• Checking in on the latest news from OTAs around the league, where the notable absences by star players are causing uproars that are largely a waste of time.
By Chris Burke
May 25, 2017

Odell Beckham Jr. has not been taking part in the Giants’ OTAs this week. Neither has his teammate Olivier Vernon, who actually stands to forfeit a $250,000 bonus if he does not participate in 90% of New York’s off-season program. Fletcher Cox, Jason Peters and even Marcus Smith sat out the Eagles’ late-May workouts. In Kansas City, coach Andy Reid was without Justin Houston, Marcus Peters and Eric Berry.

On and on the list of absences went throughout the league, thus continuing the annual argument over just how important it is for established players to be present at these voluntary OTAs.

Officially, coaches want everyone on the field. Of course they do. This is the first time, post-draft, that teams can bring their entire 90-man roster together to see what they’re working with as training camp and the preseason approaches. Fans, too, often are quick to point out that these players are being paid for their services and, as such, ought to suit up even when the collective bargaining agreement does not require them to.

In reality, there often is little reason to get worked up over these absences.

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“I just coach the guys that are here, that’s what I do,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said Thursday (video via the Kansas City Star). “The guys that are here are hungry for reps, and it’ll do nothing but help us. ... It’s voluntary, so they can be here or not be here, that’s up to them.”

Philadelphia coach Doug Pederson offered a similar review: “Obviously, as you guys know too, it’s a voluntary off-season program. I’ve been in touch with all three of those guys, so we’ve communicated for the reasons for them not being here. But no worries with them going forward.”

Not all these situations are identical, mind you. WTLV’s Mike Kaye, for example, wrote that it “was a surprise” that second-year cornerback Jalen Ramsey did not take part in the Jaguars’ opening OTA on Tuesday. (Ramsey was there Thursday.) Any semblance of a communication breakdown between player and team can lead to added headaches.

And the expectations certainly differ for a star like Cox than they do for, say, Smith—a player whose future is cloudy as it is, after three disappointing seasons led the Eagles to decline his fifth-year option.

Still, for the most part, everything remains copacetic so long as players a) keep their teams abreast of their plans and b) show up when the workouts are no longer voluntary.

The absences of surefire starters (again, a group from which Smith is excluded) can work in a team’s favor this early in the process, too. Like Reid said, the players that do show up are itching for reps. When someone like Beckham isn’t available for the Giants, that simply means more looks for Sterling Shepard and Roger Lewis and the rest of Beckham’s teammates trying to carve out a role.

So, pay attention to which players are missing from OTAs ... and why they’re missing, and how their coaches react to their skip days. But for the large majority of those sitting out right now, all will be well provided they show up for mandatory mini-camp in June and training camp in July.

All eyes on Blake Bortles

The Jaguars’ QB said Tuesday that “this is by far the most important month of my career,” although he then added, “Then, the following month will be just as important and so on and so forth until we start rolling.”

Regardless of Bortles’s calendrical power rankings, it’s obvious that this is a make-or-break year for him in Jacksonville. Every little bit helps, then, as Bortles settles into a full off-season with Doug Marrone at the helm, Nathaniel Hackett as his coordinator and Tom Coughlin in the front office. Bortles also spoke earlier this week about the emphasis on discipline Marrone is stressing.

“I think it’s good,” he said, per the team’s website. “It’s different. There has been change. I think guys have taken well to it. It’s not like there’s any choice or anything, but I guess it’s going well. I think everyone has received Coach Coughlin and Coach Marrone extremely well.”

Are any of those adjustments going to pay off? WR Allen Hurns did talk up Bortles’s improved timing: “We saw some differences in how the ball’s coming out and just the timing of things. Coming out of your break, the ball’s there.”

We’ll see if there is any tangible progress, though. At this point, Bortles could tell the world that he’d attained superpowers after being bitten by a radioactive spider and everyone’s reaction would be, “Let’s see how he plays in Week 1.”

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Adrian Peterson’s new home

Well, this is going to take some getting used to ...

Were Peterson still in Minnesota, he would fall under that category of proven veterans who could skip OTAs. However, given that he played just three games last season and then made the leap to New Orleans, it’s important for him to find a rhythm within his new scheme.

He’ll be joined in the Saints’ backfield by incumbent starter Mark Ingram, rookie Alvin Kamara and possibly holdovers Travaris Cadet and Daniel Lasco. Of them, Peterson is least likely to be pushed into a passing-down role. However, Ingram did not participate in Thursday’s OTA, which allowed Peterson to show off his full repertoire.

The Advocate’s Nick Underhill reported that “Peterson caught a handful of passes out of the backfield on screens. He let one wheel route fall to the ground, but he was making catches with his hands and looked comfortable doing so.”

Odds are, Peterson will serve as a between-the-tackles option for the Saints, but he does have 241 career receptions to his credit. In this offense, the extent of his role may depend on how useful he can be coming out of the backfield as a pass catcher.

The early Carlos Henderson reviews are in ...

... and they are glowing. Andrew Mason of DenverBroncos.com wrote late Wednesday that Henderson “showed signs that he could be part of the answer as the Broncos look to find effective short-range options working out of the slot.” The rookie out of Louisiana Tech is explosive as a catch-and-run receiver, which makes it all the more noteworthy that Mason relayed a rep in which Henderson managed to “break open 15 yards downfield.”

Broncos special teams coordinator Brock Olivo also appears to love what he’s seen thus far. “He’s got juice, man, and he’s a linear speed guy,” Olivo said. “Carlos is your downhill, run-behind-your-pads, run-through-smoke [guy]—as we say for kickoff returners. He’s got courage. That’s the type of kid we like as a kick returner. So, very, very excited about Carlos, as well. He runs angry with the ball in his hand, and we love that.”

Offensive coordinator Mike McCoy did temper the hype a bit:


At minimum, though, Henderson should battle for a job as a return man.

Surgery details from the Ravens

Apparently, Baltimore tight end Maxx Williams broke new medical ground this off-season, at least from an NFL perspective.

Details are scarce thus far, so there has not been much available feedback in terms of Williams’s potential recovery. Harbaugh, though, said that he thought Williams would be ready for camp.

The Ravens will be hoping the same goes for linebacker C.J. Mosley, who required shoulder surgery following the 2016 season. Harbaugh revealed that news on Thursday, as well. Baltimore picked up Mosley’s fifth-year contract option last month.

There is not a lot of depth among the Ravens’ inside linebackers behind projected starters Mosley and Kamalei Correa, so Mosley’s recovery will be an important storyline in the coming weeks.

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Myles Garrett takes it slow

The No. 1 pick in this year’s draft has been sidelined for the Browns’ first set of OTAs, with what the team’s website deemed “a minor injury.”

“He’ll be fine,” coach Hue Jackson said. “Obviously, I’m just going to be very cautious with guys ... anytime guys have a little soreness, just want to make sure they’re totally healthy.”

An emerging weapon in Kansas City?

Speedy wide receiver Demarcus Robinson, he of zero catches during his rookie season, reportedly put on a show at Chiefs OTAs this week.

BJ Kissel of Chiefs.com wrote that Robinson on Wednesday “showed a slithery athleticism across the middle of the field” and turned in several impressive plays. Kansas City’s WR depth chart is a bit crowded up top with Jeremy Maclin, Chris Conley and Tyreek Hill, but Robinson could be an under-the-radar gamebreaker—much the way Hill was last season.

One strong OTA performance obviously doesn’t lock Robinson in to any guaranteed playing time, but he might be worth tracking come the preseason.

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