NFL Training Camps 2014: Updates, Rumors & Analysis for July 21
We're one step closer to the beginning of the 2014 NFL season.
On Saturday, veterans for the Buffalo Bills became the first of their ilk to report for training camp. They were joined on Monday by the New York Giants, who just so happen to be the Bills' opponents in the Hall of Fame Game, which kicks off the preseason in just under two weeks.
As players report to camps and begin getting down to the business of preparing in earnest for the long haul to come, here's a look at some of the latest news and rumors from both the Empire State and around the NFL.
Giants RB David Wilson Cleared for Training Camp
New York Giants running back David Wilson was a trendy breakout pick entering his second NFL season.
However, a pair of lost fumbles in the team's season opener set the tone for a disastrous season that was ended after five games by a neck injury that many believed to be career-threatening.
It's been quite a while since there was any good news regarding Wilson, but the 23-year-old tailback provided some himself on Monday:
— David E. Wilson (@4stillRunning) July 21, 2014
It's welcome news for a New York backfield that was shredded by injuries last year, but Ebenezer Samuel of The New York Daily News doesn't expect it to alter the pecking order in the backfield for Big Blue:
Jennings should still be RB1. Wilson hasn't proven he can be a 20-touch-a-game RB yet. May be best used in spurts/select situations.
— Ebenezer Samuel (@ebenezersamuel) July 21, 2014
Dan Graziano of ESPN agrees, writing that "If he's fully healthy, they will find ways to work him into the running back mix."
Bengals Place Geno Atkins on PUP List
The Cincinnati Bengals made the playoffs for the third straight season in 2013, but the team did so without the services of Pro Bowl defensive tackle Geno Atkins, who tore his ACL during a midseason loss to the Miami Dolphins.
News has been rather hard to come by where Atkins' rehab is concerned, but we do know that when the Bengals' veterans report Wednesday, Atkins will remain on the shelf:
Active/PUP: DT Geno Atkins (knee), G Clint Boling (knee), LB Marquis Flowers (hamstring), CB Leon Hall (Achilles), P Kevin Huber (neck) ...
— Paul Dehner Jr. (@pauldehnerjr) July 21, 2014
If the Bengals are going to get back to the playoffs for a franchise-record fourth-straight season, they need Atkins back on the field. As Coley Harvey of ESPN recently reported, it wasn't hard to see the effect Atkins' absence had on Cincinnati's run defense in 2013:
Only three times in the eight games before Atkins' injury did the Bengals allow 90 or more rushing yards. Including the game Atkins was hurt, the Bengals allowed teams to gain 90 or more rushing yards six times in nine games (including the playoff loss) following his ACL tear.
With that said, while speaking with Paul Dehner Jr. of The Cincinnati Enquirer last month, head coach Marvin Lewis didn't sound overly concerned about Atkins' Week 1 availability.
"I don't have any concern, no," Lewis said. "Geno, all intentions is whenever he can get back. But, again, you have to go through the process."
Giants OG Chris Snee Retires
It wasn't all good news for the Giants on Monday, however.
Guard Chris Snee, who was a 16-game starter on both of Tom Coughlin's Super Bowl teams, announced his retirement from football, according to Josina Anderson of ESPN (per colleague Dan Graziano):
I felt worse by continuing to work out. I am nowhere near the level of strength that I usually have. That's been my game for 10 years, being one of the strongest players out there and using that to my advantage. If I don't have that, I wouldn't be able to do my job the way I expect, but also with what they expect of me.
That's kind of what [general manager] Jerry [Reese] and I agreed upon in March when we decided to try this thing and see if I can come back. I told him that he had my word, that I would be honest with him, and I was. [Now] I've told him that my body has had enough. With the way last season ended that's the last thing I wanted to experience again.
The 32-year-old had played in at least 15 games every season dating back to 2005, but an injured hip limited Snee to only three games last year. It was Snee's second hip surgery in as many seasons, and it added to offseason shoulder surgery, leading Snee to decide enough was enough.
It's a big blow to a Giants' O-line that struggled a year ago. Snee was the eighth-ranked right guard in the NFL two years ago, per Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
Without Snee last year, Football Outsiders ranked the Giants offensive line as the NFL's third-worst in run support and 18th in pass blocking.
Welcome to the NFL, Zach Mettenberger
From the "Well, that happened" files.
It isn't all that unheard of for an NFL player to be involved in a dust-up at a bar. However, in the case of rookie quarterback Zach Mettenberger of the Tennessee Titans, Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean reports that it wasn't Mettenberger's fault:
Steve Ford, owner of Losers Most Wanted Bar & Grill on Division Street, said Mettenberger did nothing to provoke another bar patron, but the 6-foot-5, 224-pound quarterback ended up getting punched in the face. He did not require medical attention.
"Here's the truth: The guy said something about 'Roll Tide!' to Zach, and Zach turned around and said 'Good luck with that,' " Ford said on Monday. "And the guy's buddy then sucker-punched Zach.
