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Team Notes Week 1 2020
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. ...
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Arizona CardinalsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 9 September 2020
As Kyle Odegard of the team's official website put it, "The Cardinals' bold plan to pair a freshly-fired college coach with an undersized quarterback in 2019 went exactly as hoped. ..."
Kliff Kingsbury helped revive a moribund offense with his innovative schematics, and Kyler Murray proved to be the ideal trigger man on his way to Offensive Rookie of the Year.
The Cardinals only won five games a season ago, but made noticeable strides in Kingsbury's inaugural campaign. The expectations have been ratcheted up in 2020, as the blockbuster trade for wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins and reinforcements on defense have made the playoffs an attainable goal.
The Cardinals look like a team on the rise, and beginning with the season opener on Sept. 13 against the 49ers, will have their chance to prove it.
"We just want to take a step forward," Kingsbury said. "We felt like we made some progress at the back end of last year as a team, even in our practice processes and how we did things. We're hoping to build off that this year and put a better product out there."
Much of the success will be contingent on a breakout from Murray, who hopes to find the same type of second-season stardom as Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson before him.
Murray has made the necessary progress in training camp to foreshadow a successful campaign, but played it coy when asked to relay his team expectations for 2020.
"I'll keep that inside," Murray said.
Others aren't as bashful, as veteran cornerback Patrick Peterson has called this year's group "probably the best football team I've been a part of on paper."
The Cardinals are amped up for the season, but also know they must battle two opponents every week due to the presence of COVID-19.
So far, teams have done a fantastic job following protocols -- the Cardinals did not register a positive test in training camp -- leading to confidence the campaign will be played.
Meanwhile, there's ample reason for optimism in Arizona -- and for fantasy manager invested in this offense.
The two most recent Most Valuable Players -- Mahomes and Jackson -- each took huge leaps in their second NFL seasons to win that hardware. Murray is expected to improve in Year 2, but by how much? If he can move into the upper echelon of quarterbacks, the Cardinals' emergence could be faster than projected.
The Cardinals' offense made major strides last season despite the absence of a true No. 1 receiver. Hopkins immediately assumes that role and gives Murray an elite weapon to target. The 28-year-old is the picture of consistency -- always productive, rarely misses games -- and will give the passing attack a significant boost.
As for the other returning pieces. ... It was a fantastic eight-game debut for Kenyan Drake in 2019, as he ran for 643 yards and eight touchdowns on 5.2 yards per carry after being acquired from the Dolphins. With David Johnson now in Houston as part of the Hopkins trade, Drake is the clear go-to running back. His skillset seems to fit the offense perfectly, and another efficient season in 2020 seems attainable.
After a promising rookie season, Christian Kirk didn't break out in 2019 because of an ankle injury and a couple drops. That capability still lurks, and even though Hopkins will command the most targets, Kirk has a path to a big season if he seizes it. This is a critical year for Kirk to show he can be among the better receivers in the NFL.
The ageless Larry Fitzgerald led the Cardinals in receiving once again last season. While he may no longer be a perennial All-Pro, Fitzgerald remains a key cog at 37 years old. His hands are still among the best in the league, and if defenses pay attention to Hopkins and Kirk on the outside this year, it should give Fitzgerald ample opportunity to make plays from the slot.
Generally speaking, the rushing attack set a franchise-record with 5.03 yards per carry in 2019, but the Cardinals were subpar through the air. Kingsbury is a pass-first coach at his core, and an improvement there could really push his offense into overdrive.
Between the expected progress from Murray and the addition of Hopkins, optimism on this front is warranted.
Another area in need of improvement, the Cardinals scored on 38.8 percent of their drives last season, which was ninth-best in the NFL, but poor red-zone production meant too many of those series ended in field goals. If the running game remains above average and Murray makes good decisions, that number is almost certain to improve.
On the injury front. ... The sight of Drake in a walking boot on Aug. 24 led to plenty of outside worry and speculation, but the Cardinals running back never shared those concerns.
While Drake missed more than a week of practice, he returned last Thursday and will be ready to go in the season opener on Sunday against the 49ers.
"To be honest, I was out the boot in like two days," Drake said. "The boot wasn't much of a concern. I guess it was something that wasn't really public, so people didn't know if I had it on or not."
Drake said he would have been back at practice sooner if an illness didn't keep him sidelined.
"I was supposed to practice like Tuesday, Wednesday, but I didn't get to make my grand debut until (Thursday)," Drake said. "That was a little delayed, but other than that, everything else was fine."
Drake's health isn't an issue, and Hopkins and Fitzgerald were also present during the open portion of practice on Monday and should be good to go for the opener. Both dealt with minor issues throughout camp. ...
One last note here. ... Hopkins is in a new home, and he's getting the pay increase he sought with his former team.
The Cardinals agreed to terms with Hopkins on a two-year extension worth $54.5 million in new money, NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported on Tuesday. The new deal amounts to $27.25 million per year for Hopkins in 2023 and 2024, and includes $42.75 million guaranteed at signing.
Arizona acquired Hopkins in a trade that was influenced by his desire for a deal worthy of his play. At $16.5 million per year, Hopkins is the ninth-highest-paid receiver across the league, yet he's one of only two receivers in the entire league to be named a first-team All-Pro in each of the last three seasons. The other, Falcons receiver Julio Jones, makes the most money on average ($22 million per year) at the position in the NFL.
Simply, Hopkins wanted to be paid accordingly. Now he is.
QBs: Colt McCoy, Kyler Murray, Clayton Tune, Jeff Driskel, David Blough
RBs: James Conner, Keaontay Ingram, Corey Clement, Ty'Son Williams, Emari Demercado
WRs: Marquise Brown, Greg Dortch, Rondale Moore, Zach Pascal, Michael Wilson
TEs: Zach Ertz, Trey McBride, `Bernhard Seikovits
Atlanta FalconsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 9 September 2020
The Atlanta Falcons decided to stick with the guy who led them to the Super Bowl. That continuity could be a major asset heading into this most unusual of seasons.
As the Associated Press reminded readers, head coach Dan Quinn's job was in jeopardy after two straight losing campaigns, but the Falcons brought him back for a sixth year. Longtime general manager Thomas Dimitroff also was retained.
When the coronavirus pandemic hit, NFL teams were forced to shut down their training facilities and do most of their work virtually. The players were thankful to go through such a unique offseason with a group of familiar faces -- and believe it could help the Falcons turn things around after a pair of 7-9 seasons.
"It's definitely a lot easier than having a whole new coaching staff," cornerback Isaiah Oliver said. "Having them back is huge. We all love to play for coach Quinn and we're ready to fight for him."
Quinn guided the Falcons to the Super Bowl for only the second time in franchise history during the 2016 season, but that magical run has faded into the rearview mirror. It's playoffs or bust if Quinn -- and Dimitroff, that that matter -- figure to keep their jobs beyond 2020.
Meanwhile, the Falcons have a new lead back, cutting ties with Devonta Freeman and signing Todd Gurley to a $6 million, one-year deal. The move certainly comes with some risks.
Even though Gurley is only 26, he has a history of knee problems that limited him to a career-low 857 yards last season with the Los Angeles Rams. Atlanta is hoping Gurley gets back to the form that made him an All-Pro selection in 2017 and 2018. If that happens, the Falcons could have the sort of dynamic offense that carried them all the way to the Super Bowl just four seasons ago.
A year ago, the Falcons ranked 30th in rushing yards at 85.1 per game.
As for the passing attack. ... While Julio Jones justifiably draws most of the attention in the Falcons' receiving corps, keep an eye on Calvin Ridley. The 2018 first-round pick could be poised to put up the best numbers of his young career after missing the final three games last season with an abdominal injury. He settled for 63 receptions, 866 yards and seven TDs.
"I can easily be a 1,000-yard receiver, or even better," Ridley said. "I've always had confidence in myself, but now I'm really hungry."
Matt Ryan expects to have one of the league's best 1-2 receiving punches if Ridley continues to put in the work.
"He's doing exactly what he needs to do to reach the next step," Ryan said. "He understands his role and what we're expecting him to do."
According to ESPN.com's Vaughn McClure, receiver Russell Gage has made tremendous strides and is ready to make a big impact as the slot guy. ...
According to AtlantaFalcons.com's Kelsey Conway, Hayden Hurst will be an every down tight end for Falcons. Conway believes Hurst, acquired from the Ravens in an off-season trade, will be more of a factor in the run game than Austin Hooper was because of his size, strength and experience with blocking in the run game in Baltimore. According to McClure, Hurst, a former first-round draft pick of the Ravens, looks the part with the way he catches the ball with ease and has the speed to run down the seam. At 260-plus pounds, he can ward off defenders with his body.
Bottom line: Hurst is very athletic, has great hands and Falcons OC Dirk Koetter has a history of heavy tight end usage. ...
For what it's worth. ... Quinn said this week that Brian Hill has earned more playing time and has taken a jump in the pecking order. According to NFL.com's Gregg Rosenthal, we shouldn't be surprised if Hill enjoys lead-back moments as a result of Gurley struggles or health issues. Hill currently may have more ability to make defenders miss than Gurley.
Hill has worked on his pass catching and change of direction.
Ito Smith gives a change of pace with his elusiveness and can returns kicks, while Quadree Ollison is a short-yardage back.
QBs: Desmond Ridder, Taylor Heinicke, Logan Woodside
RBs: Bijan Robinson, Tyler Allgeier, Cordarrelle Patterson, Caleb Huntley
WRs: Drake London, Mack Hollins, Scott Miller, Jared Bernhardt, KhaDarel Hodge, Frank Darby, Josh Ali, Penny Hart
TEs: Kyle Pitts, Jonnu Smith, Parker Hesse, Feleipe Franks
Baltimore RavensCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 9 September 2020
The Baltimore Ravens won the AFC North last year behind Lamar Jackson, who accounted for 1,206 of the team's NFL-record 3,296 yards rushing. He also threw for 3,127 yards and 36 touchdowns before running away with the MVP trophy.
Baltimore went 14-2 last season, then lost its playoff opener to Tennessee.
Despite that defeat, the Ravens remain the team to beat because of their diverse offense and after adding Calais Campbell, Derek Wolfe and first-round draft pick Patrick Queen to a defense that yielded only 17.6 points per game in 2019.
For the Ravens, winning the AFC North is merely one facet of their overriding goal.
"Man, the only thing I really want is a Super Bowl," cornerback Marlon Humphrey said. "I know Lamar has spoken about that a lot. He's the leader of this group, and we're all trying to get the same thing."
The Ravens entered the postseason with a 12-game winning streak and the best regular-season record in the league. All that got them was a quick exit in the playoffs.
Jackson worked hard to improve after absorbing his second postseason loss in two tries, and GM Eric DeCosta gave him some help by drafting speedy wide receiver Devin Duvernay and running back J.K. Dobbins before signing free agent guard D.J. Fluker to replace retired star Marshal Yanda.
The weakest part of Jackson's game was consistently throwing deep to his wide receivers.
On throws that traveled at least 15 yards in the air, Jackson ranked 27th in completions (35) and 22nd in completion rate (43.8 percent).
"He made a lot of great strides last year in the passing game, but I think the outside game is where he really wants to take [it] to the next level," wide receiver Willie Snead said. "I think when he starts doing that, people are going to really respect him as a passer."
According to ESPN.com's Jamison Hensley, there's been a noticeable difference with Jackson in this year's training camp, where he has repeatedly hit Marquise Brown and Miles Boykin deep downfield.
To be fair, Jackson jumped out on teams so often he didn't need to stretch the field. But, in the divisional playoff loss to the Titans, the Ravens fell behind 21-6 in the third quarter and Jackson was 6-for-17 (35.3 percent) on those deep throws.
On a positive note. ... There are no injury concerns for Jackson heading into the regular-season opener. Jackson missed two practices a few weeks ago because of a groin injury before returning on Aug. 24. Last Thursday, he declared himself fully recovered.
"I'm 100 (percent) right now," Jackson said. "I'm good."
As for the backfield, the Ravens released a depth chart for the first week of the regular season and it shows Dobbins on the bottom looking up at the team's other running backs.
Dobbins is listed as the fourth of the team's four backs. Mark Ingram is the starter with Gus Edwards and Justice Hill behind him.
As Profootballtalk.com suggested, Dobbins' spot on the depth chart may not be predictive of his role in the offense. Head coach John Harbaugh said recently that Dobbins is likely to have a "significant role" in the team's offense and teams aren't in the business of releasing their plans through publicly available depth charts.
Harbaugh added this about Dobbins: "Confidence plus coachability plus talent, that's a pretty good combination and he's got all of that."
Edwards, a 700-yard rusher in each of the past two seasons, provides excellent depth to a Baltimore offense that ran the ball 98 more times than any other team in the league last season. Hill, who has missed a chunk of camp with a soft-tissue injury, will have to bide his time this season.
Beyond running back, Brown, Boykin and Snead are the clear top three wide receivers on the team while Mark Andrews is coming off a Pro Bowl season.
In particular, Brown is a player to watch.
Brown's first two NFL receptions went for 47- and 83-yard touchdowns in the Ravens' season-opening rout of the Miami Dolphins last year. It was an eye-opening debut to say the least, and with the second-year wide receiver expected to have a breakout season, he'll be one of the main players to watch when the Ravens host the Browns in Sunday's Week 1 contest against Cleveland, according to Pro Football Focus' Ben Linsey.
"There was talk about Baltimore adding another wide receiver this offseason, but there weren't any prominent free-agent signings or draft selections that give any indication Brown isn't the clear-cut No. 1 option at the position heading into 2020," Linsey wrote. "Now healthy after battling some injuries as a rookie, there's no reason to believe Brown can't thrive in that role.
"Looking at all wide receivers with 50 or more targets in 2019, Brown's 134.4 passer rating when targeted led the way -- he was a big play waiting to happen in the league's most efficient offense. He'll likely see a lot of [Pro Bowl cornerback] Denzel Ward in this matchup, which should be a good battle."
QBs: Lamar Jackson, Tyler Huntley, Anthony Brown
RBs: J.K. Dobbins, Gus Edwards, Justice Hill
WRs: Odell Beckham, Zay Flowers, Rashod Bateman, Nelson Agholor, Devin Duvernay, James Proche, Tylan Wallace, Andy Isabella, Mike Thomas
TEs: Mark Andrews, Isaiah Likely, Charlie Kolar
Buffalo BillsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 9 September 2020
As Associated press sports writer John Wawrow suggested, faith is something head coach Sean McDermott places in Josh Allen. Yet the coach doesn't dispute talk of the quarterback needing continued development entering his third season for Buffalo to start realizing its true potential.
"I think that's understandable," McDermott said. "Until you're able to silence that, it's going to continue to come up. And I think at the end of the day, Josh wants to prove himself inside the building first. And I think he continues to do that and show his teammates who he is, and what he's capable of."
In a COVID-19-altered offseason like no other, a familiar question looms in Buffalo, which is scheduled to open by hosting the New York Jets on Sunday.
On paper, the Bills appear to have all the pieces to contend for their first AFC East title since 1995: continuity, depth, plus the offseason addition of receiver Stefon Diggs in a trade with Minnesota. The biggest concern for a team coming off its second playoff appearance in three years remains at quarterback, a position that's been mostly unsettled since Hall of Famer Jim Kelly retired following the 1996 season.
Raw, strong-armed, mobile, prone to fumbling, Allen has yet to smooth the inconsistencies in his game since Buffalo traded up to select the Wyoming product with the seventh pick in the 2018 draft. Last year, he doubled his touchdowns passing total to 20 from his rookie season, and threw just nine interceptions -- three fewer than 2018. Though his completion percentage jumped six points to 58.8, he still finished 32nd among NFL starters.
His inconsistencies were most apparent in a 22-19 overtime loss to Houston in an AFC wild-card playoff. Allen opened by going 13 of 20 for 131 yards and catching a touchdown pass in the first half. He went 11 of 26 for 133 yards and a lost fumble the rest of the way in a game Buffalo squandered a 16-0 third-quarter lead.
The outing still weighs on him.
"I'm definitely not over it," Allen said.
On the bright side, he showed continued growth as a leader by organizing offseason workouts held on both coasts.
Buffalo's offense, which topped 21 points just six times last year, is expected to improve, returning nine starters and entering its third season under coordinator Brian Daboll. Then there's the addition of Diggs, who will join returning starters John Brown and Cole Beasley.
"He's playing more confident than ever," Beasley said in noting he doesn't listen to the questions regarding Allen. "The people outside of here don't matter. They don't know. That's it."
Difficult as it might be to cover Diggs in practice, teammate and All-Pro cornerback Tre'Davious White is a big fan of the dynamic sixth-year receiver who's topped 1,000 yards the past two seasons.
"Obviously, he's a Grade A talent," White said. "Just on paper, we look sexy (on offense). We look good."
Meanwhile, Devin Singletary and rookie Zack Moss figure to split carries in Buffalo's backfield.
According to The Athletic's Joe Buscaglia, the lead running back will depend on the opponent.
"When the Bills are facing a team with slower linebackers and an edge defender who doesn't contain, (it could favor) Singletary with runs to the outsides," Buscaglia wrote. "If a defense has weaker defensive tackles who can be pushed off the line, Moss is the better option between the tackles."
Buscaglia also believes Moss will probably have the edge on goal-line carries, while third-down work will vary. Buscaglia also considers Singletary's progress in pass protection and ball security to be an X-factor.
Per Buscaglia, "Singletary had the highest fumble rate of any running back in the NFL who played regularly in 2019. ..."
As Rotoworld.com noted, it's important to remember that Moss has only one month of NFL practice and zero live reps under his belt, but he has knocked the socks off of the Bills press.
It's a backfield I'll be watching closely as this week's opener draws near. ...
In a related note. ... GM Brandon Beane confirmed running back Lamar Miller would travel to Buffalo for a visit.
According to ESPN.com's Marcel Louis-Jacques, Buffalo is excited about Dawson Knox's potential in his second season as a do-it-all tight end who can make plays after the catch. Now healthy, Tyler Kroft adds value in two-tight-end sets and is an accomplished receiver.
Worth noting. ... Diggs spent a portion of August dealing with a bit of low back soreness that the team is monitoring. His status for this week's game, however, doesn't seem to be a concern.
And finally. ... Receiver Andre Roberts returned to the Bills on Sunday, a day after being cut. Roberts doubles as Buffalo's punt and kickoff returner. He's back for a second season with the Bills and 11th in the NFL. He earned an All-Pro special teams selection in 2018, and was voted to the Pro Bowl in each of the past two seasons.
QBs: Josh Allen, Kyle Allen
RBs: James Cook, Damien Harris, Latavius Murray, Nyheim Hines, Reggie Gilliam
WRs: Stefon Diggs, Gabe Davis, Khalil Shakir, Trent Sherfield, Deonte Harty
TEs: Dawson Knox, Dalton Kincaid, Quintin Morris
Carolina PanthersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 9 September 2020
As Associated Press sports writer Steve Reed put it, "If you can't beat 'em, borrow from them. ..."
