NFL Nation: Conner Vernon

The Detroit Lions have started to trim their roster.

Rookie wide receiver TJ Jones, who has been on the team's active PUP list while recovering from shoulder surgery in the offseason, has been moved to the physically unable to perform reserve list. This means he won't be available to practice for six weeks and then the Lions will have five weeks to decide whether to allow him to practice. If they do not -- or they do not activate him to the 53-man roster after he starts practicing -- he'll be on the PUP list the entire season.

Detroit also began its first round of roster cuts Saturday following Friday night's game against Jacksonville. The team started the day at 89 players and released OG Alex Bullard, OL A.J. Dalton, DT Gregory Hickman, RB Steven Miller, DE Kris Redding and WR Conner Vernon.

Of those players, only Miller had been with the team last season and he was on the practice squad. Redding and Vernon were brought in earlier during training camp and the rest of the cuts signed soon after May's draft. Dalton had been given a $2,500 signing bonus and Bullard a $500 signing bonus to come to Detroit as undrafted free agents.

This brings Detroit to 83 players. The Lions need to be at 75 players by 4 p.m. on Tuesday. None of the players the Lions released Saturday were expected to make the roster and of those, only Bullard appeared to be a practice squad candidate at any point.

 
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- The back end of the Detroit Lions' wide receiver corps continues to have a constant rotation.

On Monday afternoon, right after Quintin Payton practiced with Detroit, the former NC State receiver was waived by the club to make room for another receiver -- Conner Vernon, who played collegiately at Duke.

Vernon has bounced around a lot since going undrafted in 2013, spending last season's training camp in Oakland, this past offseason with Cleveland, a couple of weeks of training camp with Cincinnati and now heads up Interstate 75 to Detroit.

Vernon played in Cincinnati's first preseason game, nabbing one catch for a 12-yard touchdown. What might have caught Detroit's eye about Vernon are his hands, which his Duke bio says were named best in the ACC in 2012 by Lindy's Magazine.

The 6-foot Vernon had 1,163 yards as a senior at Duke and according to his NFL combine bio, is the cousin of former NFL place-kicker Al Del Greco.

 

 

Nagging injuries hit Raiders

July, 30, 2013
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NAPA, Calif. – The Oakland Raiders haven’t suffered any colossal training-camp injuries, but nagging bumps and bruises are starting to pile up.

The rookie class was affected Tuesday. Running back Latavius Murray, a sixth-round pick, didn’t practice; defensive lineman Stacy McGee and receiver Conner Vernon were injured during the session. Oakland coach Dennis Allen hasn’t been disclosing injuries, but he indicated that none of those suffered by the rookies seem to be overly serious.

Still, Allen did express worry that so many Raiders are injured. Fourteen are currently not practicing -- making Wednesday's day off from drills particularly welcome.

Oakland receiver/returner Jacoby Ford, hurt over the weekend, is among those sidelined; Allen said he doesn’t expect Ford to be out long. He has played sparingly in the past year-and-a-half. Offensive lineman Menelik Watson and defensive tackle Pat Sims are still out. Rookie cornerback D.J. Hayden has still not been cleared for contact, though Allen has indicated that he could be shortly.

Receiver Andre Holmes has been a standout in recent days, showcasing his size and skills. Holmes, entering his second season, is facing a four-game NFL suspension for use of a banned substance. He is a long shot to make the team, but if he continues to shine, he could force some tough decisions.

In other AFC West notes:

Kansas City guard Jeff Allen returned to practice Tuesday after missing two days with a shoulder injury. Defensive backs Eric Berry and Dunta Robinson are getting close to coming back from hamstring injuries.

Linebacker Joe Mays said he chose Houston over Kansas City, Oakland and San Diego. Denver cut him last week. All three of the other AFC West teams have varying needs at linebacker.

