NFL Training Camps 2014: Updates, Rumors and Analysis for August 7
We've been waiting long enough.
On Thursday evening, 12 teams from Washington to San Diego will play their first preseason game of the 2014 season, highlighted by a rematch of Super Bowl XLVIII in Denver.
That slate starts a 28-day countdown. In four short weeks, the Green Bay Packers will meet the Seahawks in Seattle, and that game will count.
As we gear up for a glorious evening of terrible football (It can be both. It will be both.), here's a look at the latest news from training camps around the NFL.
Bernard Pierce Outplaying Ray Rice in Ravens' Camp
It hasn't been a good 12 months for Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice.
The 2013 season was the worst of Rice's career, an injury-marred mess in which he barely averaged three yards a carry.
Then came the despicable incident in an Atlantic City Casino where Rice was captured on video dragging his unconscious girlfriend from a hotel elevator. It led to assault charges, a two-game suspension from the NFL and the complete immolation of his reputation.
Now, Rice's struggles have once again surfaced between the lines.
According to Jamison Hensley of ESPN, it's been Bernard Pierce, and not Rice, who has been the Ravens' top performer in the backfield in training camp:
Bernard Pierce has been the best running back in camp. He played in a similar running scheme in college, and he has had the best transition to Kubiak's stretch, zone-blocking runs.
Pierce struggled even more than Rice in 2013, but with the third-year pro set to serve as Baltimore's lead back while Rice is sidelined, there's a real chance that when Week 3 rolls around Rice won't have a starting job to come back to.
Packers' WR Randall Cobb Unimpressive in Camp
After catching 80 passes for nearly 1,000 yards and eight touchdowns in 2012, many pundits predicted a breakout season for Green Bay Packers wide receiver Randall Cobb in 2013.
Instead, the 23-year-old missed well over half the season with a broken leg. That disappointing season, coupled with Cobb's expiring contract, ratchets up the pressure on the fourth-year pro in 2014.
So far, according to Bob McGinn of The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, Cobb doesn't appear to be handling that pressure especially well:
Based on the small sample size of the opening 10 practices of camp, Cobb has looked rather common based on his 2012 level of play. Operating mainly from the slot, as always, Cobb has made almost no eye-catching plays.
Cobb himself admitted to McGinn that he needs to get things in gear.
"I don't believe I've done enough," he said. "I think my job is to come out here every day, do what I'm supposed to do, work hard and hopefully my time will come. I feel I have a lot to prove."
There's still plenty of time to turn things around, but if Cobb wants the big payday that batterymate Jordy Nelson just received, the time to begin that turnaround is now.
Packers' SS Morgan Burnett out Indefinitely
We'll stay in Titletown, this time for a look at the defensive side of the ball.
The back end of the Green Bay defense has been a sore spot in recent years. With the addition of first-round pick Ha Ha Clinton Dix in May's draft, the hope was that strong safety Morgan Burnett would be allowed to roam more freely near the line of scrimmage, where his athleticism and physicality could best be put to use.
If they can keep Burnett on the field, that is.
As Rob Demovsky of ESPN reports, Burnett will miss the team's preseason opener after injuring his oblique muscle in Monday's practice session.
After struggling with injuries much of last year, a frustrated Burnett tried to keep things in perspective.
"You want to be there; as a competitor, you want to be involved," Burnett said. "It's just something we've got to take one day at a time."
Actually, to say that Burnett struggled last year is an understatement. After suffering a hamstring injury early in the season, he was never "right," allowing a staggering 139.0 passer rating to opposing quarterbacks, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
Giants MLB Jon Beason Plans to Play Week 1
Once upon a time, Jon Beason was considered one of the NFL's most feared young linebackers. However, a series of injuries led to the Carolina Panthers dealing him to the New York Giants last year for the NFL equivalent of a bag of pork rinds and a six-pack of PBR.
Beason went on to revive his lagging career with Big Blue, emerging as the Giants' starting middle linebacker and a defensive leader.
Then the injuries hit yet again, as the 29-year-old broke his foot during offseason workouts.
However, the Giants may have dodged the bullet with Beason. As Dan Graziano of ESPN reports, Beason's rehab is progressing well, so much so that he expects to be ready to go for Week 1.
Defensive coordinator Perry Fewell said even though Beason hasn't been on the field, the veteran has still been an active participant in training camp:
He is present. He is listening to every call. He's like a microphone in my ear all the time. He's in my ear and I'm in his ear. I hear things on the field, calls on the field, and I go to him and say, 'I wish we could change that. How can we make this better?' So we're communicating all the time.
Beason is the best of a Giants cadre of linebackers facing more questions than answers, and it's imperative they get him back in action as soon as possible.
Patriots Showcasing QB Ryan Mallett for Trade?
During the 2014 NFL draft, there was quite a bit of buzz that the New England Patriots and Houston Texans were working on a trade that would have sent backup quarterback Ryan Mallett to Houston.
That trade never came to pass, but apparently the Pats haven't given up on the idea of dealing the fourth-year pro.
When the Patriots take the field against the Washington Redskins Thursday evening, it will be Mallett, and not Tom Brady, who will draw the start, according to Jeff Howe of The Boston Herald.
