The Daily Briefing Wednesday, August 23, 2017

AROUND THE NFL

 

NFC EAST

 

DALLAS

You may need to get to know QB COOPER RUSH.  He seems to be closing in on the backup quarterback role for America’s Team.  Clarence Hill in the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram:

 

Has the Dallas Cowboys’ backup quarterback position suddenly become a competition?

 

Two days after owner Jerry Jones said he wouldn’t go as far as putting impressive rookie free agent quarterback Cooper Rush in the running with Kellen Moore for the second-string job behind Dak Prescott, Rush took some second-team reps in practice on Monday.

 

It’s was team’s first session since Saturday’s 24-19 preseason victory against the Indianapolis Colts when Rush shined and Moore struggled.

 

Rush completed 8 of 9 passes for 92 yards, two touchdowns and a 148.8 passer rating against the Colts.

 

Moore finished with 131 yards on 10 of 21 attempts and a 67.8 passer rating. He also had a lost fumble on a sack that was returned for a touchdown.

 

“I’m just glad to see Rush taking advantage of his opportunities out there,” Jones said after the game. “We wouldn’t want to get ahead of ourselves, in any way here. We have a lot of confidence in 17 (Moore).”

 

Just how much things have changed remains to be seen. Coach Jason Garrett didn’t talk on Monday. He is scheduled to speak to the media Tuesday.

 

But a source said on Saturday the team would be discussing the backup quarterback position following Moore’s disappointing play.

 

He completed 8 of 17 passes for 69 yards the previous week against the Los Angeles Rams.

 

In three preseason games, Moore has completed 30 of 55 passes for 382 yards with one touchdown, one interception and a passer rating of 75.0.

 

Rush has simply been more productive, completing 26-of-38 for 283 yards with four touchdowns, no interceptions and 125.2 rating.

 

It remains to be seen whether the Cowboys will make an undrafted free agent the primary backup to Prescott, but there is no question the confidence in Moore has waned.

 

Rush, who looks a bit like ANDY DALTON, at least in hair color, is from Central Michigan.  BloggingTheBoys.com says that he’s shown enough that Dallas won’t just be able to stash him on the practice squad.

 

When Dak Prescott finished the 2016 preseason with a 137.8 passer rating, many observers talked about the “vanilla defenses” Prescott and the Cowboys faced.

 

“It’s only preseason,” they said. “He won’t look unstoppable against NFL defenses. He can’t read NFL defenses yet.”

 

But then he did.

 

That ‘it’s only preseason’ argument is easily the most frequently used argument to discount preseason performances, be they good or bad. Dak Prescott is a case in point for how a good preseason performance can be argued away, and the QB apologists in Philly are a good example of how a bad preseason performance can also be argued away. Despite a 41.8 passer rating in the 2016 preseason, lots of people were getting ready to anoint Carson Wentz as the next big thing.

 

His QB rating came in at a pedestrian 41.8. But that figure doesn’t tell the whole story.

But it did.

 

Wentz would finish the 2016 regular season ranked as one of the worst QBs with a 79.6 passer rating, while Prescott finished the season as one of the best QBs with a 104.9 passer rating.

 

Granted, these are two cherry-picked examples where the ‘it’s only preseason’ argument didn’t really work; I’m sure there are a lot of cases showing the exact opposite.

 

But for backup QBs (both Prescott and Wentz were initially seen as backups for 2016) the preseason is often the only opportunity to publicly showcase their skills. Barring injury to the starter, the only action backup QBs are likely to see during the regular season is mop-up duty in blowout wins, and possibly in the last game of the season when playoff teams rest their starters. That’s it. So preseason performance is important for these guys.

 

And a look back at the preseason performance of Cowboys QBs since 2012 is quite instructive in that regard.

 

The first thing that stands out when reviewing that performance is Tony Romo. Regardless of how healthy he was in the preseason, Romo always delivered strong performances:

 

Tony Romo Preseason Perormance

Year     Cmp     Att        Cmp%  Yds      Y/A       TD        Int        Rating

2015     6          9          66.7      87         9.7        2          0          137.5

2013     26         36         72.2      367       10.2      2          0          123.3

2012     21         32         65.6      303       9.5        2          0          117.0

2016     5          6          83.3      60         10         0          0          108.3

2014     14         23         60.9      167       7.3        1          0          97.5

 

That’s a strong and consistent passer performance over the last five years of his career – even if we face some sample size issues in 2015 and 2016.

– – –

Prescott’s rookie season obviously stands out with his 137.8 passer rating. And right behind Prescott, this year’s rookie sensation Cooper Rush sits pretty with a 125.2 passer rating, which is miles ahead of any other recent Cowboys QB not named Tony Romo or Dak Prescott.

 

Does that mean Cooper Rush is a franchise-quality QB on par with Romo and Prescott? Probably not.

 

What is does mean is that Rush has performed much better than most other backup QBs the Cowboys have tried over the years. Sure, there are still two preseason games left, and his stats might not look quite as stellar if he throws a few interceptions.

 

But consider this: Rush could throw 26 consecutive incompletions over the next two games and would still have a better passer rating than Kellen Moore currently has.

 

Yesterday the Cowboys started giving Rush some 2nd-team reps in practice, and soon they’ll have to take a decision on whether to keep Rush on the 53-man roster or release him and risk having him signed by another team. And that risk is very real.

 

The last time the Cowboys tried to sneak a QB with a similar preseason performance onto their practice squad didn’t work out quite so well: Matt Moore finished the 2007 preseason with a 100.1 passer rating (21 of 29 pass attempts for 182 yards, one touchdown, no interceptions), and was picked up off waivers by the Carolina Panthers.

 

It’s way to early to say how good a QB Cooper Rush could potentially be. But even if his ceiling is “just” that of a Matt Moore, that’s still a lot better than anything the Cowboys have had at the backup spot for quite a while.

