Team Notes week 1 2019
NEWS, NOTES, RUMORS AND OTHER GOOD STUFF
Directly from the desk of FlashUpdate Editor Bob Harris. The good; the bad; and yes. ... Even the Bears. There is no better way to jump start your weekend than browsing these always educational -- often irreverent -- team-by-team, Fantasy-specific offerings. ...
Access specific teams by clicking on a team name in the schedule appearing directly to your left or by clicking on a helmet below; return to the helmets by hitting the link labeled "Menu" following each teams notes. ...
Arizona CardinalsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 3 September 2019
After watching Sean McVay lead a turnaround in Los Angeles, the Cardinals searched for their own version and they hired Kliff Kingsbury. He replaces the defense-minded Steve Wilks, who was fired after going 3-13 in his only season in the desert.
Kingsbury comes with many question marks after being fired following three straight losing seasons at Texas Tech. But he also brings his version of the fast-paced, wide-open "Air Raid" offense.
He has an intriguing player to run it after Arizona drafted undersized Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Kyler Murray first overall. While the Cardinals may not be contenders thanks to suspect defense and a porous offensive line, they could be one of the more intriguing teams with a new offensive system.
"I don't see why everybody thinks it can't be successful," Murray said. "It worked at the college level and I don't see why it can't work at the NFL level."
Indeed, with the offseason and preseason work over, the Cardinals officially had their first regular season practice Monday, but as ArizonaCardinals.com's Darren Urban pointed out, there is still a mystery surrounding the scheme Kingsbury will unveil Sunday against the Lions.
Whether that will be an advantage, Kingsbury acknowledged Monday, "I don't know."
"You can go back and see stuff I did the last 10 years in college, not that this is what that'll look like or not," Kingsbury said. "But it's not like this is my first year of calling plays in football."
That doesn't mean the Cards are going to stop playing coy -- "You'll have to see Sunday," running back David Johnson said when asked about what the offense will look like - or tamp down the excitement the players have to finally get to run it.
"I think Kliff and the guys have done a great job keeping it under wraps," running back Chase Edmonds said. "We've kept it really vanilla, super vanilla and super basic in preseason. After seeing some of the install plays we have, it's very creative. I can't wait for the opening up. ... It's kind of like Christmas, or Christmas Eve-type of deal."
Some of the Cardinals' coaches have been working on Lions' prep fully since the third preseason game in Minnesota ended. Kingsbury said the initial Lions' study began in the summer, but as the Lions don't know exactly what Kingsbury will do on offense, the Cardinals can't be certain how Lions coach Matt Patricia will tweak his defense from his rookie head coaching season.
The Cardinals only kept two tight ends on the roster and seven wide receivers, but Kingsbury said Monday the Cards could use a reserve offensive lineman as a tight end in certain situations.
Murray has looked mostly solid in his preseason games and practices, save for a rough outing against the Raiders. He has found a nice chemistry with fellow rookie KeeSean Johnson, but the Cardinals also figure to lean on the usual suspects -- Johnson and wide receivers Larry Fitzgerald and Christian Kirk.
"Preseason was rough because we couldn't do much," Johnson said. "He's already started doing a little bit and it looks really good for our offense and as a whole, with what he is doing with his creativity."
The concepts have long been part of practice, although Kirk said the players don't dive into specific opponents - the Lions this time around - until the week of the game.
Kingsbury had the Cardinals go through a "regular" game week leading up to the Vikings' preseason game, including practice schedules. That's where the Cards are now, spending Labor Day laboring and then the players getting Tuesday off as the coaches finalize the game plan leading into the bulk of the practice week.
"It'll be a fun show," tackle D.J. Humphries said. "I think we're going to shock a lot of people."
But what will Murray do for fantasy owners?
According to ESPN's Mike Clay, there have been only three top-10 and six top-14 fantasy seasons by rookie quarterbacks over the past decade, but all six players did a lot of damage with their legs. That bodes well for Murray's chances, as the 2019 first overall pick ran for 1,001 yards while averaging 7.2 yards per carry at Oklahoma last season.
Murray can sling it, too; he set an FBS record with 11.6 yards per attempt last season.
Clay summed up, "Rookies are always risky, but Murray's dual-threat ability, combined with a fast-paced Kingsbury offense, has him on the top-12 radar. ..."
If that's the case, the Cardinals' offense will likely be prolific.
ESPN.com's Josh Weinfuss thinks that will absolutely be the case. "The Cardinals will lead the NFL in scoring in 2019 and still miss the playoffs because of their defense," Weinfuss wrote, "which will be missing CB Patrick Peterson for the first six games. There's good reason to believe Kingsbury's offense can be as potent and dynamic as it was in college. He's coaching perhaps the best quarterback he's ever worked with -- and that's saying something. Kingsbury has an offensive mind that has been compared to the likes of former Cardinals coach Bruce Arians.
"But the defense will be a liability, no matter how many points the Cardinals score."
From a fantasy perspective, that's a feature. Not a bug. ...
Other notes of interest. ... Kirk confirmed on Monday that he'll double as the Cardinals' punt returner this season, which is interesting given the widely held view he's their WR1. ...
The Cardinals finalized their initial roster over the weekend. Some of the notable cuts include tight end Ricky Seals-Jones, wide receiver Pharoh Cooper, wide receiver Chad Williams and rookie tight end Caleb Wilson.
Those on the bubble who made the team include running back D.J. Foster and wide receiver Damiere Byrd.
QBs: Kyler Murray, Drew Anderson, Brett Hundley
RBs: Kenyan Drake, Chase Edmonds, D.J. Foster
WRs: DeAndre Hopkins, Larry Fitzgerald, Christian Kirk, Andy Isabella, Trent Sherfield, KeeSean Johnson
TEs: Maxx Williams, Darrell Daniels, Dan Arnold, Charles Clay
Atlanta FalconsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 3 September 2019
The Falcons head into Week 1 with one unresolved issue: The team has been reportedly close to a deal for star wide receiver Julio Jones many times this offseason. And yet, he still doesn't have a deal.
But on Monday, Jones was on the practice field as if everything was normal, and head coach Dan Quinn is hoping that it stays that way.
"I have no new updates to provide you on that," Quinn said, via D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "Sometimes the business sides do intersect. Sometimes they can creep in a little bit. If anybody has done some business or contract negotiations, you know there are two sides to it. If I chimed in, it would be a third side. ...
"I'm not part of those conversations and calls. I'm confident that they'll get together and get some stuff done. I'm definitely ready to move it from negotiations to celebrations. I just hope that takes place. He's here and doing well in terms of practice for today."
As Profootballtalk.com pointed out, the clock's ticking on meeting their oft-stated goal of extending Jones before the start of the regular season. And recent deals in Atlanta and otherwise aren't making it easier, leaving Quinn to hope he can stay in his normal football lane, and that this baby finally gets delivered.
For what it's worth, owner Arthur Blank told the Athletic.com's Jeff Schultz that the two sides are "very, very close" to a deal and, "I'd be surprised and disappointed if we didn't get it done this week. ... I think it's very reasonable to assume it will get done this week."
Stand by. ...
All that aside, and assuming all hands are on deck to open the season in Minnesota on Sunday.
According to ESPN.com's Vaughn McClure, Matt Ryan is poised to reach 5,000 passing yards for the first time in his career.
McClure explained, now that he's reunited with offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter, Ryan should have his share of attempts. Having an arsenal that includes arguably the NFL's best receiver in Jones, second-year gem Calvin Ridley, sure-handed Mohamed Sanu, Pro Bowl tight end Austin Hooper and dual-threat back Devonta Freeman makes Ryan's job that much easier.
McClure went on to note that in the process of reaching 5,000, Ryan will reach 50,000 career passing yards, becoming the 10th player in NFL history to accomplish that feat.
According to ESPN's Mike Clay, Ridley is positioned for a larger role this season after finishing his rookie campaign 22nd in fantasy points while working behind both Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu. The first-round pick caught 70 percent of his targets and scored 10 touchdowns.
Clay added: "He is an obvious bet for touchdown regression this season, but that figures to be offset by a boost in targets in Atlanta's high-volume pass offense. ..."
While Freeman will be the focal point in the backfield, the team's running backs room is loaded with depth. Brian Hill and Qadree Ollison both proved their cases for a spot on the roster during the preseason and ultimately Quinn and GM Thomas Dimitroff opted to keep both.
But a healthy Freeman will carry the load with Ito Smith backing him up in his second season.
The Falcons brought back 44-year-old kicker Matt Bryant after failing to find his successor during preseason.
The team agreed to terms with Bryant, who made 20 of 21 field-goal attempts in 2018. Bryant holds the franchise record with 1,122 points since joining the Falcons in 2009. When injuries shortened his 2018 season, Giorgio Tavecchio emerged as the possible long-term replacement.
Bryant was released in a cost-cutting move after the season. He returned for a workout Friday. Tavecchio and Blair Walsh could not win the job in the preseason.
QBs: Matt Ryan, Matt Schaub, Kurt Benkert
RBs: Todd Gurley, Brian Hill, Qadree Ollison, Ito Smith, Kenjon Barner
WRs: Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley, Russell Gage, Laquon Treadwell, Christian Blake, Olamide Zaccheaus, Justin Hardy
TEs: Hayden Hurst, Jaeden Graham, Carson Meier, Luke Stocker
Baltimore RavensCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 3 September 2019
As NFL.com's Kevin Patra recently reminded readers, during his eight starts as a rookie, including playoffs, Lamar Jackson didn't have a single game with 30 passing attempts. The second-year quarterback suggested that would emphatically change in 2019.
Asked by Adam Schein of Mad Dog Sports Radio late last month what the ideal ratio of run-to-pass would be for the run-heavy Ravens, Jackson provided clearly his hopes for his pass attempts.
"Probably throwing, probably 30 passes a game," Jackson said. "Running, I probably won't have as many attempts as last year. We have a great backfield and we're just going to take what the defense gives us and take advantage of it and just go from there."
As Patra pointed out, Jackson didn't distinguish from pass attempts and dropbacks, which would include plays which are designed for him to pass but turn into scrambles for the NFL's most dangerous running QB.
Patra went on to explain that averaging 30 passing attempts a game, while an uptick from his 23.4 in eight starts, wouldn't put Jackson all that high compared to other starters. Of QBs that threw at least 200 passes in 2018, 28 averaged more than 30 attempts per game, led by Ben Roethlisberger's 42.2. Joe Flacco, before he was injured and benched in favor of Jackson last year, attempted 42.1 passes per tilt for Baltimore (2nd in NFL).
During training camp, head coach John Harbaugh famously said "take the over" on Jackson rushing 139-plus times this season. While the QB will run plenty, Jackson believes he won't take off from the pocket as much as he did last season.
"Absolutely, last year it was a lot of (when) things break down, I just used my legs, not trying to force anything -- not trying to force turnovers or anything like that," Jackson told Schein. "I've been working on ball security this year. I had a lot of fumbles, fumbles that really shouldn't have been fumbles, but it happened, but it's going to be a dramatic change this year."
If Jackson plans to make strides as a quarterback, he'll have to learn to maneuver the pocket and keep passing as his primary objective as opposed to being a one-read-and-run signal-caller, like he was a lot last year.
From hearing Jackson discuss it, that's his plan heading into the start of the season.
Still, ESPN.com's Jamison Hensley is predicting Jackson will set the NFL record for most rushing yards by a quarterback in a single season.
"Using his electric speed and elusive moves, Jackson will surpass his childhood idol Michael Vick, who is the only quarterback to run for more than 1,000 yards in the league (he did so in 2006)," Hensley wrote. "He'll also become the ninth quarterback to score double-digit rushing touchdowns."
Or, as ESPN's Mike Clay put it, "His passing struggles are a big red flag -- he completed 58 percent of his throws (fourth-worst) and was off target on 22 percent (second-worst) -- but his elite rushing production provides him QB1 upside in fantasy. ..."
Willie Snead, Chris Moore and Seth Roberts are this team's top veteran wide receiver options. Marquise Brown, Miles Boykin and Jaleel Scott have combined to play zero NFL snaps.
Clay considers the Ravens' wide receiving corps the league's worst.
Meanwhile, Brown is cleared for showtime. Harbaugh said Monday the rookie wideout with the "Hollywood" moniker is "full-go" heading into the regular-season opener Sunday in Miami.
Brown made his training camp debut on July 31, about a week into training camp. The Ravens had a specific plan for how he would ramp up his action, taking it slow after his January foot surgery.
Brown sat out the first two preseason games, then suited up for the second two. He caught three passes for 17 yards in Philadelphia - showing great burst and impressive hands - but played just on special teams (punt returner) in the preseason finale in Washington.
While Brown is physically 100 percent, he's obviously behind his peers in terms of practice time. Boykin, for example, has had many more practice and preseason game reps with Jackson.
Thus, there could still be a process of easing Brown into a full workload as the season starts.
But don't mistake his lack of experience for an inability to change a game in a flash.
"As a rookie, he hasn't had a lot of reps," Harbaugh said. "So he'll have to get up to speed quickly. We'll have to be vigilant in what we ask him to do well - things that he can do well. It will be a challenge for them too to cover him. He's really fast and he's got great hands. So that's the challenge the other way."
Harbaugh said his expectation is that backup quarterback Robert Griffin III has also been cleared to play in Sunday's game after suffering a hand injury early in training camp.
On the flip side, Harbaugh said a knee fracture suffered in the preseason finale is what sent running back Kenneth Dixon to injured reserve.
"That's not to say he would have necessarily made the team," Harbaugh said. "It would have been based on how he played. He's on IR. He'll be released injured, so Kenny will be moving on."
Mark Ingram is locked in as the starter at halfback with rookie Justice Hill and holdover Gus Edwards both available to chip in.
QBs: Lamar Jackson, Robert Griffin III, Trace McSorley
RBs: Mark Ingram, Gus Edwards, Justice Hill
WRs: Marquise Brown, Miles Boykin, Willie Snead, Jaleel Scott, De'Anthony Thomas, Chris Moore
TEs: Mark Andrews, Nick Boyle
Buffalo BillsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 3 September 2019
As Associated Press sports writer John Wawrow framed it, "Turns out the Buffalo Bills didn't agree with running back LeSean McCoy's assertion that he was still 'the guy' in their backfield. ..."
General manager Brandon Beane cited the emergence of rookie Devin Singletary and McCoy having to play a diminished role as key factors in the team's surprising decision to cut the 31-year-old Saturday when it established its 53-player roster.
"Difficult as it was, we always have to make what we think is the best decision for our team, and we just felt it was the right time to make this move," Beane said.
"We did see this being a running back by committee with whatever group we kept, and that would be a different role for LeSean," Beane added. "And it is something you have to consider when you're kind of maybe lessening a guy, you know, a bell-cow back for his whole career."
In other developments, tight end Tyler Kroft was activated from the physically unable to perform list and placed on the active roster after missing nearly the entire offseason with a broken right foot while fellow tight end Jason Croom was placed on IR.
Those moves were overshadowed by McCoy's departure.
The 11th-year player's 10,606 yards rushing rank 25th on the career list and fourth among active players. He is coming off his least productive season and proved to be the odd man out after Buffalo restocked the position this offseason.
Aside from selecting Singletary in the third round, Buffalo signed 36-year-old Frank Gore and T.J. Yeldon. McCoy was initially considered safe after Beane twice said he was still considered the starter.
What changed was Singletary's accelerated development and showing he could play a dual role as runner and receiver during training camp and the preseason.
Singletary finished with 42 yards rushing on 12 carries and added six catches for 46 yards.
"Devin's an unproven player in a regular season game, but we felt he had done enough and answered enough questions for us to make this decision happen," Beane said of the 5-7, 200-pound player out of Florida Atlantic. "We felt he's ready to roll in some form or fashion for our team."
Beane left it to head coach Sean McDermott and offensive coordinator Brian Daboll to determine the running back rotation and each player's roll for Buffalo's season opener at the New York Jets on Sept. 8.
As ESPN's Mike Clay suggested this week, the Buffalo backfield might still be crowded, but with McCoy being cut and Gore likely in his final season, there's no doubt Singletary is the future.
Clay added the third-round rookie is on the small side, but he's extremely elusive, ranking among the top backs in this year's class in broken tackle and evaded tackle rates in 2018. Singletary's career might start slow, but it's possible he'll be Buffalo's lead back at some point during the 2019 season. ...
For what it's worth, in reaching the decision to cut McCoy, Beane said he made a few what he called "23rd-hour" attempts to trade the player. McCoy was entering the final year of a five-year contract he signed after his acquisition in a trade with Philadelphia, where he led the NFL in yards rushing in 2013. ...
Other notes of interest. ... ESPN.com's Marcel Louis-Jacques is predicting that Cole Beasley finishes 2019 with a 100-catch season.
Louis-Jacques explained the former Dallas Cowboy has averaged 3.1 receptions per game in his career after playing in a run-heavy offense with elite receiving options around him. But he'll be one of, if not the focal point of Buffalo's passing attack in 2019. He might not lead the league in receiving yards, but he can average the 6.3 receptions per game he needs to reach the 100-catch mark.
Some of that will be dependent on Josh Allen.
The Bills want their young quarterback to opt for his check-downs and intermediate options over pushing the ball downfield this season. According to Louis-Jacques, Allen's ability to do so and take care of the ball is paramount to offensive success in 2019.
Allen will have more help.
A rebuilt offensive line (Mitch Morse, Quinton Spain, Ty Nsekhe, Cody Ford), a rebuilt receiver room (John Brown, Beasley) and bolstered backfield (Gore, Singletary) give the Bills a new look in 2019. If Allen can take care of the ball and make smart decisions, this unit should be markedly improved from 2018.
McDermott told reporters Wednesday that Kroft would not participate in practice Wednesday; his status for Sunday is uncertain. Return man Andre Roberts also missed practice Wednesday with a quad injury. McDermott said that Roberts is day-to-day when it comes to his availability for the weekend. Spain is practicing after missing time with an ankle injury.
QBs: Josh Allen, Matt Barkley, Davis Webb
RBs: Devin Singletary, Frank Gore, T.J. Yeldon
WRs: John Brown, Stefon Diggs, Cole Beasley, Isaiah McKenzie, Duke Williams, Andre Roberts, Robert Foster
TEs: Dawson Knox, Tyler Kroft, Lee Smith, Tommy Sweeney, Jason Croom
Carolina PanthersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 3 September 2019
Let's face it: The Panthers offense was downright terrible in the preseason. But head coach Ron Rivera downplayed his team's lack of production, and doesn't seem worried about the doldrums carrying over to the regular season.
"First of all, you have to take into account who is playing - that's probably the biggest thing," Rivera said. "If we went off of that, I think maybe we can all calm down, take a breath and see what happens."
Rivera took an ultraconservative approach to the preseason this year - much more so than in the years past - resting his starters to limit the risk of injury.
Cam Newton, running back Christian McCaffrey and tight end Greg Olsen were held out of the first two preseason games. They only played three possessions (or 11 plays) in a 10-3 loss to the Patriots with Newton leaving with a mid-foot sprain.
"To me it's always about playing the games that count," Rivera said.
While Rivera doesn't seem worried, at least one veteran player struck a note of caution.
Olsen, one of the team's captains, said it's always important to produce.
"In this league you just can't all of a sudden turn a switch and say we are going to be good now," Olsen said
But the goal has been for the Panthers to get Newton healthy enough for the regular season.
Rivera told reporters last week, "there's no doubt in my mind" that Newton will play in the team's regular season opener against the Rams.
According to ESPN.com, Newton took every rep he was scheduled to take today on Monday. Rivera reiterated what he said last week that there is no doubt in his mind the Panthers' franchise quarterback will be ready for the opener. He said if Newton continues to progress as he has "we will be in the clear."
On Wednesday, the Panthers released their first injury report for the week, and Newton's name wasn't on it.
I'll obviously continue to follow up via Late-Breaking Update in coming days, but general manager Marty Hurney said his quarterback was good to go.
Beyond that, it's safe to say the Panthers appear to have a solid corps of weapons including Newton, McCaffrey, Olsen and speedy wide receivers D.J. Moore and Curtis Samuel. But with so little playing time, it has been difficult to get a read on where the Panthers are as the regular season approaches.
With Vegas setting the over/under at 1,849.5 combined rushing and receiving yards for McCaffrey, ESPN.com's David Newton is taking the over.
While conceding it's going to be close, Newton advised readers that McCaffrey has his sights set on becoming the third back in NFL history to have 1,000 yards receiving and rushing. He came close in 2018, and the goal is to get him more touches this season while slightly cutting back on his number of plays. He played on 91.3 percent of the offensive snaps a year ago.
According to ESPN's Mike Clay, Moore is the most likely fantasy breakout this season -- despite the considerable buzz Samuel drew with his offseason efforts.
As Clay explained, Moore, the first wide receiver selected in the 2018 draft, didn't take on a substantial role until midseason but went on to post the 20th most fantasy points at the position from that point forward. Moore showed off his playmaking ability, pacing all wide receivers with an average of 7.7 yards after catch.
Clay added that minimal work near the goal line is a concern, but Carolina's top wideout will see enough volume to allow a step forward in his second season.
One last note here. ... David Newton warned us not to be surprised to see wide receiver Ray-Ray McCloud, claimed off waivers on Sunday, make an immediate impact in the return game for the Panthers. The opportunity to pick him and Brandon Zylstra up made veteran receiver Torrey Smith expendable, but was still a tough decision, Hurney said.
QBs: Teddy Bridgewater, Will Grier
RBs: Christian McCaffrey, Reggie Bonnafon, Jordan Scarlett, Mike Davis
WRs: D.J. Moore, Robby Anderson, Curtis Samuel, Pharoh Cooper, Jarius Wright, Brandon Zylstra, Chris Hogan
TEs: Ian Thomas, Chris Manhertz, Temarrick Hemingway
Chicago BearsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 3 September 2019
As Associated Press sports writer Gene Chamberlain noted, it's a new injury for tight end Trey Burton, and a familiar situation for general manager Ryan Pace.