The Carolina Panthers' offense could look a lot like the division champion New Orleans Saints this season. That means short, quick-hitting passes underneath and creating catch-and-run opportunities for receivers.
New starting quarterback Teddy Bridgewater spent two seasons working behind Drew Brees in New Orleans, including one year there with Joe Brady, now Carolina's offensive coordinator. Both have extensive knowledge of how the Saints' system works.
"Teddy, for us, is exactly what we want," said energetic first-year coach Matt Rhule, who inherits a major rebuilding project in Carolina. "This offense in general, when you look at in New Orleans, that iteration of it where Joe first learned it, is not necessarily a vertical, down-the-field passing game as much as it is a catch-and-run, underneath, matchup-type passing game."
The Panthers would seem to have the personnel to pull it off.
According to Charlotte Observer staffer Jonathan M. Alexander, one of the most frequently asked questions from fans is whether Bridgewater can throw the deep ball. Per Alexander, the answer is, yes.
While his passes haven't necessarily traveled 50-plus yards, he has connected with receiver Robby Anderson on a few 40-yard passes. Throwing it 50-plus yards is important. No doubt. It keeps defensive backs guessing and opens the field for receivers underneath. But it won't be critical to the Panthers' success this year. The little we have seen from the Panthers' offense is mostly short- and medium-range passes that have allowed the Panthers' receivers, tight ends and running backs to make plays.
On short- and medium-range passes, Bridgewater has been an accurate passer.
And that's what the Panthers need. They already have the receiving weapons. They just need someone to get it to them. But when he has thrown the deep pass, Bridgewater has connected with his receivers.
Curtis Samuel and D.J. Moore have claimed that the Panthers have the fastest wide receiver group in the NFL. With the addition of Anderson, who was the fourth-fastest wide receiver last year based on average top speed, per NFL's NextGen Stats, that may be true.
Per NFL.com, the Panthers are projected to be the fourth-fastest team in the league in 11-personnel based on 40-yard dash times. But how does that translate to the field?
According to Alexander, Moore was one of the standouts on offense throughout camp. The play-making wideout came out on top in one-on-one battles. His route running has been efficient. He often gets good separation from opposing cornerbacks. Backup cornerbacks have no chance against him. Even the starters have struggled to contain him. Anderson was good as well -- with the exception of a couple of drops -- often getting behind opposing cornerbacks for long touchdowns. Samuel, though, was not impressive. He played well in the first practice without pads. He made some tough catches in the first week. But after that, he was mostly absent.
Alexander went on to explain that part that can be attributed to a minor hamstring injury he's been dealing with, but Samuel regressed since the first day. Alexander added this is an important year for Samuel, who is on the last year of his rookie deal, and is hoping to land a bigger contract. As the No. 3 wide receiver, who can also line up in the backfield, he'll likely have his opportunities to make plays.
Of course, McCaffrey is clearly the face of this franchise.
He became only the third player in NFL history with 1,000 yards rushing and receiving in 2019, and earned himself a four-year, $64 million extension. He's been used extensively over the first three seasons, so will Brady limit his reps to cut down on wear and tear? The Panthers don't seem to be backing off McCaffrey's workload as Rhule said he is considering using him as a punt returner in special situations.
McCaffrey said he doesn't care how much he plays; he just wants to win.
Worth noting. .. The Panthers waived running back Reggie Bonnafon last weekend, leaving Mike Davis as the primary backup to Christian McCaffrey.
According to ESPN.com's David Newton, TE Ian Thomas suffered a toe injury last Monday. X-rays came back negative and Rhule said Thomas would be back "soon." Thomas became the primary receiving TE after the Panthers moved on from Greg Olsen.
Carolina's special teams will look different this year as well. The Panthers parted with longtime kicker Graham Gano, who missed all of last season with a knee injury. They'll go with Joey Slye instead.
Bottom line? The Panthers are in rebuilding mode with new coach and revamped roster. Owner David Tepper is willing to be patient, so there's no real pressure on Rhule to win this season.
It doesn't help that Carolina's young defense will compete in division that includes three top-level quarterbacks: Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Matt Ryan. But it might be helpful for fantasy managers if the offense here is forced to play from behind.
QBs: Bryce Young, Andy Dalton, Matt Corral, Jacob Eason
RBs: Miles Sanders, Chuba Hubbard, Raheem Blackshear, Spencer Brown
WRs: Adam Thielen, D.J. Chark, Terrace Marshall Jr., Jonathan Mingo, Laviska Shenault, Shi Smith, Damiere Byrd
TEs: Hayden Hurst, Ian Thomas, Tommy Tremble, Giovanni Ricci, Stephen Sullivan
Chicago BearsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 9 September 2020
Head coach Matt Nagy saw a different version of Mitchell Trubisky than he has in the past.
According to Associated Press sports writer Gene Chamberlain, the explanation Nagy offered Sunday for selecting Trubisky over Nick Foles in the Bears' quarterback competition had more to do with Trubisky's strides as a quarterback than any disadvantage Foles faced from a lack of offseason work in the team's offense because of the league's COVID-19 restrictions.
"In the end, Mitch won the job and I think that's very important for him, for us, for everybody, to understand, that he worked really hard to get to this point," Nagy sad. "We know that we all, in a lot of different areas, struggled in 2019.
"And so what I think was most impressive, from the end of the season until this past weekend, was to be able to see some of the growth in practice and off the field that Mitch had."
Nagy confirmed on Sunday that Trubisky his starting quarterback for this season.
Foles had come over in a trade for a fourth-round draft pick with Jacksonville after Trubisky struggled last year and saw his passer rating decline from 95.4 to 83.0. The decision comes after an offseason when Trubisky's fifth-year contract option was declined by the Bears.
Neither of those situations seemed to deter Trubisky.
"I'm a believer that everything happens for a reason one way or another," Trubisky said. "So them not picking up my option, bringing in competition, I truly believe it was just a part of my journey and something I had to deal with in order to get better.
"I believe the way you deal with things is going to determine how it builds you up and it only makes you better in the long run. I just accepted it as a challenge."
The improvement Nagy saw in Trubisky manifested itself in different forms on the field.
"For him, I thought he really finished strong, which was good," Nagy said. "To finish strong with some really accurate throws in the red zone, he did some things. I told you all along his footwork has been much better in the pocket, in regards to staying up in that pocket and hitching up there. Decision-making has been improved.
"So we're always working to try to get that better, and he knows that. You could feel the command. And I think the difference in the command that I felt, and that our coaches felt, was, it's one where it's very natural. It wasn't made up. It wasn't being told from somebody how to act. It was just very organic, and you can tell that with guys, when they are natural with that."
Foles had described the quarterback competition as difficult because learning the offense was "expedited" during an offseason with no on-field work because of COVID-19.
"Now that I look back, I think that that probably affected some things," Nagy said. "And then you have a short summer with training camp as well, with reps. But that doesn't discredit or take anything away from Mitch."
Foles was the backup to Carson Wentz in Philadelphia in 2017, but led the Eagles to the title in Super Bowl 52 with a 41-33 win over New England. He was the backup the next season when another injury to Wentz forced him back on the field and he led the team to a 16-15 playoff win over the Bears at Soldier Field.
So the backup role isn't unfamiliar to him. He congratulated Trubisky with a phone call afterward.
"The thing I've been really impressed, just watching him from a physical standpoint, is his ability to throw the ball on the run," Foles said of Trubisky. "I think he does a really nice job. In person, he's one of the better quarterbacks I've seen with his accuracy throwing on the run.
"I think, just personality-wise, I really just enjoy being around him, just from a personal standpoint. He's a guy that's easy to work with, and sometimes in QB rooms that's not always easy."
Other notes of interest. ... Although the Bears had Cordarrelle Patterson working with the running backs in training camp, he's a wide receiver on the team's official depth chart.
Patterson is a second-string wide receiver. Allen Robinson, Anthony Miller and Ted Ginn are the starters.
The Bears also list Patterson as their first-string kickoff returner, as he was last year.
Jimmy Graham is listed as the starting tight end ahead of rookie second-round pick Cole Kmet.
On the injury front. ... Running back David Montgomery was on the field for Sunday's practice. He had been out since Aug. 26 because of a groin strain. Nagy said he was not going to comment on Montgomery's playing status until injury reports come out on Wednesday.
That said, Chicago Tribune staffer Brad Biggs reports that Montgomery was limited to participating in stretching and individual position drills in Wednesday's practice.
On Tuesday, the Bears placed PK Eddy Pineiro on IR, which explains why Cairo Santos was kept on Chicago's practice squad. Santos is expected to be the opening-day kicker in Detroit.
One last item here. ... As Profootballtalk.com's Charean Williams noted, history indicates this is the final week they have to reach an agreement with Robinson on a contract extension.
Since 2016, Ryan Pace's second season as general manager, the Bears have signed Kyle Long, Akiem Hicks, Eddie Goldman and Cody Whitehair to extensions before the season opener of the final seasons of their contracts. Pace, though, isn't putting a deadline on getting a deal done with Robinson, who enters the final year of a three-year deal with a base salary of $10.9 million.
"We know how important A-Rob is to us, not just as a player but as a teammate," Pace told Patrick Finley of the Chicago Sun-Times.
Robinson posted three emojis Monday with their mouths zipped shut.
"There's some curveballs [about the cap for 2021 amid the pandemic], but we're confident we'll work through it," Pace said. "That's not going to permit us from doing the things that we want to do."
QBs: Justin Fields, P.J. Walker, Nathan Peterman
RBs: Khalil Herbert, D'Onta Foreman, Roschon Johnson, Travis Homer, Trestan Ebner
WRs: D.J. Moore, Darnell Mooney, Chase Claypool, Dante Pettis, Equanimeous St. Brown, Velus Jones Jr., Tyler Scott
TEs: Cole Kmet, Robert Tonyan, Jake Tonges, Chase Allen
Cincinnati BengalsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 9 September 2020
Months before the Bengals made the first selection in April's NFL draft, all the chatter centered on one person: Joe Burrow.
From the time the Bengals clinched the top draft pick in December to now, the former LSU quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner has dominated conversation as the Bengals try to get over last year's 2-14 season and continue a rebuild accelerated by Burrow's selection.
On Aug. 30, head coach Zac Taylor effectively named Burrow the starting quarterback for the Week 1 game against the Los Angeles Chargers. It was hardly a shock considering Burrow took every first-team rep during training camp.
Over the past month, Burrow has been the talk of the team.
Of course, as ESPN.com's Ben Baby notes, all of the preseason chatter is great, but Burrow will ultimately be judged by his on-field production and whether he can be the Bengals' next franchise quarterback. If the preseason is any indicator, Burrow appears to be trending toward a positive rookie year.
"You don't want to compare him to anybody else because you just see the work that he puts in individually," Taylor said. "And it's not this false confidence that he walks around with. We see the work. I'm sure he's doing it when we're not around, because he shows up the next day and he asks questions and he's on top of it."
The good news?
Burrow will have help and it starts with a strong rushing attack.
Joe Mixon, 24, and the Bengals agreed to a four-year, $48 million contract extension last week. Here comes the tricky part: Now the Bengals have to find the best way to maximize that deal. That likely will require Mixon to become more of a receiving target for Burrow.
"He can do just about everything you need him to do," offensive coordinator Brian Callahan said of Mixon in August. "And so, finding ways to get him some touches in the pass game are some of the things that we've looked at and studied, and ways to do that better than we did last year."
Mixon was sparsely used in the Bengals' air attack in Taylor's first season in Cincinnati. In 2019, Mixon had 45 targets, good for 28th among running backs, according to ESPN Stats and Information. To put that in perspective, fellow Bengals running back Giovani Bernard had 43 targets -- and he played 211 fewer snaps.
Mixon's value has been in the ground game as he showed in the second half of the season. After the Bengals ripped up their rushing scheme midway through the year, Mixon closed 2019 with 817 rushing yards in the final eight games. Tennessee's Derrick Henry was the only player with more during that time span.
In fact, only three running backs have more rushing yards since Mixon entered the league in 2017. His 2,931 rushing yards are the second-most by a Bengal in his first three seasons, behind Corey Dillon who had 3,459 from 1997-99. If Taylor and the Bengals can find ways to make Mixon effective through the air, they will be getting the most out of a running back who will make an average of $12 million per year.
Meanwhile, wide receiver is easily the deepest unit on the entire roster. From starters Tyler Boyd and A.J. Green to camp breakouts such as Mike Thomas and Auden Tate, the Bengals have several notable wideouts at their disposal -- and that includes John Ross, who is listed as the No. 3 receiver on the Week 1 depth chart. The Bengals need a primary pass target at tight end after the departure of Tyler Eifert. Drew Sample, a second-round pick in 2019, could help fill that void.
On the injury front, Green is finally ready to get back on the field.
Taylor said Monday that he expects to see Green at full speed when the Bengals open the season on Sunday against the Chargers.
"He looked good to me today. It's good to have him back in the fold," Taylor said, via Ben Baby of ESPN.
It will be good for the Bengals to see Green looking healthy again. A toe injury cut his season short in 2018 and an ankle injury forced him to miss the entire season in 2019. Green hasn't played in a game since December 2, 2018, and he hasn't made it through a game without getting hurt since October 28, 2018. The Bengals hope he's a healthy target for Burrow for 16 games this season.
QBs: Joe Burrow, Trevor Siemian, Jake Browning
RBs: Joe Mixon, Chase Brown, Trayveon Williams, Chris Evans
WRs: Ja'Marr Chase, Tee Higgins, Tyler Boyd, Andrei Iosivas, Trenton Irwin, Kwamie Lassiter II, Trent Taylor, Stanley Morgan
TEs: Irv Smith Jr., Devin Asiasi, Drew Sample
Cleveland BrownsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 9 September 2020
Kevin Stefanski's first offseason with the Browns has come to an end.
After months of virtual meetings, unusual training camp procedures and uncertainty about how the NFL will proceed through the COVID-19 pandemic, the Browns are in full prep mode for Week 1 against the Baltimore Ravens. The 53-man roster is set, and Cleveland will now put its full focus into opening the season 1-0.
"We've thought long and hard about how we were rolling out this program going all the way back to April," Stefanski said Sunday in a video call with local reporters. "I feel confident in what the coaches were able to get across to the players, and I do feel confident in what the players were able to learn.
"I understand that this year and this season is unique, so we just have to be ready to put together a plan in Week 1 that we're confident that guys can go out and execute."
Expect coaching to make a difference this season.
As NFL.com's Gregg Rosenthal noted this week, before the Browns' Week 15 game in Arizona last season, Cardinals defensive coordinator Vance Joseph told the FOX broadcast team that "we know exactly what [the Browns] are going to do" based on their formations. When a veteran coordinator is confident enough to express that out loud, something is seriously wrong. Joseph proved prophetic. By the end of the depressing game, it took Mayfield 19 plays to score a garbage-time touchdown to cut the final score to 38-24.
Then Browns coach Freddie Kitchens was fired two weeks later.
Rosenthal went on to note that blaming the messy Browns offense solely on Kitchens is tempting. While most quarterbacks point out the opposing middle linebacker before the snap, Mayfield spent every other play pointing his teammates to the right spot to line up. Cleveland often couldn't run basic screens, even in December. Changing tempo appeared impossible; only three teams played slower when trailing by seven-plus points, per Football Outsiders. With Stefanski now at the helm, the Browns believe such disorganization will disappear.
"Even an average coaching staff," Rosenthal contends, "won't get in the way of an excellent collection of offensive talent."
Mayfield needs to do his part. Putting all the blame on Kitchens ignores that he was also the one calling the plays down the stretch for the 2018 Browns, who ranked 17th in offensive efficiency before finishing 20th in 2019. The offenses weren't that different, but Mayfield's decision-making was.
According to Pro Football Focus, Baker threw 15 interceptions when protected -- the second-highest figure in the league, just below Jameis Winston's 16 picks from a clean pocket. No other quarterback topped 11. The long-derided Browns offensive line was average. As Rosenthal noted, Mayfield ran into many of his sacks, and defenses knew that he was always going to roll right at the first sign of trouble. The second-year QB was effective when the Browns ran play-action, but his numbers without play-action were disappointing: 11 TDs, 15 INTs, 6.4 YPA.
There are a lot of reasons to believe 2020 will be better.
For all of the mental mistakes Mayfield made last season, Rosenthal believes Mayfield's physical skills may be even better than they were advertised before he was selected No. 1 overall. The pop in his arm is incredible, whether on the move or in the pocket. He is capable of making all the throws -- and not afraid to try them. He has the supporting cast to make those decisions look smarter.
2019 was Odell Beckham Jr.'s floor, too. Even playing through injury, Beckham was open a lot and routinely failed to bring down catchable passes. Jarvis Landry made the Pro Bowl catching passes from Mayfield. The backfield of Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt is the best in football.
Tight end Austin Hooper has reportedly been the best pass catcher in Browns camp, allowing the team to use more two-TE sets with David Njoku.
Rosnethal summed up: "An average starting NFL quarterback should put up top-10 numbers with this crew. ..."
Speaking of that crew, it appears it will remain intact for the foreseeable future.
Hunt announced on Instagram Tuesday that he has signed a contract extension with the Browns. According to multiple reports, it is a two-year deal worth $13.25 million with $8.5 million in guaranteed money.
The Browns signed Hunt as a free agent last year, which gave him a chance to resume a playing career that was interrupted when the Chiefs released him in 2018. That move came after the release of a video of Hunt kicking and shoving a woman and Hunt was suspended for the first eight games of last season as a result of the incident.
Hunt had 43 carries for 179 yards and two touchdowns and 37 catches for 285 yards and a touchdown in eight games after the suspension came to an end. ...
Finally. ... The question of who will call the offensive plays in Cleveland has been kept secret from outsiders the entire offseason. It will either be Stefanski or offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt, who joins Stefanski's staff after being with the Green Bay Packers as their quarterbacks coach last season. As of Monday afternoon, the Browns had not announced which coach will be dialing up the plays.
Stefanski was the Vikings' offensive coordinator last season, but he doesn't have a long track record as a play-caller either. It's just part of the intrigue heading into Sunday's game. Even when the Ravens know who Cleveland's play-caller is, they won't have any preseason tape to help them study new offensive tendencies.
"We don't know those two guys – per se – as play-callers too much," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "They both have experience, but it's not a vast amount of play-calling experience. So, we're going to play against the system and the players. And whatever plays are called, hopefully we can defend them."
QBs: Deshaun Watson, Josh Dobbs, Dorian Thompson-Robinson, Kellen Mond
RBs: Nick Chubb, Jerome Ford, Demetric Felton, John Kelly
WRs: Amari Cooper, Donovan Peoples-Jones, Elijah Moore, Cedric Tillman, Marquise Goodwin, David Bell, Michael Woods II, Anthony Schwartz, Jakeem Grant
TEs: David Njoku, Jordan Akins, Harrison Bryant
Dallas CowboysCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 9 September 2020
As Associated Press sports writer Schuyler Dixon notes, head coach Mike McCarthy never budged when asked about the pandemic disrupting his first offseason as coach of the Dallas Cowboys, preferring to emphasize challenges around the world over the difficulties of trying to implement his program.
