One Thing We've Learned About Each NFL Team During Training Camp
All 32 NFL teams opened training camp with uncertainties.
It's a time to test new systems, schemes and approaches to optimizing talent. As the summer progresses, there's clarity on position battles, standouts emerge and some coaches reveal expectations for certain players. And during preseason action, we're see new developments and things that don't work out as expected.
Here we'll look at each club and pinpoint one thing they've learned so far during training camp. Perhaps an unlikely starter has put a stronghold hold on a spot, or a notable player has come up short on high expectations.
Arizona Cardinals: Sam Bradford's Starting Job Is Relatively Safe
The Arizona Cardinals signed quarterback Sam Bradford to a one-year deal, which can extend to two years if he's on the roster three days before the 2019 league year, per Spotrac. In April, the front office executed a draft-day trade with the Oakland Raiders to move up to No. 10 for their quarterback of the future, Josh Rosen.
Offseason headlines framed Rosen as an NFL-ready quarterback because of his time at UCLA operating in a pro-style system under head coach Jim Mora. He impressed the Cardinals coaching staff early in the offseason, but head coach Steve Wilks declared the starting position as Bradford's job to lose during camp.
That gives Rosen a slim chance to win the starting role, since Bradford won't play as many preseason snaps as other starters. In order for the rookie to start Week 1, he'd have to shine so brightly that it's difficult to keep him on the sideline, or the 30-year-old would have to look incompetent in limited action.
Rosen's NFL debut didn't move the needle. He completed six of his 13 pass attempts for 41 yards against the Los Angeles Chargers, but he bounced back in the last outing, throwing 10-of-16 for 107 yards and a touchdown against the New Orleans. Nonetheless, right now, Bradford has a solid grip on the starting role that he's unlikely to relinquish, barring injury.
Atlanta Falcons: Steve Sarkasian and Julio Jones Must Connect on Another Level
Outside of the red zone, the Atlanta Falcons moved the ball with consistency through the air, finishing eighth in passing yards for the 2017 campaign. However, the unit didn't operate with the same type of efficiency in the red zone.
The Falcons logged 21 passing touchdowns, one fewer than their opponents. More alarming, their best pass-catcher, Julio Jones, caught three touchdown passes—his lowest since the 2013 season when he only suited up for five games because of a foot fracture.
According to Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporter D. Orlando Ledbetter, offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian and Jones emphasized their growing relationship as a key to a more productive passing attack.
"Eighteen games of working together and understanding the things he does and what he's comfortable with … it's night and day [compared to last year]," Sarkisian said.
"What we have been doing here is every day, just working on the red zone," Jones said. "Trying to get better every day. Seeing different looks every day."
Surprisingly, as an elite talent at wide receiver, Jones has recorded 10 touchdowns in just one oh his seven seasons, though he and Sarkisian hope to see their working relationship unlock more production going into the 2018 campaign. If that's the case, the Falcons should finish the year with a top-10 scoring offense thanks to a boost in the aerial attack.
Baltimore Ravens: Joe Flacco Established a Strong Rapport with John Brown
Lost in all the talk about dual-quarterback designs and the spotlight on rookie signal-caller Lamar Jackson, the Ravens passing attack acquired a speedy deep threat who stole the show through training camp practices, per The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec:
"Nobody made more plays than [John] Brown during training camp. He caught deep balls, he got his share of underneath stuff and he even showed an ability to go up and make contested catches. Brown and quarterback Joe Flacco were on the same page throughout the summer."
Brown flashed his big-play ability in Arizona during the 2015 term, when he caught 65 passes for 1,003 yards and seven touchdowns. Maybe we shouldn't pencil in Michael Crabtree as the pass-catcher to lead this wide receiver corps in major categories.
Keep an eye on Flacco's connection with Brown during the preseason. If their camp chemistry carries over to game situations, the Ravens could see a significant improvement from the 29th-ranked passing attack from the previous year.
Buffalo Bills: Defensive End Shaq Lawson May Not Start in 2018
It's not a good sign that incoming veteran Trent Murphy took starting reps over 2016 first-rounder Shaq Lawson. A top-20 selection in his class, the Clemson product has struggled to produce on the professional level. ESPN.com's Mike Rodak identified the 24-year-old as a possible trade candidate because of his work with the second-team defense through training camp.
