B/R Community Training Camp Questions: Should Justin Fields Be Day 1 Starter?
NFL training camps often create as many questions as they provide answers.
The Indianapolis Colts are a prime example. Frank Reich's squad looked like a strong contender this offseason after it acquired quarterback Carson Wentz and signed left tackle Eric Fisher. General manager Chris Ballard completed his squad. Now, uncertainty envelops the Colts after injuries to Wentz and the offensive line.
Burning questions revolve around every training camp following the start of the preseason, with Thursday's Hall of Fame game serving as the unofficial beginning to the 2021 campaign.
While the Dallas Cowboys and Pittsburgh Steelers met in Canton, Ohio, others around the league searched for solutions.
Who will win quarterback competitions? Which players are exceeding expectations? Who continues to show up and show out to earn roster spots?
The Bleacher Report app community chimed in to ask what they believe are the most pressing questions for their respective favorite teams.
To no one's surprise, two young quarterbacks in Chicago and San Francisco immediately came to the forefront.
Are the Bears Stuck on Andy Dalton?
Is Justin Fields outplaying Andy Dalton? If so, why is Matt Nagy stuck on Dalton being the starter? —Panthysweat
Some NFL coaches are mired in an outdated frame of mind. Too many think that sitting a young quarterback is the only right way to develop that type of franchise investment. And, yes, anyone can point to Aaron Rodgers and Patrick Mahomes as examples of great quarterbacks who didn't play at the start of their careers.
Baker Mayfield, Kyler Murray and Justin Herbert are counterpoints as three high first-round picks who were ready to start as rookies. They didn't need to be arbitrarily placed on the bench to succeed.
The game is changing. Personal quarterback coaches, year-round competition, numerous seven-on-seven camps and professional coaches adjusting their offenses based on collegiate and high school concepts all make the transition far easier than it once was.
As such, organizations must operate on the individual's timetable.
For Fields, his time to start may be soon. Everyone knows what Dalton is. He's a proven veteran with limitations. He's the quarterback a team uses when it wants to tread water, not elevate its status.
By all accounts, Fields is everything the Bears envisioned when general manager Ryan Pace traded up and drafted the 22-year-old with this year's 11th pick. Will he experience rookie mistakes and not have all the answers at all times? Sure. That's typical. However, his natural ability supersedes the steady hand Dalton provides.
Will Justin Fields or Trey Lance Open 2021 Season as a Starter?
Who starts Week 1, Justin Fields or Trey Lance? —TerrelJets26
Both. At least, they should.
The Chicago Bears and San Francisco 49ers will be making mistakes if they start their veteran options instead of their first-round QBs.
Dalton and Jimmy Garoppolo should have no bearing whatsoever on the teams' decisions. They're nothing more than safety nets as each franchise prepares for its present and future.
It's not just about draft status and potential, either. Lance and Fields will take over eventually. But both have looked excellent during the early portions of training camp.
According to ESPN's Louis Riddick, he's heard "crazy good" things out of Bears camp about Fields' professionalism.
A 49ers veteran told Go Long's Tyler Dunne that the "f--ker looks really good" when asked about Lance and what he's done in camp so far.
Generally, coaches side with the vets because they want to win now. When those same vets start to see what those young quarterbacks can do, how they can help the team and where they can immediately contribute, the tide turns and there's no going back.
Chicago and San Francisco are already reaching that point of no return.
Will Jets' Carl Lawson Become a Premier Pass-Rusher?
Does Carl Lawson look destined for a breakout year in Robert Saleh's defense? —TerrelJets26
Don't let sacks be the lone indicator of what makes a quality edge defender.
Lawson may not have eclipsed more than 8.5 sacks in any of his four seasons, but he's consistently been one of the best at generating pressure.
According to Pro Football Focus, Lawson ranked second in quarterback hits and fourth in total pressures and pass-rush win rate last season. As long as the defensive end stays healthy, he should easily eclipse 10 sacks as the featured pass-rusher in Saleh's scheme.
Bigger concerns surround how he'll handle being an every-down defender after his reps increased in each of the last two seasons and seeing if he continues to improve against the run.
The Jets built an impressive defensive front this offseason. Lawson is the focal point, but he'll get plenty of help from Quinnen Williams (once healthy from his broken foot), Sheldon Rankins and Vinny Curry.
How Has DeVonta Smith Progressed from Recent Knee Injury?
