Everything You Need To Know From 2023 Mini Camps
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I want to note that mini camp buzz is fun and all, but let’s not get too carried away just yet. These camps are done without pads and are pretty much offensive installations. They are probably most important for QBs and WRs/TEs to get comfortable in the offense with chemistry, whereas most Running Back battles will come during July/August training camps.
Arizona Cardinals: Arizona Sports link
QB Kyler Murray: “The NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport revealed that Murray could miss as much as half the upcoming campaign while he recovers from surgery on the knee.” – Alex Kay
WR Michael Wilson: “He looks confident in his role as he continues to see more responsibilities thrown his way.”
“Hollywood Brown figures to command most of the attention from the quarterback, but the grouping of Wilson, Rondale Moore, Greg Dortch and Zach Pascal should also see an uptick in targets with Hopkins off the roster.” (link)
“And while the coaching staff continues to tweak the offense and where Wilson lines up, he’s been learning everything he can about playing the X at the highest level. Proving he can nail down the ins and out of one of the most important positions to Gannon’s explosive-play philosophy would go a long way in securing a meaningful role in Year 1.”
Atlanta Falcons: The Athletic link
Kyle Pitts has been around the Falcons facility intermittently, but he was not spotted on the field during portions of practices open to the media this week. “(We) feel good about where he’s at,” head coach Arthur Smith said.
Mack Hollins praised for leadership, clear WR2.
Cordarrelle Patterson, who is entering his 11th season, said he would prefer for his role this season to more closely resemble 2021 (9.5 carries per game, 3.3 catches per game) than 2022 (11 carries per game, 1.6 catches per game).
Baltimore Ravens: The Athletic link
OC Todd Monken: “it’s been clear that Monken has prioritized playing at a faster pace, getting the backs involved in the passing game and executing in the red zone.”
Nelson Agholor: “with Rashod Bateman sidelined and Beckham ramping up slowly, Agholor took advantage of the reps with Lamar Jackson. He caught several deep passes, and he and Jackson were on the same page on a number of back-shoulder throws.”
Justice Hill: He was involved heavily in every practice, running, catching and special teams. Dobbins was not participating and Edwards only did individual drills, so plenty of reps for Justice, who’s guaranteed to be on the team with his Special Teams background.
JK Dobbins: likely holding out because of contract frustrations
Odell Beckham Jr.: “Beckham was targeted four different times in full-team or seven-on-seven work and none of the throws resulted in completions.”
Rashod Bateman: Received cortisone shot in his foot as he continues rehab from the Lisfranc injury last year. Hopefully ready for start of training camp, would be concerned if not ready by then.
Buffalo Bills: The Athletic link
Stefon Diggs: Excused from first practice after frustrations arose about Diggs’ role. He was back at practice the following day, but not doing team drills yet.
Trent Sherfield: “has stepped up and been a favorite (target) of Allen’s.” “Of Allen’s 12 attempts that weren’t clear throwaways, he targeted Sherfield four times for three completions.” “of the players vying to be the third receiver behind the starters, Diggs and Gabe Davis, Sherfield has stood out the most this spring. That’s not to slight Shakir and Deonte Harty, as they’ve also made some good plays this spring, but Sherfield has consistently stood out during open practices”
Dawson Knox: Injured his leg on first day of practice but was able to walk gingerly away. Did not practice the next day, but it does not appear to be serious.
Carolina Panthers: The Athletic link
Bryce Young has already won the respect of his veteran teammates.
“Someone asked Reich if there were any players who surprised him with their performances this spring. Reich eventually (begrudgingly) mentioned two guys — rookie receiver Jonathan Mingo and second-year running back Raheem Blackshear. Mingo is a big, strong wideout who should be an asset to Young on short crossing routes. Blackshear showed off good burst in the return game as a rookie. But he also has good hands and can catch the ball out of the backfield, which — similar to Mingo — should benefit a rookie quarterback.”
Chicago Bears: The Athletic link
Justin Fields to DJ Moore: “Their rapport has been the best part of the offense this spring.
Robert Tonyan: “Tonyan has been pretty involved with the first-team offense, setting up an expectation for more 12 personnel this season with two tight ends on the field”
Chase Claypool: Currently dealing with a soft tissue injury. There’s also a rumor going around saying the Bears are unhappy with his performance and level of motivation.
