NFL Training Camp Roundup: Should the Bengals Be Worried About Joe Burrow?August 4, 2021
NFL Training Camp Roundup: Should the Bengals Be Worried About Joe Burrow?
We're just about a week into training camp and a day away from the first preseason game of 2021.
It has been an action-packed week. For some, that's good news, like rookie quarterbacks who were brought in to reverse the fortunes of floundering franchises. For at least one playoff contender, though, the news has been anything but. The Indianapolis Colts received a hammer blow, double whammy of injuries when both Carson Wentz and Quenton Nelson required surgery on their injured feet.
As has been the case since training camp opened, Bleacher Report has you covered with a daily roundup of the latest buzz from camps around the league.
There was plenty going on, whether it was players returning from injury, sitting out or turning heads. But we'll start things off in the Queen City, where an offseason of optimism has started to become clouded by concern about the young quarterback for the Cincinnati Bengals.
Burrow Bungling with Bengals
If there was a buzzword that could be used to describe the Bengals offense entering training camp, it was "optimism." Maybe potential. Or breakout.
The Bengals had taken strides to upgrade the offensive line in both free agency and the 2021 draft. The team used its first draft pick on the top wideout prospect in the class in LSU's JaMarr Chase. Add in the return of a healthy Joe Burrow under center, and the Bengals were going to be a dangerous team to defend.
However, as Jay Morrison and Paul Dehner Jr. reported for The Athletic, the Cincinnati offense has looked abysmal in the first few days of practice, with Burrow struggling badly to deliver accurate passes:
"It's just not good right now. Throws that felt like layups last year are dropping harmlessly away from receivers or easily broken up by multiple defenders. There might be a multitude of reasons for the struggles, but this has been ugly. At one point, pressure pushed into his face and Burrow lifted his leg into the air almost to avoid any accident with the close pocket. It makes you wonder if the knee is still in his head, but that's strictly guesswork. The bottom line is there's no way to say his play looks comfortable at this point and this isn't at all what you have seen from Burrow even in the early camp moments of last season."
Per Michael David Smith of Pro Football Talk, veteran wideout Tyler Boyd acknowledged that Burrow might still be a little reluctant to let 'er rip after tearing his left ACL last year.
"I think he looks good. Just watching him move around in the pocket, his pocket presence seems great. I think he's kind of a little iffy on his knee, but it's kind of hard to tell. I feel like he's ready to go, but I also think he doesn't want to do too much," Boyd said.
It's not time to panic just yet. There's still over a month to go before the Bengals host the Minnesota Vikings in the season opener Sept. 12. But if these struggles carry over into the preseason (a preseason in which Burrow is unlikely to see much action), then the concern level is only going to increase.
Andy Dalton Impressing in Chicago
From the moment that the Chicago Bears drafted Justin Fields at No. 11 overall (after trading their 2022 first-rounder to move up nine slots), there has been speculation regarding when the former Ohio State star will take the reins of the offense.
Per Patrick Finley of the Chicago Sun-Times, Fields has offered teases in camp that exciting things will happen when he does take over, although there have been bumps in the road.
"His physical tools—from his arm strength to deep ball to 4.4-second 40-yard-dash speed—are unlike that of any Bears quarterback prospect in franchise history," Finley said. "Now he needs to harness them. We've seen receivers shake their heads when he rifles a fastball on a short cross. He'll learn not to do that."
However, Bears head coach Matt Nagy has insisted since the draft that veteran Andy Dalton would start the season opener against the Rams in Los Angeles, and Finley wrote that nothing he has seen on the practice field would indicate the coach's mind could change.
"Dalton has looked like the most consistent quarterback Matt Nagy has ever coached in Chicago," Finley said. "That's not to say he's headed for stardom, or even that he'll even be the starter on Thanksgiving. But he's brought stability to a franchise that desperately needs it at the position, if only to buy Fields more time to incubate."
It's interesting that Finley mentioned Chicago's Turkey Day tilt with the Detroit Lions. In a recent mailbag column for Bleacher Report, I predicted that Week 12 matchup would be when Fields makes his first start.
Giants WR Kenny Golladay (Hamstring) Avoids Major Injury
The New York Giants made a massive investment in the passing game this year, inking wide receiver Kenny Golladay to a four-year, $72 million contract in free agency.
