Head coach Kyle Shanahan wrapped up the 49ers’ offseason workouts last Thursday with a bouncy castle. It was a gesture both delightful and metaphoric. With the draft well in the distance and absence of, you know, actual games, this period of the NFL calendar is rooted in anticipation. Every storyline is magnified. Every quote is crystallized. We’re all drinking from the same rose-colored glass.
OTAs and minicamps certainly have some semblance of importance. There are actual NFL players performing actual football moves – or non NFL moves in the case of Jets QB Christian Hackenberg,
This version of offseason workouts was a bit more frenetic than usual with surprising player movement and an abundance of quarterback questions. Here are some storylines worth following as we turn a page toward training camp next month.
Brock Osweiler can play. Go watch the film, said Brock Osweiler. After being mocked just months after he was traded to Cleveland for the assumed purpose of meeting a salary cap minimum, Osweiler may have the edge in Browns starting quarterback competition. Hue Jackson has praised Osweiler’s abilities and attitude, both of which were at rock bottom during last season’s debacle in Houston. Owseiler is competing against unproven Cody Kessler and rookie, DeShone Kizer, so it’s not like he’s attempting to supplant Aaron Rodgers. But the fact that he’s even in the conversation, and possibly the favorite for this job, is a huge surprise. It’s also a stark reminder that it is the teams, not the media, that determine a player’s fate.
Myles Garrett’s health
Injuries took many forms over the past few weeks. There were the devastating blows. Ravens long time tight end Dennis Pita tore his ACL and was subsequently released. Saints starting left tackle Terron Armstead will miss 4-6 months after tearing his labrum. There are the routine repairs like Jags corner Jalen Ramsey’s core surgery that should have him ready by mid-training camp.
Then there are the sirens surrounding the number one overall pick in the draft. Garrett was already injury prone. He suffered a high ankle sprain last September, and already missed a couple of days of Cleveland’s OTAs with an “undisclosed injury,” Last week, Garrett limped off the field with a foot injury, which the team has now announced is a foot sprain. The Browns have said he should ready for training camp but given the ambiguity of a healing foot and the team’s general coyness, Cleveland might as well prepare for the worse. Factory of sadness, indeed.
The biggest battle of them all
Forget Mayweather-McGregor, the heated kicking extravaganza between Roberto Aguayo and Nick Folk is the far more fascinating (and authentic) battle. You know the story. The Bucs TRADED UP to select Aguayo in the second round of last year’s draft. The instant chorus of boos only grew exponentially once Aguayo stepped onto an NFL field and became the league’s most inaccurate kicker. His permoance trended upward as the season grew but not enough to provide job security. The Bucs signed Folk to compete, possibly sending Agauayo to early Bustville. Rare glimpses of practice seem to have Folk with a miniscule edge, but this a long term competition, perfectly tailored for Hard Knocks which debuts on August 8th. (Wonder if the team is contractually obligated to keep both kickers around through the first episode.)
In the interim the positive vibes are flowing for both Aguayo and Folk. In order to end the last day of minicamp early, the two had to team up and make four consecutive field goals – one each from 44 and 52 yards. The both succeeded and for a fleeting moment, Aguayo was the Bucs’ co-MVP.
Adrian Peterson watch
Mark Ingram had a career year for the Saints last season. How did the franchise respond? They signed free agent Adrian Peterson. Peterson, now 32, is trying to make amends for a mostly lost 2016 campaign due to a right meniscus tear.
The underappreciated Ingram has talked in recent days about the motivation Peterson provides, riffing off the gushing nicknames and “future Hall of Fame” narratives that have been synonymous with the new Saints back. Ingram is listed ahead of Peterson in the depth chart but the Saints are possibly employing a split system. Training camp should provide a fascinating lens into how the workload shakes out.
Between a good dose of hoopla from Peterson’s teammates and his own confidence exists the possibility that the end of the road is near. Pre-injury last season he averaged 1.9 yards per carry and generally looked more sluggish. Though he did rush for over 1400 yards amid surviving a full season in 2015. Still, Peterson has assumed the role of savior for most of his career – he almost single-handedly got the Vikings to a 2012 playoff berth. AP being insignificant would be something.
Tom Brady perfection watch
Speaking of elderly stars, Brady will be 40 on August 7th. Is he ever going to look (and play) like a normal 40-year-old? If a deterioration begins this season, nothing is likely to shake up the league (and plant based diets) more.
Rookie QB streak
A rookie quarterback has started Week 1 for the past nine years, a streak that appears to be in major jeopardy. Some have predicted Patrick Mahomes could supplant Alex Smith in Kansas City and Mitchell Trubisky could do the same to Mike Glennon in Chicago. NFL-ready(ish) Deshaun Watson could also prove a threat to Tom Savage in Houston. But as it stands now all of the rookies are backups, still “in development” as they say. That could certainly change in an instant as we saw last season in the cases of Dak Prescott (Romo injury) and Carson Wentz (Sam Bradford trade).
A spectacle in Seattle
ESPN’s Seth Wickersham wrote a searing, highly reported piece last month about the deep-seeded friction in the Seahawks’ locker room, mostly stemming from Richard Sherman. The gist of the piece was Sherman and the defense’s resentment toward Russell Wilson. The special treatment. Pete Carroll’s inability to unleash negativity. The manufactured off field persona. The fact that despite Wilson’s talents, Seattle hasn’t been close to a high-powered offense in his stead.
The piece generated plenty of fireworks, and Wickersham took some heat. Sherman called ESPN ‘TMZ,’ while Michael Bennett felt the need to tweet that he was at Wilson’s house for ribs the same week the story was published.
I love @DangeRussWilson great teammate n friend and even better human .I was at his house last week and he gave me BBQ ribs
— Michael Bennett (@mosesbread72) May 25, 2017
(But were the ribs a sponsor gift?)
Meanwhile, Sherman was supposedly on the trading block in the early offseason. In May, Carroll slashed this notion and claimed there was zero percent chance of a trade. But this earlier possibility suggests some lack of loyalty on one, if not both sides. Sherman is not one to hide his feelings behind a corporate check. If something is ticking him off, it will manifest itself in some form.
Early fantasy sleeper
The Bills spent their second round pick on Zay Jones, the physical wideout out of East Carolina, to possibly fill the perennial hole opposite Sammy Watkins.
But they also signed veteran Andre Holmes to a three-year contract. Holmes became a bit of an afterthought in Oakland the past two seasons as the Amari Cooper-Michael Crabtree duo emerged. But the aggressive 6’4″ target has wildly impressed head coach Sean McDermott, who called him a “standout.” Holmes is especially dangerous in the end zone; over the past two seasons, he had seven TDs on only 327 receiving yards. With the oft-injured Watkins dealing with a foot issue and Jones still an unknown, Holmes could be in line for a huge increase in production.
Anyone going to sign Colin Kaepernick? Anyone?