Quote of the day: Kansas City coach Andy Reid on the effort of 350-pound defensive tackle Dontari Poe: “You’ve got D-Poe, just a big fella, and he’s chasing the ball down the field 50 yards. That’s impressive stuff.”

I expect Poe, the No. 11 overall draft choice in 2012, to make big strides this season. The new regime loves him.
NFC Eight in the Box: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

One key positional battle for each AFC West team as training camps get underway:

Denver: Running back, Montee Ball vs. Ronnie Hillman: Hillman is starting training camp as the No. 1 running back. But he will be hard-pressed to keep the job. The plan is for Ball, a second-round pick from Wisconsin, to quickly get ready to take over as the No. 1 back. Denver spent a lot of time grooming him in the offseason, but Ball will have to show he can handle the job in training camp. And he'll need to handle every aspect of being a starting tailback, including picking up blocking schemes. But that goes for Hillman, too. He played some last season and played well in the playoffs. But he is considered more of a change-of-pace guy. So while Hillman gets first crack, I think we will see Ball emerge and Hillman as a backup.Knowshon Moreno will be in the mix early as well, but Denver is going to focus on the youngsters.

Kansas City: Tight end, Tony Moeaki vs. Travis Kelce: The Chiefs’ top tight end this season might be free-agent pickup Anthony Fasano. But the second tight end will get a lot work. Moeaki has a lot of ability, but he has had trouble staying healthy. Kelce is a third-round pick. The new regime really likes him, and he has a chance to get a ton of playing time early. So this will be a solid camp battle. If Moeaki stays healthy, I can see him holding off Kelce, at least, for the short term.

Oakland: Receiver/returner Josh Cribbs vs. Jacoby Ford: I’m not sure this will be an either/or scenario. I think the Raiders would be fine with keeping both players if possible. But Oakland does have several young, intriguing receivers. If the Raiders feel there are some receivers (such as undrafted free agent Conner Vernon) they can’t keep off the 53-man roster, Oakland might only have room for Cribbs or Ford. Not both. Ford has had trouble staying healthy. When healthy, he is a dynamic return man and is better than Cribbs as a receiver. Cribbs is still strong as a returner but is also coming off an injury. It could come down to who is the healthier of the two.

San Diego: Top receivers. The Chargers’ receiving group looks promising, but it is currently difficult to project exactly what the rotation will be. It could shake out in training camp. The top four receivers will likely be Danario Alexander, Vincent Brown, Malcom Floyd and rookie Keenan Allen. I think we will see Brown and Alexander as the top receivers once the season starts. Floyd has been a starter, but he might be best as a No. 3 or No. 4 working as a deep threat. Allen will play, but only if he's ready. Alexander was terrific in the second half of last season after he was signed off the street. If he can show he wasn’t a flash in the pan, he could be dynamic. Brown is the key. He looks like he can be a top-notch possession receiver. He showed promise as a rookie but missed all of last season with an ankle injury. Now he's healthy and ready to go. He could be the most productive receiver on this unit.
A day after New York Jets general manager John Idzik said he didn’t think Josh Cribbs was healthy, the aging but dynamic return man has signed with the Oakland Raiders.

Cribbs
The longtime Cleveland receiver/returner nearly signed with Arizona earlier in free agency, but he was recovering from a knee injury. He started visiting teams last week with the Raiders being the first team he visited. He visited three other teams, including the Jets. The fact that Cribbs may not be completely healthy right now is not a huge deal. He will get there.

Oakland will look at Cribbs primarily as a return man. He is tied for the most career kick returns for a touchdown in NFL history with eight. Cribbs, who will turn 30 next month, is primarily a returner. He has had more than 23 catches in a season just once when he had 41 in 2011.

I don’t see this as being a bad signing for Oakland. It’s a low-risk move. If Cribbs still has something in the tank, he can help the team.

