The Latest Buzz Around Every NFL Team as Camp Season Nears
It's camping time!
Across the NFL, many first-year players have already reported for training camp. In the case of the Denver Broncos, on July 17, both rookies and veterans reported to Englewood, Colorado, to begin the march toward their Monday Night Football season opener in Oakland.
From here out the news is going to come fast and furious—a cavalcade of verifiable facts, speculation and supposition that won't stop until the Packers and Bears meet in Chicago on September 5.
As players and coaches prepare to hit the practice field, however, there's already plenty of buzz building. For some teams, it's about potential position battles. For others, it's about young players set to break out (hopefully) or veterans set to end their holdout and report (hopefully). For others still, it's all about speculation as to what area might be a team's weakness.
In any event, every team from Arizona to Washington has some buzz surrounding them.
Here's a look at the latest.
Arizona Cardinals: Kyler Murray Commanding the Offense
There are a lot of changes in Arizona this year. A new head coach in Kliff Kingsbury. A new starting quarterback in Kyler Murray. But one thing that hasn't changed is the presence of venerable wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, who's set to begin his 16th season with the Cardinals.
Training camp kicks off in earnest for the Cardinals on July 24, but Fitzgerald told Robert Klemko of the MMQB that Murray already looks like he's been running Kingsbury's "Air Raid" offense for years.
"I know him running Lincoln Riley's offense is very similar to what Coach Kliff runs," Fitzgerald says, "but on the first day he's calling audibles and getting us in plays that are favorable to the offense. So I was really impressed by his ability to take a leadership position first day at the offense. I was impressed with how smart he is, how determined he is. His future is extremely bright."
It's still a while before Murray will see action in a game that counts, but he appears to have built up a nice head of steam in the early-going.
Atlanta Falcons: Austin Hooper Set for Breakout?
The Atlanta Falcons have no shortage of passing-game weaponry in superstar wideout Julio Jones, youngster Calvin Ridley and veteran Mohamed Sanu.
As D. Orlando Ledbetter wrote for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, head coach Dan Quinn thinks the Falcons may be on the verge of adding even more to that arsenal. Tight end Austin Hooper quietly had a solid third season in 2018, posting a 71/660/4 stat line. Quinn expects Hooper to better those numbers this season under new position coach Mike Mularkey.
"Hooper, the improvement just keeps getting better," Quinn said. "Now, he's ready to go to another level, and I'm looking forward to seeing him make that growth. The addition of having Mike here, he's done everything that Mike has asked in terms of getting him ready. That connection has been good."
The Falcons suffered through a disappointing 2018 season in large part due to injuries that ravaged the defense, but the offense was fourth in the NFL in passing at 290.8 yards per game.
A breakout year from Hooper will make it all the more difficult for opponents to contain that passing attack in 2019.
Baltimore Ravens: The ILB Shuffle
For most of the franchise's existence, the Baltimore Ravens have been blessed with high-level play at inside linebacker. First it was Hall of Famer Ray Lewis. Then C.J. Mosley, who made four Pro Bowls in five years with the team.
Now, however, Mosley's in New York, and there's quite a bit of uncertainty inside in Baltimore. One of the starting spots will ostensibly be manned by either second-year pro Kenny Young or fellow sophomore Chris Board. It's a truly wide-open battle—one that will be decided on the practice field at camp.
As Aaron Kasinitz reported for Penn Live, the "MIKE" spot will be filled by fourth-year veteran Patrick Onwuasor, who has started 25 games opposite Mosley the past two years. Onwuasor has impressed defensive coordinator Don Martindale this summer.
"I've been really pleased with Peanut [Patrick Onwuasor]," Martindale said. "I think if you all sit out here and watch, you can just hear the difference of his vocal leadership, calling plays and everything else. He's really come along."
Buffalo Bills: Big Year 2 Coming for Josh Allen?
The quarterbacks in the Class of 2018 will forever be compared to one another. Baker Mayfield's success will be measured against Sam Darnold's, who will be measured against Josh Allen, who will be measured against Lamar Jackson.
