Daily Archives: June 25, 2012

Top 10 NFL post-spring (player-related!) storylines

Peyton

For the NFL, there’s still another full month to go in the off-season brought to you by the Donald Fehr Foundation for Labour Peace, TMZ, and the Breathalyzer Manufacturers Association of America.

Ugh.

Could you blame any blogger for posting a countdown-to-kickoff clock that spins its seconds in the thousandths?

Alas, off-field NFL controversies remain omni-present. Let’s see…

The NFLPA is fighting the league on everything. On-field officials might strike. A Detroit Lion is getting jailed for drunk driving or pot possession seemingly every third week. More frequently than that, there’s a new concussion lawsuit filed against the league by ex-NFLers.

And suspended bountygate players continue to appeal their punishments in every venue possible.

On the field, NFL teams open their pre-season training camps in the last week of July.
Clubs have just concluded their off-season May and June practices — including rookie mini-camps, voluntary “OTAs” and mandatory three-day mini-camps. No pads or hitting in any of them. Just players in helmets and shorts, with 11-on-11s limited.

Still, a lot can be learned.

And so, as NFL commissioner Roger Goodell‘s lawyer forms a queue for his client’s growing line of process servers, here are the Top 10 things to take from this year’s off-season practices:

1. Peyton Manning? So far, so good.
Now 36, the Hall-of-Famer-to-be (Reuters photo, above) hasn’t taken a snap in an NFL game since the end of the 2010 season. Since then, he’s had several surgeries to repair a bulging disc in his neck.
So far in Denver, the neck seemingly hasn’t been an issue. In his second-to-last mini-camp practice two weeks ago, Manning dazzled.
“During the no-huddle, 11-on-11 portion of practice,” according to the Denver Post, “Manning was never better — at least (since 2010).
“He zinged medium-range, crossing-pattern passes to tight end Jacob Tamme and wide receiver Matt Willis. And he nailed deep go-route passes to each side of the field, one to Eric Decker, the other to Demaryius Thomas.”
The first time Manning will be subjected to hits will be in the Broncos’ first exhibition game — Thursday, Aug. 9 against the Bears in Chicago.

2.  Tebow in the Big Apple.
Tebow-ed out yet? Ya ain’t seen nothin’ yet.
The first game this fall in which starting New York Jets QB Mark Sanchez sucks, the pressure for Rex Ryan and staff to insert Tim Tebow will be huge.
The Jets acquired the pop-cult phenom in a trade with the Broncos in March. Of course, all of New York promptly went gaga.
At the team’s first OTA practice, Jets beat writers were live-tweeting after each and every Sanchez or Tebow throw, and then comparing their stats.
Tebow might well be perfectly suited to run a zone-read style alt-offence for the Jets, which is why Ryan said they acquired him. But if the 2012 Jets don’t bring new meaning to the term Quarterback Controversy, we’ll be shocked.

3. Rookie QBs.
The Colts’ No. 1 overall draft pick, quarterback Andrew Luck, is absolutely incredible. Gifted beyond belief. Can make every throw. Picks up complicated concepts just like that. Makes crying babies smile. Would bring peace to the Middle East if only given the chance.
Ditto for QB Robert Griffin III, the Redskins’ No. 2 overall pick.
Right.
Reality will come in August and September, when we watch them struggle as starters, as almost all phenom QBs do in Year 1 on the atrocious teams that drafted them.
The intrigue, and news, surrounds the third and fourth QBs drafted.
Every draft expert and his brother warned us that Ryan Tannehill wouldn’t be ready to start come September. The Dolphins — who drafted him eighth overall — appear to understand this.
David Garrard and Matt Moore took almost all of the first-team snaps this spring. It wasn’t until the last day of mini-camp last week that Tannehill worked with the ones. Tannehill threw “a couple real nice balls,” head coach Joe Philbin said, but also tossed two bad picks.
In Cleveland, Brandon Weeden (22nd overall) appears a lock to win the starting job in training camp from the disappointing Colt McCoy.
Weeden struggled at times this spring, to be expected, but his strong arm impressed. So did his maturity — no shocker there, as he’ll turn 29 in October, after delaying his college football career by five years to play pro baseball.

