NFL Training Camp Buzz Roundup: Is Trey Lance Winning the SF QB Battle Already?
Life comes at you fast. Just ask the Indianapolis Colts and San Francisco 49ers, but for entirely different reasons.
The Colts are working their way through a nightmarish training camp. Carson Wentz, Ryan Kelly and now Quenton Nelson are all out with injuries. In a cruel cosmic twist, the all-world guard suffered the same injury as his new quarterback. The Colts' 2021 season already feels like it is in jeopardy.
On the flip side, the San Francisco 49ers may be entering a dream scenario in which they can either lean on a veteran quarterback or insert a burgeoning franchise quarterback who appears ready to take the starting spot sooner rather than later.
Training camp is far too early to make definitive statements one way or the other. But the league's first day of padded practices is a big step toward determining roles. How teams hold up and adjust through these next few weeks will play a part in how successful they will be.
The following updates and injuries from Tuesday's practices shed a little light on how the league is taking shape.
Trey Lance Looks Ready to Lead 49ers Offense
Trey Lance is going to make a liar out of San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan.
It won't be intentional, but the talent of this year's third overall pick coupled with the investment San Francisco made in him lets everyone know which way this situation is trending.
"We're not splitting the reps up, going against the ones and stuff," Shanahan told reporters Monday. "I thought Trey had one of his better days on Saturday, but that was nothing to move him up there to start talking differently with Jimmy [Garoppolo] or anything like that."
Shanahan also said he didn't plan to give Lance first-team reps at all. A day later, he received his first rep with the 49ers' first-team offense, per The Athletic's Matt Barrows.
The issue isn't talent. The 49ers didn't trade up to the third overall pick with the intention of drafting Lance because he's lacking in any area. They know what he's capable of becoming. However, they shouldn't arbitrarily limit how soon his talent could translate and improve the offense.
At every turn, Shanahan has said Garoppolo puts the team in the best position to win. As such, Lance usurping the starting spot seemed unlikely.
"I think that would be pretty tough to do," Shanahan said. "So I'm not trying to put that pressure on Trey. But if anybody can pull stuff off, you're going to see it that way. But Jimmy's played too good of football. He's too good of a player. And Trey's trying to learn everything right now and soak it all in. So that's why I'd be very surprised if he was able to do that."
But it's a mistake to think that Lance can't get to that point sooner rather than later. The 2019 Walter Payton Award winner is already a massive upgrade based on pure arm talent, athleticism and ability to create outside of structure. The rookie wowed onlookers Tuesday with a 50-yard touchdown pass thrown across his body while rolling to his left, according to the San Jose Mercury News' Cam Inman.
Granted, the impressive pass didn't come when Lance received his first-team rep. Still, the play showed the drastic difference in what he brings to the table compared to the 49ers' veteran option. If those types of plays continue to show up while the rookie builds his understanding of Shanahan's offense, the 49ers can't possibly keep him on the bench.
Colts' Quenton Nelson Requires Foot Surgery
The Indianapolis Colts can't wait for the season to start because training camp has been a disaster so far.
Center Ryan Kelly is out as well as he recovers from a hyperextended elbow. He's not expected back for another week or two.
As if those two injury situations weren't bad enough, three-time All-Pro guard Quenton Nelson didn't practice Tuesday. Instead, he showed up on the sideline with a boot on his right foot, according to the Indianapolis Star's Jim Ayello.
Head coach Frank Reich told reporters that Nelson has a similar issue to the one to Wentz experienced. The offensive lineman will undergo surgery Tuesday. His timetable is similar to Wentz's.
"Can't make this up," Reich said.
Indy's offensive line is in shambles, and the remaining group is not performing well during camp. Kevin Hickey of USA Today's Colts Wire noted the entire unit had to run extra sprints after Monday's practice due to its poor performance.
Kelly and Nelson will be back, eventually. Until then, their replacements must hold up, and they're not. Left tackle is another issue as the Colts await Eric Fisher's return after last season's torn Achilles tendon in the AFC Championship Game.
Indianapolis could have a real problem if its usually reliable offensive front can't protect backup quarterback Jacob Eason or create running room for the team's talented stable of running backs.
Texans Start Padded Practices Without Deshaun Watson
Deshaun Watson wasn't present for Tuesday's practice session.
After a week of partial participation in which Watson didn't receive first-team reps, Houston took the next step by not having him on the field at all.
"We make decisions every day based on what's best for our football team," head coach David Culley told reporters.
The decision harkens back to what general manager Nick Caserio said at the start of training camp when asked about Watson, his trade demands and how the team planned to move forward while the quarterback faced 22 civil cases and possible criminal charges related to allegations of sexual assault and misconduct.
"I'm not going to comment about rumors, about what we have done, what we're going to do, what the plan is," Caserio said, per SportsTalk790's Aaron Wilson. "... The reason I was brought here by the McNair family is to do what's best for the Houston Texans organization on a day-to-day basis and that's my responsibility to ownership, that's my responsibility to the players and that's my responsibility to the coaching staff."
Tyrod Taylor appears to have asserted himself as Houston's new starting option.
"He's a consummate pro. I don't use that loosely. He's a consummate pro," Culley said last week. "He's the first guy in this building every morning. He's usually the last guy to leave, and that's every day. That's just who he is. You won't ever hear him a whole bunch talking about this or talking about that. He just goes about his business."
