NFL Training Camp Buzz Roundup: Is Le'Veon Bell in for a Bounce-Back Season?August 5, 2020
NFL Training Camp Buzz Roundup: Is Le'Veon Bell in for a Bounce-Back Season?
They aren't exactly practicing yet, but all 32 NFL teams are at least now spending time on the field performing physical activities. That's a step up from last week as players participate in the acclimation period of this unprecedented training-camp season.
That might give us a little more to work with in terms of news, which in turn could give you a lot more to digest as you search for your daily football fix.
For now, though, a lot of the buzz continues to surround opt-outs as the deadline to do so looms Thursday. Here's the latest on those and everything else making headlines on the first hump day of August.
Le'Veon Bell Is Apparently Rejuvenated
According to Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News, New York Jets head coach Adam Gase did not want the team to sign running back Le'Veon Bell last offseason.
But management handed the former Pittsburgh Steelers superstar a four-year, $52.5 million contract anyway—a deal that failed to pay dividends when Bell averaged an AFC-worst 3.2 yards per carry during an abysmal season in which the Jets posted another losing record.
But Wednesday at camp, Gase sang Bell's praises.
According to Eric Allen of the team's official website, Gase told the media the 28-year-old is "extremely motivated" and in "phenomenal shape."
"He's been working extremely hard," said Gase, per Allen, "and he looks really good."
Does that mean Bell is in for a bounce-back season? Words from Gase might not be enough to convince those who saw him struggle after he received more than 400 touches in 2017 before sitting out the 2018 campaign because of a contract dispute. He's not young in running back terms, and he certainly burned some tread off his tires during a five-year run as a workhorse in Pittsburgh.
Still, an argument could be made that he reacclimatized to the game in 2019. It's not as though he received tremendous support from the offense, and he was banged up as well. Now, the offensive line has been revamped, and this praise from Gase comes on the heels of a report from Connor Hughes of The Athletic that Bell was training hard during the offseason.
From a fantasy perspective, that might be enough to make Bell a value add on draft night.
Tre'Davious White Could Opt Out
More than 50 NFL players have already opted out of the season, but none were All-Pros in 2019.
That could change if Buffalo Bills star cornerback Tre'Davious White decides he will sit out his age-25 season. According to Maddy Glab of the team's official website, the 2017 first-round pick remains undecided on whether he'll play.
His loss would be a tremendous blow to the Bills, who are favored at Caesars to win the AFC East following a playoff appearance in 2019. White tied for the league lead with six interceptions last year and was a star in coverage.
Per Pro Football Reference, he surrendered an opposing passer rating of just 45.0 while giving up zero touchdowns.
Without White, the Bills would need a rejuvenated season from veteran Josh Norman and continued progress from Levi Wallace and Taron Johnson. Beyond that, they'd have practically no depth at corner.
Bruce Arians: Ronald Jones II Is the "Main Guy" in Tampa Bay Backfield
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers recently signed popular veteran running back LeSean McCoy, surely causing many fantasy drafters to reconsider the mild hype surrounding third-year Bucs back Ronald Jones II.
But while Tampa Bay head coach Bruce Arians said McCoy will "find his niche easily," he also said Wednesday that Jones is the "main guy," according to Scott Smith of the team's official website.
We know quarterback Tom Brady loves to utilize his backs in the passing game, which likely means there'll be plenty of opportunities for McCoy and Dare Ogunbowale in and around the flats. The former flashed as a pass-catcher in his days as a Philadelphia Eagle, while the latter has worked with Brady this summer in a receiving role.
Jones quietly caught 31 passes last year, and he should be on track to receive the vast majority of early-down reps on the ground. The 2018 second-round pick has been a disappointment, but he just turned 23, and he averaged 7.3 yards per carry in his final two outings of 2019.
This backfield needs to be monitored closely in the coming weeks.
Bucs to Implement a Voluntary Bubble
Bruce Arians made more news Wednesday with word—via Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times—that the Bucs have secured a local hotel for players to sequester if they so choose.
Essentially, the Buccaneers are offering their players the opportunity to participate in a bubble.
Considering the successful early returns associated with the bubbles utilized by the NBA and NHL, as well as the troubling results surrounding the lack of a bubble in MLB, it's worth watching how many teams follow suit and offer this to their players and coaches.
That might depend on how many Bucs take up the team on its offer. Will players be willing to spend the season in a bubble? Details remain murky regarding contact with family and friends, and all it takes is one exposed player to potentially halt the entire season, so by no means is this plan foolproof. But at least teams—including the New Orleans Saints, as reported by NBC Sports' Peter King—appear to be considering alternatives to the status quo.
You can't be too prepared.
Marquise Brown Has Bulked Up...a Lot
Incredibly, according to ESPN's Jamison Hensley, Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Marquise Brown spent at least part of his 2019 rookie season weighing as little as 157 pounds. And even at his listed playing weight of 170 pounds, "Hollywood" was the second-lightest regular starter in the NFL.
It appears that will not be the case in 2020.
Per Hensley, Brown is up to 180 pounds. it could be a sign that the 23-year-old former Oklahoma star will be able to change his style of play to become more physical as a sophomore.
