NFL Preseason Roundup: Jets Have Legit QB Controversy After Darnold Shows Out
The NFL preseason is in full swing with two games being played Friday.
However, plenty occurred before the Atlanta Falcons faced the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium and the Oakland Raiders hosted the Detroit Lions.
Significant injuries tempered league excitement after we saw some of the rookie quarterbacks excel. Unfortunately, a pair of promising first-year performers had their seasons come to an end.
How each franchise handles player workloads varies because everything is done in an attempt to prevent excessive wear and tear.
"In the end, we try to take everything into consideration that we have, what our opportunities are, where we are as a football team collectively and individually with certain players that may need a modification of their workload," New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said, per ESPN.com's Mike Reiss. "... and try to do the best we can with that time and those opportunities for our players and the team development as a whole. That's a balance we talk about every day."
Some things are unavoidable. The good must be taken with the bad. Friday's performances provided plenty of good, while the bad can be found among promising young players' unavailability this season.
Sam Darnold Makes Initial Case to Open Season as Jets' Starter
New York Jets quarterback Sam Darnold didn't look anything like the 21-year-old rookie he is during his debut against the Atlanta Falcons.
He appeared poised in the pocket, quickly worked through his reads, made decisive throws and easily picked apart the Falcons defense. He finished 13-of-18 passing for 96 yards and a touchdown. Technically, the first-year signal-caller threw three touchdowns on the same drive, but Charles Johnson dropped an easy catch and then got called for offensive pass interference a play later.
It didn't matter. Darnold wouldn't be denied. The quarterback couldn't be stopped through the air, albeit against basic coverages, or when he left the broken pocket to pick up yards.
All of this comes after he missed the first three days of training camp practice because of a short-lived holdout. His initial performance will make everyone forget about the fact that he didn't report on time and have those outside the organization wondering when he'll become the starter.
ESPN's Adam Schefter reported Darnold "has a very fair shot" at winning the job before the regular begins even though veteran Josh McCown is considered the starter. Head coach Todd Bowles hasn't been adamant to name one.
"You got to play preseason games," Bowles said Monday, per Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio. "I'm not into hypotheticals and nothing that hasn't happened yet, but we are going to let him play, then after the fourth preseason [game], sometime that week, I'll make my decision and go from there."
If the first game is any indication, Darnold has more than a fair shot to win the job. He should be named the starter if he continues to play the same way throughout the preseason's entirety.
Teddy Bridgewater's Return Provides Another Intriguing Starting Option
Teddy Bridgewater is officially back. Two years have passed since he suffered a knee injury that almost ended his career. The Jets took a chance by signing him to a one-year, $6 million contract this offseason, not knowing he'd look like a starting-caliber signal-caller once he got back on the field. But he has.
He looked the part Friday by completing seven of eight passes for 85 yards and a touchdown.
More importantly, Bridgewater appeared to be his old self. He didn't hesitate when pressured. His subtle pocket movement helped extend plays. Plus, he moved the offense efficiently and effectively.
However, Darnold is the future of the franchise. It's obvious. Friday's performance only solidified this. Bridgewater is only 25 years old, though, and he could serve as a starter for another franchise if the Jets entertain trade offers.
"I live in the moment," Bridgewater said after practice Monday, per SNY's Ralph Vacchiano. "You control what you can control. For me, it is coming to work every day and putting forth my best effort, leading my group up and down the field, throwing completions and getting us in and out of the right plays. That is what I look forward to right now. Everything else will take care of itself."
The Jets are now in a situation the franchise has never experienced: They have multiple quality quarterbacks. Bridgewater's comeback makes him easy to root for, but he's also the most likely not to be on the roster at the start of the regular season.
Derrius Guice's Devastating Injury Changes Washington's Running Back Dynamic
Injuries are part of the NFL, but some hurt more than others.
The Washington Redskins had big plans for second-round running back Derrius Guice. They'll have to wait a year since Guice suffered a season-ending ACL tear during Thursday's preseason contest against the Patriots at Gillette Stadium, per the team's official site.
The 21-year-old rookie presented something none of the other backs on the roster did with his combination of size (5'11", 225 lbs), power between the tackles and explosiveness through the hole.
"Had a tough time tryna [sic] hold back the tears this morning when I got the news," backfield mate Chris Thompson tweeted. "We had something great going in our room but you know the squad got you every step of the way bro."
Washington now has to adjust its offensive approach. Fortunately, the team has plenty of running back depth with experience.
