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Last week in training camp: Updates from around the NFL, as it relates to the Rams

NFL: JUL 31 Los Angeles Rams Training Camp Photo by Icon Sportswire

Apart from a quarterback competition that will surely lead to a quarterback fan-petition (specifically one that demands the team keep looking for a quarterback), the Denver Broncos appear to be having an ideal 2021 training camp.

First round pick Patrick Surtain II has played the part of a number one cornerback with greater success than most rookies who have tried. Jerry Jeudy seems capable of assuming the role of number one receiver, but he must hold off Courtland Sutton and K.J. Hamler for that role. Outside linebackers Bradley Chubb and Von Miller are back on the field together and expected to be ready to start in Week 1. Between Garett Bolles, Justin Simmons, Noah Fant, Kyle Fuller and plenty of other talented players, the Broncos might really be one decent QB season away from competing for a Super Bowl.

And two more reasons why were drafted in the third round of last year’s draft: center Lloyd Cushenberry and defensive tackle McTelvin Agim, two of the team’s stand out players through two weeks of training camp and the rest of the 2021 offseason.

Apart from an injury to Cam Akers, the LA Rams should also be pleased with the offseason and training camp that they’ve had thus far. The Rams have had impressive developments and positive moments all year, beginning with the trade acquisition of Matthew Stafford in January. However, one player who we have not seen or heard much from this year is also the one who was drafted one pick after Cushenberry and 11 picks ahead of Agim.

So, what’s the deal with outside linebacker Terrell Lewis?

Even if they turn out to be in good hands with Austin Corbett and Bobby Evans, the Rams seem like a team that would be able to use a center like Cushenberry this year. And as a team that drafted Bobby Brown in the fourth round and Earnest Brown in the fifth round this past May, LA could potentially have a place for an emerging defensive tackle like Agim.

This is not to harp on a Rams draft decision, but as long as Lewis is on the team and being held back because of concerns about his knee that were known prior to the draft, then the questions won’t go away. Especially when it is a knee injury and the Rams.

So far it seems like Lewis’ training camp is going a lot like his first year in the league. Not a lot is known about what is going on and it is rare to see him on the field. Though there was no expectation when he was drafted that Lewis wouldn’t be ready for Week 1, he ended up only appearing in eight games during his rookie season, seeing 124 defensive snaps.

This isn’t meant to disparage Lewis or to discredit the work he’s put in to be healthy. We still have a month to go before the regular season games begin and a lot of what we think we know will turn out to be false once reality hits. Maybe Lewis will be LA’s best outside pass rusher next season, we’ve seen that his greenlights may have been just as prescient as his red flags: In that limited action, he had two sacks and two additional QB hits.

But with Saturday’s preseason opener against the LA Chargers looming, the 23-year-old Lewis needs to be on the field if he’s ever going to learn how to be a great football player. That was a struggle in college. It’s been a struggle in the NFL. And there is now a long list of linebackers who are eager to assume a spot ahead of him on the depth chart.

Plus, they’re available.

As for the Broncos, it seems like the front office is on fire lately. Bolles in 2017. Chubb and Sutton in 2018. Fant, Dalton Risner, and Drew Lock in 2019. Jeudy, Hamler, Cushenberry, Agim in 2020. And some potential banger picks in 2021 with Surtain and camp star running back Javonte Williams. John Elway resigned as GM in January and replaced himself with George Paton and it seems like they’ve got things moving in the right direction again.

Even the decision to not panic with a trade or drafting the fourth-best QB prospect after losing out on Stafford seems to be a winning move.

But then again, the reason that the Rams are in the Super Bowl conversation, and Denver hasn’t been as much, is Matthew Stafford. Here are some more notes from around NFL training camps and how it relates to the LA Rams.

Jaguars reportedly open to trading CB C.J. Henderson - but that seems doubtful

One of the rookie stars of 2020 NFL training camps was Henderson, the ninth overall pick in the draft. He was also one of the top first-year players early in the season, but then injuries and inconsistency marred the rest of his campaign. In the 2021 offseason, the Jaguars fired the head coach and GM who chose and developed Henderson, replaced them with a new regime with new ideas, signed Shaquill Griffin to be the number one corner, and drafted cornerback Tyson Campbell with the first pick in the second round.

In camp, the starting cornerbacks have been Griffin and Sidney Jones, with Campbell competing to start at nickel. ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler reported on Saturday that some NFL executives believe that Henderson is being “shopped” by Jacksonville.