Khalil Herbert has the RB1 lead for now, will be determined at training camp.
Irv Smith: “If there can be a takeaway to an otherwise mundane, boring collection of practices thus far, it was that Smith moves quite well. You can spot the difference between him and Hurst, specifically, in running the seam.”
Joe Mixon: “The endgame will be about whether or not he’s willing to realign his $12.8 million cap hit and $10 million in cash to the current state of the running back market. If he’s not, the Bengals will probably tap into the veteran backwaters that are currently overflowing with victims of the philosophical shift away from paying the position.”
Unsure on who the RB2 is here. Chase Brown, Trayveon Williams or FA.
Draft Ja’Marr Chase.
Cleveland Brown: The Athletic link
“Deshaun Watson was the star. His wide receivers were pretty impressive, too, and the Browns closed three weeks of what was essentially a passing camp with an impressive showing from the pass game.”
“Donovan Peoples-Jones was everywhere during Tuesday’s practice, and Watson kept finding him. Elijah Moore, one of the new guys, was the most targeted player throughout the five open spring practices and caught just about everything thrown his way.”
Cedric Tillman: “Tillman is a big target and smooth route runner, and though I didn’t see enough of him this spring to really say more than that, I thought it was notable that he was getting at least some reps with the No. 1 offense in early June.”
“Right now, I don’t see either David Bell or Anthony Schwartz making this team.”
“Chubb is the guy. Ford is going to be given every chance to be the guy behind the guy. Demetric Felton is moving back to running back and will be in the summer mix, but we’ll see what happens. I believe the Browns know they can find a veteran runner if necessary but won’t be in a hurry to sign one.”
Dallas Cowboys: The Athletic link
Malik Davis: “As of today, Davis is the most likely candidate to back up Pollard and pick up a big chunk of those 248 touches Elliott had last season.”
Simi Fehoko: “Fehoko was running with the second-team offense throughout OTAs and minicamp. The No. 4 and No. 5 spots are wide open. Fehoko will have every opportunity to win one of those jobs in training camp and the preseason.”
Jalen Tolbert: “He will be given every opportunity to win the No. 4 job during training camp and the preseason. Everyone within the organization has spoken highly of how Tolbert has handled himself since having a disappointing rookie year.”
Jake Ferguson: “Ferguson was Dallas’ No. 2 tight end last season as a rookie, catching 19 of his 22 targets for 174 yards and two touchdowns. He started eight games last season and could start twice as many in 2023.”
Denver Broncos: The Athletic link
Wilson is also noticeably slimmer now than he was at the end of last season, saying in his lone news conference during the offseason program that he feels “lean and mean.”
Tim Patrick was already participating in full-team drills during OTAs and mandatory minicamp, leaving him on pace to be ready for the season opener against the Raiders on Sept. 10. It is hard to overstate his presence. He is the team’s best blocker at the position, a player who can help Payton and the offensive staff dial up mismatches when they use him in the slot.
It is easy to see tight end Greg Dulcich being more effective in his second season, and Payton has said the 2022 third-round pick could play a “joker” role in Denver’s offense that would seek to create mismatches for him against various defensive alignments.
Samaje Perine is a more impactful threat out of the backfield than anything Denver had following the Week 4 knee injury to Javonte Williams, who continues to be on track for a Week 1 return.
Detroit Lions: The Athletic link
We already know Jameson Williams will miss the first six games of the season, leaving the team without its main vertical threat. But if Amon-Ra St. Brown goes down — especially during that six-game window — the Lions might have to get creative elsewhere. Josh Reynolds, Marvin Jones Jr. and Kalif Raymond are solid secondary options, but St. Brown is the only established difference-maker.
Jahmyr Gibbs has looked as advertised in the media viewing windows — a multifaceted weapon who can be just as explosive in the slot as he is in the backfield. He got plenty of first-team reps at running back with David Montgomery out, but the Lions made it a point of emphasis to move him all over the place.
Sam LaPorta is an energizer bunny and a quarterback’s best friend on the field. I don’t think I saw him drop a pass and he routinely found ways to get open and pick up yards after the catch.
