NFL Training Camp Buzz Roundup: Are the Colts Doomed Without Carson Wentz?
There is nothing that NFL teams dread more than the idea of a serious injury striking a key player in training camp. It well and truly is a nightmare scenario.
Right about now, the Indianapolis Colts would like to wake up from their bad dream.
Quarterback Carson Wentz was supposed to be the final piece in a Super Bowl puzzle for the Colts. The quarterback who reunited with the coach he thrived under in Philadelphia was going to lead the franchise on a deep postseason run.
Instead, Wentz is now out indefinitely (and quite possibly well into the regular season), and Indy's chances of even making the playoffs could be all but shot before the season even begins.
It should surprise exactly zero people that we're leading off Monday's column with the latest from Indianapolis, both on Wentz's injured foot and the veteran quarterback who might be brought in to relieve him—again.
From there it's a trip around the league to look at the latest updates on injuries and camp competitions around the NFL.
Foot Surgery, 5-to-12-Week Absence for Colts QB Carson Wentz
The biggest news of training camp so far came out of Indianapolis, and said news was most assuredly not good.
Quarterback Carson Wentz suffered a potentially serious foot injury last week in camp. But as NFL Network's Ian Rapoport reported over the weekend, after consulting with a specialist, the sixth-year quarterback planned to try rest and rehab rather than having surgery immediately in the hopes that he might still play in the season opener.
So much for that idea.
As Stephen Holder of The Athletic reported, Wentz will go under the knife and be sidelined for five to 12 weeks. As a matter of fact, ESPN's Adam Schefter tweeted that said surgery will happen Monday afternoon.
"Frank Reich says Carson Wentz had an old foot injury dating back to perhaps high school according to doctors," he said. "Over time, the broken bone came loose and caused pain. The decision has been made to undergo surgery and remove it."
To call this devastating news is an understatement. It's not just a matter of the Colts losing their starting quarterback before he takes a single snap for the team.
The Colts face a brutal stretch to open the 2021 season—five straight against teams that won at least 10 games in 2020. Four of those opponents (including the rival Titans) made the playoffs.
Good luck running that gauntlet with Brett Hundley or Jacob Eason.
Nick Foles-to-Indy Watch Begins
With both Justin Fields and Andy Dalton on the roster, Foles has been relegated to third-string duties in the Windy City. The 32-year-old Foles told reporters Monday that he thinks he's better than a third-string signal-caller but doesn't want to be traded just to be traded.
"I don't want to go to someone that I don't know," Foles said. "When you have a great coaching staff, you have something special. Big reason we were great in Philly was we had a great coaching staff. It put us in position to succeed. ... I don't want to just go somewhere where I don't know them, I don't know the offense. I've gone down that road before and it's not fun."
Of course, Foles knows Colts head coach Frank Reich well from their time together in Philadelphia. The MVP of Super Bowl LII said he would welcome a reunion tour with Philly's former offensive coordinator.
"Listen, Frank Reich is one of my favorite, if not my favorite, coaches of all time. He understands me as a player," Foles told reporters. "He understands me as a person. But you know, I haven't had any talks with them. I'm a Chicago Bear right now. But he knows me, he understands."
That last part should keep Wentz from having flashbacks to 2017 just yet.
But that doesn't mean they aren't coming.
Eagles WR DeVonta Smith Out 'A Couple Weeks' with Knee Sprain
The Philadelphia Eagles spent the 10th overall pick in the 2021 NFL draft on Alabama wide receiver DeVonta Smith in the hopes that the 2020 Heisman Trophy winner would quickly become a focal point of their new-look offense under head coach Nick Sirianni.
That may still become the case, although Smith's ascension hit a snag over the weekend. However, it appears that the Eagles have at least averted disaster with their first-round pick.
As Ian Rapoport reported for NFL.com, testing on the knee injury suffered by Smith over the weekend isn't believed to be serious.