 

The Cowboys still have oodles of time to decide the semantics of whether they want to call Rush their QB2 or QB3, but they have just 11 days to decide whether to keep him on their 53-man roster. The one thing they won’t be able to do is sneak him onto their practice squad. His preseason performance has turned too many heads around the league for that plan to have any chance of succeeding.

 

 

NEW YORK GIANTS

WR ODELL BECKHAM, Jr. might not be around for the big opener with Dallas.  John Healy in the New York Daily News:

 

The Giants appeared to get some good news on one wide receiver Tuesday but the same cannot confidently be said about another.

 

X-rays on wide receiver Brandon Marshall’s shoulder came back negative, according to head coach Ben McAdoo, but Odell Beckham Jr. could miss the season opener in Dallas on Sept. 10, according to ESPN.

 

McAdoo would not indicate how long Beckham would be out, only calling the injury an ankle sprain while on a conference call Tuesday after the star receiver underwent an MRI.

 

The head coach added that Beckham and Marshall would take things “day by day” and were receiving treatment. He also remained vague on if the injuries change his approach for the remaining preseason games.

 

How Rex Ryan analyzed his former quarterback Geno Smith

“If you have a chance to put everyone out there playing together you do it,” he said. “If you don’t, you don’t. That’s a medical decision.”

 

Beckham, who also passed a concussion protocol Monday night, sprained his ankle after Browns defensive back Briean Boddy-Calhoun delivered a low hit on the Giants receiver as he was landing from making a leaping catch.

 

 

PHILADELPHIA

One person’s BLAKE BORTLES is another person’s treasure.  A day after Cian Foley of PreSnapReads.com dissed QB CARSON WENTZ, Jason LaCanfora of CBSSports.com sings his praises.

 

One need only listen to sportstalk radio in Philadelphia for a few segments, twirling up and down the dial while cruising along I-95, for certain narratives to develop. Currently, there seems to be considerable hand-wringing and consternation over the state of the Eagles’ revamped offense, and whether or not the right cast is in place to aid quarterback Carson Wentz’s development.

 

There is some rancor over the lack of apparent chemistry between Wentz and new free-agent receivers Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith, in so much as that could possibly be displayed in two brief preseason outings for the first-team offense thus far. People remain unsure if Nelson Agholor can catch the football with consistency. There is open debate (on these airwaves; not in the Eagles’ facility) about whether running back LeGarette Blount should be on the team (he will be) — despite the fact he just signed there a few months ago — and Tuesday afternoon’s banter included whether or not the front office, which has already spent to the extremes churning over this roster the past 18 months, should try to reacquire high-priced back Shady McCoy (don’t bet on it).

 

Pleasing the Philadelphia sports fan ain’t easy — never has been; never will be — and there is a unique passion that comes with the professional sports scene in this city. When all of that energy is seemingly pointed in a singular direction, as it is now with expectations rising for the Eagles and the Phillies still mired in a rebuild, then the climate can ratchet up even higher. Let’s just say that when the Eagles host the Dolphins Thursday night in the final preseason game in which starters will largely appear, the fine denizens of this area will be anticipating a superior showing from this offense, and barring such, the angst between now and Week 1 will only rage on.

“I think the biggest thing is how effective are we on offense,” said Wentz, who flashed his elite potential throughout two days of practices with the Dolphins this week. “Are we staying ahead of the chains? Are we converting third downs? Situational football is such a huge part of this game and that’s what we’re all critical of. How are we doing in the red zone? How are we doing on third down? Discipline and penalties — we’ve got to avoid that stuff … We just want to be sharp with our situational football at the least.”

 

To be fair, the first-team offense has conducted a grand total of five drives this summer, with its heaviest workload always destined for the third game. And while things weren’t particularly smooth last week against Buffalo — three straight three-and-outs before a promising drive to the Bills’ 27 halted on a fumble — the unit did march down the field for 56 yards on 10 drives in its only work in the preseason opener, with Wentz tossing a touchdown pass on the Packers.

“We need to start the game a little bit better,” coach Doug Pederson said. “You’d love to see points, obviously, and score maybe a couple of times. But we just need to clean up — we had too many penalties last week.”

 

This is a limited sample size, to be sure, and the Eagles have been comfortable with the development of Wentz, who they moved up to acquire with the second overall pick in 2016, and his budding rapport with Jeffery and Smith throughout the offseason work. There was a steady procession of inquiries about his perceived lack of clicking with Smith and Jeffery during Tuesday’s media session, alas, whereas on Monday Dolphins quarterback Jay Cutler was inundated with questions from the Philly media about Jeffery, his former teammate, to the point where Cutler started to openly wonder out loud if there was something he needed to be informed of.

 

“You guys are worried about Alshon?” Cutler opined, eliciting some chuckles from reporters. “He’s going to be fine. What’s going on? Is something going on that I don’t know about?”

 

Wentz doesn’t seem overly burdened about his new receivers, either, and, in reality, if anything this has the potential to be a far superior cast around him than the ham-handed one that bogged down this offense a year ago (receiver Jordan Matthews was recently jettisoned via trade).

“It’s part of the process,” Wentz said. “I think our chemistry is continually coming along, and I don’t think it’s ever been a problem. It’s going to just continue to grow; that’s kind of how it works. That’s kind of the nature of how it goes …

 

“At the end of the day, I don’t know, what, I’ve thrown just over 10 passes in two games? (Wentz is 10 of 13 for 112 yards this preseason.) So I’m not going to be to bent out of shape over that. It’s kind of one of those things where you take it as it comes.”

 

Smith said that Wentz was a drawing consideration for him when sorting through free-agent options.

 

“Carson is a beast, man,” Smith told me. “I knew coming here that they had stability from top to the bottom and that’s something you could see, and fit right in. And I know Carson is still young and he’s still growing, but to be here to help be a part of his growth as well is something that was intriguing to me.”

