1 Thing We've Learned About Every NFL Team During Training Camp
The start of the 2019 NFL regular season is less than a month away. While we still don't know exactly what to expect from each team this year, training camps have provided a glimpse into the possibilities.
Open practices, injury reports and position-battle updates are all valuable pieces of information. While they don't define how a team will perform beginning in September, these training-camp tidbits are relevant to the direction in which each team is headed.
Let's take a look at one thing we've learned about each team during training camp.
Arizona Cardinals: Kyler Murray Is the Unquestioned Starter
It felt like a near certainty that Kyler Murray would be a Week 1 starter when the Arizona Cardinals selected him with the first overall pick in the draft—or at least after they traded away Josh Rosen during Day 2.
The Cardinals do not have an established veteran on the roster, and the starting job was Murray's to lose entering camp. His dynamic running and passing ability are a terrific fit for Kliff Kingsbury's offense. The only real question was whether Murray was mentally prepared to be the starter.
In camp, the reigning Heisman winner has provided the answer.
"He knows what to do better than anyone else on the field, and I think that's helped accelerate how he has handled the team and how he has handled the offense," Kingsbury told 98.7 FM's Bickley & Marotta.
Murray seems to have a good grasp on the offense, and he has the physical tools needed to execute it. Barring injury, he's going to be Arizona's starter in Week 1.
Atlanta Falcons: The Falcons Have Options at Running Back
The Atlanta Falcons need to find a replacement for departed running back Tevin Coleman this preseason.
Coleman took over the starting job when Devonta Freeman was injured last year, but he played a significant role even when Freeman was healthy. He had more than 900 combined rushing and receiving yards and eight touchdowns in 2017.
The good news is that Freeman is healthy and slated to regain the starting job, and the Falcons have options behind him. They have second-year back Ito Smith, and Brian Hill has been a pleasant surprise during camp.
"Dan Quinn has praised Hill and the effort he's put in to improve his pass-catching, too. Right now, it's Devonta Freeman and a crowded room full of running backs vying for the No. 2 spot," Matthew Tabeek of the team's official website wrote. "It's wide-open. And Hill (picture above), who is currently listed as the No. 3 back on the depth chart, is standing out."
If Hill continues to impress and Smith can build on a promising rookie season, the Falcons should be able to field a strong rushing attack in 2019.
Baltimore Ravens: Miles Boykin May Be the Rookie Receiver Who Shines Brightest
The Baltimore Ravens made Marquise Brown the first receiver taken in the 2019 draft. However, he may not be the first-year pass-catcher who headlines Baltimore's passing attack this season.
While Brown should be a valuable deep threat, rookie third-round pick Miles Boykin is emerging as the kind of reliable go-to option Lamar Jackson needs.
The 6'4", 220-pound Boykin has been one of the stars of Ravens camp. His skill set and work ethic have earned the praise of veteran teammates like Willie Snead.
"I remember when Michael Thomas came to New Orleans, he was built the same, had the same mentality, just trying to get better every day," Snead said of Boykin, via Clifton Brown of the team's official website. "That's his goal right now, to learn as a rookie, to grow as a rookie, and make plays when they come. He's getting better every day."
It may be a bit early for comparisons to Thomas, the most productive young receiver in recent memory. However, Boykin is on his way to being a big part of the Baltimore offense, and potentially Jackson's No. 1 receiver.
Buffalo Bills: Josh Allen Is Still a Work in Progress
Wyoming quarterback Josh Allen was not widely considered a pro-ready prospect entering the 2018 draft. While he has the physical tools to be a successful NFL signal-caller, he has never been a polished passer.
In many ways, the success Allen had as a rookie was a pleasant surprise. His inconsistency and accuracy issues were still there, but Allen found ways to move the offense—particularly late in the season—with his strong arm and running ability.
The bad news—at least for those hoping to see Allen become prime John Elway in Year 2—is that he has remained a work in progress as a pocket passer during camp, per Nick Wojton of Bills Wire.
"His arm strength helps him chuck the deep ball and fit passes into small windows. Having said that, the ball goes into those windows if his accuracy is there. It hasn't always been found, so as of now, it appears we're going to get a similar Allen to the rookie version of 2018: A few decent throws, a few head-scratchers, and probably some athletic runs or running throws."