"Eagles first-round WR DeVonta Smith has a minor knee sprain and should be out just a couple weeks," Rapoport tweeted. "No cause for concern."
ESPN's Adam Schefter reported Monday that it's an MCL sprain that will sideline Smith 2-3 weeks.
Now, a first-year wideout potentially missing a big chunk of camp in his first preseason is cause for at least some concern. But Smith was arguably the most NFL-ready wideout in his class, and Sirianni praised his fundamentals at the conclusion of one practice session.
"I give so much credit to DeVonta and his fundamentals," Sirianni told reporters. "He has worked at his game. He's worked at his craft, and I give so much credit to the coaches at Alabama for improving his game. That is how a player gets better. We have these guys that are world-class athletes, but if you combine athleticism with fundamentals, then the sky is the limit for them. That is what I see in DeVonta. His fundamentals are really polished for a young player. A lot of credit to him."
Giants RB Saquon Barkley Making 'Tangible Progress' in Return from ACL Tear
The big storyline of camp for the New York Giants is running back Saquon Barkley and his return from the knee injury that ended his 2020 season just two weeks in. As ESPN's Jordan Ranaan reported, some eyebrows went up last month when the fourth-year running back said that he wasn't sure he'd be ready for the outset of the regular season.
"I don't know. We'll see," he said. "Taking it day by day. Just listening to my body. Whenever I'm able to get out there, just make sure I'm 110 percent. Not just for ... my well-being, but just so I go out there and compete at a high level and show the world who Saquon is."
Barkley has yet to return to practice in full yet, but he has been working out on the side with trainers. And as Giants beat writer Matt Lombardo tweeted, New York head coach Joe Judge said that his star runner is making real progress toward returning,
"Saquon is making a lot of strides," Judge said. "He's making tangible progress. We're mirroring his rehab to the tempo and workload of the players who are practicing."
Judge's comments seem to indicate a measure of optimism that Barkley will return to practice at some point ahead of the season opener against the Denver Broncos. But the Giants are also making contingency plans in case he doesn't.
Ravens Hit with Double Whammy
Training camp for the Baltimore Ravens ain't off to such a hot start.
The Ravens had already been without the services of quarterback Lamar Jackson, who tested positive for COVID-19 at the outset of camp. Per Jeff Zrebiec of The Athletic, it will be Friday at the earliest before the 2019 NFL MVP will be cleared to return to the practice field.
But wait. There's more!
Per Zrebiec, the hamstring injury suffered by wide receiver Marquise Brown on the team's first day of practice is more significant than originally believed. The third-year receiver will be out indefinitely.
Assuming that Jackson is back at practice by next week and Brown is 100 percent by the time the Ravens face the Las Vegas Raiders in the first Monday night affair of the 2021 regular season, these injuries aren't the end of the world.
But without question, the biggest issue facing the Ravens heading into this season was improving a passing attack that was dead last in the NFL in 2020 at 171.2 yards per game.
Getting that passing game in sync won't be easy without the team's starting quarterback and No. 1 wide receiver on the field.
Vikings QB Kirk Couins Lands on COVID-19 List
Most of the league's players have been at least partially vaccinated against COVID-19, but some have not.
And that has the potential to cause problems for franchises down the road.
The Minnesota Vikings announced Monday that starting quarterback Kirk Cousins, rookie quarterback Kellen Mond and reserve signal-caller Nate Stanley were all placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list.
Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer made zero effort to hide his frustration with players and people who aren't vaccinated."
I am disappointed that this happened," Zimmer said. "I'm frustrated, not just with my football players who didn't get vaccinated, but I'm frustrated with everybody [who didn't]."
That this happened in August is less than ideal. But had it happened in November, it could have been a bigger issue for the team. The Vikings are under considerable pressure to make the playoffs in 2021, and having three quarterbacks unavailable a few days before, say, the Vikings' Week 11 home date with the rival Packers (a game that could have huge implications in the NFC North) could make or break their season.
