NFL Minicamps, Buzz Roundup: Odell Beckham Brings Excitement, Not DistractionJune 7, 2019
NFL Minicamps, Buzz Roundup: Odell Beckham Brings Excitement, Not Distraction
New faces in new places generated excitement as the league's first mandatory minicamps opened this week.
All eyes were on the Cleveland Browns as many breathlessly awaited Odell Beckham Jr.'s arrival, and he didn't disappoint. Beckham received a fresh start after five years with the New York Giants.
The Browns' new superstar receiver wasn't the only major addition at minicamps across the league, though.
The Arizona Cardinals, Jacksonville Jaguars, Denver Broncos, Miami Dolphins and New York Jets are excited about their offseason acquisitions and how they looked during full-team practices. Familiar names with the Washington Redskins and New England Patriots created waves as well.
But the process remains the same. The year's initial practices with all of the players in attendance provide a sort of rebirth for the entire league.
"We're always looking for new teaching techniques or ways to teach more efficiently—change our terminology or possibly the presentation," New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said, per Boston.com's Tommy McArdle. "Yeah, we try to do that. I mean a lot of it's just re-teaching, but it's good for all of us to start from scratch again and start all over again each year. There's a lot to be said for going back to the beginning."
Some franchises made more drastic changes than others as they start anew. Those teams drew the most attention, especially those with new quarterbacks.
Odell Beckham's Excitement Spreads in First Browns Minicamp
The manufactured drama created during Beckham's absence from voluntary organized team activities quickly dissipated upon the wide receiver's arrival to mandatory minicamp.
Misinformed concerns were debunked once Beckham joined the offense and immediately received first-team reps at multiple positions.
"Odell is a bright guy," head coach Freddie Kitchens told reporters. "He is smart. It is not like this is the first time he has opened up our book. He has been studying and all that kind of stuff. Odell is making progress just like everybody else. ... He is going to work as hard as anybody to get better every day, a little bit better every day."
Beckham, who's a natural X-receiver on the outside, moved inside to run some routes from the slot, the Orange and Brown Report's Jake Burns captured with video.
"Everywhere. It creates matchup problems," Beckham told reporters when asked if he liked to line up all over the field. "Some receivers go to the left or right side. With someone who can move all the way around, it helps the offense more and the overall game plan since you don't know where he'll be. It really makes it a lot harder for the defense."
Right now, excitement couldn't be any greater than within the walls of the Browns' practice facilities as the team gets to know the real Odell.
"I feel like a little kid, the excitement that I have," Beckham said, per ESPN.com's Jake Trotter. "Seeing Baker [Mayfield], seeing this offense, I feel like this team is going to really come together. I'm beyond excited about the opportunity I have to start over."
The real distraction is with another Browns player.
Browns RB Duke Johnson Doubles Down on Trade Request
The Browns are loaded at the skill positions with Beckham, Jarvis Landry, Antonio Callaway, Rashard Higgins, quarterback Baker Mayfield, tight end David Njoku and running backs Nick Chubb, Kareem Hunt and Duke Johnson.
Johnson, whom the Browns selected with a third-round pick in the 2015 draft, isn't happy.
"I was put on the trade block a month before I requested a trade," the fifth-year back revealed, per the Associated Press (via the USA Today). "That's essentially my biggest issue."
"I'm big on loyalty. I've felt as I've been loyal to this organization through it all, and the moment that I no longer have loyalty—and that's even in my personal life, friends, family, the moment the loyalty stops, it stops on both ends."
The Browns are caught in a bind because Johnson can be a vital part of the offense as Chubb's backup until Hunt returns from his league-mandated eight-game suspension.
"He's a Cleveland Brown," Kitchens said of Johnson, per Pro Football Talk's Michael David Smith. "He's under contract. He's going to be used to the best of his ability and what benefits the team. And that's what we're going with."
Johnson has excelled as a change-of-pace back with 235 receptions through his first four seasons. He's electric with the ball in his hands and working in space. Johnson may be unhappy now, but the most logical situation for both himself and the team is to play well and wait until the league's regular-season trade deadline (after Hunt is reinstated).
