What We've Learned About Each NFL Team so Far This Offseason

Maurice Moton@@MoeMotonFeatured ColumnistJune 14, 2019

What We've Learned About Each NFL Team so Far This Offseason

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    Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    NFL clubs have taken the first few dives into new beginnings through rookie and mandatory minicamps, with organized team activities sandwiched between.

    Head coaches don't have all the answers to position battles and player roles midway through June, but they must take note of talent progress. Who's looked impressive? How did rookies perform with most of the team in attendance? The assessment of those scenarios will set the stage for training camp practices.

    We'll round up all the reports following the draft and delve into pertinent roster information. The takeaways below dig deeper on spring observations, player development, team plans and expectations within the organization for the 2019 season.

         

Arizona Cardinals: WR Christian Kirk Looks Impressive Going into 2nd Season

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    Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Christian Kirk
    Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Christian KirkDylan Buell/Getty Images

    The Arizona Cardinals' revamped passing attack will feature this year's No. 1 overall pick in quarterback Kyler Murray and several new faces in the wide receiver unit, including Kevin White, Andy Isabella, Hakeem Butler and KeeSean Johnson.

    Despite the excitement surrounding the additions at wideout, Christian Kirk has emerged as the player to watch, per The MMQB's Albert Breer. "Word is, second-year pro Christian Kirk has been the best receiver on the roster this spring," he wrote. 

    Kirk finished his rookie term with 43 receptions for 590 yards and three touchdowns. He broke his foot and landed on injured reserve in December. In May, the Arizona Republic's Bob McManaman reported the 22-year-old seemed close to full health.

    "The good news is ... Kirk has already been attending workouts and looks to be nearly 100 percent recovered from a broken foot," McManaman wrote. 

    That assessment bodes well in conjunction with Breer's report about Kirk's impressive performances through OTAs. He could have a big year while Larry Fitzgerald's career nears its end.

Atlanta Falcons: Damontae Kazee Takes over the Nickelback Spot

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    Atlanta Falcons safety Damontae Kazee
    Atlanta Falcons safety Damontae KazeeGrant Halverson/Getty Images

    Last year, Atlanta Falcons safety Damontae Kazee capitalized on his increased opportunities following injuries to Keanu Neal (ACL) and Ricardo Allen (Achilles). He tied with cornerbacks Xavien Howard and Kyle Fuller for a league-leading seven interceptions.

    The Falcons didn't offer cornerback Brian Poole a contract, which created a void in the slot. Even though Neal and Allen continue on their injury comebacks, Kazee has played with the first team in nickel alignment, per The Athletic's Jason Butt

    Kazee jumped off his college tape as a ball hawk at San Diego State, registering 15 interceptions between his junior and senior seasons. He's brought that skill set to the pros, so we shouldn't be surprised about his ascension.

    Assuming the Falcons have Neal and Allen back for Week 1, Kazee will cover the slot, with Desmond Trufant and Isaiah Oliver on the outside.

Baltimore Ravens: LB Patrick Onwuasor Growing in Vocal Role

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    Baltimore Ravens linebacker Patrick Onwuasor
    Baltimore Ravens linebacker Patrick OnwuasorCarolyn Kaster/Associated Press

    Linebacker C.J. Mosley's departure means someone must prepare and adjust the defense before the snap. During OTAs, Patrick Onwuasor filled that role for the Baltimore Ravens, per Pennlive.com's Aaron Kasinitz.

    "Inside linebacker Patrick Onwuasor, who began his NFL career as an undrafted player who struggled to speak to media or communicate well with teammates, shouted play calls and instructions with a booming voice at practices," Kasinitz wrote. 

    Onwuasor could relay the play calls to his teammates from defensive coordinator Don Martindale for the upcoming campaign. He's coming off a productive year with 37 solo tackles, eight for loss, 5.5 sacks, three pass breakups, two forced fumbles and an interception in 16 contests, which included 12 starts. 

    Based on Kasinitz's observation, Onwuasor has shown a new comfort level. The Ravens don't need him to become a leader overnight, but the defense would maintain its strong communication with a new vocal presence at linebacker.

Buffalo Bills: GM Brandon Beane Is Focused on Josh Allen's Decision-Making

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    Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen
    Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh AllenJeffrey T. Barnes/Associated Press

    Analysts and critics highlighted Josh Allen's inconsistent accuracy going into the 2018 draft after he completed 56.2 percent of his pass attempts at Wyoming. As a rookie, the 6'5", 237-pound signal-caller logged a 52.8 percent completion rate. 

    On the surface, Allen's accuracy seems like a recurring issue, but Buffalo Bills general manager Brandon Beane has a different perspective, per ESPN.com's Dan Graziano.

    "Probably the biggest thing he has to improve—outsiders may say accuracy, but I'm going to say decision-making," Beane said. "Josh is a very confident young man who believes he can make any throw, and in year one that may have been to his detriment."

    Beane offers a good point. Allen has a cannon-like arm, so he's prone to take more chances on downfield throws than quarterbacks with average- to below-average strength in that area. The 2018 first-rounder threw 12 interceptions last year. 