Murphy missed the entire 2017 term because of torn ACL and MCL. He also missed organized team activities and minicamp waiting for clearance to return. Yet, the 27-year-old lists ahead of Lawson in the pecking order at defensive end.
The Bills need someone to push forward in the pass rush after logging 27 sacks, which ranked 29th in the league last year. Lawson has accumulated six career sacks over the past two terms, but the coaching staff likely wants to see if Murphy can look similar to his 2016 form, when he logged nine in the category.
Murphy, who served a four-game suspension for violating the league's performance-enhancing drug policy while on injured reserve, is in the pole position over Lawson.
Carolina Panthers: Cornerback Donte Jackson Leads Candidates to Start
Head coach Ron Rivera offered high praise for rookie cornerback Donte Jackson, who's clearly made an impact during training camp.
"[Ron Rivera] says Donte Jackson has given him comfort level at CB that he hasn’t had in 2-3 years," the Charlotte Observer's Joe Person tweeted.
Eighth-year wide receiver Torrey Smith also told Max Henson of the team's official site that the LSU product is a camp standout.
"He's probably grown more than any player I've ever seen over the course of an offseason," he said. "He's playing very well, playing very confident. He's been coachable."
The second-rounder faces a tough challenge ahead in filling Daryl Worley's spot on the boundary. Unlike his predecessor, who ran a 4.64 40-yard dash time during the 2016 NFL Scouting Combine, the former Tiger can turn on the jets. He logged a 4.32 40-yard time in March.
During a practice session, rookie first-round wideout D.J. Moore shook Jackson out of his cleats with a stutter step, but the speedy defender recovered to break up the pass. It's probably a glimpse of what his coaches and teammates saw through the summer. The 22-year-old will have to show more than speed in the remaining preseason contests to claim the starter spot, but he's off to a good start.
Chicago Bears: Matt Nagy Aims to Optimize Tarik Cohen's Skill Set
Head coach Matt Nagy expressed his excitement about working with running back Tarik Cohen during the offseason.
"Nagy has Cohen lining up everywhere to maximize his speed, agility and explosiveness with the ball in his hands. Cohen has welcomed the challenge of learning multiple positions and has done well retaining the details required of each. He's the Bears' most dynamic player," Rich Campbell wrote in the Chicago Tribune.
Nagy could use Cohen in a similar fashion to how he deployed Kansas City Chiefs dynamic wideout Tyreek Hill, who logged 1,836 all-purpose yards during his rookie season as a receiver, ball-carrier and punt and kick returner with at least one touchdown in each role.
In 2017, Cohen flashed his versatility, logging 1,578 all-purpose yards. He finished with at least 272 yards in all four areas. As a threat in space with reliable hands, he could live up to his nickname, The Human Joystick, under Nagy.
Cincinnati Bengals: Carl Lawson Won't See a Major Increase in Snap Count
Defensive end Carl Lawson started his NFL career on a strong note, racking up 8.5 sacks while playing just 41.6 percent of the team's defensive snaps. Despite an impressive start, don't expect his workload to significantly increase for the upcoming campaign.
Head coach Marvin Lewis doesn't plan to use Lawson as an every-down defender, per ESPN.com's Katherine Terrell:
"The biggest thing that was true for Carl at Auburn, and still continues here in the NFL after his first season, is that by limiting his exposure, we're going to get more production. He’s not that big of a person, and so to go out and bang with the big guys all the time is not going to be beneficial to him."
Barring injury, Carlos Dunlap and Michael Johnson should remain the starting defensive ends.
Cleveland Browns: Joel Bitonio Leads Candidates to Start at Left Tackle
Initially, left guard Joel Bitonio seemed a little hesitant to shift over to left tackle, according to head coach Hue Jackson, per ESPN.com's Pat McManamon.
"Was he reluctant? Yeah. I would be, too. He plays a position and he's real good at it, but I think for his teammates, his coaching staff and for all involved, he knows it's the best place for him to be right now."
Nonetheless, Bitonio started on the blind side against the New York Giants in Week 1 of the preseason. The first team didn't see ample snaps, but it served as an introduction for the 26-year-old to a new position against live action.
Bitonio briefly talked about what it's like to block for a mobile quarterback such as Tyrod Taylor, per the Akron Beacon Journal's Steve Doerschuk.
"There's this internal clock you're not supposed to have," he said. "It's like … I think I've blocked this guy long enough. Yeah, there's some love-hate. But it's more love."