Like Jackson, Allen did most of his damage as a rookie with his legs. But as Nick Wojton wrote for Bills Wire, Kay Adams of the NFL Network's Good Morning Football believes a revamped Buffalo offense could lead to him making a massive leap forward in his sophomore season—biggest of all the second-year signal-callers.
"If you're looking at the fact that this entire offensive line has four new starters, loaded backfield, Frank Gore, Devin Singletary, I think Josh Allen will omit those mistakes, I think he'll have many more touchdowns than interceptions this year and he will grow the most," Adams said.
In fairness, cutting down on last year's 14 turnovers only solves part of the problem. For Allen to take full advantage of his revamped receiving corps, he also needs to improve a completion percentage of less than 53 percent from last season.
Carolina Panthers: New-Look Pass Rush Clicking
The health of Cam Newton's surgically repaired shoulder has been (and will continue to be) the biggest story in training camp for the Carolina Panthers. But it's hardly the only story.
Coming off a disastrous second half last year that dropped the Panthers from 6-2 contender to 7-9 also-ran, there are quite a few changes in Charlotte this year—including a defense that will feature more 3-4 looks in the base scheme.
Edge-rusher Bruce Irvin is one of the new faces on that defense, and while speaking with Scott Fowler of the Charlotte Observer, Irvin compared the Panthers defense to some of the great Seattle teams he played for early in his career.
"That team went eight deep up front," Irvin said. "We had four really good guys, and then four more went in and there was no drop-off. So that's kind of the feeling I'm getting here. We had a lot of dudes. Everybody communicated. That's the kind of vibe it is here."
That's high praise indeed, but a bit more skepticism is advisable until we see how that new scheme (and new faces like Irvin and Gerald McCoy) fits together in camp and the preseason.
Chicago Bears: The Kicker Krusade
On some level, if you're a Super Bowl contender and your most looming problem is uncertainty at kicker, then you're likely in pretty good shape.
However, fans of the Chicago Bears don't want to hear that. Not after the way last season ended. Not after the Robbie Gould reunion was spoiled by the veteran kicker signing an extension with the San Francisco 49ers.
As things stand now, Eddy Pineiro and Elliott Fry remain the only two kickers on the roster. Neither has ever attempted a kick in an NFL game that counted. Neither has been especially impressive in the offseason, either.
Given Chicago's postseason aspirations and Pineiro and Fry's inability to seize the job, there's been plenty of speculation regarding the Bears adding a veteran leg. Ryan Glasspiegel of the Big Lead singled out longtime Falcons kicker Matt Bryant, Kai Forbath and Mike Nugent as possibilities.
Of the group, Bryant's the best on paper, but he's also a 17-year-veteran who spent a large portion of that long career kicking in a dome.
Cincinnati Bengals: No Panic on the O-Line
The last thing an NFL team wants is a major injury before camp even starts. Unexpected player retirements aren't high on the wishlist, either.
The Cincinnati Bengals have been hit with a double-whammy on the offensive line. First, rookie tackle Jonah Williams was lost for the season to a shoulder injury. Then veteran guard Clint Boling announced he was hanging them up after eight seasons.
However, despite those losses, new Bengals head coach Zac Taylor told Tyler Dragon of the Cincinnati Enquirer that he remains confident Cincy will be fine up front.
"Cordy (Glenn) can move back to left tackle which is where he's played his whole career. We have a lot of confidence in him there," Taylor told the Enquirer. "It's unfortunate to lose guys in their rookie year. He had high expectations for himself. But we'll be good."
"We have a lot of guys in there that can compete for those jobs," Taylor continued. "The left guard spot will be a competition in training camp and we'll be excited to see what happens there. We have a lot of good guys in the mix who we are counting on to step up and do their job."
Given that the Bengals finished in the bottom half of the league in both run blocking and pass protection last year, per Football Outsiders, a healthy measure of concern is justified.