The Jameson Williams Experience is just that — an experience. During scrimmage work with the starting offense versus the starting defense, Goff and the offense got into the red zone. Goff dropped back, saw a streaking Williams with Cam Sutton trailing, let it rip and hit him right in the chest in the end zone. Williams dropped it. But a few plays later, Williams ran an inside post route to the back middle of the end zone, noticed Goff rolling toward the sideline, hit the brakes and worked back to Goff, hauling in an impressive touchdown toward the back of the end zone, making sure to get two feet in bounds.
Green Bay Packers:
Luke Musgrave: “In all likelihood, he is going to be relied upon somewhat heavily, and we saw that already during offseason programs.”
In the five practice sessions over the last month that were open to the media, the Packers ran multiple 7-on-7 or 11-on-11 team drills. More often than not, Musgrave was out on the field with starting offense that included Christian Watson, Romeo Doubs, Jayden Reed, and Aaron Jones.
The connection between Green Bay Packers’ quarterback Jordan Love and wide receiver Romeo Doubs has been evident this offseason, but we can’t forget about Christian Watson either. In terms of catches or targets, Watson didn’t see as many opportunities as Doubs had during OTAs–or at least not in the practice sessions that were open to the media. However, what I have seen is a confident player who is running crisp routes, showing consistent hands, and frequently talking with, and presumably coaching up, his fellow receivers during drills.
Jayden Reed will be featured in the slot in 3WR sets, and likely get some punt return opportunities.
Stroud did not disappoint with his opportunity. Though the 2023 second-overall selection did toss a pick six in the 11 on 11 portions of today’s practices, he displayed equally positive indicators of his arm talent and poise in the pocket, traits that led to his high selection. (link)
“The main three that stood out were rookies Xavier Hutchinson, Tank Dell, and young veteran Nico Collins. Each receiver displayed chemistry and consistency with their signal caller and signs that they are ready to take that next step and provide valuable short-term contributions to their NFL club. “
“When I was reviewing highlights of the offensive portion of drills one specific play that stood out to me was on a Nico Collins sideline grab. During the play, Stroud was able to connect with Collins through the teeth of the defense for a tough catch. Those two have shown excellent rapport thus far in spring sessions. ” (link)
Indianapolis Colts: ColtsWire link
“For the typical update at the quarterback position, rookie Anthony Richardson and veteran Gardner Minshew split reps with the first-team offense throughout the two-day minicamp. They both saw the same number of reps in full team drills with the starting offense while Richardson saw some extra reps with the second team as well.”
“A mild surprise came out of the backfield during minicamp. Jonathan Taylor continues to work his way back from offseason ankle surgery, and Zack Moss was absent due to the birth of his child. It was Funk who worked with the first-team offense during both days of minicamp. There should be a lively competition between Funk, Deon Jackson and sixth-round pick Evan Hull during training camp, but it was interesting that Funk was the starter with Taylor and Moss out.”
“The aforementioned Taylor (ankle) is hoping to be ready for the start of training camp.”
“We shouldn’t get too worked up yet because the spring practices are not about the stats produced during full team drills, but it’s impossible to ignore the struggles from both Anthony Richardson and Gardner Minshew. According to Kevin Bowen of 1075 The Fan, the duo combined to go “5-of-20 in the 11-on-11 work in the two minicamp practices.” There were some flashes from Richardson, but the defense mainly won the practices. This will matter more if the storyline dominates training camp.”
“The Auburn rookie turned heads in rookie minicamp last month, especially with his hands. His receiving skills hadn’t really been his selling point in draft reviews and outlooks, so that was a pleasant surprise for those that were in attendance. Bigsby reportedly continued to impress last week in the team’s mandatory minicamp, with his hands again being the story. ” (link)
“I’ve been really impressed with Calvin (Ridley),” Jags offensive coordinator Press Taylor told reporters. “I’ve watched every snap Calvin’s played in the NFL, just like a lot of our guys have, so we’re very confident in the player we’re getting. And then to be able to meet him in person, we’ve had a lot of people vouch for him going back to when we acquired him.” (link)
Kansas City Chiefs:
“Skyy Moore, the second-year receiver, was one of the biggest winners from the minicamp.”
“Skyy was one of the higher-targeted receivers,” Reid said. “He had close to the most catches. I think he’s taking a good jump. The quarterback trusts him. There’s still a ton of room to climb. He’s so willing, though.”