Burton missed last season's playoff loss to Philadelphia with a groin injury suffered almost on the eve of the game, and he appears to have a similar issue as the Bears prepare for their season opener Thursday with the Green Bay Packers.
"It's that type of injury right now that in our minds it's minor enough it's going to be day by day, and let's see where he's at," Pace said.
Pace and the Bears felt they dealt successfully with the important issues they faced since last year's playoff loss to Philadelphia, such as finding a kicker to replace Cody Parkey and monitoring quarterback Mitchell Trubisky's development.
According to J.J. Stankevitz of NBCSportsChicago.com, Burton is listed as questionable and Nagy said his status would be a gametime decision.
So just when the Bears thought they could move right into the regular season without a problem, a Burton injury cropped up again.
"This was an unrelated mild groin strain that we're dealing with right now," Pace said. "So we're hopeful, but it's going to be a day-by-day thing."
Burton underwent sports hernia surgery in the offseason to deal with what kept him out of the playoff loss.
"We were smart with how we ramped him up through training camp just with him not doing a lot of football activities over the summer," Pace said.
The Bears brought along Burton slowly at camp, and like many starters he hasn't played in preseason.
"For us it was more just let's get him back in football shape when he reported to camp and do it the right way," Pace said.
Burton said after the playoff loss last year he has suffered from anxiety-related issues, but Pace dismissed this as a possible cause for this injury.
"There's no concern," Pace said. "I think if anything he's frustrated, he wants to be out there with his teammates. He knows how important this game is, and the start of the season. So no concern on that end."
The Bears may have to move tight end Ben Braunecker into Burton's role and use tight ends Adam Shaheen or Bradley Sowell more.
"Trey, you know, he's a big part of the offense," Shaheen said. "Losing a guy like that, it's never easy. But me along with Ben and Brad, our job is to pick up where he left off and try to make it so there's no step down."
Despite the lingering tight end issue, Pace approaches this season optimistic that the Bears can defend their NFC North title. Trubisky is a key reason.
"You can feel him operating faster, and I think that comes with knowledge and comfort in the offense, with the scheme and then also the players that he's playing with," Pace said.
Head coach Matt Nagy notices better understanding of his offense by Trubisky, who wasn't allowed to throw a pass in preseason games.
"When he calls the play he visualizes immediately where everybody is at," Nagy said. "He didn't do that last year."
Nagy said Trubisky even has begun to think like him, and cuts him off to finish some of his sentences.
"I do see myself trying to see the game through his eyes, and us being on the same page a lot," Trubisky said.
Trubisky is the key to everything. Without any legitimate preseason playing time, it has been difficult to measure Trubisky's progress over the course of training camp.
Is he elite? Is he average? Will he be any better than last season? It's time to find out.
With Vegas setting the over/under at 3,744.5 passing yards for Trubisky, ESPN.com's Jeff Dickerson is taking the under. Dickerson explained, "Trubisky passed for 3,223 yards in 14 starts last season. Given the way he scrambles outside the pocket, it's reasonable to assume he could suffer another injury (hopefully a minor one, for the Bears' sake) which would force him to miss time.
"Trubisky should be better by virtue of being in Nagy's system for a second-straight year, but 3,500 passing yards seems more appropriate."
ESPN's Mike Clay disagreed, noting that Trubisky was on pace for 3,950 yards before last season's shoulder injury and was in an offense with the league's third-lowest expected pass rate. ...
Also of interest. ... Clay views rookie running back David Montgomery as the team's breakout fantasy prospect.
It makes sense. The Bears selected Montgomery in the third round of April's draft, and the rookie figures to immediately step into a significant role alongside change-of-pace specialist Tarik Cohen. As Clay wrote, "Montgomery isn't the fastest, but he's big, powerful and elusive." The Iowa State product evaded one tackle for every 5.1 touches last season (second best in this year's rookie class).
Montgomery is a potential workhorse, and though he'll defer a lot of targets to Cohen, he could well push for 250 touches as a rookie. ...
As for the sticky kicker issue, Pace considers Eddy Pineiro the ideal solution to the team's much-publicized search lasting since shortly after Parkey double-doinked a miss against the Eagles.
"The hope all along and the optimism all along is to hit on a young kicker that we can grow and develop, and we feel like we've done that," Pace said. "We're very confident in him and there was a lot of adversity, but we were into that plan, you know, strategically so. And we think it worked out just right."
Whatever issues the Bears have, they'd like to think their dominant defense is set for the opener. They finished first in scoring and rushing defense, and forcing turnovers last year after Pace made the trade for pass rusher Khalil Mack.
Nagy remembers watching Mack decimate Green Bay's offense in last year's opener after missing all the offseason and training camp, and getting in five practices.
"I just said, 'holy hell.' I did," Nagy said. "I couldn't believe it. I mean, this guy was like, I know he's working out, but we didn't know."
The Bears still lost 24-23 after building a 20-point lead in the second half.
"It was surreal," Nagy said. "That's a half that I'll never forget, along with the second half. But there were two really good halves, you learn from it, but it makes you better."
QBs: Mitchell Trubisky, Nick Foles
RBs: David Montgomery, Tarik Cohen, Ryan Nall
WRs: Allen Robinson, Anthony Miller, Cordarrelle Patterson, Javon Wims, Riley Ridley
TEs: Jimmy Graham, Trey Burton, Adam Shaheen, Ben Braunecker, J.P. Holtz, Eric Saubert, Jesper Horsted
Cincinnati BengalsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 3 September 2019
The Bengals decided to keep injured receiver A.J. Green on the active roster to open the season, hoping he can return from ankle surgery in less than eight weeks.
But Green still appears to have a ways to go before he's ready to play.
Green remains in a walking boot, according to Geoff Hobson of the team's website.
It's unclear how much time Green will miss, but indications have been that he'll be out the first few games of the season. The fact that the Bengals did not put Green on injured reserve is a sign that he's expected back sooner than the halfway point of the season, which he'd have to miss if he were on IR.
Green hurt his left ankle during the first training camp practice and had surgery, the second consecutive season he's been slowed by a significant injury. Head coach Zac Taylor said the receiver is making progress and the Bengals are willing to keep him on the active roster so he can return as soon as he's cleared medically.
If the Bengals had placed him on injured reserve - opening a spot on the active roster - Green would have been forced to miss the first eight weeks of the season.
"We're hopeful," Taylor said. "Right now, everything is on schedule and we intend on him coming back the first half of the season."
Green hurt the ankle during the opening practice of camp in Dayton, landing awkwardly after cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick bumped into the star receiver while breaking up a pass. He had surgery a few days later. Green also missed half of last season with an injured right toe that required surgery, but he was fully healed by the start of camp.
The 31-year-old Green missed seven games last year and had career lows of 46 catches for 694 yards. He's heading into the final year of his contract and will need to get healthy and play well in order to get one more big deal in his career.
In case you missed it, Taylor revealed late last month that undrafted wideout Damion Willis will start in Green's place opposite Tyler Boyd. ...
When Green was injured in their first practice of the preseason, keeping Joe Mixon healthy became a priority this summer.
Taylor's plan for getting Mixon to that point didn't include much preseason work. Mixon played three snaps in August and otherwise watched others go through the motions during the exhibition season. That's a change from past seasons, but not one that leaves Mixon feeling unprepared for what's to come.
"Zac gave me basically the quarterback treatment over the preseason. It's been great. Trust me, I'm ready to go," Mixon said, via the Cincinnati Enquirer.
The Bengals' actual quarterback didn't get that treatment as Andy Dalton played 44 snaps in the preseason, but Mixon figures to make up for lost time quickly as the centerpiece of the Bengals offense.
According to ESPN.com's Ben Bay, this year, the Bengals will do what Taylor is most familiar with: Meshing an up-tempo offense with formations that feature multiple tight ends and running backs.
"I know exactly how we're trying to attack certain defenses, why he's calling certain things," Dalton said. "I really enjoy everything that we've been running and what Zac's implemented into this team."
Taylor has also instilled a more relaxed vibe around the team facility and emphasized rest and recovery, which have been appreciated by players such as Mixon.
"At the end of the day, a player like me, I want to do nothing but take care of him," Mixon said. "And that's the ultimate goal -- getting him wins. It makes me want to go harder for a guy that does the things he does for us."
From a fantasy perspective, any change from the defensive-minded Marvin Lewis is a plus; the fact that Taylor was hired as an innovative offensive mind is obviously a plus. ...
Despite that, with the over/under set at 3,600.5 passing yards for Dalton, Baby is taking the under.
Bay explained, "(Dalton) has passed the 3,600-yard mark in three of his eight NFL seasons, most recently in 2016. Green's absence to start the season, coupled with an added emphasis on Mixon, could lead to reduced passing numbers for Dalton. ..."
In picking a potential fantasy breakout player for the Bengals, ESPN's Mike Clay is going with receiver John Ross.
Clay conceded that Ross' career hasn't gone as planned since he posted a record 4.22-second 40-yard dash at the 2017 NFL combine. He was a non-factor as a rookie before catching 36 percent of his targets and averaging 3.6 yards per target (both worst at the position) last season. Durability is a major concern (he has missed 16 games), but Clay believes the 23-year-old will nonetheless look to follow in teammate Boyd's footsteps by going from near bust to fantasy star in his third season. ...
For the record, Ross, who dealt with a hamstring issue most of August, wil will play this week versus Seattle, per Taylor. ...
According to NFL Network's Tom Pelissero, the Bengals signed Giovani Bernard to a two-year extension on Tuesday. Bernard gets a raise to $5.9 million this year and $11 million over two years, including a $600K guaranteed bonus due in March. Pelissero added the move locks up a team leader and playmaker through 2021.
Bernard was a second-round pick in 2013 and he's appeared in at least 10 games in each of his six seasons with the team. He ran 56 times for 211 yards and three touchdowns while catching 35 passes for 218 yards while serving as the No. 2 back behind Mixon last year. He's set for the same role this year and the extension means the arrangement could keep going for a couple more years.
One last note here. ... Jeff Driskel, who was Dalton's backup last season, went on injured reserve with a hamstring injury. Fourth-round pick Ryan Finley won the No. 2 job during the preseason. Undrafted Jake Dolegala from Central Connecticut State also made the roster. Dolegala was 27 of 41 for 253 yards in the final preseason game against the Colts.
QBs: Ryan Finley, Jake Dolegala, Andy Dalton
RBs: Joe Mixon, Giovani Bernard, Trayveon Williams, Rodney Anderson
WRs: A.J. Green, Tyler Boyd, John Ross, Auden Tate, Damion Willis, Mike Thomas, Alex Erickson, Stanley Morgan Jr.
TEs: C.J. Uzomah, Drew Sample, Cethan Carter, Mason Schreck
Cleveland BrownsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 3 September 2019
As Associated Press sports writer Tom Withers framed it, "Those rabid, barking Browns fans have suffered in sadness longer than any group in the NFL, bar none.
"They've never watched their team play in the Super Bowl, haven't experienced the playoffs since 2002 or bundled up and attended a postseason home game in 25 winters. There's a faction of the orange-and-brown backers who remain bitter about late owner Art Modell moving the franchise to Baltimore. The expansion era has been beyond torturous: two decades of disgrace, despair and dysfunction.
"Well, the joke might be on someone else this time. ..."
An array of potent offensive weapons surrounding fiery second-year quarterback Baker Mayfield is joined by an imposing defensive front four led by super freak end Myles Garrett. The Browns, who went 0-16 just two years ago and have symbolized professional incompetence - 29 starting QBs, 11 coaches in 20 years - are expected by many not only to contend this season but perhaps compete for their first league title in 55 years.
It's about time.
"I'm excited for the direction we're moving in," said star wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., whose arrival in March via a stunning trade with New York Giants has lifted the collective psyche of this football-frenzied region. "I can see it. I can feel it from the fans. I can feel it from this team."
Once ignored, the Browns have become the league's trendiest team, this season's favorite flavor and one that's widely being viewed as among the most fantasy friendly.
It all starts with Mayfield, the 2018 No. 1 overall pick who began last season as Tyrod Taylor's backup and finished it breaking Peyton Manning's league rookie record for touchdown passes.
Mayfield officially took over in Week 4 and went 6-7 as a starter while completing 64 percent of his passes, exuding the swagger that has driven him since his youth. The 24-year-old has restored hope into the most cynical of Browns fans, who waited patiently for the team to find its long-term answer at the game's most critical position.
"I think that I was born to play here," he said.
Beckham feels reborn with the Browns, who landed the three-time Pro Bowler famous for spectacular one-handed catches and silly off-field drama. Reunited with his close friend and former LSU teammate Jarvis Landry, Beckham, who has been slowed by injuries the past two seasons, claims he has put New York's skyline in his rearview mirror.
"I'm just happy to be here," he said.
Beckham and Landry often talked in college about playing together in the pros. Well, the dream became reality and the duo gives the Browns maybe the most lethal 1-2 receiving punch in the league.
"Scary," Landry said.
Beckham has been slowed during the exhibition season by an unspecified hip injury, but head coach Freddie Kitchens confirmed on Wednesday the wideout is "ready to go" against the Titans.
"Odell is Odell," said safety Damarious Randall. "He's a once-in-a-generation type of talent. He will be ready to go Sept. 8."
The big question is how Mayfield and Beckham -- and their big personalities -- come together.
As ESPN.com's Jake Trotter suggested, the duo are potentially one of the best quarterback-wide receiver combos in the NFL. They collectively have that level of talent. The question is whether their chemistry actually will translate into an elite pass-catching duo. All preseason signs have pointed in that direction. But the pressure of actual games will present the real challenge.
And if you're not sure Mayfield is the real deal, think again. As ESPN.com's Mike Clay advised readers this week, with Beckham added to an offense that includes Landry, David Njoku and Nick Chubb, Mayfield has a huge ceiling and is "well-positioned to join the conversation for the league's top fantasy quarterback in 2019."
And even if Trotter posed the question about QB/WR chemistry, he also answered that question by predicting Beckham will break the 1,500-yard receiving mark for the first time in his career en route to leading the NFL in receiving.
Trotter added, "He will also set a career mark with more than 13 touchdown catches, as the Browns win the AFC North for the first time in 30 years on their way to making the playoffs for the first time since 2002. ..."
One last note here ... Kareem Hunt will spend two months watching then be eligible to contribute down the stretch.
The 2017 league rushing leader is getting a new start with the Browns, who signed him as a free agent after he was released by Kansas City following an ugly incident in which he shoved and kicked a woman. The league suspended him eight games, and as long as he stays out of trouble, he'll be available in November (despite recent hernia surgery) and, if not rusty, can provide a fresh option to Chubb, who gained 996 yards as a rookie.
QBs: Baker Mayfield, Case Keenum, Garrett Gilbert, Drew Stanton
RBs: Nick Chubb, Kareem Hunt, Dontrell Hilliard, D'Ernest Johnson
WRs: Odell Beckham, Jarvis Landry, Taywan Taylor, KhaDarel Hodge, Damion Ratley, Rashard Higgins, Derrick Willies
TEs: Austin Hooper, David Njoku, Ricky Seals-Jones, Pharaoh Brown, Stephen Carlson
Dallas CowboysCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 3 September 2019
As NFL.com's Kevin Patra framed it, "The Dallas nightmare is over. ..."
Ezekiel Elliott has a new massive contract extension that will keep him wearing the Cowboys' star for years to come.
This after the Cowboys and Elliott have agreed to a six-year, $90 million extension. In all, it's $103 million over eight years, with $50 million guaranteed.
The contract extension makes Elliott the top-paid running back, which leapfrogs Todd Gurley's $14.375 million per year. He also is the first Cowboy to eclipse $100 million in total value.
In case you haven't been following along. ... With no deal in sight as training camp opened in late July, Elliott headed for Cabo to train while negotiations plodded along. He stayed away until the sides closed in on Tuesday. As it appeared Elliott might be set to miss games, Jerry Jones, as he often has in the past, stepped up and ensured one of his favorite players would be on the field.
Since making him the No. 4 overall pick in 2016 out of Ohio State, the Cowboys have built their offense behind a star-studded O-line and Elliott's ability as a workhorse. In 40 games played through three seasons, Elliott has averaged 21.7 carries per tilt, with two seasons toting more than 300 times (only in 2016 when he served a six-game suspension did he come in below the 300-carry line).
The Cowboys offense rode Elliott heavily again in 2018, with the running back compiling 304 carries, 1,434 rush yards, 6 rush TD, and 95.6 rush YPG. Playing in 15 games, Elliott ranked first in the NFL last year in carries per game (20.3), rushing yards per game (95.6), touches per game (25.4) and scrimmage yards per game (133.4). He also got more involved in the passing game, generating career-highs with 77 receptions, 567 receiving yards, and 3 TD catches. His 2,001 scrimmage yards ranked second behind only Saquon Barkley (2,028).
Last season, Zeke earned 47.9 percent of the Cowboys' offensive touches, second-most in the NFL behind only Cardinals running back David Johnson (48.3).
In 2018, Elliott (95.6 rush YPG) became the fifth player since 1932 to lead the NFL in rushing yards per game in 3-plus consecutive seasons. Elliott can join Hall of Famers Emmitt Smith and Jim Brown as the only players to win 3-plus rushing titles prior to turning 25 years old (turns 25 in July, 2020), per NFL Research.
Elliott has averaged 101.2 rush YPG in his career (second in NFL history, minimum 40 games played, behind only Jim Brown's 104.3). Zeke became just the fifth player in NFL history with 4,000-plus rush yards and 1,000-plus receiving yards in his first three seasons, joining Chris Johnson (2008-2010), LaDainian Tomlinson (2001-2003), Barry Sanders (1989-1991) and Ottis Anderson (1979-1981).
Since entering the league in 2016, Elliott has 19 games with 100-plus rushing yards, five more than the next closest player (Jordan Howard, 14).
Since 2016, the Cowboys have averaged 23.9 points, 361.5 total yards and 142.0 rushing yards per game with Elliott in the lineup. Sans the start back those totals dipped to 19.9 points, 297.3 total yards and 106.0 rushing yards per game.
Elliott's presence has also made life easier for Dak Prescott, whose passer rating is 12.2 points lower in full games that Elliott has not played.
Elliott's new massive deal marks the fourth big payday the Cowboys have shelled out this offseason. Dallas handed pass-rusher Demarcus Lawrence $105 million in April, inked linebacker Jaylon Smith to a $63 million deal in August, and gave right tackle La'el Collins a five-year extension with $50 million in new money on Tuesday.
Even with all that cash shelled out, the Cowboys are still staring at potential big deals for Prescott, receiver Amari Cooper and corner Byron Jones.
Meanwhile, head coach Jason Garrett would not commit to a time frame for when Elliott needed to be with the team in order to play prior to the deal getting done. Needless to say, having the star running back on the field for the first practice of the week is a positive.
"Zeke is as capable as anybody I know. He's an experienced player, he's been a really good player for us, he knows our system of football," Garrett said. "I don't think they'll be a lot of learning there. He's a smart guy, an instinctive guy. But again, that's a hypothetical. We're just focused on the guys we have right now. We're going to go practice as well as we can the right way to prepare for the Giants."
Conditioning could be a factor with Elliott, since he missed all of training camp. Elliott has been in Cabo reportedly working out.
"There's a playing progression we have every year with our guys. But again, this is a different situation than that," Garrett said. "You try to treat each situation on its merits, specifically based on the guy and what the particular situation is."
So do we have any clues as to the plan for playing time?
Well. ... Even though I suggest taking these predictions with a grain of salt -- and keeping in mind today will be Elliott's first team practice since June, NFL Network's Jane Slater is told the plan right now is about 20-25 reps on Sunday, with rookie Tony Pollard behind him and fullback Jamize Olawale as the best blitz pickup guy on third downs.
Slater added: "Things can always change but this is the plan heading into today. ..."
I'll be following Elliott's progress closely in coming days; watch the Late-Breaking Updates section for more. ...
Other notes of interest. ... Cooper went through a pain-free practice Monday, his first since Aug. 3. He is expected to play Sunday.
"I did a good amount," Cooper told Michael Gehlken of the Dallas Morning News. "I didn't do everything, but I did enough. I will say, I didn't feel any pain today. But then again, I didn't do everything that I'll do in a game. .... Doing things that I haven't done in a while as far as cutting like I did today, [how I feel] tomorrow will be telling."
Cooper is working his way back from an intrinsic muscle strain in his left heel. The three practices remaining this week will prove important for Cooper as he tries to get back his rhythm with Dak Prescott.
Monday was a good start.
"Obviously, I [generally] cut really hard and stuff like that, which is hard to do with a foot injury," Cooper said. "But I pushed it as the day went on because it's just something about going against defense and live reps that just make you kind of forget about everything else and just want to win. So I think that was the best thing that could've happened, just me going out there and practicing today."
I'll also have more on Cooper and his progress via Late-Breaking Update in coming days. ...
In a related note, with the over/under set at 1,099.5 receiving yards for Cooper, Archer and ESPN's Mike Clay are taking the over.
As Archer explain, in nine regular-season games last season after his trade from Oakland, Cooper caught 53 passes for 725 yards. Extrapolate that over a 16-game season and he would have accounted for 1,288 yards. Even though his time in training camp has been limited by the foot injury, Cooper and Prescott have enough time on task in offseason workouts to surpass that figure.
Clay added that in 11 total games with Dallas last season, Cooper handled a career-high 25 percent target share (8.4 per game). ...
Also according to Clay, receiver Michael Gallup is a potential fantasy breakout here.