Cleveland Browns: Antonio Callaway Turning Heads
There's been no shortage of attention paid to the Cleveland Browns this offseason, and much of that has focused on the acquisition of star wideout Odell Beckham Jr.
Beckham and former college teammate Jarvis Landry are the top two wideouts in Cleveland, but second-year pro Antonio Callaway is doing his best to make sure he isn't a forgotten man in the offense in 2019.
Per CBS Sports, Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield has been impressed by the progress Callaway's made in the offseason after posting a 43/586/5 line as a rookie.
"We have been very happy with how [Callaway] came back from the offseason ready to go," Mayfield said. "Just how quick he is and you can tell he has been working on his craft."
The Cleveland offense is as loaded with skill-position talent as any team in the NFL, and given the attention Beckham and Landry will command from defenses, Callaway is a good bet to see single coverage with regularity.
The young speedster looks to be ready to take advantage of that.
Dallas Cowboys: Ezekiel Elliott Holdout a Real Possibility
Tailback Ezekiel Elliott is no doubt a critical part of the Cowboys offense. It's no coincidence that both times Elliott has led the NFL in rushing, Dallas won the NFC East.
However, Elliott is well aware of his value to the team as well, and he's made it no secret heading into his fourth season that he wants to be compensated for that importance.
According to PFT's Mike Florio, Elliott has stated privately that unless real progress is made toward a long-term extension that makes him one of the league's highest-paid RBs, he won't report to training camp.
It's a tricky situation—for both sides. The Cowboys have more pressing extension situations to consider—both quarterback Dak Prescott and wide receiver Amari Cooper are set to hit free agency after the 2019 season. Also, if Elliott doesn't report to camp by August 6, he won't accrue a year of service toward free agency.
The running back position may be devalued in today's NFL, but it's still in the best interests of both sides to get some sort of compromise worked out—quickly.
Denver Broncos: Key Offensive Stars Dodge PUP
The Denver Broncos were the first of the NFL's teams to report to training camp, and the days leading up to that contained some good news when second-round foot-draggers Dalton Risner and Drew Lock finally signed their rookie deals.
The opening of camp brought even better news. Per Troy Renck of Denver 7 TV and Andrew Mason, both starting tailback Phillip Lindsay (wrist) and wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders (Achilles) avoided the physically unable to perform list to open camp.
Now, this hardly means that both players are a full-go. Sanders said (per Josh Alper of PFT) he's not 100 percent ready given how late in the season he suffered his injury. But Lindsay, who was a revelation last year in becoming the first UDFA to make the Pro Bowl as a rookie, indicated he felt he was ready to practice after offseason surgery and just needed the green light from coaches and team doctors.
It would seem he's gotten it.
Detroit Lions: Latest on Damon Harrison and Darius Slay
The Detroit Lions have been without two of their most important defensive players for much of the offseason. But as rookies report to camp and the date for veterans to show up nears, there appears to be at least some movement regarding the holdouts of defensive tackle Damon Harrison and cornerback Darius Slay.
Per Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press, the agent for both players will meet with the Lions to discuss their statuses. Both have two years remaining on their existing contracts. Both have already potentially forfeited over $300,000 in lost bonuses and fines.
Lions head coach Matt Patricia maintained he expects both men to be on the field for the beginning of camp.
"Whatever communication we have with players in those situations are kept private between us and the player," Patricia said. "So when we get back for training camp, we always expect everybody to be where they're supposed to be when they're there. We deal with it, and we go from there. But don't really look into that too much."
This meeting could go a long way toward determining if that's actually the case.
Green Bay Packers: Geronimo Allison Impressing Davante Adams
There's no question that Davante Adams is the top dog among the Green Bay Packers wide receiver corps. However, once you get past him, it's nothing but questions at the position.
However, in Adams' opinion, youngster Geronimo Allison is capable of a breakout season in new head coach Matt LaFleur's offense after an injury-marred 2018 campaign.
