Jalen Tolbert and More Players Ready to Step Up After NFL Training Camp Injuries

Alex KayContributor IAugust 3, 2022

Jalen Tolbert and More Players Ready to Step Up After NFL Training Camp Injuries

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    AP Photo/Michael Ainsworth

    NFL training camps are in full swing. Unfortunately, injuries are an inevitable part of these preparations, and many of them could have a significant impact on a team’s 2022 outlook.

    Although over a month of practices remain before the regular season kicks off, several serious training camp injuries have already occurred. At least there's plenty of time left for clubs to make the necessary adjustments while preparing former backups for an elevated role.

    With that in mind, here are five talents who could thrive in 2022 after their duties were expanded following an injury to a player ahead of them on the depth chart.

Robert Hainsey, C, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    The Tampa Bay Buccaneers offensive line has been in a state of flux this offseason. The unit must undergo yet another change with Pro Bowl center Ryan Jensen potentially out for the year.

    Jensen suffered a left knee injury during practice last week, an ailment that head coach Todd Bowles confirmed would cost the veteran “some significant time.”

    The loss of Jensen, combined with the abrupt retirement of guard Ali Marpet and free-agency departure of Alex Cappa, means the Bucs will have three new starters on the interior of their offensive line. Robert Hainsey is the most likely candidate to fill in during Jensen’s absence.

    The third-round pick out of Notre Dame last year spent almost his entire rookie season on the bench. He logged a meager 31 offensive snaps across four games.

    The 23-year-old still needs to earn the job, but according to NFL.com’s Nick Shook, quarterback Tom Brady claimed Hainsey already earned the team’s trust as a rookie.

    The 6’4”, 306-pound offensive lineman worked as a scout team center last year, displaying good athleticism and quickness for the position. He may not play up to the level of Jensen—who earned his first Pro Bowl nod in 2021—but there may not be that much of a fall-off either.

    Jensen scored a solid, if unspectacular, 69.9 Pro Football Focus grade last year, while Hainsey earned a 65.7 score on his 31 snaps. If he can keep that up in 2022, the Bucs will be fine with the second-year center taking over as their starter.

KJ Hamler, WR, Denver Broncos

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    The Denver Broncos appeared to have one of the deepest receiving corps in the league going into training camp. That depth took a major hit Tuesday when it was reported that Tim Patrick will miss the 2022 season with a torn ACL.

    Although safety Kareem Jackson said they “can’t replace a guy like Tim,” the Broncos should be able to forge ahead with KJ Hamler taking on a good chunk of Patrick’s workload.

    Denver’s passing offense still has plenty of upside for the first time since Peyton Manning retired over a half-decade ago. The blockbuster acquisition of Russell Wilson will lift an aerial attack that has slumped behind Drew Lock and Teddy Bridgewater under center in recent years.

    Not only do the Broncos have a standout wideout in Courtland Sutton and a breakout candidate in 2020 first-rounder Jerry Jeudy, but Hamler could also finally reach the potential he flashed when the team made him its second-round pick two years ago.

    The 23-year-old participated in 13 games as a rookie in 2020 and caught 30 passes for 381 yards and three touchdowns despite dealing with nagging hamstring injuries. Unfortunately, Hamler only lasted three games into the 2021 campaign before going down with a torn ACL.

    While he is still working his way back from the injury—he recently said he may not be ready to play in any of the team’s preseason contests—he’s expected to be back in action for Week 1.

    The wideout is not the biggest target at 5’9”, 178 pounds, but he possesses elite athleticism and explosiveness. He could pile up scores and big gains in this new-look Denver passing game.

Damar Hamlin, S, Buffalo Bills

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    The Buffalo Bills secondary was arguably the league’s best last year, but the unit is off to a rough start ahead of the 2022 campaign. After Pro Bowler Micah Hyde missed practice time with a hip injury last week, Jordan Poyer suffered a hyperextended elbow that could keep the All-Pro out until the season-opener.