The former Green Bay coach was even more direct when asked how the coronavirus might alter expectations for a club that fell flat amid high hopes last year, leading to his arrival when Jason Garrett's contract wasn't renewed.
"If you're not trying to win a Super Bowl, I don't know what you're even doing in this business," McCarthy said. "The ones that don't talk about it are probably trying to underpromise, overachieve.
"But I've always been very upfront about it with every team I've ever coached. We're in this to win a championship. Make no bones about it."
Ten years after winning a Super Bowl with Aaron Rodgers and the Packers at the home of the Cowboys, McCarthy will try to help Dallas get past the divisional round for the first time since the last of five Super Bowl titles 25 years ago.
Dak Prescott is coming off his best season statistically (4,902 yards passing, 30 touchdowns) but worst record (8-8), while Ezekiel Elliott just played a full season without winning a rushing title for the first time.
Prescott has another weapon Dallas wasn't expecting to get in CeeDee Lamb, drafted 17th overall. The dynamic former Oklahoma receiver joins Amari Cooper, who signed a $100 million contract, and the promising young Michael Gallup.
The 2016 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year, a starter from the first snap of his first season, didn't get the long-term contract he wanted in the offseason. He will play on the $31 million franchise tag, possibly the first of two straight years with that approach. Prescott got his first playoff victory two years ago. Now he looks for a deeper run.
"My fire is burning and my fire is big," Prescott said. "You can throw whatever you want in there for it to burn and for it to get bigger. I don't know if I'm necessarily trying to prove something to the Cowboys or to this team, because I feel like everybody in this building, this organization knows the player I am, knows the man that I am, knows where my heart stands. I just want to be great."
Elliott is the NFL leader in yards rushing since entering the league with Prescott in 2016 -- by a margin of more than 1,000 yards. It speaks to his productivity and durability that finishing fourth with 1,357 yards would be considered substandard. That's what happened in 2019.
"Every year I've got a chip on my shoulder," said Elliott, who sounded off on social media over one analyst ranking him outside the top 10 among NFL running backs. Elliott tested positive for the coronavirus in the offseason but recovered.
In addition to the rushing yardage, since 2016, no running back has more carries (1,169) than Elliott, and he missed six games in 2017 because of a suspension.
As a pass-catcher, Elliott is ninth in receptions (189) and 10th in yards (1,619) among running backs since 2016. But if McCarthy goes pass-heavy again, Elliott is capable. He has mostly been used on screens out of the backfield. Of his 189 receptions, 57 have come on screens, which are tied for eighth most in the NFL since his rookie season, according to ESPN Stats and Information research. Fifty-three of those 57 receptions came from the backfield. Of his 132 non-screen receptions, he was lined up in the backfield 121 times, with seven from the slot and four when he was aligned wide.
Prescott said he wanted Elliott running routes like Cooper, Gallup and Lamb at receiver and Blake Jarwin at tight end.
"When you can put Zeke out there and don't know whether he's going to run a route from there or motion back into the backfield and it be a run or play-action, it just allows our game to be unlimited," Prescott said. "So he's done a great job at it, and I've just seen him evolve just with his knowledge and his knowledge within a route more than, 'Oh I'm just running an out route,' but why the ball is coming out there and why he needs to get his shoulders around. ... I'm excited to see him evolve more."
Fantasy managers with Elliott on their roster would be equally excited to see additional production if it comes. ...
And finally. ... The Cowboys will be without La'el Collins when the team plays against the Los Angeles Rams to start the season Sunday night.
The team announced they placed the offensive tackle and linebacker Sean Lee on injured reserve. Both will not be eligible to return until three weeks.
Collins has been dealing with a hip injury that caused him to miss most of training camp. He has only missed one game in the last three years.
QBs: Dak Prescott, Cooper Rush, Will Grier
RBs: Tony Pollard, Malik Davis, Deuce Vaughn, Ronald Jones, Rico Dowdle
WRs: CeeDee Lamb, Brandin Cooks, Michael Gallup, KaVontae Turpin, Jalen Tolbert, Simi Fehoko, Jalen Brooks, Dennis Houston
TEs: Jake Ferguson, Luke Schoonmaker, Peyton Hendershot, Sean McKeon
Denver BroncosCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 9 September 2020
As USA Today noted this week, after adding wide receivers Jerry Jeudy and KJ Hamler plus running back Melvin Gordon to an offense that already featured Courtland Sutton, Noah Fant and Phillip Lindsay, Broncos general manager John Elway feels good about Denver's offensive outlook going into the 2020 season.
"I still have confidence that the offense can score a lot of points," Elway said Saturday. "We have a lot of talent on that side. They've had a good camp. I like what [offensive coordinator] Pat [Shurmur's] doing a lot on the offensive side. They've been learning and have had a good camp. I think we're explosive on the offensive side."
The Broncos averaged just 17.6 points per game last year and that number will need to go up if Denver's going to make the playoffs this season. With a new coordinator and several young players, the offense might get off to a slow start. With time, the offense should become more consistent and dangerous with each game.
"I think with the youth there might be some inconsistencies with it which remains until -- that's always going to be the case," Elway said. "It's just a matter of how inconsistent you are. Hopefully we can eliminate those mistakes as time goes."
Much will depend on Drew Lock.
Because there are no preseason games, head coach Vic Fangio has elected to go without a script on offense at times during practices. It allowed Shurmur to call plays live to Lock based on down and distance, as well as field position and end-of-half or end-of-game situations.
"We've done it a pretty good bit. We had, I believe, three of those periods (Tuesday) and we've been averaging two or three a day," Fangio said. "(The) entire practice (Saturday) at the stadium. ... Was unscripted. ...
ESPN.com's Jeff Legwold stressed that doesn't mean it's all been smooth sailing during the installation of the new playbook.
The Broncos have had some difficulty getting the plans in on occasion during those unscripted periods, but Fangio is pushing to smooth out some of those rough edges before the season opener against the Titans.
Remember, Lock learned Shurmur's system without the benefit of OTAs and preseason games. NFL Network's James Palmer reported that Lock was frustrated about his performance against the first-team defense in recent sessions, but the team is still encouraged by the 23-year-old's demeanor as he works through his growing pains.
"They had a scrimmage at Mile High and he said he got his butt kicked by the defense. ... He's been hard on himself but the other thing that I hear out of that building is nothing really rattles the kid's confidence. And he is the guy that's leading that very young locker room that is turning over," Palmer said.
The Broncos released their depth chart Monday afternoon, and the first-team offense includes 13 names.
Only 11 will start, obviously, so it remains to be seen who the starters really are.
Gordon and Lindsay are listed as the co-starters at running back, and Jeudy and Tim Patrick are the co-starters at the receiver spot opposite Sutton.
It's possible three of those four co-starters will take the field to start Week 1. It's doubtful all four are on the field for the first play.
According to Legwold, Jeudy's work in camp has made believers out of his veteran teammates. Legwold went on to explain that when a player like safety Kareem Jackson, who is now in his 11th season, says that Jeudy runs some routes "like nobody I've seen before," you know it's going well.
Now, whether that translates into a productive rookie season remains to be seen because Shurmur's offense has been a little balky overall as the players adjust to the fifth different offensive coordinator in the past five seasons. Still, Jeudy's route running, athleticism and intellect have stood out. He has worked with starters from the opening moment of camp and figures to join a short list: Just three Broncos rookie wide receivers have finished their first season with at least 42 catches.
Also according to Legwold, Lindsay, Gordon and Royce Freeman have gotten the majority of the work in camp. The question about workload for Lindsay and Gordon will be asked every week until one truly separates from the other.
According to local reports, Elway told reporters that Hamler, who has been dealing with an injured hamstring, is "getting close" and will not go to IR. ...
And finally. ... Von Miller's 2020 season could be over before it even begins.
The multi-time Pro Bowl and All-Pro Broncos linebacker suffered a lower leg injury on Tuesday and will undergo an MRI to determine its severity, NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport and NFL Network's Mike Garafolo reported. Rapoport added that Miller injured his ankle in practice and the team fears the test could yield a potentially season-ending diagnosis.
Rapoport later reported that the initial results indicated a season-ending tendon injury but Miller plans to seek a second opinion from Dr. Robert Anderson in Green Bay on Thursday.
QBs: Russell Wilson, Jarrett Stidham
RBs: Javonte Williams, Samaje Perine, Tony Jones Jr., Damarea Crockett, mike mclaughlin, Tyler Badie
WRs: Jerry Jeudy, Courtland Sutton, Tim Patrick, Marvin Mims, Marquez Callaway, K.J. Hamler, Kendall Hinton, Jalen Virgil, Montrell Washington
TEs: Greg Dulcich, Chris Manhertz, Adam Trautman, Albert Okwuegbunam
Detroit LionsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 9 September 2020
The Lions signed a future Hall of Famer to join their backfield, a guy who was a contemporary of the best wide receiver in team history, Calvin Johnson, and one who is chasing the career rushing yards total of the best player in franchise history, Barry Sanders.
But as ESPN.com's Michael Rothstein notes, the Adrian Peterson the Detroit Lions are getting is not the in-his-prime version they once had to face twice a year with the Minnesota Vikings. The version they are getting is older. And more situational.
Peterson still is a talented back. Even at age 35, he should be able to offer the Lions something after rushing 462 times for 1,940 yards and 12 touchdowns during his two-year stint in Washington that ended with his release Friday.
A week ago, it looked like he was going to be on Washington's roster and potentially a key contributor there until the franchise chose to go in a different direction with all younger backs.
Now Peterson enters a room where every back is age 23 or younger. None have more than two years of experience entering this season. So at worst for the Lions, this ends up being another sort of mentorship for Kerryon Johnson and D'Andre Swift, the two backs Detroit expects to use the most this season.
After the Lions played Washington last season, Bo Scarbrough -- Detroit's leading rusher that game -- had a signed jersey from Peterson hanging in his locker with a personal message written on it. It was something that Scarbrough says meant a lot to him. Now, it's possible Peterson ends up taking Scarbrough's role in the offense (Scarbrough was placed on injured reserve on Monday). In fact, with Swift currently dealing with an ailing knee, Peterson has a shot to come in right away and get a lot of work.
Head coach Matt Patricia didn't detail much of what the team was looking for from the veteran.
"Nothing more than we expect from anybody else," Patricia said, via Rod Beard of the Detroit News.
The Lions put Scarbrough on IR to make room for him on the roster and Swift has been dealing with injuries this summer while Johnson's first two seasons have featured absences due to injury. Patricia said none of those issues was the impetus to sign Peterson, but it probably won't hurt his chances of finding his way on the field in Week One or beyond.
Of course, the Lions always were going to use a running back by committee approach this season. It's what Patricia has long preferred and what he was used to from his days in New England. When the Lions drafted Swift in April, general manager Bob Quinn said they wanted to have multiple backs, and they would find uses for all of them.
View the Peterson signing with that in mind. He likely won't interfere with what Swift will do for Detroit -- they are completely different in style, and Swift is more likely the pass-catching back, a skill set Peterson has, but with limited effectiveness.
As Rothstein suggested, where Peterson could have an impact is on early downs and in short-yardage and goal-line scenarios. This could impact how Detroit uses Johnson. Assuming the Lions are bringing in Peterson with a plan on how to use him -- and offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell has experience with Peterson from their four years together in Minnesota at the start of his career -- this could mean fewer carries for Johnson.
That could help Johnson stay fresher throughout the season and mitigate some of his injury risk, too. Johnson has missed at least six games each season with knee injuries and now runs with a brace on his right knee. Having Peterson to share that workload as he tries to gain the 1,053 yards necessary to tie Sanders for fourth all time in career yardage could potentially keep Johnson healthy for a full season for the first time in his career.
This isn't Detroit's first attempt to bolster the roster with a veteran running back, either. It's something the Lions have tried to do since Patricia was hired by the franchise in 2018. First it was LeGarrette Blount, who had 154 carries for 418 yards and five touchdowns in 2018. Last season, the Lions signed C.J. Anderson, who played in two games before being released.
Peterson is a different class of back than those players, but the premise remains the same: Find a back to establish a veteran presence and get the last bit out of him if you can. When the club signed Anderson, he was coming off a successful playoff run with the Rams, and when they signed Blount, he had an NFL-best 18 touchdowns two seasons earlier.
Detroit ended up being the last stop for both of those players in their careers.
Meanwhile, Matthew Stafford and the passing attack will be of great interest to fantasy managers as well.
The Lions return all three of their leading veteran wide receivers from a year ago -- Kenny Golladay, Marvin Jones Jr. and Danny Amendola - and they have a nice mix of veterans and young guys behind them that bring a unique skill set to the table too.
Among that second wave of receivers is rookie fifth-round pick Quintez Cephus out of Wisconsin. According to DetroitLions.com's Tim Twentyman, the rookie has stood out over the first two weeks of padded training camp practices for his route running and ability to get open. Cephus couldn't have come into a better situation in Detroit with Golladay, Jones and Amendola to lean on and show him the ropes.
Cephus (6-1, 205) led Wisconsin with 59 receptions for 901 yards and seven touchdowns last season. Cephus isn't a burner. He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.7 seconds at the Combine, but he's got a basketball background and his suddenness at the line of scrimmage allows for a good release.
Meanwhile, USA Today's Erik Schlitt recently reported, "We've seen this in camp before, but T.J. Hockenson looks incredible. ..."
Schlitt went on to explain the Lions are throwing all their safeties at him in drills and 11-on-11s and he's beat them all. Tracy Walker and Jayron Kearse give him the most trouble but no one else has been close to handling him. In the TE vs S one-on-one drill, Hockenson lined up against Kearse for the first rep. He ran straight at the safety and when he got to the top of his route, he pushed into the safeties body, pivoted inside, cutting the route, and separating away from the defender. He did this in college as a way of getting open (example below) but with his added strength he has perfected this move. It's almost uncoverable when timed right. The safeties are getting frustrated at the frequency at which Hockenson is winning but they appreciate the competition. Hockenson and Walker routinely acknowledge each other after the reps with high-fives, while Kearse even took to Twitter to shout out the young tight end.
So despite his recent comments suggesting the ankle injury that slowed him late last season is still an issue, it's apparently not a huge issue.
On the injury front, the team's initial injury report on Wednesday including Swift (hip), Golladay (hamstring) and Amendola (hamstring). All three were limited. I'll have more via Late-Breaking Update as the week progresses.
QBs: Jared Goff, Hendon Hooker, Nate Sudfeld
RBs: Jahmyr Gibbs, David Montgomery, Craig Reynolds, Jermar Jefferson
WRs: Amon-Ra St. Brown, Marvin Jones, Josh Reynolds, Jameson Williams, Kalif Raymond, Antoine Green, Tom Kennedy, Maurice Alexander
TEs: Sam LaPorta, Brock Wright, James Mitchell, Shane Zylstra
Green Bay PackersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 9 September 2020
As Associated Press sports writer Steve Megargee noted, the Packers feature one of the league's most productive and reliable receivers in Davante Adams, who earned his third consecutive Pro Bowl invitation last year.
After that, there are plenty of questions.
Green Bay didn't select any wideouts in a draft that was heralded for its receiving depth. The Packers lost their lone major offseason addition at wide receiver when Devin Funchess opted against playing this year due to the coronavirus pandemic.
That leaves the Packers relying on the continued development of younger receivers such as Allen Lazard and Marquez Valdes-Scantling.
"I've been doubted my whole life, and I'm pretty sure everybody in this room has been doubted," Valdes-Scantling said Friday. "And we'll go out and prove everyone wrong again."
Adams had 83 receptions for 997 yards and five touchdowns last season despite missing four games with a toe injury. His 40 touchdown catches since 2016 are the most of anyone in the NFL.
But he's the only Packer who caught as many as 50 passes or accumulated as many as 500 yards receiving last season.
The Packers remain confident in their receivers, in part because they know Lazard came on strong last season and believe Valdes-Scantling could have a breakthrough year.
Valdes-Scantling's training camp performance has earned the praise of quarterback and two-time MVP Aaron Rodgers.
"I would say that the receiver that I've been most impressed with, especially the last week, 10 days of camp is Marquez," Rodgers said Wednesday. "I think he has had some really good practices in a row and started to lay down some good practice fundamentals that he can lean on. At the same time, I know (coach) Matt (LaFleur) said this at one point, this is the new standard for MVS. I'm proud of the way that he's gone about his business."
Valdes-Scantling, a 2018 fifth-round pick from South Florida, has a reputation as a deep threat but saw his production drop last season. He caught 38 passes for 581 yards as a rookie, added just 26 receptions for 452 yards in 2019.
LaFleur likes the way Valdes-Scantling has responded.
"He's got much more urgency when he gets out there, and is making plays," LaFleur said. "He's demonstrating strong, aggressive, confident hands, which is something that, you know, didn't always happen last year, to be honest."
His best moment of the preseason may have occurred off the field, as he bought a car as a birthday present for his mom. He posted a video of his mother's reaction to the gift on his Instagram account.
"I can watch that video a hundred times, and I'll smile every time," Valdes-Scantling said. "Just being able to give my mom something that she has dreamt about. My mom works her butt off, and being able to make her dream come true, because she has never asked me for anything since I got into the NFL, or ever. She's always been the type to give to me or whatever I needed she made it happen, has never asked me for a dollar or anything. So just being able to do something nice for her for a change is huge to me."
The Packers are hoping Valdes-Scantling can make a jump similar to the progress Lazard showed last season. Lazard, a 2018 undrafted free agent from Iowa State, spent most of his rookie year on Jacksonville's practice squad. He didn't make the Packers' initial 53-man roster last year, but finished the season with 35 catches for 477 yards and three touchdowns. All of his catches came in the final 11 games of the season.
Green Bay needs the 6-5 Lazard to take another step forward this year.
"Allen's been steady," LaFleur said. "You know, his game is definitely very, very physical, and you don't always get to demonstrate that in practice, especially when you're going against your own teammates. So I am definitely looking forward to seeing him in game action."
The Packers also could get a boost from the return of Equanimeous St. Brown, who missed the entire 2019 season with an ankle injury after catching 21 passes for 328 yards as a rookie in 2018.
Green Bay believes it has enough talented receivers to make opposing secondaries pay if they focus all their attention on Adams.
"We don't get talked about enough, but I think that the guys we have in our room are going to go out and be successful week-in and week-out," Valdes-Scantling said. "I think we will continue to show that. ..."
Meanwhile, word in May was that the Packers had spoken with Aaron Jones' representatives about an extension, but there hasn't been the same focus on that effort as there has been on Kamara's talks with the Saints. During an appearance on NFL Network Tuesday, Jones said that conversations with the team are ongoing.
"Yes, they definitely are. My agent and them are taking care of that. I'm gonna focus on football," Jones said.
