5 Biggest Takeaways from Early NFL Training Camp

Andrew Garda@andrew_gardaFeatured ColumnistJuly 29, 2014

5 Biggest Takeaways from Early NFL Training Camp

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    Football is finally here.

    While there are still a few weeks before meaningful games are played, every team has begun their training camps, and we've been treated to the sounds of pads and helmets cracking.

    Even though camps have just started, there are plenty of things we can take away from the early practices. Much will change between now and the end of camp (heck, a lot changes between today and tomorrow), but you can still read the tea leaves now.

    So we've done that and compiled five things we've learned in the first week of camps.

Minnesota Has Big Plans for Kyle Rudolph

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    Nothing says "I love you" like flowers.

    Well, flowers or a five-year deal worth $36.5 million.

    The Vikings definitely have big plans for Rudolph, and as the Star-Tribune’s Master Tesfatsion wrote recently, Norv Turner’s offenses tend to make heroes out of tight ends.

    Vikings general manager Rick Spielman said in a team statement, "I’m very excited to get this extension done with Kyle. We drafted him, he’s done a tremendous job since he’s been here. Our whole focus on moving forward in this organization is to draft our players, develop them and keep them here. "

    The Vikings have a ton of new weapons for whomever the quarterback ends up being, but the payout and the offensive scheme being installed makes us think (like Tesfatsion) that the Vikings will be using Rudolph early and often unless he completely underwhelms.

Rookie Quarterbacks Are Probably Starting on the Bench

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    We’re all pretty sure that Tom Savage won’t be the starting quarterback in Week 1, nor will Blake Bortles, as per NFL.com’s Dan Hanzus.

    Derek Carr is starting off as the second-string quarterback in Oakland, and while buzz has been growing around him, it’s unlikely he’s going to be the starter at the beginning of the season.

    Johnny Manziel’s off-field issues are worrying the Browns, as per Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com, and he seems to be at best a gadget-play guy at the moment.

    NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport (via NFL.com's Mike Coppinger) reports that Teddy Bridgewater will split first-team reps with Matt Cassel, so he could win the job, but the team has said multiple times they won’t rush him.

    Unlike last year when Geno Smith, EJ Manuel and Mike Glennon were all rushed into the lineup, we’re likely to see just one or two quarterbacks start as rookies. Perhaps even none.

    With the rookie salary cap so low, even for first-rounders, teams can afford to wait a year or so before throwing their quarterbacks into the fire.

Eli Manning Looks Poised for a Bounce-Back Year

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    I spent the last week at Giants training camp to study the new offense, and while it’s early and everything is still a bit rough, this new scheme could produce an incredibly dangerous offense.

    That includes a bounce-back year for Eli Manning. After the 2013 season he had, with 27 interceptions, just protecting the ball better would be an improvement. But the team is setting the bar much higher for him, as ESPN’s Dan Graziano reports.

    According to Graziano, the Giants want Manning to hit a 70 percent completion rate.

    While that may be a little over the top, the truth is that this offense could be incredibly good for both the Giants and Manning.

    He’s already in perfect sync with Victor Cruz out of the slot, and each day he improves both his knowledge of the offense and his chemistry with the other receivers.

    As quick and high-tempo as this offense is, Manning should stop trying to press for the big play and move the chains down the field without turning the ball over.

    The way things looked in camp over the last week, that’s going to spell big things for Manning.

Carolina Is in Trouble

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    The crown jewel in the Carolina Panthers wide receiver corps was supposed to be rookie Kelvin Benjamin, but he’s already banged up. The good news is that The Charlotte Observer’s Joe Person reports his current injury is just a bone bruise, but he’s missing time, and we’re not sure when he’ll return.

    Really, the team was in trouble anyway given that it lacks a big-time receiver, and Cam Newton is still not 100 percent healed, as per Ryan Wilson of CBS Sports.

    Jonathan Stewart is hurt and expects to miss two to four weeks, while Greg Hardy was found guilty of domestic violence and could be suspended.

    All of this points to a team with a little too much drama after a fantastic season in 2013. Nothing cures distractions like winning, but thus far, all the distractions seem like the very things that will prevent winning in the first place.

    It’s going to be awfully hard to repeat the Panthers' surprising division title at this rate.

Drafting Jake Matthews May Have Improved Sam Baker

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    When the Atlanta Falcons drafted offensive tackle Jake Matthews with their first pick in the 2014 NFL draft, most thought the writing was on the wall for Sam Baker.

    After all, Baker signed a big contract in 2013 but had always been decidedly underwhelming at left tackle, and his injury last season just put a spotlight on how overpaid he had been in the minds of many fans and media analysts.

    But don’t kick dirt on Baker’s grave just yet.

    Orlando Ledbetter of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that Baker is off to quite a strong start. Don’t get me wrong, reports are that Matthews has been outstanding so far, via Fox Sports South's Knox Bardeen.

    But his presence is pushing Baker, and Baker is responding.

    Drafting Matthews was supposed to lock up the left side of the line, and it has.

    Just not the way we expected.