 

For what it’s worth, Smith’s speed and ability to unlock deep corridors of the defense should be a boon (albeit he does drop the ball at times as well), and it flashed on some fade routes into the end zone in 11-on-11 drills, while Jeffery’s catch radius was on full display in underneath routes in the red zone drills. While Blount has had to run the ball outside some in preseason games you could see his power when going between the tackles in drills against the Dolphins, which is more suited to what he’ll be asked to do on Sundays.

 

“I guess the question is: should teams not try to get better in the offseason and not try to add players and talent, because it takes time to gel?” general manager Howie Roseman said. “That’s what we have preseasons for, and that’s why we have training camp. We know that it’s a long season and coach talks about it all the time and we have to get better every day, but by the same token we think that we’ve improved our team. And that’s what we wanted to do this offseason to help our quarterback grow. Sometimes you forget that he’s only in his second season in the NFL, and this is his first training camp with the starters.”

 

Indeed, a year ago at this time the Eagles were still wedded to Sam Bradford as the starter and Wentz was battling for backup reps after missing time with injury. Then Teddy Bridgewater suffered a career-altering injury in Vikings camp, Minnesota offered a ransom for Bradford and Wentz was suddenly starting — and opening eyes — in Week 1. This offseason was quite different for the youngster, who has always seemed heady and steady, mentally tough and prepared enough to withstand the rigors of playing quarterback in Philly.

 

“One of the things that attracted us when we traded up for him was the fact that he had tremendous leadership ability,” said Roseman, one of the more aggressive GMs in the league in exploring trades, “and he was an incredibly hard worker, and you saw his ability to finally take the team over when he had been a (reserve) quarterback the entire offseason. And you can just see his leadership every day. He’s got juice when he comes out to practice and walks on the field, and it’s fun. It’s fun to watch.”

 

Wentz still has an endearing aw-shucks quality to him as well — he’s very well-mannered and eager to please. Few make the rounds like him after a practice, signing every autograph possible, posing for hundreds of photos (including a group photo with a family with six children, and then individual selfies with each kid as well at one point). A good kid who is well on his way, Wentz will have a nice assortment of talent around him this season for an improved Eagles team, and you can sense how much more at ease he is now compared with just a year ago.

 

“It’s completely different,” Wentz said. “Physically, last year I was beat up like you said and missing reps and everything, and mentally I’m just in a totally different place. I’ve talked about it a lot the last couple of weeks, just how much difference a year makes for me mentally.”

 

NFC SOUTH

 

TAMPA BAY

Dan Hanzus of NFL.com, a “Hard Knocks” fanboy, approves of this year’s version after last season’s lackluster visit to the Rams:

 

The study of the Bucs has been a fun ride for three episodes and counting. Why has this season stacked up favorably in the Hard Knocks cannon? Simple: They found a way to make the formula work.

 

Here are four vital areas where Hard Knocks: Training Camp with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers has scored crucial victories:

 

THE YOUNG STAR

Should anybody be surprised by the report that Jameis Winston’s jersey sales have soared this month?

 

Winston has been a certified Charisma Machine for three weeks and counting. He loves football, he loves his teammates, and he loves the cameras. Everybody wins. Hard Knocks has also done a great job illustrating how far Winston still has to go from a development standpoint.

 

Winston is the center of the Bucs’ universe, but he’s also a genuine work in progress. It’s been fascinating to see how those two realities play off each other.

 

THE COMIC RELIEF

This has turned into a two-man battle, and just like NFL coaches, Hard Knocks recap writers love competition. The favorite is Chris Baker, a beefy, motor-mouthed defensive tackle who seduced a palm tree during Tuesday’s episode. It’s possible this can happen to anyone when “Let’s Chill” by Guy starts playing around large-trunked plants. I’ll test this outside my office tomorrow.

 

But let’s not sleep on journeyman quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. Fitzpatrick — who went to Harvard, ya know — possesses a dry sense of humor that stands out in a typical NFL locker room. We loved how Fitz served as an audience conduit after Winston’s attempt at a rhyming chant with teammates fell flat.

 

“I loved the uh, I felt like your rhyme was a little long, maybe it ran a little bit over,” Fitzpatrick says with David Spade-level condenscention. “I liked it.”

 

He did not like it.

 

THE O.U.R. (OBLIGATORY UNDRAFTED ROOKIES)

Any Hard Knocks season worth its salt includes several player studies at the bottom of the roster who tug directly on the strings attached to our blackened hearts. Plenty of time has been invested in rookie linebacker Riley Bullough, who loves tackling things and hates being called Joe Dirt. He’s an easy guy to root for.

 

Episode 3 put focus on cornerback Maurice Fleming, who gutted his way through the preseason win over the Jaguars despite suffering a knee injury that ended his hopes of making the team. Fleming’s decision to play through pain may have exacerbated the injury, but getting hurt is not really an option for the hundreds of roster hopefuls like Fleming. “Can’t make the club in the tub” and all that. It was tough to watch Fleming stay on the field in a compromised state, but it made perfect sense why he did it. Tough break, tough gig.

 

THE COACH

Not everyone in my office has been a fan of Dirk Koetter, but I’ve been generally impressed by the coach. He seems to strike a nice balance between being a hard-ass and a overly chummy player’s coach. Unless you’re Vince Lombardi or Pete Carroll, it’s probably best to try to straddle the fence.

 

Koetter getting after Winston on the sideline following a grisly near-INT against the Jags gave some nice perspective on that (very important) coach/QB relationship.

 

“Jameis, you’re f—–‘ playing a great game. You’re playing a great game. And then your greed takes over. If this is real football that’s so f—–‘ stupid. … You’re so much better than that. You’re so much better.”

 

NFC WEST

 

LOS ANGELES RAMS

Mike Martz has a peculiar defense for the quotes about Rams Coach Sean McVay attributed to him by Thomas George.  Meanwhile, McVay takes the high road.  ESPN.com:

 

An excerpt of the book was obtained by ESPN.

 

“What is he, a couple of months older than Jared? They hired a buddy for Jared,” Martz was quoted as saying in the book. “The NFL has nothing to do with being the friend or the buddy of the quarterback. You’ve got to coach them and work them hard with respect. But buddy? And this guy is a quarterback expert? An offensive expert? Wait a minute while I puke.”