Tom Curran of Comcast Sports Net Northeast told Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk that in essence, the Patriots are auditioning Mallett—for other teams.
Curran explained on Thursday’s PFT Live that he believes the Patriots prefer to trade Mallett if they can. The most obvious candidate would be the Texans, where former Pats assistant Bill O’Brien has become the head coach, and veteran journeyman Ryan Fitzpatrick has become the starting quarterback.
New England’s ultimately willingness to trade Mallett depends also on whether rookie Jimmy Garropolo performs well enough to justify making him the backup to Brady.
The NFL Network's Mike Mayock (per colleague Chris Wesseling) believes NFL teams would be well-served to take notice. "I was blown away today. I saw a legitimate NFL starting quarterback today backing up Tom Brady," Mayock said after Monday's scrimmage versus the Redskins.
Bills RB C.J. Spiller Is En Fuego
When he's healthy, Buffalo Bills running back C.J. Spiller is one of the most electrifying players in the NFL with a football in his hands.
However, the fifth-year veteran has had all sorts of problems staying on the field, and 2013 was no different.
Still, that disappointing season (and the comments made by the media regarding it) have lit a fire under Spiller, according to The Associated Press (via the team's website), "Oh yeah, it's definitely a fire burning. I haven't forgotten what was written out there,'' Spiller said. ''I've got my axe ready to chip away some wood.''
That's music to the ears of head coach Doug Marrone, who told Matthew Fairburn of Syracuse.com he's counting on Spiller as part of a two-back rotation in 2013. "Obviously, we’ve run the ball quite a bit," Marrone said. "It’s something that we believe in and I’m really excited to see them."
No team ran the ball as much as Buffalo in 2013, but it appears speculation that newly acquired back Bryce Brown could also see quite a bit of work may have been premature:
I don’t know if I want to get it down to three. I’ve never been a guy that has three backs playing in the game. I’ve always believed, and you guys know, in the two backs. It’ll come down to two backs; the two backs going in there.
Stuck behind Spiller and the ageless Fred Jackson on the Bills depth chart, it appears barring injury Brown will doing a lot of spectating in 2014.
The San Antonio Raiders Revisited
The Oakland Raiders annually rank near the bottom of the NFL in revenue, due mostly to a nightmare of a stadium lease in the cesspool that is the Oakland Coliseum.
The Raiders' stadium issues have given rise to any number of potential solutions, from sharing the 49ers' new stadium to a move back to L.A.
However, the least likely of these solutions is the story (right now, anyway) that won't go away.
Raiders owner Mark Davis recently traveled to San Antonio to discuss a potential move to Texas with city officials and local business leaders.
One of those businessmen, a former NFL owner himself, went so far as to say he'd buy a stake in the team if it would help grease the proverbial wheels.
That's the latest from Tom Orsborn of The San Antonio Express-News, who writes that former Vikings owner Red McCombs is ready to write a check:
'I don't think it could have gone better,' McCombs said of the Raiders' visit.
In his first public comments after his 90-minute meeting with Davis, McCombs told the San Antonio Express-News his family would be interested in buying into the Raiders 'if that's what it would take to get them here.'
Granted, a move to San Antonio is still the longest of long shots, but it appears there's more to this story than was originally thought.
Falcons' RB Devonta Freeman Doing 'OK'
The Atlanta Falcons fell apart in 2013, dropping to 4-12 in part due to the absence of anything resembling a reliable run game.
With veteran Steven Jackson already dinged up again and possibly out for the entire preseason, there's added pressure on rookie fourth-round pick Devonta Freeman to pick things up quickly as he transitions to the NFL.
As offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter told Michael Cunningham of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, in many respects Freeman has performed quite well in training camp:
Devonta is coming along fine. He runs hard, is eager , is willing, does not back down from anything. He can catch the ball, strong hands, fast. He’s got all of the qualities. It’s just he’s a rookie in the NFL and he’s going to go through some growing pains.
However, Koetter also went on to say that Freeman's blitz pickups are a work in progress, stating that Freeman has been only "OK" in that regard:
I think that’s the biggest adjustment for a running back going from college to the NFL. He had a great college career but teams try to test rookie running backs. They’ve got those big outside linebackers. There’s a lot of protections, there’s a lot of calls. There’s a learning curve. He’s on the right track.
Make no mistake, the Falcons aren't about to rely on Freeman in the backfield if doing so puts their massive investment in quarterback Matt Ryan at risk.
2,000 Rushing Yards for Eagles' RB LeSean McCoy in 2014?
We'll wrap things up on Thursday with a bold prediction from the City of Brotherly Love.
The Philadelphia Eagles were the champions of the NFC East in 2013, thanks in no small part to the hard running of running back LeSean McCoy.
McCoy paced the NFL with 1,607 rushing yards a season ago, but if the 26-year-old is to be believed, he's only just getting started:
"This is the year," McCoy tweeted. "My potential is . Will I reach it? Stepping up my training and signs point to yes."
Given that only seven running backs in NFL history have topped the 2,000-yard mark, it's folly to try to "predict" such a huge season. However, McCoy is an immensely talented young back in his prime playing for a team that runs the ball as much as any in the NFL.
In other words, as candidates go in 2014, McCoy's as good as any.