Trevor Siemian is the new Broncos starting QB. Justin Gilbert will redemption in Cleveland. Ziggy Ansah can record 20 sacks. These off-season assertions are examined in our Truth Detector.
Sorting through the NFL’s hyperbole can be a challenge during the summer months, when OTAs, mini-camps and training camps give rise to sweeping declarations about a player’s progress (or lack thereof). Each week, our new "Truth Detector" will attempt to guide you toward reality.
Which remarks are to be believed, and which are merely off-season fodder?
Trevor Siemian as Peyton’s replacement?
“I think Trevor has a maturity to him. He’s kind of the sleeper, I would say. Trevor knows the offense. He’s very comfortable and can throw the ball too. We’ve also seen him make big plays in the preseason games under the lights. I wouldn’t sleep on Trevor to win the job, either.” -- Broncos coach Gary Kubiak, via The Denver Post.
The real explanation for the sudden surge in Siemian chatter comes not from that Kubiak quote, but from this one: “Mark [Sanchez] is the guy with the most experience, but he has no experience here.”
Combine Siemian’s time spent under Kubiak with Sanchez’s nagging (but now-healed) thumb injury and Lynch’s rookie status, and you have an explanation for how Siemian quickly rose to QB1. To stay there, he will have to outplay Sanchez for the next three months and hope that Lynch indeed requires an extended transition period, as many speculated he would ahead of the draft.
Neither scenario is out of the question. Kubiak’s system is designed, in theory, to take as much responsibility off the quarterback as possible. That goal backfired a bit when he and Manning paired up, as a declining Manning struggled mightily to find a comfort zone inside the Kubiak attack.
But ex-NFL QB Sage Rosenfels, who played under Kubiak at Denver, wrote for The MMQB ahead of Super Bowl 50 that Kubiak’s system is “one of the most quarterback-friendly systems in the NFL.”
“One strength of Kubiak’s system,” Rosenfels explained, “is he doesn’t put the full command of the offense in the quarterback’s hands. He tries to design the offense so the quarterback just needs to focus on executing the play called rather than deciding if the play will work and how they should change it. This allows the quarterbacks to just ’do their job’ while playing fast, analyzing less and allowing their athletic ability to take over.”
The term “game manager” again comes to mind, as it did while watching Manning throughout the playoffs. So is Siemian a safer option than Sanchez, a player with turnover issues but far, far more in-game experience? He is not a higher-upside choice than Lynch, a first-round pick this past draft.
Buying or selling Kubiak’s comments?: Buying, but ... Siemian entering the season as the starter probably would be a disappointment in Denver, because it would mean neither Sanchez nor Lynch stepped up to win the job. From what we knew of Siemian entering the NFL and the little we’ve seen of him in the preseason, there is no evidence to suggest he should take over as a second-year starting quarterback. Sanchez is capable at least of matching Manning’s playoff showing, while Lynch—with Kubiak mostly calling the shots within the offense—has a real chance to be the No. 1 QB earlier than some people expect.
Justin Gilbert’s redemption?
“He’s been sensational. He’s done everything we’ve asked him to do the way we’ve asked him to do it. I told him when I first talked to him that ’your slate’s clean. Whatever’s gone on in the past doesn’t matter to me.’ ... He’s very talented, as we all know. He’s done everything right thus far, and I’m very proud of him.” -- Browns coach Hue Jackson, via NFL.com.
It is an NFL off-season tradition: new coaching staff enters, proceeds to talk up player who was a disappointment under the previous group. The same is happening, for example, in Miami where Adam Gase has been heard hyping WR Kenny Stills.
How much does it all mean? Often, very little. New regimes are not beholden to the acquisitions made by their predecessors and on many occasions—as has been the case, to some extent, in Cleveland—spend their first few months trying to purge the roster of lingering mistakes. Gilbert’s contract becomes fully expendable following this season, too.
There should be no rush to push him out the door, though. Cleveland is far from rolling in cornerback depth, especially with Joe Haden working his way back from ankle surgery. And Haden’s former status as a top-10 pick should earn him an extended look on its own merit, regardless of when he was brought into the fold.
