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We’ve reached June, and in the NFL, that means minicamps.
Tiny tents, miniature fishing poles and itty-bitty sleeping bags.
Or maybe not.
Minicamps are actually something of a cross between OTAs and training camps. There isn’t live contact (allegedly), and the intensity hasn’t quite hit high speed just yet, but for the first time this summer, attendance isn’t voluntary. Either players show up, or they risk being fined.
As this next step in the offseason gets rolling, there are players across the league already under intense pressure. Some are trying to return from injury or rebound from a down season. Others are attempting to nail down a spot in the starting lineup. And others still are just trying to hang on to their jobs.
For every team in the NFL, there’s one player with more to prove in minicamp than any of his teammates. One pro who simply has to get off on the right foot.
Here they are, from Phoenix to D.C. and all points in between.
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Sam Bradford‘s career hasn’t gone according to plan. The No. 1 pick in the 2010 draft couldn’t stay healthy in St. Louis. He stayed in Philadelphia just long enough for the team to draft Carson Wentz. And just when it appeared he might have found a home in Minnesota, his balky knees betrayed him…again.
The player the Rams thought was a sure bet is now a 30-year-old journeyman. A journeyman who no sooner signed with the Arizona Cardinals before they drafted his successor in Josh Rosen.
Given what ESPN.com’s Josh Weinfuss saw at OTAs, that plan of succession may be proceeding faster than anyone (especially Bradford) thought it would:
“So far, the scouting report on Rosen has been dead-on. He was hyped as the most NFL-ready quarterback in this year’s draft because of the combination of his intelligence and skill. From what he has shown during the limited practices open to the media, he’s both smart and talented. His arm has been live, especially on deep passes. It’s clear he can think through a play rather quickly and efficiently. From what his offensive linemen have said about him so far, he’s been displaying a maturity and confidence in the huddle that has been well received.”
This is the worst-case scenario for Bradford. Before minicamp has even started, he’s hearing footsteps. Every glowing report about Rosen means more fans and pundits calling for the youngster.
The future is now and all that.
At this point, Bradford doesn’t just have to stay healthy (something he’s struggled to do in his career).
He essentially has to be perfect.
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It might actually be more accurate to say it’s Atlanta offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian who has the most to prove with the Falcons as minicamp nears.
But this article’s about players, so fair or not, it’s Matt Ryan who has to shoulder that load.
The Falcons made the playoffs again in 2017, but Ryan’s numbers were down substantially compared to his MVP season and Super Bowl run of two years ago. So was the Falcons’ offensive production as a team.
There’s additional pressure on Ryan individually, too. As the NFL’s first $30 million man in terms of average annual salary, the 33-year-old is going to be expected to play up to that contract. That means he needs to be in the MVP hunt again and lead the Falcons on a deep postseason run.
For what it’s worth, Ryan’s MVP season came in Kyle Shanahan’s second season as coordinator (2018 is Sarkisian’s). And the Falcons acquired another weapon for Ryan early in this year’s draft when they selected Alabama wide receiver Calvin Ridley.
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Robert Griffin III isn’t trying to win a starting job with the Ravens. That gig is Joe Flacco’s—at least for the time being.
Griffin isn’t really trying to become Flacco’s backup, either. After trading back into the first round of this year’s draft to select Lamar Jackson, the 2016 Heisman Trophy winner appears to be the future under center in Baltimore.
No, Griffin’s auditioning for other teams as much as he is trying to hang on in Baltimore, despite his protestations to the contrary. Per Mike Jones of USA Today, he said:
“When they drafted Lamar, I didn’t look at it as a shot at me or a shot at Joe. It was ‘OK, Lamar is coming in here, and it’s our job to help him learn the offense and help him compete.’ So, for me, my job is to show them that I’m an asset to the team and not a detriment. … One [reporter] asked me if I was trying to showcase for other teams. No, my focus is, I’m a Baltimore Raven. I’m showcasing to them that this is where I’m supposed to be.'”
Griffin probably has more on the line in every snap right now than any other player listed in this article. If Griffin washes out with the Ravens, this may be it for him.
