NFL Training Camp/Preseason Notes: Peterson Snags A Spot, Donald Gets His Dollars

Preseason has finally concluded, and we’re six days and counting to the official kickoff of the 2018 season. However, before the Falcons and Eagles do battle next Thursday, there’s plenty of business to be settled as final roster cuts are handed down. Some of those began unfolding Friday, with the remainder to come by Saturday afternoon. In the meantime, there’s quite a bit of news regarding job battles coming out of Thursday’s preseason finales, as well as general updates from around the league. Without further ado, let’s delve into the latest developments!

Around the AFC

Bills: We’re now officially in countdown mode to Week 1, and the Bills seem to be no closer to naming a starting quarterback. A.J. McCarron played the entire preseason finale versus the Bears on Thursday and didn’t look too competent when doing so (13-for-34, 156 yards, 3 TD, 2 INT). However, in the preseason-long tradition of the seemingly never-ending Bills quarterback job battle, head coach Sean McDermott insisted Friday that McCarron is still very much part of the three-man race that also includes first-round pick Josh Allen and Nathan Peterman. Definitive word on who’ll be under center in the opener against the Ravens may not come until early next week.

Browns: Another seemingly eternal situation is the Browns’ quest to get Josh Gordon back on the field and fully ready to go. They thought they’d reached that juncture last weekend when the mercurial receiver finally returned to the team, only to see him pull a hamstring during initial conditioning work. Gordon is reportedly ready to finally begin practicing Monday, although he’ll apparently be limited to just selected routes. Coach Hue Jackson has also confirmed that Gordon will come off the bench in the season opener against the Steelers after such limited prep time this summer… Worth noting that Baker Mayfield finished out the preseason on a strong note Thursday against the Lions (9-for-16 for 138 yards ) and looked like he had a solid grasp on the NFL game (at least the preseason version of it) right from the jump. That should certainly give Jackson some confidence if he has to — or opts to — turn to Mayfield at some point during the regular season.

Chargers: The news out of Chargers camp doesn’t exactly involve the most exciting positions — backup quarterback and kicker — but it’s certainly noteworthy nonetheless. On the kicking front, Caleb Sturgis and Roberto Aguayo have engaged in an entertaining and hotly-contested battle for the starting job this summer, and even after Thursday’s preseason finale, it would be difficult to fault the Chargers for going with either guy. Aguayo nailed a game-winning field goal Thursday and drilled another attempt, while Sturgis was perfect on one field-goal attempt and one extra-point try as well. This one looks like a Saturday afternoon special in terms of roster cutdowns, with the loser very likely to garner interest from another team… Meanwhile, Geno Smith appears to have solidified the backup role over Cardale Jones behind iron-man starter Philip Rivers, according to reports. If past seasons are any indication, however, that likely means a clipboard-holding campaign for Smith, as Rivers has yet to miss a game in 13 seasons.

Colts: Andrew Luck has apparently been so convincing in his return from the shoulder issues that wiped out his 2017 that the subject never seems to be broached anymore. Instead, recent concerns have focused on the quarterback’s foot, which had kept him out of practice all of last week. That appears to have been purely precautionary, as word emerged Friday that he’ll resume practicing ahead of next Sunday’s season opener against the Bengals. With running back Marlon Mack (hamstring) also highly questionable for Week 1, Luck could immediately be tasked with a robust passing workload versus Cincinnati.

Jets: We’re just waiting on head coach Todd Bowles’ official confirmation at this point, but it all signs point to rookie Sam Darnold getting the starting call in Week 1. Josh McCown seeing time in Thursday’s preseason finale while Darnold sat certainly was a big clue in that regard, as was the trade of Teddy Bridgewater to the Saints earlier in the week… If Darnold does indeed get thrown into the fire from Day 1 as expected, it appears he’ll be down at least one pass-catching weapon in Jermaine Kearse early on. The veteran receiver is dealing with a rather vague abdominal injury that he apparently had a recent procedure for, and no official recovery timeline has been revealed… One wideout who definitely won’t be suiting up in New York is Charles Johnson, who was trying to resurrect his career after last having played in a regular-season contest in 2016. Johnson didn’t have a poor training camp or preseason by any means, but the 29-year-old couldn’t quite do enough to stick on the final roster.

Ravens:  Lamar Jackson is going to start the season behind Joe Flacco and undoubtedly needs more seasoning as a passer, but he appeared to have made solid strides over the last two exhibitions. Jackson wrapped up preseason with a 9-for-15, 109-yard performance versus the Redskins, adding 25 rushing yards on three carries. Flacco also put together an impressive preseason while facing a bit more job-related pressure than he’s used to, so it will be highly interesting to see how the Ravens’ regular season plays out in terms of the quarterback position.