This shouldn't come as a surprise, as Allen has long been viewed as an unfinished product. It just means that Allen still has a long way to go before he reaches his ceiling.
Carolina Panthers: Cam Newton Is Still Working His Way Back
Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton didn't play in the preseason opener against the Chicago Bears on Thursday night, but he didn't sit because he couldn't play.
"It's just to be careful," head coach Ron Rivera said, via Will Bryan of the team's official website. "There are a lot of things that we want to see from the young guys."
Newton, who underwent shoulder surgery in January, has been active in training camp and does appear on track to start in Week 1. However, he isn't quite back to his pre-injury form yet.
"I don’t want people to just assume Cam’s back," Newton said, per Bill Voth of Black & Blue Review. "I’m putting in a lot of work to get where I need to be. It’s a process."
Newton has been throwing well in camp, so he doesn't seem to be in danger of the kind of setbacks that cost Andrew Luck an entire season following his shoulder surgery in 2017.
Chicago Bears: The Kicking Competition Is Going Well
For the Chicago Bears, the competition between kickers Elliott Fry and Eddy Pineiro is one of the most important of training camp.
Why? Well, if you don't already know, look up "Cody Parkey double doink."
Fry and Pineiro are vying to replace Parkey as Chicago's new kicker. While there was some uncertainty entering camp, things have gone smoothly since then.
"Bears have to be pleased with both kickers, especially after the struggles in OTAs and minicamp," Kevin Fishbain of The Athletic tweeted.
While both kickers were inconsistent early in the offseason, they have been performing well and are gaining the confidence of head coach Matt Nagy.
"I think—and maybe I'm crazy—I think they're doing decent," Nagy said, per JJ Stankevitz of NBC Sports Chicago. "It's not the game, but they're doing pretty good."
Both Fry and Pineiro got chances to prove themselves in-game Thursday night against the Panthers. Fry went 1-of-1. Pineiro went 1-of-2, missing on a 48-yarder. Expect their battle to continue deep into the preseason.
Cincinnati Bengals: This Offense Is Going to Be Different
The Cincinnati Bengals decided it was finally time for a culture change this offseason. They replaced head coach Marvin Lewis with Zac Taylor, hoping he would bring with him the kind of uptempo, multilook offense he was a part of with the Los Angeles Rams.
So far, players like quarterback Andy Dalton have been digging the difference in offensive philosophy.
"That's going to be key to our success this year," Dalton said, via Geoff Hobson of the team's official website. "We have the capability to be very versatile. We have a lot of different ways that we can attack a defense. I really like everything that we're doing."
In L.A., Taylor was the quarterbacks coach and helped run a unit that averaged 421.1 yards per game, second in the NFL. There's no guarantee that the Bengals offense will be that productive, but it should be different than what Cincinnati fans have become accustomed to in recent years.
Cleveland Browns: Dontrell Hilliard Is Primed to Be the No. 2 Back
With the likes of Baker Mayfield, Odell Beckham Jr., Jarvis Landry and David Njoku in the fold, the Cleveland Browns are expected to have one of the league's most exciting passing attacks in 2019.
However, the Browns' rushing attack should also be potent.
Cleveland's starter is Nick Chubb, who rushed for 996 yards and 5.2 yards per carry as a rookie last season and whom coach Freddie Kitchens recently called "everything we want in a football player." The Browns also added 2017 rushing champ Kareem Hunt in the offseason, though he'll be suspended for the first eight games.
Duke Johnson Jr. is a premier pass-catching back—he averaged nearly 59 receptions per year—but the Browns' glut of talent at the position made him expendable. As such, they traded him to the Houston Texans for a conditional 2020 fourth-round pick Thursday.
With Johnson no longer in Cleveland, Dontrell Hilliard should slot in as the No. 2 back behind Chubb until Hunt returns.
"He's shown the type of patience and burst you want to see in a running back who not just makes the 53-man roster, but also has an impact on your offense," Jake Burns of Cleveland.com wrote of Hilliard.
Hilliard has flashed potential both running and receiving in camp, and he should immediately slot in as the pass-catching complement to Chubb.