At least for now, the Browns seem committed to Bitonio learning a new position with Taylor able to escape pressure and deliver passes with a quick release. As the fifth-year veteran's reps increase, the coaching staff will likely decide if it's time to turn to a more prototypical offensive tackle or stick with the conversion plan.
Dallas Cowboys: Blake Jarwin Is the Tight End to Watch in Passing Game
Quarterback Dak Prescott lost his top two red-zone targets in Dez Bryant via offseason cut and Jason Witten. who retired. They combined for 11 touchdowns in 2017.
The front office restocked the wide receiver unit by signing Deonte Thompson and Allen Hurns and drafting rookie third-rounder Michael Gallup. Now, it's up to Prescott to develop a rapport with a new safety blanket in the passing attack.
Dallas Morning News reporter Jori Epstein pointed out tight end Blake Jarwin as a consistent red-zone target. Bryan Broaddus of 105.3 The Fan mentioned him as a camp standout on Twitter. Prescott targeted Jarwin on his first preseason pass attempt, which went three yards, and the second-year tight end hauled in an 18-yard reception from Cooper Rush during the second quarter.
While the competition for majority snaps at tight end remains wide open, Jarwin has separated himself as a viable pass-catching option in a revamped aerial attack.
Denver Broncos: Royce Freeman Threatening Devontae Booker for Starting Role
Rookie third-rounder Royce Freeman didn't waste any time flashing his breakaway ability in front of the home crowd in the preseason opener against the Minnesota Vikings. He ran 23 yards downfield on a carry and scored a touchdown to finish as the Broncos' most impressive ball-carrier. Devontae Booker, who started the contest, logged two rushing attempts for seven yards.
ESPN.com's Jeff Legwold sees the buzz around Freeman and his preseason debut as an immediate threat to Booker's workload.
"I think the optimism is justified. At minimum, he splits carries, and I think he will be the primary back before too long," he wrote. "Now, that might not mean 250 carries, but he's going to get work and already blocks well enough to play on third down and in some of the open formations. And he'll get red-zone chances, too."
For a rookie, the ability to handle pass-protection responsibilities creates third-down opportunities. Legwold expects the coaching staff to involve the Oregon product in every aspect of the position. The Broncos will likely go into the season with a timeshare along with Freeman and Booker, but another impressive performance could tilt the majority in the former's favor.
Detroit Lions: Kerry Johnson Brings Dual-Threat Capabilities in the Backfield
For the Detroit Lions, there's an emphasis on establishing the run to balance the offense. The ground attack finished last in yards for the 2017 season. When evaluating rookie running backs, we often overlook how much pass-blocking matters in seeing the field straight out of college. Before Kerryon Johnson makes contributions in the backfield, he must do the little things well.
According to The Athletic's Chris Burke, Kerryon Johnson put together satisfactory reps in pass protection during practices:
"Johnson didn’t bat 1.000 in pass-protection drills, but he was in the .800 range. Maybe his best moment Friday came when he was pitted against Jarrad Davis, the Lions’ unquestioned starter at middle linebacker and an aggressive, physical player. Johnson stepped up and stonewalled him."
Burke mentioned an occasional whiff, but the coaching staff felt comfortable enough giving Johnson the bulk of the work in the preseason opener against the Raiders. In that contest, he accumulated 67 yards from scrimmage for an overall impressive outing. Based on his early strides in multiple areas, the Auburn product should start the season with a sizable role.
Green Bay Packers: Geronimo Allison Holding off Rookies for 3rd WR Spot
Green Bay Packers rookie wide receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling grabbed preseason headlines with five catches for 101 yards and a touchdown against the Tennessee Titans, but Green Bay Press-Gazette reporter Ryan Wood pinpointed Geronimo Allison as the quiet leader for the third spot in three-wide receiver sets.
"Allison has quietly established himself as the team’s No. 3 receiver," he wrote. "Even if his name doesn’t generate the same consistent buzz, there is no shortage of examples on the practice field for why the former undrafted receiver has ascended the depth chart. He is always in the right place."
For the rookie trio of pass-catchers joining the group—J'Mon Moore, Equanimeous St. Brown and Valdes-Scantling—consistency through the preseason could elevate their names on the depth chart, but the new talent will need to usurp Allison, who's putting together a strong camp with an opportunity to expand his role in the passing offense.