    The Bills signed veteran wideouts John Brown and Cole Beasley to bolster the aerial attack. They also acquired Ty Nsekhe, Cody Ford, Mitch Morse and Quinton Spain as notable names among a slew of additions to the offensive line. 

    Beane hopes his quarterback makes better decisions behind upgrades in the receiving group and an offensive line set to take shape over the summer.

Carolina Panthers: Defense Will Transition to 3-4 Hybrid Look

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    Carolina Panthers interior Dontari Poe
    Carolina Panthers interior Dontari PoeChris Keane/Associated Press

    Carolina Panthers head coach Ron Rivera took over play-calling duties in December last year. That won't change this season, per the Charlotte Observer's Jourdan Rodrigue, but Rivera will tweak the base scheme. 

    The Panthers will use 3-4 looks, which means athletic players could shine in odd-man defensive fronts. The team brass hopes the roster pieces will fit the schematic changes, including Brian Burns, whom Carolina selected 16th overall. He showed impressive hip flexibility and quickness to beat pass protectors near the pocket in college. 

    In addition, defensive end Mario Addison shed weight, per Rodrigue. "Addison played at 262 pounds this past season," she wrote. "But he now weighs 255 due to better eating habits, he said, and plans to stay there in 2019." 

    Addison jested about his expectations in coverage. "I'm banking on about four-five interceptions," he said. "I'm going to take three back (for touchdowns)." 

    On top of that, lineman Dontari Poe is well-versed in the system. For five seasons with the Kansas City Chiefs, Poe lined up at nose tackle in a 3-4 scheme and was a Pro Bowler in 2013 and 2014. 

    Rivera ran a 3-4 defense with the then-San Diego Chargers in 2010—that unit allowed the least amount of total yards and ranked 10th in scoring.

Chicago Bears: Chuck Pagano Will Use Khalil Mack in New Ways

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    Chicago Bears edge-rusher Khalil Mack
    Chicago Bears edge-rusher Khalil MackJonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    No one can dispute Khalil Mack's elite pass-rushing ability. He's recorded 49 sacks over the last four seasons and is third in the category during that period. New Chicago Bears defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano and linebackers coach Ted Monachino could push the three-time All-Pro in different ways, per Adam Jahns of The Athletic

    "There will be opportunities for (Mack) to do a variety of things from a variety of different alignments," Monachino said. "Freedom? He has a little bit. But variety, he has plenty. There are plenty of things that we're going to try to use him for and to do with him that will allow him to showcase the things that he does well." 

    Jahns looked into Pagano and Monachino's shared history with the Ravens. They used Terrell Suggs as an off-ball linebacker in certain situations. Perhaps Mack will be employed the same way. He's shown the athleticism to disrupt short and intermediate throws with 15 pass breakups and two interceptions—both returned for touchdowns.

    Pagano wants quarterbacks to search for Mack and guess his responsibility on a given play—that's a frightening predicament.

Cincinnati Bengals: Cordy Glenn Will Play Left Guard

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    Cincinnati Bengals offensive lineman Cordy Glenn
    Cincinnati Bengals offensive lineman Cordy GlennKirk Irwin/Getty Images

    The Cincinnati Bengals took Jonah Williams with the 11th overall selection in this year's draft. The acquisition meant forthcoming changes for the offensive line.

    According to Paul Dehner Jr. of The Athletic, Cordy Glenn had a "man-to-man talk" with offensive line coach Jim Turner, which initiated a new plan. 

    Glenn will shift from tackle to guard on the left side, allowing Williams to take over. The veteran offensive lineman hasn't played the position since his collegiate years at Georgia, and his transition will potentially bump Clint Boling into a backup role.

    In eight seasons, Boling has lined up in every position across the offensive line except center, so he could take on a starting role if injury strikes the group.

    Glenn isn't a shoo-in to claim the starting left guard job, though. Although Boling continues to rehab an undisclosed injury, he could return and push Glenn at left guard through the preseason.

Cleveland Browns: RB Duke Johnson Jr. Still in Team's Plans

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    Cleveland Browns RB Duke Johnson
    Cleveland Browns RB Duke JohnsonKirk Irwin/Getty Images

    The Cleveland Browns have a crowded backfield, and not everyone's happy about it.

    General manager John Dorsey signed running back Kareem Hunt in February. He'll serve an eight-game suspension to start the 2019 campaign following his release from the Chiefs after a video of the 23-year-old shoving and kicking a woman surfaced. The acquisition led to questions about Duke Johnson Jr.'s future. 

    According to Cleveland.com's Mary Kay Cabot: "Johnson's rep has asked the Browns to trade him. ... The Jets, Texans and Eagles have all been interested in Johnson ever since the Browns signed running back Kareem Hunt in February, a league source said." 

    The Browns haven't budged on any offers. According to head coach Freddie Kitchens, the staff will use Johnson as they see fit this year (h/t Aditi Kinkhabwala of the NFL Network).

    "He wants to be traded," Kitchens said. "I want to win the lottery. It doesn't matter. He's under contract. He's a Cleveland Brown; he's going to be used to the best of his ability in what benefits the team."

