What a brutal weekend. Six players are out for the year, less than a week into practice for the season. The only common thread seems to be gut punching fans who were just getting excited about the season. You're not supposed to have your hopes crushed until at least Week 2.
Hardest hit was the AFC, at the very top to be specific. Turnover for the Baltimore Ravens had some wondering already. The offense already had a gap in it without Anquan Boldin, and now Dennis Pitta is gone for the year with a fractured hip from a collision in camp. Pitta tied Ray Rice for the second-most receptions on the team last year. Together with Boldin, the two accounted for 126 of the team's 334 completed pass attempts. Both were a big part of the Ravens' Super Bowl run too, combining for seven touchdowns.
In Denver, it was center Dan Koppen. The 33-year-old filled in nicely last season, and was set to reprise his role as J.D. Walton's stand-in. Now, Peyton Manning will be taking snaps from either Manny Ramirez (no relation) or Steve Vallos, who was added Sunday, until Walton can get healthy. The potential four-game suspension for Von Miller complicates things even more for the Broncos. Of course, there is still Peyton Manning and a trio of top-flight receivers, but it all leaves room for doubt.
All three of the preseason favorites in the AFC -- Baltimore, Denver and, of course, New England -- have a potentially weak underbelly ... not even a week into training camp.
New wrinkle in an old drama
Mother Nature gave the Jets an extra helping of sadness on Sunday. The morning's practice in Cortland was rained out. However, no weather system could keep the quarterback battle from raging. General manager John Idzik added a new wrinkle.
Here's what Idzik had to say about determining who the starter will be. From the Newark Star-Ledger:
"I've got a pretty big role in that. I think we're going to discuss that much like we do anything: it's going to be a collective opinion. We're going to hash it out."
Head coach Rex Ryan scrambled, assuring the press he still hadn't lost any say in personnel matters. The Jets have always done it this way, the coolest lame duck in football said.
"... ever since I've been here -- this is my fifth year here -- not one decision has been made by one man. Not one decision. It's always a group effort on what is best for this team."
Well, I guess that explains the Jets lately. It also looks an awful lot like a power struggle being played out in the media. Or maybe it's not even that. Has Ryan already been so emasculated that he's just carrying out orders, sent in front of the cameras to tout the party line?
From the outside, it looks like the Jets just can't break up with Ryan. Maybe they're just afraid to be alone. Maybe the brass couldn't get their man this year. I don't know, but every day we get another reminder that this is going to be a transition year in New York.
All the read-option quarterbacks
Lazy debates about nothing are a staple of NFL coverage (e.g. any discussion of "The Patriot Way" since June). A favorite these days is grappling with the read-option offense. Is it a fad or is it here to stay?
It's hard to look at what's going on in the NFL right now and believe that the whole concept will just disappear. NFL teams are more reliant than ever on rookies, meaning coaches will continue to incorporate concepts from college playbooks. Secondly, quarterbacks who threaten a defense with their legs aren't going away any time soon. Finally, defenses will adapt, but the nature of the read-option makes it hard to eliminate with a simple schematic twist.
Fad or not, the read-option is starting to feel a little trendy, perhaps too trendy, when you read reports like this out of training camp:
Hmmm. We're not even a full week into training camp. Already, it feels like offensive coordinators are forcing quarterbacks into the read-option, quarterbacks who otherwise wouldn't be a fit. The Chiefs hired Nevada's Chris Ault and talked up Alex Smith in the pistol offense earlier this year (although with Andy Reid coaching, don't get too intent on seeing Kansas City run the ball much). Geno Smith is being forced into it by the Jets.
This is where the trend turns trendy. Maybe these are just coaches experimenting in camp. We'll see how far it goes, but it could turn ugly in the regular season. Forcing square peg passers into the read-option's round holes will at least keep the "fad" arguments raging.
Fluker struggling in S.D.
Last year, Norval forgot to remind A.J. Smith to pick up offensive linemen. It was one reason both were fired for aggravated underwhelmingness. The new guys had that on the top of their shopping list this year, and they snagged Alabama tackle D.J. Fluker with the 11th pick.
Fluker was billed by draftniks as one of the more NFL-ready tackles in the draft, but one strictly limited to the right side because of heavy feet. The Chargers have him on the right side, but the early returns are concerning.
Coaches say they're searching for five best guys to start on OL. They won't say it, but so far DJ Fluker is not one of best five.— UTKevinAcee (@UTKevinAcee) July 27, 2013
The Chargers are counting on a rebound from Philip Rivers. A big part of the plan is not letting him get sacked 49 times again this season. Unfortunately, they have Max Starks and King Dunlap on the left side. News of a struggling Fluker casts more doubts on San Diego's offensive line and the season as a whole.
Only one rookie graded out in Pro Football Focus' top 20 tackles for 2012, Browns right tackle Mitchell Schwartz. Matt Kalil came in at No. 22 on the PFF list. Grades like that have a certain level of subjectivity, but they're a useful guide. At the very least, it's a useful reminder that rookie tackles take time to adjust to the ins and outs of the pro game.
It's early, very early, and Fluker should get better with more reps in camp. The Chargers are counting on it.