NFL Training Camp and Preseason Notes: Darnold Impressive, Guice Devastated

While there were only two games on the preseason docket Friday night, there was no shortage of news after a much fuller exhibition slate Thursday. My colleague Corey Smith did an outstanding job of covering a lot of the major storylines coming out of those games here, but we’ll aim to provide some of the more notable day-after developments (including one particularly crushing season-ending injury) from the first big night of preseason action, as well as any news from any Friday camp practices.

Around the AFC

Bengals: By releasing trusted veteran Brandon LaFell earlier this month, Cincinnati essentially put out an open invitation for their pair of talented young wideouts — John Ross and Tyler Boyd — to fight it out for the right to line up as the No. 2 receiver alongside A.J. Green. Both players have reportedly had their moments in camp, and they both showed up well during their first taste of preseason action Friday. Ross was able to notch a 20-yard reception on five targets, while Boyd made good use of his only catch, as it went for a three-yard touchdown. This could be a battle that goes down to the wire, although Boyd has more NFL skins on the wall after posting 54 receptions for 603 yards and a touchdown in his rookie 2016 campaign before underwhelming last season with a 22-225-2 line.

Bills: Second-year receiver Zay Jones finally jumped into a team drill for the first time in training camp Friday, a development that comes five days after he was removed from the NFI list. To top it off, Jones ran with the first unit, certainly noteworthy considering the unsettled nature of the Bills receiving corps behind Kelvin Benjamin in the wake of the recent acquisition of Corey Coleman from the Browns. Jones and Coleman figure to continue doing battle for the No. 2 role for the remainder of camp and preseason, with veteran Andre Holmes potentially having a say in the matter as well…Although quarterback A.J. McCarron came into the game behind starter Nathan Peterman during Thursday’s game, the move wasn’t expected to be one of long-term significance, but rather, just head coach Sean McDermott trying to give each of his contenders for the position time with the first team. Sure enough, McCarron ran with the starters in Friday’s practice, and he could well the first quarterback in during the Bills’ second preseason tilt.

Colts: Indy celebrated the official return to game action of their most important player in Andrew Luck during their first preseason game Thursday. However, they also found out Friday that they lost a rookie they were hoping he’d connect with frequently this season, Deon Cain. Despite his sixth-round slotting, Cain had reportedly stood out throughout training camp with a tantalizing size/speed combination that helped him generate a solid 58-catch, 734-yard, six-touchdown 2017 season at Clemson. Cain was still expected to slot behind the presumed top trio of T.Y. Hilton, Ryan Grant and Chester Rogers, but his injury robs him of a year of development and the Colts of a potential playmaker… Meanwhile, a player being counted on for a much larger role in the coming season, Marlon Mack, won’t be sidelined as long as Cain, but he’ll still be among the walking wounded for several weeks after suffering a hamstring injury Thursday. His absence will give the much-talked-about rookie tandem of Nyheim Hines and Jordan Wilkins a chance to run with the first team. Moreover, if Mack isn’t ready for Week 1, the pair of first-year backs project to helm the Colts’ ground attack, considering veteran Robert Turbin will open the season on suspension.

Jets: Gang Green was actually one of the few teams in action Friday, which meant rookie Sam Darnold got his first real taste of NFL action. The first-round pick did not disappoint, completing 13 of 18 passes for 96 yards and firing a touchdown pass to Charles Johnson. As his final line implies, Darnold was sharp overall, although his work came against the Falcons’ third- and fourth-teamers … Josh McCown started the game for New York, but he only put up one pass attempt before exiting. However, Teddy Bridgewater was also impressive, completing seven of eight passes for 85 yards and a touchdown of his own… Top backs Isaiah Crowell (two carries for six yards, one catch for 16 yards) and Bilal Powell (six carries for five yards and one catch for seven yards) didn’t do much of note, but rookie Trenton Cannon compiled 40 yards on 11 carries and added three catches for five yards while seeing extensive time in the second half. Notably, Crowell’s exit from the game wasn’t exactly voluntary, as he suffered a blow to the head and remained out of the contest thereafter.

Raiders: Head coach Jon Gruden finally made his long-awaited official return to the sidelines Friday, leading his Raiders to a 16-10 win over the Lions. The first-team offense logged limited snaps, although Marshawn Lynch saw a spectacular 60-yard touchdown run nullified due to a holding call on the third play from scrimmage. Derek Carr was unable to connect on deep shots to new receivers Martavis Bryant and Jordy Nelson, while Amari Cooper did not see action… The ground game was actually the story of the night for Oakland, as rookie Chris Warren — a name that carries some cache in running back circles — lead the way with 13 carries for 86 yards. However, incumbent DeAndre Washington was impressive as well while gaining 38 yards on six rushes, while fellow change-of-pace back Jalen Richard’s strongest contributions came through the air (four catches, 35 yards). Making his Oakland debut, former Pro Bowler Doug Martin was limited to one carry for three yards.

Texans: DeShaun Watson had given every indication thus far in training camp that he was ready to go full speed once he jumped back into game action, and the second-year quarterback did just that in Thursday’s win over the Chiefs. Although he only played during the opening drive and completed one pass for four yards, Watson has now officially returned from a torn ACL in just over nine months, a remarkable timeline to say the least. Top targets DeAndre Hopkins and Will Fuller didn’t participate Thursday, but Watson is sure to get time with the starting duo in coming exhibition games.