Defensive coordinator Ray Horton already has worked this spring on fixing Gilbert’s technique, citing an “elongated” stance. It’s also worth noting that one of the questions about Gilbert upon entering the league was how his physical style would translate. Another 2014 rookie CB with a similar approach, Cincinnati’s Darqueze Dennard, spoke with SI following the draft about his concerns adjusting to how strict NFL officials are with contact in the passing game. He, like Gilbert, has had a difficult time making an impact.
Year three, not year one, usually paints a far better picture of what a cornerback can do following the college-to-pro transition.
Buying or selling Jackson’s comments?: Buying. Gilbert making the leap from where he has to been to a starting, lock-down cornerback would be an astronomical change of direction, but there is reason to believe it could click for him a bit with different coaches.
Twenty sacks for Ziggy Ansah?
“If you ask [defensive line coach] Kris [Kocurek about Ansah’s potential], it’s 20 sacks. I think he just has to continue to improve, just like we said the last couple years, just continue to improve on his pass-rush techniques, get better in the run game and he’ll continue to grow. He’s got a lot of room for growth still.” -- Lions defensive coordinator Teryl Austin, via MLive.com.
On an Ndamukong Suh-less Lions D-line last season, Ansah delivered a breakout season. The No. 5 pick in the 2013 draft produced a career-high 14.5 sacks, third-most in the league behind only J.J. Watt and Khalil Mack and good enough to earn him a Pro Bowl nod.
Does he have another 5.5 sacks in him?
He might, but just 10 players since the NFL began counting the stat in the early ’80s have hit that 20-sack mark (J.J. Watt has done it twice). Getting there makes for a historic achievement.
Ansah will need more help from the pieces around him if he wants to make a run at it. Last season, he and fellow 2013 draft pick Devin Taylor had to do much of the heavy lifting themselves, with little help from the interior line or linebackers. At least the former should be of more assistance this season, thanks to A’Shawn Robinson’s arrival and the improved health of Haloti Ngata and Tyrunn Walker. Will they help drive more sacks to Ansah by collapsing the pocket, or will they grab more of the glory for themselves?
Buying or selling Austin’s comments?: Selling. Ansah again should be among the league’s top pass rushers, but banking on anyone to nab 20 sacks would be asking too much. If the Lions are better equipped elsewhere, as they believe to be the case, Ansah will have to share his numbers. Approaching 15 sacks again would be impressive enough.
Is Blaine Gabbert the new Colin Kaepernick?
“I think [Kaepernick and Gabbert are] similar, they have a similar skill set. They’re both 6’ 4”-plus, they both can really run, which will help keep plays alive. Obviously, we’re not a quarterback-run offense but if the quarterback can run you can use a little bit of that to your advantage, and they both have extremely strong arms. From a skill-set standpoint, the two of them are kind of cut out of the same mold.” -- 49ers coach Chip Kelly, on 95.7 The Game.
The Kelly comment was a bit of a stunner. Gabbert outplayed expectations as a fill-in for Kaepernick last season, but as a matching replacement? The comparison may say as much about how Kelly views Kaepernick as it does his thoughts on Gabbert.
But, OK, let’s take a step back and analyze this. There is some coach-speak in there—“Well, we don’t have Kaepernick right now but don’t worry! This other guy is kinda the same!”
There also is a little truth, for better or worse. Gabbert has the athleticism to be a relatively mobile quarterback (5.8 yards per rush last season), plus has a strong enough arm to hit all the windows, same as Kaepernick. Also like his expected competitor for the starting gig, Gabbert will make ghastly decisions and is rather unpredictable with his accuracy.
Kaepernick certainly should scare defenses more, when he is on the field. While Gabbert can pick up chunk yardage on the ground, Kaepernick, at his best, has shown he can be a home-run threat every play. (Granted, he was at his worst much of last season.)
This really comes down to how one feels about Kelly’s offense. We will not soon forget what he did with Nick Foles in 2013 ... nor how stagnant the attack became under a combination of Foles, Mark Sanchez and Sam Bradford over the 2014-15 seasons.