Dallas Cowboys: The Cowboys Still Believe Elliott Will Flinch 1st
Ezekiel Elliott is holding out of training camp until he receives a new contract. The Dallas Cowboys signed Alfred Morris as insurance, but they have otherwise done little to indicate they believe Elliott's holdout will last into the regular season.
"They still think Ezekiel Elliott not playing, is not likely, at this time, given the same sentiment that Jerry Jones wants to get a deal done," a source told ESPN's Josina Anderson.
Why are the Cowboys confident that Elliott will blink and return to camp under his current contract or one that Dallas has offered him? Well, it's all a matter of leverage.
Elliott has some, as the Cowboys offense is centered around him. However, so does Dallas.
Elliott has two years remaining on his rookie contract, and if he doesn't appear in at least six regular-season games, he'll still have two years left on it. Elliott cannot sit out the entire season—as Le'Veon Bell did in 2018—and get a year closer to unrestricted free agency.
The holdout could continue into the regular season, but Elliott would gain nothing by sitting out the year.
As such, the Cowboys are unlikely to cave in to Elliott's demands. So long as they can win a few early games, they should have Elliott on the field for the stretch run either way.
Denver Broncos: Drew Lock Isn't a Threat to Joe Flacco Yet
Early in the offseason, the Denver Broncos traded for veteran signal-caller Joe Flacco. During the draft, they then selected former Missouri quarterback Drew Lock in the second round.
However, it doesn't appear as though Lock has a chance of challenging for the starting job early this season.
Lock had made his NFL debut in the Hall of Fame Game and had an uneven outing. He went 7-of-11 but also took two sacks and produced only 34 passing yards.
The performance meshed with the inconsistency and the rookie mistakes Lock has shown in training camp.
"He's a rookie playing in a pro system that he didn't play in college and he's not ready yet," head coach Vic Fangio said, per Kyle Fredrickson of the Denver Post. "But that doesn't mean he won't be ready in two weeks from now, three weeks from now or four weeks from now. ... He's not there yet, but that's expected."
We've seen notable quarterbacks brought in only to lose the starting gig to rookies before. (Remember Mike Glennon?) However, that doesn't appear likely in Denver's case.
The offense will belong to Flacco as long as he stays healthy and the Broncos remain in playoff contention.
Detroit Lions: T.J. Hockenson Is Going to Be an Offensive Asset
When the Detroit Lions used the eighth overall pick on former Iowa tight end T.J. Hockenson, it was easy to assume he would be a big part of the passing attack in 2019. However, no rookie is a sure thing.
We're now beginning to learn how valuable Hockenson could be in his first year.
"The chemistry, by now, is obvious between Detroit Lions rookie tight end T.J. Hockenson and quarterback Matthew Stafford," Monarrez wrote. "Hockenson rarely has dropped a ball that Stafford has thrown his way in a training camp."
Hockenson is shaping up to be a legitimate go-to target for Stafford and one of Detroit's biggest assets right out of the gate.
Green Bay Packers: The Revamped Offense Could Be a Work in Progress
The Green Bay Packers hired Matt LaFleur as their new head coach this offseason, hoping he could bring in the kind of offensive innovation the team has recently lacked. Ideally, LaFleur's offense would allow quarterback Aaron Rodgers to thrive in ways he couldn't under former head coach Mike McCarthy.
While LaFleur may be the right man to spark an offensive boom in Green Bay, it may take some time for things to get rolling. The results have been mixed during training camp, and they were downright disastrous in joint practices with the Houston Texans.
"I think it's going to be a work in progress," LaFleur said of the offense, per Jason Wilde of the Wisconsin State Journal. "... It's just in and out of the huddle, approaching the line of scrimmage. I want us to operate faster. I mean, I think once the ball is snapped, I think you do see good effort. It's all that pre-snap stuff."
The pre-snap stuff—the play calls, the audibles, the defensive recognition—is what LaFleur is supposed to be improving. Everyone knows Rodgers is a special player once the ball is in his hands.
Installing a new offense takes time, so a slow start is no reason for concern. However, Packers fans expecting to see the reincarnation of the "Greatest Show on Turf" Rams in Week 1 may have to exercise patience.
