NFL Training Camp Latest Buzz: Diontae Johnson Is Wasting Time on Steelers’ Sideline

Maurice Moton@@MoeMotonContributor IJuly 27, 2022

NFL Training Camp Latest Buzz: Diontae Johnson Is Wasting Time on Steelers’ Sideline

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    As NFL teams take the field for training camp practices, we’re going to see what coaching staffs think of certain players as lineups take shape.

    At this point in the offseason, many players will compete with teammates for positions on the depth chart, which makes it important to note who’s taking reps with the starters and backups. Rookies will look to carry over some momentum from the spring while some veterans try to keep a leg up on the competition.

    The New York Giants may have something special in one of their 2022 draft picks, though his shine may come at the expense of another player at his position.

    On Wednesday, New York Jets head coach Robert Saleh made an important announcement about his projected starting tackles. Gang Green have a new plan for a former first-round pick.

    Green Bay Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst gave an update on several injured players. Overall, he delivered encouraging news, but a star offensive lineman's status for Week 1 isn’t quite clear.

    The Cleveland Browns have a definitive quarterback plan for the upcoming campaign. Head coach Kevin Stefanski put the kibosh on speculation that the team will attempt to acquire a starter, which means it is probably not interested in a deal for Jimmy Garoppolo.

    Could we see a wave of hold-ins for players who want new contracts? Perhaps the Pittsburgh Steelers have started an offseason trend.

    Let’s go through the latest rumblings around training camp.

Edge Robert Quinn Expects To Be with the Bears

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    Robert Quinn’s decision to skip mandatory minicamp raised some eyebrows. After his absence, The Athletic’s Kevin Fishbain left him off a 53-man roster projection.

    “It’s tough to feel confident he’s going to be on this roster at the start of the season,” Fishbain wrote.

    Perhaps Quinn cleared up his issues with the team, or he understands that a public push to go elsewhere doesn’t help his trade value.

    Coming off a Pro Bowl campaign with 18.5 sacks, Quinn can still become an asset for a playoff contender in need of a pass-rusher. He’s played for the Dallas Cowboys and Los Angeles Rams—both clubs would likely welcome him back.

    Dallas lost Randy Gregory to the Denver Broncos, and Von Miller left the reigning Super Bowl champions for the Buffalo Bills in free agency. Unlike the Rams, who have just $7.8 million in cap space, the Cowboys have the financial capacity to acquire Quinn with $22.5 million to spend.

    For now, Quinn will serve as a key starter in Chicago’s rebuild. He’s due $17.1 million for the 2022 term with three years left on his contract.

Browns HC Kevin Stefanski Clarifies Quarterback Plan For 2022

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    As the Cleveland Browns await the league’s decision on Deshaun Watson’s disciplinary hearing regarding allegations of sexual assault or misconduct, they signed quarterback Josh Rosen.

    Last week, Cleveland.com’s Mary Kay Cabot wrote about the Browns’ intention to add a backup quarterback and prepare Jacoby Brissett to start in place of Watson, who could serve a lengthy suspension.

    On Wednesday, head coach Kevin Stefanski confirmed that reported quarterback plan, via The MMQB’s Albert Breer.

    “Jacoby [Brissett is] our backup quarterback. If Deshaun [Watson is] unavailable, Jacoby’s our starter,” Stefanski said.

    According to Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio, the Browns are “bracing” for Watson to get an eight-game suspension, though they can appeal whatever decision comes down from disciplinary officer Sue L. Robinson, who’s handling the case.

    Brissett will likely play a good portion of the season with Joshua Dobbs and Rosen behind him on the depth chart.

    In a much different circumstance with the Indianapolis Colts, Brissett filled in as a starter for an injured Andrew Luck in 2017, throwing for 3,098 yards, 13 touchdowns and seven interceptions. He took over the offense again in 2019 following Luck’s shocking retirement announcement and threw for 2,942 yards, 18 touchdowns and six interceptions.

    Last year, Brissett made five spot starts with the Miami Dolphins in place of Tua Tagovailoa, throwing for 1,283 yards, five touchdowns and four interceptions.

    With four-time Pro Bowl wideout Amari Cooper and arguably the best running back duo in Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt, the Browns should be able to pull out some wins with Brissett under center.

