No games this week! But there will be a lot of activity, so let’s get into all that …
• I understand the skepticism that the Niners will be able to make a Jimmy Garoppolo/Trey Lance shuttle work. But as a counter, I’ve got a story to tell—one that I think will bring some context to Kyle Shanahan’s staff’s ability to pull it off. And so I’ll take you back to 2012 and Washington, where Shanahan as offensive coordinator, his dad was head coach and Niners offensive coordinator Mike McDaniel was a quality control coach. After drafting Robert Griffin III with the second pick that April, Kyle Shanahan built an adapted version of the Baylor Air Raid offense that Griffin ran in college to shorten the learning curve. At the same time, he was developing Kirk Cousins to play within the tried-and-true version of the Shanahan scheme. And one reason there was so much tension at the end of that season, both before and after Griffin tore his ACL in the playoffs, was what happened in December of that year. Griffin had designs on playing quarterback in a more conventional, dropback sort of way, but wasn’t ready to do that at the NFL level. Then, he got nicked up and missed the game on Dec. 16 as a result. So the Shanahans toggled back to playing the scheme that Mike had run for two decades for Cousins—and that incensed Griffin’s camp, who thought that was how Griffin should be deployed. Cousins wound up throwing for 329 yards, two TDs, a pick and 104.4 passer rating that day, in a 38–21 win in Cleveland. Things weren’t the same after that between the team and Griffin, but that’s not the point of telling the story. The point is that I believe if there’s a coach who’s capable of flipping back and forth in identity on offense, it’s Shanahan, and being able to flip from an Air Raid scheme to a West Coast scheme and back again in a span of three Sundays is proof. Now, do I think a Garoppolo/Lance shuttle will work? I don’t know—nor do I know whether Shanahan’s really going to roll that out against Detroit in Week 1. But what I do know is that the Niners have been mulling this for a while, and the idea it could work for them, and be a huge headache for everyone else, really isn’t bonkers.
• The widely-held assumption that Carson Wentz hasn’t been vaccinated was confirmed on Monday, as he landed on the COVID-19 reserve list as a close contact (vaccinated players don’t get shelved as a result of being close contacts). He’ll be eligible to return to the team on Thursday, and that timing actually works out for the Colts in that it should give Wentz time to get rehab work in and get back on track to try and play in the opener on Sept. 13. But it certainly should be taken as a warning sign on what having your quarterback unvaccinated might mean for teams. Fast-forward a week, and Wentz would be returning to the team on the back end of its preparation for the opener against Seattle. Fast-forward another week, and the Colts would be losing Wentz with almost no notice for that opener.
• The Browns’ presence as a potential seller ahead of the 53-man cutdown used to be a sign that another rebuilding year was in the offing. Now? It’s a sign that the roster is in good enough shape where the team can afford to flip a good player or two—and might actually get something back for guys on the back end of the depth chart. We mentioned Mack Wilson this morning. Throw safety Sheldrick Redwine and WR KhaDarel Hodge in as two other names that came up in trade discussions with other teams (Redwine was cut late Monday).
• The Giants’ acquisition of center Billy Price is a sign that, even after investing a lot in the line over the last four offseasons, they still haven’t fixed what’s been a trouble spot for quite some time. New York was kicking tires on interior linemen the last few days and wound up dealing off B.J. Hill to land Price. And the Giants might not be done—bubble guys Dante Pettis, David Sills and Devante Downs have been raised in trade talks.
• Jacksonville’s another team that’s gotten more aggressive in trying to find interior offensive line help the last couple of days. I think that really reflects how seriously Urban Meyer is taking creating the right environment around Trevor Lawrence, and getting better up front is just one part of it. Another is the importance of blocking tight end Chris Manhertz in the offense—the coaches limited him to a total of 30 snaps over three preseason games to keep him fresh for the season. Another yet, I believe, will be a good amount of work for second-year back James Robinson, with the idea being, the more pressure the team can take off Lawrence, the better. Of course, that’ll also mean being more competitive, and not falling behind in games, with a team that went 1–15 last year, which is harder to plan out. But I do think Meyer and his staff are taking the right approach with their prized rookie, particularly after he got knocked around a little in the preseason opener.