For a few terrifying moments Tuesday, it looked like that investment may have gone up in smoke. But it now appears that the Giants have avoided an early disaster.
As Paul Schwartz reported for the New York Post, further testing on the hamstring injury that forced Golladay from the practice field revealed no significant damage:
"The injury is more a tweak than a strain, according to a source. Golladay will be monitored and certainly will be held out for a bit as a precaution. Hamstring strains can keep a receiver out for weeks, sometimes more than a month, but that should not be the case with Golladay, who does have a history with this particular injury. He missed five games as a rookie with the Lions in 2017 with a strained hamstring and sat out the first two games last season with the same issue."
To say that this is welcome news for the G-Men is an understatement. The team is counting on Golladay to be the No. 1 receiver in 2021 and open things up over the top.
But over his first four seasons, Golladay has made it through all 16 games just once, and last year, hamstring and hip issues limited the 27-year-old to just five contests.
QB Competition (Backup-Style) in Pittsburgh
When the Pittsburgh Steelers face the Dallas Cowboys in Thursday's Hall of Fame Game in Canton, Ohio, the only time we'll see Ben Roethlisberger is when the camera cuts to the sidelines. Mason Rudolph will draw the start under center, and then third-stringer Dwayne Haskins will replace him.
This may be a meaningless game even by preseason standards—very few (if any) starters will play. But for the third-year pro from Ohio State, this is a critical audition.
In just two seasons in Washington, Haskins went from promising first-round prospect to disappointing starter to off the team altogether. Now, he is trying to salvage his career in the Steel City, and he seems to be making an impression of head coach Mike Tomlin, who told Mark Kaboly of The Athletic that Haskins has "grown by leaps and bounds," adding:
"He does a good job of communicating with coaches, with players, gaining an understanding of what we're trying to do schematically and his role in it, gaining a rapport with the receivers specifically, trying to do the things that we want him to do in the drill work that we do. We've made an emphasis that drill work is football-like, but not necessarily football, and so we have certain things that we emphasize under those circumstances. I think he's done a nice job of that. I think a lot of guys have."
It's admittedly an uphill climb. Rudolph is pretty entrenched as backups go after making nine starts in Pittsburgh over the past two seasons. But Haskins said he intends to make it a competition for the right to back up Big Ben in 2021.
"I plan on making it one," Haskins said.
No Pity Party for Injured Colts G Quenton Nelson
Apparently, someone broke a mirror in Indianapolis.
As if it wasn't bad enough that starting quarterback Carson Wentz suffered a foot injury that will sideline him five-to-12 weeks (and potentially well into the regular season), the Colts were hammered again Tuesday when the team's best player went down with pretty much the same injury.
However, while All-Pro guard Quenton Nelson is staring at that same recovery timetable after surgery on his foot, the 25-year-old said he's going to do everything in his power to be ready to take on the Seattle Seahawks in the opener.
"3rd surgery of the offseason in the books, no time for pity," Nelson wrote on Instagram (via Michael David Smith of Pro Football Talk). "F — k that. Truth is, I'm thankful, thankful the early part of the time table says 5 weeks. That gives me 5 weeks to do everything I can physically and mentally to be ready to go Week 1 to smash these goals."
It's worth pointing out that Nelson hasn't missed a start over his first three pro seasons. And if Indy is going to survive a five-week season-opening gauntlet against teams that won at least 10 games last year, it needs Nelson on the field.
But given the wide disparity in the recovery timetable, being ready to go Sept. 12 may be a tall ask—even for the league's best interior O-lineman.
WR Jaylen Waddle Turning Heads for Dolphins
The Miami Dolphins took big-time steps to improve Tua Tagovailoa's passing-game weapons in the offseason, signing veteran William Fuller V in free agency and taking Alabama's Jaylen Waddle with one of its two first-round picks in April's draft.
With Fuller sidelined by a foot injury and DeVante Parker only just now making his return to the practice field, Waddle opened camp getting first-team reps. And as Lindsay Jones reported for The Athletic, he has made the most of those reps.
"Waddle, in particular, has flashed as an outside receiver and as someone co-offensive coordinators George Godsey and Eric Studesville can use on jet sweeps and screens. During Tuesday's run-heavy, fully padded practice, the 5-foot-10, 182-pound rookie was in the fray as a blocker. That's not glamorous work, but it'll be part of becoming a well-rounded No. 1 receiver."