    In 2018, running back Nick Chubb finished 10th in the league in rushing, and he's primed to continue his ground success. The Browns used a second-round pick on him last year. Hunt led the league in rushing yards during his rookie season in 2017 and earned a Pro Bowl invite. He'll likely handle a major role upon his return. 

    If the Browns keep Johnson, he would probably continue to produce as a pass-catcher more than a ball-carrier. The 25-year-old has registered 235 receptions for 2,170 yards and eight touchdowns compared to 299 carries for 1,286 yards and five scores through four seasons.

Dallas Cowboys: TE Jason Witten Looks Refreshed, Primed to Start

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    Dallas Cowboys tight end Jason Witten
    Dallas Cowboys tight end Jason WittenRon Jenkins/Associated Press

    Last offseason, Jason Witten retired from football and transitioned to the Monday Night Football booth, but his stint as an ESPN color commentator ended after one year. He'll step back on the gridiron for the Dallas Cowboys at 37 years old.

    Thus far, Witten hasn't performed like a player on his last legs.

    According to Jon Machota of the Dallas Morning News, he took all the first-team reps in one of the last OTA sessions. Machota also tweeted his observation from Tuesday's practice: "Jason Witten looked like his old self during today's 2-minute drill, making multiple catches, yelling at teammates: 'Let's go! Let's go!'"

    Witten played in every game for 14 consecutive seasons from 2004 to 2017 with the Cowboys. Despite his age, he could continue to build an iron-man legacy. 

    Witten registered 132 receptions for 1,233 yards and eight touchdowns while playing with quarterback Dak Prescott in 2016 and 2017.

    The Cowboys didn't see a lot of production out of their tight ends in the passing attack last year; Blake Jarwin led the group, logging 27 catches for 307 yards and three scores. The offense could see a major boost with Witten back on the field.

Denver Broncos: DB Kareem Jackson Will Juggle 2 Roles

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    Denver Broncos defensive back Kareem Jackson
    Denver Broncos defensive back Kareem JacksonDavid Zalubowski/Associated Press

    Last year, with the Texans, Kareem Jackson played most of his snaps in the slot and split out wide at cornerback. Denver Broncos head coach Vic Fangio will also tap into the defensive back's versatility, per Ryan O'Halloran of the Denver Post.

    "During the voluntary mini-camp, Fangio said Jackson would work at both safety and cornerback this spring," O'Halloran wrote. "The practices open to the media revealed this reality: Jackson is a safety in the base defense and a nickel back (covering the slot receiver) in the sub-package." 

    In base alignment, Jackson will line up alongside Justin Simmons, which will bump Will Parks out of the strong safety spot. Cornerback Bryce Callahan, who served as a primary slot defender under Fangio in Chicago over the last two seasons, will shift to the outside in the nickel package. 

    On paper, the Broncos will field a flexible secondary with multiple defensive backs who can move from the slot to the perimeter or safety. The team re-signed cornerback Chris Harris Jr., who's moved between the inside and outside in eight seasons with Denver. Jackson's skill set allows Fangio to use multiple combinations on the back end.

Detroit Lions: Frank Ragnow Set to Play Center

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    Detroit Lions center Frank Ragnow
    Detroit Lions center Frank RagnowPaul Sancya/Associated Press

    Frank Ragnow's position on the offensive line was a hot topic last offseason. At Arkansas, he lined up primarily at center but played right guard as well. The Detroit Lions slotted him into the starting left guard spot and Graham Glasgow in the pivot through 2018.

    T.J. Lang, who started six games at right guard last year, retired in March. During OTAs, Graham filled that position. Ragnow shifted to center.

    The Lions made a logical move, considering Graham can play all three spots on the inside, and Ragnow started most of his collegiate games in the pivot. According to Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press, the former Razorback wants to improve his pass-protection technique. 

    "Ragnow had an up-and-down rookie season but showed plenty of promise while starting all 16 games," Birkett wrote. "He said earlier this offseason he was focused on trying to have better balance in his pass sets and trying to be a better player overall." 

    Ragnow entered the 2018 draft as one of the top prospects at center, and the Lions selected him 20th overall. Because of his experience at the position, he should improve through his sophomore season.

Green Bay Packers: Defense Will Feature 4 OLBs in Certain Packages

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    Green Bay Packers edge-rusher Za'Darius Smith
    Green Bay Packers edge-rusher Za'Darius SmithMike Roemer/Associated Press

    General manager Brian Gutekunst infused the front seven with pass-rushing talent this offseason. The Green Bay Packers signed Za'Darius Smith and Preston Smith and then selected Rashan Gary 12th overall. The veterans have a combined 43 career sacks. The rookie logged 9.5 at Michigan.

    The Smiths and Gary will join Kyler Fackrell, who recorded 10.5 sacks last year, in pressuring quarterbacks. Linebackers coach Mike Smith will attempt to use all four in certain packages. He talked about his plans during a media conference after an OTA session.

    "We move these guys around," Smith said. "There will be times next year there's going to be four outside linebackers on the field. It's what we do."

    The Packers practiced with the pass-rush heavy group during the spring. ESPN.com's Rob Demovsky provided his observation of the personnel configuration: "In one defensive package, Gary lined up inside along with Za'Darius Smith, while Preston Smith and Kyler Fackrell played on the edge."