Thompson is among the game's best third-down backs with 123 receptions over the last three seasons. Robert Kelley worked his way through injuries in 2017, but he led Washington with 704 rushing yards during the 2016 campaign. Finally, Samaje Perine is entering his second year and should be more comfortable with the offensive scheme.
Quarterback Alex Smith can be the X-factor because of his mobility. Washington can implement the zone read and run-pass options to supplement the ground attack.
Deon Cain Down for the Count Due to Knee Injury
The Indianapolis Colts' Deon Cain went from rising rookie to out of the picture in the blink of an eye. The training camp standout suffered a torn ACL during his first NFL action, according to Andrew Walker of the Colts' official site.
"Really unfortunate, obviously," head coach Frank Reich told reporters. "He was having a great camp. ... He'll come back faster and stronger next year."
The injury only adds to the wide receiver's up-and-down year.
Cain garnered early-round consideration during the initial phase of his predraft evaluation. Then, he disappointed during his final season on Clemson's campus and fell to the sixth round of April's draft.
The Colts selected him with the 185th overall pick and immediately saw dividends during organized team activities through training camp.
"I've seen playmaking ability. I've seen really good body control," Reich said of the rookie in June, per the Indianapolis Star's Zak Keefer. "Good speed. Good route-runner. ... I really commend Deon. He's really come in and handled his business well and took to coaching well, and he's really gotten better over the last couple of months."
One less playmaker is now in the offense. T.Y. Hilton and Ryan Grant are the team's projected starters out wide. Without Cain, veteran Chester Rogers figures to see an expanded role, while Kasen Williams, Zach Pascal, K.J. Brent, Steve Ishmael, Seantavius Jones and Krishawn Hogan will all compete for the fourth spot.
Josh Allen Earns Playing Time with Bills' 1st-Team Offense
Everyone knows Josh Allen is the Buffalo Bills' quarterback of the future. Can he become the quarterback of the present?
Allen completed only 47.4 percent of his passes during his debut against the Carolina Panthers on Thursday, but Bills head coach Sean McDermott was encouraged by the performance.
"There were times and some things he needed to work on, but overall, I thought he moved the ball at times, and [it was] good to see him in that two-minute drive," McDermott said, per the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle's Sal Maiorana (via AZCentral.com). "That's valuable experience for him."
Of course, social media concentrated on Allen's awful fourth-day play in which he scrambled and blindly tossed a feeble attempt as he fell to the turf. His game consisted of more than one bad decision. Allen's mobility helped him evade pressure and gain yards—he had 29 yards on three carries. His arm, of course, continues to be electric. The rookie also displayed the ability to hit a second-window throw.
As a result, McDermott mixed in Allen with the first-team offense after the signal-caller worked the second and third units during the previous week's practices, according to The Athletic's Matthew Fairburn.
Nathan Peterman opened Thursday's contest behind center and completed nine of 10 passes. AJ McCarron fared well too by completing 70 percent of his throws. Allen is a work in progress, but the team is leaving the door open for him to start sooner rather than later.
"You know, first of all, all those guys have been great—Nathan, AJ, and Josh—in terms of communication and the understanding and respecting the situation here," McDermott said of starting Peterman, per Nick Wojton of USA Today's Bills Wire. "I just felt like it was the right thing to do for us right now. We'll go back and look at the film, evaluate and move forward."
Baker Mayfield's Leadership Is Even Better Than His On-Field Performance
Antonio Callaway had a rough week. Baker Mayfield helped make it better.
The Cleveland Browns thrust the fourth-round rookie into the starting lineup after the Corey Coleman trade, only to find out the following day that Strongsville, Ohio, police cited the 21-year-old wide receiver for marijuana possession and driving with a suspended license.
Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com reported that the organization doesn't believe Callaway smoked the marijuana. According to NFL Network's Tom Pelissero, it thinks the issue with the license was a simple paperwork error.
Callaway started the preseason opener against the New York Giants and didn't play well in the first half with a couple of drops and poor routes.
But Mayfield wouldn't let him give in to self-doubt.
"I just kept telling him, 'Fight through it, just keep going, keep pushing through it,' because I needed him," Mayfield said, per Cabot. "When you're tired, you've got to be able to focus. He's a guy that we're going to be counting on to play, and so third and fourth quarter, he's got to be able to run those routes and execute it and make adjustments on the fly."
Callaway caught three passes in the second half and provided a team-leading 87 receiving yards, including a 54-yard touchdown reception.
