A lot of guys look at me and think I'm a big, physical guy, but I'm more patient than anything. That what makes me successful up to this point.
For a team that built a reputation for being all about smashmouth football, it's been a few years since the Steelers had a reliable running game. Getting that balance back on offense is crucial to the team's postseason aspirations in 2014.
Jets to Employ Committee Attack at RB
Apparently Wednesday's news is all about the running backs, so all you fantasy football freaks out there should probably be taking notes.
Even if the news from New York isn't exactly a surprise.
With the arrival of Chris Johnson, the Jets have one of the more crowded backfields in the NFL. The team's first depth chart certainly reflects that, as it lists Johnson, Chris Ivory and Bilal Powell as "co-starters."
I'd like to see that formation. I think Army used it to great success...in the 1930s.
I definitely think it’s going to be a committee approach. When you have Chris Ivory, Chris Johnson and Bilal Powell, I think that’s a pretty safe bet. [It’s] different than…’09 when Thomas [Jones] clearly ended up being the guy that took the majority of the things…But these are three guys that are capable of being starters themselves, so I think we’ll play all of them.’
It makes sense. After all, Johnson isn't the back he once was, and the Jets ranked well inside the top 10 in the NFL in rushing last year without him.
Browns WR Josh Gordon to Play vs. Lions
By the time Cleveland Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon learns whether or not he's going to be suspended for at least an entire season, the third-year pro will have announced his retirement.
That's how it seems anyway, and with the delay in a ruling expected to drag on for at least another week, Browns fans are about to be "treated" to what could wind up being just a cruel tease: Gordon catching passes from Johnny Manziel in a game.
That's the latest from Pat McManamon of ESPN.com, who wrote Wednesday that head coach Mike Pettine "added that receiver Josh Gordon will be mixed in during the (preseason opener), seeing time with the starters as well as the backups as he awaits word on his possible league suspension."
So far as the appeal of that suspension, Mary Kay Cabot of The Northeast Ohio Media Group reported recently that the team is still holding out hope for a reprieve of sorts:
Gordon's appeal hearing wrapped up Monday afternoon in New York City, and the decision on his indefinite ban could take anywhere from one to three weeks, a source said. If he wins, he'll resume his career without interruption, and if he loses, he'll be banished from the team and the league for at least a year.
But the two sides can also hammer out a settlement, and that's what the Browns are hoping for. Realistically, the best-case scenario would probably be about eight games, a source said.
The odds of such a settlement aren't great, but it wasn't that long ago that it appeared an absolute certainty that Gordon would miss the entire season.
A glimmer of hope beats no hope at all.
Texans WR DeAndre Hopkins Continues to Turn Heads
Most of the headlines regarding the wide receiver position for the Houston Texans have centered around veteran Andre Johnson. First, it was his absence from OTAs over unhappiness about the current state of affairs with the team. Then it was his absence from training camp due to a hamstring injury.
However, DeAndre Hopkins is now generating some headlines of his own, and these are for the right reason.
As Brian T. Smith of the Houston Chronicle reports, the second-year pro has been consistently impressive in training camp. John Harris of the team's website went so far as to say that Hopkins has "starred" and "caught nearly everything" thrown his way in practices.
Hopkins' performance hasn't gone unnoticed by head coach Bill O'Brien, according to Smith:
He’s one of the guys out there that I think is much improved from April 7, when we started, to where we are now. He just has to keep it going. He’s a very hard worker. It’s very important to him. He’s a guy that really, in our opinion, gets better and better everyday. So just got to keep it going.
At 33, Johnson isn't getting any younger. If Hopkins keeps this momentum going, we could be in for a changing of the guard in Houston similar to what happened with Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd last year with the Arizona Cardinals.