    In 2018, the Packers tied the Broncos and Eagles for eighth in total sacks with 44. Defensive coordinator Mike Pettine's unit could push for the top spot in the category this season.

Houston Texans: Jordan Thomas Leads Tight End Group

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    Houston Texans tight end Jordan Thomas
    Houston Texans tight end Jordan ThomasSteven Ryan/Getty Images

    The Houston Texans will have a new lead tight end in 2019. In May, the team released Ryan Griffin—who played 743 offensive snaps last year—after he was arrested and charged with public intoxication and vandalism.

    Houston selected three tight ends over the last two years: Jordan Akins (third round) and Jordan Thomas (sixth round) last year, and Kahale Warring (third round) in April.

    According to Aaron Reiss of The Athletic, Thomas received majority reps with the starters during spring practices.

    "Near the start of practice, [head coach Bill] O'Brien talked one-on-one with second-year tight end Jordan Thomas," Reiss wrote. "O'Brien says not to look too much into personnel groupings at this time of year, but based on the reps Thomas has received in OTAs so far, he's Houston's No. 1 tight end right now." 

    In 2018, Thomas played 470 offensive snaps and recorded 20 receptions for 215 yards and four touchdowns. He may have the opportunity to develop into a consistent threat during the upcoming campaign.

Indianapolis Colts: Bobby Okereke in Competition to Start at Middle Linebacker

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    Indianapolis Colts linebacker Bobby Okereke
    Indianapolis Colts linebacker Bobby OkerekeJeff Chiu/Associated Press

    The Indianapolis Colts selected Bobby Okereke in the third round of this year's draft, and he'll push Anthony Walker for the starting middle linebacker spot this summer.

    According to Stephen Holder of The Athletic, Okereke's physical traits and intangibles could help him land an early role: "There is already legitimate excitement within the organization after Okereke's debut in rookie minicamp last week, and the Colts think he will become a factor sooner than later with his combination of smarts, athleticism and size." 

    In 2018, Walker emerged as a starter, logging 105 total tackles, 69 solo and 10 for loss in addition to four pass breakups, a sack and an interception. He put together a solid sophomore campaign, but the Colts may turn to the 6'1", 239-pound Okereke's athletic profile because of his ability to play in space. 

    Walker understands the nature of the game and welcomes the challenge, per Joel A. Erickson of the Indianapolis Star: "We thrive on competition here. It's the NFL. The team's going to get the best player available. … The best player will play." 

    Even though Walker holds the pole position in this battle, Okereke could unseat him if he's a fast learner. In that scenario, other teams may show interest in acquiring the veteran middle linebacker via trade before the season opens in September.

Jacksonville Jaguars: Nick Foles-Chris Conley Connection Looks Strong

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    Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Nick Foles and wideout Chris Conley
    Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Nick Foles and wideout Chris ConleyJohn Raoux/Associated Press

    Quarterback Nick Foles suited up for the Chiefs in a brief stint that included four appearances and one start in 2016. Wideout Chris Conley played through his rookie contract with that club from 2015 to 2018.

    Foles and Conley didn't have much time on the field together in Kansas City, but they've synced this offseason with the Jacksonville Jaguars, per the Florida Times-Union's John Reid.

    "Foles developed a quick rapport with Chris Conley, and the duo hooked up for several long completions," Reid wrote. "Minus one day, Foles was consistently sharp." 

    Jay Johnson of Jags Wire believes the spring chemistry between Foles and Conley may vault the wideout into a starting spot: "After spending time with quarterback Nick Foles in Kansas City, Conley built a bond and connection with the veteran quarterback, and it's showing up in Jags OTAs. In fact, the connection has been so strong that it appears it could get Conley a starting job by the time Week 1 rolls around." 

    If Marqise Lee fully recovers from a torn ACL, Conley will join him and Dede Westbrook in three-wide receiver sets.

Kansas City Chiefs: RB Damien Williams Set to Start in 2019

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    Kansas City Chiefs RB Damien Williams
    Kansas City Chiefs RB Damien WilliamsRonald Martinez/Getty Images

    Hunt recorded the most rushing attempts in the Kansas City Chiefs backfield through each of the last two seasons. Now, the team needs new lead ball-carrier.

    Damien Williams had a strong finish to 2018, logging 34 carries for 203 yards and three touchdowns from Weeks 15 to 17. Statistically, he put together his best game against the Colts in January, catching five passes for 25 yards in addition to rushing for 129 yards and a score. 

    The Chiefs signed running back Carlos Hyde to a one-year deal and selected Darwin Thompson in the sixth round of this year's draft. Williams talked about the dedication to his craft with Matt McMullen of team's official website, which helps put him in a position to lead the group.

    "It's something that you really have to work hard for," Williams said. "I came in undrafted [in 2014], so a lot of teams already have their main guy. It's just [about] keeping your head up, fighting, and moving forward."

    Head coach Andy Reid will likely use a mix at running back, but Williams should handle 12-15 carries per contest. Because of his ability to catch out of the backfield (893 receiving yards and eight touchdowns through five seasons), he's an every-down tailback set for a big year.