The Packers' decision to draft A.J. Dillon in the second round this year led some to think that they might be content to part ways with Jones after this season. It appears that there could be room for both backs as long as Jones and the Packers can find the right price.
For the record, The Athletic's Matt Schneidman expects Dillon to be the Packers' No. 3 running back early in the season, behind Jones and Jamaal Williams. We'll see if that pecking order keeps the powerful Dillon from getting some shots in goal-line situations.
QBs: Jordan Love, Sean Clifford, Danny Etling
RBs: Aaron Jones, A.J. Dillon, Patrick Taylor, Lew Nichols III, Tyler Goodson
WRs: Christian Watson, Romeo Doubs, Jayded Reed, Dontayvion Wicks, Grant DuBose, Samori Toure
TEs: Luke Musgrave, Tucker Kraft, Josiah Deguara, Tyler Davis
Houston TexansCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 9 September 2020
Deshaun Watson has agreed to a four-year, $160 million contract extension with the Houston Texans.
Watson announced the signing on Twitter on Saturday.
"As a child growing up in Georgia, it was always my dream to play in the NFL," Watson wrote in the post. "Today, I couldn't be more honored and humbled to sign a long-term deal in Houston, the city that I've grown to love so much and now call my home."
The deal makes Watson the second-highest paid quarterback in the league, behind Kansas City's Patrick Mahomes, who signed a 10-year deal worth up to $503 million in July.
In his post Watson thanked Texans coach and general manager Bill O'Brien and many members of the team's staff as well as his mother and other family members before sending a message to Texans fans.
"I promise to do everything I can to not only bring a championship to this great city but also leave a legacy of helping positively impact this community," he wrote in the post. "Now back to the work ..."
Houston traded up to select Watson with the 12th overall pick in the 2017 draft. He has appeared in 38 games with 37 starts in his first three seasons with the Texans, providing stability at quarterback after years of problems at the position.
The 24-year-old threw for 3,852 yards and 26 touchdowns last season when he led the Texans to the divisional round of the playoffs. Watson has thrown for 9,716 yards and 71 touchdowns and ran for 1,233 yards and 14 scores in his three-year career.
This season Watson is tasked with leading the offense without star receiver DeAndre Hopkins, who was traded to Arizona in the offseason.
The Texans "replaced" Hopkins by trading for well-traveled receiver Brandin Cooks and 30-year-old Randall Cobb.
But they also have Will Fuller.
After another season on and off the injury report, Fuller made it clear something had to change in 2020. "I just need to find someone that's good at what they do so they can help me out, figure out my body and everything I can do from the inside out," Fuller said in January after the Texans lost in the AFC playoffs to eventual Super Bowl champ Kansas City.
He's not wrong.
Fuller missed 22 regular-season games in his first four NFL seasons and has never made it through an entire season healthy.
"If I can play 16 games, which I believe I will this year, the sky is the limit," Fuller said.
As ESPN's Matthew Berry recently pointed out, in his past 16 games with at least seven targets, Fuller has 87 catches, 1,192 yards and eight TDs (259.9 fantasy points). That would've been WR7 last season (ahead of Julian Edelman, just behind Keenan Allen).
Meanwhile, the Texans gambled on David Johnson, who led the NFL in yards from scrimmage (2,118) and total touchdowns (20) in 2016.
O'Brien has said since the start of training camp that Johnson has not only impressed in the way he has picked up the offense, but he arrived "in fantastic shape." Earlier last month, O'Brien said that "pound for pound, [Johnson is] probably in the best shape of anybody on our team" and the focus is just making sure he can stay healthy so he can be fed the football this season.
Johnson, 28, dealt with a back injury early last season before an ankle injury kept him out of most of the Cardinals' Week 7 game against the Giants as well as the following week's game against the Saints. Arizona traded for running back Kenyan Drake the week of the Saints game, and he took over as the Cardinals' new starting running back.
With those durability issues, as well as potential issues in his efficiency, it's fair to wonder whether Johnson can be an effective featured back for the Texans in 2020.
Under O'Brien, the Texans have typically had one running back handle the bulk of the work. In his first three years with the team, Lamar Miller served as a three-down back. When Miller tore his ACL last year in the preseason, Carlos Hyde was acquired and assumed the largest rushing workload of his NFL career. Miller missed four games through his three years in Houston and averaged 238.7 carries per season.
Even with a dynamic talent like Watson at quarterback, the Texans have relied heavily on the ground game in each of the past two seasons en route to a pair of AFC South championships. Houston has ranked in the top 10 in the NFL rushing yards in each of the past two seasons, and it ranked third and 12th in those two years in rushing attempts. The Texans also ranked in the bottom half of the NFL in each of the past two seasons in passing attempts.
With Duke Johnson in the backfield mix as well, could the Texans have both running backs on the field at the same time? If they do, it will require a much different look than they showed last season. In 2019, the Texans ran 34 plays with two running backs on the field, which ranked 28th in the NFL. It's a small sample size, but of the 34 plays, only 10 were passing plays.
Ultimately, the Texans are hoping the running backs' skill sets don't cancel each other out, but instead make it more difficult for opponents to disguise their defenses, giving Watson a clearer picture.
"We're going to be a lethal threat, me and Duke," David Johnson said. "Not just as running, but like you said, as catching the ball. Really making defenses have to try to figure out if they go base or sub. We're going to try to really expose their defense. ..."
On the injury front. ... Cooks is listed as questionable for Thursday's opener against the Chiefs after taking a limited part in Wednesday's hypothetical practice. The Texans didn’t actually practice, and estimated the level of participation of those on the report.
If he can’t play, the Texans will be down to Fuller, Cobb, and Kenny Stills at receiver. That’s not a bad group.
The Texans also listed fullback Cullen Gillaspia (hamstring) and linebacker Jon Greenard (ankle) as questionable for the game, and they were the only players to get an injury designation.
Defensive end J.J. Watt was listed as a full participant Wednesday after being held out Tuesday for non-injury reasons.
QBs: C.J. Stroud, Davis Mills, Case Keenum, EJ Perry
RBs: Dameon Pierce, Devin Singletary, Mike Boone, Dare Ogunbowale
WRs: Nico Collins, John Metchie III, Robert Woods, Noah Brown, Nathaniel Dell, Xavier Hutchinson
TEs: Dalton Schultz, Eric Tomlinson, Teagan Quitoriano, Brevin Jordan, Mason Schreck
Indianapolis ColtsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 9 September 2020
According to Associated Press sports writer Michael Marot, Philip Rivers promises he'll continue making some risky throws on Sunday afternoons.
He also understands the need to avoid big mistakes.
So after 16 seasons with the Chargers, Rivers has come to Indianapolis seeking to find that sweet spot. Here, the Colts' new starting quarterback will be protected by one of the league's top offensive lines, will work with a deep group of talented receivers including Pro Bowler T.Y. Hilton and will rely on a strong ground game.
The Colts believe it's a winning combination, one that can help Rivers regain his old form and one that can get Indianapolis back to the playoffs.
"I think there's a fine line there between aggressive and stupid," he said. "As long as we keep it right there, in the certain window to keep it in, I think we'll be in good shape."
The critics contended Rivers was finished after throwing 20 interceptions and posting one of the worst seasons of his career in 2019.
Colts coach Frank Reich saw something else -- a gutsy veteran trying to help his team come back late in games.
So Reich convinced the Colts to bet big on Rivers, pinning their title hopes on the arm of a 38-year-old quarterback who starts this season ranked sixth all-time in completions, yards passing and touchdown passes.
It seems to be working out.
"He's totally where we need him to be," Reich said after an intrasquad scrimmage last week. "The more live it gets and the more real it gets, the better the best players look and we are going to see that with Philip. The faster it goes and the more real it gets, the better he's going to look."
Of course the Colts won't know for sure until they visit Jacksonville this Sunday
But after missing the playoffs four of the past five seasons, Rivers finds himself getting adapted to this new, improved offense while testing himself against an upgraded defense that now includes 2018 Pro Bowl defensive tackle DeForest Buckner and 2017 All-Pro cornerback Xavier Rhodes.
And Rivers knows if he does his part with a reduction in turnovers, he could be in line, similar to John Elway in 1997, to earn his first Super Bowl ring late in his career.
"It fires me up. It sounds like the type of group you want to play quarterback with and for," Rivers said. "The biggest thing for me is -- be myself but also find that sweet spot between aggressiveness and stupid. Certainly, I've done that throughout my career in different years and don't see any reason I can't do that again. ..."
Meanwhile, running back Marlon Mack produced his first 1,000-yard season last year and has an expiring contract after this season.
So when the Colts took a running back in the second round of the draft, Mack could have complained.
Instead he embraced the opportunity to divvy up carries with Jonathan Taylor, the first Football Bowl Subdivision player to rush for more than 6,000 yards in three seasons. Mack figures the pairing serves two purposes -- making the Colts stronger and keeping both player's legs fresh.
"It just motivates you," he said. "I know we can be great together. I'm more of a team guy so we can come together as a team, go out there and just put in work. Everybody has the same goal on this team."
Also. ... When the Colts needed to find a replacement for tight end Eric Ebron in free agency, Reich encouraged the Colts to add another familiar face -- Trey Burton.
Burton played the past two seasons in Chicago after spending his first four in Philadelphia, where Reich was the offensive coordinator. And Burton, best known for throwing a touchdown pass to Nick Foles in the Eagles' Super Bowl 52 victory, could play a key role opposite two-time Pro Bowler Jack Doyle.
"It's something I feel like suits me really well," Burton said when asked about the Colts' offense.
However, The Colts placed Burton on Injured Reserve with a calf injury. He's out for at least the first three games of the season; Doyle remains the primary target at the position.
QBs: Gardner Minshew, Anthony Richardson, Sam Ehlinger
RBs: Jonathan Taylor, Zack Moss, Deon Jackson, Evan Hull, Jake Funk, D'Vonte Price
WRs: Michael Pittman Jr., Alec Pierce, Isaiah McKenzie, Mike Strachan, Josh Downs, Ashton Dulin
TEs: Jelani Woods, Mo Alie-Cox, Kylen Granson, Will Mallory, Andrew Ogletree
Jacksonville JaguarsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 9 September 2020
As stunning as Leonard Fournette's departure was from Jacksonville, his replacement might be equally surprising.
And it could change weekly.
According to Associated Press sports writer Mark Long, the Jaguars are planning to use a running back-by-committee approach when the season begins Sept. 13 against Indianapolis. And veteran Chris Thompson, the only tailback on Jacksonville's roster with an NFL rushing touchdown and the guy who knows coordinator Jay Gruden's offense better than anyone else, likely won't get the first carry.
Jacksonville expects to split the bulk of the work between second-year pro Devine Ozigbo and undrafted rookie James Robinson. And 2019 fifth-round draft pick Ryquell Armstead will serve primarily as a backup once he's off the Reserve/Covid-19 list, with Thompson being a change-of-pace, third-down option.
Head coach Doug Marrone said on Monday, via multiple reporters, that it is going to be a while before Armstead is able to play. The second-year back ran 35 times for 108 yards and caught 14 passes for 144 yards and two touchdowns playing behind Fournette last season.
"It looks like a bunch of fresh guys, just a bunch of big-eyed guys looking at the goal," veteran running backs coach Terry Robiskie said. "They want an opportunity. I think they feel the opportunity is there. A group of guys that [are] ready to go meet the challenge, go prove themselves.
"Everybody in life wants an opportunity. I've got a group of guys that got a shot. They've got an opportunity here and it's right before them."
Two days after Jacksonville waived Fournette, the fourth overall pick in the 2017 NFL draft landed in Tampa Bay on a one-year deal reportedly worth up to $3.5 million. The Jaguars will replace Fournette with four guys making a little more than $3 million combined in 2020.
A three-year starter (2016-18) at Nebraska, the 225-pound Ozigbo landed on Jacksonville's roster last September after being waived by New Orleans. He made his NFL debut in a victory against Indy in the season finale, running nine times for 27 yards and catching three passes for 23 more.
Coaches witnessed his dedication during the pandemic when he tweeted videos of himself working out in his garage with homemade weights consisting of tires and wheels.
Ozigbo and Robinson really raised eyebrows early in training camp, with head coach Doug Marrone saying the gap between them and Fournette was smaller than he expected.
"It was the first time in my career that I thought, 'Wow, these guys are close,'" Marrone said. "These guys are really, really close. ... Was there separation? Yes, but it was the closest I've ever seen."
And when Fournette failed to distance himself from the younger guys in the next few weeks, parting with him became a more viable option.
"Those guys have been really outstanding back there," Marrone said.
Robinson, a three-year starter at Illinois State -- finishing second in school history with 4,444 yards rushing and 46 total touchdowns -- was listed as the Week 1 starter on the Jaguars initial depth chart.
Although there were concerns about how he would stack up to NFL talent after starring in the Football Championship Subdivision, he alleviated those by totaling 136 yards from scrimmage in the East-West Shrine Bowl. He also held his own at the NFL scouting combine.
His 40-yard dash time -- the sixth slowest among running backs at the annual event for general managers, scouts and coaches -- kept him from getting drafted. The Jaguars brought him in as an undrafted free agent.
He's been a pleasant surprise in camp, even moving ahead of Armstead on the depth chart. The fifth-round pick in 2019 has missed considerable time with a groin injury and then an illness. Armstead ran 35 times for 108 yards as a rookie and caught 14 passes for 144 yards and 2 scores.
"They're going to be able to get a lot more opportunities," Thompson said. "I think they have a lot of potential we're going to see here moving forward."
Worth noting: The Jaguars had former Falcons running back Devonta Freeman in for a workout over the weekend and let him leave without an offer. ...
In other depth chart news. ... The Jaguars listed Dede Westbrook with the third-team offense on their Week 1 depth chart.
As Rotoworld.com suggested, it seems Westbrook has completely fallen out of favor in Jacksonville, as he's listed behind D.J. Chark, Chris Conley, rookie Laviska Shenault and Keelan Cole. Chark and Conley should open the year on the outside with Shenault in the slot.
James O'Shaughnessy is listed as the starting tight end on the first depth chart of the season, John Reid of the Florida Times-Union reports.
Tyler Eifert signed as a free agent in the spring and was expected to enter the season as the team's top tight end, but's O'Shaughnessy who receives top billing heading into Week 1. The 28-year-old caught 14 of 20 targets for 153 yards and two touchdowns before suffering a torn ACL during Week 5.
O'Shaughnessy was activated from the PUP list in mid-August and appears fully healthy, and he's apparently continued to build on his rapport with QB Gardner Minshew.
On the injury front. ... Ozigbo (hamstring) and Eifert, who was given the day off, did not practice on Wednesday; I'll have more on their status as developments warrant in coming days. Watch the Late-Breaking Updates section for more. ...
And finally. ... The Jaguars promoted QB Mike Glennon to the active roster on Tuesday; the veteran signal caller was released on Saturday and signed to the practice squad Sunday before returning.
QBs: Trevor Lawrence, C.J. Beathard, Nathan Rourke
RBs: Travis Etienne Jr., Tank Bigsby, JaMycal Hasty, D'Ernest Johnson, Snoop Conner
WRs: Christian Kirk, Calvin Ridley, Zay Jones, Jamal Agnew, Parker Washington, Tim Jones, Kendric Pryor
TEs: Evan Engram, Brenton Strange, Luke Farrell
Kansas City ChiefsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 9 September 2020
The Kansas City Chiefs are set to begin defense of their crown against the Houston Texans on Thursday night.
They have complete confidence that they'll be able to do it, too.
"Every single year, you feel like you can win every single game," Patrick Mahomes said. "I think it comes down to how you deal with adversity throughout games and throughout the season. I think that's the biggest thing."
There are plenty of smaller things, though. One of them is having a core group that understands what it takes to be playing in the final game of the season. The Chiefs certainly have that when you consider they were due to return 20 of their 22 starters before guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif and running back Damien Williams chose to opt out.
Even with their departures, the Chiefs have a tremendous amount of playoff experience. They also added a handful of players in free agency and the draft, including standout LSU running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire in the first round, to help them not only deal with their few departures but arguably become stronger.
As if the Chiefs need any additional advantages. They have what many consider the NFL's best quarterback; one of its fastest wide receivers in Tyreek Hill; one of its premier tight ends in Travis Kelce; and a defense that was among the best in the league by the time it shut down Jimmy Garoppolo and the 49ers in the second half of the Super Bowl.
That's enough to make any coach wonder how they're going to stop them.
"It's important to stay humble and keep working hard," head coach Andy Reid said. "You just have the right mindset and you literally have to take today and work on it to try to get myself better, and do it each play, and then do tomorrow. Then you keep building that until you have opportunities to play games. When you get into games, whether you win or lose, you have to make sure you learn and continue to grow. And on top of that, every once in a while, you need to catch a break here or there."
The Chiefs doled out some big contracts in the offseason, though few of them went to anybody coming from outside the organization. The biggest, of course, was the 10-year extension for Mahomes that could pay him close to a half-billion dollars. But there's also long-term contracts for defensive tackle Chris Jones and for Kelce that kept their core happy.
"They're good guys," Reid said, "but they're good football players that like to play the game. So you enjoy being around those guys and you're proud of the effort they put in to wanting to stay. Then, obviously from my standpoint, just (GM) Brett (Veach) and his crew again, they get the credit for getting it done."
Give Reid credit for putting together and offense that takes full advantage of that personal.
And they tend to do it right out of the chute.
As ESPN.com's Adam Teicher notes, the Chiefs have been especially good at scoring points in their season opener the past three seasons. They put 42 on the New England Patriots in the first game of 2017, when Mahomes was a backup and did not play, 38 on the Los Angeles Chargers in 2018 and 40 last year against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
"Coach Reid runs a great training camp," said Mahomes in explaining the Chiefs' fast offensive starts in season openers.
Maybe things will be different in this opener against the Texans. Maybe the Chiefs will feel the loss of offseason practice or preseason games. Maybe the Texans just play good defense. But if training camp is any indication of success, the Chiefs look primed for another fast start.
Reid put in his usual new offensive wrinkles, which tend to surprise unprepared opponents. Plus, Edwards-Helaire has looked like a nice addition to the offense.
With Edwards-Helaire getting so much hype as a strong candidate for offensive rookie of the year before he had ever walked into Chiefs' headquarters, it was natural to wonder whether he could live up to the hype. But Teicher reports it looked like he did during camp. He was the starting running back from the first snap and showed why the Chiefs made him the first running back selected in the draft this year.
In particular, Edwards-Helaire showed off his skills as a receiver. He displayed a knack for running routes, reliable hands and most of all the ability to make defenders miss in the open field. In Reid's offense, he looks ready to have a big season.
Fantasy managers who have invested a first-round pick in the newcomer hope that's the case. ...
Darrel Williams has established himself as the primary backup to Edwards-Helaire, Nate Taylor of The Athletic reports. In addition to the benefit of experience in eid's offense, Williams reportedly has been the best blocker in practice, and he also has a history of handling some work in short-yardage situations and on passing downs. ...
