Friday, June 7, 2013
Eight in the Box: Rookie eye-catchers
By Mike Sando
A first-year player who has turned heads in OTAs/minicamps:
Arizona Cardinals: Jonathan Cooper, LG. Cooper moved into the starting lineup right away. The team moved incumbent left guard Daryn Colledge to the right side. Arizona also released incumbent starting right guard Adam Snyder. Guards generally don't stand out until players put on the pads. Cooper has stood out for his athletic ability. The Cardinals thought they were getting the most athletic guard in the draft, and Cooper has looked the part to this point.
St. Louis Rams: Tavon Austin, WR. These practice sessions without pads are set up for wide receivers with great speed. Austin is that type of receiver. The differences in speed between NFL players can be imperceptible within a position, but those watching the Rams practice could see the difference between Austin and the typical wideout. All the usual disclaimers about running around in shorts apply, of course, but the Rams drafted Austin largely for his speed. They haven't been disappointed so far.
San Francisco 49ers: Ricardo Lockette, WR. Lockette made his NFL debut in 2011, but he still qualifies as a first-year player under the league's classification system. The receiver position is in focus anyway because Michael Crabtree's injury opened the door for others to seize playing time. Injuries have prevented veteran wideout Mario Manningham from practicing altogether. Another wideout, Kyle Williams, has been cleared only for individual drills. Enter Lockette. He has been living with and working out with quarterback Colin Kaepernick off the field and developing chemistry with him on it.
Seattle Seahawks: Luke Willson, TE. The fifth-round choice from Rice caught just about everything thrown his way when OTAs got going. He has had some ups and downs since then, but the Seahawks are high on him. Veteran backup tight end Anthony McCoy landed on injured reserve with a torn Achilles tendon, giving Willson every opportunity to work his way into the No. 2 role behind Zach Miller. Seattle could become more of a three-receiver team with Percy Harvin joining a group featuring Sidney Rice, Golden Tate, Doug Baldwin and impressive (so far) rookie Chris Harper. There will still be room for formations with two tight ends. It's looking as though Willson will play.