NFC Camp Reports
Author: Jeff Haverlack
All eyes remain on the Matt Forte’ contract situation. Forte’ isn’t in camp and it appears as though the Bears are playing hardball after acquiring the very capable Michael Bush. Reports surfaced this week that the Bears have concerns about Forte’s knees, fearing that advancing arthritis will shorten his career and his effectiveness. Combine that with the fact that Bush has been turning heads in camp for his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield and you have a situation that could significantly affect Forte’s fantasy value. All Forte’ has to do is sign his one year tender and things will return to a new level of normal.
In other news, Jay Cutler says that Devin Hester is having the best camp of all the receivers. No one in fantasy should care about this news. Hester has proven, year over year, to be no more than an extreme emergency fill-in at best. Johnny Knox confirmed that he may miss the entire year. Either way, his fantasy value decline was sharp and quick and he isn’t roster-worthy any longer.
Oh, and Brian Urlacher is dating Jenny McCarthy. So, if he isn’t focused entirely on football, you’ll understand why now.
Titus Young has still not been allowed back into OTAs after his fight with Louis Delmas. Obviously, sucker punching your starting safety in the face is a serious transgression. Details have been sketchy, but it sounds like there’s more to this story than is in the media currently. Another version of the story states the Lions haven’t asked Young to stay away. Young is rising on draft boards, but with rookie Ryan Broyles in town, he’ll need to get as much work in as possible. Broyles was ultra-productive in college and is a prototypical slot receiver. Only five months from ACL surgery, Broyles is with the team, but is limited to position drills at the moment.
Mikel Leshoure, too, was limited to position drills only, but Jahvid Best has been a full participant. Kevin Smith says the Lions have big plans for the running game this year. No word on whether an injury free season is an item within that plan for Smith.
Undrafted quarterback Kellen Moore is in camp and the Lions are giving him a fair look. No word on how he’s looking at this point.
Linebacker Stephen Tulloch is still suffering from knee tendinitis and can’t bear weight on that leg as of the moment. He likely won’t be seeing the field any time in May.
There’s little to no information coming out of Green Bay. All eyes are on defense for the Packers, but that will likely only affect deeper IDP leagues. The Packers have openings in many of the defensive secondary positions and safety is an area of focus. Clay Matthews has been moved to the right side (ROLB) to make room for rookie linebacker Nick Perry who is currently playing on the left side (LOLB). How this affects his fantasy production will be a complete unknown for some time. For a defense ranked last in the league, change is most certainly in the air.
On offense, James Starks is getting a lot of work and is obviously seen as the clear starter. Running Back Alex Green isn’t practicing yet, nor is Donald Driver, fresh off his win on Dancing with the Stars.
Congratulations to all Minnesota fans on the deal for their new stadium. The NFL without the Vikings in Minnesota isn’t the same to me.
Nothing to report just yet as the Vikings don’t begin OTAs until May 30. Just a quick Adrian Peterson report – he continues to train very hard and seems to be well on his way to potentially starting in week one. AP’s work ethic has never been in question and he’s mentally tough – both characteristics that suggest an earlier return than would be otherwise expected. Just don’t look for the Vikings to rush him back if they are not 100% convinced he’s ready. He’ll still be a candidate for the PUP list to begin the year. If you’re relying on Peterson, you’ll want to at least feel around for the value of Toby Gerhart as his replacement. Gerhart very quietly finished extremely well in 2011.
The Falcons don’t begin their OTAs until May 29th. Nothing of any substance to note from the recent rookie camp. Except for a fifth round fullback selection, the Falcons spent the entire draft on the defensive side of the ball and the offensive line.
The most entertaining item emerging from Carolina’s camp is the verbal jabs being exchanged by the 49ers Alex Smith and linebacker Jon Beason relating to Cam Newton’s passing yards not equating to wins. Whatever. Beason wins the round as he clearly states that Alex Smith wouldn’t even be a 49er if they had signed Peyton Manning and probably shouldn’t be criticizing other quarterbacks. He’s right.
Speaking of Beason, he and fellow backer Thomas Davis are extremely limited in OTAs. Both will likely stay limited while they rehab from their injuries. Steve Smith isn’t at camp and is excused. The gritty veteran doesn’t need the extra time at this stage in his career. First round selection Luke Kuechly appears to be headed for an outside linebacker role, but it may be too early to tell. Beason appears to be still slotted in his usual middle role for the time being.
Brandon LaFell’s hands seem to be improved or he, at least, is more confident with them. Receiver David Gettis is back and looking faster than ever. He’s big, fast and if he can stay healthy has a chance to be a nice sleeper. Cam seemed to be targeting Armanti Edwards quite a bit as well.
What a year the Saints have had … and it’s only just begun.
Of course, Drew Brees is not in camp, which is providing more time for backup Chase Daniel. Word is that he’s looking pretty good.