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“It’s fun,” McCarron said. “You compete. You know, I’ve shared reps before. But it’s fun. We’re out here, everybody’s really learning, especially, speaking for myself, just trying to get timing with guys.”
We’ll see if the fifth-year veteran still feels that way in a couple of months.
This was supposed to be the year McCarron got his shot as an NFL starter after four years of carrying a clipboard for Andy Dalton. But the market for McCarron’s services was softer than expected. The two-year, $10 million deal he signed with the Bills hardly locked him in as the top quarterback for the team.
And that was before the Bills moved up in Round 1 to take Wyoming quarterback Josh Allen.
At OTAs, McCarron took the majority of first-team reps. But at this point McCarron’s at best a placeholder for Allen.
Unless, that is, he offers a reason not to be.
If McCarron wants to be a starter in the NFL, this might be his best shot.
Imperfect though it may be.
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The Carolina Panthers need all the help they can get at the wide receiver position. That’s why the team invested the 24th overall pick in this year’s draft in Maryland’s D.J. Moore, a 6’0″, 210-pounder with soft hands and 4.42 speed.
Per the team’s website, Moore’s wasted little time making an impression on veteran cornerback James Bradberry:
“He’s everything as advertised. D.J. Moore’s explosive, has speed, runs good routes. He impressed me a lot throughout these first couple of OTA practices. He’s been catching the ball real well. He performs well in space, especially yards after the catch. That’s one thing as a defender, you really hate. It pretty much eliminates bad plays.”
Granted, it’s still early. The OTA playbook consists of approximately four pages. And contact is a big no-no.
But a good start is a good start. It’s a step in the right direction—a step toward showing Moore can be the vertical threat the Panthers lacked in 2017.
Now, as the playbook gets bigger and the intensity on the practice field ratchets up another notch, the key for Moore is to keep moving forward—to keep getting better.
Because a team with hopes of making a second trip to Atlanta in 2018 (well, early 2019 to be precise) drafted him to fill in where it lacked in the passing game.
It’s why Carolina drafted him.
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As Mitchell Trubisky heads toward his second training camp with the Chicago Bears, there’s no question as to his place in the pecking order. It’s Trubisky’s team in 2018.
That doesn’t mean there isn’t substantial pressure on him as minicamp dawns.
In the offseason, the Bears took major steps to improve the weaponry available to Trubisky. The Bears now have a true No. 1 receiver in Allen Robinson and an athletic young tight end in Trey Burton.
The ingredients are there for a big second-year leap from the second overall pick in the 2017 draft. But now it’s up to Trubisky to cook up some success.
Bears quarterback coach Dave Ragone told Rich Campbell of the Chicago Tribune that he’s been impressed by how quickly Trubisky has taken to the scheme of new head coach Matt Nagy:
“Every year is a new year. But, obviously, with a new system, he has done a great job of trying to learn exactly the foundation of the system. How we call things. Why we call things a certain way. He has really owned that. He takes a lot of pride in that. It’s important to him. From Day 1, he has taken that task and run with it.”
Minicamp is the next step in the process.
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What a difference a year makes.
At this point in 2017, Ross was riding high—heading to his first minicamp as a top-10 pick after setting a record at the scouting combine with a 4.22-second 40-yard dash.
Now, Ross enters his second season trying desperately to stay healthy and rebound from a lost rookie season in which he was called out by his head coach and didn’t haul in a single pass.
None. Zero. Nada.
As ESPN.com’s Katherine Terrell reported, Ross said he found solace in talking to former Bengals wideout T.J. Houshmandzadeh.
“I think the best advice I got this year [was] T.J. telling me how he started his career. His rookie year, he barely played, and look how he blossomed. So, it can happen to anybody,” Ross said. “There’s a lot of players who have something going on. Everybody goes through adversity.”
Per Geoff Hobson of the Bengals website, Ross has been showing off that elite speed in OTAs, but he needs to keep right on gathering momentum through minicamp and the rest of the summer.
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It might seem a little strange to single out a player who probably won’t even start in Week 1 as the player with the most to prove for the Cleveland Browns in minicamp.