 

McVay was hired at the end of last season just before he turned 31, making him the youngest head coach in modern NFL history. Goff will turn 23 in October.

 

In an interview Tuesday on ESPN LA 710, Martz said the quote in its entirety was “not accurate.”

 

“I would never say something like that. [The quote] was kind of embellished. It was a very short interview, and I think what I told [author Thomas George] was there’s only a couple years’ difference between them, and they probably brought him in because of his ability to communicate. With [Goff], you want somebody more his age, I guess. But all of that other garbage, I would never say something like that.”

 

While McVay has only met Martz once, he said Tuesday that he respects what Martz acomplished in the game.

 

“You look at the production of offenses that he’s been a part of. … I don’t know Coach Martz; I met him real quick at the combine a handful of years ago,” McVay said Tuesday. “But I have a lot of respect for what he’s accomplished and can’t say anything but good things about what he’s done and what kind of coach he is.”

 

Thomas George, the author of the book, stands by his writing.

 

“At no point in a 48-minute phone interview on April 21st for ‘Blitzed’ did Mike Martz request any off the record comments or restrain from offering his strong opinions on a variety of NFL quarterbacking subjects, including Rams head coach Sean McVay and quarterback Jared Goff,” George said in a statement. “His quotes in today’s book excerpts on SBNation are completely, 100 percent accurate.”

 

Martz was on the Rams’ staff in the early 1990s, both before and after the team moved from Los Angeles to St. Louis. He was head coach from 2000 to 2005 in St. Louis after serving one season as offensive coordinator.

 

In the book, Martz also was quoted as expressing doubt that McVay could succeed with Goff simply because of his age.

 

“Right, he’s going to be able to teach and handle and guide Jared through tough times because of all of his expertise and knowledge? Right. I’m not going to drink that Kool-Aid,” Martz said.

 

In the ESPN LA 710 interview, Martz said McVay has the capability to lead the Rams. Los Angeles won four games last season, fired Fisher and hired McVay away from the Washington Redskins, where he worked as offensive coordinator for three seasons.

 

“It’s a tough game played by tough people, and you have to be able to provide that kind of leadership,” Martz said. “And if he has that kind of leadership, he’ll be all right, he’ll figure it out, but he’s going to have to lean on enough people at game day. In a tough game, that’s when he’s going to have to be at his best. It sounds like he has the capability to do that, he’s just going to have to get there real quick.

 

“I would say it’s going to take him three years in the job to really feel like he kind of knows what’s going on. At that point, if he’s done a good job, he’ll make it in the five years. But if not, it could be a disaster.”

 

McVay knows his age makes him a target for criticism and says it’s something he’ll deal with. He’s also aware of Martz’s claim that the comments were taken out of context, and realizes that can happen.

 

If the quotes in the book are in fact accurate, McVay said everyone is entitled to their opinion.

 

“The bottom line is this: I’ve never been a head coach before; I haven’t won a game. I haven’t done anything. So it’s going to be a great challenge,” McVay said Tuesday. “We’re confident with the guys we do have. I know that it’s going to be a great learning curve, and I’m not going to pretend to have the answer to things I don’t know.

 

“But what I am going to do is continue to look at myself critically, and try to be the best head coach and leader that I can be for this team and this organization.”

 

AFC WEST

 

DENVER

Woody Paige in the Denver Post wonders about the shelf life of QB TREVOR SIEMIAN.

 

SUPERMIAN!

 

Or Clark Kent?

 

Will Trevor Siemian be the best seventh-round pick ever to start for the Broncos, and only the second to start a playoff game? Can he possibly become the best NFL quarterback ever selected in the seventh round?

 

Can he be the best quarterback the Broncos ever drafted, which wouldn’t be as difficult as it may seem, considering others the franchise drafted?

 

Coach Van Joseph says the choice of Siemian as the starting quarterback is “permanent”. Does “permanent” mean 16 quarters, 16 games or 16 seasons?

 

Is Siemian destined, or decent enough, to be the seventh Broncos’ quarterback to start a playoff game in team history?

 

Or will he be a failure like more than 30 of his Denver predecessors?

 

Will he be remembered as Trevor Forever or Never Trevor?

 

And what about Paxton Lynch?

 

Eventual boom or bust?

 

Will he be another first-round one-hit wonder quarterback who barely passed in and through Colorado?

 

Will he be remembered as the QB who took a few seasons to develop into a starter and a star with the Broncos, or as a JAG (Just Another Guy) who was asked why he wasn’t the starter and replied: “I don’t know.”

 

Faux Pas or Faux Pax?

 

All is To Be Determined (TBD).

 

Here are quarterback essentials to consider:

 

Siemian is one of three Broncos’ seventh-round selection starters. Mickey Slaughter was 2-15-1 over four seasons (1963-66), and Jarious Jackson started the final game of 2003 – a defeat. Bradlee Van Pelt participated in three games in 2005, but never threw a pass. (Chad Kelly was the Broncos’ latest seventh-round QB. Zac Dysert, another, is with his seventh team.)

 

Gus Frerotte, a 1994 seventh-round choice by Washington, played in 14 games for the Broncos (for an injured Brian Griese) in 1999-2000 (4-3) and started a wild card loss in Baltimore. Frerotte, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Matt Cassel became the league’s most successful seventh-round quarterback picks post-merger.

 

The Broncos have drafted 41 quarterbacks since their 1960 inception, but just four in the first round. Tommy Maddox was the first (25th overall) in ’92, Jay Cutler (11th) in ’06, Tim Tebow (25th) in 2010 and Lynch (26th) last year. Maddox and Tebow lasted two years in Denver, Cutler three. Only Tebow reached the playoffs and won a game. Their cumulative victory total was 27 (zero by Maddox).

 

History here doesn’t bode well for Paxton (1-1).

 

Or Siemian, either.