The Chiefs are heading into Thursday night's opener without any injury concerns.
The team had a couple of players listed as limited on Monday's injury report -- Kelce (knee) and defensive tackle Derrick Nnadi (ankle) -- but every player on the roster was able to get in full practices on Tuesday and Wednesday. Reid said that the team is set to begin their attempt to repeat as Super Bowl champions.
"They're ready to roll," Reid said, via Nate Taylor of The Athletic.
Wednesday will bring a final injury report before the Chiefs take on the Texans to kick off the 2020 regular season, but it sounds like it will be an uneventful reveal on the Kansas City side.
QBs: Patrick Mahomes, Blaine Gabbert, Shane Buechele
RBs: Isiah Pacheco, Jerick McKinnon, Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Lamical Perine
WRs: Kadarius Toney, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Skyy Moore, Rashee Rice, Justin Watson, Richie James, Justyn Ross, Cornell Powell, Ihmir Smith-Marsette
TEs: Travis Kelce, Noah Gray, Jody Fortson, Blake Bell
Las Vegas RaidersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 9 September 2020
It wasn't exactly the Family Day the Las Vegas Raiders would have preferred but close to 200 COVID-tested family members were socially distanced on one side of Allegiant Stadium as the team went through drills on the final day of camp Friday.
The players will now get most of the weekend off before the Raiders begin to prepare for the season opener at the Carolina Panthers.
Raiders coach Jon Gruden remained tight-lipped about how the team is doing.
"No one knows unless I tell them," Gruden said. "We don't have access to study anybody else's players, honestly, so why should we go out and tell anybody who's doing well and who isn't? I'm not going to give anybody any billboard material.
"We're a young team and we're improving. Our guys are working hard. Our young draft choices, a couple of them, have taken steps forward. A couple of them we're still waiting on. But we are getting better, and I'm proud of the way our guys are working together on the practice field every day."
Las Vegas comes into the season heavily invested in its offensive line, having spent the most money in the NFL on the front line with hopes of better protecting Derek Carr in what could be a make-or-break season for the seventh-year quarterback. With a stacked receiving corps and a healthy Josh Jacobs bursting out of the backfield, anything less than a playoff berth might be deemed a disappointing season, considering there is an extra wild-card available.
Carr vowed to quiet the doubters in his seventh season as starting quarterback for the Raiders.
The quarterback who looked like one of the top young passers in the league back in 2016 has been unable to lead an offense to even a 20-point-per-game average in each of the last three seasons. A poor supporting cast and adjustments to new systems set the Raiders back on offense.
But the ingredients should be in place this season when the team debuts in Las Vegas to determine whether Carr still has what it takes to lead the franchise.
Speedy receiver Henry Ruggs III was drafted 12th overall, teaming with fellow rookie Bryan Edwards (both Ruggs and Edwards are listed as starters) on the outside, breakout tight end Darren Waller, Jacobs and slot receiver Hunter Renfrow to give the team its most complete offense since Gruden returned in 2018.
"The opportunities are limitless," Carr said. "I think that's what coach Gruden wanted. He just wanted a whole bunch of different versatile guys that he can call this or he can call that. ... He's going to make sure that he's going to stress you out with every ability that we have, and in that room there is just so many things."
Carr did some things well last year when he set career highs in yards per attempt (7.9), rating (100.8) and completion percentage (70.4%). But that didn't translate into points as the team averaged only 19.6 thanks to poor performance in the red zone and a lack of big plays.
"We need a healthy supporting cast," Gruden said. "It helps when (tackle) Trent Brown plays. It helps when (guard) Gabe Jackson is healthy. It helps when we have Josh Jacobs back there."
General manager Mike Mayock said this week that he's been pleased with the way Carr has taken hold of the Raiders. The development of Carr and his deep receiving corps has been evident throughout camp, including Friday, when his timing with Ruggs looked impeccable.
"The bottom line with most things is that we compete," Mayock said. "If you can give a coach or a GM a compliment, that's the highest compliment you can give them -- is your kids compete. And that's what I think we're seeing. We got to get better. When Jon and I started this thing together that's what we talked about. That was pretty much our number one goal, we got to compete. Our kids have to compete. We believe we're slowly getting to where we want to go."
Gruden mixed in several of his backup players with the starters Friday to see how they would react and said he will take time over the weekend to review film and assess which second-unit players responded well.
"This is a time where everything is winding down," Gruden said. "One of the things you gotta be careful of right now is what you say. We're just gonna kind of keep our lips tight and say we've had a very competitive camp and we're seeing progress. We're going to have to meet as a staff, make some tough decisions."
The Raiders brought in their most accomplished backup QB since Carr arrived in 2014 when they signed 2015 No. 2 overall draft pick Marcus Mariota to a deal that guarantees him $7.5 million this season. Mariota lost his job to Ryan Tannehill last year in Tennessee, but he'll miss the first three weeks this season after going on Injured Reserve on Monday.
The nature of Mariota's injury isn't known, but the issue isn't related to the shoulder and ankle concerns he dealt with during the offseason, according to Gruden. With Mariota out for at least the first three games of the season, Nathan Peterman will serve as Derek Carr's backup.
One last note here. ... Final cutdowns left the job of the change-up back behind Jacobs to Devontae Booker.
The 5-11, 219-pound back spent his first four NFL seasons in Denver. He has averaged 3.8 yards per carry in his career and has seen his production go down each season since his rookie year. But with the decrease in workload, his yards per carry has increased. He has averaged 5.3 yards per carry the past two seasons, but on just 36 carries.
QBs: Jimmy Garoppolo, Brian Hoyer, Aidan O'Connell, Chase Garbers
RBs: Josh Jacobs, Zamir White, Ameer Abdullah, Brandon Bolden, Brittain Brown
WRs: Jakobi Meyers, Davante Adams, Hunter Renfrow, DeAndre Carter, Tre Tucker, Phillip Dorsett, Keelan Cole, Cam Sims
TEs: Austin Hooper, Michael Mayer, O.J. Howard, Jesper Horsted
Los Angeles ChargersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 9 September 2020
As Associated Press sports writer Joe Reedy pointed out, a lot is new about the Los Angeles Chargers, from their stadium to the uniforms to the man who will be leading the offense.
While the first two have generated their own levels of excitement, the performance of the quarterback tasked with replacing Philip Rivers will go a long way in determining if the Chargers can get to the postseason for the second time in three seasons. That job will first go to Tyrod Taylor, but the Bolts drafted Justin Herbert with the sixth overall pick as their quarterback of the future.
Los Angeles was 5-11 last year after going 12-4 and reaching the divisional round in 2018. Nine of those losses were by seven points or fewer, which was why the franchise moved on from Rivers after 14 years as the starter.
Rivers led the AFC with 4,615 passing yards and had 23 touchdowns. But he also threw 20 interceptions, led an offense that committed six red-zone turnovers and twice gave away the ball on downs.
Taylor is known for taking care of the football and being on offenses more geared toward the run game. When head coach Anthony Lynn was Buffalo's interim offensive coordinator in 2016 and had Taylor, the Bills led the league in rushing.
Not only is Taylor more mobile than Rivers, but his style is a little more low key. He's also looking to make more of an impact than he did in Cleveland, where he played only 2 1/2 games in 2018 before Baker Mayfield took over.
Taylor, going into his 10th season, is 23-21-1 as a starter and has thrown for 54 touchdowns against 20 interceptions.
"I think ultimately you have to be natural at what you do. You don't you don't want it to be awkward or forced," Taylor said. "I am vocal when I need to be. I'm also a lead-by-example type of guy as well."
Austin Ekeler is listed as the top running back, but he will get plenty of help this season because the plan for him is not to be an every-down back.
Ekeler had 1,500 scrimmage yards and 11 touchdowns last season. Most of those were receiving as he was 7 yards shy of reaching 1,000. The plan remains to get Ekeler as many touches in the open field and on downfield runs, with Justin Jackson and rookie Joshua Kelley being more between-the-tackles backs. Jackson has been limited by injuries the past two seasons but averaged 5.1 yards per carry during those years.
Jackson is currently dealing with a hamstring issue, but Lynn believes he'll be ready for Sunday's opener against the Bengals. Lynn also said on Monday that receiver Mike Williams is likely to be a game-time decision against the Bengals this week despite reporting that suggests Williams could miss the first month of the season with his injured shoulder.
Williams participated in the team's walkthrough Monday at SoFi Stadium. Williams sprained his right shoulder diving for a ball in an Aug. 30 scrimmage.
Fortunately, Keenan Allen is good to go after signing a four-year extension worth $80.1 million with $50 million guaranteed.
Allen is going into his eighth season and has made the Pro Bowl each of the past three seasons. He had 104 receptions last season, breaking his own franchise record for single-season catches. He tied for the AFC lead in catches and was second in yards (1,199).
The 28-year old Allen, New Orleans' Michael Thomas and Arizona's DeAndre Hopkins are the only players in the league with more than 300 catches and 3,700 yards receiving over the past three seasons.
If Allen isn't the outlet receiver for the Chargers this year, tight end Hunter Henry may well be. Henry has had his share of injury issues over his four years in the league, but when healthy he has shown the ability to be a high-end option both from an NFL and fantasy perspective.
The Chargers lack depth behind Allen and Williams. Of the other four receivers on the roster, only Jason Moore has a reception in a regular-season game, and he has only two catches for 43 yards.
"We do think there's some talent, maybe young talent, but we feel like there's some talent there," general manager Tom Telesco said.
The Chargers also might have to play their opener without center Mike Pouncey. He has an undisclosed injury, and Lynn didn't have an update on his condition.
Pouncey missed 11 games after neck surgery in 2019.
Beyond Pouncey, concerns about the offensive line are ongoing. ... The right side has been overhauled, but left tackle remains the biggest concern. The Chargers traded for guard Trai Turner and signed tackle Bryan Bulaga, but are pinning their hopes on Sam Tevi at left tackle. Tevi has started at right tackle the past two seasons, rating poorly in pass protection.
Lynn is hoping that the addition of line coach James Campen, along with having a mobile quarterback, will put less pressure on Tevi.
The kicking game, which has plagued the Chargers during Lynn's tenure. Michael Badgley is 28 of 32 on field goals over the past two seasons, but he missed eight games in 2019 due to a groin injury. Everyone is hoping Badgley can go all 16 regular-season games this season because Los Angeles has had nine kickers attempt field goals over the past three seasons.
QBs: Justin Herbert, Easton Stick, Max Duggan
RBs: Austin Ekeler, Joshua Kelley, Isaiah Spiller, Larry Rountree
WRs: Keenan Allen, Mike Williams, Quentin Johnston, Josh Palmer, Jalen Guyton, Derius Davis
TEs: Gerald Everett, Donald Parham, Tre' McKitty, Stone Smartt
Los Angeles RamsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 9 September 2020
As ESPN.com's Lindsey Thiry notes, winning this season is the Los Angeles Rams' priority.
They are not in a rebuilding phase, despite being down 12 starters from their Super Bowl run two seasons ago. And despite a decision to incur more than $30 million in dead money -- about 15% of their salary cap -- to move on from running back Todd Gurley and receiver Brandin Cooks, the Rams aren't punting to 2021, when they'll get some salary-cap relief.
Rebuilding isn't even a word that head coach Sean McVay wants to utter.
"I would never refer to it as that," said McVay, who, at 34 years old, remains the youngest head coach in the NFL as he enters his fourth season. "I think that's making excuses and running away from the expectations we have, which we'll never do.
"We expect to win. We expect to prepare to win."
They certainly didn't stand pat after last season. McVay didn't retain veteran coordinator Wade Phillips despite a defense that ranked ninth in defense-adjusted value over average last season, instead hiring first-time coordinator Brandon Staley. Special teams coordinator John Fassel departed for the Dallas Cowboys and kicker Greg Zuerlein followed. John Bonamego replaced Fassel. McVay hired Kevin O'Connell as offensive coordinator, filling a role that sat vacant the past two seasons.
The Rams still boast two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald and star cornerback Jalen Ramsey, who was acquired last October when the Rams sent two first-round picks to Jacksonville. Quarterback Jared Goff enters his fifth season and 1,000-yard receivers Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp return at his disposal.
Disassembling the nucleus of a team is common after a quarterback transitions from his rookie contract to a long-term extension, ESPN NFL front office insider Mike Tannenbaum told Thiry. But it creates a challenge in sustaining success.
In the Rams' case, long-term success could prove even more difficult given they haven't selected a player in the first round of the NFL draft since 2016.
Less than two years after signing him to the richest running back contract in NFL history, the Rams cut Gurley, the 2018 NFL Offensive Player of the Year whose production declined last season. Then they traded Cooks, who was in the midst of a five-year, $81 million extension, to the Houston Texans in exchange for a 2020 second-round and 2022 fourth-round pick.
For some, the decision to move on from Gurley and Cooks shortly after they signed mega-extensions signaled that the Rams were throwing in the towel on the 2020 season, looking only to 2021.
The offense must evolve without Gurley and Cooks behind an offensive line that declined last season and struggled at times during training camp.
According to Thiry, McVay will likely utilize more two-tight-end sets involving Tyler Higbee and Gerald Everett, something he dabbled with in the final five games last season.
Beyond that, receivers Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp are among NFL's top duos for consistency, precision and production. Goff says he played unacceptably last year, but still racked up good numbers and remained healthy as usual.
Malcolm Brown, a sixth-year pro and undrafted free agent, will lead the effort to replace Gurley, followed by second-year pro Darrell Henderson Jr. and rookie Cam Akers, a second-round pick from Florida State. Fourth-year receiver Josh Reynolds and rookie Van Jefferson, a second-round pick from Florida, will replace Cooks.
It's not exactly the Super Bowl-ready squad McVay entered the 2018 season with, but he remains confident this group can get the job done.
"I couldn't be more excited," McVay said. "I don't really care what the narrative is, I care about the belief I have in our players, our coaches and how excited I am to attack this opportunity and write our own story."
For the record, McVay didn't say who would start at running back against the Cowboys (Akers is listed third on the initial depth chart), but it doesn't sound like being the first back up will matter all that much to the offense.
McVay said the plan is for "a three-back rotation that you feel really good about" as long as Darrell Henderson's hamstring is feeling well enough for him to play. He left the door open for Henderson, Akers or Malcolm Brown to change that arrangement in the future, but thinks that the variety of styles can work to the team's advantage.
"I think as the season unfolds, that might give us some clarity if someone separates themselves," McVay told Kevin Modesti of the Los Angeles Daily News. "But we're going to go into it with three different backs, three different skill sets, that present a change of pace and different dynamic that they can present to defenses. I think that can help keep people off balance as well."
That's a change from the offense's salad days with Gurley as the lead back and it will be a welcome one if it helps the offense get back on solid ground.
Also on the injury front. ... Wide receiver Cooper Kupp (leg soreness) returned to practice last week and McVay said Kupp was "full-speed" and that he never had any concerns about his availability for the season-opener against the Cowboys. ...
Rookie kicker Sam Sloman has won the Los Angeles Rams' three-way competition to replace Zuerlein. The Rams released Lirim Hajrullahu and Austin MacGinnis on Friday. Those moves handed the job to Sloman, the Rams' seventh-round pick. ...
Finally. ... The Rams and Jalen Ramsey have agreed to terms on a five-year, $105 million extension that is the largest contract ever for a cornerback. Ramsey becomes the first defensive back in NFL history to sign a deal worth over $100 million, and his $71.2 million at signing is the largest guarantee to a defensive back. The Rams announced the five-year agreement Wednesday without providing the value.
An All Pro and three-time Pro Bowl selection, Ramsey becomes a long-term fixture on a defense that includes two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald, who signed a six-year, $135 million extension before the 2018 season.
QBs: Matthew Stafford, Stetson Bennett, Brett Rypien
RBs: Cam Akers, Kyren Williams, Zach Evans, Ronnie Rivers
WRs: Cooper Kupp, Van Jefferson, Ben Skowronek, Puka Nacua, Lance McCutcheon, Tutu Atwell, Austin Trammell
TEs: Tyler Higbee, Brycen Hopkins, Hunter Long, Davis Allen
Miami DolphinsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 9 September 2020
The Miami Dolphins made the presumed official. Head coach Brian Flores officially announced that Ryan Fitzpatrick will be the Week 1 starter against the New England Patriots.
"This isn't groundbreaking news, but Fitz is going to be the starter," coach Brian Flores said Monday. "A year like this with no OTAs, no minicamp, modified training camp, we felt like that would be the best decision for the team. He's done a good job through the course of training camp, and he'll be out there."
The decision to start the season with FitzMagic under center has been anticipated for months.
The Dolphins will allow first-round pick Tua Tagovailoa time to learn from the sideline before getting his feet wet.
Fitzpatrick, 37, enters his 16th NFL season and second consecutive as the Dolphins' starter. He remains the team's most respected leader, as evidenced by being named captain for the second consecutive season. Fitzpatrick, who started 13 of 16 games in 2019, looked strong during training camp and continued to build on his chemistry with top receivers DeVante Parker and Preston Williams.
As ESPN.com's Cameron Wolfe suggested, the decision shouldn't be considered an indictment of Tagovailoa, who has looked healthy and mobile during his first football action since a devastating hip injury suffered 10 months ago while playing for Alabama.
"He's had a good camp. He's been competitive. He's shown a lot of improvement," Flores said. "If he had to go in and play, that's how it'd be. Now a rookie playing early on, we may have that at some other positions and if that were the case, then that's what it would be."
But with a shortened offseason because of the coronavirus pandemic and a young, overhauled offensive line, Fitzpatrick makes the most sense to start. He also has a great relationship with new Dolphins offensive coordinator Chan Gailey, who has coached him for five combined seasons between the Buffalo Bills and the New York Jets.
Wolfe went on to advise readers that Fitzpatrick's infectious personality and passionate approach to playing football makes him a locker room favorite. His teammates feed off that. The Dolphins raised their play above their talent last season when Fitzpatrick helped them go 5-4, including an upset win at New England, over their final nine games.
Dolphins players have been working under the assumption over the past few weeks that Fitzpatrick would be their starting quarterback. When the Dolphins released Josh Rosen over the weekend, it solidified the Dolphins' quarterback room with Fitzpatrick No. 1, Tagovailoa No. 2 and recently signed practice squad QB Jake Rudock functioning as No. 3.
When Fitzpatrick spurned retirement in January and returned to Miami, he envisioned being a bridge type of player for the franchise's future QB. He has happily embraced his role as mentor and self-described "placeholder" for Tagovailoa. He promises to be his biggest cheerleader whenever the rookie is called to the starting lineup.
Fitzpatrick and Tagovailoa have developed a bond in camp, with the young quarterback wearing a No. 14 Fitzpatrick jersey to his first media availability of the summer and the veteran praising his understudy every chance he gets.
But for now, it will be Fitzpatrick's show.
