NFL Training Camps 2014: Updates, Rumors and Analysis for August 1
The calendar has turned to August, and on Sunday night television sets across America will be tuned in to the first NFL action of the 2014 campaign.
Yes, it's only a preseason game, and being the first one of the year, odds are good that the crispness of play will fall somewhere between wet cardboard and cooked macaroni.
Still, it's football, and after a summer of baseball, racing and golf, if that isn't enough to get your blood pumping, then please pass along my condolences to your family on your untimely passing.
With the start of the preseason just around the corner and opening night just over a month away, there's no shortage of storylines unfolding around the NFL.
Here's a look at the latest.
Eagles QB Nick Foles Having So-So Camp
To say that Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Nick Foles was a surprise last year is an understatement.
After all, as statistical probabilities go, throwing 27 touchdowns against only two interceptions ranks somewhere between "Cleveland Browns win the Super Bowl" and "Sarah Palin is elected President."
Still, Foles did exactly that in leading the Eagles to the NFC East title in 2013, and that performance has ratcheted up expectations for the third-year pro entering this season.
In the opinion of Jeff McClane of The Philadelphia Inquirer, those expectations may have been dialed up just a bit too far:
His success this coming season should not be taken for granted. He has obvious talent, but as Kelly likes to say when asked which area he would like to see his quarterback improve in, Foles has room to grow in each department. He’s been good in camp. Not great.
Now, before the pitchforks and torches come out, McLane also said he isn't overly concerned about Foles:
I think Foles is going to have another strong season, barring injury, of course. Will he match last season’s 27-2 touchdown-interception ratio? Probably not. But there’s no reason to think he can’t be as successful with a full offseason as the starter.
In essence, this is essentially just a reminder that, if Foles throws as many interceptions in the first half of Week 1 as he did in all of 2013, it does not necessarily mean the sky is falling; any more than one good year from Foles makes him destined for greatness.
Roger Goodell Defends Ray Rice Suspension
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell is in Canton, Ohio, for the festivities this weekend at the Hall of Fame, and to no one's surprise, the first question Goodell was asked by reporters pertained to the uproar over Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice's two-game suspension for assaulting his then-fiance in an Atlantic City casino.
As Lorenzo Reyes of USA Today reports, Goodell defended the ruling:
Our policy is clear on this. We have a very firm policy that domestic violence is not acceptable in the NFL and that there will be consequences for that. ...
I was also very impressed with Ray in the sense that Ray is not only accepting this issue but he's saying, 'I was wrong.' I want to see people, when they make a mistake, I want to see them take responsibility and be accountable for it.
Goodell also called the punishment consistent with that levied against other first-time offenders in similar circumstances.
Except, it really isn't.
Back in 2010, after being accused (but never charged) with sexually assaulting a woman in a Georgia bar, Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was suspended by the NFL for six games. The suspension was dropped to four games on appeal. That suspension was handed down by Goodell.
Granted, Rice's alleged assault was a domestic dispute and not connected to sexual assault charges in any way, but his actions fall under the same NFL conduct policy.
Minnesota Vikings to Employ LBBC?
The Minnesota Vikings had all sorts of problems last year defensively. In terms of the most important stat there is for a defense (points allowed), no team in the league was worse.
The Vikings averaged 30 points allowed per game in 2013.
New head coach Mike Zimmer has made a number of defensive changes in 2014, but where Minnesota's middle linebacker spot is concerned, necessity may become the mother of invention.
As Matt Vensel of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reports, the Vikings are continuing to experiment with something of a committee approach at the position, with Jasper Brinkley, Michael Mauti, Audie Cole, Gerald Hodges and even rookie Anthony Barr all seeing first-team reps depending on the situation.
“We are trying to get the best guys on the field in each situation so we’re looking at a lot of different guys,” Zimmer said, adding, “The more you can do the more value you have to this football team.”
One thing does appear clear. Veteran Chad Greenway, who will all but certainly wear the "green dot" helmet communicator and call the defensive plays, won't be the guy, as Minnesota's best linebacker appears entrenched on the weak side.
49ers WR Michael Crabtree Out at Least a Week
Coming off a torn Achilles and entering a contract year for a Super Bowl contender, there's no shortage of pressure on San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Michael Crabtree in 2014.
Things aren't getting off to the best of starts.
As Josh Alper of Pro Football Talk reports, Crabtree will be sidelined for at least the next week with an undisclosed injury.
Head coach Jim Harbaugh channeled his inner Bill Belichick while discussing the injury:
Harbaugh said WR Michael Crabtree is "working through something," could be back on practice field in a week or two.