There seems to be a lot of emphasis on the fifth receiver and Adrian Arrington, Joe Morgan and newcomer Nick Toon have all looked good. Morgan seems to be impressing on a regular basis, especially in the speed department.
IDP’ers take note – the Saints are serious about moving linebacker Martez Wilson to defensive end. David Hawthorne and Curtis Lofton are flying around the field and the Saints, who are in dire need for better linebacker play, need them to continue that energy.
Just for the record, Dallas Clark thinks he’s got a lot more football in him. He was quoted as saying, “No one asked me if I’m done playing. I’m not done playing!” At wide receiver, Dezmon Briscoe was not in attendance, which was a bit of a surprise.
Josh Freeman is looking very “slender” now. He has apparently turned heads with just how much weight he has dropped. He wasn’t comfortable with last year’s playing weight and made a goal to slim down to improve his athleticism and quickness. Mike Williams understands what’s at stake and vows he must get better.
It has also been obvious that Doug Martin is not being handed the starting gig at running back. With a new attitude being preached this year, the slate is being wiped clean – this helps LeGarrette Blount immensely and there’s a general feeling that he could still have a significant workload. He still averaged 4.2 yards per carry and is a much different back than Martin. Either way, he appears motivated and is getting most of the snaps while Martin rests a sore hamstring. Martin is getting a lot of hype, but he didn’t average greater than 4.9 yards per carry at Boise State against somewhat inferior competition. This will be something to watch when camp opens.
No doubt the most notable event occurring at the Giant’s OTAs is the news this past week that Hakeem Nicks has broken his foot and will be out until August. Conflicting reports have emerged calling it a six week injury, while others suggest up to twelve weeks. It’s safe to say that that he’ll be down for at least eight weeks but, barring complication, will be back in plenty of time to shake off the rust in the preseason.
Rookie receiver Rueben Randle has been the star of camp and has been called “fluid,” “polished” and “NFL ready.” He’s catching everything in sight will get more time with Nicks down. Jerrel Jernigan is on the outside looking in, but has shown well in drills and looks to be in the lead for return duty.
David Wilson news has been relatively light without much to report either way. New tight end Martellus Bennett is injured again but it appears to be minor.
Not a lot to report out of Philly’s OTAs. No significant injuries to date and it has been more of a passing camp to get the quarterbacks their reps and timing established. New linebacker DeMeco Ryans is going to fit well in the middle and makes for a nice sleeper addition in IDP leagues.
Nick Foles has been learning quickly and has “opened eyes” a bit, which is good to hear. He’s been mired in a constant slide beginning just before the NFL Combine, but none of that matters now. Foles understands his role and realizes that he’s going to be working hard for at least a couple of years before he’ll have a chance at any significant playing time. Mike Kafka is said to be locking down the backup job.
DeSean Jackson should be able to focus squarely on football now that his contract negotiations are behind him. Whether he’ll return to 2010 form remains to be seen and he’ll need to show owners the ability to make the tough catch over the middle in addition to keeping his head in the game on every play. It is telling that the Eagles still elected to re-sign him given last year’s soap opera. He’ll be a nice valuation target in the middle rounds as he’s off the radar a bit.
There seems to be a new belief in camp that it needs to be about play on the field and far less talk about expectations. Philly fans will certainly embrace this new mantra as long as it truly sticks.
DeMarco Murray is back to 100% and has forgotten about his injury. He’s always been fragile and needs a good 2012 campaign to help shed that flag.
Most of the news coming out of OTAs surrounds the receiver position. It appears as though Kevin Ogletree is on the outs. Danny Coale suffered a similar foot injury to Hakeem Nicks and will be sidelined from eight to twelve weeks. A name to keep an eye on is receiver Tim Benford. Tennessee Tech coach Watson Brown likened Benford to Roddy White, whom he also coached while both were at UAB. He seems hungry and motivated – two traits I like to see in young receivers. It doesn’t hurt that he also ran a 4.48 40. With Coale out for an extended period of time, someone needs to step up. Also keep an eye out for Saalim Hakim (Az Hakim’s brother) who is also seeing time with Benford and is said to be lightning quick, but not possessing great hands.
On defense, 2011 second round linebacker selection Bruce Carter has a chance for meaningful time on the inside and is worth watching. Dan Connor, recently signed from Carolina is nursing yet another injury which plays in favor of Carter. Still, the Cowboys 3-4 scheme hasn’t produced significant fantasy IDP production.
Santana Moss has dropped 15 pounds and has been looking lighter and quicker. It’s now apparent that he’ll be sticking with the organization and be receiving passes from Robert Griffin III. Truth be told, that receiving corps needs veteran leadership. Pierre Garcon will provide some leadership and experience, but he’ll need time to develop chemistry with his new club. With other such players as Josh Morgan, Leonard Hankerson, Anthony Armstrong and Brandon Banks vying for time at receiver, camp is going to be a heated affair.