 

Only two quarterbacks – John Elway and Craig Morton – have been principle starters for the Broncos for more than four seasons. However, Morton was dumped three different times in three of his five years. Three quarterbacks – Griese, Jake Plummer and Peyton Manning – started a majority of Broncos games over four years, but Plummer was replaced with Cutler in his final season, and Griese wasn’t healthy for 16 games in any season.

 

The Broncos have tried a bunch of first-rounders originally in other team’s organizations. Three, ironically enough, were picked No. 1 overall by the Colts – Elway and Manning, of course, and George Shaw, who was selected first by the Colts in 1955. (He was injured, and Johnny Unitas became the starter.) Shaw ended his career with the Broncos in 1962 with one start – a blowout loss to the Raiders.

 

Jacky Lee (the first quarterback grabbed by the Houston Oilers in the AFL), Patrick Ramsey, Don Horn, Chris Miller and Brady Quinn didn’t do much (or anything) on the Broncos’ roster. Steve Spurrier, chosen No. 3 overall by the 49ers, was cut in Broncos’ camp in ’77. Frank Tripucka, a first-round choice in the 1949 NFL draft, came out of retirement to spend his last four seasons as the Broncos’ first starter. (He was benched his final year after two games.)

 

Since the merger, 19 quarterbacks have been selected in the 20s in the first round. Two – Dan Marino and Aaron Rodgers – became superstars. Most of the rest were Tebow, Quinn, Maddox, Johnny Manziel types.

 

Will Siemian last? What’s Lynch’s shelf life?

 

Nobody with the Broncos has been “permanent” for long.

 

Except Elway.

 

Siemian could be like ALEX SMITH.  Good enough until something better comes along and something better never comes along.  And here Smith is, starting his fifth season as the Chiefs starter with a first rounder waiting in the wings.

 

AFC NORTH

 

CLEVELAND

And it looks like Hue Jackson is going with the rookie.  Michael David Smith at ProFootballTalk.com:

 

Browns rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer has been named the starter for Saturday’s preseason game against the Buccaneers, the strongest indication yet that he’s the favorite to be the starter when the regular season begins.

 

Browns coach Hue Jackson said he’s very pleased with everything Kizer is doing, and believes Kizer can start in the regular season as well, although he stopped short of saying Kizer will get the job permanently.

 

“He has made a lot of progress by investing the time necessary to learn our offense, working hard to improve on his fundamentals while also effectively moving the offense in preseason games,” Jackson said. “Development is so important for a young quarterback, this is the next step he needs to take and he deserves this opportunity. We are very excited about seeing DeShone in the role of starter for this week, as he is certainly positioning himself well to earn the starting job heading into the regular season.”

 

Kizer has played well in the preseason, but it was unclear whether he played well enough to move ahead of Brock Osweiler and Cody Kessler on the depth chart. Now it’s clear that Kizer is the favorite to win the job, and if he plays well this week he’ll start in Week One.

 

 

PITTSBURGH

RB Le’VEON BELL sets a timeframe for joining the Steelers.  This at ESPN.com:

 

Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell implied in a tweet Tuesday night that he will rejoin the team on Sept. 1 — a day after Pittsburgh’s final preseason game.

 

Responding to a Twitter user who asked when he would return to the field, Bell tweeted: “9-1-17.”

 

Told that was great news, Bell tweeted: “you’re welcome.”

 

Bell’s return to the Steelers has been one of the major storylines of the preseason. He is expected to sign the franchise tender upon his return, according to ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler, and the team is likely off Sept. 1 and 2, and possibly the 3rd.

 

AFC SOUTH

 

HOUSTON

For all those hoping that QB DeSHAUN WATSON will be handed the job immediately, Brian Smith in the Houston Chronicle reports TOM SAVAGE is now the starting QB of the Texans:

 

File under: Not news, but somewhat worth documenting.

 

Tom Savage is the Texans’ starting quarterback.

 

Of course. #AsExpected. Like, duh.

 

Bill O’Brien publicly attached the term “starter” to Savage on Tuesday and made it transparently clear that Deshaun Watson is officially a rookie backup in waiting.

 

For some reason, that was treated like major news on local radio. I’m sure it was also a bummer to national media outlets that tried to create a heated Savage versus Watson debate for months.

 

Was there a moment after the Texans’ first preseason game that Watson closed the gap? Is his unique athleticism impossible to ignore? Sure.

 

Was Savage the starter since March and always expected to be the Texans’ Week 1 answer in 2017? Yes to both.

 

If there was an opening for Watson to make this a real race, it closed last Saturday against New England. Savage looked as ready as he’s going to get for the Texans’ season opener Sept. 10 against Jacksonville, and only cemented his position during the initial two practices this week.

 

Watson was off both days – missing targets, taking too long to deliver passes – and one of his last sessions Tuesday saw the first-round pick bounce the ball off the grass in frustration.

 

Savage constantly directed the first unit, displayed a much smoother arm and sounded like a leader as his teammates ran a lap around a goalpost, challenging his unit to clean up its act (and using a few other motivating words).

 

“Tom has really had a good camp. He’s only thrown three incompletions in two games,” O’Brien said after practice Tuesday near NRG Stadium. “He’s really got good commend of our offense.”

 

The real questions have always been how long O’Brien’s Texans will stick with Savage as their No. 1 and when Watson’s time will come.

 

Starting a rookie making multiple transitions at once never made sense for a team eyeing its third consecutive playoff appearance. I wrote many times that Watson wasn’t drafted to take the first snap Week 1 – and wasn’t even supposed to play in 2017 (outside of garbage time) if everything went right in O’Brien’s fourth year.

 

“Deshaun is a very, very good young player who has a great future in this league. Let’s put the cards on the table,” O’Brien said. “But Tom has been here for four years. The way that we want to play, the style that we need to play, relative to getting guys lined up, relative to cadence, relative to protection points and route reads and putting guys in the right spot, Tom’s ahead of Deshaun on that.”