Los Angeles Chargers: S Nasir Adderley Coming Along Quickly

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    Los Angeles Chargers safety Nasir Adderley
    Los Angeles Chargers safety Nasir AdderleyChris Carlson/Associated Press

    We shouldn't place too much stock into OTAs, but the Los Angeles Chargers liked what they saw from rookie second-rounder Nasir Adderley. He's a small-school prospect out of Delaware, but his development through the spring could put him on the fast track to a prominent role in the secondary. 

    According to Chris Hayre of the Chargers' official website, Adderley caught his coaches' attention: "Safety Nasir Adderley didn't participate in Monday's OTA, but the rookie has garnered praise from [head coach Anthony] Lynn and defensive coordinator Gus Bradley in his short time in Costa Mesa. At the start of OTAs, Bradley said Adderley was 'picking things up at a fast pace.'"

    Adderley will challenge Adrian Phillips and Rayshawn Jenkins for a starting safety role. Despite his FCS pedigree, he doesn't seem at a disadvantage. The former Blue Hen could showcase his ball-tracking skills in the first unit alongside Derwin James to open the 2019 campaign.   

Los Angeles Rams: Team Brass Hedging on RB Todd Gurley's Workload

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    Los Angeles Rams running back Todd Gurley
    Los Angeles Rams running back Todd GurleyPatrick Semansky/Associated Press

    Todd Gurley played through a knee ailment at the end of the last season. According to The Athletic's Jeff Howe, he has arthritis. As expected, the Los Angeles Rams won't delve into details about their star running back's condition.

    In April, Gurley told Gary Klein of the Los Angeles Times that he's "feeling pretty good," but L.A. matched an offer sheet for Malcolm Brown and selected Darrell Henderson in the third round of this year's draft. 

    According to ESPN.com's Lindsey Thiry, head coach Sean McVay has talked about limiting Gurley's snaps: "As far as managing the workload, those are things that we talk about with Todd and as you continue to get educated on, is that something that we should do for the long haul or something that is or isn't going to affect Todd most importantly and how does that affect our team."

    NFL Network's Ian Rapoport offered this prediction:

    "The days of Todd Gurley just being the straight-up, every-down bell cow are probably over, just based on his knee, his age, the position, the amount of carries he's had. It's probably not going to be like that, which by the way is maybe why the Rams drafted a running back in the third round, someone they really like a lot. This is a team that is clearly ready to spread the ball around."

    Gurley can produce solid numbers with 15-20 touches per contest. Despite the potential limitations, he's still a game-changer.

Miami Dolphins: Team Ready to Part with Safety Reshad Jones

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    Miami Dolphins safety Reshad Jones
    Miami Dolphins safety Reshad JonesLynne Sladky/Associated Press

    The Miami Dolphins could pull off a notable offseason trade, sending out Reshad Jones in a deal for draft capital or veteran help.

    According to Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald, "The Dolphins ideally would prefer to trade safety Reshad Jones if they get an offer to their liking, according to a league source who has been in touch with Miami's front office."

    Through nine seasons, Jones registered 21 interceptions and 54 pass breakups; he's earned two Pro Bowl invites.

    On the other hand, Jackson points to an issue that rubbed the team brass the wrong way: "And though they would never admit this publicly, the Dolphins have told people that the new regime was very unhappy that Jones refused to go back in the Jets game last November after being told earlier in the week that he would not be playing every snap but instead used in a rotation."

    The Dolphins have a group of talented safeties, which includes Jones, T.J. McDonald and Minkah Fitzpatrick. According to the Miami Herald's Armando Salguero, Bobby McCain took reps at free safety during the spring. 

    For Miami, moving Jones before Week 1 would unclog a logjam at the position.

Minnesota Vikings: Jordan Taylor Gaining Traction for No. 3 Receiver Spot

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    Minnesota Vikings wideout Jordan Taylor
    Minnesota Vikings wideout Jordan TaylorDavid Zalubowski/Associated Press

    The Minnesota Vikings have an open competition for the third wide receiver spot—mostly because of Laquon Treadwell's inconsistency. He's recorded 56 receptions for 517 yards and a touchdown in three seasons.

    According to Arif Hasan of The Athletic, Jordan Taylor has looked the part of a viable component: "Taylor is taking first-team wide receiver reps in three-receiver packages, and he looks like he's deserved to win the job thus far." 

    At 6'5", 195 pounds, Taylor projects as a potential red-zone target. If the 27-year-old plucks passes out of the air with ease at his size, most defenders will have an issue covering him one-on-one. 

    Taylor displayed glimpses of his ability with the Broncos in 2016 and 2017 with 29 catches for 351 yards and two touchdowns. He underwent surgery on both hips and missed the 2018 campaign.

    Going into his third active year, Taylor has a shot to stick on the Vikings roster in a solid role.

New England Patriots: Matt LaCosse Leading Candidate to Start at Tight End

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    New England Patriots tight end Matt LaCosse
    New England Patriots tight end Matt LaCosseSteven Senne/Associated Press

    The New England Patriots' tight end unit has gone through several changes over the last four months. Rob Gronkowski retired, the team acquired Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Matt LaCosse and Ben Watson, and brought in undrafted rookie free agent Andrew Beck.