Over the past two seasons, Allison logged four starts and recorded a 122-yard performance Week 2 before his production dropped off last season. The front office's decision to select three players at his position during April's draft may have lit a competitive fire under the third-year pass-catcher. Nonetheless, Valdes-Scantling's NFL debut should put him on the radar as a strong challenger for the No. 3 spot.
Houston Texans: J.J. Watt Looking for Defensive Player of the Year Form
Defensive end J.J. Watt has gone from three-time Defensive Player of the Year and honoree to an injury-prone player on the decline. He's only appeared in eight games over the past two years because of a back injury two seasons ago and a left tibial plateau fracture in 2017.
According to NBC's Peter King, Watt still feels he can perform at the level of a Defensive Player of Year candidate. When asked if he'll win the award a fourth time, Watt said, "That's the goal. It's not the only goal, but it's a goal."
It's a lofty aspiration following two years with minimal production. He's logged just 1.5 sacks since the 2015 campaign. Nonetheless, Watt could elevate the Houston Texans' front seven to another level alongside Jadeveon Clowney and Whitney Mercilus.
He doesn't even have to play to the level of a Defensive Player of the Year. If the 29-year-old can stay healthy, Houston should push for a top-10 finish in run defense and sacks.
Indianapolis Colts: Andrew Luck Is Finally Back Without Shoulder Pain
After Luck's participation in 11-on-11 drills, he suited up for the team's preseason opener against the Seahawks and fared well in live action. The 28-year-old completed six of his nine pass attempts for 64 yards, which put the field-goal unit in position to score on two drives.
Finally, we can move past the speculation, projections and vague return dates for Luck's return to the field as he shakes off the rust. The three-time Pro Bowler didn't feel pain after his return performance, but he admited he came home emotionally drained from participating in game action for the first time since 2017.
The remainder of the offseason will allow Luck time to gain some rhythm with a young wide receiver corps, a new tight end in Eric Ebron and a trio of new running backs, which includes two rookies. Nonetheless, for now, we can expect to see Luck regularly take the field.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Dede Westbrook Stood Out Among Crowded Wide Receiver Group
The Jacksonville Jaguars front office allowed wideout Allen Robinson to walk during free agency, but quarterback Blake Bortles will have a plethora of options in the passing game regardless.
Behind last year's top two pass-catchers, Keelan Cole and Marqise Lee, don't forget about Dede Westbrook, a 2017 fourth-rounder who missed half his rookie campaign after undergoing surgery on his core. He told First Coast News reporter Mike Kaye that he feels "comfortable in the offense this year."
Offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett seems to agree. John Oehser of the team's official website tweeted the play-caller's early assessment on Westbrook. "Now, he knows exactly what he's doing, and he knows, 'OK, I have to win these routes.' I think that you're just watching him able to play football more, and that's fun about him."
Oehser called Westbrook a standout who's pushing for a spot among the top three wide receivers on the team, which is a huge claim, considering the Jaguars signed Donte Moncrief to join the wide receiver group.
Westbrook caught three passes for 32 yards in the preseason opener against the New Orleans Saints. He could emerge as a consistent playmaker in the passing attack for the 2018 season.
Kansas City Chiefs: Andy Reid Isn't Worried About Patrick Mahomes' Interceptions
Chiefs head coach Andy Reid isn't one to worry about a first-year starter throwing interceptions during practice sessions, and neither should anyone else.
When the count hit eight for quarterback Patrick Mahomes, Reid made it clear how he felt about his young signal-caller's turnovers, per ESPN.com's Adam Teicher:
"I told you at the beginning of camp I don't care about all that stuff," Reid said. "I want him to test the offense. ... If you don't have the intestinal fortitude to go test it, you're going to be one of those quarterbacks who checks it down every time."
When you look at Mahomes' Texas Tech film, it's easy to see he isn't shy about pushing the ball downfield. The Chiefs knew what type of quarterback they moved up for to draft at No. 10 last year. Reid wants a quarterback who isn't afraid to make mistakes, as long as he's able to learn from the errors.
Mahomes didn't look particularly sharp against the Texans in Week 1 of the preseason, and he took a big hit on a sack, but there's plenty of time to work out the kinks in preparation for the regular season. He's expected to go through growing pains as he absorbs the offensive scheme.
Los Angeles Chargers: Derwin James Isn't the Obvious Replacement for Tre Boston
When the Los Angeles Chargers selected Derwin James with the No. 17 overall pick in April's draft, it seemed inevitable that he'd take over Tre Boston's old spot at free safety.