"He's the guy who's been working a lot in the slot, and he's used to playing a little more outside, but this is making him a little more dynamic," Adams said, via Wes Hodkiewicz of the team's official website. "I think Matt has really tested him or challenged him to widen it out so he can play multiple spots. ... Him being able to move around right now and be healthy, be himself and just play, being able to have all those things, it's going to be dangerous."
Allison's far from a lock to be Green Bay's No. 2 receiver, as players like Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Equanimeous St. Brown will try to stake their claim for snaps in camp.
But it's Allison who appears to have slid into the inside track—so to speak.
Houston Texans: More Jadeveon Clowney Drama
When the July 15 deadline for the Houston Texans to sign edge-rusher Jadeveon Clowney to a long-term contract came and went, that should have been the end of it—Clowney will play the 2019 season under the franchise tag because he has to.
Yet, somehow, a Texans team that currently has no general manager managed (see what I did there) to make a bad situation worse.
Not only will Clowney all but certainly hold out of most of training camp and possibly the preseason (until he signs his tender he's not under contract—and as such can't be fined), but now (per Henry McKenna of For the Win) the NFLPA has filed a grievance against the Texans.
The reason? The Texans label Clowney a "DE/LB" but are apparently trying to pay Clowney under the latter position's tag at $15.4 million.
The franchise tag for defensive ends is $1.7 million higher.
That a Texans team with the second-most cap space in the NFL would consider further alienating a difference-making young player over a relative pittance sounds a lot like a team that needs to hire a general manager.
Indianapolis Colts: Pass-Rush Questions
The Indianapolis Colts are one of the better teams in the league that few people are talking about. But as Kevin Hickey reported for Colts Wire, the team isn't without potential weaknesses.
One of those could be the pass rush, where the team has a mixture of youngsters coming back from injuries (Tyquan Lewis and Kemoko Turay), capable but low-ceiling veterans (Jabaal Sheard) and free-agent adds looking to recapture Pro Bowl form (Justin Houston).
While speaking with reporters in June, Colts defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus spoke highly of what Houston brings to the team after eight years in Kansas City.
"I think just what he has done in the past and then that much more. I think being in our scheme will certainly help him in terms of getting his hand in the dirt and getting off and attacking that way," Eberflus siad. "I think that will lend to his natural abilities."
There's talent here. If the Colts are going to challenge the likes of Brady's Patriots and Mahomes' Chiefs, that talent needs to come together as a unit in camp.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Everyone Loves Saint Nick
As ESPN's Michael DiRocco wrote, since the year 2000 there have been 13 free-agent quarterbacks signed who were brought in as Day 1 starters. Of that group, just over half failed to ever lead their new team to the postseason. Two didn't make it more than a month as the starter.
The two, in case you were wondering, are Matt Flynn and Mike Glennon.
After giving him the largest contract guarantee in franchise history, the Jacksonville Jaguars have demonstrated quite clearly that they believe former Eagles backup Nick Foles will beat those odds. And with the start of his first training camp with the Jags just about to begin, the MVP of Super Bowl LII got a vote of confidence from VP of football operations Tom Coughlin.
"You think through each year, how things happened to him, how he progressed, but it is very difficult not to recognize under what circumstances he came into play in both [the past two] seasons and how he responded," Coughlin said. "In order to be able to do that, you have to be on your game because you never know as backup quarterback when you are going to get your chance. When the opportunity came, obviously his teammates believed in him. They didn't skip a beat. They just kept playing and playing and did some amazing things and the same thing happened [last] year."
Kansas City Chiefs: Not so New-Look Defense
When people talk about the Kansas City Chiefs, the conversation almost always centers on reigning MVP Patrick Mahomes and the offense. But if the Chiefs are going to take the next step and make it to Super Bowl LIV, the team has to get drastically better defensively.
The man tasked with that improvement is new defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, who was out of the NFL last year after three years in New York. There are new players in town (Frank Clark, Tyrann Mathieu) and a new base defense. But while speaking with reporters at the Venom Camp, Spagnuolo said he's not trying to re-invent the wheel in his new home.