    The Patriots released Seferian-Jenkins, who is taking a break to address personal issues, per NFL Network's Ian Rapoport. Watson is facing a four-game suspension for violating the league's performance-enhancing drug policy.

    According to the Boston Herald's Kevin Duffy, LaCosse has emerged as the early favorite to start at tight end: "All signs point to Matt LaCosse as the Patriots' starting tight end in Week 1. ... Based on a few practices, here's what jumps out about LaCosse: He's a pretty smooth athlete for his size (6-foot-6, 255 pounds). He runs well and can serve as a viable target down the middle of the field." 

    Through three active seasons, LaCosse has caught 27 passes for 272 yards and a touchdown, but he's only seen 41 targets during his career. Perhaps he'll experience a significant uptick in production with a bigger pass-catching role.

New Orleans Saints: Safety Chauncey Gardner-Johnson Looks Impressive

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    New Orleans Saints safety Chauncey Gardner-Johnson
    New Orleans Saints safety Chauncey Gardner-JohnsonDarron Cummings/Associated Press

    The New Orleans Saints could have an intense position battle at slot cornerback. They re-signed P.J. Williams, and Patrick Robinson will return from a broken ankle he suffered three games into the 2018 season. Don't count out rookie fourth-rounder Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, though.

    According to The Athletic's Larry Holder, Gardner-Johnson stood out early in OTAs, showing off his ball-tracking skills:

    "It's hard to say with any real legitimacy that any one player completely blew me away during rookie minicamp after only watching an hour of one practice. But in that one stretch, fourth-rounder Chauncey Gardner-Johnson made a couple of notable plays, showing why the Saints moved up in the fourth round to nab the former Florida standout." 

    At Florida, Gardner-Johnson showcased a blend of physical play, quickness, natural football instincts and coverage skills. For a defensive back, those traits translate to a slot defender on the pro level. If the former Gator carries his momentum into training camp, the Saints may have a Day 3 gem.

New York Giants: QB Eli Manning Isn't Cemented as Week 1 Starter

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    New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning
    New York Giants quarterback Eli ManningFrank Franklin II/Associated Press

    New York Giants head coach Pat Shurmur opened the floodgates to questions about his quarterbacks Tuesday when he talked about his top signal-callers' offseason preparation.

    ESPN.com's Jordan Raanan tweeted: "Coach Pat Shurmur: Eli Manning is getting ready to have an outstanding year. Daniel Jones is getting ready to play Week 1. Asked if there is a scenario Jones could start Week 1: 'You never know what is going to happen.'"

    Shurmur went further into his assessment of Jones' performances through OTAs, per the New York Daily News' Pat Leonard:

    "I think he's had a really good offseason. Much like we were talking about [wide receiver] Darius Slayton, I think he's had a really, really productive offseason. He's on track with the goal to be ready to play day one. That's really what all the players need to be thinking. The quarterback stuff will be kind of on the front-burner for everybody, I get that. But he's on track."

    Shurmur has spoken of Manning as the starter over Jones but said if "somebody just starts playing better than another" that's enough to justify a change, per Leonard.

    The Giants have every reason to start Manning in the season opener. He has $23.2 million cap hit this year, per Spotrac, and Jones can learn through observation as a rookie.

    If Manning loses a competition to Jones during the summer, the Duke product would have to clearly outplay the 15-year veteran. That would indicate the rookie is far ahead of the learning curve.

New York Jets: C Jonotthan Harrison Emerges as Offseason Winner

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    New York Jets center Jonotthan Harrison
    New York Jets center Jonotthan HarrisonMark Brown/Getty Images

    The New York Jets didn't re-sign center Spencer Long and went through free agency and this year's draft without picking up a notable replacement. As a result, Jonotthan Harrison will take on a major role, barring an acquisition.

    Connor Hughes of The Athletic wrote about the potential pitfalls of the Jets' decisions. He compared Harrison to Wesley Johnson, who took over for Nick Mangold in the pivot and started 23 contests in the 2016 and 2017 campaigns:

    "Harrison, like Johnson, played well in spurts last year. Harrison, like Johnson, is physically gifted. But Harrison, like Johnson then, hasn't ever had to do this full-time. [Quarterback Sam] Darnold, while improved, still doesn't have the experience to make the line adjustments for an inexperienced center. It seems risky rolling with Harrison and seemingly no one else." 

    Harrison started half of last year's games at the pivot. Although he's never started more than 10 contests in a single season, the 27-year-old has solid experience in a prominent role from when he suited up for the Colts from the 2014 to 2016 (23 starts).

    Behind Harrison on the depth chart, Jon Toth hasn't played an NFL snap, and Toa Lobendahn signed as an undrafted rookie free agent. 

    The center-to-quarterback exchange doesn't receive enough attention around the league. As Hughes points out, Harrison will need to help Darnold make pre-snap reads because of the signal-caller's inexperience. The Jets' choice at the pivot could become a solid veteran starter or a huge mistake for an offense in transition.

