Training Camp Update Volume 9, Issue 2 8/12/14

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Training Camp Update
Volume 9, Issue 2 – 8/12/14

We say it all the time because it's true: Things change fast in the NFL. And they never change faster than they do in August. And nobody covers those changes and team situations more comprehensively than Our Training Camp Updates come out once a week in August and our staff covers everything you need to know about every NFL team. This is the deep stuff that gives you an edge. We're not going to rave that Peyton Manning and Jamaal Charles are great. You know that.

Read our weekly updates to get the inside scoop on how the Giants running backs are practicing and which player is the best bet for your draft. Or the Eagles WR corps. Or which Carolina receivers are shining in practice. It's the kind of information that will put you over the edge and on the way to dominating your draft.

Happy reading and let's have a great 2014 season,

Joe Bryant and David Dodds

Arizona Cardinals

QB: In the first preseason game of the year, Carson Palmer threw the ball as well as he has at any other point over the past 10 years. Palmer didn't miss a pass during the one drive he played. He had a touchdown pass wiped off the board because of a penalty though, before he threw a second to Larry Fitzgerald in the end zone. Drew Stanton came in afterwards and solidified his place as the backup with an impressive couple of series. Logan Thomas looks set to do everything he can to challenge those two, but his chances of playing during the regular season this year remain slim.

RB: The early talk during training camp has shifted from how many touches Andre Ellington gets, to how many different ways can Ellington touch the ball. Ellington is a very versatile player and head coach Bruce Arians has a history of splitting his running backs out wide in the passing game. Stepfan Taylor appears to have the lead in the backup competition; entering the first preseason game ahead of Jonathan Dwyer. Taylor wasn't impressive, but neither was Dwyer. It appears that the versatile Robert Hughes is in pole position to win the fourth running back spot. Hughes can play running back or fullback.

WR: The attention is always on Larry Fitzgerald in Arizona. Michael Floyd is also a focus of much fanfare as he continues to develop. Yet, this offseason has been all about 3rd round rookie John Brown. Brown impressed throughout the offseason and continued to impress in the first preseason game. He announced himself with a 25-yard reception on 3rd and 16 when the first team offense needed a big play. After that he brought the second team offense down the field, primarily because of a big pass interference penalty he forced, before scoring at the goal line. Brown isn't just a speedster, he is comfortable working over the middle and making difficult receptions in traffic. He appears to be widening his gap over Ted Ginn for the third receiver spot. Ginn will still carry value as a special teams returner though, so his roster spot should be safe. Jaron Brown appears to have an edge for the 5th receiver spot. If the Cardinals keep six receivers, it likely comes down to a battle between Britton Golden and Walter Powell.

TE: Veteran John Carlson has suggested that rookie Troy Niklas is still acclimating to his role. Niklas wasn't used much as a receiver in college and is a converted linebacker. His value is as a blocker. For now, both Carlson and Rob Housler remain ahead of him on the depth chart.

Defense: It was hard to learn anything about the Cardinals first team defense against a Houston Texans offense that was missing Arian Foster and Andre Johnson, while Ryan Fitzpatrick started at quarterback. The run defense was an early concern, as Jonathan Grimes was able to be productive, but this unit still remains an unknown for the most part. Part of that unknown is the status of outside linebacker John Abraham. Abraham hasn't joined the team in the preseason and recently released a statement about a recent DUI arrest. Abraham is expected to return at some point, but exactly when remains unclear. Sam Acho, who is returning from a broken leg, replaced Abraham for the start of the preseason. Without Tyrann Mathieu (Injury), Abraham (Absence), Karlos Dansby (2013 starter not on team), Daryl Washington (2013 starter, suspended for 2014) and Yeremiah Bell (2013 starter not on team), it's going to take some time before we figure out exactly what the Cardinals can be defensively.

K/P: Veteran kicker Jay Feely watched as rookie Chandler Catanzaro got the opportunity to handle all the kicking in the preseason opener against the Texans. Catanzaro made field goals of 32, 28 and 25 and added three 33-yard extra points. He tallied two touchbacks on seven kickoffs. Head coach Bruce Arians noted: “He really kicked the ball well, especially on his kickoffs. He was perfect and I liked his demeanor.” Feely will kick in next week, as they alternate games. Dave Zastudil averaged 47.5 yards on a pair of punts.

