NFL Training Camps 2015: Updates, Rumors and Analysis for August 18
The NFL preseason is the time of year when players are trying to get into football shape, organizations attempt to build their final regular-season rosters and everyone wants all of the players to remain healthy.
This isn't always the case, though, as major roster decisions and injuries occur on a daily basis.
Teams and individuals must continue to work through these obstacles, while others are waiting in the wings to take advantage of a possible opportunity.
Currently, Giants quarterback Eli Manning isn't the only major NFL star trying to renegotiate his contract, as NFL Network's Ian Rapoport reported, offensive line injuries plague teams, veterans are still trying to make an impact and rookies are stealing the show.
No matter how much anyone watches or follows the NFL, the league remains unpredictable.
For example, a No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft is supposed to be a franchise-changing acquisition. In Kansas City, this hasn't been the case after the Chiefs chose Eric Fisher with the first selection of the 2013 NFL draft.
This is where Tuesday's edition of updates, rumors and analysis begins...
Chiefs LT Eric Fisher Will Likely Miss at Least 2 Weeks
It's safe to say Eric Fisher hasn't lived up to expectations for the Kansas City Chiefs after being the No. 1 overall pick in the 2013 NFL draft. Disappointment in the left tackle's selection will only grow if he misses extended time because of an ankle injury he suffered during Monday's practice.
"The injury likely will cost Fisher a couple of weeks of practice, according to the source," ESPN's Ed Werder reported.
Over three weeks remain until the NFL regular season officially starts. Based on Werder's report, Fisher should be healthy enough to start at left tackle when the Chiefs face the Houston Texans to open the season.
Unfortunately, the injury occurred just two days after Chiefs head coach Andy Reid praised Fisher for his overall improvement, per Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio:
We’ve been happy with Eric’s progress, he was a young guy coming out from a small school [Central Michigan], and every year he’s gotten better. He came out and had the shoulder issue [in 2013] and he’s pushed through that. He didn’t miss a day last year. He had a great offseason, no surgeries or anything and he came back in shape. You look at how he’s playing right now he’s playing good football for us.
If the injury continues to linger, however, Fisher's development gets put on hiatus, and Reid will need to find a suitable replacement.
Donald Stephenson and Jarrod Pughsley became the Chiefs' first-team offensive tackles with Fisher out of the lineup. Stephenson is in his fourth year and played left tackle in college. His athleticism should translate to the blind side as the Chiefs await Fisher's eventual return.
Bucs' Demar Dotson Doesn't Require Surgery, Gosder Cherilus Ready to Step Up
Gosder Cherilus' acquisition was a necessity for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but it's unlikely he'll serve as the team's long-term answer at right tackle.
The Buccaneers offensive line was already a concern before the team lost starting right tackle Demar Dotson to a knee injury. The organization reacted quickly when it signed Cherilus to a two-year, $7 million contract Monday, according to the Tampa Bay Times' Rick Stroud.
"[The move was] very important," Buccaneers head coach Lovie Smith said after the Cherilus signing became official, per Buccaneers.com's Scott Smith. "We have a very good tackle that is down—veteran tackle that is down for a while. I feel like we need to replace him. It was good for us that there was a player like [Cherilus] … available."
Since becoming a first-round pick by the Detroit Lions in 2008, the 31-year-old blocker started 100 games, including 29 of 32 possible contests over the last two seasons as a member of the Indianapolis Colts.
Cherilus will immediately compete to start on the strong side, but Dotson's knee injury wasn't as bad as initially feared. Tampa Bay's incumbent right tackle didn't require surgery on his sprained knee, according to the Tampa Tribune's Roy Cummings.
"Demar’s on crutches right now," Smith said, per Cummings. "He’s going to be out for a period of time. Hopefully it’s not a long period of time, but he will be out for a while."
Neither Smith nor the Buccaneers organization provided a timetable for Dotson's return, but it appears he'll return at some point this season. Cherilus will be holding down the fort until he does.
Bills RB Karlos Williams Hospitalized, Could Miss 'Multiple Weeks'
The Buffalo Bills running back rotation developed into a war of attrition during training camp.
With LeSean McCoy, Fred Jackson, Bryce Brown and Boobie Dixon all nursing injuries, an opportunity was in front of rookie Karlos Williams to garner more reps and overall playing time during the preseason.
Unfortunately, Williams, a fifth-round pick in this year's NFL draft, was hospitalized Monday morning.
"He woke up in the morning," Bills head coach Rex Ryan explained, per ESPN.com's Mike Rodak. "He felt a little something weightlifting in the afternoon [Sunday]. But it wasn't anything. But now he obviously he had this thing where if you'd touch him...obviously he's in a lot of pain."
While the severity of Williams' situation has yet to be revealed, the Bills likely expect him to miss an extended amount of time.
