NFL Nation: fantasy position battles

CINCINNATI -- After 112 days, finally, the news came.

BenJarvus Green-Ellis was cut.

[+] EnlargeJeremy Hill
AP Photo/Rick ScuteriJeremy Hill can expect the Bengals to use him in a variety of ways this season.
Most around southwest Ohio had anticipated hearing of the running back's release since May, when the Cincinnati Bengals drafted his replacement, Jeremy Hill. A second-round pick, Hill vowed that weekend to learn from and play along with Green-Ellis, even while it was apparent that the veteran's days were numbered.

Those days officially ran out Friday afternoon.

Green-Ellis' release means the Bengals have turned to the next chapter of their backfield plans, and that they are embracing having Hill as an option out of the backfield. It's safe to say that in Cincinnati, the Jeremy Hill Era has begun.

You actually could rewind your clock back to Thursday night in order to pinpoint the exact moment Hill's tenure with the Bengals began. During a 35-7 win over the Indianapolis Colts, the running back shouldered the load, receiving 26 touches. He ran 20 times for 90 yards and caught six passes for 63. With the star rookie playing until deep into the third quarter, many criticized coach Marvin Lewis for not taking him out sooner.

There was a method to Lewis' apparent madness.

"Jeremy has to understand what it's like to be an NFL running back," Lewis said. "We aren't five deep. When we get to Sundays and we got down to 46 guys, and if he's going to be the guy, then he's going to have to be able to shoulder the load."

It should be pointed out that he won't be the only guy for the Bengals this season. Second-year back Giovani Bernard also will be contributing out of the backfield. Bernard is expected to see the bulk of the touches out of the backfield, but Hill should have his share, too.

Bernard is more of a shifty, outside runner who can punch the ball inside if he needs to. Hill is more of a power-running ballcarrier who happens to have next-level speed, too.

Green-Ellis no longer had that combination, and it factored into the reasons he had to go.

When you saw Green-Ellis and Hill run in practices during the spring and earlier this summer, it was a night-and-day difference in how fluid Hill looked compared to the veteran. The rookie's cuts were sharper. His feet were quicker. His strides were longer. Matched with Green-Ellis' comparatively plodding pace, Hill looked more like an NFL rusher than Green-Ellis. There was no contest.

After Thursday night's game, Hill was asked about getting such an exhaustive workload on a warm, humid night. He said he felt fine with it because it was good preparation for what's to come.

"Bigger backs are always accustomed to getting the workload," Hill said, adding that he still wants to work on his conditioning a little more.

A physical runner himself, Green-Ellis has gotten his share of carries in recent seasons. In his two years with the Bengals he averaged 249 carries. Prior to that, though, he never had more than 229 in a single season with the New England Patriots, the only other team Green-Ellis has played for.

You won't ever hear Green-Ellis admit it, but perhaps his slower, less effective play last season was partially the result of overuse. He was, after all, the primary back on the roster in 2012 when he had 278 carries. Last season he had Bernard to share the runs with, but he still far outpaced any other Bengals rusher, collecting 220 carries.

While coaches won't say how often they expect to use Hill this season, based on Thursday, it's clear they expect to use him in a variety of ways. The rookie ran up the middle, hit the edge a few times and even caught a number of screen passes.

"He likes to attack every corner of the field," backup quarterback Jason Campbell said.

Now that Green-Ellis is no longer ahead of him, Hill will be able to touch as much of the field as he wants.
Ray Rice is suspended for the first two games of the regular season and Bernard Pierce didn't make the trip to New Orleans for the final preseason game because of a concussion.

So if Pierce is unable to play in the season opener, who would start at running back for the Baltimore Ravens? Veteran journeyman Justin Forsett, who hasn't made a start since 2010, could be the one to step up.

Of the Ravens' 24 healthy scratches in the preseason finale, 18 are projected to be starters. The fact that Forsett didn't play as well could suggest the Ravens wanted to keep him healthy for the opener.

The Ravens might trust Forsett to handle the starting role because he's more experienced than rookie Lorenzo Taliaferro and is more familiar with Gary Kubiak's offense after playing in Houston in 2012.

But Forsett wouldn't be asked to carry the entire rushing load. He only had six carries all of last season, and the Ravens would probably split carries with Taliaferro, who led the team with 243 yards rushing this preseason.