OL: In their first preseason game, the Cardinals offense had great success in the passing attack. However, free agent addition Jared Veldheer had a bit of a rough night against this year’s first overall pick Jadeveon Clowney. This could be more a statement about Clowney being elite than Veldheer’s ability. Left guard Jonathan Cooper gave up a sack to J.J. Watt, after getting his knee drained earlier in the week. Still, it must be noted that the first team line only giving up two sacks is actually an improvement for the Cardinals’ offensive line, which had an overall strong performance this week.

Cardinals Depth Chart
QB: Carson PalmerDrew StantonLogan ThomasRyan Lindley
RB: Andre EllingtonStepfan TaylorJonathan DwyerJalen ParmaleZach BaumanRobert HughesTim Cornett
WR: Larry FitzgeraldMichael FloydTed Ginn (KR/PR)John Brown, Jaron Brown, Walt PowellBrittan GoldenDan BucknerTeddy Williams
TE: John CarlsonTroy Niklas (inj)Rob HouslerDarren FellsAndre Hardy
LT: Jared VeldheerBradley Sowell
LG: Jonathan CooperChristian Johnson
C: Lyle SendleinTed LarsenPhillip BlakeJohn Estes
RG: Paul FanaikaEarl Watford
RT: Bobby MassieMax StarksNate Potter
K: Jay FeelyChandler Catanzaro
DT: Dan WilliamsAlameda Ta′amuAnthony McCloudEverette Thompson
DE: Calais CampbellDarnell Dockett (DT)Frostee Rucker (DT), Ronald TalleyKareem MartinEd Stinson
ILB: Kevin MinterLarry FooteLorenzo AlexanderKenny Demens, JoJo DicksonDaryl Washington (susp)
OLB: Matt Shaughnessy (W)John Abraham (W)Marcus BenardSam AchoAdrian TracyAlex OkaforKeenan Clayton
CB: Patrick Peterson (PR)Antonio CromartieJerraud PowersJustin BethelBryan McCannLeQuan Lewis
S: Tyrann Mathieu (FS)Tony Jefferson (SS)Deone Bucannon (SS), Rashad Johnson (FS)Orhian JohnsonAnthony Walters (SS)Curtis Taylor

Atlanta Falcons

QB: Matt Ryan (7/7 for 53 yards passing, no TDs, interceptions, or sacks taken) called the opening possession of the preseason, which went 15 plays for 77 yards and a TD, "exactly what you want for your first drive of the year... We were able to run the ball pretty effectively, and when we did have the opportunity to throw, we were able to move the chains. We were able to overcome a couple of penalties, we were able to keep going, and punch the ball into the end zone." Head coach Mike Smith was not pleased with the conversion rate on red-zone penetrations overall, though: "We had three other opportunities there in the red zone where we did not finish the drive [vs. Miami]. … Those are things that we definitely will be addressing and talking about." T.J. Yates, who joined the team via a June trade with Houston, looked comfortable in his first game (albeit preseason) as a Falcon. Yates was 7/16 for 127 yards passing, with zero TDs, interceptions, or sacks taken, and 2/8/0 rushing. Sean Renfree posted 6/15 for 108 yards, with zero TDs, interceptions, or sacks taken, appearing late in the game with the reserves. Yates has the early lead in the backup QB competition.

RB: Jacquizz Rodgers started in the first preseason game (Steven Jackson remains out due to a hamstring injury), and scored the team's only TD with a two-yard effort (all told Rodgers posted 7/20/1 rushing). Antone Smith was unlucky with two big-gainers (a 35-yard reception and a 76-yard TD run) called back due to penalties. Smith's box score was therefore lackluster with the second-string, showing as 3/5/0 rushing and 1/5/0 receiving. Coach Smith addressed the penalties: "The big thing that sticks out is we cannot have nine penalties. Those nine penalties, it was 240 yards given up that would have been on our stat sheet. You start talking about the hidden yards in a game, it looks like a 10-yard penalty on the stat sheet. Well, it brought back a 70-something yard touchdown run." Devonta Freeman played well later in the game with 10/50/0 rushing and two targets for 1/57/0 receiving. Offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter said he believes Freeman is "coming along fine," but has only been "OK" at pass protection. "I think that’s [pass protection] the biggest adjustment for a running back going from college to the NFL," Koetter said. "He had a great college career but teams try to test rookie running backs... There's a learning curve. He's on the right track." A report on August 10 noted that Smith may be in for a bigger role in camp going forward as the team was pleased with his long gainers on Friday night (even though they were negated by penalty).