"He's a good player, good guy, a good leader," center Justin Britt said last week. "Someone who also he went through—I feel like he's had the short end of the stick the last few years in his career and he's hungry."
Browns Linebacker Updates
A year ago, the Cleveland Browns prepared for the 2020 campaign by placing the league's worst group of linebackers on the field. The group was limited, particularly working in space.
This offseason, general manager Andrew Berry signed Anthony Walker Jr. in free agency and drafted the reigning Butkus Award winner Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah in the second round.
Neither has been on the field as of late, though.
Walker left Monday's practice with an apparent right knee injury. The fifth-year defender didn't suit up Tuesday, but he did watch from the sideline with a wrap around his right knee, per the Akron Beacon Journal's Nate Ulrich. Head coach Kevin Stefanski told reporters Walker won't require knee surgery but could miss a week or two of camp.
Owusu-Koramoah never actually made it to training camp as a full participant. The team placed the rookie on reserve/COVID-19 list before he could practice.
On Tuesday, the Browns activated Owusu-Koramoah.
Getting both onto the field is crucial. Nine new projected starters, including Walker and J.O.K., are expected in this year's defense.
As a middle linebacker, Walker will call defensive plays. Owusu-Koramoah needs all the reps he can get as a potential Swiss Army knife in Joe Woods' scheme. The Browns will probably pull back on the rookie's usage as they ease him into practice before trying to utilize his full skill set as a true hybrid defender.
Jaguars Rookie Travis Etienne Thrives in Pass Game
The Jacksonville Jaguars chose Clemson running back Travis Etienne with this year's 25th overall pick. Yet head coach Urban Meyer caught many off-guard when he decided to use the ACC's all-time leading rusher as a wide receiver during the entirety of rookie minicamp.
Meyer explained how the team envisioned him as the H-back in the coaching staff's offensive scheme.
"At the worst-case scenario, you have a running back with the skill set of a wide receiver," Meyer told reporters in May. "Best-case scenario, you'll have a hybrid player who does both, and that's what we're hoping to develop out of Travis."
Etienne is an excellent ball-carrier. His capabilities as a running back are obvious. But he brings more value to the team if he's capable of producing chunk plays in the passing game as a mismatch working out of the slot, taking jet sweeps and/or creating after the catch.
"Travis Etienne was uncoverable in one-on-ones versus linebackers [when] running routes," John Shipley of Jaguar Report tweeted Tuesday.
The idea of Etienne being an Alvin Kamara-like weapon in the Jaguars offense to go along with this year's No. 1 overall draft pick, quarterback Trevor Lawrence, is exciting. Jacksonville needed explosive playmakers after last year's 1-15 effort. Etienne is a first-year player learning a new position, but he seems to be adapting quite well to what Meyer and Co. ask of him.
Tyreek Hill Dealing with Balky Knee; Chiefs Not Concerned
How do you slow the NFL's fastest man? You don't. But knee tendinitis can.
Maintenance days are now standard operating procedure for NFL teams. Coaching staffs try to take care of their veterans, who may have a little wear and tear on their bodies.
Chiefs head coach Andy Reid said the issue just popped up Tuesday, per Chiefs Digest's Matt Derrick.
A slight issue with the knee shouldn't be a major concern. However, the potential for long-term issues still exists. Hill's game is predicated on blowing past defenders as the ultimate vertical threat. He's also extremely quick in and out of his breaks. His explosiveness makes stopping the Kansas City offense for four quarters nearly impossible.
If Hill isn't the same threat, it'll change the Chiefs' approach. But one missed practice isn't enough to ascertain anything more than an elite runner had a slight hitch in his giddyup and needed some rest.
Elgton Jenkins Prepares to Start Season as Packers' LT
Elgton Jenkins sees himself as the Green Bay Packers' starting left tackle.
According to the Green Bay Press-Gazette's Ryan Wood, Jenkins focused on left tackle all offseason and continues to prepare for the possibility of opening the season as Aaron Rodgers' blindside protector.
Jenkins' versatility is astounding. His ability to play all five positions along the offensive front grants the Packers a level of flexibility very few coaching staffs enjoy.
Incumbent left tackle David Bakhtiari continues to recover from a torn ACL he suffered on Dec. 31, so the possibility he may not be ready for the regular season is very real.
Jenkins knows he'll eventually move back to guard but has worked at tackle just in case.
"I think I've got that position down to a T," Jenkins said of playing guard. "So right now I'm focusing on left tackle and trying to get those small things to help out."
Bakhtiari added, "I think there's only a handful of guys that can do that, and he's part of that handful."
The two-time first-team All-Pro has yet to set a timetable for his return. Bakhtiari did tell reporters he hasn't experienced any setbacks in his rehab.
"I'm really itching to get back out there," he said. "I don't like seeing other people do my job."
Vikings Release 2020 1st-Round Pick After Indictment
Jeff Gladney is no longer a member of the Minnesota Vikings.
The organization released last year's 31st overall draft pick after he was indicted on a felony domestic violence charge Tuesday, per ESPN's Adam Schefter.
If convicted, Gladney faces up to 10 years in prison.
Gladney had been away from the team as the legal process played itself out over the last three months.
The Vikings already addressed cornerback this offseason when they signed veteran Patrick Peterson and Bashaud Breeland.