There was actually preseason football Thursday night, with the Broncos and Falcons facing off in the Hall of Fame Game. There was also some injury news involving some notable names, and some new developments surrounding one of the most notable remaining training camp holdouts. With plenty to delve into, let’s take a quick spin around each conference!
Around the AFC
As one of the participants in the Hall of Fame Game on Thursday, the Broncos actually generated some game tape. Not very exciting film, mind you, but they did manage to pull out a 14-10 victory over the Atlanta Falcons courtesy of a 15-yard touchdown reception by rookie Juwann Winfree. That score didn’t come off the arm of second-round pick Drew Lock, although the rookie did make his debut and was solid albeit unspectacular while completing seven of 11 attempts for 34 yards and taking a pair of sacks. The most noteworthy offensive performance may have been that of RB Khalfani Muhammad, who posted 98 all-purpose yards while leading Denver in rushing and receiving yards…Muhammad already had an uphill battle to a roster spot despite some strong training camp performances in addition to Thursday’s exhibition, and that road got a bit more daunting with the signing of veteran Theo Riddick earlier in the day. One of the elite pass-catching running backs in the NFL, the seven-year veteran has between 53 and 80 receptions in each of his last four seasons.
The biggest news of the day came out Bolts camp, with RB Melvin Gordon’s holdout now officially evolving into a trade request. The development actually quietly came to pass behind the scenes last week according to ESPN’s Josina Anderson, after the Chargers apparently wouldn’t budge from an initial offer to Gordon of $10 million per season. For the time being, the entire situation quickly hit a dead end, as Los Angeles reportedly did not give Gordon’s agent permission to speak to other teams about his client. Gordon has one more year remaining on his rookie contract and is on the books for $5.6 million in 2019.
TE Jack Doyle and the injury report are no strangers to each other, and the veteran tight end is once again contending with a health issue, albeit reportedly minor. Doyle is currently nursing an oblique injury that cost him Thursday’s practice, although head coach Frank Reich indicated he’s simply being cautious with Doyle. The 29-year-old just recently gained full clearance from hip and kidney issues that cut short his 2018 season after six games.
Running back Kenyan Drake may be beginning to wonder what it’ll take for him to be given the reins of a backfield. The fourth-year back has been impressive in limited opportunities over the last two seasons, compiling a combined 1,179 rushing yards and 716 receiving yards, along with 13 total touchdowns. However, even with Jay Ajayi and Frank Gore leaving town in each of the last two years — and a new staff in place — Drake still appears set for a timeshare with Kalen Ballage according to latest reports. Ballage is currently missing practice due to an undisclosed injury, but he impressed while averaging 5.3 yards per rush over 12 games during his 2018 rookie campaign.
QB Sam Darnold and RB Le’Veon Bell got some particularly impressive and surprising reinforcement in front of them Thursday, as New York came to terms with recently retired center Ryan Kalil. The 34-year-old had just wrapped up a stellar 12-year career with the Carolina Panthers last December, one during which he made five Pro Bowls and snagged two first-team All-Pro designations. The Jets were looking for additional stability for their promising but still developing signal-caller in particular, and Kalil should give the team just that in the all-important middle of the offensive line.
Around the NFC
It was widely expected, but Bucs fans still had to breathe a sigh of relief after seeing Mike Evans turn in an unrestricted practice Thursday. The towering Pro Bowler had exited Tuesday’s late-afternoon practice on a cart due to cramping, and Wednesday’s off day likely helped ensure his quick return. Evans has been impressive early, demonstrating a solid grasp of new head coach Bruce Arians’ pass-heavy system despite having missed June minicamp with a minor hamstring issue.
The Eagles are widely considered to be one of the most stacked teams in either conference with good reason. However, one of their most promising newcomers, second-round pick Miles Sanders, suffered a foot injury in Thursday’s practice. Sanders will reportedly undergo some tests and was even spotted doing some post-practice work subsequent to his exit, so he could certainly be in for a short-term absence, if at all. Sanders is expected to enjoy a sizable role this coming season as a complement to offseason acquisition Jordan Howard.
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The Falcons dropped a 14-10 decision to the Broncos in the Hall of Fame Game on Thursday night, a game that looked like it set offense back several decades. None of either team’s front-line offensive skill players took the field, so the lack of points is understandable. For Atlanta, veteran backup Matt Schaub came unraveled while completing just four attempts for 10 yards before exiting. Third-stringer Kurt Benkert also left the contest due to a foot injury, but RB Brian Hill, battling for a backup spot behind Devonta Freeman, generated an encouraging 11-57 line on the ground. He easily outshined his competition for the job, as Ito Smith, Kenjon Barner and rookie Qadree Ollison all turned in single-digit rushing yardage totals.
RB Jerick McKinnon, a key free-agent acquisition last offseason whose first 49ers season was wiped out by a torn ACL, has yet to get on the practice field in training camp. McKinnon is tracking closer to a return, but Thursday’s report indicated that McKinnon will be on the PUP list until at least Monday. When he does get into action, he’ll join a formidable position group that includes offseason pickup Tevin Coleman and incumbent Matt Breida.
RB Aaron Jones has now missed practice for two straight days, but new head coach Matt LeFleur is downplaying the matter for the moment. Jones is experiencing hamstring tightness, and it could well be the Packers are just being cautious with the star member of their backfield after he missed eight games due to leg injuries over the last two seasons.
Even minor injuries in training camp can be momentarily disconcerting when it’s star players that suffer them. Another good example unfolded Thursday in the NFC champs’ training camp, when WR Brandin Cooks exited practice with what head coach Sean McVay subsequently described as hamstring tightness. All indications are that his removal from the field was merely precautionary, and that Cooks should miss little to no time. However, given the unpredictable nature of soft-tissue injuries, the Rams may opt to be especially cautious at this early stage.