WR: Roddy White had some action in the preseason opener (four targets for 4/27/0 receiving), as did Harry Douglas (one for 1/17/0). Julio Jones sat out as a precautionary measure (foot injury/offseason surgery rehab). Coach Smith addressed Jones' schedule in camp (practicing every other day): "I think he's handled everything that we've asked him to do up to this point in time. He hasn't missed any of the snaps that we've talked about him taking." Undrafted rookie Bernard Reedy (5'8", 175 lbs, from Toledo) led the Falcons in receiving during the exhibition, with two targets for 2/61/0, while Courtney Roby saw four targets for 2/27/0 receiving. Roddy White didn’t practice on Saturday, August 9 because of a scheduled day off. During Saturday's practice, Ryan targeted Jones on three of four red zone attempts, with Jones hauling in two touchdowns. Coach Smith wasn't happy with the team's red zone showing against the Dolphins, without Jones in the lineup. "We knew we needed to get red zone work right after the first preseason game."

TE: Levine Toilolo was involved in the first-team passing attack vs. Miami on Friday night, with three targets for 2/19/0 receiving to his credit. Toilolo, the #1 tight end on the depth chart, played 43 snaps on offense and two on special teams, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Backup Mickey Shuler caught two passes for 2/23/0 during the with 18 snaps on offense and 13 on special teams. Bear Pascoe played 19 snaps on offense and four on special teams, reeling in one pass for 6 yards. Brian Wosniak and Jacob Peterson combined for 10 snaps on offense. “There are some interesting battles going on in the tight end group,” tight ends coach Chris Scelfo said recently. “Levine, Mickey, all five of those guys are battling.”

Defense: Free safety Dwight Lowery (concussion) returned to practice Saturday, August 9. The secondary is an area of concern for the Falcons defense so his return to the active lineup is a plus. LB Pat Angerer also rejoined practice Saturday after recovering from a concussion. The defense created a turnover to secure the win on Friday night. "Individually and collectively, I thought the first impression was good," Coach Smith said after the game. "We want to be a physical football team and I thought we showed that." Smith wasn't happy with how Ryan Tannehill and the first team of Miami marched the ball down the field for an opening-drive score. He added on Saturday August 9: "I think that we ended up getting into too many third-and-shorts. We had an explosive play (36-yard pass play from Ryan Tannehill to Rishard Matthews), with a crossing route, and we just missed the pickup there. We were in a coverage that we should be able to stop that. We'll see it, and we'll be better in that area." LB Marquis Spruill is out for the season after tearing his ACL during practice this week. Early reports of a wrist fracture for DE Ra'Shede Hageman were incorrect; he has a bone bruise and played in the preseason game August 8, posting a solo tackle and an assist. LB Tim Dobbins suffered an ankle injury Friday night and is expected to be out for a few days.

K/P: The Falcons scored mostly by foot in their preseason opener against the Dolphins. Starting kicker Matt Bryant made a long extra point and a short field goal of 21 yards. Camp leg Sergio Castillo made field goals of 21 and 34 yards. He also got in some punting work, averaging 46.5 yards on a pair of punts. Starting punter Matt Bosher averaged 53.0 yards on four punts. On Sunday, the Falcons waived Castillo.

OL: Rookie right tackle Jake Matthews was called for two holding penalties in the preseason contest against the Dolphins. One of those called back a potential 76-yard touchdown scamper by Antone Smith. Matthews actually looked good in his other snaps, working mostly against Cameron Wake, but obviously he needs to clean up his technique. Earlier in the week, center Joe Hawley was tossed out of an inter-squad practice with the Titans for fighting. Gabe Carimi went down with a sprained ankle but the injury is considered minor and he is still considered a likely bet to make the team in a backup role. Backup tackle Terren Jones returned to action after recovering from a concussion.