How is DeVonta Smith? —SandyCheekss
This year's 10th overall pick continues to recover from a sprained MCL. The wide receiver should be back in a couple of weeks.
Philadelphia Eagles head coach Nick Sirianni doesn't seem overly worried, as he told reporters:
"We're not putting a timetable on any injuries, we just want him to attack his rehab and get ready as soon as he can. We want him to have as many reps as he possibly can. This is a different game, NFL and college football are different games. We want him to get as many reps as he can and we’ll play that day-by-day, week-by-week."
Last year's first-round wide receiver, Jalen Reagor, really responded in Smith's absence, making strides Thursday after early-week struggles. Per Eagles Maven's John McMullen, Reagor missed an assignment Wednesday and Sirianni lost his cool, which seemed to be a turning point for the receiver.
"To say that you're going to coach everybody, the exact same, it's just not—it's again where I'm glad to have my background in teaching, right, and education. It's just not done that way," Sirianni said. "The only thing that's important is that the coaching point goes through and that the player gets better from it."
Should Chargers Be Worried About Rashawn Slater?
Is game No. 1 more important to the future NFL career of the Chargers' Rashawn Slater than any other player in the league? —John_thehillboy
It's unfair to place so much pressure on a rookie in his first game. Slater isn't the only player who opted out of the 2020 campaign.
In fact, six first-round picks didn't play a single contest last season.
Of those, much bigger question marks swirl around Tennessee Titans cornerback Caleb Farley, because of his injury history, and the Buffalo Bill's Gregory Rousseau, who is more project than finished product.
Furthermore, a look around the league shows others who have far more to prove at the start of the season.
For the Cleveland Browns, Baker Mayfield must build on last season's second-half success while facing the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 1. Teammate Odell Beckham Jr. will be returning from a season-ending knee injury. In Cincinnati, Joe Burrow must show he's not skittish after his devastating knee injury. Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger must prove he's not done after 2020's late-season collapse. And so on and so forth.
The Chargers have done a nice job rebuilding their front five. Yes, Slater must face Chase Young to open the season. But he should quickly prove why he's the crown jewel of the team's offensive line.
Are Lions' WRs Better Than Expected?
How does the Detroit Lions receiving corps look? —DingerDennis
The Lions have the league's worst wide receiver corps.
A silver lining has emerged, though. Fourth-round rookie Amon-Ra St. Brown could turn out to be an excellent building block once general manager Brad Holmes finally addresses the rest of the unit.
Head coach Dan Campbell said of St. Brown, per The Athletic's Nick Baumgardner:
"We (already) had a pretty good idea of what he's capable of. He's a pro. He was a pro at USC. Great route runner. A willing blocker who isn't afraid of contact and will give more of a punch than his 6-foot, 197-pound frame suggests. He's a football player. He's also likely going to see a bunch of targets underneath this season, especially early."
The Lions don't have a lot to be excited about regarding their passing game. St. Brown is the exception.
Is Jared Goff 1-and-Done in Detroit?
Will the Lions give quarterback Jared Goff another year before drafting a quarterback or will they next offseason? —Luclutchdoncic
At the end of June, Holmes made things very clear when he discussed Goff's status with the team.
"I never viewed him as a bridge option," the general manager told reporters. "He's been a winning quarterback. I think his resume speaks for itself."
Financial and roster realities speak for themselves too. The Lions can move on from Goff next offseason and would save $10.7 million with a post-June 1 release or $26.2 million in a trade after that date, per Over the Cap.
The telltale sign will be the team's record. If Detroit selects among next year's top-five picks—which seems likely since the Lions feature one of the league's worst rosters—quarterback becomes the obvious direction. If the team exceeds expectations, Goff could stick for another season or two.
What Should Fans Expect from Panthers?
What are the realistic expectations for the Carolina Panthers this season? —Darnoz03
Continued growth is all anyone can ask for during Matt Rhule's second year as head coach. The roster remains unsettled at two premium positions: quarterback and left tackle.
The former has far more promise, with Sam Darnold entering coordinator Joe Brady's offensive scheme. Darnold struggled during his three years with the Jets, but the onus for that shouldn't fall entirely on him. A player's situation matters, and New York was poorly coached and failed to provide Darnold with a solid supporting cast.
Protection could be a major issue in Carolina, though. The left side of the line is questionable at best. Darnold may be in a better situation yet not get the type of blocking he needs to succeed.