"Also, one source indicated that the injury that hospitalized rookie running back Karlos Williams is 'serious,' and he will likely be sidelined for multiple 'weeks,'" the Buffalo News' Tyler Dunne reported.
The Florida State product played well during his first preseason action with 63 total yards and a touchdown.
Because of Williams' situation and an ailing running back corps, per Dunne, the Bills signed undrafted rookie Ricky Seale to provide some depth to the rotation.
Charles Johnson's Calf Strain Remains an Issue
Carolina Panthers faithful received a major scare on Monday when medical personnel carted defensive end Charles Johnson off the field, as the Black and Blue Review's Bill Voth noted.
The injury wasn't deemed serious, since the veteran continues to deal with a strained calf. In fact, per Voth, Johnson returned to practice, but he won't be actively participating until next week at the earliest.
Panthers head coach Ron Rivera said to Voth the team will try to get its sack leader on the field next week but definitely not this week.
Johnson's absence leaves a major void at defensive end. With Frank Alexander, Kony Ealy and Wes Horton vying to start opposite the veteran, none of them stepped up in his absence during the team's first preseason contest against the Buffalo Bills.
Rivera wasn't exactly thrilled with the performance of his defensive ends, and he's still trying to find a solution, per the Charlotte Observer's Joseph Person: "We just finished our second week going into our third. We had a group of guys that we like. Who knows? Maybe one of these young guys will be the answer. But we’re going to find out. We’re most certainly going to create opportunities and give guys opportunities who earned it."
No one earned those opportunities at this point in the process, and the Panthers don't have Johnson to lean on. Young players need to step up for the Panthers as they await their veteran leader's return.
Possibility of Luke Kuechly Extension Before Season Is '50-50 Proposition'
Once the Carolina Panthers completed a contract extension with quarterback Cam Newton, linebacker Luke Kuechly became the team's top priority.
The linebacker's contract demands won't be nearly as exorbitant as the quarterback's, but his importance to the team rivals Newton's. And Panthers brass isn't waiting before its decides to negotiate in earnest with the former NFL Defensive Player of the Year.
"Though a new contract doesn’t appear imminent, talks between the Carolina Panthers and middle linebacker Luke Kuechly are 'heating up,'" a league source told the Charlotte Observer's Jonathan Jones.
While the original report stated nothing appears imminent, there is a legitimate possibility of a deal being struck before the start of the regular season.
"[Ron Rivera] says it would be great to get Kuechly deal done before the season starts. Calls it 50-50 proposition," the Charlotte Observer's Joseph Person tweeted.
As a former Defensive Player of the Year, Defensive Rookie of the Year, two-time Pro Bowl selection and two-time All-Pro, the 24-year-old Kuechly warrants being paid as the NFL's top 4-3 linebacker. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Lavonte David currently owns that distinction after signing a five-year, $50.25 million contract extension last week.
CJ2K Signs for Veteran Minimum, Not Promised Anything
The Arizona Cardinals desperately needed help at running back, although Chris Johnson isn't necessarily the answer even after the team signed him Monday.
Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians was blunt with the team's recent additions of Johnson and tight end Jermaine Gresham.
"You're not promised anything," Arians told the veterans, per AZCardinals.com's Darren Urban.
The coach's proclamation extends beyond a starting role. A roster spot was implied as well. And Johnson's contract rams home Arians' point.
Johnson agreed to a veteran-minimum contract with no signing bonus and needs to hit certain escalators to maximize the contract's overall $2 million value, according to ESPN's Ed Werder.
Johnson will now compete with Andre Ellington, Kerwynn Williams, David Johnson, Marion Grice and Stepfan Taylor. Of course, Chris Johnson's acquisition is a telling sign of how the organization viewed those running backs prior to his arrival.
Last season, Chris Johnson ran for 663 yards on 155 carries, which were both career lows. The former 2,000-yard rusher didn't seem to flash the same explosive speed he was once known for during his time with the Tennessee Titans.
The seven-year veteran doesn't agree with that assessment, though, and believes he can still be a dangerous weapon in the Cardinals offense.
"Losing a step, I don't see it," the running back said at a press conference Tuesday, per the Cardinals' official Twitter feed. "I felt like I was more explosive last year."
If the man known as CJ2K returns to form, the Cardinals will quickly develop into one of the NFC's most dangerous teams.
Chris Cooley 'Begging' for a Contract, Redskins Not Interested
It doesn't appear that former NFL tight end Chris Cooley will be returning to the NFL anytime soon, even to his beloved Washington Redskins.
The 33-year-old wants to make a comeback even though he retired after the 2012 season.
"I’m not going there," Redskins general manager Scot McCloughan told reporters, per the Washington Post's Dan Steinberg. "Chris Cooley, he was a really good Redskin. He’s part of the Redskins still. I’m not going there."
