NFL Training Camp Notes: Who Is Tom Brady Going to Throw To?
Wednesday marks the last day of the 2018 NFL offseason in which fans of all 32 teams could remind themselves that despite their fears regarding the upcoming season, their team still hasn't played a game.
The Baltimore Ravens and Chicago Bears will play in the first preseason game Thursday night. While the result won't matter, one team will probably win and the other will almost certainly lose.
That'll feel like progress.
Wednesday was the last full pre-preseason practice day of the year, and a lot went down at camps across the league. Let's walk through the biggest stories as Hall of Fame weekend looms.
Patriots Release WR Jordan Matthews Following Hamstring Injury
Brandin Cooks led all New England Patriots wide receivers last season with 65 catches, 1,082 yards and seven touchdowns. He is now a member of the Los Angeles Rams.
Danny Amendola ranked second to Cooks at that position with 61 receptions and 659 yards. He is now a member of the Miami Dolphins.
Julian Edelman was the team's top receiver in 2016. He missed the entire 2017 season due to a torn ACL and is now facing a four-game suspension to start the 2018 season.
Malcolm Mitchell ranked third among New England wideouts with 32 catches for 401 yards in a promising 2016 season. He remains sidelined indefinitely as a result of a lingering knee injury.
Kenny Britt is a former 1,000-yard receiver who remains on the right side of 30 and was a first-round pick in 2009. He remains out with a hamstring injury.
On Wednesday, Jordan Matthews' chances of becoming another successful New England reclamation project went kaput. The Patriots decided to release Matthews just days after he suffered a hamstring injury that NFL Network's Ian Rapoport described as "significant."
The Patriots are running out of established, healthy, non-suspended receivers for quarterback Tom Brady to throw to. They worked out veteran Eric Decker on Monday, according to Yates, and this development with Matthews might make them even more desperate now than they were then.
As good as Brady and tight end Rob Gronkowski are, the Patriots can't afford to enter the regular season with Cordarrelle Patterson, Chris Hogan, Phillip Dorsett and Paul Turner serving as their top four wideouts.
Cannon, Michel Also Go Down
Those receivers aren't the only members of Brady's supporting cast dealing with injuries.
According to NESN's Doug Kyed, both offensive tackle Marcus Cannon and rookie running back Sony Michel left Wednesday's practice with trainers.
Cannon was Pro Football Focus's highest-graded right tackle in 2016. He entered 2018 facing additional pressure since an ankle injury cost him much of his 2017 season and the Patriots have a void on the left side following the loss of veteran Nate Solder.
Michel is the first skill-position player the Patriots drafted in the first round since 2006, so it's safe to assume Bill Belichick and Co. have high expectations for him. The Georgia product looked ready to roll after spending four years in the SEC and averaging 7.9 yards per carry as a senior.
The Patriots are now left hoping that neither injury is serious, because Brady and Gronk can't do it all.
Man, can that organization catch a break?
Russell Wilson Loses His Top Weapon (For Now)
Brady isn't the only star quarterback dealing with the loss of several top weapons.
Seattle Seahawks signal-caller Russell Wilson won't have touchdown-machine tight end Jimmy Graham (now in Green Bay) or complementary receiver Paul Richardson (now in Washington) this year. It appears he'll now have to prepare for the regular season without top wideout Doug Baldwin, too.
One day after word trickled out that the two-time Pro Bowler was dealing with a knee injury, ESPN's Adam Schefter reported it "could force [Baldwin] to miss most, if not all, of the preseason." However, he added that "doctors are hopeful and confident that he will be able to return for the start of the regular season."
That might not sound like a death knell, especially if Baldwin is back by Week 1. But the Seahawks have suffered so many blows this offseason that it might only take another straw or two to break the camel's back.
Wilson already has too much on his plate. His offensive line is far from elite. Seattle's defense is no longer intimidating. Questions remain about the Seattle running game. And now a receiving corps that was already thin will be Baldwin-less for at least a few weeks.
It's fair to wonder what kind of chemistry this Seahawks team will have when September arrives.
Luck and Hilton 'Definitely in Sync'
Andrew Luck hasn't played a game in 577 days and was only cleared to resume fully practicing a few weeks ago. We don't know how his surgically repaired throwing shoulder will hold up this season, but the Indianapolis Colts quarterback doesn't appear to have lost his rhythm with top receiver T.Y. Hilton.
While watching Wednesday's training camp practice, the Herald Bulletin's George Bremer tweeted that Luck and Hilton "are definitely in sync." He added that the 28-year-old quarterback finished the day 16-of-19, which included a pair of drops.
A few days ago, Kevin Bowen of 1070 The Fan in Indy tweeted that Luck went 19-of-22 with at least one drop in his first full-pads, team-drill-inclusive practice since 2016.