"The whole thing about the 4-3 or 3-4 defense really pertains to base defense," he said, "and in today's football we don't play a lot of base defense, we usually have a lot of what we call sub defense, with nickel and dime, I think a great number of defenses in the league play that way 70% of the time. So everybody is kind of playing the same way."
The Chiefs are going to score points. No doubt.
Kansas City's success in 2019 hinges on its ability to stop opponents from doing the same.
Los Angeles Chargers: A Potential Gordon Solution
The Los Angeles Chargers entered the summer as a legitimate Super Bowl contender. Being the Chargers, something had to go wrong—and sure enough, it did.
Per Kevin Patra of NFL.com, star tailback Melvin Gordon has made it clear to the team he wants one of two things—a long-term contract extension or a trade out of town.
While speaking with Will Brinson of CBS Sports on the Pick Six podcast, colleague Jason La Canfora proposed a compromise he believes will assuage the player without breaking the bank.
"I think at the end of the day, they get something done. I don't think it's a six-year mega contract," La Canfora said. "I think he gets more money in his pocket right now and they buy out at least one of his franchise years, maybe a little bit more. I think there's a two-year bridge contract to be done."
It's an idea that makes sense for both sides. Gordon gets at least some extra money and would hit free agency again at 28. The team gets one of their best offensive players back.
A protracted holdout helps no one (and could conceivably cost Gordon a year's service time toward free agency), and a trade would leave the Chargers thin in the backfield and all but certainly not return value for the Bolts.
Los Angeles Rams: Gurley Watch 2019 Rolls On
The Chargers aren't the only Super Bowl contenders in Los Angeles with potential problems in the backfield.
The health of Rams tailback Todd Gurley's balky knee has been a hot topic since it was reported that said knee is arthritic, although both player and team have tried to downplay the issue.
The 24-year-old Gurley, who sat out OTAs and minicamp, told the NFL Network (via NFL.com's Kevin Patra) that his knee's in good shape and he'll be testing it out in training camp.
"It's good, man. It's good," Gurley said of his knee. "I'm just like, hey, we're going to find out in training camp, you know? Once training camp comes, you've got the preseason, but you don't have a lot in preseason."
Head coach Sean McVay echoed those sentiments during a recent appearance on The Jimmy Kimmel Show.
"He's good. I think he's feeling great," McVay said, via Michael David Smith of Pro Football Talk. "One of the things about Todd is, great competitor. I think he's earned the right to be able to have the plan we had this offseason. I can't wait to get him back going and I know he's ready to go and it's going to be fun for the Rams this year."
The Rams are going to play it very cautiously with Gurley's knee, and he's unlikely to play in the preseason.
But while the presence of rookie Darrell Henderson offers the Rams at least some insurance, a second straight trip to the Super Bowl could hinge on the Rams' ability to keep Gurley on the field.
Miami Dolphins: Fear the Beard
As Barry Jackson reported for the Miami Herald, veteran quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick has enjoyed both playing for his eighth team and competing with youngster Josh Rosen for the starting job under center with the Dolphins.
"Competition definitely brings out the best in you," he said. "Coach Flo [Brian Flores] has a presence in our meeting room at times, talking about a lot of different situations. He has a really good personality. He's been very consistent with his message so far and that's something that really carries weight in the locker room and gets guys to play for you."
According to Jackson, it may not be that much of a competition after all. Fitzpatrick has reportedly impressed his new teammates with his leadership abilities and "was clearly the best quarterback in the offseason program."
Given Miami's modest investment in Rosen, there's no real impetus for the team to prioritize his youth over Fitzpatrick's experience. But if Rosen can't win the starting job, it only increases the chances that a bad Dolphins team will be drafting a quarterback early in 2020.
Minnesota Vikings: Holding the Line
The Minnesota Vikings struggled offensively in 2018, barely ranking inside the top 20. The run game was especially bad, averaging just 93.3 yards per game—third-worst in the league.
In an effort to spur that run game, the Vikings brought in longtime OC and head coach Gary Kubiak and revamped the offensive line. The key to success in the former's zone-blocking scheme will be marked improvement from the latter.