Houston Texans: Wideout Will Fuller Is Ready for an Impactful Return
The Houston Texans lost No. 2 wideout Will Fuller to a torn ACL midway through the 2018 season. While they did go on to make the playoffs, the passing attack wasn't as balanced or as explosive without Fuller.
Completely shutting down No. 1 receiver DeAndre Hopkins is nigh impossible, but defenses had a harder time when Fuller was streaking down the field opposite him.
The good news is that Fuller has appeared fully healthy in camp and has been working on his chemistry with third-year quarterback Deshaun Watson.
"We're pacing ourselves, Watson said, per Chris Nalls of Texans Wire. "It's only been nine or 10 months out of rehab, so I know that process of getting back in the groove and feeling yourself. Especially with him running full speed, stopping on a break, but also, we're getting on the same page just like me and [Hopkins]."
Fuller's pending return is huge for the Texans, who lacked a legitimate No. 2 receiver down the stretch last season. It could make Hopkins—already perhaps the game's most uncoverable receiver—even more dangerous in 2019.
Indianapolis Colts: Injuries Are Holding Back Offensive Growth
Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck didn't play in the team's preseason opener on Thursday night. That isn't a big deal.
What is a problem, however, is that Luck's calf injury could keep him out of the regular-season opener.
"At times, I do worry about it. It can be frustrating," Luck told NBC Sports' Peter King. "The arc of an injury, whether it's a big surgical one or something you're rehabbing through. But no, because I've improved. Maybe I'm not improving as fast as I want and missing things is no fun. It eats at you."
Luck still has a month to heal before the start of the regular season, but not having him on the field has hurt the Colts' offensive growth during training camp. Jacoby Brissett has done a fine job of filling in, but receivers don't need to build chemistry with the backup as much as they do the guy who (hopefully) will be taking snaps for 16 meaningful weeks.
Indianapolis has also been without rookie wideout Parris Campbell, which has further stunted offensive progress.
"Campbell opened training camp with a bang, at times dominating one-on-one drills against defensive backs," Stephen Holder of The Athletic wrote. "But he's been out for more than a week with a hamstring strain. Though there's more than a month remaining before the season opener, this is more than a small setback."
With Luck and Campbell out, the offense has been missing two vital pieces. It's nearly impossible to believe it will be completely in rhythm come Week 1.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Leonard Fournette Is Ready to Bounce Back
The Jacksonville Jaguars used the fourth overall pick in 2017 on former LSU running back Leonard Fournette. While Fournette had a strong rookie season with 1,342 combined rushing and receiving yards and 10 touchdowns, he was a major disappointment this past year.
Fournette is not expecting to simply coast into a bounce-back season.
"I came back in better shape, and my mind was good without distractions," Fournette said, per John Reid of the Florida Times-Union. "I had to change my mindset coming into camp, trying to grasp everything and push my body. I also pushed my brain in thinking more."
Fournette has worked to get into better physical shape, and he's aiming to become a bigger piece of the passing game as well.
"Every single day, he's catching balls in practice," quarterback Nick Foles said, per Reid.
Foles, who is coming off back-to-back playoff runs, is expected to spark an improved passing game in Jacksonville. If Fournette can become the kind of special back the Jaguars envisioned, this offense could be quietly formidable.
Kansas City Chiefs: Steve Spagnuolo Is Taking Ownership of the Defense
After falling just short of the Super Bowl in 2018, the Kansas City Chiefs made a dramatic change this offseason, replacing former defensive coordinator Bob Sutton with Steve Spagnuolo.
It's too early to tell if Spagnuolo will turn things around defensively, but he can't make them much worse. Kansas City ranked 31st in total defense last season, allowing an average of 405.5 yards per game.
It isn't too early to tell, though, that Spagnuolo is making this his defense.
The Chiefs are switching from a 3-4 base defense to a 4-3, but the change is about more than scheme. Spagnuolo has brought a new attitude to the defense, is taking ownership of the unit and has handed out plenty of one-on-one instruction.