These impressive practice performances are a great step forward for Luck, who's been dealing with shoulder issues since 2015. However, the three-time Pro Bowler isn't out of the woods yet, as he could experience setbacks while he gets himself acclimated again with the speed and physicality of NFL football.
It helps to have Hilton, who is coming off his fourth consecutive Pro Bowl season and is 19 months removed from a campaign in which he led the league with 1,448 receiving yards. If he and Luck can remain in sync throughout the fall, the Colts will have a chance to contend again come winter.
...But They'll Be Without an Old Pal
Jack Mewhort started 31 games in front of Luck between 2014 and 2016, but he was bothered by knee issues over the past two seasons.
It appears as though he's had enough.
The Ohio State product unexpectedly retired Wednesday at the age of 26, just four months after signing what was supposed to be a one-year prove-it contract.
"I would like to thank the Irsay family and the entire Colts organization for giving me the opportunity to live a childhood dream," Mewhort said in a statement released by the team, per Andrew Walker of Colts.com. "The fans and the city of Indianapolis have treated me like one of their own, and I am forever grateful. Wearing the Horseshoe was one of the biggest honors I have ever known, and I will always bleed blue. Go Colts!"
Zak Keefer of the Indianapolis Star suggested in July that Mewhort was "a long shot to land a starting spot," but he could have served as valuable depth for Indy's oft-maligned offensive line.
On the bright side, the Colts activated starting left tackle Anthony Castonzo from the non-football injury list earlier in the day.
Worst Fears Realized for Jake Ryan
When trying to explain why the Green Bay Packers missed the playoffs last season for the first time since 2008, it's easy to point to Aaron Rodgers' broken collarbone.
However, Green Bay's poor defensive play deserves some blame as well, as the Packers surrendered the seventh-most points in the league last season.
While Rodgers has returned to save the day on offense, the Green Bay defense has been dealt a pair of big blows this week in training camp.
The biggest of those blows came Wednesday when Rapoport reported that projected starting linebacker Jake Ryan suffered a torn ACL in practice Monday. That brings his 2018 season to an end before he even had a chance to play a preseason game.
Rapoport noted the 2015 fourth-round pick was "primed for a big season," which is debatable. Ryan hadn't been consistently effective, and he struggled to stand out when removed from his run-defending element during his first three seasons.
With that said, he still has plenty of upside. But with him done for the year, the Packers—who also lost projected starting safety Kentrell Brice to an ankle injury this week—are looking even more shallow on defense.
A Green Light for Curtis Samuel
Not all training camp injury news is bad. Most? Sure. But not all.
While New England, Seattle, Green Bay and plenty of other teams have been hit with crummy news this summer, the Carolina Panthers got a nice break Wednesday when receiver Curtis Samuel passed a physical and made his full-throttle training camp debut, according to ESPN.com's David Newton.
Newton noted the 2017 second-round pick "could be a big factor as the slot receiver this year if he can stay healthy." The Carolina offense is wide open, particularly at Samuel's position, and the Ohio State product has the speed, versatility, playmaking ability and big-game experience to play a major role in 2018.
Now, about that "if he can stay healthy" part. The 21-year-old wasn't able to do so in his first year in the league, as hamstring, back and ankle injuries limited his ability to make an impact as a rookie.
He's apparently healthy now, however, and it looks as though he's already impressing his quarterback.
A Case of the Drops for David Njoku?
Eleven picks before the Panthers selected Samuel in 2017, the Cleveland Browns took tight end David Njoku. While Njoku stayed healthy (unlike Samuel), that didn't make his rookie season any less disappointing.
The tantalizing athlete out of Miami caught an unimpressive 32 of the 60 passes thrown his way for 386 yards in 2017. However, he was only 21 and was somewhat raw entering the league.
In May, Nate Ulrich of the Akron Beacon Journal reported the Browns planned to use Njoku as a full-time starter in 2018. A month later, Scott Petrak of the Medina Gazette noted Cleveland head coach Hue Jackson is expecting a "big jump" from Njoku in his sophomore season.
On Wednesday, however, Petrak reported Njoku has "dropped too many passes," and his teammates appear to be taking notice. According to Petrak, Browns linebacker Christian Kirksey "took a friendly jab" at Njoku by notifying him that "the JUGS machine is inside."
By no means is Njoku already a bust, but it's somewhat concerning that he hasn't taken a leap. Meanwhile, fellow 2017 Browns early-rounders Jabrill Peppers, Myles Garrett and DeShone Kizer likewise struggled with injuries and/or ineffectiveness last season.
Kizer is gone, and the jury remains out on the three other guys, all of whom were first-round picks. The pressure is on.