Trent Williams Tries to Force His Way out of Washington
Multiple-time Pro Bowl left tackles aren't available too often. But if Trent Williams has his way, he won't play for Washington this fall.
According to CBS Sports' Jason La Canfora, Williams told teammates he's unhappy with how the organization treated his medical concerns last season and wants a trade. Sources told La Canfora the 30-year-old blocker vowed never to play for the franchise again.
Doctors found a tumor on Williams' head last year that required surgical removal.
"I think where the frustration might lie is in the timing of a diagnosis; maybe he wished the diagnosis had come a little sooner," head coach Jay Gruden said, per the Washington Post's Les Carpenter. "That's my understanding."
At least one teammate applauded Williams stance.
"It's about time someone like that stands up," fellow offensive tackle Morgan Moses said, per ESPN.com's John Keim. "It's not just a situation here; it happens throughout the league. To have one of our peers like Trent to stand up like that means a lot. His scare is one you never want to have, but you've got to take care of yourself."
Trade demands are difficult; they're even more so when a player is still an elite performer at a premium position. Williams may start to decline a bit soon because of his age and injury history, but he's earned seven straight Pro Bowl nods. No shortage of teams should be interested if he's on the trade block, though Washington doesn't seem receptive to the idea.
"But at the end of the day, we want him back, staff wants him back, players want him back and hopefully we'll get it fixed," Gruden said.
Jacksonville Jaguars' Season 'Comes Down to Nick Foles'
The Jaguars' experience over the last two seasons shows how important the quarterback position is. Blake Bortles held the organization back. The franchise made it a priority to sign Nick Foles this offseason, and everyone understands the importance of his inclusion.
"The thing I love about this year is it really comes down to Nick Foles," defensive lineman Calais Campbell told Ian Rapoport on his podcast Rapsheet & Friends (via NFL.com's Jeremy Bergman). "He's a guy who's over 30, has a lot of experience, won a Super Bowl MVP, but really what he brings is that confidence. He's a natural leader."
An overinflated sense of accomplishment and regression plagued the Jaguars last season.
The roster remains quite talented, especially on the defensive side of the ball. But Jacksonville lacked a gravitational force at the game's most important position. The coaching staff tried to hide Bortles because he couldn't elevate the play of those around him. Foles is different.
"Obviously what he can do throwing the ball is great, but what he does for the actual overall team, giving us more confidence and belief," Campbell continued.
Furthermore, the Jaguars coaching staff knows how to capitalize on Foles' skill set since offensive coordinator John DeFilippo served as his quarterback coach with the Philadelphia Eagles.
"We have been able to go through the install a few times and Flip does a great job of describing it," Foles said, per Jax Sports Radio's Hays Carlyon. " … Guys are just doing a good job of picking up the installations."
Jaguars' Top Draft Pick, Josh Allen, Will Play Defensive End, Miss Minicamp
The Jaguars know exactly how they're going to use this year's seventh overall pick, Josh Allen: The collegiate outside linebacker will be a defensive end.
"I don't know how much we'll move him around," defensive coordinator Todd Wash said, per SB Nation's Ryan Day. "He's a defensive end so him and Yannick [Ngakoue] play the same position, obviously opposite each other on rush downs, but you've got a lot of ability to drop him, rush him and all that kind of stuff.
"... I honestly can't say being a defensive line coach that I get too excited about a 15-sack guy dropping into coverage. Hopefully, you won't see too damn much of that."
A combination of Allen, who led all Power Five pass-rushers with 17 sacks, and Ngakoue along with Campbell and possibly last year's first-round pick, Taven Bryan, rushing along the interior gives Jacksonville an extremely talented defensive front.
Unfortunately, Allen is dealing with a knee bruise and won't participate in Jacksonville's upcoming minicamp.
"I'll probably just as safety hold him until he's ready for [training] camp," head coach Doug Marrone said, per John Oehser of the Jaguars' official site. "Technically he could be ready to go next week."