    While Poyer is out or limited, backup safety Damar Hamlin will be able to pick up the slack.

    Hamlin was a sixth-round pick in 2021 who only logged 50 defensive snaps as a rookie but gained invaluable experience while working with two of the game’s top safeties.

    Mark Gaughan of the Buffalo News found that the 24-year-old has been diligently learning behind Poyer and Hyde, as Hamlin said the pair took him under their wing.

    ESPN’s Alaina Getzenberg reported that Hamlin and fellow backup safety Jaquan Johnson had already been receiving extra practice reps because both starters skipped voluntary offseason work.

    Hamlin may still be raw, but he possesses solid speed and quickness—he kept pace with Houston Texans burner Brandin Cooks, breaking up a deep pass aimed at the wideout in a Week 4 matchup last year—in a sturdy 6’0”, 200-pound package.

Ben Skowronek, WR, Los Angeles Rams

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    The Los Angeles Rams deployed one of the league’s most explosive passing attacks to help win the Super Bowl last season. That passing game could look quite a bit different during training camp because of personnel changes and injuries.

    With Odell Beckham Jr. still on the open market and Van Jefferson banged up—he’s reportedly set to undergo a minor surgery on his knee that will keep him out for a few weeks—the team will need to rely on some less familiar talents.

    One of those is a proven veteran in free-agency addition Allen Robinson II—who should slot in as the No. 2 receiver behind reigning Triple Crown winner Cooper Kupp—but it’s still unclear who will replace Jefferson as L.A.’s No. 3.

    Ben Skowronek is one of the top candidates. According to Jourdan Rodrigue of The Athletic, the 25-year-old is competing for the job as part of a committee that includes Tutu Atwell, Jacob Harris and Brandon Powell.

    Skowronek has experience on his side after he spent last season with the club. He was active for 14 games, securing 11 of his 20 targets for 133 yards on 178 offensive snaps.

    The 2021 seventh-rounder must improve his hands—he had three drops last year—and won’t burn many defensive backs, but he’s a willing blocker with good size at 6’3”, 224 pounds. He’s been a reliable special teamer as well, participating in 53 percent of those snaps in games he was active for.

    While Jefferson should quickly regain his job upon his return, Skowronek will get a chance to show improvement and could earn more regular-season reps if he shines in an expanded preseason role.

Jalen Tolbert, WR, Dallas Cowboys

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    James Washington suffered a fractured foot Monday, the latest setback in what has become a string of losses for the Dallas Cowboys receiving corps.

    The wideout will miss up to 10 weeks while recovering from the injury. He’s joining fellow receiver Michael Gallup—who suffered an ACL tear late last season—on IR.

    Those injuries, combined with the trade of Amari Cooper and free-agency departure of Cedrick Wilson Jr., leaves Dallas' receiving cupboard bare.

    Cowboys owner Jerry Jones doesn’t believe it will be necessary to dip into the free-agent pool to bring in a veteran replacement, though.

    According to ESPN’s Todd Archer, Jones believes there is enough in-house talent to get the job done: "Let's give these young guys the incentive, our young receivers. We thought highly of them when we came out. We'll get [Washington] rehabbed ... But it doesn't create an urgency for us to add a veteran receiver. We like these young guys."

    Jalen Tolbert is the prime candidate to assume the team’s No. 2 wide receiver job.

    The third-round pick out of South Alabama has all the tools to be an elite NFL wideout but still needs to prove he can perform against top-flight competition. He had limited exposure against high-end defenders during his time with the Jaguars but did toast the Tennessee Volunteers for 143 yards and a score on seven catches in November.

    The 6’1”, 195-pound receiver could be regarded as one of the steals of the 2022 draft if he’s able to deliver on his promise early in his career. He’ll have ample opportunity to earn quarterback Dak Prescott’s trust as one of the few notable pass-catchers still available in training camp.

    While CeeDee Lamb will be the unquestioned No. 1, Tolbert will get every shot to establish himself as a strong second option who will still retain a major role upon the return of both Gallup and Washington.

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