Training Camp Battles: Week in Review, Preseason Week 1
By now, all NFL teams have played at least one preseason game, giving us a better glimpse of what they’re thinking in terms of training camp battles and depth charts.
Let’s take a look how things now stand with three more preseason weeks to go.
Cleveland quarterback: Head coach Mike Pettine denied reports by ESPN that Johnny Manziel has moved ahead of Brian Hoyer on the depth chart. But both will continue to get first-team reps. Hoyer was 6 of 14 for 92 yards and led the Browns to a pair of field goals working with the first unit. Manziel was 7 of 11 for 63 yards and added a team-high 27 yards on six carries. But he also led the backups to just one field goal. Hoyer opened practice Monday with the starters. The Steelers, meanwhile, continue to say both privately and publicly that they expect Manziel to start the opener Sept. 7.
Jacksonville quarterback: Chad Henne was 4 for 7 for just 30 yards working with the starters, though No. 1 receiver Cecil Shorts is still out and running back Toby Gehart didn’t play, either. Rookie Blake Bortles, meanwhile, was 7 of 11 for 117 yards with three dropped passes. Henne remains the starter, but with the team not necessarily playing for this season – though certainly nobody is going to say that – Bortles, the No. 3 pick in this year’s draft, could be starting sooner rather than later.
N.Y. Giants No. 2 wide receiver: We all know that Victor Cruz is No. 1, but who will emerge as Eli Manning’s No. 2 option? Jerrel Jernigan and Rueben Randle, expected to start opposite Cruz, haven’t done much to impress. Jernigan didn’t have a catch against the Steelers, getting targeted once, while Randle had one catch for 12 yards on three targets. Beckham is due back at practice today after resting his sore hamstring. He was considered the most pro-ready receiver in the draft.
Philadelphia WR: Riley Cooper will return to practice this week after sitting out with a foot injury and Jeremy Maclin’s preseason got underway OK in limited playing time, as he saw his first action since tearing his ACL last year, catching one pass for 15 yards. Rookie Jordan Matthews led the team with seven targets in the opener, but caught just four passes for 14 yards. Tight end Zach Ertz, meanwhile, played most of the first half and caught four passes for 60 yards. Veteran Brad Smith, who is still listed as the No. 3 receiver ahead of Matthews, had one reception for five yards. Jeff Maehl, who had been running with the first team with Cooper out, was inactive with an ankle sprain.
Chicago No. 2 running back: Rookie Ka’Deem Carey got the majority of the snaps behind Matt Forte in the preseason opener. Carey, however, had 10 carries for just 23 yards. Michael Ford, the other back in the mix, didn’t fare much better, gaining 15 yards on five carries. The Bears seem intent on giving the job to Carey.
Green Bay No. 2 running back: James Starks has had many chances over the years to be the man in Green Bay. But with starter Eddie Lacy sitting out the opener, Starks showed he’s clearly Green Bay’s second option, gaining 49 yards on six carries and scoring from 20 yards out. DuJuan Harris had just 18 yards on seven carries.
Minnesota quarterback: Matt Cassel started the Vikings’ opener, but rookie Teddy Bridgewater came in midway through the first quarter with the starters and played through the third quarter. Bridgewater’s first pass was a 21-yarder to Greg Jennings, but it was called back due to an illegal formation. He finished 6 of 13 for 49 yards. Cassel was much sharper, completing 5 of 6 attempts for 62 yards in his one series, a 70-yard drive that ended in a touchdown. The job, at least at this point, is Cassel’s to lose, though Bridgewater will continue to get opportunities with the starters.
Atlanta No. 2 running back: With Steven Jackson sitting out – get used to that – Jacquizz Rodgers got the start at running back. In fact, both he and Antone Smith worked ahead of rookie Devonta Freeman. Rodgers had 20 yards and a touchdown on seven carries, while Smith, working with the No. 2 unit had a 76-yard touchdown run called back due to a penalty. He had three carries for five yards. But Freeman was the star despite his late start. He had 107 total yards of offense, gaining 50 yards on 10 carries and catching a pass for 57 yards. Look for more of the same from Freeman moving forward and take him as the backup to Jackson, who has more miles on him than a 1978 Toyota.
Carolina running back: Jonathan Stewart, who pulled a hamstring before the start of training camp, is set to return to action. Once again, he’ll be part of a three-headed backfield that includes DeAngelo Williams and Mike Tolbert. Stewart has been limited to just 17 games in the past two seasons, so stick with Williams as the No. 1 guy and Tolbert as the short-yardage guy – he scored five times in 2013 compared to just three for Williams – but a healthy Stewart could cut into Williams’ carries moving forward.
New Orleans running back: Khiry Robinson and Mark Ingram split time with the first unit this week – albeit without Drew Brees. Robinson had five carries for 23 yards and a touchdown, adding 16 yards on two receptions. Ingram, meanwhile, had eight carries for 83 yards and also scored on a 22-yard run. He also caught one pass for four yards. As we’ve seen in the past, the Saints will likely use multiple backs, with Pierre Thomas also in the mix. Thomas sat out the preseason opener and Ingram certainly showed he’s capable of carrying the load. Robinson was impressive as well with his finishes. All three will have value this season, but this could be a breakout year for Ingram.