The 2018 third-round pick wasn't much of a fantasy contributor as a rookie receiver, but he quietly ranked near the top of the position in average depth of target (14.1), yards per reception (15.4) and yards after catch (5.1). Clay added, "The 23-year-old could settle in as high as second on the team in targets, which would put him squarely on the flex radar."
QBs: Dak Prescott, Cooper Rush, Clayton Thorson
RBs: Ezekiel Elliott, Tony Pollard, Jordan Chunn
WRs: Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup, Cedrick Wilson, Devin Smith, Tevin Jones, Ventell Bryant, Lance Lenoir, Tavon Austin
TEs: Blake Jarwin, Dalton Schultz
Denver BroncosCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 3 September 2019
As Associated Press sports writer Arnie Stapleton suggested, if nothing else, the Broncos should be fresh for their season opener Monday night at Oakland.
Not only did the players get a dozen days off between the start of training camp on July 18 and cutdown weekend, but they're getting two days off this week even as coaches work in seven new players whose first workout with the team came Monday in a 99-degree scorcher.
Quarterback Joe Flacco only took 30 snaps in the preseason, directing four drives that produced two field goals, as he prepares for his second chapter in Denver and his first regular-season action since November.
He and the other starters on offense sat out the last two exhibition games, so they'll have had a nearly three-week break by the time they play the Raiders.
That doesn't mean Vic Fangio is one of those head coaches who view September as a time to establish an identity after using starters sparingly in the preseason.
"No, we hope we know who we are. Now, obviously we may learn some things in these games," Fangio said. "But, no, we're trying to go out and we think we know who we are and play that way right now.
"But it could change."
Just like his roster in the 48 hours following cuts.
With seven newcomers, Fangio said he hadn't had time to talk with each of them.
"It's been so hectic," Fangio said. "They were in here at 6:30 this morning, took a physical and got suited up. Haven't had a big message for them yet."
When he does get to that, it'll probably be something along the lines of getting ready to pitch in immediately.
"One thing about these guys that you've claimed from other teams, yes, they're coming in and learning a new system. But they've come from other camps, so they're football-ready," Fangio said. "And it's actually easier to come in and learn in a game week than it is in training camp because things are pared down and dialed in more."
Only the Cardinals and Dolphins had more waiver wire claims than the Broncos, who filled four major needs by claiming backup QB Brandon Allen from the Rams, fullback/tight end Andrew Beck from New England, guard/center Corey Levin from Tennessee and receiver/returner Diontae Spencer from Pittsburgh.
They also traded for Patriots cornerback Duke Dawson, signed ex-Bengals cornerback Davontae Harris and re-signed inside linebackers Keishawn Bierria, who played 16 games for them last season, and Corey Nelson, who played in Denver from 2014-17.
"We're not the only team that's had these roster gymnastics," Fangio said. "It happens every year. John (Elway) and his guys were keeping track of everyone around the league, and we just felt that with each and every move it helped make us better. It doesn't mean that it's right, but that's what we're thinking."
Allen steps in as Flacco's backup with rookie Drew Lock out for at least eight games with a sprained right thumb.
"He comes from a similar system, so hopefully his learning curve will be short," Fangio said.
Allen won't be spending his two off days this week relaxing, that's for sure.
"It'll be pretty extreme," Allen said of the crash course awaiting him in this offense. "I think it's not about trying to learn it all in the first week, but it's about being comfortable with some of the stuff they might have me do if that happens."
Of course Flacco will handle most -- if not all -- of the 2019 snaps for this team if all goes as expected. Flacco hasn't cleared 20 passing touchdowns in a season since 2014 and his 6.3 YPA over the past four seasons is worst in the league.
So with the over/under set at 17.5 passing touchdowns for Flacco, ESPN.com's Jeff Legwold is taking the over.
The Broncos figure to run the ball plenty behind Phillip Lindsay and Royce Freeman, but in the scoring zone, Flacco will have his opportunities to throw. The Broncos have better red zone targets than last season if Emmanuel Sanders stays healthy and rookie tight end Noah Fant can contribute.
But it's going to be a tough slog.
As ESPN's Mike Clay noted, the Broncos will face the AFC's hardest projected schedule. That's enough of a roadblock to success, but it's possible Flacco will be one as well. The former Raven posted the league's eighth-worst completion percentage (61 percent) and fifth-worst yards per attempt (6.5) in 2018. Adding to the concern, the he regulars did not put together a touchdown drive in August.
Legwold believes Denver will run the ball better when the games count. But in the passing game, a player, or two, beyond Sanders and DaeSean Hamilton will have to pick up the pace.
Clay believes that4 could be receiver Courtland Sutton.
Clay noted that Sutton was busy as a rookie, playing 82 percent of Denver's offensive snaps, while handling 5.2 targets per game. The latter figures to rise in 2019 as the second-round pick becomes a focal point of the Broncos' passing game. Sutton's role as a downfield threat sets him up with the opportunity for big plays.
Even with Denver shaky at quarterback, Clay believes Sutton will be set up with enough target volume to allow a second-year breakout.
QBs: Drew Lock, Jeff Driskel, Brandon Allen, Brett Rypien
RBs: Melvin Gordon, Phillip Lindsay, Royce Freeman, Khalfani Muhammad, Theo Riddick, Devontae Booker
WRs: Courtland Sutton, Tim Patrick, Daesean Hamilton, Juwann Winfree, Fred Brown, Diontae Spencer
TEs: Noah Fant, Jeff Heuerman, Jake Butt, Troy Fumagalli, Nick Vannett
Detroit LionsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 3 September 2019
According to Associated Press sports writer Paula Pasche, "A better start is on everyone's mind in Detroit. ..."
The Lions open the season at Arizona, hoping to perform far better than they did last year when the New York Jets won big in Matt Patricia's debut as head coach. The roster and coaching staff have been tweaked in an effort to improve on the 6-10 record from 2018.
"The first game of the season is always really difficult just in general because you're not really sure what teams have worked on through the spring," Patricia said Monday. "And I would say the first month of the season (is difficult), especially as you play teams that have changed (with) turnover in the roster and coaching staff."
Detroit's defense, which enters its second season under coordinator Paul Pasqualoni, faces the challenge of the unknown with Arizona's new head coach Kliff Kingsbury and rookie quarterback Kyler Murray. The core of the Lions' defense returns, with a few new pieces, including defensive linemen Mike Daniels and Tre Flowers.
"I think we're much more familiar with what the system is, fitting pieces, trying to get the right guys on the bus and getting them in the right seat, so to speak," Pasqualoni said Monday. "I think that's a process."
Meanwhile, new coordinator Darrell Bevell has changed the Lions' offense, which could hold a few surprises for the Cardinals.
The Lions have kept Bevell's plan mostly hidden during preseason games and practices with the Patriots and Texans. According to ESPN.com's Michael Rothstein, the franchise made the switch from Jim Bob Cooter to Bevell, in part, to find an offense that fits Patricia's overall philosophy.
So it should mean more running, play-action and vertical passing.
The hiring of Bevell, who has extensive experience (Green Bay, Minnesota, Seattle) building offenses that feature the run, meant a shift in personnel and the fifth offense quarterback Matthew Stafford has had to learn.
Bevell will depend heavily on the run, with Kerryon Johnson leading the way.
As ESPN's Mike Clay reminded readers this week, Johnson's rookie season was cut short by injury, but the second-round pick made plenty of noise when he was on the field. Despite playing 51 percent of the snaps, Johnson ranked 14th among running backs in fantasy points, averaged 5.4 YPC (fifth-best) and caught 84 percent of his 38 targets (seventh-best).
With Theo Riddick gone, Johnson is set up for a larger role in his second season and Clay believes he has top-10 upside.
Of course, Stafford, entering his 11th season, needs to understand the ins and outs of the new offensive philosophy.
"We're looking for Matthew to be able to run the show, just be able to be the master of the offense, get us all into good situations, keep us out of bad situations, and make smart decisions," Bevell said.
Protecting Stafford will be key.
The Lions' reworked offense features three new tight ends, including first-round pick T.J. Hockenson. Bevell said that position is a clear upgrade from last season.
"The cool thing about (Hockenson) is he's kind of come in and it hasn't been too big for him," Bevell said. "He hasn't been that wide-eyed rookie, he's taken it all in stride."
With the over/under set at 4,069.5 passing yards for Stafford, Rothstein is taking the over while Clay is taking the under.
According to Rothstein, Stafford had a subpar year in 2018 but it's also the only season since his injury-shortened 2010 year where he's thrown for less than 4,200 yards. Even in a run-heavy offense Stafford should still get ample opportunity to throw. And he should get a chance to take more deep shots. "As long as he's healthy," Rothstein contends, "he should beat this number."
Clay sites that shift to a run-heavier approach for taking the under. ...
Stafford should have some favorable matchups when he drops back to pass. Kenny Golladay seems to be a rising star. Veteran Marvin Jones is intent on returning to form after an injury-shortened season. Newly acquired Danny Amendola provides a slot receiver the team lacked when Golden Tate was traded to Philadelphia last season.
Golladay may approach the hundred-catch mark and double digits in touchdowns after having 70 receptions for 1,063 yards and five scores last year in second NFL season.
A few final notes. ... No updates were given on starting middle linebacker Jarrad Davis and center Frank Ragnow, who were injured in the preseason. The Lions will issue their first injury report after Wednesday's practice. Rookie DE Austin Bryant was placed on injured reserve Monday and tight end Logan Thomas was re-signed to the 53-man roster. Thomas was released on Sunday to make room on the 53-man roster to sign free agent running back J.D. McKissic.
QBs: Matthew Stafford, Chase Daniel, David Blough
RBs: Kerryon Johnson, Bo Scarbrough, Ty Johnson, Tra Carson, Wes Hills
WRs: Kenny Golladay, Marvin Jones, Danny Amendola, Chris Lacy, Travis Fulgham, Geronimo Allison, Marvin Hall
TEs: T.J. Hockenson, Jesse James, Isaac Nauta, Logan Thomas
Green Bay PackersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 3 September 2019
According to ESPN.com's Rob Demovsky, it might take some time before anyone, including Aaron Rodgers, knows exactly what the Packers' offense will look like this season under first-year coach head Matt LaFleur. But Rodgers said it has nothing to do with his skipping all the preseason games.
However, with the Thursday night NFL opener at the Chicago Bears as the first test, Rodgers sounded like a quarterback trying to downplay expectations.
"I think everybody needs to understand this is going to be the first iteration of our offense, and because it's a new scheme and there are new pieces, this is going to grow from this point," Rodgers said Sunday. "I'm excited about the stuff we have in and the stuff we've been working on in camp. There's going to be even more. I think that's the exciting part. I like the foundational start for this offense. I think it could be tough to stop because of the stress it puts on defense with their eye control and pattern-reading and reading the alignments. But we have a lot of room to grow from what we put on the field on Thursday."
That follows what general manager Brian Gutekunst said earlier this summer -- that it might take half the year to know what they have on offense.
And what LaFleur said on Sunday.
"I'll have a better answer for you here in a couple weeks about where I think we are," LaFleur said.
It's the first time in Rodgers' career as a starter that he's not running a Mike McCarthy-led offense. Although LaFleur's system also is based in the West Coast offense, it features more pre-snap motion, tighter formations and more play-action.
"We're throwing new things at them with personnel groupings and motions and alignments and movement and adjustments that they haven't seen from us," Rodgers said. "So I'm excited for the opportunity. I'm obviously really hopeful that we're going to go out and play really well, but I do really feel like this is just the beginning for this offense and there will be a lot of room to grow regardless of our performance on Thursday. But I think there's going to be a lot of room for growth within the scheme as we go on in the season."
Rodgers was supposed to play in Week 2 of the preseason but was a last-minute scratch because of back tightness. He was supposed to play in Week 3, but LaFleur pulled all of his starters because of issues with the field in Winnipeg, Manitoba.
Rodgers played only seven snaps in one preseason game last summer, but he wasn't learning a new offense. Still, Rodgers said he and the offensive brain trust -- LaFleur, offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett and quarterbacks coach Luke Getsy -- have spent a myriad of hours together working on game plans. Rodgers referred to the sessions as both "creative" and "collaborative."
Indeed, Demovsky reports that after a summer's worth of conjecture about whether Rodgers will be able to change plays at the line of scrimmage, as he has done for much of his career, appears to have finally been answered three days before Thursday night's opener against the Chicago Bears.
LaFleur said Monday that Rodgers will "absolutely" have permission to make whatever pre-snap adjustments the quarterback sees necessary to combat what the defense presents, especially when it comes to unscouted looks that the Bears -- and future opponents -- might unveil that wasn't in the Packers' advance work.
"We've given him all the freedom," LaFleur said. "So if he sees something, he's got the green light to do whatever he needs to do to get us into a good play. We're not going to take that from him."
This first became a question not long after LaFleur was hired in January, and intensified before training camp opened in July.
LaFleur's offense, which is based in the Sean McVay-Kyle Shanahan system, does not historically contain many options at the line of scrimmage. And, like most coaches, LaFleur works off a script of plays that he puts together along with input from his coaches and his starting quarterback.
The question at this point is how much of his playbook are the players comfortable with?
"I think it will be fun to kind of lay it out there on Thursday, work through the stuff that we've been working so hard on in practice and make teams that when they play in Green Bay, it's not just what they've seen for years -- which was tough to stop," Rodgers said.
We'll see how tough it is going forward.
Worth noting, with the over/under set at 31.5 touchdown passes for Rodgers, Demovsky is taking the under. He explained, "There's going to be an adjustment period for Rodgers in LaFleur's offense, which, by the way, is expected to be more run-heavy than any offense Rodgers has played in with the Packers. Rodgers has topped 31.5 TDs in a season only once in the past four years."
Other notes of interest. ... In predicting a potential fantasy breakout player in Green Bay, ESPN's Mike Clay chose Marquez Valdes-Scantling.
Clay went on to note a dart-throw in the fifth round of the 2018 draft, Valdes-Scantling posted a 38/581/2 receiving line and averaged a solid 8.2 yards per target as a rookie. His average of 5.7 yards after the catch ranked 11th at the position. The wide receiver depth chart is wide open behind Davante Adams, and the 6-5 Valdes-Scantling is viewed as the favorite for No. 2 duties.
If he nails down the job, he'll push for flex (or better) production as long as Rodgers is under center. ...
For two years, fans (and fantasy owners) have been clamoring for Aaron Jones to get the ball more. As Demovsky notes, last season, Jones led the league in yards per carry (5.47), but the Packers dropped back to pass at a higher rate than any other team. The new offense under Matt LaFleur is based on the marriage between the run and the pass, and Jones is a tailor-made for the outside zone scheme. If he can stay healthy -- and Demovsky advises readers that Jones has toned up to try to avoid the injuries that have cut short his first two seasons -- then his first 1,000-yard season could be a reality. ...
And finally, on the injury front, Jimmy Graham (finger) was limited in practice Monday before returning to full duty on Tuesday..
LaFleur said Graham has expressed no concerns about being able to catch the ball despite his right ring finger and pinky being taped together. "He told me, 'What finger? It's game week,'" LaFleur said.
I'll follow up on Graham as needed via Late-Breaking Update through Thursday night's kickoff.
For what it's worth, Tuesday also saw the return of offensive tackle Bryan Bulaga, who had a veteran rest day Monday. The Packers added two players to their report: Cornerback Tramon Williams was limited with a knee injury, and offensive lineman Alex Light had a full practice despite a wrist injury.
The team's report otherwise was unchanged.
Linebacker Oren Burks (chest), receiver Darrius Shepherd (hamstring) did not participate again. Cornerback Ka'dar Hollman (neck) and cornerback Kevin King (hamstring) remained limited.
But the Packers placed tight end Jace Sternberger on injured reserve, according to ESPN's Field Yates.
Sternberger had an ankle injury and was seen walking through the locker room with a boot on his left foot. The third-round pick was probably fourth on the depth chart at tight end but without a corresponding roster move, the Packers now have just three tight ends on their roster: Graham, Marcedes Lewis and Robert Tonyan.
And finally. ... The Packers signed WR Allen Lazard to their active roster from the practice squad, the team announced Wednesday.
QBs: Aaron Rodgers, Tim Boyle, Manny Wilkins
RBs: Aaron Jones, Jamaal Williams, Dexter Williams, Tyler Ervin, John Crockett
WRs: Davante Adams, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Allen Lazard, Jake Kumerow, Darrius Shepherd
TEs: Marcedes Lewis, Robert Tonyan, Jace Sternberger
Houston TexansCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 3 September 2019
As ESPN.com's Sarah Barshop reported, two days after the Houston Texans traded Jadeveon Clowney to the Seahawks, coach Bill O'Brien said, "in the end, we just could not come to an agreement on a long-term deal" with the pass-rusher.
Clowney, the No. 1 overall pick in 2014 and a three-time Pro Bowler, was franchise-tagged in March and was holding out. He had not signed his franchise tender before the trade. After the July 15 deadline passed, the Texans could not continue contract negotiations until after the season.
In return for Clowney, the Texans received a 2020 third-round pick and linebackers Barkevious Mingo and Jacob Martin. ESPN's Adam Schefter also reported that Houston paid Clowney a $7 million signing bonus, while Seattle is paying the remaining $8 million of his salary.
"I understand everybody's going to dissect how we did it and what we received back and what we gave Seattle," O'Brien said. "In the end, we did what we felt was in the best interest of our organization and of our team moving forward."
Later in the day, the Texans completed a trade with the Miami Dolphins for left tackle Laremy Tunsil and wide receiver Kenny Stills. Miami received first-round draft picks in 2020 and '21, a second-round pick in '21, offensive tackle Julie'n Davenport and cornerback Johnson Bademosi. Houston also will receive a fourth-round pick in 2020 and a sixth-round pick in '21 from the Dolphins.
O'Brien said while the Texans gave up three high draft picks, the team felt it added "proven players to the roster."
The Texans traded for Tunsil without working out a contract extension that would keep him under team control beyond the 2020 season and the price paid to get him would seem to give Tunsil good leverage in any future discussions about a deal. O'Brien declined to talk about any contract negotiations the team did or did not have with Tunsil before completing the trade.
"These moves were part of a plan, something that was well thought out," O'Brien said. "We spent a lot of time on it and tried to execute the plan. It's not just a plan to improve the team for 2019, it's a plan to improve the roster for years to come. It's given us the ability and flexibility to extend our core players while continuing to add and develop talent."
For what it's worth, a popular theory has emerged regarding the notion that the Texans overpaid for Tunsil in order to ensure that Watson doesn't become so bruised and battered that he considers following Andrew Luck into early retirement. O'Brien was asked whether there's a connection between trading for Tunsil and Luck leaving.
"None," O'Brien said.
That said, O'Brien believes Tunsil's presence will assist Watson's development. As Barshop reminded readers, the Texans were worst in the NFL with 62 sacks allowed last season. Watson started all 16 games last season but played through several injuries, including to his ribs and lungs that required him to take a bus from Houston to Jacksonville, Florida, in Week 7.
O'Brien said he believes Watson has improved at getting the ball out quicker, but "the proof will be in the pudding when the real games start."
Meanwhile, with the over/under set at4,050.5 passing yards for Watson, Barshop is taking the over while ESPN colleague Mike Clay is taking the under.
Per Barshop, Watson hit that in 2018 without having Will Fuller for more than half of the season. Clay argues that while Watson is one of two quarterbacks in NFL history to clear 4,050 passing yards and 90 carries in the same season, he required 99.9 percent of the snaps to do so (and history suggests it's a long shot he'll be able to repeat).
As for Fuller, Barshop predicts he'll finish the season with more TDs than DeAndre Hopkins.
Barshop explained that Hopkins sees the opposing team's best cornerback, and he's often double-teamed as well. This should allow Fuller to get behind defenses as a home-run target for Watson. Of course, this assumes Fuller stays healthy, which hasn't happened in his first three NFL seasons. In 11 games with Watson, Fuller has 11 touchdowns.
And what about receiver Keke Coutee?
A 2018 fourth-round pick, Coutee played at least two-thirds of Houston's offensive snaps in only five games as a rookie. He averaged 10.0 targets per game (28 percent team share) and had more targets than Hopkins. Coutee is unlikely to score many touchdowns at 5-10, 181 pounds, but his rookie-season usage suggests he won't be short on volume, even between Hopkins, new addition Stills and Fuller.
Worth noting. ... Fuller, coming off a torn ACL, is on track to be ready for the season opener against the Saints.
"I do," O'Brien said when asked if he expects Fuller to play in the opener. "He's had a good camp. We had a plan coming into camp to manage his reps coming off of that injury that he had last year. He's had a good camp. He's a good route runner, he's improved his hands a lot since he came into the league, he has good chemistry with Deshaun (Watson), so I do think that he's ready."
Meanwhile, O'Brien was noncommittal on whether Coutee will be back from a sprained ankle for the Saints game. If he can't go, DeAndre Carter will replace him.
I'll be following up on that via Late-Breaking Update in coming days. ...
Also of interest. ... As CBSSports.com noted, the Texans came into the preseason with Miller and D'Onta Foreman as their primary running backs and enter the regular season with Duke Johnson and Carlos Hyde leading the way. For a few days, it looked like Johnson may be in line for the kind of role he hasn't had since college and saw his ADP soar as a result.
The easiest assumption to make is that Hyde will take on the bulk of the rushing game work, as well as the short-yardage plays, while Johnson slides in as the passing downs back.
But O'Brien doesn't regard Johnson as a situational back. He considers him a three-down contributor.
"I wouldn't call him a third-down back," O'Brien said after Lamar Miller went down with a torn ACL last month. "I know that he is a substituted back, so in the past he's played a lot against sub defenses, but you can see sub defenses on first, second or third downs.