It’s hard for me to believe that Henderson will be traded. He was a bit of a surprise in the top-ten, but had a solid first round grade and then went out and flashed enough to make it apparent he could develop into one of the top players at his position. Not only that, but it would cost the Jaguars money to trade him, so they would need an attractive trade package in return. Similar to when Trent Richardson was traded after one season with the Cleveland Browns, I think any Henderson trade would require a first round pick in return.

That’s not going to happen with the Rams, obviously. I don’t expect Henderson to be traded and the Jaguars have a long way to go to prove that they are “set” at corner.

Bengals happy with fourth round OL D’Ante Smith

Leading into the 2021 NFL Draft, we spent a lot of time on TST talking about the offensive line class and especially the players who would be available to the Rams. It was improbable that LA would manage to draft an offensive lineman who could start at guard or center in Week 1, but impossible to know if they passed on players who could do so until the season starts.

If you ask Cincinnati right now, they’d probably they found a starting guard on day three.

Though the Bengals drafted the higher-rated Jackson Carman in round two, it’s Smith, a 6’5, 305 lbs tackle out of East Carolina, who is currently taking first team reps at left guard. It’s hard to say if Smith fits what the Rams want to do, if they liked him and missed their chance or if they took him off the board, but he was a stand out at the Senior Bowl. That makes it even more likely that Les Snead had a long look at him.

We won’t rush to judgments before any games have happened. This is just me putting a pin in “D’Ante Smith” for later.

Joe Barry on the role of outside linebackers

Sean McVay’s first LA coaching staff had Matt LaFleur as offensive coordinator and Joe Barry as assistant head coach and linebackers coach, but now those two are the head coach and defensive coordinator of the Green Bay Packers. And it’s quite possible that McVay-LaFleur will meet in the playoffs again this year, maybe in the NFC Championship.

So it’s good to keep tabs on what’s going on in Green Bay.

In a story about linebacker Preston Smith’s bid to rebound from a rough 2020 campaign, Barry mentioned how the Packers having two true outside linebackers is unique:

“A lot of systems have a strong side and a weak side. A lot of systems have a rush outside backer and a drop outside backer. We just have two outside linebackers. We have right and left,” Barry said.

“From a schematic standpoint, they both can drop, they both can rush, one of them can drop, one of them can rush. So, it’s been fun for him not to exclusively be a drop outside backer. The great thing with all of them, they have unique qualities to be able to get after and rush the passer, and that’s why they’re here. That’s what they’re paid to do, but there’s going to be times in certain systems and certain calls that we’re going to ask them to drop. They all can do it, they’ve all done a great job with it. But they’re here to get after the quarterback and go forward, and we’re going to make sure they’re doing it a lot.”

This is Barry’s third stint as a defensive coordinator, with his most recent season on the job being in 2008 with the 0-16 Detroit Lions. That winless year not only facilitated the draft selection of Matthew Stafford, but Barry’s defense was just bad enough to make sure that Stafford went to Detroit instead of St. Louis. Now former Rams executive Brad Holmes is general manager of the Lions, Barry is defensive coordinator of the Packers, and Matthew Stafford is on the Rams.

I also liked this quote from outside linebackers coach Mike Smith:

“As soon as the devil puts a doubt in your heart, you’re done. You’re done. And so it’s the same thing with dropping (into coverage).”

Seahawks have two important holdouts to consider

Everyone seems to be calling these “hold-ins” right now, but I refuse. What’s the difference between a holdout and a hold-in? Where the player is sitting during practice? The message the player is sending is that he’s “holding out” because that’s the only thing we’ve ever called these standoffs before. It’s a holdout and the media has always been very careful with using this word in the past. Why change that attitude now?

Maybe I’m missing something and it’s much different than a holdout. From what I see, not practicing is the same as not practicing.

For Seattle, the two holdouts are 35-year-old left tackle Duane Brown and age-doesn’t-matter safety Jamal Adams. Like the Rams and Jalen Ramsey last year, Adams will sign before the season. The Seahawks goal is to make Adams the highest-paid safety without topping the APY of linebacker Bobby Wagner. That should put Adams in the range of $15.5 million per year and I would expect that signed in early September.

Brown’s holdout is more complicated for Seattle because they really aren’t sure if he will return, even if they haven’t admitted it yet. Duane Brown has already proven in his career that he’s both willing to miss games and to demand a trade. He is in the final year of his contract and knows that he can essentially get “free money” if he forces the Seahawks to guarantee him something after 2021. Even if it’s just one more guaranteed year, then Brown knows that if he tears his ACL or suffers any other injury that could end his career, he’ll still make more money. The problem for Seattle is the same thing that motivates Brown: “What if he gets hurt? What if he’s not good anymore?”