Packers Not Interested in Veteran Addition at Wide Receiver

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    The Green Bay Packers won’t try to one-up the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who signed Julio Jones on Tuesday. General manager Brian Gutekunst basically turned down the volume on any chatter about Odell Beckham Jr. as a free-agent target for now.

    On Wednesday, Gutekunst said, via ESPN’s Rob Demovsky, he "really likes the group we have."

    Gutekunst’s comment comes in conjunction with updates on wide receivers Sammy Watkins and Christian Watson. The Packers executive said the former’s stint on the non-football injury list will be “a very short-term thing” and the latter will miss some time on the physically unable to perform list.

    Since Green Bay isn’t interested in veteran wideouts, Watkins and Watson don’t seem like they’re in doubt to play Week 1.

    In the meantime, quarterback Aaron Rodgers will work on his rapport with some of the younger receivers such as second-year pro Amari Rodgers, rookie fourth-rounder Romeo Doubs and rookie seventh-rounder Samori Toure.

    Randall Cobb, who’s going into his 10th season as Rodgers’ teammate, will likely serve as a safety blanket for the quarterback in the post-Davante Adams era in Green Bay.

Packers Provide Mixed Bag of Updates on Injured Offensive Linemen

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    Two-time All-Pro left tackle David Bakhtiari’s status for Week 1 remains unclear.

    General manager Brian Gutekunst said he’s “cautiously optimistic” about Bakhtiari’s recovery after he underwent another procedure on his knee—the third operation since tearing his ACL in 2020. The Packers executive also revealed that the star tackle had suffered an injury that was “much more than an ACL.”

    In 2021, Bakhtiari played in one game, the regular-season finale against the Detroit Lions, but he didn’t suit up for Green Bay’s divisional playoff matchup with the San Francisco 49ers. Though Gutekunst believes the 30-year-old tackle will play again, the Packers haven’t seen him on the practice field as he recovers on the PUP list.

    Gutekunst shared some encouraging news about Elgton Jenkins’ recovery from a torn ACL. He said the Pro Bowl offensive lineman is “ahead of the schedule.”

    Jenkins went down with the knee injury in November of last year. Most recently, he played left tackle and has a lot of experience at left guard. With his imminent return, the Packers can plug him back into the left tackle spot as Bakhtiari goes through an extended recovery period.

Chargers Will Sit Derwin James Until He Gets a New Deal

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    Derwin James may be the next safety to sign an extension.

    On Wednesday, Los Angeles Chargers head coach Brandon Staley said the team would hold James out of practices until it comes to an agreement with him on a new contract. Jeff Miller of the Los Angeles Times noted that the lead skipper seemed optimistic about a forthcoming extension.

    Though James has missed 29 games in four seasons, including the entire 2020 campaign because of a torn meniscus, the Chargers will likely pay a premium for him. He’s a two-time Pro Bowler and an All-Pro who contributes on all three levels of the defense.

    In 36 contests, James has registered 257 tackles, 14 for loss, 5.5 sacks, 19 pass breakups and five interceptions. When healthy, he’s one of the league’s top safeties.

    James could command a massive salary that averages $18 million annually with close to $40 million in guarantees. Because of his injury history, he may not top Pittsburgh Steelers safety Minkah Fitzpatrick’s new four-year deal, which is worth $73.6 million.

    Los Angeles may not reset the market at safety with quarterback Justin Herbert eligible for an extension next year, but the team seems eager to keep one of its top defensive playmakers in the fold for years to come.

Giants’ Rookie WR Wan’Dale Robinson Getting Reps with Starters

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    AP Photo/Seth Wenig

    During the spring, Wan’Dale Robinson stirred up some buzz with impressive performances. The New York Giants coaching staff has also used him in creative ways, per The Athletic’s Dan Duggan.

    "Rookie wide receiver Wan’Dale Robinson has been buzzing around the formation pre-snap,” Duggan wrote. “He has been used on jet motions and orbit motions to get handoffs and screens, or simply to serve as a decoy.”

    With fellow wideout Sterling Shepard on the physically unable to perform list with an Achilles injury, Robinson lined up with the first unit alongside Kenny Golladay and Kadarius Toney in three-WR sets for Wednesday’s practice, per Pat Leonard of the New York Daily News.

