0 of 9
AP Photo/John McCoy
As the first full weekend of NFL training camps nears, teams continue to work through installs, get the pads a’poppin a little and rework rotations to see who will excel when allotted an opportunity.
Nothing definitive should be ascertained this early in the process, but indications are emerging regarding how teams feel about certain individuals and plans.
Unfortunately, a major injury occurred to drastically affect a legitimate Super Bowl contender.
Elsewhere, the Carolina Panthers, Cleveland Browns, Indianapolis Colts and Seattle Seahawks are getting a feel for what they have behind center. Uncertainty reigns at three of those stops, while the fourth may have found the perfect guy for the job.
Teams in need of wide receiver help should probably give the New York Giants a call relatively soon. The Los Angeles Rams certainly aren’t counted among them with Allen Robinson II’s injection to a high-octane offense.
And the Seattle Seahawks’ DK Metcalf was a big winner Thursday, both because of the amount of guaranteed money he’ll pull in and the age at which he’ll reenter the market.
Also, safety Jessie Bates III may not be on the field or even in the Cincinnati Bengals’ building, yet he’s still helping the team.
Bleacher Report provides the latest buzz and rumblings from Thursday’s training camps.
1 of 9
Andy Lewis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
An overlooked aspect of any team’s success is the play in the trenches. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have greatly benefited from one of the game’s better front fives since Tom Brady joined the squad in 2020.
Over the last two seasons, Tampa Bay’s starting front five of (from left to right) Donovan Smith, Ali Marpet, Ryan Jensen, Alex Cappa and Tristan Wirfs missed a combined nine games, which included their playoff runs.
Jensen, who emerged as the game’s best center, didn’t miss a single contest during that stretch. That streak may end, depending on what doctors find after the Pro Bowl pivot injured his leg Thursday and needed to be carted off the field, as Greg Auman of The Athletic reported.
After practice, head coach Todd Bowles didn’t know the severity of the injury, per Bucs reporter Scott Smith.
Jensen’s potential loss exacerbates an issue the Buccaneers experienced this offseason when Marpet retired and Cappa signed a free-agent deal with the Cincinnati Bengals.
General manager Jason Licht offset one of those departures by trading for Shaq Mason to fill right guard. A competition is ensuing at left guard with Aaron Stinnie and rookie Luke Goedeke. Now, center may have gone from a strength to a weakness.
If Jensen misses time, Robert Hainsey, whom the organization drafted in the third round last year, can fill the void, though he shouldn’t be considered a permanent solution for a veteran-laden team with its sights on another Super Bowl victory. Any expectation of significant time missed should prompt the Buccaneers to search for another established center, such as free agent J.C. Tretter.
Whatever the case, the depth of Brady’s pockets this year could be far more muddied than previously expected.
2 of 9
AP Photo/Nell Redmond
On Wednesday, Carolina Panthers head coach Matt Rhule established that Sam Darnold and Baker Mayfield will go back and forth with the first-team offense each day.
Darnold ran with the opening unit to start training camp, and Mayfield took the helm Thursday.
In reality, the job should be Mayfield’s to lose after the Panthers traded for the 2018 No. 1 overall pick three weeks ago. At this point, familiarity with the staff is the only reason Darnold is getting a look. Otherwise, the Panthers spent all offseason searching for a quarterback and found an upgrade. Arguments can be had over how much of an upgrade Mayfield really is, but the general sentiment is he’s played better than Darnold throughout his career.
Basically, the Panthers prefer for Mayfield to “earn” the spot, and they have objectives for him to do so. An emphasis is being placed on aggressive play while avoiding recklessness.
“The whole key to football … is how explosive can you be and how few turnovers can you have? It’s risk-reward, like anything else,” head coach Matt Rhule told reporters. “The way we want to handle that is being aggressive with the play calls, but take what’s there.”
Mayfield’s 56 interceptions since he entered the league are the most during that span. He does have an uphill climb of learning a new system and getting used to his new surroundings.
“It’s been unique because I haven’t been able to talk to coaches until now and be in meetings with them,” Mayfield said. “Teaching yourself the offense is different than learning it from who’s coaching it.”
Once the 27-year-old signal-caller is comfortable with the situation and displays a solid grasp of the offense, the Panthers should start gearing everything toward their newest quarterback and getting him ready for the regular season.
3 of 9
Nick Cammett/Getty Images
The Cleveland Browns organization has no clue how many games Deshaun Watson
will play this season or if he’ll play at all.
The quarterback, his legal representation, the NFL and NFLPA continue to
wait for Judge Sue L. Robinson’s ruling on potential league disciplinary action
after he was accused of sexual assault and misconduct by more than 20 women.
Without knowledge of who will be behind center at the start of the 2022
campaign, everyone on the team must handle their business as best as they can.
All-Pro defensive end Myles
Garrett told Sports Illustrated‘s Albert
“You have to play according to you. You don’t know who’s going to be out there at any given time.