Oakland Raiders: TE Darren Waller Set to Take on Huge Role

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    Oakland Raiders tight end Darren Waller
    Oakland Raiders tight end Darren WallerEric Risberg/Associated Press

    The Oakland Raiders allowed tight end Jared Cook to sign with the Saints in March. In 2018, the 32-year-old led the team in receiving yards (896) and touchdown catches (six) en route to his first Pro Bowl invite.

    The Raiders have moved on to an upstart tight end. According to NBCS Bay Area's Scott Bair, Darren Waller has flashed through spring practices.

    "The Raiders were content letting Jared Cook leave in free agency despite him being their best receiver last year," Bair wrote. "Darren Waller's the main reason why, and he has shown playmaking ability during OTAs." 

    In fact, offensive coordinator Greg Olson suggested the Raiders didn't want to interrupt Waller's development, per Bair:

    "Would it stunt his growth if Jared was here? Possibly. So now that he has that position, it's your position, you are the 'Y' in certain personnel groupings. We're going to put you out there on the field and you're going to play. You're going to get better from playing. You're not going to wait and sit behind Jared Cook and have to wait your turn, you have to go now. We're really pushing him to the limit right now."

    The Raiders plucked Waller off the Ravens' practice squad in November. He appeared in four contests for the Silver and Black, converting all six of his targets for 75 yards. 

    Oakland selected Foster Moreau in the fourth round of this year's draft, but he isn't a big-play pass-catcher like Waller.

    Moreau logged 52 receptions for 629 yards and six touchdowns through four years at LSU. Waller played wideout at Georgia Tech, registering 51 catches for 971 yards and nine scores in three campaigns. 

    Without Cook in the fold, Waller has an opportunity to see tremendous growth at tight end in a pass-catching capacity. 

Philadelphia Eagles: EVP Howie Roseman Goes All-in with QB Carson Wentz

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    Philadelphia Eagles general manager Howie Roseman
    Philadelphia Eagles general manager Howie RosemanMichael Conroy/Associated Press

    Carson Wentz tore his ACL during his sophomore campaign in 2017 and fractured a vertebrae last year, per ESPN's Adam Schefter.

    Yet, the Eagles signed him to a four-year, $128 million extension. Based on production, it's a well-deserved contract. He's thrown for 10,152 yards, 70 touchdowns and 28 interceptions through three seasons. Before the injury derailed his 2017 campaign, the North Dakota State product garnered MVP buzz. 

    Clearly, Wentz possesses the talent to carry the Eagles offense and keep this club in playoff contention. On the flip side, at what point does the injury-prone label stick to him? 

    Over the last two seasons, Foles finished the season for the Eagles under center and played well in spot duty through crucial moments, including a Super Bowl win. He signed with the Jaguars in March. 

    Wentz doesn't have playoff experience simply because he's been hurt. As an athletic signal-caller, the 6'5", 237-pounder can extend plays with his legs. Without Foles on the roster, the Eagles starting quarterback will have to be more mindful of avoiding unnecessary hits. 

    Executive vice president Howie Roseman believes in Wentz long term, but he needs the franchise quarterback on the field for a full return on his most costly roster investment.

Pittsburgh Steelers: Sutton Smith Emerges as a 2-Way Player

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    Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Sutton Smith
    Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Sutton SmithKeith Srakocic/Associated Press

    The Pittsburgh Steelers used spring practices to test Sutton Smith's ability to juggle multiple positions. Almost immediately, the coaching staff noticed him and flipped the rookie sixth-rounder between offensive and defensive drills, per Mark Kaboly of The Athletic.

    "Smith has intrigued Mike Tomlin and the Steelers coaching staff so much that they made him change his number—51 to 42—three days into OTAs so he would be able to do drills with the running backs once a week while continuing to play outside linebacker," Kaboly wrote.

    At Northern Illinois, Smith played defensive end during his last two terms, registering 29 sacks and 56.5 tackles for loss in that span. He checked in at 6'0", 233 pounds at the NFL Scouting Combine, which comes up a bit small for an every-down edge-rusher. 

    Yet, the Steelers could find a creative way to keep him on the 53-man roster, and he doesn't mind the extra duties, per Kaboly. "It's an honor even to be thought about playing offense," Smith said. "I just want to be a part of this organization and play my butt off and go full speed on the football field."

    In the most realistic scenario, Smith could become a special teams ace early in his career, taking spot-duty carries near the goal line and rushing the quarterback on a handful of passing downs.

San Francisco 49ers: Tevin Coleman Primed for More Pass-Catching Opportunities

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    San Francisco 49ers running back Tevin Coleman
    San Francisco 49ers running back Tevin ColemanUncredited/Associated Press

    The San Francisco 49ers have a versatile running back group—their top three players at the position can catch and run out of the backfield. They signed running back Tevin Coleman during the offseason; he'll join Jerick McKinnon and Matt Breida, the team's leading rusher from last year, in the backfield.

    Coleman played under head coach Kyle Shanahan in Atlanta in 2015 and 2016, but he's seeing a slight difference in his role with the 49ers through the spring, per Matt Barrows of The Athletic: "Coleman, for example, said he's lining up like a wide receiver more than he ever did when Shanahan was his offensive coordinator with the Falcons." 

    The 49ers cannot feed three running backs an ample number of carries in every contest. In some games, Coleman may lead in rush attempts. McKinnon or Breida could be the hot hand in other weeks.