"Spagnuolo is nothing if not thorough," Craig Stout of Arrowhead Pride tweeted. "Working on pattern matching from various route distributions, Spags spends a lot of time pre-snap, explaining to each player exactly how to move with motion/release."
Will the Chiefs defense be better in 2019? Maybe.
Will it have a markedly different vibe? Almost certainly.
Los Angeles Chargers: Jerry Tillery Is Making Progress
When the Los Angeles Chargers used their first-round pick on former Notre Dame defensive tackle Jerry Tillery, it was fair to wonder just how quickly the rookie would make an impact. He underwent shoulder surgery in March and has spent most of the offseason recovering.
The Chargers held Tillery out of their preseason opener against the Cardinals.
The good news is that Tillery recently joined the Chargers for team drills and appears on his way to being ready for the regular season.
"Jerry's a smart player, and he's picking up things really, really quick," fellow defensive tackle Justin Jones said, via Chris Hayre of the team's official website.
Tillery, who had 10.5 tackles for loss and 8.0 sacks last season, may not be ready to start as a rookie. However, he should make an early impact as a situational interior rusher.
Los Angeles Rams: Dante Fowler Is Primed for a Breakout Year
The Los Angeles Rams traded for 2015 No. 3 overall pick Dante Fowler Jr. midway through the 2018 season. While Fowler only had sporadic flashes of production, the Rams liked what they saw enough to ink him to a new one-year, $12 million deal this offseason.
Based on training camp, the Rams made the right call in retaining Fowler.
According to Myles Simmons of the Rams' official website, Fowler has been a training camp star:
"Running back Todd Gurley made headlines last week when he told NFL Network that outside linebacker Dante Fowler has 'been a new animal. He’s been getting to the ball as fast as Aaron Donald, so that tells you a lot about him.'
"Some found that hard to believe, but at least to my eyes, Gurley wasn’t lying. Throughout the course of the camp practices, Fowler showed speed and burst to get into the backfield—particularly against the run."
While Fowler is primarily an edge-rusher, his ability to close on running backs shouldn't be overlooked. Last season, run defense was one of the few weaknesses for Los Angeles, which allowed 122.3 yards rushing per game.
This could be the year in which Fowler lives up to the expectations of being a top-three draft pick.
Miami Dolphins: Rosen May Just Be Able to Win the Starting Job After All
The Miami Dolphins named journeyman Ryan Fitzpatrick as the starter for their preseason opener Thursday night. That wasn't a huge surprise, as Fitzpatrick has more experience than newcomer Josh Rosen and entered training camp ahead in the competition.
However, Rosen—the 2018 first-round pick who the Dolphins acquired during this year's draft—has been gaining ground throughout camp.
"Ever since coach Brian Flores named Fitzpatrick, the 15-year veteran, the competition's front-runner, the gap has narrowed," Adam H. Beasley of the Miami Herald wrote. "Rosen has either been better or played Fitzpatrick to a draw in every practice since. ... Fitzpatrick, meanwhile, has regressed to the mean. He's still a pro's pro, but his limitations are well-established."
This competition will likely run throughout the preseason, but if it remains close, Rosen should get the nod for Week 1.
The Dolphins owe it to themselves to find out if Rosen can be their quarterback of the future. They already know that the 36-year-old Fitzpatrick won't.
Minnesota Vikings: Laquon Treadwell Could Be On the Way Out
The Minnesota Vikings used the 23rd overall pick in the 2016 draft on former Mississippi receiver Laquon Treadwell.
Through three seasons, he has given Minnesota little in return.
Treadwell has only 56 career receptions, 517 yards and one touchdown, far short of the production expected from a first-round pick.
Treadwell has not been a significant piece of the offense during this year's training camp, which could portend a looming departure.
According to Chris Tomasson of the Pioneer Press, Treadwell "will be in a fight just to make the team." He is listed as a No. 3 receiver but is "at best" the No. 5 receiver on the depth chart, per Tomasson.
While most of his 2019 salary is guaranteed, Minnesota could be inclined to release or trade Treadwell before Week 1 to open up a valuable roster spot.
New England Patriots: Stidham Might Be the Patriots' QB of the Future
The New England Patriots aren't quite ready to turn the page on quarterback Tom Brady. He's coming off another Super Bowl win and has shown few signs of slowing down.