 

The Texans will stick with Savage until he’s holding them back. Then it will be Watson’s turn and the future will begin.

 

 

INDIANAPOLIS

Yesterday, we had a story on how Coach Chuck Pagano is no longer protecting his players, no longer sugar-coating his comments about ineptitude.

 

Then came this from Mike Wells of ESPN.com:

 

The Indianapolis Colts plan to keep Scott Tolzien as their starting quarterback in place of the injured Andrew Luck, coach Chuck Pagano said Monday.

 

Tolzien, who has been working with the first team since April, has been inconsistent during training camp and in the first two preseason games.

 

Tolzien is 12-of-19 for just 94 yards and no touchdowns in the preseason. The Colts have scored a total of just three points with him running the offense in those games.

 

“Scotty didn’t play bad,” Pagano said about Tolzien’s performance against the Dallas Cowboys over the weekend. “Scotty didn’t play bad. It takes 11 guys hitting on all cylinders offensively, defensively and special teams. So Scotty did not play bad.”

 

This Saturday’s game against the Pittsburgh Steelers will likely be Tolzien’s final live preseason action prior to the start of the regular season. The starters are expected to play until at least halftime against Pittsburgh and none of the Colts’ key players will likely play in the preseason finale against Cincinnati on Aug. 31. Luck remains on the physically unable to perform list and the longer he remains on it the more likely it’ll be that he doesn’t play in the Week 1 game at the Los Angeles Rams.

 

Stephen Morris, despite being demoted behind rookie Phillip Walker, has been the Colts most effective quarterback so far. Morris is 24-of-35 for 205 yards in leading the Colts down the field for their only two touchdowns in the preseason while playing in the fourth quarter against players competing for final roster spots. Morris took second-team snaps in practice Monday.

 

Pagano left the window open for more quarterback change in case Luck isn’t ready for the opener. When asked why Tolzien is starting ahead of Morris the coach said, “We’ve got two preseason games left.”

 

And this ominous report on ANDREW LUCK.  Josh Alper at ProFootballTalk.com:

 

The latest news about Colts quarterback Andrew Luck‘s absence from the field after having right shoulder surgery is a lot like the news that we’ve been hearing since the surgery.

 

While General Manager Chris Ballard said recently that Luck’s strength levels are up from last year, there’s still no sign that his return is imminent. Coach Chuck Pagano was asked about Luck’s return on Tuesday and his answer was the same one that the team has been giving for quite a while.

 

“There’s no timeline,” Pagano said, via Stephen Holder of the Indianapolis Star.

 

As Holder points out, the lack of a timeline at this point would seem to make it likely that Luck’s absence will stretch into the regular season. They play the Steelers this Saturday and then close out the preseason a week from Thursday, leaving very little practice time left before they would take on the Rams in Week One.

 

Pagano was asked how much practice time Luck would need to be ready and he said they won’t “know until we get him out here.” That answer makes sense, but it won’t do much to calm anyone worried that missing Luck could trip the Colts up before they even get out of the gate this season.

 

Pagano made a humorous attempt to do that by replying “you guys worry too much,” although you can’t blame the prospect of starting the season without the team’s best player for leading people to feel otherwise.

 

 

THIS AND THAT

 

 

PROTEST AND THE WHITE ATHLETE

Whether or not they believe the underlying cause (and it is implied, they should because it is just), Tyler Tynes of SBNation says white athletes must stand, kneel or sit with their black teammates.

 

It was the spring of 1968 in Los Angeles and something uncontrollable was eating at Jack Tenner.

 

For months a proposed “Negro boycott” was discussed among black athletes for the upcoming Olympics in Mexico City. Tenner — a white civil rights lawyer and judge who fought for black people and athletes for decades — called for a similar boycott in 1960. But heading into what would be a historic Olympics, Tenner wanted to set a record straight.

 

Tenner sent a letter to his friend Brad Pye, a legendary black journalist with a column at the LA Sentinel, a black publication. In it, Tenner expressed thoughts about the role white athletes played in a visibly racist America.

 

“At the moment I seriously question whether white America is ready to take the total responsibility necessary to remake the American society. But the activity of Negro athletes to bear witness in their identification with this struggle should not be repudiated, rather, the call should be on white athletes who labor on the same athletic field and come to have respect for their fellow athletes,” Tenner wrote.

 

Recently, white NFL players (like Chris Long and Justin Britt) have gained national attention for showing support for their protesting black teammates. Then on Monday night, a group of Browns players knelt in prayer during the national anthem. The group included Seth DeValve, who is white, and who after the game explained that “he wanted to support my African-American teammates today who wanted to take a knee. We wanted to draw attention to the fact that there’s things in this country that still need to change.”

 

Last season, USWNT player Megan Rapinoe kneeled during the national anthem before an NWSL game. The entire Indiana Fever team is also protesting before WNBA games.

 

These shows of support are just the beginning.

– – –

This was Seahawks defensive lineman Michael Bennett’s call to his white counterparts when starting his protest during the national anthem before games this season. Bennett made a simple plea to white athletes asking them to get involved.

 

“It would take a white player to really get things changed,” Bennett said. “Because when somebody from the other side understands and they step up and they speak up about it … it would change the whole conversation. Because when you bring somebody who doesn’t have to be a part of [the] conversation making himself vulnerable in front of it, I think when that happens, things will really take a jump.”

 

He, like many in history, understands that white athletes are essential to propel conversations about racism forward. However, the role of the white athlete isn’t to merely support black athletes in their struggle for equality. They need and deserve more than a pat on the shoulder. No, white athletes must be as vocal — if not louder — than the oppressed looking to end their generational pain.

 

“This is the ultimate expression of playing while white. You can be silent. You can come out and condemn people like Kaepernick or you can do the most minimal of silent protests. The consequences will always be minimal and the praise will always be great,” David Leonard, a Washington State University professor and author of Playing While White, said.