A few practice sessions hardly guarantee success for Waddle. But if the Dolphins are going to take the next step in 2021 and secure a playoff spot, they need to see substantial improvement from Tagovailoa in his second season.
The more legitimate weapons the 23-year-old quarterback has, the better his odds of showing that improvement.
Cardinals WR A.J. Green Sidelined by 'Minor Issue'
As Jess Root of Cards Wire reported, Arizona Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury has elected not to divulge much in the way of injury news. We know that defensive end J.J. Watt is on the physically unable to perform list with a hamstring issue and that Kingsbury has classified the absence of wide receiver Christian Kirk as a "minor deal." Defensive tackle Jordan Phillips and guard Brian Winters have also missed time.
It could become a major problem if the list of sidelined players continues to increase.
Per ESPN's Josh Weinfuss, Kingsbury reiterated Wednesday that he isn't going into specifics regarding injuries because it's not a requirement until the regular season. But he did say that veteran wide receiver A.J. Green will miss some practice with a "minor issue."
This could be much ado about nothing. A precautionary move. And in fairness, Peter Schrager of NFL Network tweeted a few days ago that Green looked "incredible" on the practice field.
But Green is a 33-year-old receiver coming off a miserable 2020 season in Cincinnati (47 catches on 104 targets), and he is trying to learn a new offense and build a rapport with quarterback Kyler Murray.
In that respect at least, any missed practice time is more than "minor."
Browns DBs Greedy Williams and Grant Delpit Nearing Return
The Cleveland Browns haven't had much success drafting defensive backs in recent years. Cornerback Greedy Williams has played in just 12 games over two seasons and missed the entire 2020 campaign with nerve damage in his shoulder. On the same day that Williams hurt his shoulder last summer, rookie safety Grant Delpit tore his Achilles tendon.
It appears as though the Browns are close to getting both former LSU standouts back on the field.
Per Nate Ulrich of the Akron Beacon Journal, Cleveland head coach Kevin Stefanski said that Williams has been cleared for contact as he tries to win a spot in an increasingly crowded Cleveland secondary.
"He's good to go," Stefanski said.
Stefanski also said that Delpit's rehab is progressing well.
"I think we'll mix him in [to team drills]," he said. "I think he's been mixing in as we go. We'll just bring him along at the discretion of the medical staff."
Mind you, after the offseason Cleveland just had, the return of Williams and Delpit is almost more of a luxury than a necessity. The team added a Pro Bowl-caliber safety in John Johnson III and brought in cornerbacks in both free agency (Troy Hill) and Round 1 of the 2021 draft (Greg Newsome II).
But the Browns run more 4-2-5 ("nickel") defense than just about any team in the league, and it is basically impossible to have too many quality defensive backs in today's pass-wacky NFL.
Given the lofty expectations in Cleveland this year, getting two potential difference-makers on the back end is good news.
Aaron Rodgers and Packers GM Brian Gutekunst 'A Work in Progress'
To say it has been a rocky offseason for the Green Bay Packers is an understatement. After the team won 13 games in each of the past two years and made the NFC Championship Game in both seasons, the conversation in Wisconsin swirled around the uncertain future of reigning NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers and his testy relationship with Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst.
Charles Robinson of Yahoo Sports reported that one of the conditions of a Rodgers return was that Gutekunst be shown the door. Bob McGinn of The Athletic reported that Rodgers mocked Gutekunst by referring him to Jerry Krause, the former general manager of the Chicago Bulls who many argue prematurely ended Chicago's run of dominance in the 1990s with his personnel moves.
Well, Rodgers is back with the Packers. And Gutekunst is still the general manager. Per Ryan Wood of the Green Bay Press-Gazette, Rodgers said that he and Gutekunst are making an effort to repair their relationship.
"I think it's a work in progress for sure," Rodgers said. "I think relationships aren't formed in a matter of a couple days. There's time where respect grows, and the communication follows."
Rodgers' return was always the most likely scenario, if only because there was little reason to trade him after the 2021 draft. With him back in the fold, the Packers are as well-positioned as any team in the NFC to take a run at the reigning champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
But there's no certainties past this season. And Rodgers' future with the team (and his relationship with Gutekunst) is bound to remain a hot topic in Titletown.