At some point, however, the 42-year-old is going to retire, and the Patriots will have to find a new franchise signal-caller.
Could that quarterback of the future be rookie fourth-round pick Jarrett Stidham? It's still far too early to say, but the former Auburn QB has flashed potential during training camp.
"Perhaps no one has shown more growth than Stidham," Andrew Callahan of MassLive wrote.
Stidham hasn't just been impressing media members, either. Teammates like wide receiver Phillip Dorsett have taken notice.
"I like Jarrett. It's the National Football League, and he's young," Dorsett said. "Coming in here is tough. A lot of stuff gets thrown at you really fast and changes on the move, so you have to be able to adjust. He's doing all right."
Stidham was solid in his preseason debut, going 14-of-24 for 179 yards and a touchdown, leading three scoring drives overall.
It's only preseason and camp so far—and we've seen promise from Brady's understudies before—so caution needs to be attached to the optimism. However, Stidham's growth could play a factor in the future for the Patriots.
New Orleans Saints: Rookie McCoy Running Away with the Center Job
The New Orleans Saints found themselves having to replace a three-time Pro Bowler at center this offseason when Max Unger decided to retire. They spent a second-round pick on former Texas A&M center Erik McCoy in this year's draft and put him into a battle with Cameron Tom and Nick Easton entering camp.
At this point, that battle appears to be all but over. McCoy is looking like a quality draft selection and the Saints' starting center for the foreseeable future.
"The last time McCoy did not trot out with the starting unit was Monday, July 29, when Nick Easton got the nod," Herbie Teope of NOLA.com wrote. "...The Saints used a second-round pick on McCoy for a reason, and it sure looks like he’s well on his way to be named as Max Unger’s replacement."
McCoy has a long way to go before he's considered to be on Unger's level. But if he continues to build on his impressive training camp, New Orleans will have one less position to worry about during the regular season.
New York Giants: Rookies Are Primed to Improve the Giants Defense
Quarterback Daniel Jones was the highlight of the New York Giants draft class this year because of the position he plays and the expectation that he'll eventually replace Eli Manning. However, the Giants' next five draft selections were all defensive players.
Three of those rookies—defensive lineman Dexter Lawrence, edge-rusher Oshane Ximines and defensive back Julian Love—have been stars in training camp.
Lawrence is a rare athletic talent, as fellow defensive lineman Dalvin Tomlinson recently stated. "I've never seen anybody near as big move that well," he said, per John Fennelly of Giants Wire.
Love and Ximines have been impressing with their versatility and their pro-ready skill sets.
"Love has looked like a natural no matter where the Giants put him," Forbes' Patricia Traina wrote. "... Ximines meanwhile continues to show off a polished set of pass-rushing skills despite coming from a smaller program at Old Dominion."
Love had three total tackles and a batted pass in his preseason debut. Jones was also impressive—he went 5-of-5 for 67 yards and a touchdown—but he's the future, not the present, for New York.
Jones may not make an immediate impact for the Giants, but their other rookies seem ready to go.
New York Jets: Sam Darnold Is Improving as a Passer
New York Jets quarterback Sam Darnold had an up-and-down rookie season in 2018, but his ability was never in question. While he did struggle with pocket awareness and decision-making at times, Darnold's mobility, accuracy and arm strength were on display early and often.
He has been even better throwing the ball during training camp.
"Darnold's ball has more zip, his spiral tighter, able to fit passes into narrow windows without the receiver creating much separation," Zach Braziller of the New York Post wrote.
He has used his improved arm strength to impress teammates and coaches throughout camp.
"Some of those throws he makes, he can't step into it, the pocket's collapsing and he can throw it 40 yards down the field," head coach Adam Gase said. "You don't see a lot of guys being able to do that."
Darnold was impressive in his preseason debut against the Giants, going 4-of-5 for 68 yards and a touchdown.
If he can add some polish to his game and cut down on mental mistakes, the offense will be a rising unit, and the Jets might even become a dark-horse playoff team.