Mayfield looked outstanding in his debut with 212 passing yards and a pair of touchdowns in two-and-a-half quarters. But the little things no one saw outside of the locker room are what truly impressed.
Browns' Tyrod Taylor Believes Dez Bryant Would Be 'Awesome' Addition
The flirtation between the Browns and free-agent wide receiver Dez Bryant continues, and both sides appear to be ready for the next step. According to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport, Bryant will visit Cleveland next week, likely Thursday, to see if the team is a good fit.
At least one Browns player—a very important one—loves the idea of adding the three-time Pro Bowler.
"That would be awesome," quarterback Tyrod Taylor said, per Cabot. "I've said this before. We know what type of talent Dez brings to the football field. He's been a very, very good player in his time throughout this league, and he adds talent to the wide receiver room."
The Browns lack a true X-receiver, and Bryant spent his entire eight-year career in that role for the Dallas Cowboys. Granted, Cleveland expects Josh Gordon's return at some point during training camp, but the team has yet to divulge an exact date.
Bryant isn't necessarily an insurance policy, though. His presence can add to an already improved offense that now features Jarvis Landry, Callaway, Duke Johnson, Carlos Hyde and David Njoku.
As long as the 29-year-old receiver is open to playing on a squad not considered a serious playoff contender, his addition will make the Browns offense even more potent.
"I hope it can get done, but like I said, that's up to management," Taylor added. "I definitely think he could help this team."
Raiders' Martavis Bryant Continues to Disappoint
Martavis Bryant has every physical tool necessary to become a No. 1 wide receiver. But his failure to grasp the Oakland Raiders' playbook and overall inconsistency continue to hold him back.
"He's got to get out here and play better," head coach Jon Gruden said last week, per the Las Vegas Review-Journal's Michael Gehlken. "He's in a competitive situation. Right now, there are a lot of other receivers that have had a nice camp. He's just got to learn the offense. He's got to stay out here."
Former Raiders wide receiver and current NFL Network analyst James Jones fanned the flames of frustration.
"I just had a chance to speak with Coach [Greg] Olson, and he said talent-wise, there's probably nobody that can compete with [Bryant] talent-wise," Jones said on the network, via Pro Football Talk's Michael David Smith. "But they said he's not picking up the playbook, and that's the reason of a little frustration right now because they want to get him on the field but he's not able to grasp the playbook yet."
According to NBC Sports Bay Area's Scott Bair, Bryant has been "locked to the second unit."
The 6'4", 210-pound target can be an awesome downfield threat. However, he's far from a complete wide receiver, which prevents him from joining Amari Cooper to form the team's top duo. Instead, the ultra-reliable Jordy Nelson is taking a lead role.
"... Nelson [has] been exactly what [the] Raiders [and] wide receivers coach Edgar Bennett believed they were getting. Moves like he's 28. Polished routes. Timing developing with Derek Carr. And off-field leader," Gehlken tweeted last week.
Raiders' Rookie Defensive Tackles Form Formidable Duo
The Raiders' draft class left some scratching their heads since so many of the team's selections seemed to be of the boom-or-bust variety. It's starting to make sense now.
Defensive tackles P.J. Hall and Maurice Hurst, whom the organization selected in the second and fifth rounds, respectively, each had question marks. Hall provided elite production, albeit at an FCS program. Hurst, meanwhile, saw his draft stock plummet because of concerns over an existing heart condition.
It became clear why the Raiders chose both after watching them against the Detroit Lions on Friday.
"To get those two guys, we felt they were the top two inside rushers in this draft," Gruden said in May, per Luke Straub of USA Today's Raiders Wire.
Both rookies are considered undersized—Hall is 6'1", 308 pounds, Hurst 6'2", 291—but they more than make up for their limitations with first-step quickness, low pad levels and a relentless approach. Hall sacked Matt Cassel on his first snap. Later, he deflected a pass and added another quarterback hit.
"He's a hard guy to block," Gruden said of Hall, per Bair. "He's what we thought he was. He's a powerful guy. He doesn't look like the biggest defensive tackle in the league, but he's a powerful, stout, quick, penetrating inside presence that we need here. We have not had enough inside pass rush."
Hurst applied pressure as well.
The pass rush is already improved as Oakland awaits Khalil Mack's return from a contract holdout. The ability to collapse the pocket—which both defensive tackles can do on a regular basis—helps the entire defense. It's only a matter of time before Hall and Hurst take away reps from starters Justin Ellis and Mario Edwards Jr.