A check on the latest news from around the league as OTAs continue ...
“I need to be in the best shape of my life,” Panthers wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin said last week, via the team website. “That’s what we’re getting to. I have to get back to being dominant.”
Best shape of his life—a worthwhile goal. But based on this short video tweeted out by Panthers.com’s Bill Voth, during OTA on Tuesday, let’s just say that Benjamin probably is not where he wants to be quite yet.
The caveats: This is one rep, with no pads and no defense. Did Benjamin look sluggish off the line and into his break? Sure, and allowing that ball to hit him in the gut probably won’t win him any points with the coaching staff. But there’s also no reason to blow that six-second clip out of proportion. Maybe Benjamin was winded. Maybe the coaching staff told the players to go at 75% speed, just to get a feel for their routes again.
The larger point here is that throughout the summer, every glimpse at Benjamin will be followed by plenty of microanalysis, because he stands to be such a critical piece to the Panthers’ puzzle yet again. Carolina shifted the make-up of its offense last month by drafting two dynamic rookies: RB Christian McCaffrey and RB-turned-slot receiver Curtis Samuel. They could open up the attack in ways previously unavailable to the Panthers, but it’s still a must that QB Cam Newton have a go-to option on the perimeter.
Benjamin was that guy as rookie in 2014, when he and TE Greg Olsen each posted 1,008 yards receiving, and he filled that role almost by default last year (63 receptions for 941 yards and seven TDs). He has struggled, however, to regain his first-year explosiveness, hampered by an ACL tear during 2015 camp and consistent bouts with conditioning. Just after the draft, Panthers coach Ron Rivera commented that Benjamin was “a little heavy” again.
It’s worth noting that Bryan Strickland, of the Panthers’ website, mentioned a pair of impressive catches by Benjamin during Tuesday’s workout. Benjamin’s fitness level is still something to track as the calendar flips over to June. Shy of serious injuries, most of the OTA storylines fall under that same category—put a pin in ’em and revisit later.
How Benjamin performs moving forward will dictate just how much potential this Carolina passing attack has.
The Sheldon Richardson-Brandon Marshall feud continues
Richardson and Marshall reportedly had a little dust-up in the locker room during Week 3 last year. Late in the season, Marshall then criticized a Snapchat post from Richardson, and Richardson in turn called out Marshall over a Week 16 halftime speech.
“He should be embarrassed,” Richardson said then, via ESPN.com’s Rich Cimini.
The two ex-teammates no longer share a locker room (although they do share a home stadium), with Marshall having moved on to the Giants. That didn’t erase the friction, though.
To be continued... The Giants and Jets will play in Week 3 of the preseason, on Aug. 26.
Speaking of Brandon Marshall ...
His new team actually has two practices in the book already, having opened OTAs on Monday. Giants.com writer Dan Salomone named Marshall and TE Evan Engram as “standout players” from Day 1; WR Roger Lewis earned the accolade for Day 2.
Players aren’t in pads, contact is limited and quarterbacks often are not facing a pass rush during these OTA workouts, so pass catchers should have an edge on the defense. Even so, that’s already three non-Odell Beckham Jr., weapons turning in noteworthy showings early for the Giants.
Marshall’s goal for the next few months will be to continuing establishing chemistry with Eli Manning. It’s a different animal for guys like Lewis and Engram, who will be fighting for scraps behind Marshall, Beckham and possibly Sterling Shepard in the passing game. There are a lot of mouths to feed.
The Summer of Jared
Expect to hear a lot of positive, reassuring statements out of Los Angeles on second-year quarterback Jared Goff. OTAs, training camp and the preseason will be as much about establishing his comfort and confidence levels as anything else for the new coaching staff.
“It’s a way different offense,” Goff said during a press conference Monday. “But personally, from my brief experience with it, I’ve had a quicker time learning it—an easier time learning it. I don’t know whether that’s scheme or the way it’s taught or what not. But I’ve enjoyed spending time with the coaches and picking it up pretty quickly.”
Two schemes and two coordinators in two years can make for a tough beginning to an NFL career, but the switch to Sean McVay as coach should work to Goff’s favor. His comment there about having “an easier time learning” this offense, compared to the previous one, ought to be encouraging for the Rams.
Will it mean anything when the pads are on, and there’s an opponent out there? TBD.
Injury trouble already in Indianapolis?
This is not ideal for the Colts:
Chuck Pagano’s club already is without injured safeties Clayton Geathers (neck) and rookie Malik Hooker (shoulder), so piling on absences in the secondary only would make it harder for the defense to settle in come July and August. This particular injury setback is even worse because of Wilson’s rookie status, plus the fact that he’s expected to compete for a starting job—Rashaan Melvin lined up opposite Vontae Davis with the first-team defense Tuesday, per the Colts’ website.
Waiting on Jaylon Smith
As is the case with most teams in the league, the Cowboys will open just a portion of their OTAs to the media—in their case, they’ll let the press in on Wednesday this week. Perhaps not coincidentally, linebacker Jaylon Smith, who the Cowboys drafted in the second round of the 2016 NFL draft, is not expected to partake in on-field workouts during that session, according to the Dallas News.
Smith was slated to be on the field Tuesday and then again Thursday, as he attempts a comeback from the devastating knee injury he suffered during the 2015 bowl season. Smith said earlier this month that he plans to play in the ’17 season opener, vs. the Giants. The Cowboys should leave May with a better handle on how realistic that goal is.
And of course, some very important kicker news
The MMQB’s Peter King predicted in his Power Rankings that Nick Folk would beat out Roberto Aguayo for the Bucs’ kicking job. He looks prescient so far.
Tampa Bay coach Dirk Koetter did tell everyone to pump the brakes: “I don’t think we should probably decide any competition based on four kicks." Counterpoint: Aguayo needs to meet every challenge this off-season, after a miserable rookie year. Don't trade up into the second round for kickers, kids.