But when you’re the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft, the pressure to justify that selection is both immediate and constant.
So far at least, Baker Mayfield appears to be making quite the impression on his new teammates. Jared Tokarz of NFL Draft Insider tweeted recently that a “Browns source told me internally people are continually blown away with Baker Mayfield. ‘NEVER have we seen teammates gravitate to someone like this.'”
That’s all well and good, but Mayfield needs to do more at minicamp than just show leadership ability. He needs to throw accurate passes and make the right reads.
Mayfield needs to manufacture a quarterback controversy for the Browns in training camp. When you’re the first overall pick in the draft, you’re expected to make the coaching staff’s decision a difficult one.
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Frankly, just about any of the wide receivers for the Cowboys would have been a decent choice, from veteran Terrance Williams (who is coming off a lousy 2017) to rookie Michael Gallup.
Someone is going to have to step up in a big way if the Cowboys are going to contend in the NFC East.
Williams at least knows the scheme, and Gallup gets half a pass for being a rookie. So, it’s one of the team’s veteran acquisitions.
It wasn’t that long ago that Allen Hurns appeared to be an ascending young receiver. But after a 1,000-yard 2015 with the Jacksonville Jaguars, Hurns struggled to stay on the field. The 26-year-old has missed 11 games over the last two seasons, failing to hit 500 receiving yards in 2016 or 2017.
But Hurns is easily the most proven option on the Cowboys roster at wide receiver. He may not be a No. 1 wideout, but he’s as close to one as Dallas has.
Provided, that is, he can stay healthy after those two lost seasons and get his once-promising NFL career back on track.
In Dallas there is no honeymoon. Every year is Super Bowl-or-bust. So whether it’s fair or not, Hurns is now in the land of Texas-size expectations.
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It’s put-up-or-shut-up time for Denver Broncos tailback Devontae Booker.
With C.J. Anderson gone, there’s an open competition to become the lead back for the Broncos in 2018, and Booker’s the closest thing to an incumbent. But as Jon Heath reported for Broncos Wire, Denver head coach Vance Joseph made it clear that if Booker wants the job, he’s going to have to up his game.
“We’ve got four or five backs competing to be the guy, so he’s got to come out and work and earn the right to be the guy,” Joseph said. “Obviously, he understands that with C.J. gone, it’s a wide-open race. He’s excited about that and he should take a step forward. He’s a good football player, but we want more from him.”
It’s a tall ask. In two NFL seasons, Booker has averaged a meh 3.6 yards per carry, and the former Utah star has struggled with fumbles—six (three lost) in just 253 career carries.
The Broncos used a Day 2 pick this year on tailback Royce Freeman, serving notice to Booker that he’d better bring his A game in 2018.
That starts in earnest at minicamp.
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It was an up-and-down first NFL season for Lions linebacker Jarrad Davis.
Davis, who was a first-round pick in 2017, began the year as a three-down starter in the middle of the Detroit defense. But he struggled with injuries and in coverage, losing his sub-package responsibilities for a time.
Davis, however, closed the season on a high note with 12 tackles and a pick against the Green Bay Packers in Week 17, and new Lions linebackers coach Al Golden told Orion Sang of the Detroit Free Press he was pleased with Davis in OTAs:
“I think [Davis is] playing faster. I think he’s more comfortable. And I can see it in his body language and the energy that he’s bringing, especially pre-snap, no question about it. …
“He’s doing a great job. It’s not easy. We’re asking a lot of them. He’s coming prepared every day, working hard, holds himself to a high standard and is accountable. I think that’s the beauty of that kid. He’s fun to coach.”
The work is only just beginning, however. With Tahir Whitehead no longer in Motown, Davis isn’t expected to be just a three-down inside linebacker—he’s expected to be a leader for the defense.
In that regard, he needs to keep running downhill in minicamp.
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The cupboard’s hardly bare at the position. Davante Adams will (the Packers hope) step into the role of No. 1 receiver. After a fourth straight season with 60-plus receptions, Randall Cobb will man the slot. And tight end Jimmy Graham will offer Rodgers a new target.