Running backs Isiah Pacheco (rehabbing from surgeries to repair a torn labrum and a broken bone in his hand) and Jerick McKinnon (rest), and tight end Blake Bell (appendectomy) didn’t to participate in the minicamp.
Deneric Prince: “He’s a lot of fun to be (around in the backfield). He had a great catch on a deep ball that Pat (Mahomes) threw him. It was unbelievable to see a rookie running back, especially a big running back like that, jump, twist and catch a back-shoulder (pass). Prince didn’t celebrate after the repetition. He just returned to the offense’s sideline to prepare for his next rep. Such a sequence, in just a few weeks in the Chiefs’ offseason program, has become routine. Prince has made both simple receptions and impressive receptions, impressing the coaching staff and the player personnel department in the process.”
Las Vegas Raiders: The Athletic link
Jimmy Garoppolo hasn’t practiced since signing with the Raiders this offseason after undergoing foot surgery in March, but he’s still been an off-the-field participant at team headquarters during OTAs. Besides rehabbing, his work has included learning the scheme, watching film and familiarizing himself with his coaches and teammates.
“Zamir White could be ready for a larger role”: White has displayed growth in his knowledge of the system, pass protection ability, overall awareness and ball carrier vision. “Confidence,” running backs coach Kennedy Polamalu said Tuesday about where White has made the most improvement. “When he gets his opportunity, he’ll be prepared and ready to go do some good things.”
Receiver Jakobi Meyers and tight end Michael Mayer are two of the most notable additions, but both missed the entirety of mandatory minicamp for undisclosed reasons. It doesn’t mean much for Meyers, who’ll be a guaranteed starter alongside Davante Adams and Hunter Renfrow, but it leaves Mayer, who’s competing with Austin Hooper and O.J. Howard for the starting tight end job, with some catching up to do.
Los Angeles Chargers: The Athletic link
“The Chargers want to be more explosive as an offense this year. That starts with their quarterback leaning into his otherworldly arm talent. I think we are seeing the very early signs of that happening.”
“It was only seven-on-seven drills in three practices, but I saw a much more aggressive version of Justin Herbert in the spring. First, he is healthy. Herbert battled fractured rib cartilage and a torn labrum in his non-throwing shoulder last season. Health certainly makes a difference. But there are other factors at play. Kellen Moore’s influence, in terms of scheme and coaching, is a part of it. Herbert growing as a player is part of it, too. He is more experienced.”
“During minicamp, we got to see Allen, Williams and rookie Quentin Johnston all on the field for the first time. This is going to be a scary trio. Johnston, with his explosiveness and yards-after-the-catch ability, brings a skill set that was really missing from this group. Through spring practices, you could just feel the extra dimension on the field.”
Tight Ends: “My big takeaway from spring practices: The Chargers have some real receiving weapons in this group. Parham looked healthy and lively. Gerald Everett is coming off a career season as a receiver. Even Stone Smartt made some plays in the spring as he enters his second season.”
“Justin Herbert continued to air it out during team drills. On Tuesday, Herbert had quite a bit of success targeting Mike Williams and Keenan Allen on back shoulder and deep throws.” (link)
“(Mike) Williams spoke with local media for the first time since he suffered a fractured back in Week 18 that forced him to miss the playoff loss to the Jaguars. He said he was cleared for football activities “two to three weeks after the season.””
Los Angeles Rams: The Athletic link
“Receiver Cooper Kupp went through individual drills with teammates, but not 11-on-11s. “
In red zone 11-on-11s, Stafford hit receiver Van Jefferson with a dart of a throw through the middle of the field into the back of the end zone. Jefferson toe-tapped inbounds as he secured the catch.
Rams backup quarterback Stetson Bennett is, of course, still learning the ropes. But especially when he’s throwing on the move or out of structure, he has become appointment viewing. In red zone 11-on-11 drills with pressure looming (again, quarterbacks can’t get hit, linemen can’t really block, pass rushers can’t really rush), Bennett rolled to his right and flicked a pass across his body and into the outstretched arms of tight end Brycen Hopkins in the back of the end zone.