He could’ve gotten hurt out here this week, next week; anything could happen.
You never know who’s gonna be out on the field in Week 1, or at any time down
the stretch. You just gotta play the best that you can, adjust to your
teammates and build the chemistry enough to be able to work with the teammates
that are around you when they’re available and you’re available.”
Garrett’s mentality provides a simplistic overview, because his job doesn’t
change with or without Watson. He needs to go out every week and dominate as one of the league’s best
defenders. Things are a little different for head coach
Kevin Stefanski, who said:
“With quarterbacks, it’s very obvious you’re trying to put those guys
in position to succeed; you’re trying to do what they’re comfortable with at
all times. That’s our job building out this
offense. It’s to have enough in our offense where we can pivot in-game, we can
pivot week-to-week based on who you have available.
“I understand this isn’t something where you’re dealing with an injury,
but the uncertainty part of it, that’s where as coaches and players oftentimes
are in a given practice, in a given week. So that’s how I’ve looked at this
situation, totally understanding and respecting everything this entails.
Really, I can only deal with the information that I have.”
Running back Kareem Hunt said last month that the Browns will take a
completely different approach depending on who’s running the offense.
“It’s tough because they’re trying to figure out what pieces they’ve
got for the season and what plays they want to put it,” Hunt said.
“You know, there’s different plays for Deshaun and Jacoby [Brissett],
different playbook, different things we can do at quarterback.”
4 of 9
Justin Casterline/Getty Images
The ability to keep everyone in line and on the same page can be difficult, especially for a young quarterback.
Matt Ryan is a grizzled vet who’s already gone through multiple head coaches and offensive play-callers. A transition to the Indianapolis Colts after being traded from the Atlanta Falcons has been seamless. The team believes it’s seen a significant improvement in having the 37-year-old 2016 league MVP behind center.
“It’s night and day,” one offensive player told The Athletic’s Zak Keefer.
“The team just gravitates (toward him),” head coach Frank Reich said. “You feel it from the team, you sense it from the team … and that’s what we have right now with Matt.”
On the field, Ryan’s decisiveness can be felt by how he orchestrates the offense and utilizes his allotted time. According to the Indianapolis Star’s Nate Atkins, Ryan forced the team to increase its practice tempo and kept the entire squad locked in for the entire session.
“You either get it together or you get out,” left tackle Matt Pryor said.
As a result, the team finished practice 10 minutes earlier in each of the last two days, per JJ Stankevitz of the team’s official site.
“We want to be at our best for him,” running back Jonathan Taylor added. “He demands that excellence. Having that presence and that energy is something that rubs off on you.”
Backfield-mate Nyheim Hines said, “I can’t describe it … you just get chills. He starts talking to us and you’re like, ‘This guy’s gonna lead us to a championship or (at least) an AFC South title.'”
5 of 9
Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images
As good as the Los Angeles Rams were last season with Matthew Stafford under center, room for improvement still exists in the passing game.
The Rams finished fifth in passing offense a year ago. Injuries played a small role in their lack of consistency after Robert Woods suffered a torn ACL in November just one day after the organization signed free agent Odell Beckham Jr.
This offseason, the Rams chose to sign Allen Robinson II to a three-year, $46.5 million free-agent contract, flip Woods to the Tennessee Titans in a trade and have yet to re-sign Beckham.
Robinson is a completely different target than the other two options. The 6’2″, 220-pound receiver is a traditional X who does his best work down the field and along the sidelines. The eight-year veteran changes the complexion of the scheme, because he can do even more than serve as an outside threat.
According to The Athletic’s Robert Mays, “The staff here is in love with Robinson. From his approach in meetings to what he can give them in this offense. His route tree and where he can line up are more varied than they’d even hoped.”
Obviously, Cooper Kupp is a premier wide receiver coming off the best season anyone has ever seen from the position. But he does the vast majority of his damage from the slot. Robinson can work all over the field and give the rocket-armed Stafford a complementary threat to challenge opposing defenses vertically and horizontally.
Considering the team’s financial investment and early impressions from training camp, Robinson may be in for a monster season as a featured part of an already electric Rams offense.
6 of 9
AP Photo/Seth Wenig
Early rep distribution at New York Giants camp signals the potential end of Darius Slayton’s run with the franchise.
Slayton burst onto the scene as a fifth-round rookie. He caught 48 passes for 740 yards and eight touchdowns in 2019. The numbers stayed relatively the same a year later, though his touchdown production decreased. A pulled hamstring limited Slayton last season. He started only five games and nabbed 26 balls.
With a new staff and front office on the scene, Slayton’s run as a viable option in the Giants passing attack is slipping.
According to The Athletic’s Dan Duggan, the fourth-year target is running with the second team, even though Sterling Shepard is still dealing with an Achilles injury. Instead, Brian Daboll and Co. seem to have plans for second-round wide receiver Wan’Dale Robinson.