Free-agent signee Josh Kline told Lindsey Young of the team's website that he knows the pressure's on his unit in 2019.
"You've got to be tough, be physical," Kline said of Minnesota's system. "You've got to be somewhat athletic because there's a lot of running involved, obviously, with outside zone schemes, and you've got to be a good team player. "You've got to know what to do and be cerebral because there's a lot of things that can happen within a play."
There might be bigger names on the Vikings offense as training camp gets rolling, but there's no facet of that offense more critical to Minny getting back on track in 2019 than that line taking well to Kubiak's scheme.
New England Patriots: Gronk's Return?
The defending Super Bowl champions were left with a 6'6" hole in the passing game with the retirement of All-Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski in the offseason.
As Mike Florio reported for Pro Football Talk, there are already rumors swirling that Gronkowski may be having second thoughts about hanging them up. A source close to the nine-year veteran stated that there's a 40 percent chance Gronk's retirement doesn't stick. Florio also wrote that it isn't believed Pats head coach Bill Belichick would be resistant to the idea of Gronkowski returning.
Gronkowski has battled a number of injuries throughout his career, and after reportedly losing about 20 pounds, it would take some time to get back into game shape.
But Gronkowski would also hardly be the first player comfortable in his retirement to reconsider once the grind of training camp gives way to the regular season.
That groan you hear is defensive backs in the AFC East realizing they may actually have to try to tackle Gronk again.
New Orleans Saints: Marcus Davenport's Next Step
The New Orleans Saints made an aggressive move to trade up for small-school standout Marcus Davenport in the 2018 draft, but the first-year returns were underwhelming—just 22 tackles and 4.5 sacks in 13 games.
Davenport lost most of his first offseason a year ago to thumb surgery. According to John Sigler of Saints Wire, this year's turf toe injury is yielding much of same result—limited work for Davenport in OTAs.
"The Saints eased Davenport into action during minicamps," Sigler said, "and he finished the final practice sessions on the starting unit. He's been putting in work this offseason, often practicing at the team facility or meeting up with mentors like Cameron Jordan and Von Miller, so he's obviously enjoying good health. Still, he did undergo toe surgery less than six months ago, so the Saints may tap the brakes a little once they meet for camp."
Davenport is tentatively expected to start at defensive end opposite Cameron Jordan in his second season, and the more work he can get on the practice field, the better—provided it doesn't jeopardize his Week 1 availability.
New York Giants: The Quarterback Conundrum
The dominant storyline around the New York Giants has been the team's situation at quarterback from the moment Dave Gettleman made Duke's Daniel Jones the sixth overall pick.
However, at least one former Giants great remains convinced that Jones won't be taking the reins from veteran Eli Manning anytime soon.
Per Ethan Sears of the New York Post, while speaking to MSG Networks, Phil Simms indicated he thinks Manning can have the sort of success this year that would keep Jones on the bench.
"I really believe that Eli Manning, with his position and his knowledge, they've put a really good team around him on the offensive side," Simms said. "I think he has a chance to have maybe one of the best years of his career statistically."
Given Manning's performance the past several seasons (including just one playoff appearance the past seven years), Simms is being...let's go with optimistic. But with Jones being one of five first-round picks who remain unsigned, missed reps in camp aren't going to help the youngster's chances of pushing Manning early.
New York Jets: Sam Darnold's Development
The New York Jets were one of the most active teams in the NFL this offseason. Whether it was a receiver like Jamison Crowder, a tailback like Le'Veon Bell or a lineman like Kelechi Osemele, the Jets spent a fortune upgrading the talent around second-year quarterback Sam Darnold.
Now the pressure's on Darnold to take a big step forward in his second season and justify New York's trade up to snag him a year ago.
According to Eric Allen of the team's website, Jets OC Dowell Loggains thinks facing Gregg Williams' defense on the practice field in camp can only help Darnold get better.
