NFL Training Camp Notes: Darnold Endures Sluggish Night

As we roll into the second week of preseason action, plenty has developed since our last Thursday update: Per esteemed colleague Juan Carlos Blanco’s column we were informed that Derrius Guice will miss all of 2018 with a torn ACL, Roquan Smith finally consented to become the final first-round rookie to sign with his team, and Browns coordinators Todd Haley and Gregg Williams had an explosive confrontation on the second episode of Hard Knocks. As for today, however, let’s run through the major headlines from training camp around the league, and then discuss some of the highlights from the first set of Week 2 preseason matchups:

  • Headed into Thursday night, Sam Darnold had taken the reigns as the favorite to win the Jets starting quarterback job following a stellar outing in his professional debut against Atlanta last Friday (13-for-18, 96 yards and a touchdown). The third-overall pick garnered respect from one of the league’s most outspoken defensive backs in Josh Norman of the Redskins, who saw the rookie’s talent first-hand when the two teams held inter-squad practice sessions this week in anticipation of their preseason matchup on Thursday. “This little kid is not making mistakes, and he’s really accurate,” Norman said after practice Tuesday. “You get rookies in here and you try to mess with them and bait them a little bit, thinking he’s going to throw a route you can make a play on. He’s not having it.”
  • Ben Roethlisberger was removed from concussion protocol after a scare during Tuesday’s practice when he became entangled with the offensive line on a rollout to his right, slamming his head onto the ground as a result. Roethlisberger was already scheduled to sit out Pittsburgh’s second preseason game against the Packers prior to the injury, but with this encouraging diagnosis coming nine days before the team’s “dress rehearsal” against Tennessee next Saturday, we may see Big Ben in action for a handful of drives in Week 3.
  • In other AFC quarterbacking news, Deshaun Watson remains on schedule to be the opening day starter for the Texans after tearing his ACL during an early-November practice last year. Of course, Watson took the world by storm as a rookie by averaging 294 passing yards per game between Week 3 and Week 8, accounting for 17 total touchdowns and 7 turnovers during that span. The collegiate National Champion completed his only pass attempt (for four yards) in Houston’s preseason opener against the Chiefs last week, and is expected to have a severely tempered pitch count throughout the exhibition slate per head coach Bill O’Brien’s instruction. Following an injury-marred 2017, Houston’s coaching staff has elected to provide their starters with a healthy dose of practice repetitions but a short leash during the games themselves.
  • Giants rookie running back Saquon Barkley remains sidelined with a pulled left hamstring that he suffered during Monday’s practice. Though not yet confirmed that he will be inactive for New York’s next preseason game against Detroit on Friday, it is a near certainty that the highly-touted Barkley will be held out. But the team’s disposition remains calm regarding the injury, describing his ailment as a “tweak” – and Barkley himself said that if the G-Men had a playoff game today, he would be on the field.
  • Tight end Delanie Walker had to be evaluated by Titans’ medical personnel after pulling up limp during practice Thursday. It was reported by The Tennessean that the recently-turned 34-year-old “grabbed low before hobbling to the sideline,” and was unable to return to training camp for the remainder of the session. With the severity of Walker’s injury uncertain at this point, there is a distinct possibility that the veteran’s ADP in standard ESPN leagues slides from its current standing of fifth at the position.

Now onto the Thursday night games for Week 2 of the preseason, where we have a rematch of Super Bowl LII, a tilt between cross-conference teams who clearly don’t like each other, as well as a game between two of the league’s most storied franchises in the Steelers and the Packers.

  • As anticipated, Tom Brady suited up for New England’s redemption bid against the Eagles (to whatever degree that is attainable in an exhibition). But instead of handling a few snaps and hitting the bench as one might think a five-time Super Bowl Champion quarterback typically would in a preseason game, Brady stayed on the field for the entirety of the first half, finishing the evening 19-for-26 passing with 172 yards and two touchdowns. Perhaps the surprisingly long showing from Brady can be attributed to him being inactive for the preseason opener last week, or it could be an intended measure for the quarterback to gain familiarity with a ragtag assortment of pass-catching options. Julian Edelman is scheduled to miss the first four games of the season due to a suspension, Kenny Britt remains inactive with a bum hamstring, while recently-signed Jordan Matthews (also coping with a hamstring injury) was released after reaching an injury settlement with the team. Of the potential early-season fill-in options, Cordarrelle Patterson had the best performance, racking up four receptions for 51 yards and one touchdown. Perhaps the most significant development of the game from the New England side was an injury to Isaiah Wynn, the first-round guard prospect out of Georgia who left the game with a torn Achilles and is projected to miss the entirety of his rookie campaign.
  • For Philadelphia, Nick Foles was forced to exit the game with a strained shoulder. “I was getting ready to throw a deep ball and it got grabbed as I was following on through,” Foles said after the Eagles’ 37-20 defeat. “But it feels all right, feels pretty good. Hopefully there’s no issues.” Tests on Foles’ shoulder Friday morning revealed no major damage, though the return date for the reigning Super Bowl MVP remains up in the air. Backup Nate Sudfeld took advantage of his opportunity with a monster night, completing 22-of-39 attempts for 312 yards, three touchdowns and one interception.
  • Sam Darnold got the start for the Jets but wasn’t nearly as impressive compared to his debut performance last week against Atlanta. Darnold came off the bench as the third-string option in the opener and had normally pessimistic Jets fans dreaming of the USC golden boy transforming Gang Green into a perennial playoff contender. He came back down to earth in his second outing, completing a healthy 8-of-11 pass attempts but throwing an interception and only amounting 62 yards. The interception came on a fourth-and-short conversion attempt just moments before the half, when safety Troy Apke made a diving effort to corral a batted ball mere centimeters before it met the turf. Running back Isaiah Crowell sat out with a concussion suffered in last week’s game, but George Atkinson III looked solid in his stead, putting up 31 rushing yards on 7 carries to go with a 30-yard reception.
  • The Redskins continue to deal with injuries to their backfield, as second-year player Samaje Perine exited the game  with an ankle injury following his first carry of the evening (a 30-yard scamper at that). Rob Kelley is in line to receive an increased workload and possibly be the early-downs option, with Chris Thompson being featured as the scatback for the Redskins. Byron Marshall and Kapri Bibbs figure to get plenty of run for the remainder of the preseason for evaluative purposes, as one of them will likely become the third man up should Perine be on the shelf for an extended time.
  • Finally in Green Bay – The Steelers came back to tie up the game after falling into a 14-0 hole, but it was the Packers who put the game away by rattling off 30 consecutive points to mount a 44-14 lead. After a suspect year from the Packers’ secondary in 2017, the back end of the defense looked spectacular in returning not one, but two interceptions for touchdowns. Veteran cornerback Tramon Williams got the party started by recording a pick-six off of rookie quarterback Mason Rudolph on the very first play from scrimmage, while second-round pick Josh Jackson put the game on ice by taking one to the house on a wayward Joshua Dobbs pass attempt in the third quarter. Overall, Dobbs had a solid performance for Pittsburgh, completing 12 of his 18 attempts for 181 yards, 2 touchdowns and the aforementioned interception. And folks, don’t sleep on rookie James Washington who had a breakout night for the Steelers by compiling five receptions for 114 yards and two touchdowns.