“Rookie Wan’Dale Robinson’s GPS readings will be off the charts because of how much he’s moving before the ball is snapped,” Duggan noted. “Robinson, who played some running back in the first two years of his college career, spent a lot of time in the backfield Wednesday. Sometimes he motioned out of the backfield, while other times he motioned into the backfield.”
Clearly, the Giants staff sees Robinson as an offensive weapon to deploy throughout the scheme. He’s going to be utilized in some manner with Kenny Golladay and Kadarius Toney handling the more traditional roles within the system.
At 25 years old with a previous history of production, Slayton should be an enticing trade candidate for wide-receiver-needy suitors. The Chicago Bears and Cleveland Browns immediately come to mind as viable options in need of help. The Giants can take advantage of their depth at the position and gain a draft asset in return.
7 of 9
AP Photo/Jeff Dean
Cincinnati Bengals defensive captain Jessie Bates III isn’t at training camp, because the two sides didn’t come to an agreement on a contract extension before the franchise tag deadline passed.
As CBS Sports’ Josina Anderson previously reported, Bates has “no intentions” of playing under the franchise tag this season. Despite the current imbroglio between team and player, the latter hasn’t let it affect his influence on the team.
First-round rookie Daxton Hill said he’s been in contact with Bates.
“He said it’s a blessing to be out there the first day of camp when everything’s exciting, and if there’s anything you need, just reach out to me,” this year’s 31st overall draft pick told reporters.
Hill also stated that Bates “reached out to him several other times and he plans to sit down with him and watch film ‘and pick his brain a little bit to try to get some tips,'” per the Athletic’s Jay Morrison.
The generosity of a veteran still trying to help young players on a squad despite his personal circumstances is one thing. That Bates is still helping the player who’s likely to serve as a direct replacement for him shows another level of maturity and leadership.
Owner Mike Brown basically acknowledged the Bengals will have difficulty extending everyone with quarterback Joe Burrow and wide receiver Tee Higgins coming due in the near future.
Bates will probably report down the road after he’s made his point and missed a good chunk of training camp, because he can’t play under anything other than the franchise tag this season. But his inability to get the deal he wants isn’t affecting the type of presence he can still bring to the locker room.
8 of 9
AP Photo/Ted S. Warren
The Seattle Seahawks quarterback competition might not be much of a competition after all.
“Geno is in the lead. He’s ahead and he ain’t looking back,” head coach Pete Carroll told reporters Wednesday. “He’s going for it. Drew [Lock] is not going to take a back seat. Something is going to happen.”
As The Athletic’s Michael-Shawn Dugar noted, Smith took all of the first-team reps in the spring, which continues to be true at the onset of training camp.
Eventually, Lock will get more run with the first team just to see if he can unseat the nine-year veteran. But Smith’s early stranglehold on the position makes sense based on his overall experience and the fact that he’s been with the team for the last three seasons.
The coaching staff knows Smith, and he understands the system. Lock is 25 years old, now on his second team and learning a brand-new offense. Logically, Smith is the better choice to lead the offense at this early juncture.
Seattle doesn’t host the Denver Broncos in Week 1 until Sept. 12. The Seahawks don’t need to name a starting quarterback anytime soon. They were already comfortable enough at the position not to add anyone else, even though a player like Baker Mayfield had been available for months. Instead, general manager John Schneider chose to stand pat with the two signal-callers he already had.
If Lock doesn’t show much promise over the next few weeks, Smith can be the steady veteran presence. The downside with either is that the Seahawks will be deficient at the game’s most important position on a weekly basis and likely looking for another starter next offseason.
For now, it’s Smith’s job to lose.
9 of 9
Steph Chambers/Getty Images
The Seattle Seahawks locked up DK Metcalf for the foreseeable future Thursday.
According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, the sides agreed to a three-year, $72 million contract, including $58.2 million guaranteed and a $30 million signing bonus. The final number is a record for the position.
Metcalf rode the wave of a cresting market this offseason. He and his representation understood they had leverage after Davante Adams, Tyreek Hill, Cooper Kupp, Terry McLaurin, Stefon Diggs, Mike Williams, Chris Godwin and A.J. Brown all got new deals with average annual salaries between $20 million and $30 million.
The 24-year-old target didn’t participate in the on-field portion of Seahawks training camp during the first two days. He also understood some of those previously mentioned wide receivers forced their way out of the previous situations in order to get paid.
The deal turns out to be a compromise in a couple of ways.
First, Metcalf gets the biggest signing bonus. But he’s tied for sixth (with the Buffalo Bills’ Diggs) with an average annual salary of $24 million. This figure should help the Seahawks with the salary cap.
Second, a three-year extension probably isn’t as long as Seattle’s front office would have liked. Metcalf is tied to the team through 2025, which gives the organization time to continue in its effort to build the supporting cast before plopping a new high-profile quarterback into the cockpit. Metcalf, meanwhile, will get to test free agency when he’s 28.
Overall, Metcalf is the biggest star on the Seahawks, and he’s now with the team for the foreseeable future.