"I think it helps Sam a lot, just seeing all of the different looks and he has so many different, multiple personnel groupings that you know. You're seeing different fronts, different coverages, especially in the third-down stuff," Loggains said. "He's going to accumulate and stack reps of odd floater, overload pressures and trap blitzes and all of those things he's going to get to see. It's going to be tremendous value as the season goes on and it's stuff that he can put away in his toolbox and it's going to come up in week six, seven, eight, and he's getting a lot of good experience from that stuff."
There's a lot of optimism in New York in 2019 given all the new faces. But all that money spent brings with it something else.
Oakland Raiders: Put Up or Shut Up for Chucky
The Oakland Raiders had a tumultuous first season under head coach Jon Gruden in 2018. In his first year on the sideline after a decade away from the game, Gruden took a buzzsaw to the roster as the Raiders pitched and lurched their way to a 4-12 record.
It wasn't exactly what the franchise was looking for from a $10 million per season investment. But it was also Gruden's first year at the helm. An adjustment period.
This year, the Raiders are officially Gruden's team. And the team added quite a bit of talent in the offseason. Elliott Harrison of NFL.com wrote that this is the year we should find out just what kind of coach Gruden will be in his second stint with the Raiders.
"New GM Mike Mayock helped Gruden begin to rebuild the roster after stockpiling picks, providing an infusion of talent that should at least make this team more competitive," he said. "Given the strength of the division-rival Chargers and Chiefs, simply leading Oakland to the playoffs should be a ringing endorsement for the coach."
This Raiders team should be better—but with that infusion of talent comes an infusion of personality, too.
In that respect, Gruden still has his work cut out for him.
Philadelphia Eagles: Wentz Watch
There isn't a player in the league under more pressure in 2019 than Carson Wentz.
The Philadelphia Eagles signal-caller has watched each of the last two seasons (including a Super Bowl win) end from the sidelines after getting hurt. But Nick Foles won't be riding in to the rescue this year—Foles is starting in Jacksonville, and Wentz is the unquestioned future in Philly after signing a massive extension averaging well over $30 million a season.
However, as Zach Berman reported for The Athletic, where many see pressure, Eagles head coach Doug Pederson sees opportunity.
"This is also a great opportunity for Carson, to really regain the type of player he is to what we saw in 2017, and really what we saw in 2018 when he was playing," Pederson said. "He is a tremendous competitor. He is a tremendous leader, and quite frankly, I don't think a lot of that bothers him. He just moves on. He is excited for this new season. It is a new team, there are new guys around him. He is energized, he feels good and I am just excited for that."
At the risk of sounding melodramatic, as goes Wentz, so will go the 2019 Eagles.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Life After AB
When a team loses two transcendent offensive talents in a single offseason, that's what you call "news." It's also what happened to the Pittsburgh Steelers, who flipped disgruntled wide receiver Antonio Brown to Oakland and watched Le'Veon Bell sign a big contract with the Jets.
The Steelers already had a Plan B at wide receiver capable of stepping into the No. 1 role in JuJu Smith-Schuster. But the No. 2 role opposite him is one of the biggest looming battles in training camp in the Steel City.
The leading candidates for the job are youngster James Washington and free-agent addition Donte Moncrief. The former was considered the leader earlier in the offseason, but as Joe Rutter reported for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Moncrief opened eyes in OTAs.
"When he came in, I wasn't sure what to expect," quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said. "Obviously, we played against him and I've seen him go against us in game situations, but I didn't know him. Now, you see his work ethic, the type of person he is, the desire to be great. He has a knowledge of the offense already."
This is a competition that will likely rage well into the preseason.
San Francisco 49ers: Jimmy Garoppolo Ramping Up
The San Francisco 49ers went from one of the most hyped teams in the NFL at the beginning of last season to one of the most disappointing—largely because starting quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo tore his ACL three games into the season.
However, as Nick Wagoner wrote for ESPN, Garoppolo's rehab has progressed well, and with the start of training camp just around the corner, the five-year veteran has been working with QB guru Tom House and the staff at 3DQB at their quarterback academy in Huntington Beach, California.