It is also insurance in case Jacoby Ford can’t return from a foot injury that kept him out for the 2012 season and for six games in the previous season. Ford and Cribbs are similar players, with Ford giving more in the passing game. But it could come down to keeping either player, especially if some rookie receiver like Brice Butler or Conner Vernon makes a huge push to make the 53-man roster. The team can only keep so many receivers.

So, it could come down to health between Ford and Cribbs.

In other AFC West notes:

Former Kansas quarterback Dayne Crist signed with Baltimore. He tried out for the Chiefs last week.

Wednesday was the last day for Amy Trask in Oakland. She resigned as Raiders CEO four days ago. The team took out a full-page ad in a local paper to thank Trask for her quarter century of service.

Ranking the AFC West UFAs

May, 3, 2013
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I asked Steve Muench of Scouts Inc. to rank the top 10 undrafted free agent signings in the AFC West this week. This is what Muench had to say:

1. Tennessee QB Tyler Bray, Kansas City

Whether or not Bray can improve the way he prepares and puts in the necessary work to realize his considerable potential remains to be seen. There is no question he has the frame, arm strength and accuracy to develop into an NFL starter.

2. Georgia NT Kwame Geathers, San Diego

At 6-foot-5 and 342 pounds, Geathers is a mountain of a man with the size and lower-body strength to hold his ground against double teams and clog up the middle when he keeps his pads down. However, he struggles to stay low, and doesn’t offer much as a pass-rusher, either.

3. Louisville DB Adrian Bushell, Oakland

Bushell bounced around a little bit in college, enrolling at Florida in 2009, transferring to a community college in 2010 and then to Louisville in 2011. He doesn’t have great burst, he’s on the smaller side and he’s not a playmaker, but is fluid and anticipates breaks well. He could also push for time as a kickoff-return man.

4. Florida DE/OLB Lerentee McCray, Denver

McCray doesn’t show great top-end speed on tape and his lengthy injury history raises a red flag. His durability is the bigger issue because he has the skill set to contribute as a role player if he can stay healthy. He is an effective hand fighter whether he’s rushing the passer or defending the run, and he has an above-average motor.

5. Duke WR Conner Vernon, Oakland

Vernon isn’t much of a big-play threat. He doesn’t have enough speed to stretch the field or run away from pursuit after the catch. The strength of his game is his willingness to do the dirty work over the middle. He doesn’t take his eyes off the ball to locate defenders and he is aggressive fighting for 50-50 balls in traffic.

6. Boston College OT John Wetzel, Oakland

Wetzel isn’t as naturally gifted or as fundamentally sound as some of the other offensive linemen that Boston College has produced over the years. He does have the frame, length and awareness to be an effective swing tackle who can provide depth on the right and left side.

7. Kansas S Bradley McDougald, Kansas City

McDougald is a jack of all trades who played wide receiver and safety in addition to returning kicks his first two seasons at Kansas. It should come as little surprise that he fields the ball well for a safety but his marginal top-end speed is an issue. He isn’t fast enough to match up with slot receivers in man coverage and shows just adequate range covering the deep half of the field.

8. New Mexico TE Lucas Reed, Denver

Reed, the younger brother of Houston OLB Brooks Reed, isn’t a physical player. He needs to develop an edge as a run-blocker and improve his ability to make plays in traffic over the middle. On the other hand, he’s fast enough to work the seam and has a big catching radius. He has 10.5-inch hands, 35.5-inch arms and a 37-inch vertical.

9. Virginia Tech OT Nick Becton, San Diego

A one-year starter, Becton doesn’t have great foot speed and needs to learn to sink his hips both as a run-blocker and in pass protection. He is an intriguing addition because he has the frame, length and enough of a mean streak to develop into an effective backup who can provide depth at right tackle and guard.

10. Youngstown State OG Lamar Mady, Oakland

There are concerns about Mady’s ability to make the jump to the NFL. He is a small-school prospect who doesn’t have the frame to carry a lot of weight and doesn’t move well laterally. He’s still worth giving a shot in training camp because he’s a wide body who can play center and guard.

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