Oakland Raiders: Hunter Renfrow Ready to Be a Starter
Prized acquisition Antonio Brown hasn't spent much time in Oakland Raiders camp as he continues to recover from frostbitten feet. However, the Raiders have seen a lot of fellow wideout and rookie fifth-round pick Hunter Renfrow.
Based on his performance in training camp, Renfrow might be one of the steals of the 2019 draft.
"The guy just gets open," Scott Bair of NBC Sports Bay Area tweeted. "Clemson product has shown an ability to create quick separation early in this camp, as he did so long for the Tigers."
Renfrow, who will likely man the slot for Oakland, was listed as one of three starting wideouts on the Raiders' first depth chart of the preseason. Brown and fellow free-agent addition Tyrell Williams were the other two.
Ideally, Brown will be recovered enough to play in Week 1, but he is not the only new face ready to boost Oakland's passing attack this season.
Philadelphia Eagles: Miles Sanders Could Be Special
Running back was supposed to be one of the most intriguing positions for the Philadelphia Eagles this offseason. The offense doesn't have a clearly established starter, but it does have several quality options—including Corey Clement, Wendell Smallwood, Darren Sproles, offseason acquisition Jordan Howard and rookie second-round pick Miles Sanders.
If training camp is an accurate indication, Sanders may already be running away with the starting job.
"With Miles Sanders, I want to see it in the preseason first, but he's making it really hard not to expect he'll be the Eagles No. 1 RB at some point this season," Zack Rosenblatt of NJ Advance Media tweeted. "Probably soon. Maybe very soon. He just looks different than the rest of the group."
Could Sanders be in store for a special rookie season? He had one with Penn State last year after taking over for 2018 No. 2 overall pick Saquon Barkley. He amassed 1,274 yards rushing, 139 yards receiving and nine touchdowns while averaging an impressive 5.8 yards per carry.
It's hard to imagine Sanders will have a rookie season like Barkley had, especially as a receiver. However, he can be the kind of special runner the Eagles need to field one of the league's best and most balanced offenses in 2019.
Pittsburgh Steelers: This Team Is Enjoying Being Out of the Spotlight
This time last offseason, the Pittsburgh Steelers were one of the most intriguing teams in the NFL. They were dealing with Le'Veon Bell's holdout, and media attention galore surrounded the situation. Now, Bell is gone—so is star receiver Antonio Brown—and the Steelers pale in comparison to the Browns and the Ravens in terms of preseason hype.
One could be forgiven for overlooking the fact that Pittsburgh was just one victory away from winning the AFC North last season.
Teams won't be forgiven for overlooking the Steelers this season. They still have Ben Roethlisberger at quarterback and a plethora of talent around him. This is a tremendous football team, and it seems to enjoy the lack of drama and media attention.
"We're under the radar, no one's picking us to do anything, and we're just going to come out and play football," Roethlisberger told Albert Breer of The MMQB. "That's what it's about for us, coming out here and being part of it, being here for each other, and playing and trying to be the best."
The Ravens face the pressure of being defending AFC North champions, and the Browns must deal with high expectations. The Steelers, by comparison, are loose and focused solely on the business of football—which could make them extremely dangerous in 2019.
San Francisco 49ers: Nick Bosa Is Ready to Make an Impact
Getting to the quarterback was a bit of a struggle for the San Francisco 49ers last season. They produced just 37 sacks, tied for eighth-fewest in the NFL. This is why San Francisco used the second overall pick in the draft on edge-rusher Nick Bosa.
The question is whether Bosa will have an immediate impact on San Francisco's pass rush in 2019. Based on early camp reports, he will.
"Take this for what it's worth: After one week of training camp, Nick Bosa is far ahead of where Aldon Smith was as a rookie," Matt Maiocco of NBC Sports Bay Area tweeted. "That probably should not be a surprise, considering Bosa's reputation for being so advanced technically with his hands, lower-body strength and balance."
Smith had 14.0 sacks as a rookie and 33.5 sacks in his first two seasons. While there's no guarantee Bosa will have this much impact, he does appear ready to be a defensive factor for the 49ers this season. The question, of course, is when.
Bosa recently suffered a high ankle sprain and won't play this preseason. Like his older brother, Bosa may miss time at the start of his rookie campaign. That said, Joey Bosa missed the first month of his rookie season with a hamstring injury and still produced 10.5 sacks—a fair bar for Nick, even with the ankle issue considered.
