NFL Training Camp Buzz: New-Look Pats Won't Revolutionize Offense for Cam
NFL training camps will start getting into a rhythm after Thursday's 4 p.m. ET opt-out deadline, with 69 players deciding not to play this fall.
But it will take a while before teams are really ready to practice. An acclimation period will ensue once individuals are cleared and ready to contribute, and coaches understand they can't hit the ground running.
As Detroit Lions head coach Matt Patricia told reporters, he plans to slowly ramp up activities in an attempt to limit soft-tissue injuries.
Roster depth should play a crucial part to a team's success this season considering the extenuating circumstances amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Coaches must strike a balance between going hard to prepare their teams while pulling back at times so players aren't taking any unnecessary risks.
Even so, a drawn-out acclimation process doesn't slow down the news cycle. First impressions, upcoming camp battles and changes within certain organizations are at the forefront of the league's latest happenings.
New England Patriots 'Not Changing,' Will Adapt Previous Offensive Scheme
The New England Patriots expect to have a competition at quarterback while employing a similar system to the one they ran with Tom Brady under center.
"The opportunity to work against one another and compete with one another, and on the same token be teammates, makes everybody better," new quarterbacks coach Jedd Fisch told reporters. "And I think the more competition we have, the more reps we have, the more we let guys duel it out, I think will make all of them better."
C'mon, Cam Newton will be the starter, right?
Jarrett Stidham may be well-liked within the organization, but he's an inexperienced fourth-round draft pick who is going into his second season and competing with the 2015 NFL MVP.
Newton's health is the only real question after shoulder and foot injuries prematurely ended his last two seasons.
"I feel amazing. I feel great," the 31-year-old signal-caller told reporters.
A healthy Newton would bring a different dynamic to the offense because of his ability to create with his legs, though offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said the coaching staff is "not changing the system. It's adapting."
The scheme doesn't need to change. But it can be expanded because Newton's athleticism opens up more possibilities, such as run-pass options, extra pocket movement, zone-reads, etc.
"It's certainly not something I'm accustomed to using a great deal", McDaniels said. "You use whatever the strengths of your players are on the field to the best of your ability."
Whatever the Patriots say publicly, it seems as though Newton will eventually start in a scheme catered to his dual-threat capabilities.
'Major Changes' Coming to Los Angeles Chargers Offense
Meanwhile 3,000 miles away from Foxborough, Massachusetts, and the Patriot Way, another AFC franchise, the Los Angeles Chargers, plans to make dramatic changes to its offensive scheme after moving on from longtime starter Philip Rivers.
Whether Tyrod Taylor or this year's sixth overall draft pick, Justin Herbert, takes the reins, the Chargers will go from having an immobile pocket passer to highly athletic options.
According to The Athletic's Daniel Popper, Taylor said that "major changes" are coming to the Chargers' offensive scheme, with an emphasis on "changing the launch point" and "moving the pocket." He added the system will be "very similar" to the one he ran with the Buffalo Bills under the direction of then-offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn.
During the 2015 and '16 seasons, Taylor rushed for a combined 1,148 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Herbert isn't the same type of runner as the nine-year veteran, but he's a capable threat. The Oregon Ducks utilized some designed quarterback runs, and the long-strider ran a 4.68-second 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine.
Of course, anyone is better than Rivers, who provided little to nothing when it came to designed runs or working outside of structure.
The implementation of the reworked scheme should be interesting based on how Lynn and offensive coordinator Shane Steichen could marry the ground game to Los Angeles' passing attack. Taylor and Herbert will almost certainly be asked to make fewer full-field reads compared to Rivers.
Instead, the new duo can attack opposing defenses by making opponents account for all 11 players on the field.
Rookie QB Joe Burrow Brings 'Swagger' to Cincinnati Bengals
Cincinnati Bengals veterans are already impressed by Joe Burrow and how he's handling the pressure of being a franchise savior.
Being a rookie, the top overall pick and the immediate face of a franchise don't always coalesce. Even those who are best-prepared will suffer through down periods as they learn and gain valuable experience.