Von Miller Says Joe Flacco 'Looks Like a Super Bowl MVP'
Any speculation of a Broncos quarterback competition between veteran Joe Flacco and rookie Drew Lock should already be put to rest.
Denver is Flacco's city, and the Broncos have already seen a high-quality version of the pocket passer.
"He looks like a Super Bowl MVP to me," Von Miller said Tuesday, per the Associated Press' Arnie Stapleton. "Today he had a play-action, rolled out to the right and threw the ball from the opposite 20 to the opposite 15."
The 34-year-old veteran is in an ideal situation because the nexus of the Broncos offense is built upon the same principles Gary Kubiak once brought to the Baltimore Ravens as their offensive coordinator. Flacco had his best regular season under Kubiak, and he's quickly picking up the scheme.
"The system's got some similarities to what he did in Baltimore the year Gary was there, yet it's got a lot of differences too," head coach Vic Fangio told reporters during OTAs. "Joe's a pro. Joe understands football, he gets it and he likes playing."
Sometimes a player needs new surroundings as a shot in the arm to his career. Flacco is getting just that.
Meanwhile, Fangio said Lock is "getting a little better every day," per BSN Denver's Zac Stevens. As a second-round pick, the rookie won't present much of a challenge to the starter—unless Flacco falters during training camp, which seems unlikely.
The Fitz-Magic Isn't Gone in Miami; Rosen Focuses on Himself
Ryan Fitzpatrick is the modern version of Steve DeBerg. Both started plenty of games throughout their careers and even carried franchises for a time, only to be seen as short-term answers.
Fitzpatrick is with his eighth NFL team and generally viewed as a bridge for the Dolphins, especially after the front office traded for last year's 10th overall pick, Josh Rosen. But the 36-year-old quarterback still has a little magic left and walked away as the most impressive player from Dolphins minicamp.
"I think the first thing I think of is his command of the huddle, how he works with players, older players, younger players, his rapport with defensive guys and offensive guys and guys in the kicking game," head coach Brian Flores said, per the Palm Beach Post's Joe Schad.
"I think that shows his leadership in a big way. Whoever he is in there with, he's trying to help him improve. And I've been very pleased with him."
Miami would be better off if Rosen won the starting job and expedited the organization's rebuild. Unlike Fitzpatrick, Rosen didn't have the luxury of learning numerous NFL systems and starting for multiple franchises. His growth will take more time in a new situation.
"The real competition starts in training camp," Rosen told reporters. "We're absolutely competing now. Right now, I'm more focused on me. I'm really just trying to get better myself."
Good thing Rosen isn't worried about the competition, because he's clearly trailing Fitzpatrick after the early stages.
Giants QB Eli Manning Should Start Feeling Pressure from Rookie Daniel Jones
The biggest news out of New York Giants camp didn't actually happen at Giants camp.
"I have to get adjusted to his speed because he's got an arm," Beckham told reporters about Mayfield's passes. "He's throwing that ball hard. Just catching him from the first day, it was like: 'Wow, this is completely different.'"
Eli Manning is who he is. He won't comment on his former receiver, but Beckham's indirect shot has merit. According to the Star-Ledger's Matt Lombardo, Manning seems to have suffered some "erosion of arm strength," whereas rookie Daniel Jones is far more willing to push the ball downfield and has more accuracy.
Even though Jones' arm strength and mobility have been on display with the second-team offense, the coaching staff came away more impressed with the rookie's ability to digest information.
"He's got a fast mind," offensive coordinator Mike Shula said, per CBSSports.com's Pete Prisco. "He picks things up well. ... The thing that has shown out that's impressive is that if he has a bad play, an interception or a forced throw or something bad, maybe has a mental error, at least right now it doesn't bother him. He goes on to the next play and really wants to make sure he doesn't do it again."
It's far too early to declare an open quarterback competition between Manning and Jones, especially with the veteran getting all of the first-team reps. But any false steps from the two-time Super Bowl winner could easily allow Jones to gain ground and eventually become the starter.