— #49ersCamp (@49ers) August 1, 2014
According to Matt Maiocco of The Sacramento Bee, the injury is not related to the Achilles tear that cost Crabtree the first 11 games of the 2013 season:
Michael Crabtree will be out for a week or two. It's not foot or Achilles related, Jim Harbaugh said. #49ers
— Matt Maiocco (@MaioccoCSN) August 1, 2014
ESPN's Josina Anderson passed along word that it's Crabtree's hamstring that's ailing:
Source familiar with 49ers WR Michael Crabtree on his undisclosed injury that will sideline him for now: 'I think he has a sore hamstring. Nothing too serious right now.' The source added, 'I think they want to hold him back a bit to be cautious.'
Granted, it's still awfully early, but given Crabtree's injury history, this isn't the sort of news the Niners wanted to kick August off with.
Texans RB Arian Foster Back on the Shelf
Fans of the Houston Texans (and fantasy football kooks everywhere) breathed a sigh of relief on Wednesday when running back Arian Foster was back on the practice field after missing time earlier in the week with a pulled hamstring.
Well, it's time to turn blue again, because, as Dale Robertson of the Houston Chronicle reports, Foster was sidelined again on Thursday:
Running back Arian Foster, who’s presumably dealing with a strained hamstring - neither he nor the team has yet confirmed that’s his injury - returned to a spectating role Friday after having participated in a full practice Wednesday. He’d already missed two workouts and part of a third earlier this week.
'He’s doing OK,' coach Bill O’Brien said. 'It’s kind of a day-to-day thing. It’s nothing serious. I would assume - (but) guess you can’t assume anything - he’d be back pretty soon.'
Yes, there's plenty of time for Foster to get right before Week 1. But, we're talking about a soon-to-be 28-year-old running back with a ton of wear on his tires who couldn't stay healthy last year.
It isn't panic time yet, but there's cause for real concern.
Cardinals Sign OT Max Starks
If the Arizona Cardinals are going to improve on last year's surprising 10-win season and contend in the NFC West in 2014, strong offensive line play is going to be absolutely critical.
The signing of left tackle Jared Veldheer was a big step in the right direction in that regard, and on Friday the Redbirds made another veteran addition:
Cardinals announced they signed former Steelers OT Max Starks, who's now reunited with Arizona HC Bruce Arians.
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) August 1, 2014
The 32-year-old Starks spent most of the 2013 season out of football after being cut by the St. Louis Rams, but Houston radio host Lance Zielein tweeted that Starks "has his weight way down, looks great and is moving well."
Add in Starks' familiarity with Arians' offense from their time together in Pittsburgh, and Starks could provide some much-needed depth and veteran leadership.
At the end of the day, you can never have too many offensive linemen.
Lions OT Nick Fairley Sentenced in 2012 DUI Case
What I wouldn't give to get through one of these without typing the words "sentenced," "suspended" or "allegedly."
Detroit Lions defensive tackle Nick Fairley, who is playing for a new contract in 2014, was sentenced on Friday to a six-month suspended sentence and one year of probation stemming from a DUI arrest in the summer of 2012.
Given that Fairley's DUI arrest came only weeks after he was cited for possession of marijuana, the adjudication of the case would appear to open the door for discipline from the NFL.
However, Fairley's attorney, Sid Harrell, told Dave Birkett of The Detroit Free Press that the sentence is being appealed, which could delay action from the league:
I think they’ve already met, and they were waiting for the outcome. It’s on appeal. I should hope it would not have any implications. They’ve called me about it, but I think the agent met with them about a year and a half ago, right after it happened, so I think the commissioner’s already met with everybody, and since that time, he’s been fine.
Frankly, it's in Fairley's best interest to drag this out as long as humanly possible. Any games missed this year equals money that won't be on his new deal.
And everyone likes money.
Patriots Rookie RB James White Turning Heads in Camp
We'll close the week out with some positive, on-the-field news, in honor of the Buffalo Bills and New York Giants taking the field Sunday night.
The fact that the good news comes from New England?
It's just how things go for Bills fans.
Over the past week, there may not be a rookie across the entire NFL who has generated more buzz than running back James White of the Patriots.
First, it was head coach Bill Belichick himself talking up the youngster while talking with ESPN Boston's Mike Reiss:
It’s been good working with James White. He’s a very interesting and versatile player. He does a good job in the passing game and in the running game--both inside and outside. Blitz pickup--we have a pretty extensive offense for him to learn, but he’s working hard at it.
We’ll just let him go and see how it goes, but I think he has the ability to compete on all three downs, in both the running game and the passing game.
Reiss himself picked up the drum after watching White practice, writing that White "has opened eyes with how many quality reps he's getting and looks like he’ll be a significant part of the team’s attack--on all three downs."
There you go fantasy owners. There's even less clarity in the New England backfield.
Have a great weekend and enjoy Sunday's game!
Gary Davenport is an NFL analyst at Bleacher Report and a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association and the Pro Football Writers of America. You can follow Gary on Twitter @IDPManor.