The Florida State product stands at 6'2", 215 pounds and has the ability to cover downfield. He logged two interceptions and 11 pass breakups during his junior year. Nonetheless, when you look at his tape, it's hard to ignore his physical presence on the field.
The Chargers have swapped James and Jahleel Addae between the strong and free safety positions during practice, per Eric D. Williams of ESPN.com. The coaching staff will also take a look at Desmond King, who lined up primarily in the slot last year, in center field as well.
James' versatility allows defensive coordinator Gus Bradley to experiment with combinations, but the team doesn't seem committed to lining him up in one spot. The reps in different areas should prepare the rookie to show off all his physical tools in the upcoming season.
Los Angeles Rams: Defensive Lineman Michael Brockers Emerging as a Leader
Two names come to mind when thinking about the Los Angeles Rams defensive line: Aaron Donald, the 2017 Defensive Player of the Year, and three-time All-Pro Ndamukong Suh. Inside the locker room, there's a growing respect for another veteran within the unit.
According to Gary Klein of the Los Angeles Times, versatile defensive lineman Michael Brockers has assumed a leadership role, and he serves as a beacon of wisdom for the younger players at the position.
"Every time I ask him for some advice, he's always been open and always getting extra work with me," rookie sixth-rounder Sebastian Joseph-Day said. "They've got me playing multiple positions, and he's helped me develop."
Head coach Sean McVay spoke specifically about Brockers' presence in the locker room. "He's got that contagious enthusiasm in a positive way that rubs off on his teammates. ... He knows the influence that he has."
It's Suh's first season in Los Angeles, and Donald continues to hold out for a new deal. Brockers' experience in different spots across the front seven allows him to connect with a developing player such Joseph-Day who's doing the same. The 27-year-old has also produced on the field, logging 19 sacks in six seasons.
Assuming Donald's holdout comes to an end, barring a blockbuster trade, the Rams have a combination of quality dual-threat interior defenders with leadership to form an impressive front for the 2018 season.
Miami Dolphins: Jerome Baker Showing Signs of a Starting-Caliber Linebacker
Miami Dolphins rookie third-round linebacker Jerome Baker made immediate strides once players put on pads. He logged five tackles and one tackle for a loss against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 1 of the preseason. During practice, the coaching staff subbed him into the starting lineup for Stephone Anthony, per the Miami Herald's Barry Jackson.
Baker lined up on the strong and weak side of the formation, which indicates the team will test his versatility and his run-stopping ability on the second level. The Ohio State product brings quickness to a linebacker corps that allowed 8.1 catches for 60 yards per game to tight ends last season, per Football Outsiders.
At 6'2", 215 pounds, Baker has showcased his ability to track ball-carriers and receivers in game situations. If he shows enough on third downs, the former Buckeye would likely become a solid addition to the nickel defense in an expanded role.
Minnesota Vikings: Kirk Cousins Found a New Favorite Target in Stefon Diggs
The deep connection between quarterback Kirk Cousins and wideout Stefon Diggs started at practice and then translated to the Minnesota Vikings' preseason opener against the Broncos at Mile High last Saturday.
Despite playing with a fourth primary starting signal-caller in four seasons, Diggs continues to emerge as a red-zone threat who can burn defenders downfield. Cousins completed all four of his passes for 42 yards and a touchdown, and the 24-year-old receiver came down with three of those catches for 35 yards and a score. It's production at first sight.
Considering Diggs' consistency as a receiver and his early flash, there's no reason to expect him to see a drop-off in production despite the change under center. Cousins will need to familiarize himself with the entire group of pass-catchers, but it's impressive he started with a perfect drive.
The Vikings paid Cousins and Diggs this offseason ($84 million and $72 million, respectively), and the new deals look like solid investments.
New England Patriots: Cornerback Jason McCourty Sits on the Roster Bubble
The New England Patriots may not have both of the McCourty twins (Devin and Jason) on the final 53-man roster, according to ESPN.com's Mike Reiss.
In a mailbag response to a question about the "nonexistent" presence of Jason McCourty, Reiss explained the 31-year-old lined up with the second-team defense during practices.
In March, the Patriots acquired McCourty and a seventh-round pick from the Browns in exchange for a sixth-rounder.