 

“We need to demand more from white athletes and white fans and white coaches and general managers and owners,” Leonard continued. “Not just in terms of gestures and symbolic standards, but pointed, directed protests.”

– – –

The role of the white athlete needs to be prominent during this moment of revitalized athlete activism, or it’ll just be another wasted flashpoint in history. But in it, there also has to be a clear understanding. Regardless of fan or media reaction to the white athlete’s stands, the player must stay level-headed. They must realize this is merely meeting the base level of what is needed to be a moral American.

 

This fight is one for equality, not for glory.

 

“It’s important to both recognize that part of being an ally or accomplice, whether it be white athletes, fans or white owners is doing the work without recognition,” Leonard said. “The work should be done. There shouldn’t be celebration. There shouldn’t be an effort to hand out a gold star.”

 

More here.

 

 

BROADCAST NEWS

Somewhere in ESPN’s Deep State they thought it was a good idea to make an announcer switch, a secret announcer switch on an obscure game involving an obscure talent, to avoid some snark from Deadspin or Awful Announcing.

 

And then it blew up in their faces when a mole leaked the news to Clay Travis.  Victor Morton in the Washington Times:

 

Apparently, even being Asian doesn’t mean people won’t take you for being a white nationalist.

ESPN confirmed Tuesday night that it had decided to pull an announcer from calling a University of Virginia football game because his name is Robert Lee. This Robert Lee is Asian.

 

“We collectively made the decision with Robert to switch games as the tragic events in Charlottesville were unfolding, simply because of the coincidence of his name. In that moment it felt right to all parties,” reads the ESPN statement posted at the popular Fox Sports college-football blog Outkick the Coverage.

 

“Did I mention that Robert Lee is Asian?” wrote disbelieving blogger Clay Travis, who first broke the story, citing “multiple Outkick fans inside ESPN.”

 

ESPN’s spin is that we should be ashamed of our interest in there move and/or Robert Lee sort of wanted the switch because he is a “young announcer.” 

 

First the statement, as quoted from the New York Times:

 

“We collectively made the decision with Robert to switch games as the tragic events in Charlottesville were unfolding, simply because of the coincidence of his name,” ESPN said in a statement. “In that moment it felt right to all parties. It’s a shame that this is even a topic of conversation and we regret that who calls play-by-play for a football game has become an issue.”

 

Here is the take of Travis:

 

Seriously, is there anything more pathetic than ESPN believing people would be offended by an Asian guy named Robert Lee sharing a name with Robert E. Lee and calling a football game? Aside from some hysterical photoshops and Internet memes which would make everyone with a functional brain laugh — Robert E. Lee pulling out all the stops to stay in Charlottesville now! — what was the big fear here? Does ESPN really believe people are this dumb or that having an Asian announcer named Robert Lee is too offensive for the average TV viewer to handle?

 

Yes, yes they do.

 

Richard Dietsch of SI.com had plenty of stuff in his Twitter timeline, including an appearance from a great historical ESPN figure, Bob Ley.

 

@richarddeitsch

Company spokesperson Keri Potts says they did not mandate that Robert Lee change his assignment.

 

@richarddeitsch

Company says that Lee (a young broadcaster who works for ESPN3) was more comfortable not doing this assignment.

 

@richarddeitsch

I requested an interview Robert Lee. ESPN says he’s not talking at the moment. (Young guy. Can honesty understand why here.)

 

@richarddeitsch

Lee is now assigned Youngstown State at Pittsburgh on Sept. 2. Airing on ACC Network.

 

@richarddeitsch

I hope Robert Lee talks. Sucks that he’s here now. Not the pub you want as a broadcaster. But he can provide a ton of clarity.

 

@richarddeitsch 

I would personally solve this problem by having Bob Ley call the Virginia game with Lee Corso.

 

@richarddeitsch 

 With this blowing up: If I’m Robert Lee, I’d now ask do Virginia-W&M. You’d get a massive audience and people would root for you.

 

@BobLeyESPN 

 Rather worried my employee ID/pass may not admit me in the AM.  Life, as scripted by @OnionSports.

 

FYI – Dave Weekley will get the call in Lee’s place.  According to Wikipedia, there were no Confederate generals named Weekley.

 

 

2018 DRAFT

Todd McShay of ESPN.com (where you can not find a word about Bob Lee) has his top 10 draft prospects by position.  Here are his rankings for running back and quarterback:

 

Running backs

 

1. Saquon Barkley, Penn State*

Grade: 93

 

Despite missing two games in 2015 (11 games played, six starts), Barkley still broke Penn State’s freshman rushing record with 1,076 yards. He was even better last season (1,496 yards, 5.5 yards per carry), and the numbers tell just part of the tale. Barkley has good balance and terrific lateral agility and can run away from the defense when he hits the second level. Barring injury, he should be the first back taken in the 2018 draft.

 

2. Derrius Guice, LSU*

Grade: 91

 

All Guice has done is average 8.5 YPC in 2015 and 7.6 in 2016, playing behind Leonard Fournette. How will he do with the chance to be the No. 1 back in Death Valley? He doesn’t have Fournette’s acceleration, but he has great quickness and the ability to stick his foot in the ground and hit a hole. His running style reminds me of Arian Foster.

 

3. Bo Scarbrough, Alabama*

Grade: 90

 

A big-time high school recruit, Scarbrough came on strong the final three games of 2016 before suffering a broken leg in the title game against Clemson. He runs behind his pads, and his body control and balance are outstanding. He has a nose for the sticks and the end zone, and he flashes a strong stiff arm. He is a very solid back.

 

4. Nick Chubb, Georgia

Grade: 80

 

Chubb rushed for more than 100 yards in 13 straight games before tearing several knee ligaments (not including his ACL) in 2015. He didn’t have the same explosiveness in 2016 coming off the injury, but he has quick feet for his size (listed at 5-foot-10, 228 pounds). Right now, he projects as a Day 2 pick, but he could move up the boards if he can regain some of that agility.

