Fact or Fiction: What to Believe from Early NFL Training Camp Storylines
NFL training camp is an exciting time for every team. Each has a blank slate and optimism that it will contend for a Super Bowl this season, but preseason hype often doesn't come close to matching the regular-season results.
That won’t change in 2022. There have been plenty of reports from training camps regarding player performances and other revelations, but some of this buzz won’t translate to what we see on the field next month.
With that in mind, let’s try to separate the fact from fiction regarding some of the most notable training camp storylines.
Seattle Seahawks QB Struggles Are a Sign of Things to Come
The Seattle Seahawks traded away superstar quarterback Russell Wilson early in the offseason. That has them looking for a new starting signal-caller for the first time in a decade, which doesn’t seem to be going well so far.
The Seahawks didn't draft a rookie or bring in any veterans in free agency. Instead, they're letting incumbent backup Geno Smith compete with Drew Lock, whom the Denver Broncos included in the Wilson trade.
According to ESPN's Brady Henderson, both Lock and Smith struggled during in back-to-back practices this week. Lock worked with the second-string offense and couldn’t get on the same page with top wideout DK Metcalf, while Smith was responsible for an unsightly interception on Tuesday. Seattle’s defense got the better of the team’s offense in each of those practices largely due to the poor quarterback play.
Smith has a lifetime record of 13-21 and has more interceptions (37) than passing touchdowns (34) during his eight seasons in the league. The 31-year-old isn't likely to emerge as a competent starter at this point in his career.
The 25-year-old Lock may have more upside, but he went 8-13 as a starter in Denver while throwing for only 4,740 yards and 25 touchdowns against 20 interceptions. If he can’t beat out Smith for the Seahawks' starting job, that won't bode well for his NFL future.
With Jimmy Garoppolo the only viable option on the trade block and no quality quarterbacks left in free agency, the Seahawks appear ready to accept their fate and buckle up for a trying 2022 campaign. It should result in a high 2023 draft pick, which they could spend on their next franchise quarterback.
Fact: Geno Smith and Drew Lock will both struggle this season.
New England Patriots' Decision to Not Name Coordinators Will Hold Them Back
The New England Patriots parted ways with longtime offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels this offseason when he accepted the Las Vegas Raiders' head coaching job. McDaniels' departure has left a major hole in New England’s coaching staff, which head coach Bill Belichick has surprisingly elected not to fill.
The Patriots declined to name an official offensive or defensive coordinator this season. Belichick said the team isn't "big on titles and all that," according to NFL.com’s Kevin Patra.
According to NFL Network's Mike Giardi, it’s “looking like” the Patriots will forge ahead with Matt Patricia as their offensive play-caller in 2022. However, Belichick has also spent time doing those duties during 11-on-11 drills at training camp.
Patricia returned to New England last year as a senior football adviser and offensive line coach following an unsuccessful three-year stint as the Detroit Lions' head coach. Prior to that, the 47-year-old had spent six years as the Patriots defensive coordinator, winning a pair of Super Bowls in that role.
The Patriots also brought on Joe Judge to serve as their quarterbacks coach this year. He spent four seasons as their special teams coordinator between 2015 and 2018 and was their wide receivers coach in 2019 before a forgettable two-year stint as the New York Giants' head coach.
On a recent episode of ESPN's First Take, Ryan Clark said New England is playing with fire by not naming at least an offensive coordinator for 2022.
While it’s a bit unconventional, this isn't the first time a Belichick-led team has declined to promote coordinators. The team hasn’t had an official defensive coordinator since Patricia left at the end of the 2017 campaign and didn’t name an offensive coordinator in 2005 or for two seasons following McDaniels’ first departure to the Denver Broncos in 2009.
The Patriots didn't have either an offensive or defensive coordinator in 2010, and they won 14 games during the regular season that year. However, the decision to go coordinator-less may have played a part in their divisional-round loss against the rival New York Jets.
If the Patriots struggle to advance in the playoffs for the second consecutive season, this decision could come back to haunt them.
Fact: The Patriots will regret not naming offensive and defensive coordinators.
