NFL training camp primer, power rankings, anthem protest and more

NFL


Football is finally back, with all 32 clubs beginning training camp this week. Here’s a fun look at what to expect, what matters most and more.

It’s late July, and the humidity is at its zenith. It’s the time of year when you beg for a thunderstorm if only to provide relief, allowing a moment to quietly sit on the front porch and hear the water droplets.

In that time of still reflection, a football fan begins to dream about their team, wondering what the upcoming season will hold. Starting this week, we begin to find out.

All 32 teams will report to camp with varying degrees of outside expectations. Inside the buildings, everybody believes that this year is the year, the time to bring the Lombardi Trophy home.

Of course, reality paints a far different picture, but those harsh truths are for another time. Now is the day for hope, a day for dreamers.

With all that in mind, here are a few other morsels to chew on as we head into the final week of July and the eventual dog days of August…

  • Injuries are the only real barometer of how successful your team’s camp was

Don’t worry about whether a star receiver has a few drops in the first week of practice, or if a quarterback is rusty coming out of the gate. If the defenses dominating the offense, that’s fine too. These units each know the playbook of the other side.

However, if your team starts losing starters for long periods of time … not good. That’s the one way a team can take real hits before the regular season begins.

  • Preseason football and its results couldn’t be more worthless 

Don’t get me wrong, preseason helps coaches make decisions on the back end of their roster. It also serves as a nice way to knock off the rust and to install some new plays. That said, don’t worry about the final score. Don’t worry if the offense looks stagnant or if the defense is giving up big plays. Teams almost never blitz or run any kind of scheme. It’s all vanilla, on both sides of the ball. Again, just stay healthy.

Veterans are trying to survive another summer in dorm rooms. The beds stink, the rooms are cramped and the new guys are irritating. On the flip side, the youngsters are trying to make an impression. Every once in a while, a player stands out at camp so much that it begins to warrant attention. An example would be Marcus Peters as a rookie in 2015 with the Kansas City Chiefs. He had something like eight or nine interceptions in camp. It was evident he could play from the jump.

Beyond that, sit back and relax. Enjoy the daily reports from all the beat writers slugging it out in the heat. Talk to your friends and family about the season in the offing and dream away, that’s what the summer is for.

Most of all, enjoy every minute of it. Football season is back, something always marked by those wonderful thunderstorms that bring the sweet relief of a cool breeze.

Power rankings

Top 12 players to watch in training camp

1. Patrick Mahomes, Kansas City Chiefs
2. Saquon Barkley, New York Giants
3. Carson Wentz, Philadelphia Eagles
4. Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts
5. J.J. Watt, Houston Texans
6. Sam Darnold, New York Jets
7. Baker Mayfield, Cleveland Browns
8. David Johnson, Arizona Cardinals
9. Mitch Trubisky, Chicago Bears
10. Marcus Davenport, New Orleans Saints
11. Randy Gregory, Dallas Cowboys
12. D.J. Moore, Carolina Panthers

Quotable

“I was working in that heat. I feel like that’s where I play my best. I was trying to get low last year but I wasn’t able to make it. I feel real good. My body feels real good. I feel like I’m in really good shape.”

– Cincinnati Bengals running back Joe Mixon on his offseason training

Mixon lost 12 pounds throughout the offseason, dropping to a weight of 218. The second-year back is one of a legion of players who will claim they’re in the best shape of their lives, but if he’s lighter, that’s a plus of the Bengals. Last year, the former Oklahoma star rushed for 626 yards on 3.5 yards per carry.

Cincinnati is one of many AFC teams which will be competing for a playoff spot, alongside the likes of the Baltimore Ravens, Oakland Raiders, Los Angeles Chargers, Chiefs and others. A resurgent Mixon would go a long way toward beating out the competition.

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Random stat

In 1943, Sammy Baugh gave us a statistical season that will forever go unmatched. The Washington Redskins great led the league in completion percentage as a quarterback (55.6), interceptions as a defensive back (11) and punting average as a punter (45.9).

Incredibly, Washington didn’t win the NFL championship, losing 41-21 to the Chicago Bears.

Info learned this week

1. Falcons won’t work with Jones on new deal

This could be the situation to watch throughout the summer. Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones has publicly stated he wants a contract extension from his team before the season begins, but according to reports, nothing is coming.

Jones has the option of holding out, which would cost him $40,000 per day. Furthermore, the All-Pro wideout is due $10.5 million this season, with another $26 million due over the ’19 and ’20 campaigns.

For Atlanta, there isn’t much reason to renegotiate. Jones’ value is already sky-high, and the team can control his rights through his age 31 season. At that juncture, the Falcons can either allow Jones to move on in his declining years or sign him to one more deal.