However, when New England acquires a player, it doesn't mean he automatically makes the roster. Defensive end Kony Ealy can attest to this. Last offseason, the Patriots acquired him and a 2017 third-rounder from the Panthers in exchange for a second-round pick, but they released him before the final cuts.
McCourty's fate rests with the development of the young players. If Jonathan Jones, Cyrus Jones and undrafted rookie J.C. Jackson make the cut, the 10th-year veteran may have to look for a roster spot elsewhere.
New Orleans Saints: Jonathan Williams Pushing for Short-Term Role in Backfield
For the first four weeks, Alvin Kamara will have a new running mate in the backfield as Mark Ingram serves his four-game suspension for violating the league's performance-enhancing drugs policy.
According to Nick Underhill of the New Orleans Advocate, third-year ball-carrier Jonathan Williams made a push to open the season in tandem with Kamara: "As far as that battle [at running back] goes, it looks like Jonathan Williams is making a run up the depth chart."
Williams made the most of limited snaps in the Saints' preseason opener Aug. 9 against the Jaguars, with four carries for 26 yards and a touchdown at EverBank Field. As the regular season draws closer, we'll likely see more of him in the backfield. Terrance West also remains a viable option to see an uptick in carries during Ingram's absence. He logged five carries for 10 yards in the same contest.
The Saints saw something in Williams last year when they claimed him off the Broncos practice squad in November. He'll likely see some action in the regular season, but the next few weeks will determine his workload.
New York Giants: B.J. Hill Primed to Start on Strong Defensive Line
As the No. 2 overall pick, running back Saquon Barkley garners the spotlight at New York Giants training camp, while second-rounder Will Hernandez likely slots into the starting left guard spot. And there's another potential rookie starter in defensive tackle B.J. Hill, who doesn't play at a premium position. That explains his quiet rise to a first-team role.
Tom Rock of Newsday noted the Giants have rolled out Damon Harrison, Dalvin Tomlinson and Hill in a three-man front during practices. The group has the potential to be a strong run-stopping trio, featuring an All-Pro (Harrison), a second-year interior defender coming off a solid rookie campaign (Tomlinson) and a third-rounder who flashed potential at North Carolina State.
Hill caught Harrison's eye on the practice field.
"I don't know if you guys have been watching [in training camp], but he's probably the most athletic defensive lineman that we have, and that says a lot," Harrison said, per Rock. "He can do a little bit of everything, which is encouraging to see."
Big Blue are transitioning to a 3-4 base defense, which requires the defensive ends to provide some pocket pressure. That is even more important with the starting outside linebacker opposite Olivier Vernon still undecided. Hill logged eight sacks over four seasons in college. If his athleticism translates to quarterback hurries, the Giants should begin the campaign with at least three rookie starters.
New York Jets: Quarterback Sam Darnold Has Legitimate Shot to Start
Once Sam Darnold signed his rookie contract, he saw first-team reps at training camp. The USC product is the No. 3 quarterback on the New York Jets' unofficial depth chart. Nonetheless, ESPN's Adam Schefter reported Darnold "has a very fair shot" at starting the 2018 season under center.
Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News reported New York's satisfaction with Darnold has continued to rise. "The brain trust is happier with this kid with each passing day, according to people familiar with the organization’s giddiness level," he wrote.
In a joint practice with the Washington Redskins, Darnold's command and his decision-making earned cornerback Josh Norman's respect. Kimberley A. Martin of the Washington Post shared the All-Pro's assessment via Twitter.
"This little kid is not making mistakes," Norman said. "He's really accurate. You get rookies in here and try to mess with them and bait them a little bit and thinking [he's going to throw to] a route that you know you can make a play on, and he's not having it. And it's crazy to see that at an early age. ... He's impressed me."
Darnold looked impressive during the first half of the Jets' preseason opener against the Falcons on Aug. 10, completing 13 of 18 pass attempts for 96 yards and a score at MetLife Stadium. He struggled with the Redskins pass rush in the last outing, throwing an interception and taking two sacks at FedEx Field, but he went 8-of-11 for 62 yards through the air.
Despite a drop-off between his first two appearances, the 21-year-old rookie could take over earlier than expected, while 39-year-old Josh McCown serves as a backup. The front office would probably trade Teddy Bridgewater, who's played well in preseason action, completing 17 of 23 passes for 212 yards, two touchdowns and one interception.