Allen Lazard Will Lead the Green Bay Packers in Targets
The Green Bay Packers have a huge void to fill after trading superstar Davante Adams to the Las Vegas Raiders this offseason. He led the team with 123 receptions for 1,553 yards and 11 touchdowns on 169 targets last year, while no other Packers player had more than 65 targets.
Incumbent No. 2 wideout Allen Lazard appears poised to soak up some of those targets. Future Hall of Fame quarterback Aaron Rodgers recently singled him out on an NFL Network appearance, according to Pro Football Talk's Charean Williams.
"Obviously, Allen Lazard is going to step into the No. 1 role and I think it’s going to be a very seamless transition for him as a primary blocker and kind of a niche guy for us, to get an opportunity to get more throws, be No. 1 in the progression more often," Rodgers said.
While Lazard should easily eclipse the career-high 60 targets he saw last season, he may struggle to reach the triple-digit mark with competition from fellow veterans Randall Cobb and Sammy Watkins as well as rookies Christian Watson and Romeo Doubs. ESPN’s Rob Demovsky believes running back Aaron Jones is headed for an uptick in targets as well.
Lazard may play a bigger role without Adams this year, but he isn't going to be the go-to option in the Packers offense.
Fiction: Allen Lazard won't be Aaron Rodgers’ top target in 2022.
Lamar Jackson's New Mechanics Will Lead to Fewer Turnovers
The Baltimore Ravens missed the playoffs last year for the first time since they drafted Lamar Jackson in 2018. Jackson seems motivated to not make missing out on the postseason a trend and has been showing off his reworked arm at training camp.
According to NFL insider Dov Kleiman, Jackson has spent the offseason fine-tuning his throwing mechanics and bulking up his frame—he's listed at 6’2” and 212 pounds—to 220 pounds.
On the surface, those changes seem to be helping. Raven Country's Todd Karpovich noted that Jackson played mistake-free football for the team’s first five practices and didn’t throw his first training camp interception until Tuesday.
Unfortunately, he won’t have his top wideout from last season to lean on anymore after Baltimore dealt away Marquise Brown during the draft. He'll also be missing a solid veteran in Sammy Watkins after the receiver signed with the Green Bay Packers this spring.
With a receiving corps now led by sophomore Rashod Bateman and lacking proven pass-catchers behind him, Jackson won’t have the right talent to truly evolve as a thrower.
Even if Jackson is playing his best football, he still has to build rapport with inexperienced wideouts like Devin Duvernay and James Proche II. Having these raw players in key roles could result in mistakes and miscues that will inevitably lead to turnovers.
Fiction: Lamar Jackson’s new mechanics won't lead to fewer turnovers in 2022.
Miles Sanders Will Keep His RB1 Status for the 2022 Season
The Philadelphia Eagles led the league in rushing last year, averaging a whopping 159.7 yards per game on the ground. However, they don't have a clear-cut lead back heading into the 2022 campaign.
Miles Sanders was Philadelphia’s starter in 2021, but he's dealt with injuries in each of the last two seasons. He was limited to 12 games for the second straight campaign and finished with a career-low 754 yards and zero touchdowns on 137 totes.
Kenneth Gainwell, a fifth-round pick last season, is coming off a promising rookie year and could see his workload increase in 2022. Gainwell racked up five scores and 291 yards on only 68 carries in his first season and showed his value as a pass-catcher by gaining 253 yards and scoring once on 33 receptions.
NFL.com reported that Gainwell was recently spotted working with the first-stringers during training camp, with Sanders coming in behind him with the twos. However, Eagles head coach Nick Sirianni said Sanders will remain the team’s No. 1 back.
"Miles is our guy," Sirianni said. "It just so happened to be the way the numbers worked, but Miles was in with the [No.] 1s as well. ... There's no secret. Miles is our guy, and we like to rotate our backs."
While Gainwell is a prime candidate to take on a bigger role if Sanders gets hurt again, it appears as though Sanders will go into the season season as the Eagles' starter.
Fact: Miles Sanders will remain the lead back in Philadelphia.