The second starting spot outside, however, isn’t as certain.
Per Bill Huber of 247Sports, the early leader to man that slot is third-year pro Geronimo Allison, who hauled in 23 passes for 253 yards last year. Allison showed flashes—in Week 2, he posted six grabs for 122 yards against the Cincinnati Bengals.
But he’s far from a proven commodity—in two seasons, he has all of 455 yards. There are challengers for the spot too, such as holdover DeAngelo Yancey and rookies J’Mon Moore.
Allison can’t afford a misstep—even in minicamp.
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It wasn’t that long ago when J.J. Watt appeared to be on a collision course with going down as arguably the greatest defensive player in NFL history. In just his first five seasons, Watt was named Defensive Player of the Year three times.
Only the great Lawrence Taylor also won the award that many times.
Watt’s last two years, however, have been a mess. Multiple back surgeries ruined his 2016 season. Last year came to an abrupt end compliments of a tibial plateau fracture. A player who had never missed a game at any level in his life, according to ESPN.com’s Sarah Barshop, has sat out 24 of the last 32.
Watt is at a crossroads.
Per Barshop, Watt’s rehab is progressing well by all indications. And head coach Bill O’Brien is confident.
“Watching him and seeing him in the building every day, I would never bet against J.J. Watt,” O’Brien said. “J.J. Watt is a generational player in this league, and he’ll be back. He’s going to be back, and he’ll be back to full strength, and I just watch the way he is; that’s why I feel so good about him.”
Watt isn’t going to be a full participant in minicamp—getting him ready for Week 1 is much more important for the Houston Texans than practice reps.
But having him on the practice field at all would be the welcomest of sights.
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Don’t worry, though. It’s fine. Really.
Luck isn’t the only player on the Colts offense with a lot on the line this summer. The departure of Frank Gore opened a hole at running back, affording second-year pro Marlon Mack an opportunity to start.
Mack, however, was hardly dominant last year (3.8 yards per carry), and he’s not expected to be ready to return from shoulder surgery until training camp.
That opens the door for fourth-round rookie Nyheim Hines to stake his claim to the job. Per Kevin Bowen of 1070 The Fan, Hines has impressed.
“One of the things that you have to have to have position versatility is high football intelligence,” head coach Frank Reich said. “You have to be able to move and play a lot of positions and move around and play fast. [It’s] very evident that he’s very intelligent, besides being a 4.3 [40-yard dash] speed guy.”
If Hines continues to show well in minicamp, things could get interesting behind Jacoby Brissett.
Sorry, Luck. Again, nothing to worry about there.
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With Paul Posluszny retired, the Jacksonville Jaguars have a hole at linebacker. We know Telvin Smith will line up on the weak side. Myles Jack is expected to move into Posluszny’s old spot in the middle.
That leaves the strong side and second-year pro Blair Brown.
As Phillip Heilman of the Florida Times-Union reported, head coach Doug Marrone said strong-side linebacker may not be Brown’s most natural spot. But he thinks the 5’11”, 238-pounder is versatile enough to play all over the field.
“I think Blair has done a good job,” Marrone said. “Now is ‘Sam’ his more natural position? I think Blair can play all three. What he’s going to be the best at, I don’t know. But for us, what’s best for us right now, is for him to play Sam.”
Now, given how much time teams spend in the nickel, this might not seem all that vital. As a two-down linebacker, he would be on the field less than half the time.
But the Jaguars tried to move Jack to the middle last year, only to switch things back after Jack missed some assignments early in the season. If he stumbles again, Brown could find himself in a pivotal role for one of the NFL’s best defenses.
If, that is, he shows he can handle it.
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This one should be narrated by Captain Obvious.
The Kansas City Chiefs have already shown considerable confidence in Patrick Mahomes—twice. First, the Chiefs traded up to No. 10 a year ago to select the Texas Tech gunslinger. Then the team shipped Alex Smith to Washington after it won the AFC West but experienced more first-round postseason disappointment.