Rams head coach Sean McVay has been impressed with Atwell through the spring. Atwell, he noted, is aligning in a couple of different spots (and he will work out at punt returner, among other players). Stafford hit him on a slick pass across the middle during another part of 11-on-11s and Atwell also worked into the Rams’ goal-line sequence and caught a short touchdown pass. (link)
Atwell and other receivers are getting a larger workload because Van Jefferson has been somewhat limited (he started practice by working on the side with athletic trainers before joining the group on offense) and Ben Skowronek has been dealing with an unspecified foot injury. Veteran receiver Cooper Kupp, who missed most of the OTAs, has upgraded to doing jog-through installations and individual drills but has not been a full participant in 11-on-11s.
Among those receivers getting more opportunities, McVay said he has liked what he has seen from rookie Puka Nacua and second-year player Lance McCutcheon. But the Rams also added two veteran receivers, Tyler Johnson and Demarcus Robinson, who will help them execute practice the way they need to and could even stick to the roster after training camp.
“Coming off a historic record-breaking 2022 campaign for wide receiver Tyreek Hill, you may ask how he could even improve this season. Well, according to head coach Mike McDaniel, Hill is lightyears ahead of where he was this point last season. It helps that he has a year of the Dolphins’ offense under his belt, but growth as a receiver is a really good sign. Hill had missed a bit of camp last season due to injury and having him all the way back this offseason seems to be very beneficial for the team.” (link)
“According to David Furones, a surprise name is showing out in OTA’s. 30-year-old Robbie Chosen, F.K.A Robbie Anderson, has had a really encouraging camp thus far”
“According to most media outlets present at training camp, and even Mike McDaniel, Tua is starting to emerge as one of the leading voices of the team.”
“Per ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler, there was a practice session in which the Dolphins offense was playing sloppy and just not clicking at all. Tua took it upon himself to pause the practice session and speak to his offensive unit, even “laying into” the team — not out of spite, but as a motivated leader. We have not seen that side of Tua in Miami yet. He’s been cool, calm and collected, but that fiery edge he seems to be bringing in 2023 could take this Dolphins team to the next level.”
“According to Sports Illustrated’s Omar Kelly, who was also at training camp, Dolphins’ third-round pick Devon Achane is a burner. While he did mention there’s not much running the ball in OTA’s, likely to minimize contact and injury, Achane has still been a standout. Kelly says that Achane took an end-around handoff 20+ yards before the play was blown dead, then caught a 20+ yard ball on a wheel route down the left sidelines.”
“The Vikings have used draft capital on Chandler and McBride in recent years. Plus, Nwangwu, who is the team’s kick returner, has also spent a chunk of spring snaps working with the first team. Training camp will clarify the state of the backup competition, but it’s hard to see McBride not figuring into the mix when contact periods begin.”
“Running back Kene Nwangwu is vying for the backup job behind Alexander Mattison. Nwangwu offers a change-of-pace style that has been evident for a couple of years on kick returns. He frequently was used alongside Cousins in 11-on-11 snaps and could earn the spot depending on the development of Chandler and rookie DeWayne McBride.”
“The two most viable backups are Ty Chandler and Kene Nwangwu. Chandler, who despite being older than Mattison (25) is entering his second season, had just six carries in 2022, all coming in garbage time of the Week 18 matchup against the Chicago Bears. Chandler has the necessary speed. He ran a 4.38 40-yard dash at the combine. He is about 10 pounds lighter than Mattison, though, which may affect his ultimate three-down potential. Nwangwu, meanwhile, was a fourth-round pick in 2021 whose skill set also lends itself more to the change-of-pace style.” (link)
“Recently acquired tight end Josh Oliver made two impressive catches Wednesday, including an over-the-top grab in the red zone. The narrative around Oliver’s signing was that he would mostly serve as a blocker in the run game. But even offensive coordinator Wes Phillips said recently that Oliver could do more through the air than most realized. Hockenson will, of course, remain the primary pass-catching tight end. But Oliver’s frame may fit perfectly in the team’s red zone pursuits.”
New England Patriots: The Athletic link
The most encouraging development was Jones’ chemistry with Henry (to whom he completed 10 of 13 passes) and Gesicki (9 of 10). Jones was connecting with his tight ends on a variety of routes at all three levels, so they’re in a very good place at this stage of the offseason.
The connection with Parker sputtered Monday with three completions and three batted passes, but they were much better Tuesday (5-of-7). It was the opposite with Bourne, who thrived Monday (4-of-4) on those shorter passes against the zone but didn’t catch either of his two targets Tuesday.