"I promise you that Mettenberger did not throw a punch. He didn't do anything. The guy sucker-punched him in the eye, that's the bottom line, and the guy that punched him started running out the door. My door guys had to chase him down."
If nothing else, perhaps it will serve as a reminder that Mettenberger needs to keep his head on a swivel in the pocket.
Well, that and SEC fans take college football very seriously.
More Bad News for Bills DT Marcell Dareus
Buffalo Bills defensive tackle Marcell Dareus had something of breakout third season in 2013, setting career highs in tackles and sacks while finishing the season as PFF's seventh-ranked defensive tackle in terms of rushing the passer, per Pro Football Focus.
Since making a trip to the Pro Bowl, the offseason has not been so kind.
Dareus followed up a pair of offseason arrests by showing up for training camp out of shape. So out of shape, in fact, that the 24-year-old failed his conditioning test.
Buffalo head coach Doug Marrone told Mike Rodak of ESPN, "He's not the only one, but obviously you want your players to come in and be ready to go. We're here for a long period of time and we'll make up for it."
Rodak also passed along word that Dareus won't re-take the test until later this week at the earliest:
ESPN’s Sal Paolantonio reports that Marcell Dareus arriving at Bills camp today. Will not re-take conditioning test until at least Thursday.
— Mike Rodak (@mikerodak) July 21, 2014
Given Dareus' recent run-ins with the law and penchant for arriving late to team meetings, this latest misstep would seem cause for more than a little concern, but Marrone didn't sound too worried.
"He'll be in shape and ready to play," Marrone said. "Right now he needs to focus on getting himself ready, getting himself on the field, and focus on football. I think that's what he'll be ready to do and that's been my conversations with him."
NaVorro Bowman to Miss Half the Season?
Injury was added to insult for the San Francisco 49ers in last year's NFC Championship Game.
Not only did the team lose the game to the Seattle Seahawks, but the 49ers also lost inside linebacker NaVorro Bowman to a torn ACL.
Now, it appears that the 49ers may have to make do without the NFL's top-ranked inside linebacker, per Pro Football Focus, for half of the 2014 season.
That's the latest from Matt Barrows of The Sacramento Bee, who speculates that the "smart money" has Bowman, who is expected to open camp (and quite possibly the regular season) on the PUP list, sitting out until after the 49ers' Week 8 bye.
Third-year pro Michael Wilhoite is considered the favorite to start next to Patrick Willis while Bowman is sidelined, although rookies Chris Borland and Shayne Skov could vie for the job in camp.
The Battle Begins to Replace Bills OLB Kiko Alonso
An out-of-shape Dareus is far from the only issue facing the Bills defense as camp gets underway.
The loss of leading tackler Kiko Alonso to a torn ACL left a huge hole in the Buffalo linebacker corps, and the opening of camp brought with it our first glimpse at how the Bills might look to fill that void.
As Chris Brown of the Bills' website reports, Buffalo opened camp with free agent acquisition Brandon Spikes at linebacker, flanked by Keith Rivers (another new addition) and Nigel Bradham.
“Honestly, I feel for the kid [Alonso] but, you know, next man’s up and he’s got to be accountable and step in there and get the job done,” Spikes said. “We’ve just got to fill in that wound and step it up a lot, everybody.”
However, third-round rookie Preston Brown remains very much in the mix. In fact, Tim Graham of The Buffalo News recently reported, "My sources tell me they're looking at rookie Preston Brown," as Alonso's replacement on the weak side.
The third-round draft pick from Louisville had a boffo summer at voluntary workouts and minicamp. Coaches raved behind the scenes about how well Brown practiced. The front office was thrilled with how he looked and became even more relieved they drafted him [after Alonso went down].
This is a camp battle that could extend well into the preseason, although we'll get a "sneak preview" of sorts when the Bills and Giants square off on August 3.
Matt Cassel 'Heavy' Favorite to Start at QB for Vikings?
Of the many rookie quarterbacks drafted in 2014, the general consensus seems to be that Teddy Bridgewater of the Minnesota Vikings had the best shot of winning the starting job in training camp.
However, in the opinion of at least one beat writer, Bridgewater faces an uphill battle once Cassel and the players report on Thursday.
Tom Pelissero of USA Today reports that 10-year veteran Matt Cassel, who made six starts for the Vikings last year, is the "heavy favorite" to be the starting quarterback when the Vikings kick off the regular season in St. Louis.
Bridgewater was mum on the subject of surpassing Cassel in training camp:
That's something I don't feel comfortable talking about. I'm just looking forward to training camp. Can't wait to get to Mankato, put the pads on and just continue doing what we've got to do: play football.
Fans, on the other hand, might want to root for the youngster, at least if ESPN's Ron Jaworski is to be believed.
According to Michael David Smith of Pro Football Talk, Jaworski recently ranked Cassel 32nd among the league's starting quarterbacks.
“Turner’s offense starts with the run game. With Adrian Peterson in the backfield, Cassel’s 66 quarterback rating last year on play-action passes just wasn’t good enough,” Jaworski said.