The Seahawks can’t feel comfortable with their backup options at left tackle right now, and Russell Wilson made a very glowing pitch on Brown and why he deserves an extension, so Seattle will likely bite the bullet on that one.

Many still see Brandon Staley as the next Sean McVay — and why not?

Staley was compared to McVay when the latter hired him to be defensive coordinator in 2020. I don’t know how many head coaches only had one to spend one year as a coordinator (not McVay), or how many only had a few years as an NFL assistant before that, but Staley’s road to being head coach of the LA Chargers is something that I have yet to fully appreciate. It’s incredible.

And interesting enough to be featured by Peter King in this week’s FMIA:

In 2017, he interviewed for a job coaching linebackers coach with the Bears under defensive coordinator Vic Fangio and got the gig. He followed Fangio to Denver in 2019, won the defensive coordinator job with the Rams in 2020 (by force of personality and verve), and got the Chargers’ gig 24 hours after the Rams’ season ended last January.

“My path doesn’t make a lot of sense to people,” he told me, sitting in his office. “I was just hoping to make it to the NFL within five years. But this? No.

“Something I vividly remember from my interview here: I told them, ‘I don’t know it all, guys, But I promise there won’t be anyone who will figure it out and learn it faster. That’s who I am—teacher, leader, competitor.’ I didn’t want to come across as a know-it-all, savant, wizard-type.”

Staley didn’t come across that way, GM Tom Telesco said. He came across as a communicator who knew all three phases of football well. “The business has changed a lot,” Telesco told me. “Gosh, he was coaching Division III five years ago, but we thought if you can connect with players, and you really know football, does it matter how old you are?”

I firmly believe that Staley was the best hire of 2021 and everything I’ve followed in Chargers camp this year suggests that the team feels they are in the perfect hands. Rams cornerback Jalen Ramsey called Staley “the best defensive coordinator I’ve had in the NFL.”

The two LA teams meet this Saturday at SoFi Stadium. With fans. Here’s another note from King:

“I think SoFi will be StubHub on steroids,” said one L.A. sports market expert I know.

How Saquon Barkley turned Nick Scott into a Rams safety

I’ve been tracking LA’s YouTube channel for several years and they’re definitely attempting to put more effort into the content this time around. “Behind the Grind” is a new series giving insight into the players, beginning with safety Nick Scott, a player who many might not realize was on the field quite a lot last season — or that he was stuck behind two future NFL running backs in college and decided to make “a business decision.”

Week 1 watch: Don’t expect to see Justin Fields at quarterback vs the Rams

The Chicago Bears traded up to pick quarterback Justin Fields in the draft this year, but Bears writer Hub Arkush stresses “patience” with the former college football star.

That’s noteworthy because the excitement around the team has been palpable ever since they traded up to take Fields, but no matter how many times head coach Matt Nagy and general Ryan Pace try and convince fans patience is a virtue, it seems all anyone can ask and talk about is how soon are we going to see Fields as the Bears starting quarterback.

Nagy and company keep trying to tell us to slow our roll on this topic.

Nagy was asked what he’s seen so far from Fields to suggest he might be ready sooner rather than later.

“Nothing really until we get to the preseason when it’s real,” Nagy said. “We have the halo so you can’t get near the quarterback right now. But in the preseason it’s real. So when we get to the preseason and we watch, that’s where I think we’re all going to be able to see truly where he’s at.”

Fields also shared his view on the situation.

“Yeah, I’m constantly growing every day, but I think I said it in my last interview, greatness doesn’t happen overnight,” he said. “It’s a process. Like I said before, I’m just trying to take it day by day.”

Chicago’s first game of the regular season is on Sunday Night Football at SoFi Stadium against a Rams defense that should be preparing to face Andy Dalton. Even if something were to happen to Dalton prior to Week 1, head coach Matt Nagy and general manager Ryan Pace — justifiably fearing for their jobs if the Bears lose more times than they win next season — could potentially be holding onto Nick Foles as a failsafe option that will avoid handing their job security over to a rookie.

We’ve seen signals from Trevor Lawrence, Zach Wilson, Trey Lance, and even Mac Jones that they are ready to start this year. But the Rams will probably be facing Dalton.

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