"I think with us he'll be used in a lot of different ways, and he's had a lot of snaps. He's been out there playing a lot. … I don't think it'll be him exclusively. We've got a lot of other guys at that position that we can mix and match with."
Two seasons ago, Johnson caught 74 passes for 693 yards and three touchdowns. He has 235 career receptions for 2,170 yards and eight scores.
We'll see how the workload is divided with the addition of Hyde, but it now it looks like the two will split work in the backfield. ...
And finally. ... The Texans announced they have put tight ends Jordan Thomas and Kahale Warring on injured reserve to start the season. Houston also signed tight end Logan Paulsen. The Texans also have tight ends Jordan Akins, Darren Fells and Jerell Adams on their roster.
Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle reports that Thomas cracked a rib in the final preseason game. The 2018 sixth-round pick had 20 catches for 215 yards and four touchdowns last year. Warring has been out since suffering a concussion in joint practices with the Packers last month. The third-round pick also dealt with a hamstring injury earlier in the summer. Both players are eligible to return to action this season as the Texans can designate two players to return from injured reserve.
QBs: Deshaun Watson, AJ McCarron
RBs: Carlos Hyde, Duke Johnson, David Johnson, Buddy Howell, Taiwan Jones
WRs: Will Fuller, Randall Cobb, Kenny Stills, DeAndre Carter, Keke Coutee
TEs: Darren Fells, Jordan Akins, Jordan Thomas
Indianapolis ColtsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 3 September 2019
As NFL.com's Jeremy Bergman noted, just two weeks ago, the Colts were fully invested in Andrew Luck as their franchise quarterback. Now, they're investing in a future without him.
Indianapolis agreed to terms with recently anointed starting quarterback Jacoby Brissett on a two-year contract worth $30 million. Brissett will earn $20 million guaranteed at signing.
Brissett was entering the fourth and final year of his rookie deal, set to earn $2 million in 2019.
News of Brissett's extension came less than three hours after the Colts inked journeyman signal-caller (and fellow Tom Brady understudy) Brian Hoyer to a three-year, $12 million contract.
The Colts moved quickly to secure the future of their quarterback room without Luck, who announced his shocking retirement on Aug. 24. During Luck's impromptu retirement ceremony, both the quarterback and Colts brass expressed confidence that Brissett could be Indy's starting QB going forward.
Luck said of Brissett that evening, "I'm excited for the future of the Colts in large part because of Jacoby and also all the other men in that locker room." The Colts, it appears, are equally excited.
Brissett's taken an unconventional route to his second NFL contract. Drafted by the New England Patriots in the third round of the 2016 draft, Brissett started two games his rookie year in place of Brady and Jimmy Garoppolo. Ahead of the 2017 season, Indianapolis acquired him in a trade to bolster its QB room as Luck was dealing with what-would-be a season-ending shoulder injury.
Brissett took over the starting job after Week 1 from Scott Tolzien and started 15 games that season, completing 58.8 percent of his passes for 3,098 yards, 13 touchdowns and seven picks.
When Luck returned for his Comeback Player of the Year campaign in 2018, Brissett was his backup. This year, he's Luck's successor.
By committing to Brissett, Indianapolis has stabilized a QB position that could have been in flux had it waited until after this year to assess Brissett's status with the team. The Colts also avoid dealing with franchise-tag drama in 2020 by resolving Brissett's contract situation ahead of the 2019 campaign.
While Brissett doesn't cash in as the likes of Russell Wilson ($35 million annual average) and Carson Wentz ($32 million) did this offseason, the Colts signal-caller at least received a second contract, and a lucrative one at that. Though he ranks 19th among quarterbacks in average annual value in 2019 at $15 million per, Brissett is offered the opportunity with this contract to ensure himself the starting role in Indy for years to come and eventually cash in on a $30M-plus-per-year deal in the near future.
His first test comes on Sunday when his Colts take on the Los Angeles Chargers.
Outside the locker room, many doubt Brissett can emerge as the next Nick Foles, Kurt Warner or even Frank Reich. Around the Colts' complex, though, there are plenty of Brissett believers.
Reich noted Brissett has taken more than 1,200 snaps with the starting unit since April when offseason workouts started as Luck tried to recover from a lower left leg injury.
Plus, he's working with a coach who has been down this road previously. Reich spent his first decade in the NFL playing behind a Hall of Famer, needing to be ready at every moment. It's a conversation the two have had multiple times since Reich was hired 18½ months ago.
"From Day 1, I came in and watched all of Jacoby's film and I said this guy is a top-20 quarterback, this guy is a starting quarterback in the NFL," Reich said. "This guy is all in, he's not just checking off boxes. He's a great leader and I'm excited for him."
So are teammates, who have embraced Brissett's hard-working approach on the field and his fun-loving style off it.
Worth noting, Indy has bulked up its roster around Luck at first, and now Brissett.
All-Pro guard Quenton Nelson solidified an offensive line that allowed the NFL's fewest sacks (18). The Colts have two Pro Bowl tight ends in Eric Ebron and Jack Doyle, a Pro Bowl receiver in T.Y. Hilton, and running back Marlon Mack, who nearly cracked the 1,000-yard mark despite missing four games.
All-Pro linebacker Darius Leonard led the league in tackles as a rookie, and a secondary that has long been a weakness now appears to be a strength. Both Nelson and Leonard achieved such status as rookies.
All of which leads ESPN.com's Mike Wells to predict the Colts will finish in the top 10 offensively.
Meanwhile, ESPN's Mike Clay reminded readers the receiver-needy Colts selected Parris Campbell in the second round of April's draft, and the Ohio State product is expected to immediately step in as the team's primary slot receiver. Campbell is incredibly fast (receiver-best 4.31 40-yard dash at the 2019 combine) and does a lot of damage in the short area (he posted a prospect-low 4.6 average depth of target and prospect-high 83 percent catch rate last season).
Clay expects him to be used in a variety of ways in the Colts' high scoring offense, including as a rusher, receiver and returner.
And finally. ... With the over/under set at 1,021.5 rushing yards for Mack, Wells is taking the over.
As noted above, Mack came close enough to that number last year despite missing a quarter of the season and he's working behind a high-end line. But Wells went on to suggest the Colts might end up leaning on Mack even more to help lighten Brissett's workload.
Reich says he believes the Colts can have a top-five rushing team this season. Mack will have to lead the way in order to do that.
QBs: Philip Rivers, Jacoby Brissett, Chad Kelly
RBs: Marlon Mack, Nyheim Hines, Jordan Wilkins
WRs: T.Y. Hilton, Zach Pascal, Marcus Johnson, Daurice Fountain, Ashton Dulin, Chad Williams, Dontrelle Inman
TEs: Jack Doyle, Matt Lengel, Xavier Grimble, Mo Alie-Cox
Jacksonville JaguarsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 3 September 2019
According to Associated Press sports writer Mark Long, Leonard Fournette shadowed offensive coordinator John DeFilippo during Jacksonville's first two preseason games.
Fournette wore a headset, listened to every play call and then chatted with "Flip" and his fellow running backs between series. The former LSU star was as involved as he could be from the sideline.
It was a stark contrast to how Fournette ended last season: sitting on the bench, withdrawn from teammates and unconcerned with anything happening in the game. Personnel chief Tom Coughlin even ripped Fournette afterward, calling him "disrespectful" and "selfish."
Fournette insists he's made professional progress since. The Jaguars are hesitant to agree.
"We are going to see," head coach Doug Marrone said. "I don't want to jump ahead of myself, but I don't want to disregard the work."
Ultimately, Fournette's growth will be determined by how he performs on and off the field. What he does will go a long way toward determining whether the Jaguars remain at the bottom of the AFC South or return to being conference contenders.
"He's going to be a major reason for where our offense goes," DeFilippo said. "I'm not going to sugarcoat that. Leonard Fournette needs to be a big part of this offense."
Fournette missed seven full games and half of two others with hamstring and foot injuries. He was suspended for another after coming off the bench and punching Buffalo defensive lineman Shaq Lawson.
The team responded by voiding the remaining guarantees in his rookie contract. He also was fined, criticized and admittedly not in ideal shape down the stretch. He finished with 439 yards rushing and five touchdowns.
"Anything is better than last year, most definitely," said Fournette, the fourth overall pick in the 2017 NFL draft.
Jacksonville completely revamped its running backs room around Fournette, firing position coach Tyrone Wheatley and parting with backups T.J. Yeldon, Carlos Hyde and Corey Grant.
Marrone hired 64-year-old Terry Robiskie, who, like Fournette, was born and raised in New Orleans and attended LSU, as running backs coach. They then added veteran Alfred Blue (another LSU alum) to be Fournette's backup (although Blue wound up being placed on injured reserve last week).
And even though Jacksonville signed quarterback and former Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles to upgrade one of the NFL's most anemic offenses, Fournette is still expected to be the centerpiece under DeFilippo.
So far, so good. Fournette arrived at training camp in the best shape of his NFL career after spending part of the offseason training in Dallas, then working with his college strength and conditioning coach in Wyoming in hopes of getting back to his "foundation."
"I kind of put a lot on myself this offseason, like getting my body right," Fournette said. "Just mentally coming back ready to play football. No distractions. Leaving the outside stuff where it's at."
An improved offensive line should work in Fournette's favor.
The unit was a mess last season, with left tackle Cam Robinson, left guard Andrew Norwell and center Brandon Linder ending up on injured reserve and missing a combined 26 games.
All three are healthy now, but it remains to be seen whether they can stay on field and return to their 2017 form. The Jags led the league in rushing (141.4 yards per game) and ranked third in sacks allowed (24) that season and then dropped to 19th in rushing (107.7) and 29th in sacks (53) a year later.
Also worth watching, DeFilippo has said Fournette will be a major part of the passing game in 2019. Fournette had two catches on three targets for 19 yards and had seven carries for 29 yards in his only preseason action. ...
Can fantasy owners expect an overall improvement from the offense this season?
According to ESPN.com's Mike DiRocco, that mainly depends on what the Jaguars get out of Foles and Fournette.
Foles led the Eagles to a Super Bowl victory, but ranks 23rd in Total QBR among all QBs who have thrown at least 1,500 passes since 2012 (Foles' rookie year), which means he's pretty much been an average QB. That's still an upgrade over Blake Bortles.
If Foles and Fournette come through with good seasons, DiRocco believes the Jaguars will contend for the AFC South title; that doesn't mean the entire until will become fantasy-friendly. ...
Meanwhile, with Blue going on IR, fifth-round draft pick Ryquell Armstead and two players the Jaguars were awarded off waivers on Sunday -- three-year vet Tyler Ervin and rookie Devine Ozigbo -- are the only other running backs currently on the 53-man roster.
Blue suffered a left ankle injury during the second preseason game and has not practiced since. He is not eligible to return from IR until Week 9 but can begin practicing two weeks earlier. That would mean the first game that Blue could play in would be the Jaguars' home game against Houston in London.
Blue has rushed for 2,407 yards and eight touchdowns and has 69 catches for 470 yards and two touchdowns in his five seasons with Houston.
Ervin spent the past three seasons with the Texans and had one carry in 2016 and four in 2017. Ozigbo signed with New Orleans as an undrafted rookie this spring. ...
Marqise Lee spoke throughout the offseason of being ready in time for the Week 1 game against the Kansas City Chiefs, an outcome that now seems plausible. I'll be watching for more in coming days (check the Late-Breaking Update section for additional info), but Lee came off the PUP two weeks ago -- almost a full year after tearing his ACL.
Prior to his injury, Lee had established himself as a full-time starter for the Jags while catching 119 passes for 1,553 yards and six touchdowns over the 2016-17 seasons. The sixth-year wideout has battled injuries throughout his career in Jacksonville since being taken in the second round of the 2014 NFL Draft. ...
Also of interest. ... D.J. Chark was selected by Jacksonville in the second round of last year's draft. He played sparingly as a rookie and was limited to 14 receptions in Jacksonville's ineffective offense. Despite the slow start, ESPN's Mike Clay believes there's plenty of reason for optimism, as Chark has a path to an every-down role in an improved offense led by Foles.
Clay isn't as high on the Jaguars tight ends, who he ranks as the worst group at their position in the NFL.
Clay explained that Geoff Swaim, James O'Shaughnessy and Ben Koyack are career backups with a combined 105 career receptions, but this is the trio that will handle a majority of the team's tight end snaps this season. Third-round pick Josh Oliver could emerge once healthy.
And finally. ... According to NFL Network's James Palmer, Foles will appear on Wednesday's injury report due to some soreness in his abdominal oblique from last week, but the QB is fully expected to play on Sunday. Today’s report is an estimation because the Jaguars are not practicing due to Hurricane Dorian.
QBs: Gardner Minshew, Josh Dobbs
RBs: Leonard Fournette, Ryquell Armstead, Devine Ozigbo, Jeremy McNichols
WRs: D.J. Chark, Dede Westbrook, Marqise Lee, Chris Conley, CJ Board, Keelan Cole, Michael Walker
TEs: Tyler Eifert, Josh Oliver, James O'Shaughnessy, Charles Jones
Kansas City ChiefsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 3 September 2019
History tells us that offenses that score as often as Kansas City did last season will still be very good the following season, but will nonetheless take a significant step back. That near-inevitable offensive regression is far from ideal considering the Kansas City defense is arguably worse on paper.
So the same as last year, a massive percentage of the Chiefs' fortune will rest in the hands of Patrick Mahomes.
But we know that. Mahomes and the passing attack offer considerable certainty on a team that suddenly has questions -- or at least a clouded situation -- at running back.
This after LeSean McCoy agreed to a $4 million, 1-year deal following the veteran tailback's release by the Bills.
The move allows him the week to prepare for the Chiefs' opener in Jacksonville Sunday.
McCoy becomes the top backup to Damien Williams, with Associated Press sports writer Dave Skretta advising his readers the move likely siphons carries from rookie Darwin Thompson and backup Darrel Williams. The Chiefs traded the other veteran running back that was expected to earn carries, Carlos Hyde, after he failed to impress during training camp and the preseason.
The 31-year-old McCoy spent his first six seasons in Philadelphia, four of them under Reid, before spending the past four seasons with the Bills. The six-time Pro Bowl selection was released on Saturday, when general manager Brandon Beane cited the emergence of rookie Devin Singletary likely leading to a diminished role for a running back who for years has been a "bell-cow back."
Over the course of 10 seasons, McCoy has run for more than 10,600 yards, placing him 25th on the career list and fourth among active players. Some of his best seasons came under Reid, including the 2011 season in which he ran for 1,309 yards and 17 touchdowns while earning his first All-Pro nod.
McCoy had kept Father Time at bay the past few years, too. He had back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons in Buffalo before a drop-off last season, when he totaled just 514 yards and three touchdowns.
Damien Williams emerged as the Chiefs' lead running back late last season, when Kareem Hunt was released following a series of off-the-field issues. But despite showing a dynamic ability in both the run game and the pass game, Williams has been hampered by injuries, including a hamstring issue in camp.
McCoy should have some familiarity with the terminology of Reid's offense, but it has also undergone major changes since the running back was last carrying the ball for him in Philadelphia. The Chiefs have embraced a more wide-open style under Mahomes, and that means McCoy will have a steep learning curve if he expects to be active against the Jaguars next weekend.
"We'll see what he can pick up in a short period of time here, how comfortable he is with it, and then we'll go from there," Reid said. "He's a pretty sharp kid so I think we'll be OK. He's been practicing and playing in these preseason games so the conditioning part is not an issue. It's just becoming familiar with the protections and the run game part.
"This is different than what we did in Philadelphia. There will be some familiar things but it's quite a bit different. He's going to have to get in and learn (the offense) and then we'll just see how that goes. They both have an opportunity to play. I'm not going to put him out there in a bad situation without knowing the plays. I would never do that."
In his four seasons with Reid in Philadelphia, McCoy gained 5,454 yards from scrimmage and scored 38 total touchdowns.
McCoy said Monday that he's willing to handle any duties Reid throws his way. His only goal now is winning.
"There's some pretty good backs," McCoy said of his new backfield mates, per Brooke Pryor of the Kansas City Star. "That's for coach Reid to handle. The good thing about that is he's been doing it for a number of years. ... I want to win and be with a winning team. Whatever it takes to get it done, we'll do."
The truth is, it could be several weeks before the Chiefs fully integrate McCoy into the running back by committee.
"I've done this before where I've done it by committee. Most of my time in Philadelphia that's what I did," Reid said. "They all had success and it worked out pretty well for them. We have the ability to play everybody if we go that route. ..."
We'll all be watching to see if Reid's "if" seems realistic as the situation plays out in coming weeks. ...
Meanwhile, getting back to where I started off here, it's not like Kansas City's offense needs a ton of help.
In fact, ESPN's Mike Clay projects them scoring the most points -- 469 -- in the NFL this season.
As Clay explained it, "The Chiefs are near locks to score less often this season, but 2018 showed us that it will be hard to deny the combination of offensive genius Andy Reid and reigning NFL MVP Patrick Mahomes. The Chiefs' shaky defense will only add pressure on the offense to score points, and we know it can deliver."
ESPN.com's Chiefs beat writer Adam Teicher is even more bullish. He predicts the Chiefs will score more than last year, when they led the NFL with 565 points.
Teicher argued his point by noting that not only is Mahomes a veteran relative to where he was at this point last season, but the Chiefs have added to their strong collection of skill players with a pair of rookies in Mecole Hardman and Thompson. Both players used their considerable speed to score a touchdown in the preseason.
Neither figures to be a regular, but the Chiefs will find ways to put their skills to use. The Chiefs, with Tyreek Hill, Sammy Watkins and Travis Kelce, were already a fast offensive team, but this year they can double down on that.
Speaking of Hardman, Clay is predicting a potential rookie breakout is coming.
The Chiefs selected Hardman in the second round of April's draft, and the Georgia product immediately drew comparisons to teammate Hill. Hardman is small (5-10, 187 pounds), but fast (4.33 40-yard dash), tough (17 bench reps) and explosive (8.7 yards after catch in 2018).
If he can overcome drop and fumble woes, Clay believes Hardman could quickly emerge as the No. 3 wide receiver in the Chiefs' elite, Mahomes-led offense.
QBs: Patrick Mahomes, Chad Henne, Kyle Shurmur
RBs: Damien Williams, Darwin Thompson, Elijah McGuire, Darrel Williams
WRs: Tyreek Hill, Sammy Watkins, Byron Pringle, Mecole Hardman, Demarcus Robinson
TEs: Travis Kelce, Deon Yelder, Nick Keizer
Los Angeles ChargersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 3 September 2019
Melvin Gordon's holdout with the Los Angeles Chargers will not end with a new contract.
General manager Tom Telesco said during a conference call on Sunday that the team has informed Gordon's agents that they have suspended contract talks until after the season. The Pro Bowl running back is on the "Did Not Report" list after missing training camp and the preseason.
The Chargers -- considered one of the contenders in the AFC to reach the Super Bowl - host Indianapolis in Sunday's season opener.
"We have to get focused on the season and our next opponent," Telesco said. "So when or if Melvin reports, he'll play this season on his current contract, and we'll just revisit it after the season."
Gordon would make $5.6 million on the fifth-year option of his rookie contract. He is seeking an extension in the neighborhood of Todd Gurley, David Johnson and Le'Veon Bell, who average between $13 and $14.4 million per season.
As ESPN.com's Eric Williams reminded readers, earlier this summer, the Chargers offered Gordon a new contract worth roughly $10 million annually -- but at this point, that offer does not appear to be available anymore.
Gordon has gained over 1,200 yards from scrimmage and scored 10 or more touchdowns in three straight seasons. He was sixth in the AFC in yards from scrimmage (1,375), ninth in rushing (885 yards) and scored 14 touchdowns last season as the Chargers made the playoffs for the first time since 2013.
But Gordon also has something in common with the other three running backs - injury issues. He missed four games late last season due to a knee injury and struggled after coming back, averaging 2.9 yards per carry compared to 5.2 yards pre injury.
Los Angeles will go into the season with Austin Ekeler and Justin Jackson as its running backs. Ekeler, who is going into his third season, has been a good change-of-pace back when paired with Gordon but has struggled when he has been the starter. Ekeler is averaging 5.3 yards per carry in regular-season games, but that falls to 3.3 in the three games where he was a starter last season when Gordon was injured.
Jackson came on late last season as a rookie with three games over 50 yards. He started Week 15 at Kansas City and had 58 yards on 16 carries.
Telesco expressed confidence in Ekeler as an every-down back, but also thinks Jackson will get his share of carries.
"Those two guys are going to work in tandem with each other," Telesco said.
"I think the day and age of having to have one running back to carry it 300 times is probably not the smartest thing in the world anyways," the GM continued. "Even if you have a big bell-cow back, you'd like to have another back to come in and spell them."
For what it's worth, ESPN's Josina Anderson has been told one team has been in preliminary communication with the Chargers in attempt to vet out a potential trade for Gordon. Which is interesting in that it means whoever that team is must be willing to pay Los Angeles for the right to pay Gordon more than the $10 million offer he found disrespectful when the Chargers offered it earlier this summer.
That seems like a reach, but I'll continue to follow up. ...
Running back isn't the only area where the Chargers have concerns. Offensive tackle Russell Okung will miss at least the first six games due to blood clots. Trent Scott, a second-year player, will be the starting left tackle and was inconsistent during the preseason.
Safety Derwin James was placed on injured reserve Sunday after suffering a stress fracture in his left foot on Aug. 15. James had surgery on Aug. 22 and isn't expected to return until late November. Safety Jaylen Watkins was re-signed after originally being released during Saturday's final round of roster cuts.
"Every season has obstacles and it is our job to find ways around them and play through that," Telesco said. "We're going to be just fine. We are very focused right now and ready to go."
And they will be. But an opening-day matchup against a tough Indianapolis defense will be a real test. ...