Oakland Raiders: Donald Penn Open to Moving to Right Tackle
During OTAs and minicamp, the Oakland Raiders committed to rookie first-rounder Kolton Miller on the blind side, while three-time Pro Bowl left tackle Donald Penn recovered from Lisfranc surgery.
The coaching staff didn't deviate from the plan once Penn returned to action after taking a pay cut. Penn spent 11 seasons primarily on the left, but he's open to moving to the right, per Michael Gehlken of the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
"They talked to me about trying it out, about seeing how I would feel over there," Penn said. "I told them, 'I'm willing to do whatever it takes to help this team win, and if you feel like that's going to be in the best interest of the team, I'll do it.' Today, it felt very awkward and rusty. But I need time to develop."
Head coach Jon Gruden explained he didn't want to disrupt the rookie's development on the left side, where he's lined up throughout the offseason. Miller is the future at the position, and his development becomes a priority over a 35-year-old closer to retirement. Penn could flip back to the blind side if Miller struggles during the regular season.
However, the Raiders must ensure Penn can hold down the right tackle position to protect the edge, as teams can flip their pass-rushers to attack the weaker perimeter tackle. While it's important to groom Miller, the Raiders cannot risk putting quarterback Derek Carr in harm's way.
Philadelphia Eagles: Carson Wentz's Week 1 Availability Depends 11-on-11 Drills
Quarterback Carson Wentz has targeted a Week 1 return, but it's possible the recovery process from a torn ACL could keep him on the sideline a little longer, which isn't a revelation.
Wentz isn't expected to play during the preseason. Head coach Doug Pederson said a solid week of 11-on-11 drills could decide whether he's ready to open the season against the Falcons on Sept. 6 at Lincoln Financial Field, per Dave Zangaro of NBC Sports Philadelphia.
Early in training camp, Pederson told King he saw "a little hesitation" in the third-year signal-caller and identified a major hurdle in his recovery. "It's more about his head than his knee right now," he said.
According to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport, quarterback Nick Foles suffered a minor shoulder injury Thursday in preseason action against the Patriots. He's expected to recover before the regular season, which gives the offense some cushion if Wentz isn't able to put together a string of strong practices before Week 1.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Preparing to Roll out 2-2-7 "Dollar" Package
As defensive play-callers move toward more athletic alignments to combat aerial attacks, the Pittsburgh Steelers have experimented with a 2-2-7 scheme that features two defensive linemen, two outside linebackers and seven defensive backs.
At the moment, it's still in the installment stages during practice sessions, per TribLive.com's Joe Rutter:
"The Steelers continue to work the "dollar" subpackage into their practice scheme. They have yet to unveil it in a game and are using training camp to iron out the kinks that come with having three extra defensive backs — and two fewer linebackers — on the field."
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Ed Bouchette noted the Steelers used the formation nearly two decades ago: "The Steelers used seven defensive backs as one of their substitute defenses a number of years ago, maybe under Jim Haslett or Tim Lewis."
Fast-forward to 2018, and the Steelers need to compensate for the lack of coverage ability at inside linebacker with Ryan Shazier on the mend from a spinal injury. As a result, defensive coordinator Keith Butler can one-up the dime package with the "dollar."
The extra wrinkle makes sense after the Steelers signed ninth-year veteran safety Morgan Burnett and drafted rookie safeties Terrell Edmunds and Marcus Allen. The new additions suggest several defensive backs could see a lot of action in an attempt to combat passing plays in the upcoming season.
San Francisco 49ers: Mike Person Leader to Start at Right Guard
A new-old face could start at right guard for the San Francisco 49ers. The team selected Mike Person in the seventh round of the 2011 draft, but he didn't suit up for the squad that brought him into the league.
After brief stints with the Seahawks, Rams, Falcons and Colts, Person could be the favorite to start in San Francisco, per NBC Sports Bay Area's Matt Maiocco.
Joshua Garnett and Jonathan Cooper have been battling knee ailments, which put the 30-year-old in a position to take starting reps without solid competition at right guard. It certainly helps that Person has experience in head coach Kyle Shanahan's system.
"I’d say Mike’s been the same guy that we knew of, if not a little bit better," Shanahan said, per Maiocco. He’s got some experience. He’s been around the league. I think he’s gained some confidence, and I thought he looked similar to how he always looks in the game. I thought he did a good job."