When the Dolphins signed Fitzpatrick in March 2019, they could not have pictured his tenure going as well as it has so far. He has been a calming presence and leader for one of the NFL's youngest teams. Fitzpatrick, the first QB to start for eight NFL teams, has performed better than expected when on the field and has been the ideal quarterback to shepherd Tagovailoa into the league.
Last season, Fitzpatrick completed 62 percent of his passes for 3,529 yards, 20 passing touchdowns, 13 interceptions and a 66.5 QBR (which ranked eighth in the NFL). He also led the Dolphins in rushing with 243 yards and four touchdowns. ...
Parker, who missed some time in training camp with a hamstring issue, was participating in practice Tuesday, wearing a compression sleeve on his left thigh/hamstring. Parker, Williams (knee) and Mike Gesicki (glute) were limited in Wednesday's practice. I'll follow up on all involved via Late-Breaking Update as needed.
QBs: Tua Tagovailoa, Mike White, Skylar Thompson
RBs: Raheem Mostert, Jeff Wilson, Devon Achane, Salvon Ahmed, Myles Gaskin
WRs: Tyreek Hill, Jaylen Waddle, Cedrick Wilson, Braxton Berrios, Erik Ezukanma, Chosen Anderson
TEs: Durham Smythe, Eric Saubert, Elijah Higgins
Minnesota VikingsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 9 September 2020
Contract extensions for Kirk Cousins, head coach Mike Zimmer and GM Rick Spielman doled out this year left no doubt about organization's belief team can compete among league's elite and finally break through to elusive Super Bowl victory.
Missing playoffs would be major disappointment, and there won't be much patience for one-and-done in postseason, either.
There's still time for Dalvin Cook to sign the extension offered by Minnesota heading into his fourth season. The Vikings were cognizant of his workload throughout training camp as negotiations stalled and that allowed us to see what an expanded role will look like for Alexander Mattison, whose role in the passing game could help Minnesota maintain its status as one of the best at executing screens.
But there's no question how valuable Cook is.
But if you're wondering, Cynthia Frelund of NFL.com believes Cook is worth 1.3 wins during a season.
That doesn't seem like much, but that ranks fifth among offensive players who aren't quarterbacks in the NFL.
Here's what Frelund wrote: "Cook scored 10 touchdowns on rushes outside the tackles in 2019, which tied for the most in the NFL with Derrick Henry. When I track Cook with computer vision and look at rushes when one or more defender had a square-hipped touch (a proxy for when a tackle could have occurred) over the past two seasons, he averaged nearly an additional 0.75 yards per rush after being touched, which ranks eighth among backs in that span. The Vikings' reliance on play-action passing means Cook's importance receives a boost in terms of win share, and with some questions in the passing game due to the departure of proven wideout Stefon Diggs, Cook's impact could be felt more than ever."
Indeed, the Vikings will lean on continuity of their systems under Zimmer and newly appointed offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak, who was promoted from adviser role when Kevin Stefanski was hired as Cleveland's head coach. Keeping playbook same ought to benefit Cousins, who had career-best season in 2019 while picking up first NFL postseason victory, on road no less.
Of some concern, the interior of offensive line remains unproven, with Pat Elflein now at RG after rough 2019 at LG, where Dakota Dozier and Aviante Collins have been competing for starting spot. One week after win in wild-card round at New Orleans, Cousins and offensive line were overwhelmed by eventual NFC champion San Francisco's pass rush, showing his limitations when he doesn't have time to throw.
Looking for a possible sleeper?
TE Irv Smith Jr. Kubiak's system has long favored multiple tight end formations. While 10-year veteran Kyle Rudolph is proven red-zone target who caught TD in OT to win playoff game last season, Smith could see larger role in passing game due to his athleticism, versatility, and departure of Diggs.
Smith had 36 catches for 311 yards and two TDs as rookie last year, after being drafted in second round out of Alabama.
On the outside, Olabisi Johnson is the No. 2 receiver opposite Adam Thielen for now, but Jefferson looked every bit the part of a first-rounder in training camp whether he lined up in the slot or outside. Osborn was drafted in the fifth round as a receiver whose job will be primarily as a returner. Given the reps he took on kickoff and punt return at the Vikings' pseudo-scrimmage inside U.S. Bank Stadium, Minnesota likely wants to get him in the mix early while Chad Beebe has one year remaining of practice squad eligibility. A strong showing these last few weeks helps Hollins edge Tajae Sharpe for the final spot on the depth chart.
One last note here. ... The Minnesota Vikings recently added a Pro Bowl pass rusher in Yannick Ngakoue. They will be without another Pro Bowl pass rusher for at least three weeks after Danielle Hunter was placed on injured reserve.
Hunter did not practice on Wednesday and no reason was given to his placement on IR.
QBs: Kirk Cousins, Nick Mullens, Jaren Hall
RBs: Dalvin Cook, Alexander Mattison, Ty Chandler, DeWyne McBride, Kene Nwangwu, C.J. Ham
WRs: Justin Jefferson, Jordan Addison, K.J. Osborn, Jalen Reagor, Jalen Nailor, Brandon Powell
TEs: T.J. Hockenson, Josh Oliver, Johnny Mundt, Ben Ellefson, Nick Muse
New England PatriotsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 9 September 2020
Cam Newton has been a starting quarterback for his entire nine-year NFL career. He'll remain one with the Patriots, an opportunity he says he's not taking for granted.
It's been five months since Newton was released by the Carolina Panthers after back-to-back seasons disrupted by injuries. It's also been just a little over a month since the Patriots threw the 2015 league MVP a lifeline in free agency that 30 other teams in the league declined to offer.
It's why he said officially being chosen as Tom Brady's successor as well as a captain in New England during a team meeting on Thursday came with emotions he has trouble explaining.
"I've had a plan since I've been here just to become the best player I can possibly be," Newton said Friday. "Be coached and be coachable, knowing that I will be coached by the game's finest in (offensive coordinator) Josh McDaniels and (quarterbacks) coach Jedd (Fisch) as well as, obviously, coach (Bill) Belichick. Those guys haven't let me down yet. I just try to be of service in any way shape or form I possibly can be. Anything that they asked of me to do, it's my job to do it."
That job will now be to lead an offense and team that will look dramatically different without Brady, the franchise's fixture at quarterback for two decades.
Newton said he's approached the task of being Brady's successor by following the lead of the veterans who played alongside him. As far as the new dynamic he hopes to bring, Newton said he wants that to stay secret for now.
"I think the most exciting thing is that nobody knows," he said. "And you're still not gonna know. So you've just got to tune in and see. That's what excites me the most because everybody's kind of having the same questions like, 'What are they going to do? Are they going to do this? Are they going to do that?' ... It's almost game week, guys. You can't just let all of the tricks out of the hat."
Newton appeared in only two games for the Panthers last season before being placed on injured reserve with a broken bone in his foot, which required surgery. He also had surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff in his throwing shoulder before the 2019 season.
He only missed one training camp practice this month and that was because of personal reasons. So far he hasn't showed any outward signs of discomfort. Newton said he will let his play be the ultimate judge of his health.
"We're just going to have to see," Newton said. "Nothing that I say right now that it would make sense until we see it."
For his part, Belichick said any concerns the coaching staff might have had have been answered.
"He's certainly been a durable player," Belichick said. "The injury last year was one of those foot/ankle injuries that we've seen take down players. ... He's been out there every day and able to participate in everything. He's healthy and it looks like he's ready to go. But it's a long season and anything could happen to anybody. We all know that, so we will see how it goes."
Those unknowns are also what are driving Newton right now.
He's playing this season on a one-year, incentive-laden contract that will pay him a base salary of $1.05 million. It's a humble deal for a player coming off a five-year, $103.8 million contract in Carolina.
"I'm a realist, right? And I think being in the position that I'm in right now, I understand it. I have a lot to prove," Newton said. "And I want to challenge the coaches, as well as coach Bill, to push me to if whatever sees fit for me to be better. I want to work on it. And with that being said, I know with what I have to prove, nothing will ever exceed my expectations for myself."
He said his brief time working with Belichick has already taught him a lot.
"If anything, you gain to even appreciate his greatness even more," Newton said. "He's an unbelievable teacher of the game. And I think that's not highlighted enough, especially from a person of his caliber and status. ... It's a common theme that you get the job done or if not, they're going to find somebody to get the job done. And with that type of mantra with him, he knows that he's going to put everybody in the best position for them to succeed. ..."
Other notes of interest. ... Second-year running back Damien Harris, who projected to a significant role after a strong training camp, was placed on injured reserve Monday with a hand injury.
Harris can return after missing three games as part of the NFL's new injured-reserve rules for the 2020 season. The Patriots promoted undrafted rookie running back J.J. Taylor, of the University of Arizona, from the practice squad to take his spot.
According to ESPN.com's Mike Reiss, Taylor, who also had a strong training camp, has a chance to contribute immediately in Sunday's season opener against the Miami Dolphins as part of a rotation with Sony Michel, Rex Burkhead and James White. The 5-6, 185-pound Taylor, who also returns punts, has drawn comparisons to former Patriots running back Dion Lewis.
The Patriots figure to ease Michel, their No. 1 back from 2018 and 2019, into the mix after his offseason foot surgery. Michel returned to practice just two weeks ago.
Initial plans had Harris as part of that RB rotation, as the 2019 third-round draft pick from Alabama caught the eye of running backs coach Ivan Fears, who had said, "From what we've seen, and the training camp he's had, he's pretty exciting."
As for Michel, he said Sunday that his previously injured foot has responded well.
"I would just say I am feeling a day better. Every day is a work in progress. Every day is a day to get better for me," he said. "Beginning of the season, you're never going to feel like you're at the best shape. So for me, I am just going to keep trying to build from there.
"I wouldn't say caught up because I can't really make up for those days that I lost that those guys got, but I would say I am in a good position where I am able to get better. I am feeling good. I like where I'm at and I am headed in the right direction."
I'll be watching for more on the backfield rotation in coming days.
And finally. ... Julian Edelman (knee) was limited in Wednesday's practice; I'll follow up via Late-Breaking Update as needed, but expect him to play until/unless you hear otherwise.
QBs: Mac Jones, Bailey Zappe, Trace McSorley, Malik Cunningham
RBs: Rhamondre Stevenson, Ty Montgomery, James Robinson, Pierre Strong Jr., Kevin Harris, J.J. Taylor
WRs: JuJu Smith-Schuster, DeVante Parker, Tyquan Thornton, Kendrick Bourne, Kayshon Boutte, Demario Douglas, Raleigh Webb, Lynn Bowden Jr., Matt Slater
TEs: Hunter Henry, Mike Gesicki, Matt Sokol, Scotty Washington
New Orleans SaintsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 9 September 2020
According to ESPN.com's Mike Triplett, Alvin Kamara mostly sidestepped questions about his contract talks with the New Orleans Saints on Monday, insisting that his focus is on Sunday's season opener against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
But Kamara did counter the narrative that he was holding out from Saints practices during a recent four-day stretch, when sources said his absence was unexcused.
"I ain't never held out in my life," said Kamara, who spoke to the media for the first time since his absence. "I came to the building every day. That's all I've got to say."
A source told ESPN's Jeremy Fowler that Kamara was also seeking treatment for a back issue during those absences. But Kamara returned to practice fully last week and said Monday that he is not concerned about the back being an issue.
"It's something light," Kamara said. "I kind of dealt with it a little bit last camp too. Just a little flare-up, just a little [sacroiliac] joint flare-up. It just needed some rest, a little injection, but nothing serious."
Kamara is heading into the final year of his rookie contract, but so far he and the Saints have been unable to bridge the gap regarding a long-term extension.
A source confirmed that New Orleans was even open to the idea of trading Kamara for a first-round pick in light of his absence from practice. But the source indicated that things had calmed down before Kamara returned last Wednesday.
Kamara declined to respond, however, when asked Monday whether he is confident a contract will get done and whether he plans to play every game if it doesn't.
"We're getting ready for Week 1. Today was a good day [of practice]," Kamara repeated more than once. "We focused on Tampa, installed the first part of the game plan, just working some of those little kinks out. ... Just ready for Sunday."
Head coach Sean Payton was also asked Monday whether he's concerned about Kamara being affected if he doesn't have a new deal in place.
"No. 1, we would never discuss any type of contract progress with the media," Payton said. "I'm confident that at some point we'll get this done, and we'll let you know when that happens."
That point will likely be soon.
ESPN's Adam Schefter reported Tuesday the two sides were "extremely close" to a lucrative new extension they are hoping to finalize in the next few days.
We'll see where that ends up given the wide chasm between Christian McCaffrey's $16 million per year and Joe Mixon's $12 million per year in recent extensions for NFL running backs.
However, this is not a case in which the Saints are eager to part ways with their three-time Pro Bowler, who was named the NFL's Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2017 after being drafted in the third round out of Tennessee. The Saints have made an offer that at least shows they're willing to make a long-term commitment to Kamara, despite their salary-cap limitations, because of the value he brings as both a runner and a receiver.
Kamara, 25, has a total of 2,408 rushing yards, 2,068 receiving yards and 38 touchdowns in three seasons. He has exactly 81 catches in each of his first three seasons -- despite missing two games last year and being hampered by knee and ankle injuries over the final half of the season.
Meanwhile, al-Pro receiver Michael Thomas, who caught an NFL season-record 149 passes, represents merely the beginning of Drew Brees' options when distributing the ball this season. New to the club is receiver Emmanuel Sanders, a productive part of the 49ers' Super Bowl team last season. Third-year receiver Tre'Quan Smith is looking to be a more consistent big-play threat, and Payton has expressed burgeoning confidence in second-year pro Deonte Harris, who was an All-Pro return man as a rookie.
The backfield also should be bolstered by the addition of versatile running back Ty Montgomery. Also back is Latavius Murray, who eclipsed 100 yards rushing in both games Kamara missed last season.
"We have a lot of weapons, and the more weapons we add, the more exciting it gets," Thomas said. "That's just simple math. ..."
Last year, Teddy Bridgewater served as the primary backup to Brees. This year, Taysom Hill has been installed as No. 2 on the team's depth chart.
Hill has leapfrogged Jameis Winston, the first overall pick in the 2015 draft. Winston signed with the Saints after Bridgewater became Carolina's new starter.
The Saints gave Hill a two-year deal with $16 million in guaranteed money. The naysayers like to say that Hill has thrown only 13 regular-season passes. According to Profootballtalk.com, the naysayers neglect to notice the impact Hill has when he's on the field. In New Orleans' last game, a home playoff loss to the Vikings, Hill arguably was the best player on the field, for either team.
Hill also is the no. 2 kickoff returner, so even as he become a much more important part of the offense, he'll still have a role on special teams.
QBs: Derek Carr, Jameis Winston, Jake Haener
RBs: Jamaal Williams, Alvin Kamara, Kendre Miller, Dwayne Washington, Eno Benjamin
WRs: Chris Olave, Michael Thomas, Rashid Shaheed, A.T. Perry, Tre'Quan Smith
TEs: Juwan Johnson, Taysom Hill, Foster Moreau, Lucas Krull
New York GiantsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 9 September 2020
In any other year, the New York Giants would be entering September wondering whether Daniel Jones, Saquon Barkley and a rebuilt defense would revive the struggling franchise under new coach Joe Judge.
This is 2020, and the coronavirus pandemic has changed most everything. There has been little team offseason training, no minicamps nor preseason games.
Virtual learning and out-of-the-box thinking are in. And that's just the way the detail-oriented 38-year-old Judge is handling his first season. It's just another challenge for the former New England Patriots special teams coordinator, not an excuse.
"I think you always have to rely on your base and your philosophy," said Judge, one of five new NFL head coaches this season. "Really, our practice tape is what we have to go on, based on how we compete on a daily basis and the progress we see. The biggest thing we do is monitor our own players' improvement. We know what the standard is. We explain it to our players every day. They know if they've met it or not."
Judge wants to see a fundamentally sound team play tough, fast and mistake-free football. Attention to detail and emptying the tank are everyday musts.
"The beauty of working for Joe is his vision and how he has set it out since he got the job," said defensive coordinator Pat Graham, who worked in New England with Judge. "We know what we want it to look like. We are trying to build towards that."
The Giants have a long way to go. They won 12 games total in the past three seasons, and have made the playoffs once since winning their fourth Super Bowl in February 2012.
Judge isn't focusing on that. His concern is the present and executing a plan.
Special teams coordinator Thomas McGaughey remembers Judge as an opposing coach, always attacking a weakness.
"He would make you play with your left hand," McGaughey said. "His guys were super prepared, they always had a veteran group that you knew they weren't going to make any mistakes."
In other words, you had to beat them.
That's the goal this year for the Giants under Judge. Don't beat yourself. Make the other team do it.
Meanwhile, with the retirement of Eli Manning, Jones is the Giants' quarterback. The No. 6 overall pick in the 2019 draft threw for 3,027 yards, 24 touchdowns and 12 interceptions as a rookie. His big drawback was losing 11 of 18 fumbles. He enters his second season with a new offense and coordinator in Jason Garrett. If Barkley can avoid the ankle problems of last season and return to his Rookie of the Year form of 2018, and the O- line improves, the offense can be good.
The pandemic and injuries turned this into another rebuilding year for the O-line. Left tackle Nate Solder opted out and injured center Jon Halapio was not re-signed.
The guard spots are set with Will Hernandez and Kevin Zeitler. The tackles and center will be new for coach Marc Colombo. Andrew Thomas, the No. 4 overall draft pick, will replace Solder at left tackle. Former Cowboy Cam Fleming was signed and seemingly will be the right tackle. Versatile Nick Gates is playing center, where he is competing with veteran Spencer Pulley.
On the injury front. ... Receiver Golden Tate (hamstring) was still not practicing a week from the Monday night opener vs. Steelers. Definitely one to watch as week progresses.
And finally. ... Judge is the 10th former assistant coach under Patriots boss Bill Belichick to become a head coach. Few have had success. Bill O'Brien of the Texans is the exception, getting to the playoffs four of six seasons. The recent crop has struggled. Brian Flores was 5-11 in 2019 in his first season with Miami. Matt Patricia is 9-22-1 in the two seasons in Detroit.
Former Patriots linebacker Mike Vrabel never coached under Belichick. He got Tennessee to the AFC title game last season in his second year as head coach.
QBs: Daniel Jones, Tyrod Taylor, Tommy DeVito
RBs: Saquon Barkley, Matt Breida, Eric Gray, Gary Brightwell
WRs: Isaiah Hodgins, Parris Campbell, Darius Slayton, Wan'Dale Robinson, Jalin Hyatt, Sterling Shepard
TEs: Darren Waller, Daniel Bellinger, Lawrence Cager, Tommy Sweeney, Chris Myarick
New York JetsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 9 September 2020
As NFL.com's Gregg Rosenthal suggested, the biggest fear for Jets fans, after Sam Darnold slipped past the Giants to their No. 3 overall slot in the 2018 draft, is that their organization would find a way to ruin him. Two years in, those fears have only grown. Darnold is the toughest quarterback evaluation in the NFL today because he's had so little help, and so little appears to be on the way.