Thornton, their 2022 second-round pick, practiced with more confidence and system awareness earlier in the spring but wasn’t able to carry that momentum through minicamp due to an injury.
JuJu Smith-Schuster was unable to participate.
The Patriots have plenty of interest in DeAndre Hopkins.
Ty Montgomery‘s “play in spring practices indicates he could find a role as a pass-catching back on third downs.”
New Orleans Saints:
There were highlight players for the New Orleans Saints, but Chris Olave and Derek Carr seemed to be the most consistent standouts. That’s a good thing. It was the leadership Carr showed that stood out more than anything else. His presence was commanding and he was constantly working with his targets on things like ball placement.
Chris Olave was held out of the last day of minicamp with Achilles inflammation, but he made some of the biggest plays during minicamp prior to that. His biggest play was a deep catch over Alontae Taylor. Olave came into camp slightly heavier than we saw last year, which benefited him on contested catches like the pass against Taylor. Simply put, Olave has stolen the show this offseason. (link)
Of the first two days the connection between Derek Carr and Chris Olave was amazing to see. Olave was labeled as minicamp MVP by NewOrleans.Football reporter Nick Underhill. Carr hit Olave on multiple big time throws down field. Alontae Taylor also flashed all over the field, he ended day 2 of practice with a pick 6. Paulsen Adebo and Alontae Taylor have been splitting reps at outside corner. (link)
Taysom Hill expects to be more of a pass catcher in the offense. Hill spent time at QB and TE during minicamp but said he expects to have a larger role in the pass offense.
During the three-day camp the biggest takeaways were the immediate impact of Derek Carr and the potential of how good this offense can be when healthy and available. Alvin Kamara showed out like he always does; it was a reminder to everyone that when he is available, he will be productive with the right offense around him.
New York Giants: The Athletic link
One development that could carry over is wide receiver Parris Campbell’s sizable role in the offense. Campbell was a more high-profile free-agent signing than Richie James, but it was still eye-opening to see how heavily involved the former Ohio State star was this spring. Practice stats are what they are, but Campbell’s 15 catches from Jones were four more than any receiver in the open practices this spring. That instant chemistry is important in an offense so reliant on reads and timing. Campbell also got reps at running back in individual periods during both minicamp practices. He also lined up at running back and got handoffs during walk-through install periods.
The reviews on tight end Darren Waller couldn’t be more glowing from teammates and coaches. But the Giants consciously limited Waller’s workload this spring. The 30-year-old missed 14 games over the past two seasons with ankle, knee and hamstring injuries, so the Giants and Waller are focused on having him ready to complete a healthy season.
The Giants are bringing rookie wide receiver Jalin Hyatt along slowly. The third-round pick mostly worked with the third-team offense this spring.
Sterling Shepard looked explosive while running routes and catching passes from Jones early in Wednesday’s practice. Shepard said he’s “right on schedule” in his ACL rehab and is aiming to be ready for the start of the season.
Saquon Barkley is yet to sign his franchise tag deal.
New York Jets: The Athletic link
TE Jeremy Ruckert: Tyler Conklin was out and C.J. Uzomah got hurt at the end of camp, so Ruckert got some valuable reps with Rodgers. The 2022 third-round pick is ready for a bigger role.
WR Jason Brownlee: The UDFA made plays in all the practices open to media. He’ll be pushing Denzel Mims for a roster spot and I think he has a legit chance to make it.
Draft Garrett Wilson.
“Garrett Wilson: Wilson looked like the Jets’ best player during OTAs. He has an impressive ability to catch just about any pass, even inaccurate ones thrown away from his body. “Garrett’s spatial awareness is off the charts,” wide receivers coach Zach Azzanni said. He’s climbed the ladder to make difficult catches over D.J. Reed, one of the NFL’s best cornerbacks, and he’s transformed himself physically since being drafted last year. Once he and Rodgers get going, they’ll be scary together.”
Breece Hall, Randall Cobb, Mecole Hardman, and Zonovan Knight all worked on the side w/ trainers.
Breece Hall: He’s still recovering from last season’s ACL injury, but he’s progressing faster than expected. The Jets seem confident he’ll be back for training camp and Week 1, but the biggest question is how quickly he’ll show the same in-game explosiveness he flashed as a rookie. The Jets are exploring the possibility of signing former Vikings star Dalvin Cook, too.
