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#pounditWednesday, March 3, 2021

10 players to watch during NFL training camp

Andrew Luck

Training camps across the NFL are well underway and the battles are beginning to play out. There are many reasons to pay attention to what happens on the practice field. There can be significant injuries, players who are surprising, others who don’t look sharp, and those who are putting their stamp on a job. There are also comeback stories and players to watch for a whole host of reasons.

Here are ten players whose training camp performance bears watching closely.

Andrew Luck, QB, Colts

After missing all of the 2017 season with a shoulder injury, Andrew Luck returned in 2018 and put on a show. He bounced back with 39 touchdown passes and a career-best 430 completions and 67.3 completion percentage while leading the Colts to a 10-6 record and playoff appearance. Everything looked good for 2019, but now Luck is dealing with a calf injury that has kept him out of minicamp and the start of training camp. The Colts better hope Luck is healthy in time for Week 1. If not, it would be Jacoby Brissett time.

Le’Veon Bell, RB, Jets

Bell seems determined to prove to outsiders that he’s in great shape and more than ready to resume his football career after skipping last year over a contract dispute. There is no reason to doubt him, but that doesn’t change the fact that all eyes will be on him to determine how fit and sharp he is. A year away is a long time in football terms, especially for a running back. On the flipside, that year away could make him fresher at a position that tends to age quickly. Camp may give us clues as to how he’s feeling.

Dwayne Haskins, QB, Redskins

Washington had to be thrilled when Haskins fell into their laps during the NFL Draft in April. Coach Jay Gruden has made clear that the former Ohio State quarterback will be given every chance to play immediately, which means his training camp performance will be pivotal. Given how much Case Keenum struggled for Denver last year, it would seem Haskins has a great chance to win the job if he can perform well. His camp reps and how quickly he picks up the offensive will play a huge role in that.

Todd Gurley, RB, Rams

Despite all those repeated denials from player and team alike, Gurley’s trainer ultimately confirmed that the running back is dealing with some lingering knee problems. That’s going to be the storyline that surrounds Gurley all camp. The Rams are taking it easy with him, putting him on a veteran schedule that will see him deal with a decreased workload until the season starts. How explosive and fluid he looks when he is on the field could tell us a lot about how he’s actually feeling.

Tyrann Mathieu, S, Chiefs

The Chiefs’ defense was the reason they didn’t make the Super Bowl last year. They had capable pass-rushers, but their secondary was shredded too easily by talented quarterbacks. That’s why Mathieu was brought in, and he’s determined to make as big an impact in attitude as he does in skill. It will be interesting to watch the unit in camp and see if Mathieu’s influence is taking hold, both tangibly and intangibly.

Cam Newton, QB, Panthers

Newton’s challenge during camp is to get his arm strength and timing back as quickly as possible. He underwent shoulder surgery during the offseason and will be a full participant in camp drills, but there will be questions about how he looks in those drills. If Newton is showing off his cannon and throwing zingers, Panthers fans will have lots of reasons to be optimistic. All the same, shoulder surgery is no easy thing, and how rusty he looks — if at all — will be a key thing to keep an eye on.

Jordan Howard, RB, Eagles

Jay Ajayi is gone, and the Eagles are eager to ensure that their running game doesn’t take a big hit after his departure. Howard was brought in to compete for the starting job, and given that he’s getting the majority of first-team reps in camp so far, the job will probably be his. Howard had a pair of 1,000-yard seasons in his first two years in the NFL, and his camp form bears watching. If he can recover that spark, the Eagles’ offense will be loaded.

Aaron Rodgers, QB, Packers

Rodgers is fresh off a typically strong season in many statistical categories, but there’s more to his camp than stats and getting ready for another season. There has been a lot of speculation and some hints from Rodgers himself that there may be a culture clash between the quarterback’s habits and new coach Matt LaFleur’s preferred offense. Rodgers and LaFleur are both professionals, but how well the veteran quarterback takes to a new system after all his accomplishments remains to be seen and is an interesting storyline.

David Johnson, RB, Cardinals

There’s been a lot of talk about what Kliff Kingsbury will do with Kyler Murray at his disposal. We should probably be asking that question about Johnson, too. The former All-Pro hasn’t been the same since his season-ending injury in 2017, but Kingsbury could be just what Johnson needs to re-establish himself as a productive, if not elite, NFL running back. Kingsbury will want to stretch the field and involve Johnson in the passing and running games too, so what kind of reps he gets will be telling.

Jameis Winston, QB, Buccaneers

2019 is probably do-or-die for Winston. He has not progressed well since being selected first overall in 2015, and briefly lost his job last season. New coach Bruce Arians is tasked with getting the best out of him. If that doesn’t work out, Winston may end up with a new franchise. Winston’s camp form won’t decide everything, but if he looks shaky early on, it would be a bad sign for a quarterback in a huge year.


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