Training-Camp Buzz Roundup: Dak Prescott Out 'a Couple Days' with Shoulder IssueJuly 29, 2021
Training-Camp Buzz Roundup: Dak Prescott Out 'a Couple Days' with Shoulder Issue
As training camps get underway, NFL teams can only hope to avoid having prominent players suffer injuries. That can derail a season weeks before it even begins.
Just a few days into camp in 2021, the injury bug has already started biting.
A starter along the New York Giants offensive line was carted off the practice field Thursday. The Arizona Cardinals' biggest offseason acquisition is sidelined with a hamstring issue. So is an oft-injured Miami Dolphins. And the Dallas Cowboys had to send their $40 million quarterback for an MRI on his throwing shoulder.
Here's a look at the latest regarding those injuries, position battles and the rest of Thursday's notable news from camps around the league.
Cowboys QB Dak Prescott Sidelined by Sore Shoulder
The Dallas Cowboys' 2020 season went up in flames when quarterback Dak Prescott suffered a season-ending ankle injury in Week 5. The 28-year-old's return has been easily the biggest story of the offseason in Big D.
Now, Dallas fans are yet again holding their breath after their star signal-caller left practice early Wednesday with soreness in his throwing shoulder. However, it appears that was more precautionary than precarious.
An MRI on Prescott's shoulder showed only a muscle strain, and he said there's nothing to be overly worried about, per the team's website.
"I felt some soreness when making certain throws today, and I really just decided not to push things too far," Prescott said. "Better to be cautious and smart about it. I don't see this as any kind of serious setback. We'll treat it on a daily basis, and I'll be fine."
Head coach Mike McCarthy said Prescott should be back to throwing soon, per Jon Machota of The Athletic.
"I don't know if you put him in a limited category," he said. "He'll do all the run game stuff, all the footwork stuff. But we've just gotta shut him down from throwing for a couple days."
Given how Prescott's 2020 campaign ended and the four-year, $160 million contract he signed in the offseason, the unease level in Dallas understandably might be at "hand me the Pepto" level until he's back on the field.
More Drama in New Orleans
The New Orleans Saints have endured an eventful offseason.
The retirement of future Hall of Fame quarterback Drew Brees was bad enough. But now, whomever takes over for Brees under center will be without the services of top wideout Michael Thomas indefinitely.
After an ankle injury limited him to only seven games last season, Thomas waited until June to undergo surgery on it. And head coach Sean Payton is none too happy about that, per ESPN's Mike Triplett.
"Well, look, it appears we're gonna have to spend some time without him. It's disappointing," Payton said Wednesday evening. "And we'll work through it with the other players that are here. But the surgery took place, and obviously we would've liked that to happen earlier than later. And quite honestly, it should've."
This isn't the first time that Thomas has drawn the ire of Payton. The 28-year-old was suspended for a game last year after punching a teammate.
Replacing the irreplaceable Brees was a big enough problem for the Saints. Now they have to do so with a wideout corps headlined by Marquez Callaway and Tre'Quan Smith, at least early in the season.
Alvin Kamara is about to have a busy September.
Cardinals DE J.J. Watt (Hamstring) Lands on PUP List
Defensive end J.J. Watt was the centerpiece of the Arizona Cardinals' free-agent acquisitions. And with edge-rusher Chandler Jones reportedly unhappy and seeking a trade, Watt will be even more important for their postseason aspirations.
However, his Arizona tenure isn't off to the best start. Watt landed on the physically unable to perform list Wednesday after experiencing soreness in his hamstring during a conditioning test earlier in the week, according to ESPN's Josh Weinfuss.
The three-time Defensive Player of the Year said he's focused on being ready by Week 1:
"We're gonna take it very slow and be very smart about it. I mean, it's a hamstring, obviously, so you want to be very smart. Take your time. Being in the league 10 years and the biggest thing that I know is that it's all about Week 1, so it's all about being ready for Sept. 12 and just making sure that we're taking a smart, smooth approach to that day."
By the season opener, Watt may well be ready to chase Tennessee Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill around Nissan Stadium. But the 32-year-old has missed at least eight games in three of the past five seasons, so any injury is cause for a not-insubstantial level of concern.
Dolphins WR William Fuller V Sidelined with Undisclosed Injury
When healthy, Miami Dolphins wide receiver William Fuller V is one of the NFL's most dangerous vertical threats. However, the 27-year-old has rarely been able to stay healthy.
Those durability issues appear to have followed him to South Beach.
After exiting practice on the first day of training camp with an undisclosed injury, Fuller hasn't been back on the field since, per Kevin Nogle of The Phinsider. Head coach Brian Flores channeled his mentor Bill Belichick when asked about Fuller's status, stating that he was "dealing with something."
It's still far too early to hit the panic button with Fuller, especially since he must sit out Week 1 as he finishes up a six-game suspension from last season. But he has missed at least two games in all five of his professional seasons, including at least five games in each of the past four years.
With fellow wide receivers DeVante Parker and Preston Williams both also on the PUP list the outset of training camp, quarterback Tua Tagovailoa's second season isn't off to an ideal start.
A New and Improved Joe Burrow
Just seeing quarterback Joe Burrow back on the practice field is a welcome sights for the Cincinnati Bengals. The first overall pick in the 2020 draft showed promising flashes as a rookie before he suffered a season-ending ACL tear against the Washington Football Team in Week 11.