A small back, Forsett has impressed the Ravens with his burst. He ran for 69 yards on 16 carries (4.3-yard average) and caught three passes for 37 yards in preseason games. His biggest problem has been holding on to the football (two fumbles this preseason).

None of this speculation will matter if Pierce is able to suit up for the Sept. 7 season opener against the Cincinnati Bengals. Even though Pierce has been banged up throughout his career, he has never missed a game in his two seasons.

There is just no certainty that he'll be healthy enough this time to play.

"Nowadays, with those things, I don't take any stock in that until they tell me that he's back," coach John Harbaugh said Monday. "The concussion thing is hard to predict."
The Baltimore Ravens are hurting at cornerback. This is not a news flash.

[+] EnlargeJosh Gordon
AP Photo/Mark DuncanThe Ravens have had success containing Browns receiver Josh Gordon. His year-long suspension is further relief for Baltimore's banged-up secondary.
What might help the Ravens early in the season is that opposing teams won't be at full strength at wide receiver, either.

The year-long suspension of Cleveland Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon is just another break for the Ravens. Baltimore's banged-up secondary won't have to cover Cincinnati Bengals receiver Marvin Jones in the season opener because he's expected to miss the season's first four weeks with a broken foot.

The big blow is the Browns losing Gordon, the NFL's leading receiver last year. The Ravens have held Gordon in check, limiting him to six catches for 98 yards and no touchdowns in three games. Still, the Browns rely heavily on Gordon. Last year, Browns quarterbacks threw nine touchdowns and two interceptions when targeting Gordon, and they threw 17 touchdowns and 18 interceptions when targeting others.

When the Ravens play the Browns this season, they just have to worry about defending Miles Austin, Nate Burleson and Andrew Hawkins on the outside. These three receivers combined for 75 catches and one touchdown in 2013, which is less than what Gordon produced alone (87 catches and nine touchdowns ).

In comparison, the Ravens have had more trouble containing the Bengals' Jones, who has 11 catches and two touchdowns against them in four games. The Bengals, of course, still have starting wide receivers A.J. Green and Mohamed Sanu.

It doesn't look as if the Ravens will catch any breaks from the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 2. If the Steelers decide to suspend either of their running backs (Le'Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount face charges over marijuana possession), they'll probably only miss the season opener against the Browns, according to Steelers reporter Scott Brown.

Some may suggest the Ravens got their biggest break when running back Ray Rice was suspended only two games for his alleged domestic violence incident. When the Ravens play the Browns in Week 3, Rice will be coming off suspension while Gordon will be in the early stages of his year-long absence.

Time to cut bait, trade Stephen Hill

August, 25, 2014
Aug 25
FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Stephen Hill could be in his final days with the New York Jets.

The disappointing wide receiver is expected to play Thursday night in the final preseason game, a clear indication his roster spot is in jeopardy. Starters and key reserves don't play in the annual Backup Bowl against the Philadelphia Eagles. Hill was granted that status in his first two years, when he was a big-shot, second-round pick with a bright future. Now he'll be grinding with the other marginal players, trying to convince the Jets -- or another team -- he still can be a legit player in the league.

[+] EnlargeStephen Hill
Rich Barnes/USA TODAY SportsStephen Hill has a mere 45 receptions after two full NFL seasons.
The Jets should trade him. Yep, that's what they should do. Put him on the block and see what he can fetch. Maybe they'll get lucky and deal him for an experienced cornerback with a pulse. It wouldn't be a surprise at all if they try to move Hill, who, despite his lack of production, has some value because of his draft pedigree. He's big and fast, and the NFL likes big and fast even if he doesn't have the stats to show for it.

"I think there would be some interest," an AFC personnel executive said. "There aren't a lot of free-agent wide receivers out there, so it's supply and demand."

You'd be stunned to know how much the Jets wanted Hill in the 2012 draft. They wound up picking him 43rd overall, after trading up, but he was rated so highly on their draft board that he would've been a consideration with the 16th pick if Quinton Coples hadn't been available.