Mecole Hardman: He’s still recovering from an abdominal injury suffered with the Chiefs last season. He’ll play a big role in the offense and should be fun to watch in training camp, but only once he’s healthy.
Corey Davis: He attended the start of the offseason program but missed the latter part of OTAs, per Robert Saleh, once his wife had a child. The Jets insist he’s an important part of their offense, so for now we’ll assume he’s sticking around — even if he’s set for the third-highest cap hit on the team ($11.1 million) while possibly being the third or fourth receiver. I wouldn’t be surprised if there were a restructure at some point.
Before practice, Sirianni identified Watkins as someone who’s stood out this spring. He was aware that Watkins had been under scrutiny after regressing last season. (link)
Jalen Hurts’ newfound riches did not seem to affect his ability to throw the ball. His first throw of seven-on-sevens was a dart over the middle to Quez Watkins. He later fit a pass to Dallas Goedert into a very tight window, though much of his work seemed to be focused on giving outside receivers shots to win one-on-one. Most often, that was A.J. Brown, though Darius Slay broke up a pair of Hurts passes downfield. (link)
Pittsburgh Steelers: The Athletic link
You probably couldn’t have asked for more out of (Allen) Robinson during the past month. It was unknown how much he would participate after the Steelers traded for him in March. He was still recovering from foot surgery, and all indications were spring practices would be nothing more than conditioning for him. Instead, starting midway through, Robinson participated fully and impressed in every facet, especially in the slot at the goal line.
Najee Harris looked like he slimmed down a tad and seemed much more explosive than what we saw last year. And kudos to him. I don’t think he missed one practice.
Jaylen Warren is a beast, and the second year for running backs usually results in a body transformation. The way he attacks the hole during drills is something to be seen. He looks bigger, but he says he’s not. It doesn’t matter, because there is no way offensive coordinator Matt Canada can keep him off the field as much as he did last season.
Darnell Washington got a lot better as spring practices went on, and that’s good. What wasn’t good: his hands and ability to get in and out of breaks. He looked like he was lumbering down the field. Based solely on what I saw during camp, Washington might not be an immediate contributor to the passing game. I said that on day one of the spring, but he started to prove me wrong as it went on
Diontae Johnson didn’t do anything bad and looked sharp. However, his choice to work out in Florida with his trainer, which he openly posted on social media, might not have been the best idea. Selfishly, I would’ve liked to see him here more, trying to create a rapport with Pickett.
San Francisco 49ers: The Athletic link
The best player on the field was wideout Brandon Aiyuk.
Still, the fact that Aiyuk was one of the few A-listers to participate underscores how driven he is this season. And that, combined with George Kittle’s health (he’s in better shape this offseason than last year at this time), Deebo Samuel’s motivation (See: “awful” 2022 season) and the fact that A-lister Christian McCaffrey also participated (more on that to come), suggests that San Francisco’s Week 1 weaponry will be more powerful than it’s been in a long, long time.
Lance’s throwing motion may be more streamlined than last year, but it didn’t translate into particularly pretty stats. He was 11-of-19 (57.9 percent) in the 11-on-11 sessions that were open to reporters. Yes, that’s a very small sample size — too small to make any sweeping judgments.
Still, that completion percentage will be something to watch in training camp. Lance completed 54.7 percent of his attempts last summer. The 49ers would love to see that jump into the 60 percent range this year.
By comparison, Darnold completed 9-of-17 passes (52.9 percent) of his 11-on-11 attempts while Brandon Allen, who was a red-hot 4-of-4 heading into Wednesday’s session, crashed with a 1-of-8 performance and finished the spring at 41.7 percent.
Mason also stood out. With Elijah Mitchell working through what appears to be a minor injury on a side field, Mason was the de facto No. 2 tailback in the minicamp. That meant a lot of passes went in his direction and he looked natural in that role.
Rookie receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba has been as advertised in practice. At times he looks very similar to Tyler Lockett in that his movements never seem forced. Everything is fluid, from the releases to the catching and then the moves after the reception. (link)
“He’s come in and treated it like he’s a vet already,” Metcalf said of Smith-Njigba on Wednesday. “He knows how to run routes. He knows his body, he knows how to catch. So, it’s really just teaching him the playbook. He’s already ahead of the curve of learning the technique that (receivers coach) Sanjay (Lal) is teaching. He’s just fitting in with the drills and the plays we’re calling.”