Rookie runners Tristan Davis and Alfred Morris have both looked strong in camp but nothing should be read into it this early. Tim Hightower returning from injury looks great.
And, of course, Robert Griffin III has looked exceptional. Whether this will translate or not, it should be noted that early on, the Redskins have been rolling out RGIII early and often and he’s deadly accurate on the run. He’s also shown great leadership and command in the huddle. He’s all he was billed to be.
Budding star tight end Fred Davis says that he’s all business now and past drug use is a thing of the past. Chris Cooley is far from washed up and is on Davis’ heels.
All eyes are on the receivers in camp, especially newcomers Randy Moss, Mario Manningham and first round rookie A.J. Jenkins. But that being the case, receiver Chris Owusu has been getting the attention thus far as he’s been “fantastic.” Rookie LaMichael James can’t practice until after their school’s graduation.
Quarterback Alex Smith has been sharp and appears to be more comfortable than ever. He’s also taken to praising both Michael Crabtree and Moss. Good move. But beyond the words, he’s been targeting Moss consistently in camp. One thing I don’t like seeing is that new tactic of talking about other quarterbacks (Cam Newton) when it comes to the topic of statistics and passing yards. Linebacker Jon Beason came to Newton’s defense as he should have. Good thing Smith won’t be facing off against the Panthers this year – at least not in the regular season.
Chemistry has been on display between between new fishing buddies Randy Moss and Patrick Willis and even Moss and Jenkins.
If you are looking for objective information about camp risers and fallers, don’t read anything from Jim Harbaugh. To him, it’s obvious every player is a Hall of Fame candidate.
Kevin Kolb is back and looks healthy. Beanie Wells worked on the side and is still recovering from a mystery knee surgery, thought to possibly be of the microfracture variety. Second year back Ryan Williams was with the team this week, but doing drills on the side as he returns from a torn patella tendon.
A big move is expected of second year tight end Rob Housler, who has looked more confident in the early going, but will there be enough balls to go around? Jeff King is down with a quadriceps tear which helps Housler immensely.
Larry Fitzgerald reported a bit heavier than normal, but let’s not make more out of it than it is. New toy Michael Floyd has looked good early and is taking the right approach to fitting in on the team and learning all he can from Fitz.
On defense, the Cards did sign veteran linebacker Quentin Groves, but that likely has little, if any fantasy relevance.
Receiver Stephen Williams is very much on the bubble and is in a fight for a roster spot with fellow receiver DeMarco Sampson. Both could still make the team, but it is far from a guarantee.
Just not a lot to report from the desert thus far.
The big news is that the Hawks have traded for Tampa’s enigmatic tight end Kellen Winslow. This isn’t as much about Winslow to me as it is about Zach Miller. Just what is the expectation now from the tight end position?
At quarterback, it may just be a three-man race for the starting spot and there hasn’t been much favoritism shown to any of the existing slingers. Even rookie Russell Wilson is seeing an even amount of reps at the position. It’s a wide open competition with a split as to who will ultimately win the competition, Tarvaris Jackson or Matt Flynn. Word out now suggests that Flynn has been easily the best quarterback in camp thus far.
At receiver, Golden Tate is out again with a hand injury and Doug Baldwin remains out as well.
Bobby Wagner, the team’s second-round linebacker has been working out of the middle linebacker spot, including time in nickel packages. Should that continue, he makes for a nice IDP sleeper who hasn’t gotten much press to date.
HBO’s Hard Knocks approached the Seahawks, but they declined. It seems the series has earned a reputation as something akin to a major distraction. HBO may have to eventually just eliminate the series altogether.
Receiver Brian Quick is showing a great work ethic by showing up early and staying late to get field time, running extra routes with Sam Bradford and honing his game. After missing two OTAs last week, Quick feels he needs to make up for lost time – that’s what we want to hear from every receiver.
For those looking for bigger things from the Rams offense this season, it at least looks like it should be much more exciting. New offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer is opening things up a bit, which should supply a greater degree offensive excitement. This will be welcomed news for Sam Bradford owners.
Speaking of Bradford, his ankle is reportedly still sore from his October sprain last season. Not good news, but OTAs and mini-camps are where those types of injuries can be worked through.
On the receiver bubble are both Danario Alexander and Steve Smith. The two new rookies (Quick and Chris Givens) are locks as are returning veterans Danny Amendola and Brandon Gibson. For Alexander and Smith, however, things aren’t so promising. OTAs and mini-camps will need to yield results for both. That said, Alexander missed OTAs with yet another hamstring injury.
The biggest news coming from the running backs is that Isaiah Pead teamed up with Giants back David Wilson to do a little rapping. I’ll spare you the video and hope that his OTA performance to date has been more noteworthy. There’s been little word on that being the case, however.
We’ll turn our attention to the AFC next!