Blaming Darnold's struggles on his organization makes sense; blaming his 2019 struggles on his bout with mono does not.
He won AFC Offensive Player of the Week in his first game back, went through a prolonged slump, enjoyed his best stretch in Weeks 10-12 and then played perhaps the worst five-game stretch of his career to close the season.
But as Rosenthal went on to explain, it's challenging to separate Darnold from his surroundings because football doesn't work that way. There were entire weeks that were not on Darnold, but it was tough to see progress in Adam Gase's system. Like many Gase quarterbacks, Darnold eschewed the tough throw for the safe checkdown. There were a lot of third-down completions short of the sticks. The Jets' offensive line was among the worst in football, with Darnold kept clean at a lower percentage than any quarterback with at least 400 snaps, according to Pro Football Focus. Then again, when Darnold was protected well enough to throw deep, only Josh Allen and Kyle Allen had a lower completion percentage among quarterbacks with at least 50 deep attempts, also per PFF.
"I don't know what Darnold saw," Troy Aikman said with more than a hint of exasperation on Thursday Night Football late last year. It was a sentiment repeated throughout the season, starting with the infamous "seeing ghosts" game against New England.
Teams continued to blitz and change their looks after the snap all the season, waiting for Gase, Darnold and a beleaguered offensive line to come up with a counter move. It never happened.
No one expects Darnold to be Drew Brees at diagnosing coverage, but it's not unreasonable to ask for progress after 1,600 snaps. I blame this shortcoming more on coaching than the quarterback, which is the problem. The coaching staff hasn't changed. The team around Darnold hasn't changed enough, either.
The offensive line has a number of new players, but none of them besides first-round left tackle Mekhi Becton are premium talents. Darnold's supporting cast of pass catchers is no better, with Robby Anderson out the door. Tight end Chris Herndon's presumably healthy return bodes well, but Anderson's replacement, Breshad Perriman, is already hurt. Promising rookie receiver Denzel Mims essentially missed all of training camp with a hamstring injury.
It's not a good sign that former Patriot Chris Hogan went from the scrap heap to the Jets' starting lineup after a handful of practices.
Gase wasn't around when Darnold was drafted and, at this rate, probably won't be around when his rookie contract ends. Gase also wasn't hired by the Jets' current GM, Joe Douglas, and has consistently coached below-average offenses. If Darnold is going to take a third-year leap -- and he still has the athleticism and arm to pull it off -- he will have to do it despite his organization. He will have to make those around him better. That's unfair to ask of a 23-year-old, but it's also what transcendent quarterbacks can do.
As Rosenthal summed up, "Unfair expectations come with being selected in the top three overall picks," a reality that Darnold understands better now than he did on draft day.
Adding to the concerns heading into Week 1?
Darnold was held scoreless in six possessions during a scrimmage last month against the Jets' backup defense. It takes a village to raise a young quarterback, and too often, it feels like Darnold is going it alone.
Meanwhile, Gase admitted last week he didn't do a good job of utilizing Le'Veon Bell's receiving skills last year: "I feel like we can find better ways to get him the ball to help him create more explosive plays. We can get him in space better than we did last year." Gase said they "keep trying new stuff."
ESPN.com's Rich Cimini expressed some skepticism, noting that in 2019, Bell lined up wide only 39 times: H was in the slot 24 times. Of his 66 catches, 55 came out of the backfield, per NFL Next Gen Stats.
On the injury front. ... Both Perriman (knee) and Mims (hamstring) practiced fully Wednesday, after extended preseason absences.
Having them back gives them some semblance of big-play ability, but having missed so much time, it’s hard to imagine they’ll be up to speed with Darnold and the rest of the offense.
Quarterback Joe Flacco was scheduled to practice on a limited basis Wednesday. Flacco’s coming back from neck surgery, and isn’t expected to be available until later this month, but the progress is good news.
The team placed wideouts Jeff Smith and Vyncint Smith on injured reserve Monday. Jeff suffered a shoulder sprain last month. Should be ready when eligible to return in three weeks. Vyncint had surgery on a core muscle injury; he's unlikely to return as soon.
QBs: Aaron Rodgers, Zach Wilson, Tim Boyle, Chris Streveler
RBs: Breece Hall, Michael Carter, Zonovan Knight, Isreal Abanikanda
WRs: Garrett Wilson, Allen Lazard, Mecole Hardman, Corey Davis, Randall Cobb, Denzel Mims
TEs: Tyler Conklin, C.J. Uzomah, Jeremy Ruckert, Zack Kuntz, Kenny Yeboah
Philadelphia EaglesCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 9 September 2020
Miles Sanders shared running duties with Jordan Howard last season and still led all rookies in scrimmage yards, setting a Philadelphia Eagles franchise record in the category.
He'll be the go-to guy in the backfield this year -- even if a tender hamstring slows his roll early.
Sanders had 818 yards rushing and three touchdowns and caught 50 passes for 509 yards and three TDs for the NFC East champions.
After Howard left for Miami in free agency, the Eagles didn't add a veteran back. The coaches believe they could lean on Sanders with Corey Clement and Boston Scott playing complementary roles.
"Miles can do it all," assistant head coach Duce Staley said. "And when you have a guy like Miles that can make people miss, that can lower his shoulder and also run you over, you want to put the ball in his hands as much as possible and you trust him. I think that's what we are."
Sanders finished fourth in AP Offensive Rookie of the Year voting behind Kyler Murray, Josh Jacobs and A.J. Brown. He's a dual threat running and catching the ball in an offense with talented skill players surrounding quarterback Carson Wentz.
"He's somebody that we've said, 'Hey, you know, you're our guy going into this season,'" head coach Doug Pederson said of Sanders. "Definitely want to increase what he can do for us, and if that means using him out of the backfield a little bit more in empty situations, we want to do that and see where he can grow and get better and help us."
But what about that offensive line?
Well. ... Jason Peters is back at left tackle. Peters, a nine-time Pro Bowl pick and two-time All-Pro, was playing right guard during training camp and reportedly wanted more money to return to left tackle.
But Pederson said Peters walked into his office Monday morning and told him he'd be willing to move back. Pederson declined to discuss Peters' contract but made it seem that Peters made the decision without getting an increase on his one-year, $3.1 million deal.
The Eagles announced in the spring they weren't bring Peters back after 11 seasons in Philadelphia. But the team re-signed Peters after three-time Pro Bowl right guard Brandon Brooks tore his Achilles tendon in June. Second-year pro Andre Dillard, a first-round pick in 2019, was slated to replace Peters at left tackle but he suffered a season-ending biceps injury two weeks ago.
"This move really solidifies the left side for us and puts us in a better position moving forward," Pederson said.
Matt Pryor, a sixth-round pick in 2018, was practicing at left tackle after Dillard went down. Pederson said Pryor, Nate Herbig and rookie fourth-round pick Jack Driscoll are in the mix to start at right guard when the Eagles open the season at Washington on Sunday.
Wentz is pleased to see Peters back at his old spot.
"I'm excited about it for him and for this team," Wentz said. "I've had JP blocking my blindside pretty much every year. He's been the guy out there, done a great job. We call him 'The Bodyguard' for a reason, always takes care of me. I'm pretty excited he's back there, the O-line is excited and it puts us in a good position going forward for sure."
Meanwhile, Wentz was held out of practice last week because of what the team called a lower body injury, but Pederson suggested Wentz wouldn't be doing much work anyway in what would typically be the week of the final preseason game.
Wentz provided a bit more information about just which part of his lower body was bothering him last week when he spoke to reporters on Monday. More importantly for the Eagles, he also said that the issue was not going to affect him against Washington in Week 1.
"Yeah, I feel great now," Wentz said, via PennLive.com. "I had a little groin tightness, and it was just a really good week to kind of just let it rest and take care of myself off the field, so I was out there today practicing, feeling great. So yeah, that'll be behind me for sure."
The Eagles will put out their first injury report of the season on Wednesday and Wentz may be on it, but it sounds like the condition of players like Sanders and right tackle Lane Johnson will be bigger question marks, although both were scheduled to get in some practice time Wednesday.
Along those lines, Pederson told reporters before Wednesday's practice it's "a possibility" the Eagles would manage the workload of Sanders early in the season.
Boston Scott is the No. 2 back behind Sanders.
One player who won't be ready?
Rookie receiver Jalen Reagor is dealing with a shoulder injury that is expected to sideline him for the opener. John Clark of NBCSports.com reports that Reagor, who was surprisingly listed as a limited partcipant in Wednesday's practice, is doing very well in his rehab and "it's looking good" for the youngster to return for the second game.
Beyond that, Alshon Jeffery, coming off last year's Lisfranc surgery, avoided the PUP list but seems unlikely to be available this week.
That leaves DeSean Jackson, JJ Arcega-Whiteside, Greg Ward Jr., John Hightower and Quez Watkins on the list of those available.
All three rookie receivers (Reagor, Hightower, Watkins) have impressed this offseason, but expect Jackson, Arecega-Whiteside and Ward to be the top three options early on. ...
The team re-signed TE Richard Rodgers on Monday.
QBs: Jalen Hurts, Marcus Mariota, Ian Book, Tanner McKee
RBs: Rashaad Penny, D'Andre Swift, Kenneth Gainwell, Boston Scott, Trey Sermon, Kennedy Brooks
WRs: A.J. Brown, DeVonta Smith, Olamide Zaccheaus, Quez Watkins, Britain Covey, Greg Ward
TEs: Dallas Goedert, Jack Stoll, Grant Calcaterra, Dan Arnold, Tyree Jackson
Pittsburgh SteelersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 9 September 2020
As Associated Press sports writer Will Graves reported, the chronic ache in his right arm, the one that served as Ben Roethlisberger's companion for years, is gone.
No more fibbing about being fine when offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner asked how he's feeling. No more gritting his teeth and trying to ignore it when the longtime Steelers quarterback tried to throw the ball down the field. No more going through training camp with shackles on trying to manage something that ultimately became unmanageable.
Midway through his 17th training camp, Roethlisberger insisted his patched up right elbow isn't just serviceable, it's potentially better than it's been in years. He pointed to his active practice schedule as proof.
The player that would often go one day on, one day at half speed and then one day off was practically bouncing from drill to drill. While the 38-year-old remained on a "pitch count," as Fichtner put it, Roethlisberger threw three consecutive days late last month, something he hasn't done in years.
When the regular season starts this weekend, he's optimistic he'll be able to practice on both Wednesdays and Thursdays, a rarity in recent years.
"I definitely need to give it some time to rest, that kind of one day off every so often out of general fatigue and soreness," Roethlisberger said. "But it's amazing how fast it bounces back and feels great the next day."
Roethlisberger dealt quietly with some sort of discomfort in his right arm for years, to the point where Fichtner would often see Roethlisberger working on his wrist during meetings to provide some level of comfort. Whenever Fichtner would approach Roethlisberger about it, Roethlisberger would downplay the problem. It came to a head in the final minutes of the first half against Seattle last September, when three of the five flexor tendons in his elbow finally had enough.
Though Roethlisberger declined to blame the issue for his performance, the renewed zip on the ball since the Steelers donned the pads last month caught him off guard.
According to ESPN.com's Brooke Pryor, if Roethlisberger's health is the No. 1 determining factor in the Steelers having a better offense in 2020, then running back James Conner's is 1A.
Together, the pair can take the run game from an ineffective, bottom-of-the-league unit to one component of a dynamic offense.
Last year's average of 90 rushing yards per game wasn't the lowest of the Roethlisberger-era Steelers, but it was far below the average of 114 rushing yards per game maintained from 2004 to 2018. But Roethlisberger's Week 2 elbow injury made the Steelers a one-dimensional offense. Opponents didn't respect the throwing threat of either Mason Rudolph or Devlin Hodges, and they instead loaded the box to stop the run game. A clogged ground game coupled with a series of acute injuries that kept Conner out of six games resulted in the Steelers averaging just 3.66 yards per carry.
Part of rediscovering offensive balance is having a fully healthy Roethlisberger and Conner.
And even if there are questions about Conner's durability, the Steelers seemed to answer them by passing on a handful of promising running backs when they made their first selection in the second round of the NFL draft and not bringing in a top-tier back during free agency.
Conner is tabbed as an every-down featured back, but the room has others -- such as rookie Anthony McFarland and second-year back Benny Snell -- to supplement his hard-nosed style. But assume Conner has a relatively clear path to workload as long as he's healthy.
In fact, head coach Mike Tomlin said as much on Tuesday, when he confirmed the team has a super-deep and diverse running back group. "We're not opposed to utilizing all of those talents," Tomlin added.
At the same time, though, he says: "There is no question about who our bell cow is. Our bell cow is Conner and he is our primary ball-toter. ..."
According to Pittsburgh Sports Now's Nick Farabaugh, the presence of Eric Ebron allowed the Steelers to feel comfortable going to five wide receivers since he's almost like another himself. "More often than not, he will be flexed out all over the field as a mismatch chess piece," Farabaugh explained before adding: "Ebron's going to get a lot of targets and looks this year."
QBs: Kenny Pickett, Mitchell Trubisky
RBs: Najee Harris, Jaylen Warren, Anthony McFarland Jr., Jason Huntley, Master Teague
WRs: George Pickens, Diontae Johnson, Allen Robinson, Miles Boykin, Gunner Olszewski, Calvin Austin III, Cody White
TEs: Pat Freiermuth, Zach Gentry, Darnell Washington, Connor Heyward
San Francisco 49ersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 9 September 2020
As the Associated Press suggested, as remarkable as the one-year turnaround from four wins to a Super Bowl appearance might have been for the San Francisco 49ers, repeating the feat could be even harder.
Especially considering the competition in the NFC West.
While the Niners spent the offseason stewing over the fourth-quarter collapse in the Super Bowl and filling holes created this offseason, their competition in the division did their best to close the gap.
Arizona added one of the game's most productive receivers in DeAndre Hopkins to team with emerging star quarterback Kyler Murray in what could be one of the most dynamic offenses in the league. Perennial contender Seattle made a blockbuster deal for one of the game's top safeties, acquiring Jamal Adams from the New York Jets for a package that included two first-round draft picks.
Meanwhile, the Niners must hope that rookies Brandon Aiyuk and Javon Kinlaw can fill in for established veterans Emmanuel Sanders and DeForest Buckner, while left tackle Trent Williams has no rust after sitting out last season as he replaces the retired Joe Staley.
Perhaps more importantly, the returning players can't slip up at all after big performances last year led to a 13-3 record.
After blowing a 10-point fourth quarter lead in a Super Bowl loss to Kansas City, the Niners will try to do what so many runners-up have failed at and win it all the following year. Only three teams have bounced
back from the disappointment of a loss in the Super Bowl to win it all the following year, with Dallas and Miami doing it in back-to-back seasons in 1971-72, and then the New England Patriots again in 2018.
Eight other Super Bowl losers returned to the game the next season only to lose again, including Buffalo three times. But 15 of the past 33 teams that lost in the Super Bowl failed to even make it back to the playoffs the following year, including the Rams last year.
But with Jimmy Garoppolo in his second full season as a starter, dynamic players such as All-Pro tight end George Kittle and 2019 Defensive Rookie of the Year Nick Bosa, and a higher share of returning players than any other team, the Niners feel like they can buck that trend.
"As weird as an offseason as it was, we came back and everyone was ready to roll," Garoppolo said. "You could tell that everyone had a good offseason. You could tell guys were putting in the work, guys came prepared, ready for training camp. That's really the type of team we have."
On a positive note. ... General manager John Lynch says starting receiver Deebo Samuel "has a shot" to play in the season opener after being sidelined all summer by a broken foot.
Samuel broke his foot in June during informal workouts with teammates in Tennessee and hasn't been able to practice since. The 49ers activated him from the non-football injury list on Saturday as part of the roster cut down.
Lynch said Sunday that the team will get together with doctors and training staff on Tuesday to determine the plan for Samuel ahead of the opener next Sunday against Arizona.
"Deebo has done a fantastic job," Lynch said. "We got to see how hard Deebo was working. I'm a huge believer that when you get injured and you're already in great shape, you tend to heal quicker. Deebo has continued that tremendous work ethic and has remained very positive and upbeat and resolute in his want to be back on the field right away. That goes a long way. We're hopeful but I don't have an answer, because we don't know it yet."
Samuel caught 57 passes for 802 yards and three TDs last season and also made big contributions in the running game. He had 14 carries for 159 yards and three scores.
Samuel then made a big impact in the postseason with 10 catches for 127 yards and six runs for 102 yards in three games. He had five catches for 39 yards and three carries for 53 yards in San Francisco's 31-20 loss to Kansas City in the Super Bowl.
It also sounds as if receiver/return man Richie James should be cleared in advance of Week 1 as well, which is ahead of the expected timeframe for him.
For the record, the team's initial depth chart shows Samuel and Kendrick Bourne as the starting receivers, with Aiyuk a third-teamer. Running back Raheem Mostert is the starter, backed up by Tevin Coleman and then Jerick McKinnon and Jeff Wilson Jr.
James is the primary kick and punt returner.
Finally. ... The 49ers activated linebacker Fred Warner from the Reserve/Covid-19 List, the team announced.
QBs: Brock Purdy, Trey Lance, Sam Darnold, Brandon Allen
RBs: Christian McCaffrey, Elijah Mitchell, Jordan Mason, Tyrion Davis-Price, Kyle Juszczyk
WRs: Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk, Jauan Jennings, Danny Gray, Chris Conley, Ray-Ray McCloud, Ronnie Bell, Willie Snead
TEs: George Kittle, Cameron Latu, Charlie Woerner, Brayden Willis, Ross Dwelley
Seattle SeahawksCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 9 September 2020
According to Associated Press sports writer Tim Booth, Chris Carson is trying his best not to get caught up in the future.
It's not easy when a regular topic of conversation is what will happen to the Seattle Seahawks' bruising running back when his rookie contract expires after this season.
"Of course, it's something that is on my mind," Carson said Tuesday. "You see a lot of guys that are starting to get paid, but I try not to let it distract me from the season. I push it away. But it is something that is on my mind, but I try not to let it affect me."
Carson said there haven't been talks about his future with Seattle as of yet.
Overlooked coming out of Oklahoma State and drafted in the seventh-round, Carson has developed into one of the top backs for a team that prides itself on running the ball, and in a league that seems to be devaluing running backs.
On the Seahawks' side, there are questions about how much the team might want to invest in a back who has suffered season-ending injuries twice in three years.
Right now, Carson is healthy, although he's had to cope with the mental strain during training camp of having to spend time away from the team following deaths in his family.
"He looks great. He hasn't had a snap out here that he didn't look good," head coach Pete Carroll said. "We don't have any hesitation with Chris at all. He's fine and ready to go."
His 2019 season was cut short after he suffered a hip fracture late in the regular season. Before he got hurt, Carson had rushed for a career-high 1,230 yards -- fifth in the league -- and seven touchdowns.