    If spring workouts tell us anything, Coleman looks like a strong bet to become the 49ers' top pass-catcher out of the backfield.

Seattle Seahawks: WR Jaron Brown Due for Bigger Role

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    Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Jaron Brown
    Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Jaron BrownElaine Thompson/Associated Press

    The Seattle Seahawks don't have any household names at wide receiver since Doug Baldwin announced his retirement.

    Tyler Lockett broke out in 2018 with 57 receptions for 965 yards and 10 touchdowns. He's still a developing talent, though, playing more than 65 percent of the team's offensive snaps for the first time last year.

    The team selected DK Metcalf in the second round of this year's draft. Although he turned heads at the combine, he's unproven.

    But head coach Pete Carroll and offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer offered praise for wideout Jaron Brown, a six-year veteran who's flown under the radar throughout his career, via ESPN.com's Brady Henderson.

    "Pete Carroll has given the impression that Brown could have a larger role this season after finishing fourth among their receivers last year in playing time and receptions (14 for 166 yards and five touchdowns). Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer said Brown has had an "unbelievable" offseason and reiterated Carroll's point that the Seahawks underutilized him in 2018."

    The Seahawks have a contested spot behind Lockett at wide receiver. Don't pen Metcalf into the No. 2 position yet. Because Brown looked impressive through June and has one year of experience in Schottenheimer's system, he's a strong candidate to open the year in a starting role.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: HC Bruce Arians Thinks the Secondary Is 'Totally Fixed'

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    Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians
    Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Bruce AriansChris O'Meara/Associated Press

    In 2018, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers pass defense ranked 26th in yards allowed and surrendered 34 touchdowns (30th). The team selected two cornerbacks on Day 2 of this year's draft: Sean Murphy-Bunting (second round) and Jamel Dean (third round). That shows team brass thought the position needed more talent.

    According to Carmen Vitali of the Buccaneers' official website, head coach Bruce Arians has high hopes for the secondary and highlighted Vernon Hargreaves III and Carlton Davis as key components of the cornerback group. 

    "The secondary," the coach said. "I think we're really, really good. Carlton, Vernon, we knew we had two solid corners. We have five solid corners. I think Ryan [Smith] came a long way. So yeah, I think earmarked as a problem set back in January, that's totally fixed. Just knock on wood they stay healthy."

    Initially, Hargreaves drew Arians' ire. During OTAs, the Buccaneers head coach said Hargreaves needed to "get his mind right to practice," per the Tampa Bay Times' Rick Stroud. Apparently, the 24-year-old has redeemed himself.

    Arians' positive reinforcement may help the cornerbacks gain confidence heading into the summer. We'll have a better understanding of this unit's overall improvement with padded practices at training camp.

Tennessee Titans: Jack Conklin's Rough 2018 Season Clouds His Future with Team

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    Tennessee Titans right tackle Jack Conklin
    Tennessee Titans right tackle Jack ConklinFrederick Breedon/Getty Images

    Right tackle Jack Conklin was a rookie All-Pro in 2016. He allowed just 2.5 sacks in his first two seasons, per the Washington Post's STATs. The Tennessee Titans seemed to have solidified the perimeter spots on the offensive line, as left tackle Taylor Lewan earned three consecutive Pro Bowl invites from 2016 to 2018.

    But the Titans declined the fifth-year option on Conklin's deal after he tore his ACL during a divisional-round matchup with the Patriots in January 2018 and missed seven contests last season because of the knee injury and a concussion. The 2016 first-rounder also allowed five sacks, per Washington Post's STATs, last season.

    Conklin could earn a new deal before he tests the 2020 market, but Tennessee isn't ready for a long-term commitment to him. He'll need to fully bounce back to lock down an extension. 

    Otherwise, another club may roll the dice on Conklin if he can stay healthy through the 2019 season.

Washington Redskins: LT Trent Williams Isn't Satisfied

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    Washington Redskins left tackle Trent Williams
    Washington Redskins left tackle Trent WilliamsMark Tenally/Associated Press

    The Washington Redskins may go into training camp with a major issue at left tackle, which would add more uncertainty to a passing attack that has an open quarterback competition.

    According to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport, Trent Williams skipped mandatory minicamp because he wanted a new deal, but CBS Sports' Jason La Canfora tweeted a different reason for his absence. 

    "Trent Williams' issues with Skins are not financial at all according to numerous sources with knowledge of the situation. He's told teammates he has demanded a trade or his release from the club due to their handling of his recent medical situation. Has vowed not to play for them," La Canfora tweeted.

    Head coach Jay Gruden cited a personal matter, per Rhiannon Walker of The Athletic. "I talked to him a little while ago," he said. "This is personal between him and his agent and our organization, and we will handle it accordingly." 

    Regardless of the reason, Williams isn't content. Although he's missed 15 games over the last four seasons because of various injuries, the seven-time Pro Bowler hasn't allowed more than three sacks in a single campaign during that period, per the Washington Post's STATs

    Without Williams, Washington would likely turn to 2018 third-rounder Geron Christian Sr., who played 43 offensive snaps in his rookie term.

               

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