NFL Minicamp Roundup: Giant Offensive Changes Are Coming to New York
Adaptability can be a coach's greatest asset.
Pat Shurmur showed how flexible he can be with his offensive system when he tweaked it to maximize quarterback Case Keenum's skill set last season with the Minnesota Vikings. He needs a different approach as head coach of the New York Giants, and he's already taking it.
According to Giants beat writer Art Stapleton, backup quarterback Davis Webb said he has more freedom within the current scheme compared to what he had under Ben McAdoo.
Eli Manning is a different signal-caller than Keenum, and the Giants' offensive staff plans to open up the field.
"Without getting into specifics, we want to use multiple personnel and make the defense defend the whole field and, like a lot of other offenses, get the most out of the guys that you have, put them on the field and find out who can do what and put them in positions to make plays for us," offensive coordinator Mike Shula said, per Giants Wire's John Fennelly.
A big part of the Giants' evolution will come courtesy of second overall pick Saquon Barkley, who already stole the show during early practices, as Shurmur discussed during an interview with Mike Francesa on WFAN:
"We certainly haven't been disappointed at all. ... And in the last two OTAs here, he's been able to show that he's an instinctive runner. He does a good job catching the ball. He's really been pretty aware, and we've done blitz drills where he's been able to pick up his protection. So he's done all the things we need him to do."
Many lineup changes, as well as injuries, occur during minicamps and organized team activities.
The Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns and Dallas Cowboys are trying to find out how to use certain players. The Los Angeles Chargers must overcome the loss of tight end Hunter Henry, who suffered a season-ending torn ACL. The Oakland Raiders aren't happy with Obi Melifonwu's recovery.
But the Giants may be on the precipice of a quick turnaround, as long as their new coaches and offensive weapons can get the most from the big men up front.
Giants' New-Look Offensive Front Still Features Ereck Flowers
For as much potential as the skill positions present, New York's problems on offense started along its line.
Left tackle in particular has been a sore spot since the organization drafted Ereck Flowers with the ninth overall pick in the 2015 draft. As a result, the Giants made Nate Solder the league's highest-paid offensive lineman this offseason.
Solder's addition in free agency creates a ripple effect—namely, Flowers is moving from left to right tackle. And the 24-year-old Flowers, whom the Giants attempted to trade, according to NFL.com's Ian Rapoport, has been a pleasant surprise.
"Doing great," Shurmur told Francesa. "He's been here a couple of weeks now, and he's doing an outstanding job. He looks pretty good to me. Again, fresh eyes, but he looks pretty good to me at right tackle."
Second-round pick Will Hernandez is expected to claim left guard, while veterans John Greco, Patrick Omameh and Jon Halapio are competing for the opposite spot. Greco received initial first-team reps, though, according to The Athletic's Patricia Traina.
Brett Jones is taking over center with Weston Richburg's departure via free agency.
Don't get too excited about Manning, Barkley, Odell Beckham Jr., Sterling Shepard and Evan Engram just yet. Wait until the offensive line jells and provides a sturdy foundation for the unit.
Could Cardinals Rookie QB Josh Rosen Start Sooner Rather Than Later?
The Cardinals are leaving the door wide-open for rookie first-round pick Josh Rosen to win the starting quarterback job.
"I talked about it from day one—the best 11 are going to play," head coach Steve Wilks said, per Darren Urban of the team's official site. "Sam [Bradford] is the starter, and when he's healthy, he's great. But everybody is competing to be out there on the field."
Two aspects are working in Rosen's favor even after the coach's declaration.
First, the caveat "when he's healthy" is a major factor in Bradford's assessment. NFL Network's Steve Wyche previously reported the Cardinals plan to manage Bradford's health. The ninth-year veteran is already getting days off, according to ESPN.com's Josh Weinfuss.
Second, Rosen comes into the league as the most polished prospect in the 2018 class, and it shows.
"This guy is extremely smart," Wilks said of Rosen, per Urban. "I mean, his ability to see certain things from the defense, and pick it up quickly, and execute … I don't want to say this, but he has the mindset of a vet. The way he sees the game.
"He's not playing like a vet. Make sure you guys understand that. He's still a rookie, OK? But he sees things, like I said before, through a different lens. And he picks it up quickly."
Bengals WR John Ross Now Feels 'Same Way' He Did Coming out of College
John Ross provided the Bengals with nothing last season after being the ninth overall pick in 2017, but he's finally healthy and looks like he can become a weapon.
"He's got great speed, but he can really catch the football and he's a complete wide receiver," new wide receivers coach Bob Bicknell said, per WKRC Cincinnati's Richard Skinner. "He can start and stop, and he does a lot of things really, really well, but it's going to take time."
Ross' speed is what made him a top-10 pick after breaking Chris Johnson's previous combine record with a 4.22-second 40-yard dash. Unfortunately, the wide receiver dealt with injuries throughout the year and only played three games before ending up on injured reserve due to a torn labrum.
"My legs have gotten stronger," Ross said. "... Now I'm back to where I was when I was in college my senior year, as far as how physically ready I felt in college. I feel the same way now."
The young receiver is expected to make mistakes along the way; however, his vertical speed can take pressure off A.J. Green. At the very least, defenses won't be able to roll coverage toward the seven-time Pro Bowl target if another viable option develops.
Duke Johnson, Browns Inch Toward Contract Extension
Duke Johnson is counted among the league's most dangerous out of the backfield, and the Browns want to keep him as part of their running back stable for the foreseeable future.