It’s Mahomes’ team now, and the edict is clear. He’s expected to lead the Chiefs to a division title and just their second playoff win of the last 25 years.
Tight end Travis Kelce told ESPN.com’s Adam Teicher that Mahomes wasted no time.
“He just took control out there on the first day. That’s the biggest thing is seeing that he does have control of the room at such a young age, knowing this is his first rodeo in the NFL. He’s not shy about taking the lead and that’s huge. It makes it easier on all of us to see the direction of where this can go and it’s easy to follow that.”
Mahomes needs to keep that momentum rolling right through minicamp. Everyone is watching.
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Back in 2015, Jason Verrett rode 47 tackles and three interceptions to a berth in the Pro Bowl.
Since then, the only thing the 2014 first-round pick has ridden is a trainer’s table. Over the last two years, Verrett has played just five games because of knee injuries—which limited him to just one game last season.
Former Chargers great and Pro Football Hall of Famer LaDainian Tomlinson thinks Verrett could be part of something special. As he said on Total Access, via Hayley Elwood of the team’s website:
“When you look at this team on paper, it’s not hard to see why [pundits are picking them to go far]. Without question, you do have the best quarterback in the division and one of the best quarterbacks in the National Football League. That’s the first thing. The second thing is, that defense is going to be nasty again. You keep Jason Verrett healthy at the cornerback position with Casey Hayward together along with those defensive ends that we have along with the young rookie, Derwin James. There are a lot of reasons to like the Los Angeles Chargers. We only have one of the best wide receivers in all of the game in Keenan Allen, so there’s a lot to like about this team. But they have to go put in the work. They have to go do it.”
The problem is that Verrett still hasn’t been cleared to practice fully, and with Trevor Williams coming off the best season of his career, Verrett’s spot in the starting lineup is far from secure.
If Verrett can’t show he’s 100 percent in camp and doesn’t wind up starting, it’s unlikely the team will exercise his fifth-year option.
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The Los Angeles Rams appear stacked in both the defensive backfield and on the defensive line after a flurry of offseason acquisitions. But after the trade of Alec Ogletree to the New York Giants, the inside linebacker spot opposite Mark Barron is a question mark.
Per Cameron DaSilva of Rams Wire, third-year pro Cory Littleton took most of the first-team reps (and made the defensive play calls) across from Barron in OTAs. Head coach San McVay said it’s an audition that Littleton earned with his play in limited duty last season:
“When he played last year, he’s the type of guy that you’re creating certain packages just to get him on the field when you’ve got two really good players inside like an Alec Ogletree and like a Mark Barron. So, Cory’s made plays over the course of his career when he’s gotten opportunities on defense. He’s a guy that’s got a lot of just little nuances to his game, but you see the athleticism and the instincts show up.”
“Green dot” duties are no small chore—especially for a team that hopes to make a Super Bowl run in 2018. And Littleton will have to hold off the likes of Ramik Wilson and Bryce Hager if he’s going to be the quarterback of the defense.
That makes every day a “prove it” day.
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It’s become something of an annual event with DeVante Parker—a summer of promise and rave reviews in shorts and shells followed by a disappointing fall and winter.
As Jason Lieser of the Palm Beach Post reported, wide receivers coach Ben Johnson said the team is taking a different tack this year by holding back on the proclamations that Parker is on the verge of breaking out.
“The biggest thing for him is we were making these giant claims about him last year; right now, it’s one day at a time,” wide receivers coach Ben Johnson said after today’s practice. “It’s a one-day-at-a-time mentality. We’re just trying to improve from yesterday. That’s all it is. We’ll keep stacking good days on top of each other, and that’s how we’re going to keep improving.”
Just because the Dolphins are tempering expectations doesn’t mean they aren’t there. Parker did manage a career-high 57 catches in 2017, but he hasn’t come close to living up to his status as the 14h overall pick in 2015. The Dolphins picked up Parker’s 2019 option, but that’s guaranteed only for injury—if he has another down year, the Dolphins can walk away.
That makes every part of this offseason an audition of sorts for Parker.