4. Other QB battles.
Three intrigue:
• TITANS. Veteran Matt Hasselbeck and Jake Locker (coming off his rookie season) shared snaps with the ones. Head coach Mike Munchak says the job is wide open. But columnist David Climer of The Tennesseean says Hasselbeck again will get the nod, citing Locker’s slow but upward development, but especially Hasselbeck’s experience to steer the team through a burdensome early schedule.
• JAGUARS. Rookie Blaine Gabbert was downright terrible last year. With deposed Dolphin Chad Henne as his primary competition, Gabbert hasn’t flinched. In fact observers say he has clearly improved both his drop and release mechanics, and now has a distinct edge on Henne.
• SEAHAWKS. Last year’s Tarvaris Jackson or free-agent signee Matt Flynn? Head coach Pete Carroll said the other day that Jackson will get the first snap at training camp, which raised a stir. But that’s exactly what Carroll told me in March at the NFL annual meeting: “It’s really clear how we’re going to do this. Our whole program is built on competition. It’s the central theme in all things we do … Tarvaris will take the first snap, because he’s been with us and worked hard for that. But from that point forward, it’s going to be as even as you can get, and we’ll see what happens.”

5.  Holdouts.
There were five biggies: Saints QB Drew Brees, Steelers WR Mike Wallace, Ravens RB Ray Rice, Lions DE Cliff Avril and Jaguars RB Maurice Jones-Drew.
Brees still refuses to sign his 2012 franchise tag, even though it would pay him more than $16 million. He boycotted all Saints off-season workouts. Unless the club signs him to a long-term deal by July 16, Brees must sign the tag if he wants to play anywhere this year.
Wallace, a restricted free agent who received no offers from any other clubs by the deadline (compensation is too high), had until June 15 to sign the Steelers’ RFA tender of $2.7 million. He didn’t, as he’s demanding a long-term deal from the club.
Although the Steelers now can pay Wallace only $577,000 in ’12, they don’t want Wallace’s head to explode.
Rice and Jones-Drew are both integral to their teams’ run-dominated attacks. Jones-Drew led the league in rushing last year with 1,606 yards, while Rice enables Baltimore QB Joe Flacco to get by at barely serviceable. Both RBs will get their money.
Expect both Wallace and Brees to get their long-term deals, too, before too much training-camp damage is done, if any.
Even Avril is optimistic the Lions will pony up.

6.  Holdouts to come?
Our money is on Bears RB Matt Forte and Jets CB Darrelle Revis. Both are livid at their contract situations.
If you’re gonna feel sorry for any of these players, it should be Forte. He’s been making comparative peanuts the past four years — $600,000+, $700,00+, $800,000+ and $900,000 last year.
The Bears stuck the franchise tag on Forte in April, meaning he’d make $7.7 million this year if he signs it. Huge raise, right? But based on his play with the Bears so far, he feels he’s due a huge, longterm deal. Lots of bad blood there now.
Revis held out just two years ago before the Jets signed him to a four-year, $46-million contract extension. Now he wants a lot more, two years in. If Revis doesn’t hold out this year, next spring ought to be a circus.

7.  Ocho sinko.
The Pats dumped WR Chad Ochocinco presumably because he couldn’t pick up their complicated routes. He looked absolutely lost in the regular-season game last November against the Giants, then rode the bench in the Super Bowl.
The Dolphins quickly picked him up, and already hope he can be their next (gulp) Brandon Marshall.

8. Randy Moss is back.
Observers say former all-everything WR Randy Moss has looked dynamic with the 49ers, despite his age (35) and despite not playing last season. The Frisco offence needs a huge upgrade at WR. Moss, free-agent signee Mario Manningham and first-round pick A.J. Jenkins might be the answers.

9. The Bills do indeed have hope.
Free-agent DE signees Mario Williams and Mark Anderson, plus an apparently healthy Shawne Merriman, have the Bills “night and day” better up front on defence. That’s what DL coach Giff Smith told me a couple of weeks ago.
And QB coach David Lee told me how a small glitch in QB Ryan Fitzpatrick‘s throwing motion led to inaccuracy at times with his throws, especially to the right. Fitz told me he has fixed the footwork flaw and mostly was on fire at the three OTA sessions I attended.
With Vince Young presumably backing up Fitz, and Stevie Johnson getting some deep-threat help from rookie WR T.J. Graham and an improved Donald Jones, the Bills might well contend for a playoff spot for the first time since many of the current players were children.

10. Dez steps up.
Cowboys WR Dez Bryant appears to have turned the corner. Everybody was raving about his precise route-tunning and great hands throughout OTAs and mini-camp. Do the Cowboys finally have a first-rate WR for Tony Romo? Looks like it.