 

5. Akrum Wadley, Iowa

Grade: 75

 

Wadley was used sparingly his first two seasons, but he broke out last year, averaging an impressive 6.4 yards per carry in his junior season for the Hawkeyes. He showed his ability as a pass-catcher as well, generating 8.8 yards per catch on 36 receptions. He has elite lateral agility to make defenders miss in small spaces.

 

6. Kalen Ballage, Arizona State

Grade: 72

 

Ballage has a rare blend of size (6-foot-2, 233 pounds) and speed, which makes him a big-play threat every time he touches the ball. He runs too high at times and needs to take better care of the ball (1.9 percent career fumble rate).

 

7. Ronald Jones, USC*

Grade: 70

 

A sprinter on the USC track team, Jones has great top-end speed and is a decisive runner. Although not an overpowering back, he breaks a lot of attempted arm tackles and is a willing blocker in pass protection. He led USC with 1,082 yards and 12 touchdowns last season.

 

8. Royce Freeman, Oregon

Grade: 65

 

Freeman is patient as a runner and sets up his blocks well. He shows added value in the passing game, but his lack of breakaway speed is what makes him a projected middle-round pick.

 

9. Mark Walton, Miami (Fla.)*

Grade: 55

 

A standout sophomore campaign with 1,117 yards on 5.3 YPC and 14 touchdowns places Walton on this preseason list. A tiny back (listed at 5-foot-9, 205 pounds), Walton had six games last season with a run of at least 22 yards. He had a DUI last summer, among other off-the-field issues.

 

10. Jalen Hurd, Baylor

Grade: 51

 

Hurd has to sit out the 2017 season after the former Tennessee back transferred to Baylor, but he’s a highly competitive runner. He is elusive, though he lacks top-end speed. He’s practicing as a wide receiver for the Bears, but I like his upside as a running back.

 

Quarterbacks

 

1. Sam Darnold, USC*

Grade: 94

 

Darnold led a 1-3 USC team to a Rose Bowl appearance after being inserted in the starting lineup in 2016. Completing 67.2 percent of his passes (10th nationally), he threw for 3,086 yards and a 31-9 TD-INT ratio. Darnold capped the season with an impressive performance against Penn State in the Rose Bowl, tossing five TDs and going 10-of-10 for 135 yards in the fourth quarter. He can improve his ball security (nine fumbles, five lost), and his delivery is a bit long, but his accuracy is outstanding. He’s an early Heisman Trophy favorite and is a more complete player than Josh Allen at this point.

 

2. Josh Allen, Wyoming*

Grade: 94

 

He is the best quarterback most college football fans have never heard of, and Allen can do everything on the field. He didn’t have a single Division I scholarship offer in high school but transferred to Wyoming after a year at Reedley College. Allen has an elite arm and frame (listed at 6-foot-5, 233 pounds) and is surprisingly fast and athletic for his size. He can make any throw, and his accuracy is terrific when his feet are set. A little bit of a gunslinger at times, he has all the tools to be an elite NFL QB. If he comes out, he’ll be in the running for the No. 1 pick in the 2018 NFL draft.

 

3. Josh Rosen, UCLA

Grade: 92

 

Rosen had a terrific 2015 season, becoming the first player to start at UCLA as a true freshman and throwing for 3,668 yards with 23 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. A shoulder injury cut his season short last year, and he needs to bounce back from a poor 2016. He has great accuracy and touch and gets the ball out on time, but he needs to improve his decision-making under pressure.

 

4. Luke Falk, Washington State

Grade: 84

 

The first senior on this list, Falk has put up gaudy numbers during his Washington State career, including throwing for 4,468 yards in 2016 (third in the nation), 38 touchdowns and only 11 interceptions. He’s a rhythm passer with very good accuracy, but there are questions about his ability to adapt from Mike Leach’s passer-friendly spread offense. He has the tools to be a special player.

 

5. Mason Rudolph, Oklahoma State

Grade: 72

 

Rudolph improved upon a good 2015 campaign with a better 2016, throwing for more than 4,000 yards with 28 touchdowns and only four interceptions. He has the frame (listed at 6-foot-4, 233 pounds) and mental makeup that you look for, but his below-average arm strength is a concern and could hold him back.

 

6. Lamar Jackson, Louisville*

Grade: 61

 

The 2016 Heisman winner (the youngest ever to win the trophy) was the talk of college football last season, especially through the first nine games as he racked up 45 touchdowns (including rushing and receiving) to only six interceptions. Why is he ranked so low then? For one, he was sacked 22 times in the final three games, as teams seemed to figure him out. He must improve his accuracy.

 

7. Nick Fitzgerald, Mississippi State

Grade: 60

 

Fitzgerald was impressive in his first season as a starter at Mississippi State, as it isn’t an easy job being the guy to replace Dak Prescott. A dual-threat college quarterback, he’d be well-served by returning for the 2018 season, regardless of how the 2017 season goes.

 

8. Riley Ferguson, Memphis

Grade: 53

 

A junior-college transfer by way of Tennessee, Ferguson completed 63 percent of his passes for nearly 3,700 yards, 32 touchdowns and 10 interceptions in his first season as a starter.

 

9. Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma

Grade: 52

 

A former walk-on and Texas Tech transfer, Mayfield is going into his third season as Oklahoma’s starter. He had an excellent 2016 campaign, finishing third in the Heisman voting. That follows a fourth place Heisman finish in 2015. Mayfield has the mobility, accuracy and football IQ you look for, but I’m concerned about his frame (listed at 6-foot-0, 205 pounds) and arm strength to put the ball in tight windows in the NFL. He projects as a career backup, which makes him a Day 3 prospect.

 

10. Matt Linehan, Idaho

Grade: 31

 

A second-team all-Sun Belt choice, Linehan continues to make his mark on the Idaho record books. He’s among Idaho’s all-time leaders in a variety of statistical categories.

 

Unmentioned by McShay is the fact that Linehan of Idaho is the son of Cowboys OC Scott Linehan who also was a starting QB for the Vandals.