Other notes of interest. ... With the over/under set at 91.5 receptions for Keenan Allen this season, ESPN.com's Eric D. Williams is taking the under.
Williams explained: "Allen achieving the over is certainly possible based on his production the past two seasons. However, an ankle injury and sore knee slowed the Cal product during training camp, and he's played a full 16-game season twice in his first six years in the league."
ESPN's David Bearman is taking the over, noting that Allen had a combined 199 catches in his two most recent healthy seasons. Philip Rivers' top target should have no problem approaching 100 receptions again, as long as he is on the field.
Meanwhile, ESPN's Mike Clay pegs Mike Williams as the team's most likely breakout fantasy star.
Clay reminded readers that Williams' career started slowly, but the 2017 first-round pick sneaked his way to a top-35 fantasy campaign last season despite handling more than six targets in only two games. Touchdowns were the key (he scored on 10 of 66 targets), but he was also very efficient, hauling in 65 percent of his targets while averaging 10.1 yards (11th-best).
With Tyrell Williams gone, Clay believes Mike Williams is a slam dunk for a bigger role in his third pro season. He has big-time upside even with Allen in the fold.
Also remember that Hunter Henry enters the season healthy and has the talent and opportunity to provide a top-5 season at TE this year.
QBs: Tyrod Taylor, Easton Stick
RBs: Austin Ekeler, Justin Jackson, Detrez Newsome, Troymaine Pope
WRs: Keenan Allen, Mike Williams, Andre Patton, Jason Moore
TEs: Hunter Henry, Virgil Green, Lance Kendricks
Los Angeles RamsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 3 September 2019
As Associated Press sports writer Greg Beachem reminded readers, that 13-3 loss in the Super Bowl looms large over the Los Angeles Rams. Their high-scoring ascent to the NFL's elite over two thrilling seasons somehow culminated in one of the most lifeless offensive performances in big game history.
It's the last thing anybody expected from a team coached by Sean McVay, who masterminded the Rams' rise with innovative thinking at every turn - until Bill Belichick's sturdy old defense had an answer for everything.
The youngest NFL coach ever to win a playoff game thinks a whole lot more about the last one he lost. Redemption for McVay and quarterback Jared Goff starts this week when the Rams resume their championship chase.
"We can build on a lot of things going into this season, and what we've been able to do over the last couple of years in developing a foundation," McVay said. "But our players know you earn it every day in this league. All we can do is learn from last year, but we've got to produce right now."
The Rams have won 24 regular-season games, two division titles and an NFC championship in the brief time since McVay took over a franchise with 13 consecutive non-winning seasons. Los Angeles returns with many reasons to think it can stay on top, but enough potential concerns to keep players and coaches sharp.
The Rams didn't add a wealth of proven veterans to their roster, but they also didn't lose a tremendous amount of talent. McVay and general manager Les Snead are counting on Aaron Donald, Todd Gurley, Brandin Cooks, Robert Woods and Andrew Whitworth to remain among the NFL's best at their respective jobs, and they plan to fill any gaps with coaching, effort and their veteran leadership.
The Rams are taking their biggest risk on the offensive line, where untested second-year pros Joseph Noteboom and Brian Allen got the jobs of departed stalwarts Rodger Saffold and John Sullivan. LA had remarkable line consistency for two years, but McVay seems supremely confident in the newcomers.
His players are optimistic as well.
"We're just excited to get going back to where we ended last year," Gurley said.
And when they get going, Goff will be doing so with a new contract.
The team announced a four-year extension Tuesday night. It will keep the former No. 1 overall pick under contract through the 2024 season. It's a four-year, $134 million extension that includes an NFL-record $110 million in guarantees (which is just over the $108 million in guaranteed money that Carson Wentz got).
Goff has 9,581 passing yards and 65 touchdowns. His 94.7 passer rating ranks ninth among the league's active passers.
He has proved the Rams right and now earned their long-term commitment.
Since McVay took over as the Rams' head coach in 2017, Goff has gone 24-8 with two trips to the postseason and a Super Bowl appearance. The Rams are among the favorites in the NFC for Super Bowl LIV this season, too.
A big factor in their ability to get there again will be whether Gurley can perform at high level and make it through the season?
As ESPN.com's Lindsey Thiry notes, Gurley rushed for more than 1,200 yards in back-to-back seasons and scored a league-high 21 touchdowns in 2018 -- even as he nursed a sore knee that sidelined him in Weeks 16 and 17.
The Rams haven't gone into detail about the condition of Gurley's knee. Gurley and the Rams actually might be better off if he isn't among the NFL's top five in touches this season, as he has been in each of the previous three years. Longtime backup Malcolm Brown should get more action, and Los Angeles used a third-round pick on Memphis' speedy Darrell Henderson to provide options for McVay.
The Rams, who took a conservative approach with Gurley throughout training camp by limiting him to an every-other-day practice schedule, are determined to optimize Gurley's effectiveness in the final season before his four-year, $60 million contract extension begins.
And what about Henderson?
As ESPN's Mike Clay notes, the rookie averaged 8.88 yards per carry at Memphis during the 2017 season. Pretty good, right? Not good enough apparently, as he improved that mark to 8.92 on 214 carries last season.
Henderson, selected in the third round of April's draft, is on the small side (5-8, 208 pounds) but has good speed and elusiveness. Clay stressed that Gurley's health will determine how much work Henderson gets as a rookie, but, at the very least, he's a good handcuff, as he'd play a large role alongside Brown if Gurley were to miss time.
Also according to Clay, McVay loves the "11" personnel package, and it's easy to understand why.
The Rams have the best wide receiving group in the league.
The trio of Cooks, Woods and Cooper Kupp has been nearly unstoppable. Consider that during the seven full games they played together last season, all three were top 11 fantasy wide receivers. This isn't a fantasy ranking, but that production speaks for itself. Josh Reynolds has proved to be a solid fourth option.
Given all that, Clay believe the Rams will be among the most prolific scoring units in the NFL this season with a projected total of 441 points, third best in the league on Clay's list.
In 2017, the Rams scored 45 offensive touchdowns (fifth most) and attempted 43 field goals (second most). In 2018, they scored 55 touchdowns (fourth) and attempted 41 field goals (second). Both field goal numbers rank top 10 in the NFL over the past decade. ...
And finally. ... The Rams enter Week 1 fresh and healthy, with every player on their roster available, McVay says. That includes CB Aqib Talib, who was slowed the second half of training camp because of a hamstring injury. Talib says he's good and that he's been participating in the last couple of practices.
QBs: Jared Goff, Blake Bortles
RBs: Malcolm Brown, Darrell Henderson
WRs: Cooper Kupp, Robert Woods, Brandin Cooks, Josh Reynolds, Nsimba Webster, JoJo Natson
TEs: Tyler Higbee, Gerald Everett, Johnny Mundt
Miami DolphinsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 3 September 2019
First-year coach Brian Flores has been saying it since March and said it again Sunday: The Miami Dolphins are not tanking in 2019.
As Associated Press sports writer Steven Wine notes, the claim sounded less convincing after Miami parted with three veterans in deals that netted mostly draft picks.
Even before the Dolphins swung the two weekend trades, they were widely expected to be among the NFL's worst teams. The departures of left tackle Laremy Tunsil, receiver Kenny Stills and linebacker Kiko Alonso, who made a combined 137 starts in 2016-18 for the Dolphins, increase the likelihood they'll bring up the rear this year.
The deals also make it more probable the Dolphins will go first in the 2020 draft, which fits neatly with the need for a franchise quarterback as part of the rebuilding project ordered in January by owner Stephen Ross.
So are they tanking?
"No, we're not," Flores said. "We're going to try to win every game. It's disheartening to hear people even say that. For a guy who respects the game, as much as the game has done for me, when people say that - they shouldn't say it."
To explain the roster purge, the Dolphins made Flores available rather than general manager Chris Grier. Ross has said little publicly in recent months about his team, but Flores said the owner is on board with the direction.
"He has been very supportive," Flores said. "This entire organization is on the same page."
That includes the players, the coach said, even if they're dismayed that three longtime teammates have been traded.
"I understand there are relationships that are built," Flores said. "But the guys in the locker room, I think they're going to band together and play together."
Miami completed the trade Sunday that sent Tunsil, Stills, a 2020 fourth-round pick and a 2021 sixth-round pick to the Texans for 2020 and 2021 first-round picks, a 2021 second-round pick, tackle Julie'n Davenport and cornerback Johnson Bademosi.
"This was something we couldn't turn down," Flores said.
He said the departure of Stills was about football and not politics. Alonso was traded to the Saints for linebacker Vince Biegel, who has yet to start an NFL game.
The deals leave the Dolphins with a passel of draft picks in the next two years, and a salary cap situation that will be the envy of the NFL. But that won't help in 2019. They are likely to enter the season with the NFL's youngest team thanks to more than two dozen players under the age of 25. That includes five undrafted rookie free agents heading into the opener Sunday against Baltimore.
In the wake of the recent roster shake-up, Flores and his staff must quickly decide on a replacement for Tunsil, one of the league's best left tackles. The front-runner is Davenport, who started 15 games for the Texans last year and allowed 12 sacks, the second most by a tackle.
"He's a good young player," Flores said. "His best football is ahead of him."
The same can't be said of Ryan Fitzpatrick. Nonetheless, Flores confirmed last week that the veteran will start over Josh Rosen when the team hosts the Ravens to begin the regular season.
Fitzpatrick and Rosen, whom the team traded for on draft night, had been engaged in a tight back-and-forth battle throughout OTAs and training camp but it's the 36-year-old journeyman who has earned the starting nod over a player that was drafted 10th overall in 2018 and is 14 years his junior.
Once pegged as a potential franchise-leading talent, Rosen will have to re-adjust once more and remain optimistic about future opportunities.
"I'll push him every single day for him to get better and if he doesn't, I'll surpass him," Rosen said about keeping Fitzpatrick on his toes.
The big question: Will Rosen get an opportunity show enough to become the Dolphins' starting QB in 2019 and beyond?
According to ESPN.com's Cameron Wolfe, the Dolphins never wanted to rush Rosen onto the field and the fact he isn't starting Week 1 proves it.
That said, Wolfe believes Rosen has shown considerable improvement in recent weeks. The biggest factor here is the rebuilding Dolphins haven't given Rosen a roster that will allow him a chance to succeed. He could have the NFL's worst offensive line and a subpar supporting cast for the second consecutive season.
Rosen has a certain standard of consistency he must reach before he is considered the Dolphins QB of the future, but Miami might have already decided to draft a quarterback in 2020.
As for that offensive line, ESPN's Mike Clay also ranks it the wort in the NFL -- a distinction they would have held even before trading Tunsil to Houston. With Tunsil, Josh Sitton, Ja'Wuan James and Ted Larsen gone, Davenport, Daniel Kilgore, Jesse Davis, and rookies Michael Dieter and Deion Calhoun are probable starters for the rebuilding Dolphins.
"This line is going to take a while to repair," Clay added.
Given all that, Clay projects the Dolphins to score the fewest points -- 284 -- in the NFL this season. ...
Other notes of interest. ... Running back Kenyan Drake, who missed time last month with a foot injury, will play in the season opener this week.
Drake, who spent some time in a walking boot. But Drake made good enough progress to take the practice field ahead of the preseason finale and Flores told reporters the injury shouldn't be an issue
Drake has been competing with fellow running back Kalen Ballage for the right to start.
Running backs coach Eric Studesville insisted earlier this week that no decision has been made about who would start or how carries would be split between the two, but the team's initial, "unofficial" depth chart as Drake listed as the starter and Flores subsequently told reporters, "We're looking forward to giving him a lot of touches this week."
Ballage rushed 36 times for 191 yards and one touchdown in his first NFL season. He only played in 12 games, and didn't earn a big role in the offense until later in the season, but he's viewed as someone who could become a feature back one day. ...
With Stills gone, Albert Wilson, DeVante Parker, Jakeem Grant and Preston Williams are the top downfield weapons. Wilson, coming off last year's season-ending hip injury, should be available Week 1 while Williams has been the most impressive player on offense throughout the summer.
Worth noting, the incoming coaching staff is doing a lot of things differently than former coach Adam Gase did, and it was confirmed Tuesday that personnel decisions at slot receiver will be one of those areas. As the Miami Herald reminded readers, Gase raised eyebrows last July when he announced that Wilson "is not a slot [receiver]. He's an outside guy" -- even though he played the slot a lot in Kansas City.
But after parting ways with Danny Amendola in the spring and trading Kenny Stills on Saturday, current receivers coach Karl Dorrell said Wilson and Grant will play a lot in the slot this season.
Even though Allen Hurns played in the slot quite a bit in Jacksonville, Dorrell did not mention him when asked who the team's slot receivers are.
Here's why the slot role is important in this offense: Per Pro Football Focus' Scott Barrett, over the past decade, Fitzpatrick has targeted a wide receiver running a route from the slot on 26.4 percent of his total passing attempts. That leads all 65 quarterbacks with at least 600 pass attempts over this span and is well above the league-average rate of 19.9 percent.
And Wilson should thrive in that role. Last season, in his seven games before the injury, Wilson averaged 13.3 yards after catch per reception, which ranked first of 97 qualifying receivers.
Among the 150 NFL receivers with at least 150 passes thrown to them since Wilson entered the league in 2014, Wilson leads all of them in yards after catch per reception (7.78).
Also. ... Dorrell, asked why Hurns won a roster spot ahead of Brice Butler and Isaiah Ford: "It was a tough decision. ... [Hurns]. ... Seems to be recovered from that [ankle] injury he had from [Dallas' wild card playoff game]. His experience and knowledge and ability has helped him get to the point he is now."
Dorrell declined to say whether Hurns would be the fourth receiver ahead of Williams, who caught four passes for 97 yards in the first preseason game but just one for seven since. (He sat out Game 4).
"I don't think there's been any regression; Preston has had a really good camp," Dorrell said.
For the record, Wilson, Parker and Grant are listed at the top of the "unofficial" depth chart. ...
Veteran Dwayne Allen was expected to start and help install Dolphins offense when he was signed. But he couldn't stay healthy or produce much while in camp. So the Dolphins parting ways with him last week means they are likely comfortable with playing Mike Gesicki, Nick O'Leary and Durham Smythe at TE.
Clay views Gesicki as a potential breakout player.
Gesicki was scooped up in the second round of the 2018 draft and -- as often the case for rookie tight ends -- did very little in his first season. Gesicki was limited to 202 yards on 32 targets, struggling to 9.2 yards per reception (fourth lowest) and 6.3 yards per target (eighth lowest).
But Clay contends that Gesicki's pedigree of speed and athleticism -- coupled with Miami's shaky group of offensive weapons -- should lead to a boost in targets in his second season.
On a team that's likely to be playing from behind a lot, the entire receiving corps could turn out to be viable, affordable DFS options on a regular basis.
QBs: Ryan Fitzpatrick, Josh Rosen, Jake Rudock
RBs: Jordan Howard, Kalen Ballage, Myles Gaskin, Patrick Laird, De'Lance Turner
WRs: DeVante Parker, Preston Williams, Albert Wilson, Allen Hurns, Isaiah Ford, Mack Hollins
TEs: Mike Gesicki, Durham Smythe, Michael Roberts
Minnesota VikingsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 3 September 2019
According to ESPN.com's Courtney Cronin, Dalvin Cook was craving a sense of normalcy for so long. Rehabbing from constant injuries became his routine over the past two years, not football.
But going into his third NFL season, the burden was lifted. The running back entered training camp the healthiest he'd been since his rookie season in 2017, coming off one of his most fulfilling offseasons.
The ACL he tore four games into his rookie year in 2017 followed by the hamstring injury last season in that same left leg were distant but important reminders of how far he had come after being limited to 15 games in his first two seasons.
How he felt at the end of July reminded Cook of his junior season at Florida State. He never had durability issues during his record-setting three years with the Seminoles despite two offseason surgeries on his right labrum in 2014 and again in 2016.
Cook recalls that third season at Florida State felt like "a clean slate." He could participate in every workout, practice and game without restriction.
"This is what it actually feels like," Cook said about the 2019 season.
Cook sees no limitations on what he can do going into his third season with the Vikings. No rehabilitation. No workload restraints. The freedom to be himself on the field and live up to the Vikings' expectations is his only concern. And that's a welcomed change of pace.
"It's the year that I get to be me again," Cook said. "I get to be Dalvin and go have fun and play football. That's the key. Once I get back to being me and having fun out there on the field, everything's going to fall in place."
He looked like his old self in the Vikings' third preseason game. On his fifth and final snap, Cook broke free on an 85-yard touchdown run against the Arizona Cardinals.
"You would never know he had a knee injury or hamstring injury," fellow running back Mike Boone said. "When he runs, he runs to score."
Big-play moments like that are what feel normal for Cook. They feel routine because throughout much of his career, they were. And they will continue to be if he stays healthy.
Minnesota shuffled its offensive staff this offseason to create a scheme centered on achieving balance. They didn't want to just bring out the best in quarterback Kirk Cousins, but also build an offense around Cook.
As Cronin pointed out, Gary Kubiak's zone scheme, which offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski will run in Minnesota, aligns with Cook's strengths: unique vision, patience and acceleration into the second level to generate explosive plays.
His preseason TD run was a prime example. With the entire offensive line blocking in one direction, Cook used his vision to strike at the right moment, hitting a cutback lane to split his defenders and break free into the open field.
"It's like riding a wave," general manager Rick Spielman said. "It's just his patience and vision. The biggest thing is his unique burst -- once he sees it then he hits that crease, it's gone."
His coaches have called that element of his game a "God-given talent," but Cook's injuries forced him to work on that ability this offseason. They also prompted Minnesota to invest a third-round pick in rookie Alexander Mattison, a big-bodied bruiser to replace Latavius Murray, who left in free agency.
The skillset of Mattison, who can bulldoze through contact, hold his own in pass protection and catch the ball, complements Cook's game.
The Vikings also have Boone and Ameer Abdullah. The challenge will be trying to remain explosive in the run without having to rely on Cook all the time.
"When Dalvin steps out of the game or takes his break, we have to continue to go," said Kubiak, who joined the staff this offseason as an assistant head coach and offensive adviser. "We can't be, 'OK, let's survive until Dalvin gets back.' We keep going forward."
The NFL has seen a shift toward becoming a two-back league, and Minnesota is at the forefront of that trend.
According to Cronin, the Vikings have run 40 percent of their plays this preseason (76 of 189 offensive plays) with at least two running backs on the field, the highest rate in the NFL. That has also yielded the highest output in yards per play (6.3).
The Vikings are not only finding ways to keep Cook fresh, they're also developing an offensive identity they believe will keep them ahead of the rest of the league.
"Not very many people do it anymore," head coach Mike Zimmer said of utilizing formations with two running backs. "So you get an extra lead blocker to the point of attack a lot of times, but you can also spread it out if you've got athletes. ... Typically you're going to get their base defense out there a lot of times. It probably limits a little bit of the exotic pressures and different things like that."
A prove-it year stands between Cook and a lucrative second contract. His future in Minnesota is at stake in 2019. If it goes bad for Cook this season, the Vikings could opt to move on after the final year of his rookie contract in 2020 and look to Mattison or the draft for his replacement.
That's why playing all 16 games for the first time in his career is a goal for Cook this season. And many have taken notice of how Cook has prepared himself.
"Nobody works harder than him," Stefanski said. "I think for our offense, Dalvin Cook is a leader. He's out here working his tail off. In the meeting rooms he is outstanding, so certainly Dalvin's definitely a leader and somebody that we are lucky we have and excited what he's about to do."
Fantasy owners should be too.
Cronin believes Offensive line coach Rick Dennison, who is the run-game coordinator, will help Cook become a 1,000-yard rusher while also contributing to the passing game. Minnesota will go from the bottom of the league to one of the NFL's most efficient rushing offenses.
They will still throw the ball, of course,
Adam Thielen, Stefon Diggs, Cook and tight ends Kyle Rudolph and rookie Irv Smith, Jr. give Cousins as impressive an array of downfield threats.
But Chad Beebe shouldn't be overlooked here.
As ESPN's Mike Clay notes, Beebe went undrafted last year but is the favorite for slot duties between Thielen and Diggs in 2019. Beebe barely saw the field as a rookie, catching all four of his targets for 39 yards. The 25-year-old is on the small side (5-10, 183 pounds) and will do most of his damage in the short area.
Beebe's ceiling is limited by Minnesota's new-look, run-first offense, but if he's regularly on the field when Minnesota is passing, Clay believes he'll sneak into some value in deeper PPR leagues. ...
Worth watching. ... According to Minneapolis Star-Tribune staffer Mark Craig, Diggs was not practicing Wednesday and was the only Viking not in uniform during brief portion of practice open to the media. There hasn't been a previously reported injury for the wideout, so I'll be following up via Late-Breaking Update. ...
And finally. ... Josh Doctson was selected by the Redskins one pick ahead of Laquon Treadwell in the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft, but he'll be following in Treadwell's footsteps in Minnesota. Doctson was waived by Washington on Saturday around the same time that the Vikings cut Treadwell after three dismal seasons.
Neither player was claimed by another team and the Vikings subsequently signed Doctson.
The move gives the Vikings the fifth receiver Zimmer suggested they'd be signing after only keeping four on their initial 53-man roster. Diggs, Thielen, Beebe and Olabisi Johnson make up that quartet. It also reunites Doctson with Cousins after the duo only hooked up for 37 catches for 568 yards and six touchdowns over 18 games together in Washington.