Smith has a strong connection with Metcalf, and the defense knows it, so each practice has been fun in terms of watching how that back and forth plays out. On the first play of seven-on-seven on Wednesday, Metcalf broke free on an out-breaking route. Smith saw how the defense was positioned and did a good job anticipating the throw so safety Julian Love couldn’t impact the ball as Metcalf hauled it in near the sideline. (link)
Smith came right back to Metcalf later in the drill when the receiver sniffed out the soft spot in the defense’s zone coverage.
Later in the session, Metcalf hit Braswell with another double move down the sideline and caught a long touchdown from Smith. Then Metcalf got by Jackson in the back of the end zone during a red zone drill and made a nice diving grab for a score.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers:
Both Mayfield and Trask turned the ball over too frequently in practice, but that’s expected when installing a new offense. The battle for the starting job likely will last until after the final preseason game, and neither player was able to be crowned in the offseason. (link)
For Rachaad White, he noted that there has been a difference with all of the new faces in town – the biggest being offensive coordinator Dave Canales, whose natural energy and vibe have positively affected the team. (link)
“The energy has been great,” White said. “Obviously, we’re all happy about it. Pocket movement and just getting the defense running side to side – it’s just a well-balanced offense to me.
“Then the shots and the plays you see guys like Chris [Godwin] and Mike [Evans make] and how they are open. Mike comes to the sideline and says, ‘Man, I haven’t really been this open in a minute. It feels good.’ Just seeing things like that. It’s been happiness. It’s been fun.”
“Besides Evans and Chris Godwin, the biggest playmaker is White. There should be a balance between putting the ball into each of their hands, which is what the sophomore back out of Arizona State sees as being the case.”
Tennessee Titans: The Athletic link
There’s a large gap between Tannehill and his backups — as of right now, No. 2 quarterback Malik Willis and No. 3 quarterback Levis.
The offense is different enough to detect that with relative ease from the sidelines of a few reps in shorts and helmets. The Titans’ rules on what can and can’t be reported from practice restrict too many specifics, but Tim Kelly had a version of the New England offense in Houston and has installed it in Nashville. Yes, the Titans will go fast at times, but the biggest changes I see are some of the route combinations and the creativity involved in moving people around — rookie running back Tyjae Spears, for example, who is going to make some plays this season.
Treylon Burks and Chig Okonkwo both look good. Two plays stand out. On one, Okonkwo got loose downfield against Amani Hooker and Tannehill put one on him for an eye-popper of a touchdown (around 50 yards). On the other, Byard had Burks as well-covered as a receiver can be on a crossing route in red zone drills, but Tannehill let it rip anyway and Burks somehow came away with the ball. Byard was compelled to tip the cap to him after that one. And we are compelled to keep in mind that this is pseudo-football in the spring.
Derrick Henry looks lean and fast. You don’t have to chalk that one up to the spring.
The second-year quarterback passed the initial offseason tests. While Ron Rivera said it is still a competition, Howell maintained the pole position for QB1 honors. Howell’s arm talent — accuracy and strength — flashed, especially on underneath and sideline throws to tight end Logan Thomas and others. Howell’s footwork has improved since last season. His mobility and gritty mindset will lead to gains on the ground.
“He’s shown improvement,” Rivera said, “and that’s probably the biggest thing that we’re excited about.”
“Eric wants to make sure (Antonio) gets as many opportunities right now to show us what he’s capable of,” Rivera continued, “because I think that’ll be a big part of the game planning.”
Bieniemy brought the RB screen, an afterthought last season in Washington, from Kansas City. As evidenced during minicamp, Gibson’s size-speed-hands combination makes him a dynamic option for such plays.
Paulsen, a former NFL tight end, called Thomas “outstanding” in practices. He noted the 6-foot-6 target was consistently “using his frame against smaller defenders to make plays,” along with an apparent good rapport with Howell.
Trainers continue treating wide receiver Curtis Samuel like a sports car by monitoring him closely for warning signs.
Washington sought sixth-round running back Chris Rodriguez to spell Brian Robinson’s interior running. He’ll do that, but he falls third in line for touches behind Robinson and Antonio Gibson.