Clearly, their scouts goofed, thinking an unpolished receiver with only 28 catches in his final season was one of the top 16 players in the draft. At the time, the Jets' top scout, Joey Clinkscales, said Hill's size-speed combination reminded him of another former Georgia Tech wideout, Calvin Johnson. Yes, that Calvin Johnson -- aka Megatron. Talk about a kiss-of-death comparison.

Clinkscales is now an executive with the Oakland Raiders, and he should be the first person the Jets call after putting Hill on the trading block. The two teams play on opening day, but do you really think the Jets are worried about Hill coming back to haunt them?

The Jets have some tough decisions to make at receiver. Eric Decker, Jeremy Kerley and David Nelson, none of whom will play against the Eagles, are locks. Now that he's healthy, rookie Jalen Saunders, a fourth-round pick, is a virtual lock. Saalim Hakim has emerged as the leading kickoff returner, so he has the inside track on a roster spot. That leaves Hill, Greg Salas and Clyde Gates for the sixth spot, assuming there is a sixth spot.

"They're still battling for roster spots, and it's not a slam dunk to say it's going to be this player or that player," Rex Ryan said. "It's probably close in a couple of situations."

Asked if Hill's spot is up in the air, Ryan said, "Again, there is still competition, and there is still competition for roster spots."

If the decision comes down to Hill versus Salas, it should be a no-brainer. Clearly, Salas has outperformed Hill. John Idzik's meritocracy would take a big hit if the underachieving high draft pick makes it over the deserving journeyman.

After two years, the Jets know what they have in Hill. He's a one-trick pony, a vertical threat who may or may not catch the ball. He'll block, but he won't fight for contested balls. He doesn't play special teams, which means there's no point in dressing him on game day unless he's a regular in the receiver rotation. The fans are on to him. The crowds in Cortland, New York, and Florham Park gave him a hard time when he dropped the ball. It's time for a change of scenery.

By the way, Hill has missed two days of practice due to an illness. On Monday, he was sent home after vomiting. Foreshadowing? Perhaps.
We have an intriguing storyline as the Oakland Raiders approach the regular season. Starting quarterback Matt Schaub sat out practice Sunday with a sore elbow. Oakland coach Dennis Allen told reporters he does not think the issue is serious. Schaub will be evaluated daily.

What does this mean?

Well, on the surface and for the moment, it just means Schaub is resting.

But this is a familiar scenario in Oakland. Matt Flynn, who entered the preseason as the starter last season, came up with a sore elbow around this time. It wasn’t considered serious. The next thing we knew, Terrelle Pryor earned the starting job going into the season.

Second-round pick Derek Carr worked with the first team on Sunday. I’m not saying the same scenario will play out this year. But it’s an interesting coincidence.

If Schaub’s issue is minor, there are both negatives and positives. Schaub and the first-team offense need to work more together. The passing game has been disjointed. Allen has said the entire offense has played a role in the malaise in the passing game.

The missed practice time won’t help. It wouldn’t hurt Schaub to get some playing time against Seattle on Thursday. However, that appears doubtful, in my opinion, even if the issue remains minor.

However, the work Carr is getting with the first team will benefit him and perhaps it could expedite his development. I think the best recourse here is to see how long Schaub is out and perhaps it is nothing more than a sore wing and he needs a couple of days of rest.

In other Oakland injury news, rookie defensive lineman Justin Ellis returned to practice after missing two weeks with a concussion. Cornerback Tarell Brown practiced. He left Friday’s game at Green Bay with a concussion. Linebacker Nick Roach, who also left the Packers game with a concussion, did not work Sunday.
PHILADELPHIA – Cody Parkey got the call while he was driving from Indianapolis to Auburn University.

Instead of going back to his college facility to stay loose and continue working out, Parkey was flying to Philadelphia and playing in a preseason game the following night. That’s the life of a young kicker trying to land one of the 32 NFL jobs.

The challenge is almost as daunting now that Parkey is in Philadelphia. He has just a few practice days and one more preseason opportunity to convince Chip Kelly and his staff that he’s better than veteran Alex Henery.

[+] EnlargeCody Parkey
AP Photo/Michael PerezCody Parkey will get a brief shot at unseating Alex Henery as the Philadelphia Eagles kicker.
“I had two good games in Indianapolis,” Parkey said Saturday. “I flew in the same day we played the game. I got a few good kicks in that day. I’m just going to take it day by day and try to get better.”