QBs: Kirk Cousins, Sean Mannion
RBs: Dalvin Cook, Alexander Mattison, Mike Boone, Ameer Abdullah
WRs: Adam Thielen, Tajae Sharpe, Olabisi Johnson, Davion Davis
TEs: Kyle Rudolph, Irv Smith Jr., Brandon Dillon, Tyler Conklin
New England PatriotsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 3 September 2019
As the Associated Press framed it, "Tom Brady is an old man by NFL standards, and he has been for a few years.
"Yeah, whatever. ..."
Brady has defied age, logic and the annual naysayers who think this might just be the season when he'll finally look like a guy whose playing days are coming to a close. Well, he's 42, coming off a sixth Super Bowl victory and still going strong at a time when players his age have already settled into their second - or third - careers. Oh, and he also recently signed a two-year contract extension worth $70 million.
So, keep those retirement party plans on hold.
"I'm ready to go this year and that's really what matters," Brady said. "That's where my focus is. It's a unique situation I'm in. I'm in my 20th year with the same team. I'm 42 years old, so pretty much uncharted territory, I think, for everybody.
"I'm going to go out there and do the best I can this year and see what happens."
Well, in the AFC East, everyone knows what that means.
Bill Belichick's Patriots have won the division 10 straight years, 15 of the last 16. And the one they didn't win? Yep, that was when Brady hurt his knee in the 2008 season opener and missed the rest of the year.
There are issues, however.
Unlike the ageless Brady, Rob Gronkowski is on the retirement circuit, leaving the Patriots without a clear-cut starting tight end, providing one of their biggest question marks entering the season.
"Yeah, I mean, he's a great player," Brady said of Gronkowski. "To replace great players, it's not like you just pick another one off the tight end tree. You can't just go out back. You've got to find guys that come in and want to put the work in and want to try and contribute."
The Patriots have looked impressive at times in the preseason, but tight end is one notable question mark.
Under coordinator Josh McDaniels, the Patriots have traditionally been an offense that reshapes itself annually based on the strength of its personnel. After nearly a decade of at-times dominant play at tight end, ESPN.com's Mike Reiss advised readers it wouldn't be a surprise if the Patriots deemphasized the position without Gronk.
Meanwhile, 2019 first-round pick N'Keal Harry was expected to contribute right away but the Patriots will have to wait on the rookie wideout after he was placed on injured reserve with an ankle injury.
According to NFL Network's Mike Giardi, the setback is expected to be temporary as Harry is still projected to return at some point this season, but he'll have to miss at least the first eight weeks of the season.
Harry had been limited by ankle and hamstring injuries during training camp and preseason. His only preseason action came in the opener against the Lions on August 8; he played three snaps and had two catches for 36 yards, including an impressive 25-yard catch along the left sideline.
In an effort to strengthen the receiving corps even further, New England re-signed Demaryius Thomas on Monday after releasing him Saturday. With Harry off the depth chart, the Pats are still in good hands with Thomas, Julian Edelman, Josh Gordon and Phillip Dorsett, among others, set to corral passes from Brady.
While those others will include running backs James White and Sony Michel, don't overlook rookie wideout Jakobi Meyers.
As ESPN's Mike Clay suggested, if you watched Meyers during the preseason, you'll wonder how and why he went undrafted in April.
After signing with New England, the 6-2 NC State product paced all players in both receptions (20) and receiving yards (253) while hauling in two touchdowns in three preseason games. The presence of Edelman, Gordon and Thomas blocks his path to immediate production, but Clay believes Meyers needs to be on your watch list.
So what are the expectations for Brady?
With the over/under set at 27.5 touchdown passes for Brady, both Reiss and ESPN's David Bearman are taking the over.
According to Reiss, one of the top rules in the Patriots beat-reporting notebook is to be careful of doubting Brady, and 27.5 touchdown passes would be his lowest total since the 2013 season, when he had 25. While the Patriots could become more of a running team, and they have had success running close to the goal line, Brady still has Edelman and Gordon at wide receiver as the season opens. Brady should still have his fair share of success in the air.
Also worth noting, Brady has failed to reach 28 TD passes just once (2013).
And what about that rushing attack?
According to Boston Herald staffer Kevin Duffy, there isn't much mystery regarding the Patriots running game. The preseason has made this much clear: The Pats are going to feed Michel the ball early and often.
After missing almost the entire month of August during his rookie season, Michel has taken advantage of training camp in Year 2. He's been healthy and noticeably more explosive than Rex Burkhead and Damien Harris. While Michel's injury-shortened 2018 training camp put him in a difficult spot, that's not the case this year.
Now, Duffy contends, the second-year man is in a groove and well-positioned for a huge season.
He saw far more work than Harris in practice this summer. The Pats will likely sprinkle in Burkhead on early downs and use him in two-back sets alongside White, but it's hard to envision him in a featured role. That job belongs to Michel as the Pats head into the regular season.
On the injury front. ... Thomas (hamstring) was a limited participant in Wednesday's practice.
QBs: Brian Hoyer, Jarrett Stidham, Cody Kessler
RBs: Sony Michel, James White, Rex Burkhead, Brandon Bolden, Damien Harris
WRs: Julian Edelman, Mohamed Sanu, Damiere Byrd, N'Keal Harry, Jakobi Meyers
TEs: Ben Watson, Matt LaCosse, Ryan Izzo
New Orleans SaintsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 3 September 2019
Drew Brees and the Saints may very well be on a revenge tour this season, whether they frame it that way publicly or not.
As Associated Press sports writer Brett Martel notes, The Saints are among the favorites to contend for the Super Bowl berth they were agonizingly denied last season by both the Los Angeles Rams and an untimely officiating lapse in the NFC title game. And that heartbreak came just one year after their previous postseason run was stunningly halted by the first decisive touchdown on the final snap of regulation in NFL playoff history -- on a 61-yard passing play, no less.
Brees, who is 40 and entering his 19th season, asserts that professionalism demands compartmentalization, so that disgust about the recent past doesn't undermine one's focus on the work at hand as a new season arrives.
At the same time, the record-setting quarterback doesn't pretend bad memories can be wiped clean from one's mind, or have no motivational value going forward.
"It's not like you just totally forget that," Brees said. "There's defining moments from your career -- I certainly know I've had my fair share -- that I can reflect back on and still sting a little bit, still burn a little bit, and still motivate, and still inspire. That's part of what keeps you going."
The NFL changed rules allowing coaches to ask for replay review when they feel a call was missed, as the NFL has acknowledged two calls were when a Rams defender got away with pass interference and a helmet hit late in the NFC title game. That change comes too late to make up for the non-call that helped the Rams rally to tie the game with 15 seconds left and win in overtime.
But the good news for the Saints is that much of the core of their past two playoff squads is young and remains intact.
Leading receiver Michael Thomas, who arrived at camp after getting a big contract extension, is entering just his fourth season, while dynamic running back Alvin Kamara, top cornerback Marshon Lattimore and starting right tackle Ryan Ramczyk are in Year 3.
Most of their veteran leaders are back as well, from 2017 All-Pro defensive end Cameron Jordan and middle linebacker Demario Davis on defense to Brees and left tackle Terron Armstead on offense.
The Saints also made a notable addition to coach Sean Payton's offensive arsenal in free agency when they signed tight end Jared Cook, who had career-best receiving numbers in Oakland last season and has quickly demonstrated chemistry with Brees in camp.
A third straight trip to the playoffs looks likely, but Brees figures it's hardly appropriate to start thinking about that before the regular season has even begun.
Every team except the defending Super Bowl champion "fell off the mountain," Brees said. "They're sitting down at the bottom and now here goes the climb, one step at a time. So I'm not thinking about February of 2020 right now. That's a long way away and that's an overwhelming feeling if you decide to look to there. So I'm just focused on the here and now."
Of course, Brees, the NFL's career leader in yards passing and completions, is in the final season of his contract. But heading into 2019, there's been no clear sign of decline. If anything, he's playing smarter. He had one of the most efficient seasons in NFL history in 2018, completing an NFL record 74.4 percent of his passes. His 32 touchdowns to just five interceptions was the second-best such ratio in the NFL last season behind Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers. His 3,992 yards passing were his lowest yet since joining the Saints in 2006, but he sat out the inconsequential last game of the regular season.
Plus, Payton's play calling took advantage of one of the NFL's top running games, particularly with late-game leads.
"It's just finding ways to stay young, feel young, recover, be as efficient as possible. Having the body operate as efficient as possible," Brees said. "I'm pretty aware of what you lose with the aging process. And so, everything I do from a training perspective, recovery perspective, is to combat that."
The Saints' biggest loss in free agency appeared to be running back Mark Ingram, who shared snaps with Kamara to great effect the past two seasons. With Ingram leaving for Baltimore, the Saints brought in former Minnesota running back Latavius Murray. Murray hasn't been used as a receiver out of the backfield as much in his career as the Saints did with Ingram, but Payton said New Orleans is hoping Murray will prove competent in the short passing game to keep defenses off balance.
All in all, fantasy owners should have high expectations here.
In fact, ESPN's Mike Clay projects the Saints to score the second-most points -- 450 -- in the NFL.
In explaining his projection, Clay notes the Saints have ranked no lower than fourth in this category each of the past three seasons and haven't fallen below 12th during the Brees era.
Of course, Kamara will help in that regard.
While ESPN.com's Mike Triplett doesn't expect a major increase in Kamara's workload now that Ingram is gone. Payton has made it clear he likes Kamara's "pitch count" around 65-70 percent of the snaps, which is why the Saints signed Murray. However, Kamara is vital to the passing game, and Triplett believes his 81 catches in both 2017 and 2018 are a floor. Remember, Kamara hit that total as a rookie even when Ingram caught 58 balls. And last year he sat out Week 17. ...
One last item here. ... Tre'Quan Smith played sparingly as a rookie (42 targets in 15 regular-season games), but the third-round pick certainly showed flashes. The highlight was a 10/157/1 line on 13 targets against the Eagles. He'll first need to beat out the likes of Ted Ginn Jr. and Keith Kirkwood, but Clay believes Smith's combination of size (6-2, 210 pounds) and downfield playmaking ability make him an intriguing late-round flier.
QBs: Drew Brees, Taysom Hill
RBs: Alvin Kamara, Latavius Murray, Dwayne Washington
WRs: Michael Thomas, Ted Ginn, Tre'quan Smith, Deonte Harris, Emmanuel Butler
TEs: Jared Cook, Josh Hill
New York GiantsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 3 September 2019
According to Associated Press sports writer Tom Canavan, it's tough to say what a perfect preseason means for the Giants in their second season of a rebuild under head coach Pat Shurmur and general manager Dave Gettleman.
Canavan added, "Perfection in meaningless games doesn't always carry over to the regular season."
The previous time New York was undefeated in the preseason was 2014. The regular-season mark was 6-10. It was one of six times in the past seven seasons the Giants have failed to make the postseason.
So what does this latest perfect preseason mean? It was one of three in the NFL this summer along with Buffalo and Baltimore.
The answer may not be in the record. It might be seeing how the team reacted as time expired to give the Giants a 31-29 win over the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots the final Thursday night of the summer. The bench emptied on the field as if the team had won a playoff game.
The feeling was certainly different than the past two years when New York won a total of eight games.
"I think, regardless of what that game meant, for the players involved, it meant that we won and the excitement of winning showed up," Shurmur said Friday before meeting with coaches and front office personnel to determine the 53-man roster to be submitted Saturday. "I think that there is something good to that."
Besides the record, the Giants have posted some impressive preseason statistics.
Daniel Jones, the No. 6 pick in the draft and the heir apparent to 38-year-old Eli Manning, was the NFL preseason leading passer with a 137.3 passer rating. He hit 29 of 34 for 416 yards and two touchdowns in showing he is ready should Manning be injured or falter.
New York's nine TD passes were a league high along with its points (119), average passing yards (305.5) and total offense (393).
If there was something the Giants (5-11) lacked last season, it was the ability to finish. New York lost eight games by seven points or fewer with the defense giving up the deciding points in the final 2:00 four times.
The defense gave up 87 points in the preseason, the fifth-worst among 16 NFC teams.
Still, the Giants won every game and winning is something players chase.
"I think that even though the preseason doesn't count, putting wins on the board and feeling that atmosphere, how the locker room is after the game, and showing that if you stay together and fight for the whole 60 minutes, it gives you the best possible chance to win the ball game," safety Jabrill Peppers said. "It definitely gives you things to build off of (and) things to coach on."
Tight end Evan Engram said there is a feeling of family on this team after a competitive training camp. He believes having a perfect preseason will carry over.
"That's definitely going to help us on Sundays because we put ourselves in those moments each and every day at practice," Engram said of the comeback. "We put ourselves in those moments in games and so when it's regular season and it really counts we are ready for it. We can trust each other and we can depend on each other, that's something that's different about the team that we can keep building on going into the season."
We will see. It all starts Sunday in Dallas.
Of course, all eyes will be on how the team handles their quarterback situation.
As ESPN.com's Jordan Raanan notes, Manning is the unequivocal starter. There is no internal debate about that at this point. But Jones' strong spring and summer has the clock ticking on Manning's tenure.
The second the Giants stumble or Manning has a poor performance, the calls for Jones will get louder. Does Shurmur make the change at the first sign of distress or, more likely, wait until the Giants' playoff dreams disappear before executing the highly anticipated move?
According to Raanan, probably the latter.
And how much will owner John Mara and GM Dave Gettleman be involved in the situation? Benching the most accomplished quarterback in franchise history in a sensitive subject. Probably plenty. ...
Other notes of interest. ... No surprise here, but ESPN's Mike Clay singles out the Giants for having the best running backs in the NFL.
And it's all based on one guy.
Per Clay, Saquon Barkley's outstanding pass-catching ability is a key reason why the Giants sit atop this list. The 2018 second-overall pick finished third or better at the position in rush attempts, rushing yards, pass routes, receptions, touches, scrimmage yards and total touchdowns as a rookie. Wayne Gallman and Paul Perkins add depth.
But Barkley is the key. Obviously.
So, with the over/under set at 1,899.5 combined rushing and receiving yards for Barkley, it's no surprise that both Raanan and Clay are taking the over.
After all, Barkley had more than 2,000 scrimmage yards last year and the offense is centered on him even more this season. Barkley might not replicate the 121 targets from last year, but he should top the 261 rush attempts if he plays in all 16 games.
According to Raanan, four hundred touches is hardly out of consideration, which makes 1,900 total yards a likelihood.
Clay adds that Barkley could conceivably play a larger role in 2019 with Odell Beckham gone. There have been 19 occasions in NFL history in which a running back has reached 1,900 scrimmage yards in back-to-back seasons. Barkley should add to that. ...
Also remember that Beckham heading to Cleveland sets up Sterling Shepard as the Giants' No. 1 wide receiver. The 2016 second-round pick saw a boost in targets, downfield looks and goal-line work when Beckham was out of action last season. Golden Tate is also facing a four-game suspension and allergic to the end zone, so Clay believes Shepard is well-positioned for his first run at 1,000 receiving yards.
"The 25-year-old is a strong target for your WR3 slot," Clay wrote, "and he has upside for more. ..."
And what about Engram?
According to Raanan, the Giants' passing game is going to revolve around the tight ends and Barkley, especially early in the season with Manning as the starter. That bodes well for Engram, who was second among all tight ends with 320 receiving yards over the final four weeks of last season when he was healthy. If he can remain healthy, Engram is going to be the Giants' big-play receiver with Beckham no longer on the roster.
"They're planning on him playing a massive role," Raanan wrote, "That's why they've kept him in bubble wrap most of the summer."
On the injury front. ... Two Giants weren't practicing as they get deep into Week 1 preparations: WR Darius Slayton (hamstring) and TE Garrett Dickerson (quad). Neither are in the mix for significant roles at this point. ...
And finally. ... The Giants have a new captain: Barkley. He was one of two new captains (along with veteran safety Antoine Bethea) voted on by his teammates. 2019 captains: Offense - Manning, Nate Solder, Barkley. Defense - Alec Ogletree, Antoine Bethea. Special Teams - Zak DeOssie, Michael Thomas.
QBs: Daniel Jones, Eli Manning, Alex Tanney
RBs: Saquon Barkley, Dion Lewis, Wayne Gallman, Javorius Allen, Elijhaa Penny, Austin Walter
WRs: Sterling Shepard, Golden Tate, Darius Slayton, Cody Core, Da'Mari Scott, Corey Coleman
TEs: Kaden Smith, Rhett Ellison, Levine Toilolo, Scott Simonson
New York JetsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 3 September 2019
According to Associated Press sports writer Dennis Waszak, Jr., Sam Darnold has been eagerly preparing the last several months to get to this week.
The Jets are opening their season Sunday with a new coach in Adam Gase, whose aggressive and creative approach has the second-year quarterback thinking big - on the field and on the scoreboard.
When asked what he thinks the Jets' identity is on offense, Darnold needed just one exciting adjective.
"Electric," Darnold said Monday. "I think we're going to do some fun things out there with all the tempo and all the different things we can do, so it will be fun.
"It will be fun to watch us and hopefully we are going to put up a lot of points."
That's hasn't been a characteristic of the Jets' offenses lately.
Or, really, as Waszak suggests, for the last 30 years.
New York ranked 23rd in offensive scoring last season as it sputtered to a 4-12 record. Since 1989, the Jets have finished in the top 10 in points just twice: ninth in 2008, when Brett Favre played his only season for the franchise; and fifth in 1998, when Vinny Testaverde and Curtis Martin led them to the AFC title game.
In the last seven years, New York has ranked 23rd or worse in scoring in all but one year: in 2015, when the Ryan Fitzpatrick-led Jets went 10-6 and ranked 11th overall, but failed to make the playoffs.
Darnold and the Jets will try to change all that starting Sunday, when they take the field against the Buffalo Bills at MetLife Stadium.
"It's starting to feel like a game week," Darnold said, "and we're ready to kick off the season and get off on the right note."
In Miami, Gase's offenses hardly resembled a high-powered juggernaut, ranking 26th, 28th and 17th in his three seasons with the Dolphins. Gase also never had a quarterback at this stage of his development like he has with the 22-year-old Darnold.
Throw in a fresh and rejuvenated Le'Veon Bell at running back and the versatile Ty Montgomery, along with a set of complementary receivers in Robby Anderson, Quincy Enunwa and Jamison Crowder, and Gase will have a lot more options to run an offense at a much higher tempo than he had in Miami.
"I think the players we have dictate how we kind of play," Gase said recently. "I think what we we're doing last year was what we had to do and what we're kind of showing right now with this year, our players are kind of telling me that's how they'd like to play."
There's still quite a bit of intrigue leading into the opener, and it's not just surrounding how Bell will look nearly 20 months after last playing in a game.
Center Ryan Kalil came out of retirement last month and didn't play in the preseason, so there has been lots of focus on his on-field rapport with Darnold and the rest of the offensive line. Left guard Kelechi Osemele missed some time with a pectoral injury, while right guard Brian Winters was sidelined a few weeks with a shoulder injury. They're both healthy and ready to go, but the line is still jelling.
Everyone is still putting the finishing touches on getting Gase's offensive playbook down. So, the "electric" might take some time before it's cranked at full power.
It's worth noting, however, that Bell is intent on showing the Steelers that they made a mistake in letting him go.
"It didn't work out in Pittsburgh. I'm out of Pittsburgh. And now I'm in a new city, a new team, and a lot of people haven't even given us a chance cause they don't like our roster," Bell said, via USA Today. "They think we don't have the talent. I'm thinking I'm going to show everybody. I'm going to show people that, look, Pittsburgh had something special and they let it go.
"That's what I'm going to go out there and do."
Plenty of people are waiting to see if Bell can return to his past form after the long layoff. Those in Pittsburgh may not wind up caring all that much if he does as long as James Conner does well for the Steelers, but the Jets will certainly be thrilled if they have something special in their backfield.
Fantasy owners too. ...
For what it's worth, ESPN.com's Rich Cimini believes Bell will be productive, and his presence will help Darnold, but Cimini warned against expecting a vintage Bell season with 1,900 yards from scrimmage. The concerns: His new surrounding cast isn't nearly as good as what he enjoyed in Pittsburgh, which will mean more attention from defenses. There will be early timing issues with the offensive line.
Again, the man hasn't played a game in 20 months.
The good news: He's 27, and the year away from football undoubtedly preserved some tread on his thinning tires. ...
Among those who agree that Bell will be helpful to Darnold is ESPN's Mike Clay, who tabs the second-year signal caller as his breakout fantasy star for this team.
The Jets selected Darnold with the No. 3 overall pick of the 2018 draft and immediately slotted him in as their Week 1 starter. Darnold, 22, hit some bumps along the way, but he wasn't afraid to push the ball down field (9.4 average depth of target ranked fourth) and finished strong (six touchdowns, one interception, 7.4 yards per attempt during his final four games).
Clay believes the likes of Bell and Crowder improve Darnold's supporting cast as the young quarterback looks to take his game to another level in 2019.
For example, Cimini believes Anderson, due to become an unrestricted free agent after the season, will have a career year: 1,200 receiving yards and nine touchdowns.
Cimini contends that Anderson has matured off the field and developed into an all-around receiver, not just a vertical threat. He and Darnold have a nice rapport. Cimini predicts the Jets, being proactive, will reward him with a four-year, $56 million extension in late December.
Gase said Anderson (calf) and CB Trumaine Johnson (hamstring) were "trending in the right direction" as far as their chances of playing Sunday. ... I'll have more on Anderson's progress via Late-Breaking Update in coming days, but he was on the field to open practice Wednesday.
QBs: Sam Darnold, David Fales
RBs: Le'Veon Bell, Bilal Powell, Ty Montgomery, Kenneth Dixon, Josh Adams
WRs: Breshad Perriman, Jamison Crowder, Braxton Berrios, Tim White, Demaryius Thomas
TEs: Daniel Brown, Trevon Wesco
Oakland RaidersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 3 September 2019
As Derek Carr enters his second season under Jon Gruden, the quarterback should be the least of the Oakland Raiders' worries.