"We're still in contract talks. Taking it day by day," he said, per Browns Zone's Scott Petrak. "It's going well. ... Rookie deal is set, so this is kind of my first time, so I'm not sure the timetable of when it's supposed to be done, when it should be done, so we're taking it one day at a time."
The 2015 third-round pick is the first back since Herschel Walker to record 500 or more receiving yards in his first three seasons, and he's the only one to record at least 50 receptions during the same time span. According to Pro Football Focus, Johnson is the third-most elusive runner since he entered the league.
Johnson is an ideal third-down back, but the Browns must make room after singing Carlos Hyde and drafting Nick Chubb.
Even so, the offense is far better with Johnson than without him, so a deal should be coming.
Can Tavon Austin Replace Dez Bryant in Cowboys Offense?
The Cowboys are without a true No. 1 wide receiver who defenses must account for on all downs. However, the offense has a newly coined "web-back" who might be able to create chunk plays if utilized correctly.
The Rams never knew how to deploy Tavon Austin after drafting him eighth overall in 2013. In five seasons, the hybrid receiver/running back never managed more than 509 receiving yards or 907 totals yards from scrimmage in a season.
Instead of position flexibility being a hindrance, Dallas' coaching staff wants to get Austin the ball a dozen or more times per game, according to Rotoworld's Josh Norris.
"Coaches have a great plan, whether it's getting him out of the backfield, lining him up at X, lining him up at Z, putting him in the slot," quarterback Dak Prescott said, per the Dallas Morning News' Jon Machota. "He's a guy we get the ball in his hands, he'll score some points and get a bunch of yards in this offense."
None of the receivers on the roster can replace Dez Bryant's physicality or ability to win 50-50 balls on the outside, but a new approach can be taken with more system flexibility. It starts with Austin and extends to the wide receiver corps.
"At the end of the day, I'm a playmaker," Austin said, per 247Sports' Patrik Walker. "That's how I describe myself. I don't care where I'm at on the field. I just want the ball and a little bit of space.
"I like to create, and I'm going to go from there."
Is Hunter Henry's Injury a Precursor to Antonio Gates' Return?
The unthinkable occurred during Chargers minicamp: Hunter Henry suffered a season-ending torn ACL during a "very routine, non-contact play," per the Associated Press' Greg Beacham.
"I'm not going to minimize it: He's a Pro Bowl talent with Pro Bowl intangibles," general manager Tom Telesco said.
Unfortunately, NFL life moves on, and the Chargers will search for Hunter's replacement—including the possibility of re-signing the franchise's all-time leading receiver, Antonio Gates.
"We'll look at all the options that are out there," Telesco said. "We've got time to do it right now."
Right now, Virgil Green is the only experienced tight end on the roster, and he's not much of an in-line option. Furthermore, Green, who signed as a free agent, didn't produce more than 237 receiving yards during any of his previous seven seasons.
"We have some young players on the roster that we think have a chance to develop," Telesco added. "... So we'll see if some of those guys can ascend."
Other veteran options are available. Coby Fleener, Julius Thomas, Marcedes Lewis and Anthony Fasano are proven commodities, but none can step into the lineup tomorrow and know the offense like the 37-year-old Gates.
As long as the future Hall of Fame tight end wants to play—and Gates still has some juice left—he should remain a Charger.
Steelers Plan to Utilize Safety Morgan Burnett
The Steelers required a secondary overhaul after multiple breakdowns last season and began the transition by releasing Mike Mitchell, William Gay and Robert Golden.
Pittsburgh, in turn, signed the top available free-agent safety, Morgan Burnett, who played numerous roles in the Green Bay Packers defense.
The organization drafted another safety, Terrell Edmunds, with the 28th pick. Defensive coordinator Keith Butler will find ways to get both and mainstay Sean Davis on the field at the same time.
According to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review's Joe Rutter, Burnett will receive the first opportunity to play free safety. Although, early minicamp returns show the 29-year-old veteran and Davis providing more split-safety looks.
"I'm playing out there with Morgan, and he's a very versatile guy, so we can play left and right, we can do it both, so I'm still coming down, I'm still playing man, and Morgan can do the same thing," Davis explained, per Steelers Depot's Matthew Marczi.
The rotation will become even more interesting once Edmunds starts working with the first-team defense. All three defensive backs provide position flexibility, which will allow Butler to utilize multiple sub-packages.
Because of Ryan Shazier's unfortunate injury situation and the organization not addressing inside linebacker, Burnett and/or Edmunds will almost certainly receive some reps as nickel backers.
Raiders' Obi Melifonwu Still Not Healthy, May See Limited Role
New coaches bring change, even for former high-round draft selections.
The Raiders spent a second-round pick to select Melifonwu in 2017. But he missed the first eight games of his rookie campaign after requiring arthroscopic knee surgery and then ended the season on injured reserve when he needed hip surgery.
The 6'4", 225-pound defensive back has been a limited participant in organized team activities, and the Raiders aren't sure when he'll be ready.
"It doesn't look close at all," head coach Jon Gruden said, per the Las Vegas Review-Journal's Michael Gehlken. "I'll leave it at that. He doesn't look close, to me, at all."
As Melifonwu recovers, the rest of the Raiders cornerbacks are establishing themselves under the new coach.
"It's great to see [Gareon] Conley out there," Gruden said. "We're counting on him. We need him. But to see Rashaan Melvin and Conley and Daryl Worley competing is really exciting. Conley is special. He's a top pick in this draft for a reason. I think from a confidence standpoint, he needs to get some work in out here."
Melifonwu will have a chance to cover the slot, since Conley, Melvin and Worley are all better suited as outside corners, but the second-year defensive back must get healthy, stay on the field and impress the coaching staff before he earns any playing time.