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As Chris Tomasson reported for the Pioneer Press (via the Grand Forks Herald), Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Laquon Treadwell isn’t necessarily buying the notion that 2018 is a make-or-break season.
“I think it’s a make-or-break year for everyone, not just myself. A lot of guys speak on it, every year is a new year. You’ve got to re-prove yourself. … I just don’t put the pressure on myself as a make-or-break year. …
“I do think I’ll be able to take a leap, but I wouldn’t say a big leap. I mean, I just feel like every year you’re going to experience different things.”
Here’s hoping Treadwell’s wrong about that leap size.
In two seasons in the NFL, the 2016 first-round pick has caught all of 21 passes for 215 yards. His next NFL touchdown will be his first NFL touchdown.
And with the Vikings’ offseason acquisition of veteran Kendall Wright, if Treadwell isn’t hearing footsteps, he should be.
In OTAs, Treadwell ran ahead of Wright with the first-team offense. And Minnesota could use a second outside threat—a role the 6’2″, 215-pound Treadwell was drafted to fill.
If he’s going to get his flagging career back on track, now is the time to do it.
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After last year’s fiasco in Super Bowl LII, it’s should surprise approximately no one that Malcolm Butler is no longer with the New England Patriots. But his departure opened a hole in a secondary that appeared to be nothing but holes against the Philadelphia Eagles.
To address that need, the Patriots traded for veteran cornerback Jason McCourty, who will team with his twin brother, Devin. Jason told Henry McKenna of Patriots Wire that he has a leg up on learning the defense.
“It’s probably been spot on just because me and him talk just about every day so over the past eight seasons of just talking to him each and every day of what it’s like of maybe game plan different opponents, of talking about those things, hearing him complain, hearing him celebrate, all those things. I think I had a good idea of what was to come as opposed to maybe another person who has come here, and has no idea what to expect and you only know what you guys say about it. I kind of had an inside scoop with that.”
Jason’s a capable pro with nine NFL seasons under his belt. But there’s a reason why he’s on his third team in as many years. If the Patriots are going to shore up their weak spot, he needs to show he can turn back the clock and recapture his heyday with the Tennessee Titans.
If he doesn’t, Eric Rowe is waiting to take his spot, and Jason will be watching Devin instead of playing alongside him.
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In 2015, Hau’oli Kikaha showed promise as a rotational edge-rusher for the New Orleans Saints. He topped 50 tackles and pitched in four sacks as a rookie.
Since then, though, everything that could go wrong did. A torn ACL cost him the 2016 season. A scheme change. An ankle injury ended a so-so third season prematurely.
Now, as Kikaha enters the last year of his rookie deal, he’s gone from promising young player to clinging to a roster spot while trying to learn a new position.
As Joel Erickson of the New Orleans Advocate reported, the Saints tried Kikaha as a strong-side linebacker in OTAs.
“I enjoy it, and I think I’m doing pretty well,” Kikaha said. “I’ve just got to organize some man-coverage stuff, but I’ve gotten a few reps at that, and the more you do, the better you get.”
To be clear, if this transition doesn’t work out, it’s entirely possible Kikaha will visit “The Turk” this summer. That isn’t to say his NFL career would be over—someone would take a shot on him.
But his New Orleans career might be.
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There isn’t a player on the New York Giants who enters minicamp facing more pressure than rookie tailback Saquon Barkley. In fact, there might not be a first-year player in the NFL who’s facing more pressure than Barkley.
He isn’t just expected to play well. Or start. After the Giants made the Penn State product the No. 2 overall pick in the draft, Barkley is supposed to shine. To star. To be a revelation.
He’s expected to become the third straight rookie tailback to lead the NFL in rushing. He’s supposed to catch passes, pass protect for Eli Manning and play a pivotal role for a team looking to make a rapid rebound and a return to the playoffs.
On his days off, he’s expected to help old ladies cross the street, rescue kittens from trees and possibly defeat Lex Luthor.
To his credit, there’s been nothing to indicate Barkley isn’t the real deal. But the fact he’s been anointed the favorite to be named Offensive Rookie of the Year shows just how sky-high expectations are for him.