Parkey signed with the Indianapolis Colts as an undrafted free agent. That meant competing with Adam Vinatieri, one of the best field goal kickers of all time. But it was also an opportunity to learn from Vinatieri.

“He was a great guy,” Parkey said. “I really tried to pick up everything he did that other guys don’t do. To be completely honest, he’s not much different from any other kicker in terms of what he does to warm up. But he does take very good care of his body.”

Parkey is walking into an unusual situation with the Eagles. Henery was a fourth-round draft choice in 2011, an unusually high pick for a kicker. He had been solid through his first couple NFL seasons. Last year, Henery made 23 of 28 field goal attempts during the regular season. He missed a 48-yard attempt in the Eagles’ playoff loss to New Orleans.

Special teams coach Dave Fipp said in June that it was a challenge to find a better kickoff man than Henery who was at least as accurate on field goals. The team brought in Vanderbilt kicker Cary Spear to compete with Henery, but that competition never really materialized. So the Eagles made a trade with the Colts to bring in Parkey.

It will be a short competition.

“Shorter than most,” Parkey said. “But I’m going to make the best of it just like I would anywhere else. Whether I have a week or two days or whatever, I’m going to go out and kick like it could be my last day.”

The urgency for the Eagles ratcheted up when Henery missed a 31-yard field goal try in Thursday night’s preseason game. The regular season is approaching fast, and it’s not the best time to be unsure about who the kicker is going to be.

“You have to do it,” coach Chip Kelly said before Saturday’s practice. “We’ll kick today. We’ll have kicking periods during the week and we’ve got a game to play against the Jets on Thursday. We’ll see what opportunities have a chance to express. You can say I want this guy to have six kicks, but you might not have an opportunity to kick, too. Sometimes that’s out of your hands.

“We’ll go figure it out. There’s nothing else we can do.”
BEREA, Ohio -- For all the attention being paid to the struggles of the Cleveland Browns' quarterbacks this preseason, it should be noted that the wide receivers haven’t given them much help or performed much better.

There have been dropped passes, routes ran at the wrong depth, cuts made at improper angles and, in the case of Pro Bowl receiver Josh Gordon last Monday, an apparent lack of interest and effort in the game.

The play of the wideouts will be a focal point Saturday night when the Browns (0-2) meet the St. Louis Rams (0-2) in their exhibition home opener at FirstEnergy Stadium. Coach Mike Pettine wants to see more urgency and greater efficiency from a group that remains a major question mark as the season approaches.

[+] EnlargeGordon
David Dermer/Getty ImagesIt seems very likely that the Browns won't have All-Pro receiver Josh Gordon in the lineup when the regular season begins.
“I think it’s a big night for them,” Pettine said. “We’ll see who can step up and make some plays. I talked about how the NFL is all about being productive and making plays. The third game is typically one that’s game-planned a little bit. It’s as close to the regular season as you’re going to see. I think we’re all looking forward to the guys going out there and competing.”

With the quarterback position resolved, wide receiver is now the most unsettled position on the team. Gordon, who led the NFL in yards receiving last season, is appealing a year-long suspension for violating the league’s drug policy, but it's likely that he won’t be available, at least in the early part of the season. Veterans Miles Austin and Nate Burleson were signed in the offseason, but Burleson has yet to play because of a strained hamstring and the team has been limiting Austin’s snaps in hopes of keeping him healthy after hamstring injuries slowed the former Dallas Cowboy in two of the past three seasons.

Andrew Hawkins, a free-agent signee from Cincinnati, has been able to create separation from the slot, but timing has been an issue between himself and the quarterbacks. Then there are several youngsters fighting for spots, including rookie free agent Taylor Gabriel, who leads the Browns with six catches in the preseason.

Excluding Gordon, Austin and Hawkins, the battle for playing time -- and, presumably roster spots -- is “wide open,” according to Pettine. The Browns plan to build the offense around the running game, which means it’s imperative for the receivers to deliver when their number is called.

There’s a strong likelihood that the Browns' receivers will see a lot of one-on-one coverage because defenses figure to move a safety near the line of scrimmage to stop the run. At that point it comes down to execution and chemistry, which is why these final two exhibition games are so important for Cleveland.