Around the NFC

Cowboys: The Cowboys and Niners faced off late Thursday in one of the final contests of the night, which means some may have missed a razor-sharp debut from Dak Prescott. The third-year signal caller completed all three of his passes for 39 yards, while also rattling off 12 yards on his one rush. Prescott had his first opportunity to operate with new wideouts Allen Hurns and rookie Michael Gallup, hitting the latter for a pretty 30-yard touchdown down the right sideline to cap off his only drive of the night. Terrance Williams, who’s been nursing a foot issue throughout camp, also suited up and recorded a pair of catches for seven yards…Rookie running back Bo Scarbrough is looking to secure a roster spot behind Ezekiel Elliott and Rod Smith, no easy feat for a seventh-round pick. However, the 21-year-old profiles as a much higher caliber of talent than his draft slotting implies, and he did his best to substantiate that Thursday. Scarbrough paced the Cowboys’ backs with 33 rushing yards and a touchdown, and he also added a pair of catches for 19 yards. He’ll likely be given ample opportunity to continue making his case in the trio of remaining exhibitions, considering the Cowboys will rightfully be cautious with Elliott during preseason.

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Falcons: The Atlanta offense didn’t exactly offer much to write home about in a 17-0 loss to the Jets on Friday, but the end result is also reflective of how brief an appearance an incomplete first team put in. Matt Ryan lost two yards on his only completion, while the likes of Devonta Freeman and Julio Jones didn’t suit up. Tevin Coleman did carry three times for eight yards before exiting, while heralded rookie Calvin Ridley’s only catch was Ryan’s aforementioned sole completion, which was a busted receiver screen. The entire Atlanta first unit, potentially including Freeman and Jones, will try to start hitting their stride in their second exhibition tilt against the Chiefs.

49ers: The Niners were one of the more beaten up squads following Thursday’s slew of exhibition openers, with multiple key players suffering injuries. They won’t take any further chances with two important offensive pieces, as it was announced Friday that both running back Matt Breida and tight end George Kittle — each nursing a separated shoulder — will miss the remainder of preseason. Breida is expected to fill an important role in the rushing attack behind offseason acquisition Jerick McKinnon, while big things are expected from Kittle in Year 2 following a 43-515-2 line during his rookie campaign. Both players are expected to be ready for the regular-season opener.

Lions: Matthew Stafford suited up for Friday’s contest against the Raiders, but ultimately, it was backups Matt Cassel and Jake Rudock that did all the work under center. The two reserves combined for a modest 165 yards passing as they battle for the No. 2 job…The highlight of the night for Detriot in a lackluster 16-10 loss was rookie Kerryon Johnson, who generated 67 total yards (34 rushing, 33 receiving). The second-rounder was impressive in the latter portion of the game, although offseason acquisition LeGarrette Blount (five carries, 21 yards) and Ameer Abdullah (four rushes for 16 yards and one catch for seven yards) both acquitted themselves well during their opportunities.

Rams: Head coach Sean McVay played it safe with star offensive pieces Jared Goff, Todd Gurley, Robert Woods, Brandin Cooks and Cooper Kupp in the preseason opener against the Ravens on Thursday, but it was reported Friday that the quintet of starters might get another night off next Saturday against the Raiders. It might be an overabundance of caution on McVay’s part, but on this occasion, the origin would be strategic in nature. The two teams meet again in Week 1, so exposing the first unit to potential injury while running nothing more than the most vanilla of game plans doesn’t seem worth the trouble…Speaking of health-related risk, promising second-year receiver Josh Reynolds, one of the players logging extra snaps with the starters out Thursday, picked up an ankle sprain during the game and is day-to-day.

Redskins: The optimism that Redskins coaches and brass had regarding rookie running back Derrius Guice’s knee injury succumbed under the weight of a worst-case scenario Friday, as an MRI revealed he’d torn his ACL in Thursday’s preseason opener against the Patriots. Ironically, the injury occurred at the end of an impressive 34-yard run that was ultimately nullified by penalty. Guice will miss his entire rookie campaign in light of the news, while the Redskins will presumably turn to incumbents Samaje Perine, Rob Kelley and Chris Thompson to helm the rushing attack for the time being. Given that his upside projected to be much higher than that of Perine or Kelley, the season-ending injury is robbing the Redskins of a player that could have been a key factor in keeping defenses honest against new signal caller Alex Smith.

Vikings: There’s some rumblings that head coach Mike Zimmer might grant second-year back Dalvin Cook his wish for some preseason action after all, with reports emerging Friday that Cook could see the field Saturday night in Denver. While he’d likely log just a pair of possessions at most, an appearance would be just the latest chapter in the FSU product’s remarkable recovery from last October’s ACL injury. Cook has reportedly impressed throughout training camp, already displaying the burst he possessed pre-injury. Irrespective of how much time — if any — he sees in preseason, Cook is expected to be ready to head the Vikings backfield without any restrictions beginning Week 1.