But what should Carr worry about?
As ESPN.com's Paul Gutierrez notes, the Raiders have surrounded him with new weapons -- from game-breaking receiver Antonio Brown and deep threat Tyrell Williams to rookie running back Josh Jacobs -- and solidified the offensive line by getting the massive Trent Brown to protect Carr's front side at right tackle and Richie Incognito to wreak havoc at left guard.
They even upgraded the defense, as Clelin Ferrell and Maxx Crosby were drafted to improve things at edge rusher, Vontaze Burfict knows the defense intimately at middle linebacker and rookie Johnathan Abram brings intimidation at safety.
In short, there are no excuses for Carr, who is facing what is setting up to be a prove-it season in Oakland.
Improve and excel, as many in the organization anticipate, and Carr moves with the team to Las Vegas and lives comfortably in the house next to Gruden (yes, the quarterback has already said he will be next-door neighbors with the coach).
But if Carr, 28, founders and the Raiders again have a top-five pick of their own doing (they also own the Chicago Bears' first-round selection from last year's Khalil Mack trade), things could change.
Imagine this scenario next spring, with the Raiders controlling the draft with their two first-rounders, perhaps looking for a fresh start in Las Vegas and getting to choose from a loaded quarterback class likely featuring Oregon's Justin Herbert and Alabama's Tua Tagovailoa.
Carr, who signed that five-year, $125 million contract extension in 2017, has just a $2.8 million, injury-only guarantee in 2020. Moving on from Carr after this season would cost the Raiders just a $5 million dead-money hit if they cut him.
That's a lot to digest. Almost as much as Carr had to swallow in his first year with Gruden's complicated offensive system. Yet Carr improved in the second half of last season and said during training camp that he played the best football of his life in the final eight weeks.
ESPN Stats and Information research agreed -- to a point.
Breaking down last season, it found that the biggest improvement Carr made in the second half was in taking care of the ball. He threw just two interceptions in his final eight games after getting picked eight times in his first eight. In particular, Carr made better decisions downfield. Because while he threw five touchdowns and six interceptions on passes more than 10 yards down the field in the first half of the season, Carr had a 3-0 ratio on such throws in the second half.
Also, Carr's air yards increased markedly in the second half, averaging 7.22 air yards per attempt after averaging 5.86 in the first half, which was the lowest such average of 34 qualified quarterbacks.
Still, Carr posted a significantly higher completion percentage (72.3, second-best in the NFL) through Week 9 last season than he did thereafter (65.3). And Carr averaged 7.79 yards per attempt in his first eight games and 6.83 in his final eight.
Sure, he missed most of camp dealing with frostbitten feet suffered in a cryotherapy mishap and helmet issues, but he and Carr put in significant work in the offseason, from Brown knocking on Carr's door to the two beating up on poor, unsuspecting college defensive backs at Cal to OTAs and minicamp. They also put on shows working out before preseason games in Arizona and Winnipeg, Manitoba.
When right, Brown elevates the play of everyone around him. And he can improve one aspect of Carr's game -- per NFL Next Gen Stats data, Brown leads the NFL with 10 receiving touchdowns on tight-window throws (less than one yard of separation) over the past three seasons. Carr has thrown 14 tight-window interceptions in that span, tied for third-most in the league.
While Carr was sacked 51 times last season (he took a combined 36 sacks in 2016 and 2017), he did have an interceptionless streak of 325 passes in the second half of 2018, which sets up quarterback and coach alike for this seeming prove-it season.
"There's never been any restrictions with Derek," Gruden said at the start of camp. "I thought Derek was unbelievable last year in some really tough situations. ... We have a lot of change around him, hopefully for the better, but he has done a great job -- not only with the system, he's done a great job leading the group.
"He's clearly established himself as not only an excellent quarterback, but a premier leader on this team."
And he'll remain there. Unless he comes up short. ...
In a related note, with the over/under set at 89.5 receptions for Brown, Gutierrez and ESPN's Mike Clay both take the over.
Gutierrez takes it easily. He notes that Brown's lowest target total in a single season since 2013 is 151, his highest in that time frame being 190. The offense will run through Brown, and Carr is no fool. He will feed him. Clay notes that Brown caught 104 passes in 15 games last season and has cleared 100 receptions -- while ranking no lower than fourth at wide receiver in targets -- each of the past six seasons.
Of course, nobody should expect the drama to end.
In fact, it ramped back up a bit again on Wednesday morning, when the mercurial receiver appeared to voice his displeasure via social media in reply to his team fining him for some missed practices last month.
Brown shared a screen shot of a letter from general manager Mike Mayock that informed Brown he would be fined $13,950 due to an "unexcused" absence from a walk-through on Aug. 22. It went on to outline that Brown was "previously fined $40,000 for missing Raiders' preseason training camp" on Aug. 18 and if he continued to miss mandatory team activities he would be subject to "additional fines and discipline."
In large white lettering over the letter displayed in Brown's Instagram story, he wrote, "When your own team want to hate, but there's no stopping me now devil is a lie. Everyone got to pay this year so we clear."
While Brown's retort was somewhat unclear, one can read into it what they want, but it would seem Brown is frustrated again despite Mayock's letter being clear to show these are fines pursuant to the NFL Collective Bargaining Agreement and the team's "club discipline schedule."
It remains to be seen if this is simply Brown venting his frustrations or if it will carry on and become the latest bigger problem for the Silver and Black.
I'll be watching for more (keep an eye on the Late-Breaking Updates section for more in coming days). ...
Moving back a less dramatic player, what about Jacobs?
The No. 24 overall pick in April's draft, Jacobs will step right in as the primary ball carrier in Oakland. According to Clay, that role should lead to immediate fantasy success, especially when you consider that of the 11 running backs selected in the first round prior to Jacobs, seven posted a top-10 fantasy campaign as rookies.
Jacobs had more than 15 carries in games just twice in three seasons at Alabama but will be three-down back in offense that likes to run. Jacobs also skilled in passing game and will offer value as receiver as well. An elusive and strong back with the ability to contribute as a receiver, Clay believes Jacobs could push for 300 touches this season. ...
Although tight end Darren Waller has only played only a combined 16 games since the start of the 2016 season, after failing a drug test, Gutierrez notes the has been "clean" for two years now and is highly motivated. Gutierrez went on to note that physically, Waller has the hands and speed of a receiver and the size of an imposing blocker.
Gruden's offense is friendly to tight ends and, at 6-6, 255 pounds, Waller will benefit, as Jared Cook did last season with 68 catches for a team-leading 896 yards.
And finally. .... The Raiders placed QB Nathan Peterman on injured reserve with a reported elbow injury on Monday, a day after the team claimed DeShone Kizer off waivers from the Green Bay Packers.
As it stands now, the Raiders have three QBs in starter Carr, Mike Glennon and Kizer.
"I'm a big believer that you've got to take care of that position," Gruden said. "Kizer's a guy that I liked coming out of Notre Dame, he's only 23 years old, he's got 15, 16 starts, started two games in the preseason this year for Green Bay. So, he's had a lot of reps, he's had a lot of experiences. I'm sure most of his bad experiences, like Peterman's, will be reported over and over.
"But I think he's got a big upside. He's athletic. ... We've got to fast-track him. He's got a lot to learn in a short period of time but we are really disappointed that Nate got hurt."
Gruden said Peterman injured his elbow in the preseason finale at Seattle on Thursday.
QBs: Derek Carr, Marcus Mariota, Mike Glennon
RBs: Josh Jacobs, Jalen Richard, DeAndre Washington
WRs: Tyrell Williams, Hunter Renfrow, Zay Jones, Keelan Doss, Nelson Agholor
TEs: Darren Waller, Derek Carrier, Jason Witten
Philadelphia EaglesCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 3 September 2019
According to Associated Press sports writer Rob Maaddi, the Eagles could have several injured starters in the lineup for the season opener.
Head coach Doug Pederson said Monday that defensive tackle Fletcher Cox, right guard Brandon Brooks, linebacker Nigel Bradham, defensive end Derek Barnett and cornerback Ronald Darby should be ready for Sunday's game against Washington after missing the preseason.
"They all practiced (Monday)," Pederson said. "Looking good. So obviously we haven't made any official announcements on who is in, who is out, but we're going to take it day by day. We fully expect those guys to get time on Sunday."
Meanwhile, Desean Jackson fractured a ring finger in practice last week. According to ESPN's Josina Anderson, Jackson was told it is a three to four week injury. Jackson was not sure what his comfort will be playing with a splint and the wideout will determine later if he'll play before fully healed.
The Eagles didn't expect this to be an issue come Week 1 -- Pederson told reporters on Wednesday morning that D-Jax will play Sunday, but I'll be watching and updating as necessary (check the Late-Breaking Updates section for more in coming days).
The team practiced for the first time since the preseason finale last Thursday. Quarterback Carson Wentz didn't take a snap in the preseason and most starters played only two series.
"I felt like this unit really started coming together, or this team started coming together a couple weeks ago when we started really in that Baltimore week of work against them and even last week, keeping those guys working together," Pederson said.
"You see the communication and the things that go on that have to go on during a practice, during a play of a practice, depending on what you're working on. And I do think that these guys really did begin to communicate that way and come together."
The big question here is whether Wentz can stay healthy.
As ESPN.com's Tim McManus notes, after suffering significant injuries in back-to-back seasons, Wentz overhauled his diet and workout regimen this offseason and plans to be smarter about the number of hits he takes. He hasn't felt or looked this good since making an MVP charge in 2017, but he needs to prove he can make it through a full 16-plus games.
Wentz won't lack for weapons or protection.
As ESPN's Mike Clay notes, GM Howie Roseman had yet another terrific offseason, landing vertical threat Jackson, revamping running back with Jordan Howard and Miles Sanders and replacing key defenders Michael Bennett, Jordan Hicks and Chris Long with Malik Jackson, Zach Brown and Vinny Curry.
All that while adding luxury picks OT Andre Dillard and WR J.J. Arcega-Whiteside during the first and second round of April's draft.
But Clay contends the addition of Sanders is key.
The Penn State product was one of the most elusive backs in the FBS last season, evading one tackler for every 6.4 touches. The versatile Sanders has a path to a substantial rookie-season role in a good offense, although he might start slow with Howard and Darren Sproles soaking up a chunk of the snaps.
Beyond that, Clay ranks the Eagles' tight ends the best group at their position in the league. Zach Ertz set the NFL single-season record for receptions by a tight end last season, and he's joined by 2018 draft pick Dallas Goedert who, by all accounts, appears to be a budding star.
In addition, Clay ranks the team's O-line as No. 1 in the NFL. As Clay notes, the Eagles' terrific 2018 unit remains in place with Jason Peters, Isaac Seumalo, Jason Kelce, Brandon Brooks and Lane Johnson set as starters. First-round draft pick Andre Dillard adds some much-needed security behind the aging Peters.
QBs: Carson Wentz, Nate Sudfeld
RBs: Miles Sanders, Boston Scott, Jay Ajayi
WRs: JJ Arcega-Whiteside, Greg Ward, Robert Davis
TEs: Zach Ertz, Dallas Goedert, Josh Perkins
Pittsburgh SteelersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 3 September 2019
According to Associated Press sports writer Will Graves, the word Ramon Foster chose wasn't by accident.
Asked what he expects the identity of the Pittsburgh Steelers to be in 2019 following the high-profile departures of star wide receiver Antonio Brown and versatile running back Le'Veon Bell, the second-longest tenured member of the roster behind quarterback Ben Roethlisberger offered a typically blunt assessment.
"A team," the left guard said. "When you see us on the field. The way we play offense, defense, special teams, you should know that we're a team. It's not the teams that have 10 Pro Bowlers on the team that wins the Super Bowl most of the time. It's the team that you can usually watch them and see that they're playing team ball."
Something that wasn't always the case during the waning days of the "Killer Bs" era. The Steelers spent a significant portion of 2018 talking about Brown's latest meltdown or Bell's extended absence.
Though they insisted those issues didn't spill onto the field, sometimes they did. Brown's very public offseason divorce began when he went AWOL before a must-win regular-season finale against Cincinnati following a dust-up with Roethlisberger and was benched by head coach Mike Tomlin. The Steelers found a way to edge the Bengals anyway with Brown standing in a fur coat on the sideline, a fitting image for the way the perennial All-Pro isolated himself from the rest of the roster. While the victory over Cincinnati wasn't enough for Pittsburgh to avoid missing the playoffs for the first time since 2013, it also served as a jumping off point of sorts. The Steelers believe they can survive and even thrive with Brown now in Oakland and Bell getting paid by the New York Jets.
"AB is a Hall of Fame player, so there's going to be some things that change," center Maurkice Pouncey said. "But we have a great receiving corps here that works really, really hard, and the guys are really, really locked in. They have a lot to prove. When you lose a Hall of Fame player the next guy has to step up."
Roethlisberger won't lack for candidates. The Steelers signed free agent wide receiver Donte Moncrief and drafted speedy Diontae Johnson in the third round to join a unit that includes JuJu Smith-Schuster and James Washington. The group is dedicating the season to wide receivers coach Darryl Drake. The popular Drake - a longtime friend and mentor to Tomlin - died on Aug. 11. One of the last things Drake told his players before his passing was "never choose good when great is available." It's a lesson Smith-Schuster and his teammates are taking to heart.
"Don't settle for less, don't be satisfied with what you have now," Smith-Schuster said. "When great is out there, go achieve it."
Heading into Sunday's season-opener in New England, it should be noted the 37-year old Roethlisberger, coming off his second NFL passing title, felt good enough about the core surrounding him to sign a contract extension that runs through 2021.
According to Graves, Roethlisberger is perhaps in the best shape of his career. In a division featuring rising young quarterbacks in Cleveland and Baltimore, he's in no mood to pass along the torch. After reaching the Super Bowl three times in his first seven seasons, he hasn't returned to the sport's biggest stage in nearly a decade despite his gaudy statistics.
"I want to win Super Bowls," Roethlisberger said. "Truthfully, that should be all of our motivation because that's what's driving me right now."
The big question: Does the Steelers' offense have enough firepower to win without Bell and Brown?
According to ESPN.com's Jeremy Fowler, the Steelers believe they have a chance in every game with Roethlisberger at quarterback. The next step is discovering whether Smith-Schuster and running back James Conner can turn Pro Bowl seasons into Year 3 greatness. The Steelers are confident the production will be there.
Indeed, with the over/under set at 1,290.5 receiving yards for Smith-Schuster, both Fowler and his ESPN colleague Mike Clay are taking the over.
Fowler believes the Steelers will try to infuse more balance into the offense with Conner and the running game, but Roethlisberger is at his most comfortable in the no-huddle with four- and five-wide sets. That bodes well for Smith-Schuster, who knows how to get open and has serious chemistry with Roethlisberger.
Clay, noting Smith-Schuster racked up 1,426 yards with a 24% target share last season (with Brown and his 161 targets in the picture), predicts the third-year man wins the NFL receiving yards title this season.
Clay explained that Smith-Schuster has shown a flair for the big play, and he's worked hard this offseason to show he can handle the load as the team's new No. 1 receiver. Getting 1,500-plus yards is very possible for Smith-Schuster, who can parlay a big Year 3 into a potential new contract in the offseason.
Without a clear-cut second option taking away 75 to 80 catches, Smith-Schuster will get every opportunity to post big numbers despite double-teams coming his way.
Outside of that, expect the Steelers to spread the ball around, with several different receivers posting respectable numbers -- maybe 500 yards here, 700 there -- and the hope a no-huddle attack remains one of the league's best.
But if you're betting on players beyond the top prospects, Clay has his eye on Washington.
The Steelers' history of developing young wide receivers into stars will again be put to the test as 2018 second-round pick Washington looks to help replace Brown. He was limited to 37 targets as a rookie, but has big upside after dominating deep downfield during his time at Oklahoma State. There is room for Washington to take on a big role, with the likes of Donte Moncrief and rookie Diontae Johnson his primary competition for snaps behind Smith-Schuster.
But it might take some time with Moncrief slated to be the starter opposite Smith-Schuster to open the season.
And finally. ... The Steelers felt so confident in kicker Chris Boswell following a Pro Bowl season in 2017 they rewarded him with a four-year contract. Twelve months later, Boswell entered training camp fighting for a roster spot after making just 13 of 20 field goals last season. A handful of misses - most notably a botched 40-yard attempt on the final play in Oakland in December - played a significant factor in Pittsburgh's slide from 7-2-1 to missing the postseason.
Boswell promised to get right in the offseason and he's been lights out during camp.
Considering Pittsburgh's margin for error likely decreased with Brown gone, the team can't afford to squander scoring opportunities. Boswell returning to his 2017 form would help.
QBs: Devlin Hodges, Mason Rudolph, Ben Roethlisberger
RBs: James Conner, Benny Snell, Jaylen Samuels, Trey Edmunds, Kerrith Whyte
WRs: JuJu Smith-Schuster, Diontae Johnson, James Washington, Johnny Holton, Deon Cain
TEs: Vance McDonald, Zach Gentry
San Francisco 49ersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 3 September 2019
According to Associated Press sports writer Josh Dubow, head coach Kyle Shanahan gathered his team during the offseason program and delivered a clear message.
After one year of rebuilding and one plagued by injuries, the San Francisco 49ers had no more excuses. The third year of the Shanahan-John Lynch era was time for the struggling franchise to take a big step and finally get back to being a contender after five down seasons.
"You get a new general manager, new head coach in here, it's going to take a year or two to get people that they want, the system that they want, everybody dialed in," said left tackle Joe Staley, one of the only remaining ties to the franchise's previous playoff berth in 2013. "Last year was the year we really felt like going into the year we had the pieces in the right spots. I think we added a ton more this offseason. It's time to win."
Season-ending injuries to Jimmy Garoppolo and starting running back Jerick McKinnon last September derailed San Francisco's season almost before it started. The team dealt with several more injuries throughout the year, especially at running back, linebacker and the secondary. That led the organization to overhaul its strength and conditioning and medical departments in the offseason. Whether that pays off remains to be seen as the team has dealt with several minor injuries early in training camp that could impact the availability of some key players at the beginning of the season.
McKinnon is out again for all of this season after having several setbacks this summer, although the team is hopeful none of the other injuries will have long-term implications.
And with a healthy Garoppolo back, a defensive line upgraded by the additions of two dangerous edge rushers in Dee Ford and rookie Nick Bosa, and a core of young players ready to emerge as key contributors, the Niners believe the pieces are now in place.
San Francisco won 10 games total in the first two seasons under Shanahan and Lynch and has the second-most losses in the NFL (47) since Jim Harbaugh was forced out following the 2014 season. Shanahan and Lynch have brought needed stability after a run of three coaches in three seasons, but the results haven't been there yet.
"We're very happy with the people we have in this building, talent-wise and character-wise. That's good, we've accomplished that part," Shanahan said. "Now we need to win some games, we need to get better. I think our guys feel that, we feel that, and I think that's why we added some key players that we thought would help us."
But nobody is more key than their quarterback.
Garoppolo was a revelation after being acquired midway through the 2017 season from New England, going 5-0 as starter to end the season and earn a $137.5 million, five-year contract. Garoppolo didn't look nearly as efficient at the start of last season despite having a full offseason to absorb Shanahan's offense. He remains a mostly untested commodity with 10 career starts in five seasons and has struggled in training camp and exhibitions.
He must show that the Niners made the right choice when they invested in him.
Garoppolo will get plenty of help from tight end George Kittle, who emerged as a star in his second season, setting an NFL record for tight ends with 1,377 yards receiving. The situation at wide receiver is much less settled. Dante Pettis showed flashes as a rookie but has yet to prove he can handle the load as a No. 1 receiver in the NFL. Marquise Goodwin has blazing speed but has a more limited role. There are no other proven players at the position and rookies Deebo Samuel and Jalen Hurd will be counted on to make an impact this season.
Pettis drew constant criticism from Shanahan throughout the exhibition season.
Still, ESPN.com's Mike Clay views him as a potential breakout player.
A 2018 second-round pick, Pettis quickly stepped into a big role in San Francisco. The Washington product put up 467 yards and five scores in 12 games, averaging an impressive 10.6 yards per target along the way. Pettis peaked prior to a season-ending injury in Week 16, posting the eighth-most fantasy points among wide receivers during Weeks 12-15.
The 23-year-old is atop the 49ers' depth chart and positioned for a larger target share in his second season -- assuming he can pick up the pace to Shanahan's satisfaction.
Also, Pettis is listed with the first team on the initial "unofficial" depth chart.
Given all this, with the over/under set at 24.5 touchdown passes for Garoppolo, ESPN.com's Nick Wagoner took the over.
Wagoner stipulated this presumes Garoppolo can play a full season or close to it, something he has never done in the NFL, but if he does and can shake off the rust he has showed in the preseason, the combination of improved weapons and Shanahan's offense should allow him to exceed this number. Barely.
In a related note, Shanahan informed Nick Mullens that he will be the No. 2 quarterback, backing up Garoppolo. C.J. Beathard will be No. 3. ...
On a somewhat surprising note. ... Tevin Coleman is listed behind Matt Breida on that "unofficial" depth chart, released Monday.
As CBSSports.com notes, regardless of the team's depth chart order on paper, with McKinnon on IR, it's clear that Breida and Coleman will be both see their share of touches out of the gate. While the arrangement may slightly tilt in Breida's favor at the moment, Coleman figures to see enough work to merit fantasy consideration to start the season and it's plausible that he could overtake Breida in time, if he emerges as the "hot hand" out of the team's backfield.
And again, while I'll remind you again this is "unofficial," it's certainly not ideal for Coleman investors. I'll be watching for more on this in coming days (check the Late-Breaking Updates section for any changes or clarifications). ...