Seattle Seahawks: The Seahawks Pass-Rush Is Going to Be Different
The Seattle Seahawks dealt pass-rusher Frank Clark to the Chiefs for a package that included a 2019 first-round pick. They used that selection on former TCU defensive end L.J. Collier and added Ziggy Ansah in free agency to help replace Clark.
Replacing Clark on a one-for-one basis won't be easy—he racked up 13.0 sacks last season and 22.0 over the past two years. However, the Seahawks have a plan to make up his production with a rotation of edge-rushing defensive ends. They have Collier, Ansah, offseason addition Cassius Marsh and Barkevious Mingo, who is moving from linebacker to end.
"I'm enjoying it a lot," Mingo said, via the team's official website. "I get to go back to what I did in college. That's kind of what got me here in the NFL. Being able to do this again, I'm enjoying the opportunity."
With Clark gone and defensive lineman Jarran Reed set to serve a six-game suspension for a violation of the league's personal conduct policy, the pass rush will look a lot different than it did last season. Seattle is hoping that different doesn't mean less effective.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Running Backs Likely to Be More Involved in Passing Game
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers did utilize their running backs in the passing game last season—Peyton Barber and Jacquizz Rodgers combined for 58 receptions. However, new head coach Bruce Arians is placing even more emphasis on checkdown throws to the running backs in camp.
The reason? To help supplement a running game that averaged just 95.2 yards per game last season and to help quarterback Jameis Winston cut down on mistakes.
Winston has tried too often to force the ball downfield during his pro career, leading to 58 interceptions and 18 lost fumbles in four seasons. A more cautious approach could be the key to unlocking the quarterback's potential.
"It's challenging at times because in terms of just wanting to make a play," Winston said, per Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times. "But that's part of growth at the quarterback position and part of the awareness of knowing when the defense did a great job. How can we protect us?"
Ideally, both Barber and second-year back Ronald Jones will be more involved in the passing game this season. Not only will this help the Buccaneers move the ball more consistently, but it should also allow Winston to cut down on the turnovers that have largely defined his time in Tampa.
Tennessee Titans: The Titans Should Expect Big Things from Cameron Wake
Cameron Wake may be 37 years old, but he still has a lot to offer as a pass-rusher. The Tennessee Titans hoped as much when they signed him this offseason.
Wake, who had six sacks in 2018, signed a three-year, $23 million deal with Tennessee in free agency. Based on his performance in training camp, the Titans may be inclined to keep him around for the length of that contract. At the very least, they're likely to get more than an over-the-hill situational pass-rusher.
Tennessee listed Wake as a starting outside linebacker on its first depth chart of the preseason, and it appears he's ready to fill that role throughout 2019.
"It seems pretty clear that Titans linebacker Cameron Wake, age 37, still has some gas in the tank," Luke Worsham of A to Z Sports Nashville wrote. "He has consistently caught the eye of reporters during training camp, both for his on-field feats and his remarkable physique."
Wake was not one of the biggest names to move in free agency, but he could prove to be one of the most valuable additions beginning in September.
Washington Redskins: The Redskins Are Not Going to Rush Haskins into Action
While the Cardinals are full speed ahead with Kyler Murray, the Washington Redskins are likely to take a more patient approach with rookie signal-caller Dwayne Haskins. The former Ohio State star is picking up Jay Gruden's offense, but Washington is not forcing him to learn ahead of schedule.
"He came back from the break with an increased familiarity with the scheme and what we're trying to accomplish with concepts we're calling in the passing game; it has come a little more natural to him," Gruden said, per Jim Trotter of NFL.com. "But it's still a process."
Haskins has been splitting time with Colt McCoy and offseason acquisition Case Keenum in camp. McCoy, now in his sixth Redskins season, was listed as the starter on the team's first unofficial depth chart. Haskins was No. 3. It was Keenum who started Thursday night, though.
If Haskins proves to be the best option after the preseason, then Washington may go ahead and install him as the starter. However, the Redskins are not going to rush him into that role.
*All contract information via Spotrac.