It underscores the impact that COVID-19 (and players who choose not to be vaccinated against it) could still have on the 2021 season.
Rams QB Matthew Stafford Turning Heads on Practice Field
The Los Angeles Rams swung arguably the biggest trade of the 2021 offseason, bringing in veteran quarterback Matthew Stafford in a deal that cost the Rams Jared Goff and a pair of first-round picks.
Given the price paid to obtain him, the edict is clear for Stafford and head coach Sean McVay in 2021—Super Bowl or bust. As Peter King reported for NBC Sports, the Rams aren't having any buyers' remorse—at least not yet.
“When you really study him,” McVay said, “you see the intricacies of quarterback position. He’s playing it at the highest level in the most difficult spots. You’re getting rushed. His ability to navigate the pocket, his movement, his feel for the rush, his ability to keep his eyes down the field. And then to exhaust your progression against that rush, that’s something in the NFL that a quarterback just has to do, and you see him progress to second, third, fourth, maybe even the fifth option, is real. It’s important.”
Stafford hasn't just impressed his new coach with his throws on the practice field. Apparently a few jaws have dropped among his new teammates as well.
“When the pros are saying ‘Ooh, holy blank,’ you know it’s a pretty good play,” said McVay. “Those who know, know.”
Zipping the ball on the practice field is one thing, and winning the hardest division in the league is quite another.
But so far so good in SoCal.
Broncos QB Battle "Even Steven"
The Denver Broncos are one of a number of teams who have yet to settle on a starting quarterback for the 2021 season.
This Mile-High standoff between third-year pro Drew Lock and veteran acquisition Teddy Bridgewater is neck-and-neck. As camp opened, head coach Vic Fangio said (via Aric DiLalla of the team's website) that Lock and Bridgewater would be splitting first-team reps right down the middle.
"Maybe we might do a day where one of them gets 70 percent and the other gets 30 and then flip it the next day," Fangio said. I think when you look at it up until the point where we make a decision, it's going to be a 50-50 thing, both from a reps standpoint and working with what group."
The Broncos were no doubt hoping that one quarterback or the other would step up and take the reins. Seize the opportunity. Take the reins and grab the starting job.
Per Jeff Legwold of ESPN, Fangio said Monday that the quarterback competition was "even Steven" and that there was "no separation" between the pair. Bridgewater and Lock will continue to split first-team reps for the foreseeable future, and it's likely both will draw a preseason start.
Neither quarterback was especially effective a year ago—the pair combined to win just eight of 28 starts.
But Bridgewater was better in just about every statistical category than Lock in 2020, and this writer believes (as he had from the day Bridgewater joined the team) that the newcomer will beat out the incumbent to draw the start against the Giants in Week 1.
No QB Controversy for San Francisco 49ers
Per Peter King of NBC Sports, the third overall pick in the 2021 draft has been making waves at training camp for the San Francisco 49ers, Whether it has been with his arm or his athleticism, quarterback Trey Lance has been making an impression on both the coaching staff and his new teammates.
“You see the raw talent, and you see the ball fly out of his hand. Impressive,” linebacker Fred Warner said. “Games will be different. But 11 on 11 out here is still football, and we’re seeing a young guy work and be humble and make throws like that. That’s what he needs to do.”
Given all the positive run surrounding Lance, there have been rumbles that perhaps the youngster could seize the starting job under center away from veteran Jimmy Garoppolo sooner rather than later. But as David Lombardi tweeted for the Athletic, head coach Kyle Shanahan threw some cold water on that notion Monday.
"He repeats that he doesn’t anticipate Lance being able to look better than Garoppolo before the season opener," Lombardi wrote. "Shanahan doesn’t currently have plans to give Lance first-team reps."
This isn't surprising. Level of play hasn't been Garoppolo's problem—he led the Niners to the Super Bowl just two years ago.
But if Lance continues to impress and Garoppolo is anything other than razor sharp to open the season, you can bet the rent that a cacophony of calls to start the rookie will begin lightning-quick.