Tampa Bay quarterback: Free agent acquisition Josh McCown played with the starters, while Mike Glennon, the 2013 starter, played with the backups. Glennon was certainly sharper, completing 11 of 19 passes for 140 yards and the team’s lone touchdown. McCown, meanwhile was 2 of 4 for 20 yards and an interception. McCown has a history with new head coach Lovie Smith, but Glennon could force the issue if he continues to play well.
St. Louis wide receiver: Cross Chris Givens off your list of potential Rams starters. He’s been pushed aside by Kenny Britt, Brian Quick, Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey. Britt has been lauded for his leadership – go figure – while Quick is considered the team’s most improved player. Austin, meanwhile, remains the team’s most dynamic player. The Rams will figure out ways to get the ball in his hands. But Britt and Quick could be options two or three with tight end Jared Cook also in the mix.
San Francisco backup running back: The 49ers sat Frank Gore in the opener and took a good long look at rookie Carlos Hyde. He didn’t disappoint, gaining 39 yards on five carries. If you take Gore, you’d better look to grab Hyde as well.
San Diego running back: As it was in 2013, this is looking like a committee approach. Ryan Matthews, despite his strong finish last season, split first-team reps with Danny Woodhead in the opener. Matthews had five carries for 19 yards, while Woodhead had two for 10. But Woodhead also had one reception for 25 yards. Woodhead will have more value in PPR leagues, while Matthews will be the guy in standard leagues. Of course, you also have Donald Brown in the mix, as well, to vulture some carries and touchdowns. All three guys had at least 100 carries in 2013.
Oakland running back: Despite Darren McFadden being listed as the starter, it was newcomer Maurice Jones-Drew who actually got the start in the Raiders’ opener. Of course, he only got two carries for 10 yards while also catching two passes for 14 yards. McFadden got just one carry but it went for 23 yards. Don’t read too much into that, however. This could wind up as a true split depending on how long both are healthy.
Denver running back: Starter Montee Ball might sit out the preseason after having an emergency appendectomy. That’s not great news for those hoping to see how the second-year back handles the starting duties. Ball is hoping to return in two weeks, but head coach John Fox isn’t going to push matters. Ronnie Hilman got the start with Ball out and had 15 yards on six carries with a touchdown, while also catching one pass for five yards.
Tennessee running back: Rookie Bishop Sankey has been a hot name in fantasy circles, but he played third fiddle in the team’s opener behind Shonn Greene and Dexter McCluster. But Sankey did get plenty of work, getting 13 carries for 37 yards and gaining 38 yards on three receptions. Greene had four carries for 20 yards and a touchdown and McCluster had three for 19. At this point, Greene has done nothing to lose the job – though head coach Ken Whisenhunt hasn’t given him any glowing endorsements, saying he was the starter because he was the most senior player. Sankey could wind up being the man, but he isn’t there yet.
Indianapolis wide receiver: T.Y. Hilton emerged as the No. 1 guy last season, but with Reggie Wayne sitting out, newcomer Hakeem Nicks started against the Jets and had one catch for 15 yards on two targets. Nicks, who had a down season last year with the Giants, could emerge as a nice No. 3 target for a team that throws the ball a lot.
Houston quarterback: Starter Ryan Fitzpatrick struggled in the opener completing just 6 of 14 passes with two interceptions, but head coach Bill O’Brien isn’t ready to pull the plug on him just yet. With Case Keenum and rookie Tom Savage waiting in the wings, there aren’t a lot of other options.
Cincinnati running back: Giovani Bernard is the starter. That much we knew. But rookie Jeremy Hill was worked in before BenJarvis Green-Ellis. That could be because head coach Marvin Lewis wanted to give Hill, who had 19 yards on four carries, an opportunity to work with guys who are actually going to be on the team. But the fact that Green-Ellis was used third doesn’t bode well for his prospects.
Baltimore running back: We all know Ray Rice is going to be sitting out that first two games and that he’ll likely share carries with Bernard Pierce, even after he returns. But rookie Lorenzo Taliaferro had 71 yards on 13 carries in the preseason opener and could be in line to steal short-yardage and valuable goal-line carries.
Miami running back: With Knowshon Moreno still sidelined, Lamarr Miller got his shot to put his best foot forward as the No. 1 back. He had four carries for 11 yards and two catches for another eight yards, so that didn’t exactly happen. He still had a better day that Daniel Thomas, who did not get a carry in the opener. Moreno is close to returning and Thomas could wind up being released.
New England running back: Steven Ridley started the preseason opener, and rookie camp phenom James White relieved him. Neither did much, with Ridley getting two carries for two yards and White gaining nine yards on four carries. For now, Ridley remains the starter, with White backing him up.
Dale Lolley appears courtesy of the Observer-Reporter.