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New York Jets quarterback Teddy Bridgewater is an outlier on this list. The exception to the proverbial rule.
It isn’t that Bridgewater doesn’t have a lot to prove. After missing nearly all of the last two seasons following a knee injury, Bridgewater’s trying to demonstrate he’s still a starting quarterback.
What sets him apart is that if he continues to dazzle in minicamp the way he did in OTAs, he’ll as likely as not wind up playing for a different team.
When the Jets took a one-year flier on Bridgewater, it was for depth behind and competition for veteran Josh McCown. But that was before the Jets drafted Sam Darnold with the third overall pick.
As Ryan Wilson of CBSSports.com reported, Bridgewater’s performance has put the Jets in an unusual position. The team has McCown to start in the short-term. It traded up to make Darnold its long-term solution.
In essence, while he started out auditioning for Gang Green, Bridgewater’s minicamp has become an audition for every team in the NFL that might be looking to add a quarterback.
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There will no doubt be many fans who disagree with the picks in this article. There always are.
Words hurt, y’all.
But in the case of Oakland Raiders wide receiver Jordy Nelson, the player himself has already disputed the notion that he has something to prove with his new team.
“I don’t have anything to prove,” Nelson told WLUK in Green Bay. “I’m enjoying the game. As long as I’m healthy and enjoying it, it will be good.”
With all due respect to Mr. Nelson, that’s poppycock.
If the 33-year-old Nelson didn’t have anything to prove, he wouldn’t be in Oakland at all—he’d still be in Titletown catching passes from Aaron Rodgers.
But Nelson isn’t. After his worst season in years, the Packers released Nelson, and for every person who blames last year’s miserable numbers on Rodgers’ absence, there’s another who points to the increasing number of candles on Nelson’s birthday cakes.
They’re becoming fire hazards.
Nelson wasn’t brought to Oakland as a flier. He’s supposed to replace the production the Raiders lost when they showed Michael Crabtree the door.
So, whether he wants to acknowledge it or not, the pressure is real.
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Stop it with that look. It’s unsettling.
Carson Wentz’s inclusion isn’t meant to infer he has anything left to prove. That was settled during last year’s breakout season.
The problem, though, is Wentz wasn’t on the field in the playoffs after he tore his ACL in December.
Wentz was back on the field for the start of OTAs, and he told ESPN.com’s Tim McManus that he’s learning to trust his surgically repaired knee.
“I’m just learning how to trust it—learning how to trust your knee, trust your movement, all of those things. And that comes over time. Every day, it just gets a little better, a little more trust, a little more faith in it. At the same time you’ve got to be smart, got to be smart with what the doctors are saying, but I feel I’ve made really good strides both mentally and physically, and I like where I’m at.”
Wentz was limited to individual work, and it’s likely the story will be much the same at minicamp—there’s little point in pushing things this early in the game.
But just that incremental progress is big in and of itself. This is a championship-caliber team. There aren’t any big holes to patch.
But as well as Nick Foles played in the postseason, he’s just not Wentz.
If the Philadelphia Eagles are going to repeat, they need No. 11 on the field.
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To become a true Super Bowl contender, the Steelers need to fortify their biggest weakness: the gaping hole at inside linebacker caused by the loss of Ryan Shazier.
In the same game Shazier went down last December, the Steelers also lost third-year pro Tyler Matakevich to a season-ending shoulder injury. As Joe Rutter reported for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Matakevich said he’s healthy now and is ready to assume a bigger role for the team after last year’s setback.
“It’s very frustrating because these opportunities don’t come around too often. That’s why when you get an opportunity, you have to make the best of it and run with it. I felt at a little disadvantage. I knew I was going to get an opportunity, but I knew I was just going to do it with one arm. The good news is we got it fixed, and we’ve got a new season (ahead).”
Matakevich was running with the first-team defense at OTAs, but with the newly signed Jon Bostic also in town, he knows his margin for error is slim.
“Everyone knows you don’t earn a spot in OTAs,” Matakevich said after practice. “You know it happens in Latrobe. It’s nice now, but when everyone gets the pads on, that’s when the real camp starts.”