But it was the second time in Carson's career that he didn't finish a season. Carson's rookie season in 2017 ended after just four games due to a fractured leg.
When healthy, Carson has been great. But he's also been knocked around during his three seasons.
"Just being a seventh-round draft pick you are always gonna have that chip on your shoulder," Carson said. "But I know at this point in the game I don't really have nothing to prove."
Carson should have help in the backfield again this season after Seattle signed veteran Carlos Hyde in free agency. The Seahawks also hope to get Rashaad Penny back around midseason from a torn ACL suffered late last year. And there is depth with second-year running back Travis Homer and rookie Deejay Dallas, who has impressed in camp.
Last year, Carson averaged just over 18 carries per game. That would seem to be a good target number for Seattle's offense, depending on whether the Seahawks let Russell Wilson take a little more control of the offense through the air.
Another strong season may land Carson a worthy pay day. The unknown is whether it will be in Seattle.
"I guess we're going to have to see," Carson said.
On a positive injury note, Carroll said receiver Phillip Dorsett, who battled a foot injury in camp, practiced Monday and should be good to go this week.
"We're counting on Phillip to play and do a good job in this game," Carroll said. "He practiced today. We'll see how he goes through the week, but every indication is he should be OK. ...
Worth noting, when they take on the Falcons Sunday, the Seahawks could be spreading out their playing opportunities more than normal for a regular season game.
Due to the lack of a preseason, Carroll said Monday the team has talked about spreading out game reps more broadly for two separate purposes. The first is to continue the evaluation process of the roster as the players only practiced against themselves in training camp. The second is to make sure that players don't get overworked suddenly playing an entire football game this weekend.
"There is some conversation we've had about that," Carroll said. "About making sure that we see a lot of guys play early on because we haven't had the games and just to make sure we don't over overburden somebody week one, week two, you know. We had some opportunities to go ahead and trade some reps and all so that's part of the focus for us."
The Seahawks have had three separate "mock game" practices in camp with two coming at CenturyLink Field. But it's still a big leap to go from just practices to having star players play 60-plus plays in a game that counts.
"That would be just kind of typical for not having preseason games. What would you do? You'd want to see more guys early and make sure that guys are ready to go and that the impact of the first game doesn't weigh into the game too by overdoing it the first time out. So there's some of that going on," Carroll said. ...
Other notes of interest. ... According to ESPN.com's Bill Barnwell, Wilson was the second-best quarterback in football last season behind Lamar Jackson. He was about as good on a per-attempt basis in 2018 as he was in 2019, but the difference was volume; the 31-year-old went from throwing just under 27 passes per game in 2018 to just over 32 per game. Barnwell doesn't see any reason to believe Wilson would be less effective if the Seahawks continued to up their passing volume and trusted Wilson to throw the ball closer to 550 times, a mark he approached in 2016 and hit for the first and only time in 2017.
The offensive line is a major question mark in Seattle, but with Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf, Wilson has his best one-two punch at receiver on paper since Golden Tate left town. The Seahawks still seem insistent on limiting Wilson without letting their star quarterback cook, which is something I think we'll look back on in frustration years from now. ...
The Seahawks re-signed Nick Bellore on Monday, bringing back their fullback two days after releasing him. It was the same thing they did last year with Bellore.
Bellore, 30, enters his ninth NFL season and second with the Seahawks. He appeared in 14 games last season, seeing action on 29 offensive snaps and 267 on special teams. Bellore spent the first six years of his NFL career as a linebacker before converting to fullback. ...
And finally. ... The Seahawks are giving Josh Gordon another chance. He could improve theirs if he's on the field. But first, Gordon has to be eligible to play.
Carroll said the team is happy to get Gordon back in the fold, though the Seahawks have no indications that reinstatement is necessarily imminent.
"Really right now we don't have any indication," Carroll said. "We don't have word on that and we've, obviously, tried to find out but we have no word from the league yet. We'll have to wait and see. ..."
The NFL suspended him indefinitely last December for violating the NFL policies on performance-enhancing substances and substances of abuse. It was his fifth suspension in eight years, and arrived just as the Seahawks were pushing to win the NFC West and perhaps more. Seattle claimed Gordon off waivers in November after he was released by the Patriots. He caught just seven passes in five games with the Seahawks but had a 58-yard reception in his final appearance of 2019. The Seahawks are betting on Gordon's second act in Seattle lasting longer. He looks to rejoin a strong receiving corps that includes Tyler Lockett, DK Metcalf and tight ends Will Dissly and Greg Olsen.
Of course, the history isn't good. The 29-year-old Gordon has not made it through a season without being suspended since his 2012 rookie year with the Browns. An All-Pro in 2013, he missed two full seasons because of suspensions and played only 11 games for Cleveland over the next five years while battling mental health and substance abuse.
He's appeared in just 63 games over eight seasons, his off-field troubles undermining an exceptional 17.2 yards-per-catch average.
QBs: Geno Smith, Drew Lock
RBs: Kenneth Walker III, Zach Charbonnet, DeeJay Dallas, Kenny McIntosh
WRs: Tyler Lockett, DK Metcalf, Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Cody Thompson, Dareke Young, D'Wayne Eskridge
TEs: Noah Fant, Will Dissly, Colby Parkinson, Tyler Mabry
Tampa Bay BuccaneersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 9 September 2020
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers just signed former fourth overall draft pick Leonard Fournette, who was waived by the Jacksonville Jaguars, but head coach Bruce Arians said Ronald Jones is the team's starting running back and indicated that veteran LeSean McCoy will still occupy a spot on the roster.
"When you can get a player of that caliber -- I got great reviews from people that know him and who have coached him -- he'll fit right in, and we'll see what role happens and how fast it can happen," Arians said Thursday of Fournette. "But RoJo's our guy, [McCoy] is ready for his role, so it's just gonna be building roles as we go along and having enough quality players to finish this thing."
When asked about how signing Fournette and McCoy could be seen as an indictment on Jones -- particularly because Jones' hands are still a work in progress -- Arians said, "It's his job. Nothing's changed for him. We've just added a heck of a piece of insurance and [we'll] see what kind of role he can cut out. But RoJo -- it's his job if he wins it or loses it. He's already got it, so he's gonna have to screw it up. I don't see that happening."
Still, Arians said, via multiple reporters, that the team has a "solid role" in mind for Fournette against the Saints on Sunday.
Arians said that Fournette has been picking up the offense well. The coach added that he's helped by focusing on this week's game plan rather than the overall playbook because there's less information to take in.
The initial depth chart reflects all that. Jones remains the No. 1 back and he's listed that way on the depth chart. McCoy is No. 2 and Fournette is No. 3 ahead of rookie Ke'Shawn Vaughn.
The Bucs will rely on their ground game to create play-action opportunities for quarterback Tom Brady. They'll also use running backs heavily in the passing game -- something Brady has done throughout his career -- and they view Fournette as a well-rounded player who can contribute on all three downs. (Jones mostly saw action on first and second down last year, although Arians believes he has become more of a three-down back.)
With Fournette required to undergo a physical and pass three consecutive days of COVID-19 testing, and the team having both Sunday and Monday off, the earliest Fournette would be able to practice would be Tuesday. Arians anticipates that Fournette will meet with members of the coaching staff and teammates once he passes COVID-19 testing and possibly play against the New Orleans Saints in Week 1.
"I think right away," Arians said. "He's a very bright player, and everything I've heard from the guys coaching him [is] he'll pick it up really quick. We're not gonna force him -- we don't have to force him -- so we'll just let him get it at his pace. If I know him, he'll be pretty fast-paced. So we'll try to get him up to speed as fast as we can and see if he can have a role for next week."
In three NFL seasons, Fournette was suspended once, deactivated for a game and saw a guarantee in his contract voided for fighting. When asked about character concerns, Arians said he had none.
"Not afraid to give second chances, Arians said, "The people I trust gave him high, high marks in everything I care about. I can't say what's going on in Jacksonville, but all's I can say is, [with] what's happening in Tampa, he'll fit right in."
Bucs inside linebacker Devin White played with Fournette at LSU and credited him for getting him ready as a pro. The two also squared off when the Bucs faced the Jaguars in Week 13 last year.
"He different. He can play in any system. He catch the ball, he can run the ball, he can get in between the tackles, he can play in space -- we just getting a heck of a football player," White said. "He a workload. I remember when we was game-planning - it was all about him. They got great players -- D.J. Chark, a receiver who played for LSU plays for those guys -- but our whole game plan [was] if we stop this guy, we win the football game, we've gotta get him to do different stuff, get him uncomfortable, we've gotta rally to the ball."
Meanwhile, the passing attack is in pretty good hands.
All the greatest player in the history of football did was leave the only pro home and coach he has ever known. Nothing worth watching there. The idea of even seeing Brady take the field in a Buccaneers uniform still seems incredible, but we're days away from seeing that happen against the Saints.
According to ESPN.com's Bill Barnwell, the big question with Brady: How will he and the Buccaneers deal with adversity?
Obviously, he has decades of experience and is mentally tough enough to put up with things if they don't go as planned early in the season, but what happens if he is still feeling his way around Arians' downfield passing scheme as the Buccaneers start 2-3?
Barnwell imagines we would see more quick passing game and something that much more closely resembles the Patriots style Brady has played in over the past decade.
As Profootballtalk.com notes, recently pointed out, wide receivers Mike Evans and Chris Godwin each posted more than 1,100 receiving yards during the 2019 season and plenty of people look forward to seeing what they'll do with Brady in 2020. Those people may need to make some room for another wideout.
Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times reports that Scott Miller was Brady's favorite target and that he finished the day with four catches for 84 yards. After the workout, Brady said that Miller has earned his trust over a short period of time.
"He's another great, consistent, dependable, trustworthy player," Brady said. "Whatever we talk about, he takes it to the next practice and his play is showing everybody that he's earned a big role. You can trust where he's going to be, he makes the plays when they come his way. He's really been fun to work with and fun to see grow from the minute I got here. ..."
Miller was a sixth-round pick last year and caught 13 passes for 200 yards and a touchdown. The on-field play and off-field comments make it sound like a good idea to bet the over for this year's numbers.
And finally. ... Arians said last week that the team would "play it by ear" when it comes to tight end Rob Gronkowski's snaps in the season opener against the Saints, but the club has settled on one thing about his spot in the offense.
Gronkowski is listed as a starter in the team's first depth chart of the 2020 season. He's not the only starter at tight end as O.J. Howard also got that nod for an offense that's expected to feature a lot of 12 personnel once the season is underway.
On the injury front. ... Arians told reporters on Wednesday that Evans is dealing with a soft tissue injury. The wideout's status for Sunday against New Orleans could come down to a game-day decision.
QBs: Baker Mayfield, Kyle Trask
RBs: Rachaad White, Chase Edmonds, Ke'Shawn Vaughn, Sean Tucker, Patrick Laird
WRs: Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Russell Gage, Trey Palmer, Kaylon Geiger, Deven Thompkins
TEs: Cade Otton, Ko Kieft, Payne Durham
Tennessee TitansCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 9 September 2020
As Associated Press sports writer Teresa M. Walker reminded readers, Tennessee scored lots of points and piled up lots of yards with Ryan Tannehill at quarterback over the span of just 10 games.
The Titans now get to see how productive this offense can be with Tannehill under center from the start of the season.
Head coach Mike Vrabel said Tannehill's mastery of the offense is very proficient for what the Titans are asking him to do.
"I'm very happy with his grasp of what we're trying to get done," Vrabel said.
Tannehill led the NFL in passer rating with Pro Bowl running back Derrick Henry as the NFL rushing leader. They also led the NFL in red zone efficiency, scoring touchdowns on 75.6% of trips inside an opponent's 20, ranked fourth in yards per play averaging 6.12 yards, tied for third with 54 total TDs.
Once Tannehill took over in mid-October, the Titans were even better over the final 10 games of the regular season. The Titans ranked third in both scoring, averaging 30.4 points a game and total offense with 406.2 yards per game. They led the NFL in that stretch, averaging 6.94 yards per play.
Now Tannehill has had an entire offseason and preseason to assert himself as the leader with Marcus Mariota now with the Raiders.
"Obviously, first year in an offense, a lot of times you're still picking it up," Tannehill said. "It takes some time to get up and understand exactly the nuances of the different offenses, how you call things, how we adjust to things, how we audible things, things to look for that we can take advantage of, and so it kind of fluctuates."
This also is the second season for Arthur Smith as offensive coordinator. A year ago, Smith hadn't called a play in a regular-season game. Now he has 10 offensive starters back from the group that went to the AFC championship game trying to build on 2019.
"We're just continually trying to tweak what we've done," Smith said. "Is there a better way to do it? So, we're constantly looking at that. You don't want to get stale regardless of how many starters are back. But there's good familiarity of where to go, good recall on some of the stuff we've done in the past."
Vrabel also sees the relationship continuing to grow between Smith and Tannehill. Teammates also are more comfortable with how Tannehill calls plays, especially when he makes changes at the line.
"We're going to continue to expand to try to give us the best chance that we can based on what looks we're getting," Vrabel said.
There's plenty of room for improvement. Vrabel wants them to be more efficient on first and second downs to create more manageable yardage on third downs and also commit fewer penalties before the snap.
Meanwhile, after proving his dominance on the ground in 2019, Henry is working to become more dangerous in another area of his game. Per recent reports, Henry spent an extensive amount of time working on pass catching with RB coach Tony Dews last month. Henry focused on over-the-shoulder catches and finding the football right after making his break. He also ran a couple routes against linebackers in the red zone and won each time.
NFL Network's Mike Giardi reported that Tannehill noted that Henry is "catching the ball more confidently" and that he thinks having to account for Henry as a receiver will help the offense be more diverse.
Henry tallied 18 catches for 206 yards and two touchdowns last season. ...
Meanwhile, rookie Darrynton Evans missed the last few practices of training camp with an unspecified issue. A.J. Brown was also missed some time, but closed out camp taking part in individual drills.
QBs: Ryan Tannehill, Will Levis, Malik Willis
RBs: Derrick Henry, Tyjae Spears, Hassan Haskins, Julius Chestnut, Jonathan Ward
WRs: Treylon Burks, Kyle Philips, Nick Westbrook_Ikhine, Racey McMath, Colton Dowell, Chris Moore
TEs: Chigoziem Okonkwo, Josh Whyle, Trevon Wesco, Kevin Rader
Washington Football TeamCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 9 September 2020
According to ESPN.com's John Keim, during training camp, and throughout the past week in particular, it became evident how much the Washington Football Team prized versatility -- and what rookie Antonio Gibson could offer. The release of running back Adrian Peterson last Friday hammered home Washington's belief.
Though Gibson might be the one who emerges, it's also clear Washington will use a rotation at running back to tap into the multidimensional skills of those who remain.
Peterson was almost a certainty to make the roster entering camp. But in the past week, Washington viewed quarterback Dwayne Haskins Jr. as getting more comfortable with how it wanted to run the offense and use its running backs in particular, and that meant less downhill runs and more versatility from them.
Gibson will be the back to watch, as his work with the starters increased steadily throughout camp.
Gibson, Washington's 2020 third-round pick, played receiver at Memphis. Though he caught 38 passes last season, he also ran the ball 33 times. Before the draft, his agent said that every NFL team viewed him as a running back in the pros. But Washington will use him in multiple spots and roles -- he does sit in on receiver meetings. He has good size with a strong lower body at 6-foot, 220 pounds, so he can run inside one play and line up wide and run a receiver-type route the next.
"There's a lot that we can do with a young man like him," head coach Ron Rivera said.
Gibson likes that role.
"I'm actually loving it. This is probably the first time I'm not being limited to just doing a certain thing. Usually it's like, 'Oh, he can do screens or jets and things like that.' Here, he has me doing a lot," Gibson said of offensive coordinator Scott Turner. "So power to receiver to jets to screens, whatever. All of that. It just makes it hard on the defense. I feel like I can help out the team there, because it will always have guys confused."
And Gibson's ability to run routes from multiple spots can create mismatches in coverage.
"I feel like nobody can guard me if you line up across from me," he said. "That's just my mindset from playing receiver all these years. Linebacker, DB, safety, whoever; you know I'm coming at you."
Beyond that, Washington signed J.D. McKissic as a third-down back this offseason and likes that he is developing in this role. He was a receiver in college before switching full time to running back in 2017 with Seattle. Washington has paired Gibson and McKissic in practice, and coaches hope it leads to confusion for the defense, as both can run routes from anywhere.
McKissic would have an overall role similar to what Chris Thompson did in previous years.
Washington signed Peyton Barber in the offseason in part because it viewed Derrius Guice as unreliable. Guice was released in July. The team likes Barber as a veteran who can help in both the run and pass games. He was unspectacular during four seasons in Tampa Bay, catching a combined 57 passes and averaging 3.6 yards per carry. He's not explosive, but he does have a role in Washington. Some of that will depend on Gibson's learning curve.
At Stanford, Bryce Love was a multidimensional back who was a Heisman Trophy finalist and a fourth-round pick by Washington in 2019. But he tore his ACL late in the 2018 college season, and there was concern about what he would be able to do in the NFL. Love hasn't stood out like the other backs during practice, but in the past week the coaches saw glimpses of his old ways. There's a feeling that in a couple of months he could perhaps get close to what he once was at Stanford. Early on in Washington's season, it's likely he would have a reduced role.
Last week, Love beat some defenders to the end zone on an outside run.
"Don't fall asleep on Bryce," Rivera said.
For the record, the team's initial depth chart lists McKissic as the No. 1 back with Gibson, Barber and Love lining up behind him.
Asked about that on Wednesday, Rivera quickly pointed out that was an unofficial depth chart. "The running back group is going to be by committee. ... J.D. we just happened to be put on the chart first."
One last note here. ... Rivera missed Tuesday's practice while undergoing treatment for squamous cell carcinoma. Defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio, who twice has served as a head coach in the NFL, served as head coach in Rivera's stead.
"Coach says 'I'm gonna be out,' it means he needs me to step in. I'm like, 'I've got you, coach,'" Del Rio said after Tuesday's practice, via JP Finlay of NBCSportsWashington.com. "I'm just going to carry on his message. We're going to stay on point with what we're doing. I pay attention to what he's saying to the staff and what he's saying to the team and I echo those things. Talking with the team, he's asked everybody to step up: assistants step up, players step up. Everybody has got to step up and do their part."
The team expects Rivera to return Wednesday, but he likely misses more practices during the season. Del Rio will serve as the interim coach in Rivera's absences, though Rivera is not expected to miss a game.
QBs: Sam Howell, Jacoby Brissett, Jake Fromm
RBs: Brian Robinson Jr., Antonio Gibson, Chris Rodriguez, Jonathan Williams, Jaret Patterson
WRs: Terry McLaurin, Jahan Dotson, Curtis Samuel, Dyami Brown, Dax Milne, Alex Erickson
TEs: Logan Thomas, John Bates, Armani Rogers, Cole Turner