As fo the more pressing contract situations around the league, keep an eye on Odell Beckham Jr., Khalil Mack, Aaron Donald and David Johnson. Each is a premier player at his given position, and is slated to hit free agency this winter.

2. Titans’ Casey to kneel during anthem despite fine

Jurrell Casey doesn’t care if the NFL fines him for kneeling in protest of racial injustice during the national anthem. The standout Tennessee Titans defensive tackle says he won’t stay in the locker room, but instead will make his way to the sidelines and kneel as he did last season.

While opinions on Casey’s stance will range from brave to ungrateful, it’s important to remember the following: this is America. We have freedom of speech. It’s true that the NFL is an employer and can levy a penalty for acting in a manner it believes will put it in a harsh light, but if Casey is willing to pay that penalty, it’s case closed from this vantage point.

The guess here is that Casey won’t be alone in his on-field protests. For example, Jets owner Woody Johnson has already stated he will pay the fines of any kneeling players on his team. While the NFL wants this issue to go away quietly, there’s little chance of that happening.

3. Revis walks away from NFL after 11 seasons

Darrelle Revis might be the greatest cornerback of his generation, and in five years, he’ll be enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The four-time First-Team All-Pro called it quits on Wednesday, announcing his retirement with a statement on Twitter that ended in “long live Revis Island.”

Revis spent eight of his 11 seasons with the Jets, although he earned his only Super Bowl ring with the New England Patriots. He also had one-year stops with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Chiefs.

Revis only notched 29 interceptions during his career, but that’s a credit to his phenomenal talent. Few quarterbacks dared throw his way, with the Pennsylvania native being a virtual blanket for one side of the field.

4. Jag’s Jackson predicts perfect record for Jacksonville

Malik Jackson isn’t shy about making proclamations. Last year, the former Denver Broncos star stated Jacksonville would go undefeated, and he is doubling down this summer. Jackson believes the Jaguars are going to run the table, which while still crazy, isn’t as insane as last July.

The Jaguars will have severe tests to that prediction early, with the Patriots coming in for a Week 2 rematch of the AFC Championship Game. In Week 5, Jacksonville travels to Arrowhead Stadium for a date with the Chiefs, followed by a trip to Texas for a matchup with the Cowboys.

Currently, Vegas has Jacksonville as the second-best AFC South team behind the Texans, with Houston at +180 to win the division. Jacksonville sits at +185, while Tennessee (+333) and Indianapolis (+550) lag behind.

5. Brown lands Madden 19 cover

Antonio Brown business continues to be boomin’. On Wednesday, the future Hall of Fame receiver was unveiled as the cover athlete of this year’s Madden game, the most prestigious gaming honor for an athlete to receive. It’s hard to argue with the choice considering Brown has amassed 7,848 yards on 582 receptions.

Basic math tells us that Brown has averaged 116 catches with 1,570 yards over that span.

Now all Brown has to do is avoid the dreaded curse. We’ve seen it hit superstars before, namely Daunte Culpepper, Marshall Faulk and Michael Vick. Provided Brown stays healthy, the curse will have a tough time living up to its hype.

History lesson

Marlin Briscoe was the first black quarterback in pro football history, starting for the Denver Broncos in 1968 during their time in the American Football League.

However, due to size and poor passing stats (41.5 comp. percentage, 14 TDs, 13 INTs), Briscoe was traded to the Buffalo Bills where he became a receiver. In 1970, Briscoe broke the 1,000-yard barrier, finishing second in receiving yardage to Gene Washington of the San Francisco 49ers.

In 1972, Briscoe was dealt to the Miami Dolphins, where he was part of the perfect season.

Not a bad career for a football trailblazer.

Parting shot

The Seattle Seahawks enter 2018 in a rare position … as an afterthought. After a brutal offseason that watched them say goobye to Cliff Avril, Kam Chancellor, Michael Bennett, Sheldon Richardson, Paul Richardson and Jimmy Graham, Seattle appears poised for a rebuilding season, one that comes during the prime of Russell Wilson’s career.

For the Seahawks, it’s a testament to what happens when drafting goes south. In the early part of the decade, general manager John Schneider couldn’t miss, landing All-Pros in Wilson, Chancellor, Earl Thomas, Bobby Wagner, Richard Sherman and others, many on the second and third days. However, between 2013-17, Schneider made 49 draft picks, and only Tyler Lokcett has made a Pro Bowl or All-Pro team. Outside of Frank Clark and Lockett, almost nobody had any tangible impact in Seattle.

With the sun setting on the Legion of Boom era, the Seahawks now recede quietly, with the Rams and San Francisco 49ers both clearly superior. With Wilson in tow, a quick rebound may be in store, but storm clouds loom in the near future.



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