"As the performance part of the rehab, we are working in lockstep with the medical rehab," House said. "We just make sure to coordinate accordingly. You don't want to undo anything the medical has done, and you don't want to overdo anything on the performance side. When you've got a guy like Jimmy -- and I had met him and got to know him a little bit when he was with the Patriots -- and obviously he gets along really well with the young coaches on our staff, so it was a good fit in both directions."
A healthy Garoppolo could well mean the difference in whether last year's hype was misplaced or simply a year too early.
Seattle Seahawks: The L.J. Collier Era Begins
For the first time since Pete Carroll became head coach in Seattle, the rookies are reporting a week ahead of the veterans. It's not that hard to see why, as there are a number of first-year players the Seahawks will be counting on to play significant roles in 2019.
Wide receiver DK Metcalf has gotten the most run of that bunch. But it's TCU edge-rusher L.J. Collier who may be the most important of the lot. Frank Clark is in Kansas City now. No one really knows when free-agent acquisition Ezekiel Ansah might be able to contribute.
Per Ben Arthur of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Collier told the NFL Network that he's well aware expectations are high for him in 2019.
"They (the Seahawks) expect a lot of me," Collier said. "They expect me to come in, do my job, be accountable. I have some big shoes to fill with Frank leaving."
The learning curve at edge-rusher is as steep as at any position in professional football. But the Seahawks badly need Collier to be a quick study.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Rebound for Ronald Jones
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers used a second-round pick on Ronald Jones in 2018, but the former USC standout was a non-factor as a rookie—just 44 yards rushing and an abysmal average of fewer than two yards a carry.
Still, the Bucs didn't address the tailback spot in the offseason, indicating at least some confidence that Jones would take a step forward in year two.
So far, Jones has rewarded that confidence.
According to Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times, Jones has made quite the first impression on the team's new coaching staff in workouts. He has also bulked up to 221 pounds, adding almost 20 pounds of muscle in the offseason.
Jones said (via Charean Williams of PFT) that he's champing at the bit to put last year's struggles in the rearview mirror.
"Last year was a disappointment for me," Jones said. "I'm putting in the work to make sure it doesn't happen again. Personally, for me, I just want to lead the team in rushing and be that player who can ignite the offense and things like that, because that's who I am. I'm a playmaker. I just want that opportunity."
Tennessee Titans: All Aboard the Derrick Henry Train
After a relatively quiet first two NFL seasons, Derrick Henry finally started to live up to his predraft billing last season, topping 1,000 yards on the ground for the first time, averaging a robust 4.9 yards a carry and scoring 12 rushing touchdowns.
It was December of last year when Henry really exploded. Over five games that month, Henry carried the ball 97 times for 625 yards and eight of those 12 scores. It was the most yardage gained by any player in a calendar month last season.
Per Jim Wyatt of the Titans' website, Henry showed up to the offseason program in excellent shape and ready to build on that big finish.
It looks like he'll be given every opportunity to do that in 2019. The Titans aren't exactly loaded with passing-game talent, and offensive coordinator Arthur Smith told Wyatt he intends to ride Henry in the upcoming season.
Henry's 215 carries last year were a career-high. While passing-down back Dion Lewis will still get some work, Henry's a good bet to blow past that number this season.
Washington Redskins: Case Keenum Looking Good
There's little question which position battle will be the most scrutinized when the Washington Redskins report for training camp July 24. All eyes will be on the quarterbacks, where veteran Case Keenum and rookie Dwayne Haskins are vying to start.
"With Case Keenum," Peterson said, "the quarterback runs everything, right? Offensively, we really look good with Case Keenum back there. He's a veteran. He's been in the league for a long time. He's a gunslinger. He's a guy that's going to throw the ball and spread it around."
However, Peterson also said that he likes what he's seen from the 15th overall pick in April's draft, too.
"Having Haskins back there too — I'm looking forward to seeing what he'll do in training camp," he said. "Once he gets more under his belt and becomes more comfortable, he'll be able to play faster as well."
Glad that's cleared up.