Not only is Burrow back, but he told reporters at Bengals camp that he plans to be better than ever.
"I've improved my entire game right now," he said. "I'm excited to show all my improvements—deep ball, intermediate, protections, everything. I'm just a much better all-around player."
Burrow certainly isn't hurting for weapons in the passing game, especially after the team used the fifth overall pick in April's draft on former LSU teammate Ja'Marr Chase. Cincinnati's offensive line isn't great, but with the addition of tackle Riley Reiff and guard Jackson Carman, it should be better.
With that improved cast around him, a healthy and improved Burrow has the potential to do some real damage in 2021. And the Bengals may just go from tomato can to tough out.
Jets Sign No. 2 Overall Pick Zach Wilson
As Thursday dawned, New York Jets quarterback Zach Wilson was the lone first-rounder who had yet to sign his contract. That is no longer the case, per Ian Rapoport of NFL Network.
The amount of the deal was never in dispute, according to ESPN's Rich Cimini. The hangup was over offset language (which provides the team with financial protection if it cuts Wilson before his deal ends) and when his $22 million signing bonus would be paid (the Jets wanted to defer at least some of it).
The first is relatively common. The second, not so much.
According to Rapoport, the two sides reached a compromise Thursday. The Jets got their offset, while Wilson gets his sighing bonus within 15 days.
That it took this long isn't a good look for the Jets, especially since they didn't sign a veteran backup plan in the offseason.
But at least it's now settled, and Jets offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur can start getting Wilson ready to face the Carolina Panthers (and former Jets quarterback Sam Darnold) in Week 1.
QB Battle in the Nation's Capital?
When the Washington Football Team signed veteran quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick this offseason, the journeyman seemed likely to start under center in Week 1 against the Los Angeles Chargers.
As NFL.com's Dan Hanzus wrote, how that will work out is anyone's guess:
"I've enjoyed Ryan Fitzpatrick's surprising late-30s boom as much as the next football fan, but it's also absolutely within the range of outcomes that the Amish Rifle falls through a table like Matt Foley as a 17-game starter. It drifts into the realm of wishcasting to expect fairytale results when you hand the reins of a defense-first team to a 38-year-old gunslinger who's played 16 years for eight teams without making the playoffs, but the Washington braintrust appears to be trying to catch lightning in a bottle here."
However, head coach Ron Rivera said Thursday that nothing is set at quarterback, according to Nicki Jhabvala of the Washington Post.
"Rivera said Ryan Fitzpatrick and Taylor Heinicke are competing for the starting QB job," Jhabvala tweeted, "and Kyle Allen will have a chance to join the competition when he recovers more from his ankle injury."
This reeks of coachspeak.
Heinicke played fairly well in his playoff start against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but it was only the second start of his NFL career. Allen has more experience, but winning only seven of 17 starts doesn't scream "future franchise quarterback."
Unless Fitzpatrick falls flat on his face—which is unlikely to happen in practice or preseason games—he figures to be under center for Washington in Week 1.
Giants OG Shane Lemieux Carted Off Practice Field
The New York Giants offensive line allowed 50 sacks last season, and Pro Football Focus ranked it as the league's worst heading into the 2021 campaign.
It might have gotten even worse Thursday.
Second-year pro Shane Lemieux, who started nine games at left guard for the Giants last season, was carted off the practice field with a knee injury, per Josh Alper of Pro Football Talk.
In 504 snaps as a rookie, Lemieux allowed five sacks and posted an abysmal 32.2 PFF grade. But the Giants felt confident enough in his potential to move veteran Will Hernandez to right guard.
Per Michael Eisen of the team's website, head coach Joe Judge said he was pleased with how Hernandez's transition was working.
"I think obviously physically, the shape he's returned in to play, he showed a level of conditioning through spring we're very pleased with," Judge said. "One thing about Will is he's just worked very tirelessly on everything we've asked him to do."
If Lemieux's injury is serious, Hernandez could be headed back to the left side. It could also mean more snaps for free-agent signee Zach Fulton, who allowed a whopping 11 sacks in 953 snaps with the Houston Texans last year.
NFL Vaccination Rates on the Rise
The NFL released a memo last week outlining protocols for a COVID-19 outbreak among unvaccinated players in 2021:
"We do not anticipate adding a '19th week' to accommodate games that cannot be rescheduled within the current 18 weeks of the regular season. If a game cannot be rescheduled within the current 18-week schedule and is canceled due to a Covid outbreak among non-vaccinated players on one of the competing teams, the club with the outbreak will forfeit the contest."
That memo caused some pushback from players, including Arizona Cardinals wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins. But for the most part, it appears that teams are heeding the league's warning.
According to Michael David Smith of Pro Football Talk, league spokesman Brian McCarthy said Thursday that 87.9 percent of NFL players have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. Nineteen teams have more than 90 percent of players vaccinated, and seven clubs are over 95 percent vaccinated.
Back in July, the league said teams that had 85 percent or higher vaccination rates would face fewer practice restrictions. Vaccinated players are also tested less often, don't have to wear masks and aren't subject to capacity limits in certain rooms.
It isn't known which teams have cleared the threshold, although Washington coach Ron Rivera has publicly expressed frustration regarding the low percentage of vaccination among his players. It also isn't known what sort of competitive advantage fewer restrictions will afford a team.
But it seems as though most of the league's franchises will not be on the wrong side of that second one.