The NFL gets a second chance to kick off the preseason on Thursday, with a six-game slate. While most of the named players on the teams will only play a series or two, there are still plenty of things to watch for as NFL preseason action gets a take-two to kick off on Thursday after the Hall of Fame Game debacle.
Tampa Bay at Philadelphia
Tampa Bay: Last season the NFL waited, and waited, and waited, for Austin Seferian-Jenkins to make his way back from injury after he blew up to start the 2015 campaign. Now, with a tumultuous offseason that involved him getting kicked off the practice field and the Buccaneers placing relative unheralded tight end Cameron Brate in front of him. With rumors swirling he may not even make the team, look for ASJ to try to ball out to rectify his situation.
Philadelphia: The Eagles traded a boatload to move up to #2 to get Carson Wentz, and early reports are pretty sparse in either praise or condemnation of the rookie. With the fragile Sam Bradford under center as Plan A this season, the Eagles will be smart to give him the hook early, letting Wentz shine. The league will get their first look at the rookie play caller, a taste of who the Eagles believe will lead their franchise for 2017 and beyond.
Washington at Atlanta
Washington: The Kirk Cousins drama of the offseason leading to his franchise tag and Washington admitting they may not see Cousins as the QB of the future will take a backseat in this one. The player I’m looking for in this one is second year receiver Jamison Crowder. Crowder ended the season with a bang, a five-catch, 109 and a touchdown effort against Dallas. There are rumors that Garcon will lose his roster spot to currently injured rookie Josh Doctson, so if Garcon gets a lot of run, that could be dangerous for his roster spot, as well. The WR situation is one to monitor in Washington
Atlanta: Tevin Coleman has the most to gain on the Falcon offense from the preseason. The sophomore started last year as the #1 back in Atlanta, but injuries found him Wally-Pipped by Devonta Freeman. Reportedly, the Falcons coaches want to get Coleman more involved in 2016. He’ll have to come out with a bang this preseason and continue that into the regular season to wrest the starting role away from Devonta Freeman. He’s an electric player, but ball control issues and an inability to break a tackle have found him as Freeman’s backup. He hopes to change that.
Carolina at Baltimore
Carolina: After losing sudden superstar Josh Norman to a game of contract chicken, the defending NFC Champions are set to start two rookies at the corners, with their second and third round picks being spent on James Bradberry and Daryl Worley, respectively. The Panthers are hoping that once again their next-level front seven can continue to put enough pressure on the quarterback to make the secondary look better than the component pieces. We’ll get the first look at the key new components of the secondary on Thursday.
Baltimore: There’s no kind way to put this, Baltimore’s skill position player situation is an absolute mess. Some mix of Steve Smith, Kamar Aiken and Mike Wallace will take over at wide receiver. One of Justin Forsett, Javorius Allen, Terrance West or Kenneth Dixon is set to take the lead back role and the Tight End situation has no clear leader, with Crockett Gillmore, Maxx Williams and Ben Watson all being added to the corps since 2014. Oh, and Dennis Pitta is still kicking around. We need some clarity, and preseason week one will start to clear up the picture.
Jacksonville at Jets
Jacksonville: For the Jags, this season is supposed to be the Year the Defense Takes Over. After the offense showed they could do it last year, the Jags invested their first two picks on two players set to go in the top ten. Add into this that their #3 overall selection last year tore his ACL in the very first mini-camp last season and you have a situation rife for a massive step forward. The Jaguars are hoping to get their first in-game looks at Jalen Ramsey, Myles Jack and Dante Fowler. They’re hoping their massive influx of defensive talent pushes them to the 2016 postseason.
Jets: The Jets QB situation is bleak, and the Jets are hoping to pull something out of the mess for their 2017 QB. Given the mess with Ryan Fitzpatrick this offseason, it’s unlikely to be him. Geno Smith is a nightmare. Bryce Petty is currently projected to be the odd man out and second-rounder Christian Hackenberg was drafted about five rounds too early. The 2016 quarterback will be Fitzpatrick, but the coaching staff needs to start figuring out if any of their in-house options are viable as a future starter (hint: none of them are).
New Orleans at New England
New Orleans: Unceremoniously demoted to fourth on the Saints depth chart, C.J. Spiller has a ton to prove this preseason, namely if his injury-prone talent is worth a roster spot. With fragile Mark Ingram as the top runner and Tim Hightower suddenly his backup after an extremely productive end-of-season run. Now a 2015 seventh-rounder is ahead of him. One of the most electric runners in the NFL, Spiller is suddenly fighting for a roster spot in the Big Easy. This preseason will be big for him.
New England: The Patriots will be without the services of Tom Brady for the first four weeks of the season, so they need to get Jimmy Garoppolo up to game speed in a hurry. Expect a whole mess of Jimmy G against New Orleans, more so than you would normally see from a starting quarterback. He’ll need it, because if he goes 0-4, the Patriots’ entire season might be lost. Anything else isn’t worth looking for, given that Bill Belichick game plans for his opponent’s weaknesses. Anything we see from scheme or formation likely won’t play in the regular season.
Denver at Chicago
Denver: There likely hasn’t been a direr quarterback situation for a defending Super Bowl champion than the 2016 Denver Broncos. A three-way battle between Mark Sanchez, Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch will be laid bare for the whole world to see for the first time as Denver travels to Chicago to open the preseason. Sanchez is the early clubhouse leader with Siemian pushing him for the role. The coaching staff is set on Lynch sitting and watching for the time being, but a strong second half in preseason week one could change their minds.
Chicago: 2015 first rounder Kevin White will finally make his NFL debut against Denver, and he has plenty to catch up on after missing all of last season. Earlier this week, Bears wide receiver coach stated White is a “work in progress.” Not a good sign for a player who already has a season under his belt. White needs to get up to speed in quite a hurry.
As the NFL preseason opens up, there will be plenty to watch for in the next month. Check back over the next couple of days to get primers on the rest of the league as their preseasons open up. The NFL is back, let’s kick back and enjoy!