Cooley spent nine years with the Redskins after the organization chose him with a third-round pick in the 2004 NFL draft. The tight end finished his career with 429 receptions for 4,711 yards and 33 touchdowns.
He isn't backing down from his plans to play in the NFL this season, though.
"I’m going to play for someone this year," Cooley said on his ESPN 980 show (h/t Steinberg). "I’m going to get an opportunity. I personally know [that] for a fact."
He already stated he would play for a veteran minimum contract with no signing bonus.
"And it hurts to beg," Cooley's added. "I’m literally begging."
Interest surrounding Cooley's return only heightened after the Redskins lost starting tight end Niles Paul for the season because of an ankle injury. The team also placed Logan Paulsen on injured reserve after he needed surgery on his big right toe.
Despite the Redskins' current predicament, the organization remains disinterested in Cooley.
"... I’m told general manager Scot McCloughan and his personnel assistants believe there are better options out there; younger players with more productivity ahead of them," the Washington Post's Mike Jones wrote. "Even as recently as this morning, people familiar with the situation maintain the front office’s stance has not changed."
Browns TE E.J. Bibbs Continues to Impress, Receives 1st-Team Reps
Teams usually don't rely on undrafted free agents to become major contributors during their rookie seasons. Usually, those players who overcome being overlooked during the draft process are surprise additions to the roster.
The Cleveland Browns, though, have shown a willingness to give undrafted free agents opportunities since Ray Farmer took over as general manager.
Last year, they relied heavily on names such as Isaiah Crowell, Taylor Gabriel and K'Waun Williams. This year, tight end E.J. Bibbs appears to be a heavy favorite to not only make the roster, but also become a potential threat among the Browns' underwhelming skill positions.
The Iowa State product received first-team reps this week during joint practices against the Buffalo Bills, according to ClevelandBrowns.com's Andrew Gribble.
"A lot of guys doubt themselves when they don’t get drafted," Bibbs told Gribble. "That is not me. I just like working hard. My dad always taught me that. Just trying to go out there and make plays."
During the Browns' first preseason contest against the Washington Redskins, Bibbs caught three passes for 29 yards. But it was his ability to make defenders miss after the catch that caught the eye of everyone watching, which was a one of Bibbs' stated goals when the Browns signed him.
"Just showing my athleticism," the tight end said, per ClevelandBrowns.com's Kevin Jones. "Show the older guys and tell them I can make plays for the team."
Bibbs is well on his way to making the roster and potentially pushing veteran Rob Housler, who signed a one-year deal with Cleveland this offseason, off the team.
Titans Reshuffle Their Offensive Line, Andy Levitre Sits
The Tennessee Titans signed guard Andy Levitre to a six-year, $46.8 million contract prior to the 2013 season. After starting every game of his career—96 consecutive starts—his streak could come to an end this year.
The Titans coaching staff continues to dabble with its potential starting five up front. Levitre is the latest to be on the outside looking in as a potential starter.
"On Monday, Byron Bell worked at left guard—where Levitre has started the last two seasons—and Jamon Meredith lined up at right tackle," Titans Online's Jim Wyatt reported.
Early issues during the team's first preseason contest against the Atlanta Falcons prompted the changes. And they'll continue until the coaching staff discovers its best blocking combination.
"After struggling up front in the preseason opener at Atlanta, however, it’s clear the Titans are going to consider all options moving forward in order to improve," Wyatt wrote.
Levitre can still earn a starting spot, but it won't be handed to him. The Titans staff, meanwhile, is going to do everything in its power to make sure the pocket is secure for rookie quarterback Marcus Mariota to properly develop.
Jerome Simpson Suspended, 49ers Throw Support Behind Him
Eventually, the San Francisco 49ers are going to reach a point this offseason where the organization can't possibly receive any more bad news. Tuesday was not that day.
The NFL suspended wide receiver Jerome Simpson for the first six games of the season, according to the San Francisco Chronicle's Eric Branch. Simpson reportedly violated the league's Policy and Program for Substances of Abuse.
General manager Trent Baalke released a joint statement with the NFL regarding Simpson's suspension, per 49ers.com:
The probability of a suspension was known when we signed Jerome. Since joining the 49ers, Jerome has proven to be a great teammate. Although he will not be able to participate in the first six weeks of the season, Jerome has done everything asked of him, both on and off the field. We are in full support of the NFL’s decision, and look forward to Jerome’s future contributions to our organization.
With Simpson out of the lineup, an opportunity arises for the 49ers' young wide receivers to earn a roster spot and become a part of the offense.
Undrafted free agents DeAndrew White and Dres Anderson impressed at points during the camp and OTAs, per AL.com's Mark Inabinett and team reporter Taylor Price (h/t Saturday Down South's Brad Crawford). The rookies will compete alongside Quinton Patton and Bruce Ellington for playing time.