This doesn't appear to be a concern in Cincinnati, as veteran tight end C.J. Uzomah told Geoff Hobson of the Bengals' official site:
"I think he knows his stuff. He's making the appropriate reads and checks. He's going to be one of the boys for sure. He has a certain confidence in himself, and you can tell he has the confidence in us to do what we need to do. I like him so far. I like what he brings to the table. That poise that he has. The moxie that he has is nice."
Joe Burrow turns 24 years old later this year, and his level of maturity is arguably further along than most after five years in two different pipeline programs. Everything came together for him last season at LSU when he performed in an NFL-influenced scheme that played to his strengths. His new targets are now seeing what the reigning Heisman Trophy winner is capable of.
"He can definitely spin it," wide receiver Alex Erickson said. "Arm talent? That stuff? Not going to be an issue."
Physical traits only go so far. Yes, the Bengals need the right triggerman to take advantage of the team's numerous offensive weapons, but they also need someone to lead the way at the game's most important position.
Said safety Vonn Bell, who was Burrow's teammate at Ohio State:
"[Burrow] is more mature now. He was picking on some good brains [in former LSU passing-game coordinator and current Carolina Panthers offensive coordinator Joe Brady]. It's helped him, his progression and the speed of the game slowed down. His time table in his head… he can progress the field way better. He's got even more swagger to him, and I love it."
Baltimore Ravens Plan to Keep 3 Quarterbacks on Active Roster
Depth will be more important than ever this season because of the pandemic.
The Baltimore Ravens already have a plan in place: They expect to keep three quarterbacks on the active roster.
"We've had three guys that we like, and we didn't necessarily think the guys we had would make it to the practice squad—in last year's case, Trace [McSorley]," head coach John Harbaugh told reporters. "So that's what we did last year. This year, I would say that's the plan. And we'll just have to see how it shakes out."
Obviously, Lamar Jackson is the NFL's reigning MVP and one of the league's best young players. Robert Griffin III is an experienced backup who fits the system well. McSorley, whom the organization acquired in the sixth round of the 2019 draft, could be the odd man out depending on how the roster takes shape.
He could add more than depth at quarterback, though. He's an outstanding athlete with the potential to contribute as part of sub-packages or special teams.
"I want to show coaches that I can help the team on the field this year," he said, per PennLive.com's Aaron Kasinitz. "Last year, being inactive all year—this season, I want to be able to get on the field somehow and help the team, help the team win. That's the biggest thing."
Vic Beasley Jr. Finally Reports to Tennessee Titans
Vic Beasley Jr. reported to the Tennessee Titans on Friday after being an unexcused absence since the start of training camp July 28, per ESPN's Turron Davenport.
The 10-day absence cost Beasley—who signed a one-year, $9.5 million contract in free agency this offseason—$500,000 in fines as mandated by the league's new collective bargaining agreement, according to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport.
With the 28-year-old edge-rusher now in the fold, the team can start his acclimation period and eventually get him in the lineup opposite Harold Landry III.
The coaching staff has already been working overtime to get the 2015 eighth overall pick up to speed and ready to take over as a starting outside linebacker.
"Honestly, we've probably met with him a lot more one-on-one than in a group setting even, just because all the other guys have been here," outside linebackers coach Shane Bowen said, per Davenport. "So we're kind of trying to kind of add and expand from 100-level learning to 200-level learning, so to speak."
Tennessee doesn't feature much depth among its edge defenders, and Beasley is expected to play a vital part as a complementary piece. While opposing offenses will likely concentrate on slowing down Landry, the team's sack leader from a year ago, Beasley will be placed in numerous one-on-one opportunities. His consistency, or lack thereof, will help determine how effective the Titans pass rush is this fall.
Carolina Panthers Left Tackle Russell Okung Contemplates Retirement
The Carolina Panthers acquired left tackle Russell Okung in a surprising trade with the Chargers—which included sending five-time Pro Bowl guard Trai Turner to the West Coast squad—in order to provide a veteran presence on a young and transitioning roster under new head coach Matt Rhule.