Defensively, the Panthers are promising. They're young and athletic with big-time talent at all three levels. Carolina can build an identity around Phil Snow's unit.
The NFC South isn't exactly tough, aside from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Atlanta Falcons are still trying to win when they should be rebuilding. The New Orleans Saints will almost certainly take a step back without Drew Brees. Any improvement over last season's 5-11 record would be a significant step forward for the Panthers.
Which Skill-Position Players Are Ready to Break Out?
Which offensive skill position players that not many people know about are really standing out and looming impactful? —Wpeace17
Three wide receivers immediately came to mind. Each is at a different level based on their development and overall expectations.
CeeDee Lamb is a 2020 first-round pick who posted 935 receiving yards as a rookie. He's already well-known, but he's on the verge of superstar status. Dallas Cowboys offensive coordinator Kellen Moore told reporters they plan to expand his role beyond the slot. Last year's 17th overall pick showed a level of explosivity in training camp that has everyone buzzing.
The Jets' Elijah Moore has been just as impressive. New York signed Corey Davis in free agency and found a way to rework Jamison Crowder's contract to keep him on the squad. Still, Moore shows up every day at camp and astounds. The second-round rookie is more than a typical slot receiver. He has NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year potential if utilized correctly.
Donovan Peoples-Jones landed in the Browns' laps with last year's 187th overall selection. Peoples-Jones is a former 247Sports 5-star recruit, but he never realized his potential with the Michigan Wolverines. Well, the Browns seemingly cultivated his natural gifts because DPJ has looked like a future replacement for Beckham or Jarvis Landry. The second-year target should definitely build upon last year's 304-yard effort.
Who Lines Up Opposite the Rams' Leonard Floyd?
Who wins the Los Angeles Rams' starting outside linebacker role opposite Leonard Floyd? —WalkOffWalsh
Justin Hollins is a natural fit. During his Oregon days, the edge-defender showed the skill set to dip the shoulder, bend the edge and create pressure. He displayed a comfort level working in space even then.
It's taken some time to see those traits bloom in the NFL, but he's making progress. Now in his third year, the 2019 fifth-round pick appears to be ready for an expanded role.
Terrell Lewis is the wild card, though. If defensive coordinator Raheem Morris can maximize Lewis' potential, the 2020 third-round draft pick shouldn't be counted out and could eventually take the job.
How Has Life Changed for Packers' Jordan Love?
How are the Green Bay Packers treating Jordan Love with Aaron Rodgers back in the fold? —Aendorf22
Rodgers thoroughly explained to reporters why the rift formed between himself and Green Bay's front office. The reigning MVP never had a problem with Jordan Love, the person. The lack of not being heard when he's a legitimate franchise quarterback became the throughline for growing discontentment.
If anything, Rogers' absence during organized team activities and minicamps helped Love. The second-year signal-caller received invaluable time getting first-team reps, thus helping in his maturation and development.
Love can take a step back with the knowledge Rodgers and the Packers came to an agreement that could result in the future Hall of Famer's departure in less than a year, per Fox Sports' Jay Glazer. For everybody else, it's business as usual.
How Will the Bears Defensive Backfield Look?
Who will be the Chicago Bears' top three or four cornerbacks? —Bucanate
Jaylon Johnson, Desmond Trufant and Kindle Vildor come in as the top three, though the Bears have an ongoing competition to see which defensive back will work over the slot.
Thomas Graham Jr. may be a rookie sixth-round pick, but he has the right makeup and coverage skills to thrive in the role. Safety Marqui Christian received looks along the inside while with the Rams.
Artie Burns can help, but he needs to stay healthy, though he's coming back from a torn ACL and has been experiencing quad trouble.
Will the Cardinals Make Any Moves?
Will the Arizona Cardinals address their tight end and cornerback positions? —Andyman1027
Both spots have been obvious concerns all offseason, and the team didn't really do enough to address either.
Some roster churn should be expected once cuts begin later this month. But the idea that Arizona will make a splash move at cornerback or tight end is probably asking too much.
To be fair, Maxx Williams is the league's best blocking tight end and Darrell Daniels could pick up some of the slack left by Dan Arnold's free-agent departure.
Defensively, the Cardinals did add Malcolm Butler, Darqueze Dennard and rookies Marco Wilson and Tay Gowan.
Even so, the Cardinals should be keeping a close eye on the waiver wire to see what additions they can make before Week 1.