Garnett returned to practice Sunday, and Cooper continues to gradually recover from offseason surgery. The winner at right guard could come down to the healthiest contender. Right now, it's Person.
Seattle Seahawks: Patience Running Thin with Right Tackle Germain Ifedi
Offensive tackle Germain Ifedi committed the most penalties last year, and head coach Pete Carroll doesn't want to see the problem persist—even during practices. The Seahawks skipper benched the 2016 first-rounder during the team's mock game because of penalties. Per the News Tribune's Gregg Bell, Carroll expressed his dismay, saying, "Yeah, I was real disappointed in that. Real disappointed in that."
A couple of practices later, Ifedi drew the coach's ire again during a two-minute drill and lost his spot with the first team to rookie fifth-rounder Jamarco Jones.
Nevertheless, Ifedi took the field for a majority of the snaps at right tackle against the Colts in the preseason opener. But it's clear the coaching staff won't put up with his infractions. If the third-year pro doesn't improve his play, the Seahawks have options behind him.
Willie Beavers and Isaiah Battle also took snaps at right tackle against the Colts. Jones took the majority of reps at left tackle, but Duane Brown is entrenched as a starter at the position. George Fant, who missed the 2017 campaign with a torn ACL, deserves mention as a long-shot potential replacement while he gets himself back to game speed.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Peyton Barber Hanging on to Starting Spot
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers selected running back Ronald Jones in the second round of April's draft. Naturally, one would expect a rookie ball-carrier picked 38th overall to have a sizable workload in the backfield. While that's still a likely scenario for the USC product, he's not walking into a starting role—at least for now.
Head coach Dirk Koetter confirmed Peyton Barber remains the No. 1 option in the backfield but left room for change based on a full preseason evaluation at the position.
"We're not really leaning in any direction right now," Koetter said, per AL.com's Mark Inabinett. "We'll see how it works out. Peyton's our starter, and we're going to definitely use Ronald Jones and take advantage of what he can do."
At times, the offseason spotlight follows rookies so closely that we discount roster holdovers vying for starting spots at the same position. Barber started four of the last five games of the 2017 season and logged 102 rushing yards on 23 carries in Week 13 against the Packers.
Jones struggled with pass protection early in training camp, though Koetter also acknowledged his improvements. Nonetheless, it's an early misstep that could initially delay a rookie running back's ascension on the depth chart.
Tennessee Titans: Inside Linebacker Will Compton Emerging as a Starter
Inside linebacker Avery Williamson signed with the Jets during free agency, which opened a starting spot on the back end of the Titans' front seven. Rashaan Evans, the No. 22 overall pick of the 2018 draft, should eventually take over the position. However, sixth-year veteran Will Compton has been taking advantage of first-team reps due to the rookie's undisclosed injury, which has kept him sidelined since July 28.
Compton earned praise from veteran linebacker Wesley Woodyard for providing some spark to the position group, per Souichi Terada of the Tennessean.
"I've been enjoying working with Will," Woodyard said. "He's brought a lot of excitement to our linebacker room. One of those guys that's a hard worker. Then every day he shows up, competes and pushes us."
Compton started 33 contests over the past five seasons with the Redskins. On a one-year deal, he's a solid stopgap option at inside linebacker until Evans finds his way back on the field and claims the starting position.
There's still time left in the battle, but for what it's worth, Compton is listed as the starter on the team's unofficial depth chart. He could open the season in that role before yielding to the Alabama product.
Washington Redskins: Coaches Impressed with Young Cornerbacks
In a shocking roster move, the Redskins released cornerback Orlando Scandrick on Tuesday after signing him to a two-year deal in March. As a veteran presence in the slot, the acquisition seemed like an ideal fit. However, head coach Jay Gruden explained the cut by pinpointing an impressive young group that needs reps.
"I think the emergence of Danny Johnson, Fabian Moreau at nickel—we wanted to get these guys reps at nickel and [Quinton] Dunbar at corner and move on," Gruden said, via NFL.com. "Give Orlando ample time to get on another team before the season started."
Washington's coaching staff decided to go with the youth movement, and it's telling that the front office felt comfortable in releasing an established 10-year veteran. Aside from Moreau and Johnson, Gruden mentioned 2018 seventh-rounder Greg Stroman and rookie undrafted free agent Ranthony Texada as two cornerbacks who put together solid performances through camp.
Without Scandrick soaking up the reps, Moreau could claim the slot position for the 2018 season.