"I think it's still kind of a situation where you have to have the same approach you've treated all the other years and just kind of hope for the best," Manning said, per Newsday's Bob Glauber.
Rookie QB Kyler Murray Acts Like Veteran Presence in Cardinals Offense
Usually, rookie quarterbacks rely on veterans to help pick up the offense. The opposite is true for the Cardinals.
"He knows the system better than we do," 11-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald said, per Mike Jurecki of the team's official site. "He can get us into any play at any time and then he has the ultimate weapon in the exit button."
Kliff Kingsbury brought his version of the Air Raid to the NFL. Murray is already an old hand, having played in a derivative of the system at Oklahoma, while his teammates are learning a new scheme. The wide-open game plan will feature numerous receivers, but Kingsbury hopes this year's No. 1 overall pick will rely on Fitzgerald.
"He's a security blanket," the head coach said, per the NFL.com's Jelani Scott. "There's a comfort level there; if you get it close, he's going to make a play for you. For a young QB, you know's he's going make plays, and that goes a long way.
"He wants the ball his way, so I think they'll have a good chemistry once we get this thing rolling."
The Cardinals hope a rapport between Murray and the future Hall of Fame wide receiver will prompt a long-term arrangement.
"I'm hoping he enjoys the process and enjoys what the offense turns into and how we're playing and can give him a reason to stick around a few more years," Kingsbury said of Fitzgerald.
Fully Invested Le'Veon Bell Has 'Great' Relationship with Adam Gase
The fact that Le'Veon Bell stepped onto a football field after he sat out the entire 2018 season would be a major story unto itself...if the New York Jets weren't dysfunction junction.
But the organization continues to deal with the fallout of Mike Maccagnan's firing as general manager. Upon the dismissal, NFL Network's Ian Rapoport brought to light Adam Gase's dislike of Bell's four-year, $52.5 million deal.
Whether the head coach was on board with the contract details is inconsequential; the two are stuck with each other.
"This is a business," Bell said, per ESPN.com's Rich Cimini. "Even if the report was true, obviously he doesn't feel like I'm not a great player.
"Maybe he just feels like, 'Dang, maybe we could've got more great players.' I don't know. What I'm saying is, me and him, our relationship is great."
Despite Bell's lengthy absence, his impact is already being felt.
"His vision when he's watching the run plays, the comments that he was making got a couple of us [saying], 'That's a really good point he's making there,'" Gase said, per the New York Post's Brian Costello. "Obviously, his experience and his ability as a runner, we heard it vocally (Wednesday)."
A patient, invested Bell will greatly benefit second-year quarterback Sam Darnold. Defenses must account for the running back at all times, whether he's carrying the ball or out on a route. Bell overlooked a potential slight from his coach and instead came ready to learn, which says a lot about him and where the organization is trending despite recent upheaval.
Familiar Name Leads the Patriots Defense
Expected defensive coordinator Greg Schiano's resignation left a void in the Patriots staff. Head coach Bill Belichick is the obvious choice to call the defense this season, but another familiar name may get the opportunity.
According to The Athletic's Jeff Howe, Jerod Mayo, who retired after the 2015 campaign and took over as the Patriots' linebackers coach in March, called defensive plays during the team's minicamp. He alternated with Belichick for at least one practice.
"The same stuff (Mayo) carried when he was a player, he's definitely still got it," linebacker Dont'a Hightower said. "He's a hell of a coach. Honestly, I wouldn't expect anything less. ... The reputation that he has, he's an All-Pro, so it's great to have a linebacker coach who has been through so much and can relate to a lot."
Mayo won't automatically skip a step and become New England's next defensive coordinator. Belichick simply provided an assistant with an opportunity. Eventually, it could lead to more.
Technically, New England didn't have a defensive coordinator last season. Brian Flores didn't get the designation despite becoming the play-caller during the 2018 campaign.
"It really doesn't matter who is on the other side of the headset," Ja'Whaun Bentley said. "You're just looking to get the play and get it executed."
Like Flores, Mayo can continue to coach the linebackers, and eventually a permanent solution could arise.