On the injury front. ... Bosa practiced Monday for the first time since Aug. 7. The 49ers and Bosa are cautiously optimistic he'll return from his ankle sprain to play Sunday against Tampa Bay. Bosa said he's spent "every waking hour" working to get back from his ankle injury.
Cornerbacks Jason Verrett and K'Waun Williams were also back at practice. Only two players not participating in portion of practice open to media were receivers Trent Taylor (foot) and Hurd (back).
Shanahan told reporters on Wednesday that Hurd wouldn't today and probably won’t play on Sunday. The rookie has gone from “day to day” to “week to week.”
Pettis (groin) was limited Wednesday.
The better news?
Taylor had his fractured right foot re-evaluated in recent days and doctors determined he no longer needs a walking boot. "I feel good with it right now. Recovery process is going good," Taylor told the Sacramento Bee.
Taylor won't play in the opener, but he expects to resume running next week while the 49ers are in Youngstown, Ohio, preparing to play the Cincinnati Bengals.
San Francisco kept seven receivers on the 53-man roster, in part because Taylor's injury will cost him time during the regular season. Shanahan could replace Taylor in the slot, or "F" position, with a committee approach involving Pettis, Kendrick Bourne, Samuel and Richie James Jr.
QBs: Jimmy Garoppolo, Nick Mullens, C.J. Beathard
RBs: Raheem Mostert, Matt Breida, Jeff Wilson, Tevin Coleman
WRs: Emmanuel Sanders, Deebo Samuel, Kendrick Bourne, Dante Pettis, Richie James, Jordan Matthews
TEs: George Kittle, Ross Dwelley
Seattle SeahawksCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 3 September 2019
According to Associated Press sports writer Tim Booth, there is an unusual and notable lack of noise surrounding the Seattle Seahawks.
The loud personalities of the past are gone. There are no contract disputes. The general buzz around the franchise is at a murmur. There are no outlandish Super Bowl expectations, but there remains a belief Seattle is a good team that should be in the NFC playoff conversation.
After years when Seattle was among the loudest teams in the NFL, it's a stark change.
"We had so many names that people were paying attention to that were doing so many different things that it's just kind of different now. ... I think a little bit of that, too, is I think the league is sleeping on our team," linebacker Bobby Wagner said.
"They kind of did it last year, but we had lost so many players there was no expectation. This year kind of has that same vibe, but we know what we've got in our locker room and know how good our team can be."
Last season was supposed to be the transition year in a remodel. Instead, the Seahawks found a formula that worked with a revitalized run game, an efficient Russell Wilson, and a defense that while taking a step back from the past was still good enough for Seattle to win 10 games and earn a wild-card berth.
Seattle should be able to pick up where it left off, but might not be ready to challenge the Rams in the NFC West. The Seahawks' offense could be dynamic with a run game led by Chris Carson and an experienced, veteran offensive line, but will need to find a replacement for the loss of go-to wide receiver Doug Baldwin. Seattle has one of the best linebacker groups in the NFL led by Wagner, and may have solved its questions about the pass rush by acquiring Jadeveon Clowney from Houston to pair with Ezekiel Ansah coming off the edge, hoping the duo can be the disruptive answer.
The Seahawks seem to be equal parts potential and questions going into the 10th season with Pete Carroll in charge.
"I'm hoping we can be a very complete team," Carroll said. "In years past, we've been able to be good at a lot of areas and it's hard to find a way to get at us."
Booth went on to note the Seahawks avoided a major distraction by locking up Wilson to the richest contract in league history in April. With his long-term future set, Wilson can focus on building off one of his most efficient seasons. With Seattle producing the best run game in the NFL, Wilson set career highs in touchdown passes (35) and passer rating (110.9) while matching his career low with seven interceptions.
Wilson threw for only 215 yards per game, but that number was similar to the two seasons when he helped lead Seattle to NFC titles.
Wilson's task will be finding a new No. 1 wide receiver. Tyler Lockett is coming off a career year, but Baldwin often drew coverage, leaving Lockett open. Look for rookie DK Metcalf to be another favored target, but minor knee surgery during training camp could slow his start.
But it might not keep it from starting.
Metcalf was back on the practice field with the Seahawks on Monday just two weeks after a minor surgery on his knee.
Metcalf had surgery on Aug. 20 after being held out of the team's second preseason game against the Vikings. Carroll always said they expected Metcalf to make a quick recovery but there hasn't been any certainty that Metcalf would be back in time for the team's regular season opener Sunday against the Bengals.
"It was a minimal surgery and minimal findings, so we have high expectations," Carroll said following the procedure. "We'll go week-to-week with it, see how he does. We really don't have any concern that he won't get back soon. We're excited that we got it done. It was the kind of deal that we could have put off and waited, but we thought we'd use the time frame that we had available and hopefully it'll work out just right for us."
Metcalf was running routes prior to Seattle's preseason finale against the Oakland Raiders on Thursday night. His return to practice on Monday is a good sign that he could available for Sunday's game. If he can practice again on Wednesday without any issues surfacing, it would seem to be a good indication he'll be ready to go for Sunday's game.
"He looked good today," Carroll said on Monday. "He had a fantastic recovery. If you can imagine, it was just a couple weeks ago. Fantastic recovery. He looked great out there and today, he was running. He practiced with us throughout the practice."
Carroll told reporters Wednesday that Metcalf would practice again today, but there's still no definitive word on his availability for Sunday.
I'll be following up on that via Late-Breaking Update in coming days. ...
Other notes of interest. ... Rashaad Penny did not look explosive or very good in camp. Enough so that some wondered if he was playing injured?
According to NBCSports.com's Joe Fann, there hasn't been any report to suggest Penny is nursing any sort of injury. "We've got to block for him better," Carroll said regarding Penny. Even so, Fan believes Penny has fallen further behind Carson, who has established himself as Seattle's clear No. 1 option.
Seattle is going to give their 2018 first-round every opportunity to show himself. Penny will get touches -- maybe even up to 10 a game. But it's not going to be an even split barring the unforeseen.
And finally. ... The Seahawks continued to undo some of their peculiar roster decisions, bringing back another guy who was clearly part of the plan from the beginning by re-signing wide receiver Jaron Brown.
Brown was a surprise cut over the weekend, since he was working as a starting wide receiver throughout training camp. But as they did with backup quarterback Geno Smith, they only left him unemployed briefly.
To make room for him on the roster, they placed tight end Ed Dickson on injured reserve. Dickson is coming back from knee surgery, and now he's eligible to return later in the year if possible.
QBs: Russell Wilson, Geno Smith
RBs: Travis Homer, Marshawn Lynch, Robert Turbin
WRs: Tyler Lockett, DK Metcalf, Phillip Dorsett, David Moore, John Ursua, Malik Turner, Jaron Brown
TEs: Greg Olsen, Jacob Hollister, Luke Willson
Tampa Bay BuccaneersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 3 September 2019
As USA Today's Colin J. Liotta notes, quarterback Jameis Winston is less than 200 passing yards away from surpassing Vinny Testaverde as the franchise's all-time passing leader.
It should be a record worth celebrating and preparing for as we near Week 1's home contest against the San Francisco 49ers. But, given how poorly the Bucs' record has been since the team drafted Winston first overall in the 2015 NFL Draft, this season could very well be the quarterback's last in Tampa Bay as he's playing on the final year of his rookie contract.
The franchise still thinks Winston can turn things around, especially now that Bruce Arians is the head coach. After all, Winston was surprisingly effective over his final seven games in 2018, so the hope is that he'll be able to carry that play over heading into this season.
But, as has been the problem during his career, Liotta Winston needs to minimize the turnovers if he wants to give himself, and this team, a chance to succeed.
Just how bad have the turnovers been?
Well, since 2015, Winston has more giveaways than any other quarterback with 76, and last season he accounted for 17 of the Bucs' league-worst 35 giveaways (14 interceptions and three lost fumbles). Keep in mind, too, that Winston played in only 11 games, starting nine.
If you want some further context for just how bad those 17 giveaways were, Liotta notes there were six teams last season - the Cincinnati Bengals, Dallas Cowboys, Green Bay Packers, Houston Texans, New Orleans Saints and Seattle Seahawks - who had 17 or fewer giveaways.
So, what are the keys to success in 2019 for Winston? Protect the ball.
And protect Winston.
The signal caller enters Year 5 -- the most pivotal season of his career -- with a well-assembled cast of receiving targets: Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, O.J. Howard and Cameron Brate. But he won't be able to do much if an offensive line that surrendered a league-high 15 sacks through three preseason games doesn't protect him.
So what should we expect from him?
With the over/under set at 26 touchdown passes, ESPN.com's Jenna Laine is taking the over even though Winston eclipsed this mark once, throwing 28 touchdowns in 2016. He could match or better that in a system that features a lot more variety in the red zone, but only if the above mentioned protection (the offensive line struggled in the preseason) and stays healthy. ...
Other notes of interest. ... With Godwin the apple of Fantasy Nation's collective eye this offseason, ESPN's Mike Clay pivoted to Howard in predicting a breakout fantasy star for the Bucs.
Clay went on to remind readers that last season, one tight end set the position's all-time single season receiving yardage record, another set the reception record and a third paced the position in fantasy points. None of them were Howard, and yet it was the Buccaneers' tight end who led the position in both yards per reception and yards per target for the second season in a row.
Howard has already missed eight games because of injury in his career, but he has been productive when active. He's well positioned for a larger role in his third season and Clay contends he has elite upside.
There is no such upside at running back in Tampa.
As Clay notes, Peyton Barber did very little (3.7 YPC, 3.3 YPT) with a lot (254 touches) last season, but is expected to lead this backfield again in 2019. A potential second-year leap from Ronald Jones is possible, but it's hard to expect much after he managed 77 yards on 30 touches in 2018.
QBs: Tom Brady, Jameis Winston, Ryan Griffin
RBs: Ronald Jones, Dare Ogunbowale, T.J. Logan
WRs: Justin Watson, Cyril Grayson, Spencer Schnell, Chris Godwin
TEs: Cameron Brate, O.J. Howard, Tanner Hudson
Tennessee TitansCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 3 September 2019
According to the Associated Press, safety Kevin Byard has heard the predictions that the Titans will finish last in the AFC South, and it's very easy to ignore all that chatter.
Byard also remembers the Titans being called Super Bowl contenders after a 3-1 start a year ago. Yes, the Titans might have gotten caught up in high expectations before finishing 9-7 - a win out of a second straight playoff berth.
"This is a long season. ..." Byard said. "We have to really stay in it, stay grinding, stay dedicated and do everything we possibly can to put ourselves in position to be in the Super Bowl in February."
The Titans have one postseason trip to show for the first three consecutive winning seasons since this team moved to Tennessee in 1997. Only four NFL teams have longer consecutive winning streaks than the Titans, who hope to mark their 60th season as a franchise with their first division title since 2008 and their second Super Bowl berth - first since the 1999 season.
Head coach Mike Vrabel has been pushing his players for months to push themselves from good to great in his second season. That will be challenging in the NFL's only division in 2018 featuring three teams with winning records.
Vrabel might have a wild card in his pocket with at least 14 Titans, led by quarterback Marcus Mariota, in the final year of their contracts, perhaps providing added motivation. Byard was in that group himself until the Titans made him the NFL's highest-paid safety at the start of training camp, and now he has a goal in mind to prove he earned his big paycheck.
"The elevation is trying to elevate that trophy in February in Miami," Byard said.
And there are positives here.
Coordinator Dean Pees' decision to return for a second season puts the Titans in position to improve the NFL's No. 3 scoring defense, which allowed 18.9 points per game. They trailed only Chicago (17.7) and Baltimore (17.9) in that category, and the Titans were second to Philadelphia (44.6 percent) giving up touchdowns inside their own 20 (44.7 percent). Every starter in the secondary is back after helping the Titans rank sixth against the pass. Brian Orakpo and Derrick Morgan are retired after combining for two sacks in 2018, so new starters Harold Landry III and veteran Cameron Wake should boost those numbers.
But there's bad news as well.
Taylor Lewan broke the news himself, saying the NFL told him he was suspended for the first four games of the season for a performance-enhancing substance. Lewan blames a bad batch of a supplement for a failed test. Dennis Kelly will replace the three-time Pro Bowl left tackle, but it won't be easy with games at Cleveland, Jacksonville and Atlanta; the lone game at home is against Indianapolis.
Meanwhile, the Titans are paying Mariota $20.9 million, and the No. 2 draft pick overall in 2015 will have to earn his next contract. He has yet to play a full 16-game season and missed three starts last year, including the regular-season finale with a playoff berth on the line for the winner. Mariota put it best, saying his approach is "Let it ride."
But the Titans upgraded the talent around Mariota this offseason, assembling the most options he's had in Tennessee.
They signed veteran left guard Rodger Saffold and wide receiver Adam Humphries, then drafted receiver A.J. Brown out of Mississippi in the second round. Three-time Pro Bowl tight end Delanie Walker also is back after breaking his right ankle in the 2018 opener. Offensive coordinator Arthur Smith replaced Matt LaFleur after he was hired by Green Bay, and Smith's task is boosting an offense that ranked next to last in passes attempted last season, and 27th averaging 19.4 points scored a game.
Plus, they need running back Derrick Henry, also in his final year under contract, to run all season the way he finished 2018. He had the best month of any NFL player in December when he ran for 625 of his 1,059 yards. He finished second in the AFC and sixth in the NFL in rushing, and his 12 TDs put him third.
Fortunately, Henry sounds ready to roll.
The running back appeared on NFL Network on Monday and said the calf injury that kept him out this preseason is in the past and he's ready for the season-opener versus the Browns.
"I'm feeling well," Henry said. "Kind of sad I missed camp; I love it, and I love my teammates and practicing, but I'm back to feeling good, being able to practice these last couple weeks. I'm excited. It's game week, so I'm ready to go."
Henry missed most of camp with a calf injury but was back at practice a couple of weeks ago.
Henry has heard comments that the final quarter of last season was a fluke that he won't repeat again. The running back believes the fantastic end of the season is a better representation of who he is as a player than the initial struggles to his career.
"That's who I am," Henry said of his performance down the stretch. "Everybody has adversity, and I think that was mine during the season. Mine was kind of long, but I was glad to finish off on the right note, and I'm just excited to get out there and pick up where I left off and continue to help this team, this organization."
Sunday's opener versus the Browns is the first time we'll see Henry on the field since the end of last season. The fourth-year pro says he's ready to face an improved Cleveland defense.
"I just go out there and play my game, man. Like you said, they got a lot of good players over there, brought a lot of good players in and they are hype for this upcoming season," Henry said. "Just got to go out there and do what I've been coached and go out and play my game; don't get too caught up in everything. It's the first game, everybody's going to have their jitters, be excited. Just calm down, play the game and let everything else take care of itself."
Leaning on Henry will be great, but Smith has to figure out a way to make the Titans a balanced attack that can win shootouts or grind it out, depending on the opponent.
According to ESPN.com's Turron Davenport, their success comes down to three things: The offensive line keeping Mariota upright, Mariota's ability to distribute the ball and Henry's effectiveness. ...
Other notes of interest. ... Brown figures to begin his pro career behind Corey Davis and Humphries in targets, but ESPN's Mike Clay believes it might not take the quick and versatile Brown long to work his way up the depth chart.
Tennessee's run-first scheme is a red flag, but don't be surprised if 6-foot, 226-pound Brown emerges as one of Mariota's top targets at some point during the season. ...
Davenport believes Walker can reach 90 catches and 1,000 receiving yards in 2019. He explained that Mariota is most comfortable throwing to Walker, who has averaged 71.2 receptions and 831.2 yards per season since the two started playing together in 2015. Walker is on a mission to prove that at 35 years old, he is still capable of being the NFL's best tight end.
And finally. ... Adam Schefter of ESPN reports that the team is placing Ryan Succop on injured reserve. The team will sign Cairo Santos to take his place on the roster.
Succop opened training camp on the physically unable to perform list after having offseason knee surgery, but returned to kick in the team's final two preseason games. Santos spent the offseason and summer with the Buccaneers, but was cut in favor of rookie Matt Gay last weekend.
He was 9-of-12 on field goals and 17-of-17 on extra points for Tampa in seven games last season and he also played two games for the Rams.
QBs: Ryan Tannehill
RBs: Derrick Henry, Dalyn Dawkins, David Fluellen
WRs: A.J. Brown, Corey Davis, Adam Humphries, Kalif Raymond
TEs: Jonnu Smith, Anthony Firkser, MyCole Pruitt
Washington RedskinsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 3 September 2019
Case Keenum, Colt McCoy and Dwayne Haskins entered training camp in consideration for the Redskins' starting quarterback job.
Keenum won the job, with head coach Jay Gruden announcing the veteran would start Week 1 at the Philadelphia Eagles.
As the Associated Press suggested, it's not that Keenum dominated during his first offseason, training camp and preseason games with Washington. With McCoy's lingering leg injury and Haskins adjusting to the NFL game, Keenum's experience - and availability - won out.
"As it stands right now, we'll start with Case at the opener and then Dwayne will get himself ready to play and we'll go from there," Gruden said.
Washington ended the 2018 season with its top two quarterbacks, Alex Smith and McCoy, sidelined with leg injuries. Before spending the 15th overall selection in April's draft on Haskins, the strong-armed passer from Ohio State, the Redskins acquired Keenum from Denver in March in a low-risk trade involving late-round picks.
Undrafted in 2012, the same year Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III went 1-2, Keenum developed into a starter for four teams over his first seven seasons. The journeyman shined during Minnesota's 2017 run to the NFC Championship game and started all 16 games for the Broncos last season.
"I'm excited. I really am. I don't take it lightly, the opportunity, the position I'm in to be the Week 1 starter," Keenum said. "I've been there before. I know it's a tough job and there are only 32 of them. I'm excited to continue to earn the right to be the quarterback for this team."
Washington did not hand Keenum the job, but he started the first three preseason games with Haskins serving as the primary backup. Playing without holdout starting left tackle Trent Williams and amid uncertainty atop the wide receiver unit, Keenum completed 16 of 30 passes for 213 yards and one touchdown.
"Case has come in here and picked up the offense extremely well, had great confidence and command over the team - they both have," Gruden said. "At the end of the day, I think we have great confidence that Case can lead us to a win against Philadelphia."
How long Keenum keeps the job remains one of several interesting questions for the Redskins.
Washington last reached the postseason in 2015, but the team also has its quarterback of the future to develop in Haskins, who mixed in sharp throws with youthful miscues throughout the summer. The Redskins open the season facing four 2018 playoff teams in their first five games.
McCoy, easily the most experienced with Gruden's playbook based on his five years in Washington, had multiple surgeries during the offseason on the right leg he broke last December. Though he participated during much of training camp, setbacks occurred, thus eliminating his chance to win the starting job. There's no timetable for McCoy's return.
"You've got to produce without a doubt. We anticipate Case producing," Gruden said. "He produces, he has nothing to worry about, you know what I mean? I think moving forward, we intend on Case being the guy."
Smith, recently spotted in Washington's locker room, remains on crutches following his gruesome leg injury last November and is unlikely to see action this season. ....
Meanwhile, it should come as no surprise that the Redskins will likely be a run-first team. But some might at the man tabbed to lead the ground attack.
Coming into 2018, the Redskins seemed poised to have Derrius Guice holding down the lead role after selecting him 59th overall. Unfortunately, a torn ACL in the preseason opener forced the team to scour the market for a viable replacement. Enter Adrian Peterson, who was a NFL rookie when Guice was just 10 years old.
Fast forward a few months later and things are back on track with Guice healthy again and Peterson, 34, still a freakish athlete. Even with Guice in the lineup, there's no question that A.P. will see carries in 2019 but there's a chance the volume will drastically decrease.
In fact, it almost sounds guaranteed in light of what Gruden said Monday.
"We drafted [Guice] for a reason," the coach explained. "We feel like he can be a first, second and even a third down back, if needed. I think the offense, carries wise, will probably go through him, pretty much.
"Obviously, A.P. is still here and can run the ball as good as anybody. We're good at running back."
Aside from their 1-2 punch, the Redskins will play the speedy Chris Thompson and ex-Eagles RB Wendell Smallwood in certain situations this upcoming season. Smallwood is expected to see more time as a return specialist.
But Guice will get ample opportunities to show he can be a top-flight NFL running back.
Of some concern, however: The quality of the offensive line will likely play a role in how effective he'll be right off the bat.
Along those lines, Gruden said he doesn't have any expectation "whatsoever" about whether or not holdout tackle Trent Williams will report this week. "I'm numb to the fact," Gruden said about the situation and is focused more on preparing the players who are here.
That said, reports began circulating Tuesday that Williams could report "sooner rather than later" -- perhaps as early as next week. ...
Also worth noting, ESPN's Mike Clay projects the Redskins to be among the lowest-scoring teams in the NFL -- with just 291 points.
Clay explained: "Washington scored 281 points last season, which was fourth fewest in the league. Without Smith, the likes of Keenum, McCoy and Haskins will need to hold down the fort. It's hard to set a high bar for their group of primary targets, which has been ravaged by injuries and underwhelming play. This number may be even lower if Trent Williams doesn't return.
One last note here. ... Jordan Reed still hasn't cleared concussion protocol despite the initial belief that this one was minor. It's been almost two weeks.
Gruden told reporters on Wednesday that he was hopeful would do some work Wednesday and that the hope is he’s trending in a positive direction.
QBs: Colt McCoy, Kyle Allen, Dwayne Haskins
RBs: Adrian Peterson, Chris Thompson, Peyton Barber, Wendell Smallwood, J.D. McKissic
WRs: Terry McLaurin, Steven Sims, Kelvin Harmon, Cody Latimer
TEs: Jeremy Sprinkle, Hale Hentges