Texans: Braxton Miller’s tenure with the Texans has come to an end, at least for the time being, with the Ohio State product receiving a pink slip Friday. The 2016 third-round pick has failed to live up to expectations over his first two seasons (34 receptions for 261 yards, two TDs), and he was slated to open 2018 as no better than the No. 4 receiver with Bruce Ellington having a firm grasp on the No. 3 role behind starters DeAndre Hopkins and Will Fuller. Head coach Bill O’Brien seemed to hint at the possibility of a Miller return, however, saying the team was still “working through some things” with respect to the former college quarterback.

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Around the NFC

Buccaneers: The Bucs’ starting offense is essentially devoid of any job battles, and one that was highly expected and never quite materialized was partly in the spotlight again Thursday. Ronald Jones II, the talented second-round pick that most thought would give Peyton Barber a serious run for his money for the No. 1 running back job, struggled yet again, gaining just four yards on 10 carries. Jones’ overall preseason rushing tally of 28 carries for 22 yards is the stuff of nightmares, and he’ll enter the season as the clear No. 2 behind Barber. His natural talent should eventually come to the forefront, however, and having an opportunity to run behind the Bucs’ first-string offensive line should also help his quest for clear rushing lanes tremendously.

Cowboys: The Cowboys’ receiving corps is likely to be a focus of attention this season, and not necessarily for positive reasons, either. Dallas seemed rather lackadaisical in their efforts to replace Dez Bryant this offseason, seemingly settling for serviceable yet rather uninspired additions like Allen Hurns, Deonte Thompson and Tavon Austin. The lack of depth could mean solid opportunities for rookie Michael Gallup, who added four more catches to his preseason ledger Thursday. Gallup provided reason for optimism throughout the summer, and we’re about to find out if that will carry over when the games count.

Eagles: The mystery of who’ll be under center in Week 1 for the Eagles persists, with head coach Doug Pederson not offering much in the way of clues. However, with Philadelphia opening its season Thursday, it appears increasingly likely that Nick Foles will get the call with Carson Wentz not yet practicing. It would be asking a bit too much of Wentz, irrespective of his undeniable talent, to jump right back into the fray without the benefit of any appreciable practice time following major surgery… There was news about one other prominent offensive piece Friday, as Alshon Jeffery, still recovering from rotator cuff surgery, was removed from the Physically Unable to Perform list. However, that’s not as encouraging as it sounds on the surface, as Jeffery is still slated to miss at least the first two games of the regular season. Nelson Agholor, Mike Wallace and Zach Ertz should see plenty of extra work in his stead.

Panthers: Cameron Artis-Payne and Kenjon Barner engaged in the final preseason installment of their battle for the No. 3 running back job Thursday, with the former outperforming the latter. Artis-Payne totaled 35 yards on five rushes, while Barner gained just 16 yards on his six carries. Artis-Payne looks like the favorite to survive final cuts, although he isn’t likely to see much work unless there are injuries to Christian McCaffrey and C.J. Anderson ahead of him.

Rams: One of the summer’s star holdouts looks like he’ll be suiting up in Week 1 after all, and with a lot more cash in the bank to boot. Multi-time Pro Bowler Aaron Donald has apparently scored a six-year, $135 million contract that will make him the highest-paid defensive player in NFL history. Moreover, with nine days before a season-opening Monday night battle against the Raiders, Donald is projected to take the field under what will likely be minimal restrictions at most for that contest.

Redskins: In the “if I’d have told you this three weeks ago you’d have called me crazy” department, Adrian Peterson has not only secured a final roster spot with the Redskins, but according to reports, a prominent early-down role as well. Exactly how the depth chart shakes out behind him is another story, as Rob Kelley, Kapri Bibbs and Samaje Perine all had solid performances in Thursday’s preseason finale. The one Washington running back besides Peterson whose role is clearly defined is Chris Thompson, as he’ll once again be counted on heavily as pass-catching option this coming season.

Saints: Cam Meredith badly needed a strong preseason performance, and the Saints likely needed to see one from him as well. The third-year receiver was able to bring in two of four targets for 72 yards and a touchdown against the Rams on Thursday, a rather timely effort considering that rookie Tre’Quan Smith also showed up nicely on the stat sheet again with four receptions for 42 yards. It appears that Meredith will likely have at least some of his snaps threatened by Smith, although the rookie projects to officially enter the season as No. 4 on the depth chart… Running backs are in the news in New Orleans as well, as Shane Vereen was placed on injured reserve Friday, while Jonathan Williams and Boston Scott both turned in impressive performances in the preseason finale. Williams racked up 64 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries against the Rams on Thursday, and he still appears to have the inside track to be Mark Ingram’s primary stand-in alongside Alvin Kamara during the former’s four-game suspension. However, Scott, a sixth-round pick, notably drew the start Thursday, gaining 68 yards and scoring a touchdown on his 12 rushes. Williams is still projected to get the bulk of Ingram’s work, but there’s now talk Scott could increasingly carve out a role as well.