"He's someone that you really want in your team room because the younger guys listen to him," Panthers offensive line coach Pat Meyer, who previously served as Okung's position coach with Chargers, told reporters after the trade was finalized. "He is a leader by example by taking guys aside and talking to them and working on their game. It hits home when it's coming from a Pro Bowler like that.
"But the 10-year veteran may not be available once the 2020 campaign begins. He is contemplating retirement because of concerns regarding the COVID-19 pandemic, according to ESPN's Jeremy Fowler.
In June 2019, Okung was diagnosed with a pulmonary embolism due to a blood clot and missed 10 games last year as a result.
"After experiencing unusual chest pains at practice, on June 1st I went to urgent care out of an abundance of caution," the lineman said of the situation. "According to the doctors who treated me, the decision to do so likely saved my life."
If Okung chooses to walk away from the game, nobody could blame him.
"He hasn't decided anything," Okung's agent, J.I. Halsell, told ESPN's Josina Anderson. "He's keeping his options open as we get further into camp and hopefully a season."
The 32-year-old has had a successful career that includes two Pro Bowl nods and a Super Bowl XLVIII victory.
The Panthers, meanwhile, would be forced to regroup. If the veteran blocker does retire, last year's second-round draft pick, Greg Little, will likely take over blindside duties, though Carolina's staff considered moving him to guard this year, per WFNZ's Kyle Bailey.
DE Vinny Curry Re-Signs with Philadelphia Eagles
Vinny Curry chose to stay where he's comfortable (and effective). According to NFL Network's Mike Garafolo and Ian Rapoport, Curry agreed to re-sign with the Philadelphia Eagles on Friday.
Two years ago, the defensive end left Philadelphia and signed a three-year, $23 million contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He lasted one season in Tampa before being released and returning to Philadelphia.
Curry faced a similar situation this offseason.
According to Inside the Birds' Geoff Mosher, the Cleveland Browns "made a more competitive financial bid," but Curry preferred to re-sign with his previous team.
The 32-year-old pass-rusher will likely serve as the Eagles' third defensive end behind Brandon Graham and Derek Barnett. Last season, the backup tied for fifth among quality edge-rushers with a 16.8 percent pressure rate, per Pro Football Focus' Ben Linsey.
The Browns, meanwhile, are still looking for a fourth defensive end to play behind Olivier Vernon, who agreed to a one-year, $11 million contract restructure this offseason. Jabaal Sheard, Ziggy Ansah and Cameron Wake are veteran options who could sign on low-level deals and serve as upgrades to the defensive line depth.
2nd-Round Rookie Robert Hunt Competing to Start at RT
The Miami Dolphins could have a pair of rookie offensive tackles starting this season. Hopefully, Ryan Fitzpatrick and/or Tua Tagovailoa survive the ordeal.
The Dolphins did invest heavily in their offensive front this offseason by signing Ereck Flowers and Ted Karras in free agency and then drafting USC's Austin Jackson and Louisiana-Lafayette's Robert Hunt in the first and second rounds, respectively.
As the 18th overall pick, Jackson is expected to start at left tackle. Hunt's inclusion in the lineup isn't as certain, though the Dolphins appear to be intrigued by the 6'5", 323-pound blocker's potential.
According to the Miami Herald's Barry Jackson, Hunt will compete with veteran Jesse Davis for the right tackle spot. The possibility of the rookie emerging so early in his career is surprising on multiple levels.
First, Davis started 41 games over the last three campaigns, and he's in the first season of a three-year, $15 million contract extension. Second, the jump in competition from a lower-tier FBS program to the professional ranks isn't an easy transition. Finally, scouts looked at Hunt as a potential guard or tackle prospect. The Dolphins could eventually move him inside if he doesn't win the job.
Whatever the case, the idea of two rookies starting along an offensive line with the possibility of four new starters is both exciting and terrifying.