The question will be whether he can keep the weight on while maintaining his speed. But veteran teammate Willie Snead IV seems to be impressed.
According to Jonas Shaffer of the Baltimore Sun, Snead said Brown declared at the start of camp that he was "trying to block somebody," which is never a bad mentality when you're part of a run-first offense. Snead also noted it looked to be "solid" weight, per Shaffer.
"I can just tell by his build that he took that part seriously," Snead said, according to Sarah Ellison.
Brown caught 12 passes for 233 yards and two touchdowns in his first two games but suffered an ankle injury and faded down the stretch. Now, we'll see if some bulk helps the first-round pick remain productive.
Diontae Johnson Says He's "100 Percent" Healthy
On Tuesday, Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said his arm "feels really good," per Ed Bouchette of The Athletic. On Wednesday, one of Big Ben's top targets also gave himself a clean bill of health.
Second-year third-rounder Diontae Johnson, who put up 680 receiving yards and five touchdowns in an oft-futile offense in 2019, declared himself "100 percent" recovered from offseason sports hernia surgery, according to ESPN's Brooke Pryor.
Said injury didn't cost Johnson any games, but it's impressive that he produced with such an injury in his debut campaign. Now, the Toledo product could be in for a breakout season.
Of course, he'll still have to battle for targets with 2018 Pro Bowler JuJu Smith-Schuster, 2019 yardage leader James Washington and intriguing second-round rookie Chase Claypool.
Could the Patriots Move Joe Thuney to Right Tackle?
The latest blow in an offseason of blows for the New England Patriots came when a slew of Pats opted out of the 2020 campaign. One of the key players among that group was right tackle Marcus Cannon, who was a regular starter for the vast majority of the last four seasons in Foxborough.
Cannon isn't a superstar, but continuity will be key for offensive lines that will be forced to jell on the fly following limited camps and no preseason. That New England unit will already be adjusting to life without recently retired legendary offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia, and now they have a huge hole opposite the developing Isaiah Wynn at tackle.
One possible solution? The Pats could move standout guard Joe Thuney to that spot.
"Whatever can help the team," Thuney said Wednesday when asked about a potential position switch, according to Chris Mason of MassLive.com. "It doesn't matter where. Just trying to do what I can, use the tools I have to help the team in whatever's necessary."
Thuney has played some tackle, and he's got the talent to succeed regardless after surrendering just one sack and taking no penalties last season, according to Pro Football Focus. But his move would open up a new hole at guard, so the Patriots are destined for yet another big change either way.
Another Dolphins Receiver Opts Out
One day after veteran wide receiver Allen Hurns opted out of the Miami Dolphins' 2020 campaign, another vet wideout joined him.
Albert Wilson, who caught 43 passes last season in Miami and is three years removed from a 500-yard campaign with the Kansas City Chiefs, announced on Twitter on Wednesday that he'll also be stepping aside.
That'll put a lot of pressure on DeVante Parker and Preston Williams, both of whom experienced encouraging 2019 campaigns. And it doesn't help that Williams is still working his way back from a torn ACL.
Beyond that, the Dolphins lack depth. No other receiver on the roster scored a touchdown last year.
And we have yet another reason why the Dolphins would be smart to take it slow with rookie quarterback Tua Tagovailoa.
49ers Might Take a Flier on Dion Jordan
The San Francisco 49ers are not short on elite players up front on defense, but there's always room for talented edge defenders. And with Ronald Blair still recovering from a torn ACL and Anthony Zettel off the roster, San Francisco might give a former draft sensation one last shot at avoiding the bust label.
According to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport, the Niners are expected to sign 2013 No. 3 overall pick Dion Jordan to a contract that will certainly be of the prove-it variety.
After flaming out in Miami, Jordan bounced to the Seattle Seahawks and then the Raiders. He recorded a grand total of 7.5 sacks in three seasons with those organizations. There's no denying his talent, but he's a role player at best now and on the wrong side of 30.
That said, with Nick Bosa, Dee Ford and Arik Armstead already on the roster, San Francisco has little to lose.
Vic Beasley Jr. Still Absent in Tennessee
With the hope that he'd get his once-promising career back on track and spruce up their pass rush, the Tennessee Titans handed edge defender Vic Beasley Jr. a one-year, $9.5 million contract in March. But by all indications, despite the fact that camp has been rolling for well over a week, Beasley has yet to show his face.
Eight days after the team placed the 2015 top-10 pick on its reserve/did not report list, Titans head coach Mike Vrabel told the media Wednesday that Beasley still hadn't arrived, according to Jim Wyatt of the team's official website.
It's a strange absence for a player who just signed a rather lucrative prove-it deal, and time is running out for Beasley to opt out ahead of Thursday's 4 p.m. ET deadline. There's no indication that's his plan, but the entire situation is mysterious as the Titans creep toward the next phase of camp.
Thursday's developments (or lack thereof) should shed more light on Beasley's future in Tennessee.
Brad Gagnon has covered the NFL for Bleacher Report since 2012. Follow him on Twitter: @Brad_Gagnon.