Falcons Depth Chart
QB: Matt RyanT.J. YatesSean RenfreeJeff Mathews
RB: Steven JacksonDevonta FreemanJacquizz Rodgers (KR),Antone SmithJosh Vaughn
FB: Patrick DiMarco
WR: Julio Jones (inj)Roddy WhiteHarry Douglas (PR)Drew Davis (inj)Darius JohnsonDevin Hester (KR/PR)Kevin ConeGeraldo BoldewijnBernard ReedyCourtney RobyJeremy Ebert
TE: Levine ToiloloMickey ShulerAndrew SzczerbaJacob Pederson
LT: Sam BakerLamar HolmesRyan Schraeder
LG: Justin BlalockHarland Gunn
C: Joe HawleyPeter Konz
RG: Jon Asamoah
RT: Jake MatthewsGabe CarimiTerren Jones
K: Matt Bryant
NT: Paul SoliaiTravian RobertsonDonte Rumph
DE: Tyson JacksonJonathan BabineauxRa′Shede Hageman (inj), Osi UmenyioraJonathan MassaquoiStansly MapongaMalliciah Goodman (inj)Corey Peters (inj)Cliff MatthewsAdam Replogle
ILB: Paul WorrilowTim DobbinsYawin SmallwoodPat Angerer, Darin DrakefordSean Weatherspoon (IR)Marquis Spruill (IR)
OLB: Joplo Bartu (W/S)Prince ShemboKroy BiermannTyler Starr, Brenden DaleyJacques Smith
CB: Desmond TrufantRobert AlfordJosh WilsonRobert McClain, Javier Arenas (PR/KR)Ricardo AllenJordan Mabin
S: William Moore (SS)Dezmen Southward (FS) (inj)Kemal Ishmael (SS)Zeke Mota (SS)Tyrell Johnson (FS)Sean Baker (FS)Dwight Lowery (FS) (inj)

Baltimore Ravens

QB: The Ravens’ overhauled offense under new OC Gary Kubiak got positive reviews. Joe Flacco was limited to one drive in the preseason opener Thursday night, but he made the most of the opportunity by leading the team on a 10-play, 80-yard drive that lasted nearly five minutes and culminated in a Bernard Pierce touchdown run. Flacco completed 4 of 5 passes on the drive for 52 yards. The Ravens' opening offensive drive was textbook Kubiak, a clinic on the offensive coordinator's version of the West Coast offense. It included the staples of the zone-stretch run, play-action, a tight end screen and plenty of intermediate throws from Flacco followed by some power football in the red zone. Flacco has shown off his huge arm on occasion in camp. In 11-on-11 drills during Saturday’s joint practice with the San Francisco 49ers, Flacco made a beautiful throw when he scrambled to his left and launched it 60 yards downfield to Marlon Brown, hitting him in stride for the TD.

RB: The Ravens rushing offense showed a lot of potential as the team ran 48 times for 237 yards Thursday. It wasn't terribly complicated, but it isn't going to be during the season either. Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce each showed well in the first half. Rice rushed for 17 yards on three carries, averaging 5.7 yards during a brief appearance. That included a sharp 6-yard run on the Ravens’ first play of the preseason as Rice adeptly executed offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak’s trademark zone-stretch run. From his first carry, it was clear that this was not the same Ray Rice we saw last season. He showed the speed and burst that made him one of the NFL’s best RBs earlier in his career. “For me personally, it felt good to get out there and show that I still have a burst,” Rice said. “I was able to move and get into my correct reads with this new offense. It was definitely great to gel with my teammates.” Rice is noticeably quicker and leaner following the worst season of his NFL career. "I do feel different," Rice said. "I guess it's safe to say I feel like back when I was a rookie. That's the weight I'm continuing to try to play at. Obviously, what I went through when I added a little bit of extra weight, you can't make the cuts like you want to do. Training this offseason and focusing on the stuff that I needed to focus on, diet, exercise, all the stuff I needed to do, finally I got down to the weight I was comfortable at and went out there and executed." Bernard Pierce rushed for 37 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries. Pierce is slated to start in place of Rice during the first two games of the regular season. Pierce has also slimmed down since finishing last season at roughly 230 pounds and ballooning to 250 pounds following offseason rotator cuff surgery on his right shoulder. Pierce has enjoyed the new one-cut system that is similar to his college offense. "I've lost a lot of weight and am lighter on my feet. So, I look forward to running in this system. It's not that complicated to run." Rookie Lorenzo Taliaferro impressed in his debut, as he broke off big chunks of yardage in 2nd half action. Taliaferro showed the kind of bruising, downhill back he's sometimes unable to be in practice. Taliaferro seems to be establishing himself as the 3rd RB in the Ravens stable and is a player to watch in dynasty leagues.

WR: The Ravens WRs were quiet against the 49ers as the offense focused on the run game. On Saturday in joint practices with the 49ers, Steve Smith was the best offensive player for the Ravens. Smith split a pair of 49ers defenders and caught a 50-yard bomb during team passing drills. It was one of at least three big touchdowns Smith caught on what was his best day of practice since the start of camp.

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