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Inside linebacker Reuben Foster was arrested twice this offseason and missed part of OTAs after being charged with domestic violence. After the domestic violence charge was dismissed, however, he was allowed to rejoin the 49ers.
The goal now is to get Foster back up to speed as quickly as possible, linebackers coach DeMeco Ryans told Kirk Larrabee of 247 Sports.
“It’s just a matter of getting out there and going through the practice right now, going through all OTA practices and minicamp, just getting familiar. I think Reuben is a really dynamic player, a great player, and I think you’ll see great improvements from him this year—year two in the system, him understanding the scheme and understanding what we’re trying to do. He has a really good grasp of it. He’s a really smart guy, smart player, and it’s not a big learning curve for him.”
Injuries also limited Foster to only 10 games as a rookie last year, so it’s also vital for him to prove he can stay on the field.
The 49ers enter 2018 with huge expectations, and they’ll be counting on Foster to spearhead their defense.
Minicamp offers him a chance to prove he can do just that.
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The Seattle Seahawks have scuffled in the run game since Marshawn Lynch left after the 2015 season. They sought to address that weakness by selecting tailback Rashaad Penny 27th overall in this year’s draft.
Despite Penny’s lofty draft status, head coach Pete Carroll made it clear that if he wants to start as a rookie, he’ll have to earn it.
“We’re not just handing him the job; he has to come in here and battle, which he’s ready to do,” Carroll said, per ESPN.com’s Brady Henderson. “He’s such an excited player and he’s so versatile and dynamic that we know every time he gets his hands on the ball, he can score a touchdown. That’s in the running game and the passing game because he’s very gifted catching the football and running routes as well.”
Minicamp won’t afford Penny a chance to work on his pass protection, but it’s still an opportunity to prove he’s the most dangerous back on the team.
In other words, he’ll get to show he was worth that high draft pick.
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After joining the Buccaneers in free agency last year, DeSean Jackson had the worst season of his career.
Jackson’s 47.7 receiving yards per game and 13.4 yards per catch were both career lows. He managed only three touchdowns and never seemed to develop a rapport with Tampa quarterback Jameis Winston.
Per Bonnie Mott of Bucs Wire, general manager Jason Licht said he’s seen signs of improvement in that latter regard this offseason.
“Well, they worked together this offseason,” Licht said. “DeSean has been here. We’ve seen the improvements already here in practices, Jameis connecting deep.”
That Jackson worked out with Winston and showed up for OTAs as opposed to working out on his own in California demonstrates that he knows this year isn’t business as usual.
Not with youngster Chris Godwin breathing down his neck and reports swirling that Jackson could be on the trade block.
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Corey Davis’ rookie year didn’t go as planned.
The No. 5 overall pick in 2017 missed five games and caught only 34 passes for 375 yards. But Davis did haul in two touchdown catches in the Titans’ playoff loss to the Patriots, offering a glimpse of his potential.
The 6’3″, 209-pounder told Jim Rexrode of the Tennessean that he’s ready to show the NFL what he can do in 2018.
“I can play with anyone, can play with the best of them,” Davis said. “It pretty much comes down to that.”
Rexrode calls Davis the second-most important player on Tennessee’s roster, trailing only quarterback Marcus Mariota.
It’s now up to Davis to show he’s healthy and deserving of that title.
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After trading for Alex Smith in mid-March, the Redskins hope he can help fans forget about 2017 starting quarterback Kirk Cousins and get them back into contention in the NFC East.
Per Mike Jones of USA Today, head coach Jay Gruden has wasted no time in tossing Smith into the deep end.
“We’re already throwing a lot at him,” Gruden said. “No huddle, two-minute, red zone. You know he’s been well-coached by (Jim) Harbaugh, and Andy Reid. And he’s been through the ringer as a player.”
Upon arriving in Washington, Smith inked a contract extension that includes $71 million in guarantees. That kind of deal brings with it expectations of a quick return to prominence for both him and the team.
Smith needs to get up to speed with Gruden’s offense, well, yesterday.
He needs every minicamp rep he can get.
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