• Speaking of rookie quarterbacks, Matt Nagy’s assigning Justin Fields to the scout team is yet another way he’s mirroring the experience he had as Chiefs offensive coordinator in 2017. That year, once the team broke camp, Andy Reid had Patrick Mahomes take on similar responsibilities. And in doing so, they saw a couple of interesting things about a guy who’d win league MVP a year later. One, he consistently kept teammates after to throw, so he could get reps running the Chiefs’ offense. And two, he never asked guys like Tyreek Hill, Sammy Watkins or Travis Kelce to do it—not because he didn’t want to throw to those guys, but because, in his view, those were Alex Smith’s receivers, and he didn’t want to create any sort of issue within the team. The Chiefs staff was pretty impressed with all this, of course, in how Mahomes was getting the work he needed on his own, and also that he understood team dynamics that thoroughly as a rookie. It’s fair to say that, as long as he’s the backup, Fields would be wise to follow that blueprint.
• Gotta reiterate this: The best throw from a rookie quarterback this weekend is right here …
This shows, as we mentioned this morning, anticipation from Mac Jones. But it also shows, as some quarterback coaches say, an ability by Jones to communicate with his receivers through the ball—a longer way of saying he’s throwing guys open. On this snap, Jones is leading Devin Asiasi into a dead spot in the coverage, and getting him away from two defenders at once. And he’s doing it with the rush bearing down on him. Now, Jones hasn’t been perfect this preseason. I still think watching him, you see it takes a lot more effort for him to get the ball to certain parts of the field than it does other quarterbacks. But as far as presence, intelligence and feel, it’s all showing up like it did at Bama. Bottom line, he’s put a lot of good stuff on tape and given his coaches plenty to think about.
• I’m not going to sit here and play Michael Fabiano and try to give you fantasy advice. But … if you haven’t had your draft, I think it’d be wise to take a flier on Gus Edwards, and earlier than the other people in your league will. IT sucked seeing J.K. Dobbins go down—I expected he and Indy’s Jonathan Taylor to break out and challenge for the rushing title this season—but the reality is that’s not going to change who the Ravens are offensively. And while Edwards has been lodged behind Mark Ingram the last few years, and was going to lodged behind Dobbins, there’s a good faction of that coaching staff that believes Edwards could explode with more opportunity. And given how thin the Ravens are at tailback after losing Dobbins, Edwards (and his career 5.2-yards per carry average) should get a lot of opportunity.
• My feeling is the Saints are being very careful with how much they talk, and what they say, about their temporary exit from New Orleans. And I think that’s the right way to approach it, given not everyone was lucky enough to have the resources to get out of town like the team did. The question now becomes where the team will go after spending this week in Dallas, practicing at AT&T Stadium. The Saints have, over the years, gotten out of town for camp, or practice weeks, having taken their operation in full to San Antonio, Indianapolis, Southern California and West Virginia, in addition to now Dallas at different junctures. So that experience should help. Then, there’s the matter of the opener against the Packers. If New Orleans can’t host it, AT&T Stadium would make sense, given proximity and the fact that it’s open for Week 1. And if the Saints, and the league, decide to move the opener, that would give New Orleans until Oct. 3 to prepare for the team’s next home game, with road trips scheduled for Weeks 2 and 3.
• I feel like we went over this in the MMQB column, but it’s worth repeating: I do think the Texans would be O.K. with holding on to Deshaun Watson past the 53-man cutdown Tuesday. That means the real reason it’d serve as a cutdown is that it might prompt teams to call Houston over the next 24 hours. But I don’t know that there’s a good reason for the Texans to get aggressive here.
More NFL Coverage: