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Sunday, August 18, 2019

Football

5 NFL rookies facing the most pressure in 2019

Kyler Murray Cardinals

There is not a single draft pick who doesn’t face enormous pressure as a rookie, but there’s no denying that some are more scrutinized than others. Much of the time, those under the most strenuous pressure are first- and second-round picks, but even that doesn’t narrow down the list completely.

Some rookies enter the league with expectations of becoming a superstar, while others are tasked with altering the trajectory of an organization entirely. And following the 2019 NFL Draft, there were more than a handful of those.

Here is a look at five rookies facing the most pressure in 2019.

5. Greg Little, OT, Carolina Panthers

It’s a critical year in Carolina as new-ish owner David Tepper works to determine who he wants in place moving forward. Needless to say, it will be up to head coach Ron Rivera to stop the “every other year” success that has plagued the organization since their inception, and he’ll attempt to do that on the back of quarterback Cam Newton. But as the saying goes, expectations trickle downhill, and as a result, they will subsequently fall on the shoulders of second-round pick Greg Little. Fair or unfair, the offensive tackle will be considered a key piece along the team’s offensive line. He will be heavily factored in when it comes to Newton’s success and the team’s overall success. Good luck, rookie.

4. Devin White, LB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The Buccaneers haven’t exactly been lacking offensively in recent years, and with Bruce Arians taking over in 2019, scoring is likely to become the least of their concerns. The same optimism has not been shared on defense however, as a lack of star power and leadership has plagued Tampa Bay. In the 2019 NFL Draft, the team used six of their eight picks on defenders, including a first-round pick spent on Devin White. As a rookie first rounder, White is not only expected to come in a play a major role, but to step into a leadership role. He is now the team’s focal point defensively and will be expected to play like a veteran on the field and lead like one off the field.

3. Clelin Ferrell, DE, Oakland Raiders

First-round picks are automatically under tremendous amount of pressure. However, when it comes to Clelin Ferrell, that’s compounded because the Raiders took him so much earlier (No. 4) than anyone expected him to go. Mind you, that’s not Ferrell’s fault, but the business side of the NFL will dictate the level of pressure based on draft position, so Ferrell is going to have to get after it in 2019. He’s also going to have to out-perform Montez Sweat, Josh Allen and Brian Burns — all of whom were widely considered more talented players entering the draft — while trying to replace the void left by a Khalil Mack, whom Oakland traded to the Chicago Bears last September.

2. Nick Bosa, DE, San Francisco 49ers

As the second overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, it’s easy to pinpoint Bosa as one of the league’s rookies facing the most pressure this season — Captain Obvious agrees. However, more than just being faced with the pressure to help lead the 49ers’ defense and improve their pass rush, Bosa will be forced to win over the entire city of San Francisco. Due to his history of questionable tweets, the people of San Francisco entered a little dismayed with their newest superstar rookie. Needless to say, Bosa will not only have to perform well on the field, but also to avoid any potential controversy or isolation off of it.

1. Kyler Murray, QB, Arizona Cardinals

Under normal circumstances, the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL Draft enters the league with enormous expectations and the pressure of being a franchise player. But for Kyler Murray, these aren’t normal circumstances. On top of going No. 1, he has the added pressure of knowing that his presence led to the trade of quarterback Josh Rosen, on whom the team spent first-round pick a year earlier. Needless to say, no rookie in this draft class or in recent draft classes has faced more of an uphill battle than Murray does. He has to immediately step in and shine, out-perform Rosen along the way, and prove the Cardinals correct in their gamble.

Report: Andrew Luck having difficulty with side-to-side movement

Andrew Luck

Andrew Luck’s status for Week 1 is one of the most intriguing questions entering the NFL season.

Luck has been dealing with an ankle/calf injury that has kept him from participating in nearly all of the Indianapolis Colts’ practices since the offseason. The team has been working to figure out the exact cause of Luck’s pain, but there seems to be uncertainty regarding the injury.

As for one of Luck’s issues, ESPN’s Mike Wells reported that the QB has had difficulty doing side-to-side movements.

From Wells’ report:

“[Luck’s] workout included footwork drills where he went side-to-side before attempting a pass. Luck’s had a difficult time with side-to-side movement due to the pain in his left ankle.”

Despite his injury, Luck worked out before Saturday’s preseason game against the Cleveland Browns. In this video clip shared by Dan Graziano on Instagram, Luck seemed to look good going side-to-side.

That was only one clip, but maybe Luck is getting closer to being ready.

Colts head coach Frank Reich reportedly would like to make a decision on the starting quarterback position after the team’s third preseason game. Backup Jacoby Brissett went 8/10 for 100 yards and a touchdown against Cleveland. If he has another strong performance, Reich might be motivated to let Luck heal for another week and roll with Brissett in the team’s opener against the Chargers.

Watch: Bill Belichick has terse exchange with reporter over Josh Gordon

Bill Belichick

Bill Belichick put out a statement on Josh Gordon Saturday so the media and fans would have a quote from him and know his thoughts on the wide receiver’s conditional reinstatement. If he wanted to say anything further on the matter, he would have done so. Just ask him.

Prior to the start of the second half of the New England Patriots’ preseason game against the Tennessee Titans, reporter Steve Burton asked Belichick if he had anything he wanted to add regarding Gordon. The exchange did not go too great for Burton.

Once Belichick said “no,” Burton should have moved on to a different subject. He was either caught off-guard by Belichick telling him no, or he simply froze and did not have a second question prepared, which led him to get stuck and essentially repeat his question.

If Burton wanted to know something regarding Gordon, he should have asked something specific. A question about whether Gordon will make the roster or if Belichick was excited about Gordon’s reinstatement would have been much better.

After not getting anything on Gordon, Burton did move on to other topics:

That was simply a poor interview with poor questions. Here is Belichick’s original statement on Gordon.

Derek Carr amazed by Antonio Brown’s recall after return to practice

Antonio Brown

After a lot of drama, everything returned to normal Saturday with Antonio Brown’s return to practice with the Oakland Raiders.

Brown’s return to the team walkthrough was very impressive to quarterback Derek Carr, who was amazed by Brown’s recall and sharpness despite his time on the sidelines.

“The man’s recall is unbelievable,” Carr said, via Paul Gutierrez of ESPN. “He came in and no mental errors, and in this offense, that’s not easy to do. Especially, whenever you have a day off … you come back and you’re like, you’ve got to stay on Coach Gruden’s offense all the time. You can tell Antonio’s been studying because he came out and didn’t miss a beat.”

This is going to be music to Raiders’ fans years after a lot of negative headlines involving Brown lately. He’s still one of the most talented players in the league, and if he can emphasize that and not the off-field drama, the Raiders should be happy with their acquisition after all.

Mike Shanahan was ‘close’ to return as Broncos head coach

Mike Shanahan Red Lobster

Mike Shanahan says he was “close” to returning as the Denver Broncos’ head coach.

Shanahan, 66, coached the Broncos from 1995-2008. He led the team to two Super Bowl wins, both coming with John Elway as his quarterback, but was fired after the 2008 season.

Elway, who is in his ninth season as the Broncos’ general manager, spoke with Shanahan after the 2017 season about a potential return to Denver. That news was reported nearly two years ago.

On Saturday, Shanahan shared that he was “close” to becoming the team’s head coach.

“I was close, I was close,” Shanahan said from a joint practice between the Broncos and 49ers on Saturday, via ESPN’s Jeff Legwold. “One thing that has to happen is you all have to be on the same page. One thing you’ve got to make sure of when you are a head football coach that the owner, the GM, the quarterback are all on the same page. And if it doesn’t happen the chances of you winning the Super Bowl aren’t very good. … I had a great conversation with John as everybody knows, it didn’t work out, sometimes it works out for the right reasons.”

There are questions about whether or not Broncos ownership and/or CEO Joe Ellis were on board with Shanahan’s return. Someone along the way must have said no.

Elway opted to stick with Vance Joseph as his head coach for the 2018 season. Joseph was fired after going 6-10 and 11-21 over his two seasons.

Shanahan had previously said he was not looking for a head coaching job, but maybe the circumstances of Elway reaching out and wanting to bring him back to Denver appealed to the Super Bowl-winning coach. Shanahan’s son Kyle is the head coach of the 49ers.

Freddie Kitchens goes out of his way to attend Darryl Drake funeral day of game

Freddie Kitchens Browns

Freddie Kitchens showed how he orders his priorities when he chose to pay respects at the funeral of Darryl Drake on Saturday.

Kitchens, who is in his first year as head coach of the Cleveland Browns, attended Drake’s funeral even though the Browns had a preseason game later in the day against the Colts.

Drake, who was in his second season as the Pittsburgh Steelers’ wide receivers coach, died on Sunday at the age of 62. His funeral was held in Tennessee.

Though the Browns had a game in Indianapolis, NFL Media’s Stacey Dales reported that Kitchens still went to the funeral.

Kitchens and Drake were on the Arizona Cardinals’ coaching staff together from 2013-2017.

Kitchens was one of many football figures reported to be in attendance for the funeral. Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald was excused from practice to speak at the funeral. Former Chicago Bears head coach Lovie Smith reportedly attended, as did Giants defensive coordinator James Bettcher.

Bill Belichick issues statement about Josh Gordon’s reinstatement

Bill Belichick

If Bill Belichick is thrilled about Josh Gordon’s conditional reinstatement by the NFL, he sure isn’t showing it — at least not through his public statement.

Belichick issued a statement through the New England Patriots on Saturday about Gordon’s status. He gave no hints about Gordon’s potential role with the team and whether or not the wide receiver will even make the team.

“For the past eight months, Josh’s situation has been entirely a league matter. When Josh returns to our program, we will evaluate the entire situation and do what we feel is best for Josh and the team,” Belichick said.

Belichick isn’t exactly a guy who tends to publicly show emotion, so this comes across as coach speak. Or maybe he’s just not trying to get the hopes of his team and coaching staff up, particularly knowing that Gordon could so easily be suspended again in the future.

The Patriots have to be cautiously optimistic about getting back a receiver who caught 40 passes for 720 yards last season in just 11 games with the team. The league announced on Friday that Gordon had been reinstated following his December suspension.