    Since Shepard played through a full 16-game slate in two of his first three years, he’s battled the injury bug, missing 20 outings over the past three terms. Because of inconsistencies in the seventh-year pro’s availability, Robinson could see significant action right away.

    In a secondary storyline, Darius Slayton may become expendable if the Giants continue to move Robinson all over the formation. Per Duggan, the team shopped him before the 2022 draft. At wide receiver, Big Blue may have a rookie on the rise and a veteran on the way out.

Jets Officially Move Mekhi Becton to Right Tackle

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    The New York Jets had Mekhi Becton’s transition to right tackle in the works for quite some time now, and head coach Robert Saleh made it official on Wednesday.

    Saleh said, “Mekhi’s left tackle days are over” because he doesn’t want him constantly switching sides on the line.

    Becton opened the 2021 season at left tackle but missed the remainder of the year because of a knee injury that required surgery. George Fant took over for him and played well, allowing just one sack and committing four penalties in 889 snaps, per Pro Football Focus.

    “The Jets have said all the right things about Becton, who has a surgically repaired knee and a weight issue (he was up to 400 pounds last season), but there's concern within the organization,” ESPN's Rich Cimini wrote in April. “There also seems to be tension between the team and Becton's camp.”

    In his report, Cimini addressed buzz about the Jets' interest in a first-round tackle from this year's draft class, which put Becton’s future with the team in doubt. Gang Green didn’t take a player at the position until the fourth round (Max Mitchell).

    Becton missed organized team activities and mandatory minicamp, but he gave positive updates on his knee and his condition in June. Last week, the Jets placed him on the PUP list, and they activated him Tuesday.

    Now healthy, and on track to play at right tackle, Becton could have a bounce-back campaign, which would bode well for second-year quarterback Zach Wilson, who took 44 sacks last season. While the young signal-caller has to get the ball out of his hands a little quicker to cut down on sack numbers, a solid pair of bookend tackles will keep his jersey clean in most games.

Diontae Johnson 'Holding In' for a New Deal?

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    Diontae Johnson came to training camp with a strategy as he seeks a new deal.

    Instead of a holdout, which would subject him to fines, Johnson reported with the veterans, but he didn’t fully participate in Wednesday’s practice. The 26-year-old receiver shed some light on his approach, via Brian Batko of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

    “I paid attention to Minkah’s situation and T.J.,” Johnson said. “They handled their situation how they handled it, I’m going to handle mine how I handle mine, and that’s how I’m going to go about it.”

    Batko noted that T.J. Watt only participated in individual drills before the Pittsburgh Steelers signed him to a four-year, $112 million extension last offseason. In June, Minkah Fitzpatrick joined the team for mandatory minicamp, but he didn’t participate in team drills. The club signed him to a four-year, $73 million extension.

    While the “hold-in plan” worked for Watt and Fitzpatrick, Johnson isn’t the same caliber player as his All-Pro teammates who rank among the top players at their respective positions.

    Johnson saw the wide receiver market explode this offseason as Tyreek Hill, Davante Adams, A.J. Brown, Stefon Diggs, Terry McLaurin and Mike Williams all sign new deals worth at least $20 million annually. Only due $3.1 million for the 2022 term, he’s underpaid while coming off a Pro Bowl campaign with 107 catches for 1,161 yards and eight touchdowns.

    However, Johnson doesn’t have much leverage with just one standout season on a team that has a deep wide receiver group.

    In the 2022 draft, the Steelers selected George Pickens and Calvin Austin III in the second and fourth rounds, respectively. Third-year wideout Chase Claypool has racked up 121 receptions for 1,733 yards and 11 touchdowns. The team also signed Anthony Miller, who has a 52-catch season on his resume.

    While Johnson is the best wideout on the Steelers roster, his absence wouldn’t cripple the aerial attack with the talent at the position and pass-catching tight end Pat Freiermuth in place.

    On the flip side, Johnson's decision to not participate in team drills could hurt him as the team prepares a new starting quarterback for the post-Ben Roethlisberger era. On Wednesday, Mitch Trubisky took first-team reps over Mason Rudolph, rookie first-rounder Kenny Pickett and rookie seventh-rounder Chris Oladokun.

    Johnson may want to rethink his strategy before it backfires on him.

    Player contracts and team salary cap space are provided by Over the Cap.

    Maurice Moton covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @MoeMoton.

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