Buying or selling Kelly’s comments?: Buying, with a little hesitation. Again, don’t take the comparison as Kelly saying Gabbert can be the 2012, NFC title-winning version of Kaepernick. Read it in its simplest form, as Kelly seeing two QBs with the athleticism-arm pairing to be intriguing in his offense.
Can Vic Beasley take to his new position?
“The emphasis with Vic will still be pass rush. The emphasis will still be his nickel end stuff, will still be playing Sam (strong-side linebacker) as a blitzer. The majority of his meeting time will be devoted to that. The majority of his individual work pre-practice will be devoted to that. The majority of his practice reps will be devoted to that. And on Sundays, the majority of his reps will be devoted to that. The Sam stuff, it’s just another way to get one of our best athletes on the grass.” -- Falcons linebacker coach Jeff Ulbrich, to ESPN.com.
Beasley notched 4.0 sacks last season as a DE and flashed the potential for a far higher total. However, any worry about Beasley’s shift from defensive end to strong-side linebacker stems mainly from semantics.
True, linebackers have expanded duties on defense, including dropping into coverage. By transitioning Beasley out to linebacker, the Falcons likely will be asking him to take on more of an all-encompassing role, as opposed to pinning his ears back as a rusher. But let’s not forget that the consensus on Beasley coming out of college was that he would fit best as a 3-4 OLB—a stand-up role that would free him from too many one-on-one matchups with NFL tackles in the run game.
Dan Quinn’s preferred 4-3 under looks a lot like a 3-4 defense, and it should provide Beasley many of the same protections and advantages he would find as a 3-4 linebacker. Namely, that he should enjoy matchups with tight ends and blocking backs, instead of attempting to set the edge vs. OTs. So long as the Falcons stay committed to getting him after the quarterback on passing downs, the results should be there.
Buying or selling Ulbrich’s comments?: Buying. The unstated variable is that the Falcons must have confidence in their defensive-line options to move Beasley away from his end spot. Derrick Shelby’s arrival via free agency has to be part of the reason why. Dropping Beasley into a linebacking corps that also now includes Courtney Upshaw and rookies De’Vondre Campbell and Deion Jones will allow Quinn to mix and match for all 60 minutes.
Is Dorial Green-Beckham a starter?
“That all depends on him. How effective is he out here, first? And then we get into these preseason games, see how much we can load him up. We also know we’ve got some other options, too, that will be competing with him. So it’s not a for sure he’s lining up at ’X’ for us on opening Sunday. They’ve got to earn it.” -- Titans coach Mike Mularkey, via The Tennessean.
The Titans suddenly find themselves with a boatload of options at wide receiver: Green-Beckham, free-agent signee Rishard Matthews, rookie Tajae Sharpe, Justin Hunter, Kendall Wright and Harry Douglas, among others. There should (and will) be intense competition throughout camp as those players carve out roles in the offense.
The coaching staff was tough on Green-Beckham last season, as well. Ken Whisenhunt kept his rookie receiver off the field for extended stretches, then Mularkey, after taking over as the interim coach, challenged Green-Beckham at various times to be a better blocker and to be more of a big-play threat.
Mularkey should not hand Green-Beckham anything as DGB heads into his second NFL season. The flip side, though, is that if Green-Beckham is not a Week 1 starter, it would stand out as a failure by both player and coach to mature his game. Even among all of those wide receivers on the roster, Green-Beckham’s size (6’ 5”, 237 lbs.) and playmaking potential stand out. He has the attributes not just to crack the rotation, but to be a go-to target for QB Marcus Mariota.
The Titans need him to be that star.
Buying or selling Mularkey’s comments?: Selling. If the Titans truly plan to elevate their offense in Mariota’s second year, Green-Beckham must be a featured player. He should emerge as the team’s No. 1 red-zone target, with his hulking frame alone forcing defenses to focus extra attention on him. Until we see otherwise in August and September, consider Mularkey’s words more motivation than anything.