Neither Austin nor Burleson would use the quarterback rotation between Brian Hoyer and Johnny Manziel as an excuse for the receivers’ struggles to date -- “We still have to get to the same spot, regardless of who’s throwing the ball,” Austin said -- but they acknowledged there is a certain comfort in the familiarity of hearing the same voice calling a play, barking the cadence and delivering the football.

Austin doesn’t try to run from the reality that this is a big season for him. Since back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons in 2009-10, he has struggled with injuries. He had only 579 receiving yards in 2011, then after a bounce-back 2012 season with 943, he had only 244 receiving yards in 11 games last year.

“Every year is a big year, but 100 (percent) this one is,” he said. “One, it’s important for me to stay healthy. Thankfully I’ve been feeling good and running well. Now I’m trying to get the offense. Hearing it called in the huddle is a lot different from the terms that we used in Dallas. Routes are slightly different that I ran. My own assessment of myself is that I need to play faster and feel more comfortable hearing the call and jumping out to any position. I understand what my job is, but I’m not yet comfortable with what the full range of options is. I mean, I know where the holes are in the defense, but do you get to the hole now or are we waiting a little while to hit it? Small details like that and getting down the playbook are things I continue to work on.”

Burleson, a 12-year veteran, isn’t prepared to overreact to the passing game’s slow start.

“I’ve been in preseasons where I played terrible and thought to myself: ‘This might not be my year,’ and I balled out (during the regular season),” he said. “Then I’ve been in preseasons where I was ‘The Man.’ I’m thinking I’m the next Randy Moss, leading the league in all kinds of categories. Then we start the season and I’m terrible. As long as you’re building to something, which is creating team chemistry and getting everybody on the same page, preseason will be quickly wiped from people’s memories.”
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Marcedes Lewis has said numerous times that he has had his best offseason and is in the best shape of his career.

That has been evident with the way he has performed in training camp and the first two preseason games. He’s catching nearly everything thrown his way and his role in the offense has been as prominent as it was at the end of the 2013 season.

But as reliable and valuable as Lewis has been, there are that many questions about the players behind him.

Clay Harbor, who caught 24 passes for 292 yards and two touchdowns last season, has been out with a calf injury since July 28, and when he will return to practice is unclear. There is hope that he will return for the Sept. 7 season opener.

"It’s doing a lot better," said Harbor, who suffered a partial tear of his calf muscle. "I’m working toward hopefully Philadelphia game Week 1. That’s what the plan is, and if everything keeps going well then that’s what I’m going to try to do, get ready for that week and try my best to play."

Harbor is the only other tight end on the roster that has caught a pass in an NFL game, leaving the Jaguars with undrafted rookies Marcel Jensen and D.J. Tialavea and second-year player Branden Barden, who played in three games with Tennessee in 2010.

Barden and Jensen are essentially fighting to be the third tight end because the Jaguars will only keep three on the 53-man roster. The one that doesn’t make it is likely headed for the practice squad, and right now that looks to be Jensen. Tialavea appears to be the odd man out.

"I think Barden is having a real nice camp," offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch said. "It’s fun to see him compete. He’s smart, has good experience and is catching the ball actually really well this camp."

Barden signed with Tennessee as an undrafted free agent in 2012 after a five-year career at Vanderbilt, ended up on the Titans’ practice squad, and then was signed to the active roster and played in three games that season. The Titans waived him after another stint on the practice squad and the Jaguars signed him to their practice squad last November.

Jensen is an undrafted free agent from Fresno State. He caught the staff’s eye during organized team activities and minicamp after making a few catches. He is intriguing because of his size (6-foot-6, 270 pounds) and length, but he is a raw talent and has been relatively anonymous in training camp.

"I thought that was another great acquisition there to get a guy like him," Fisch said. "I think there’s some good upside there with him."

Potential is nice, but the Jaguars need production behind Lewis, especially if Harbor can’t return for the season opener.
FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Wide receiver David Nelson summed up the reality of the New York Jets' quarterback situation.

"When the coaches say, 'First-group offense,' we know who's walking in the huddle," Nelson said Tuesday. "It's not somthing that needs to be said. He's the guy and we're moving forward."

He, of course, is Geno Smith. Barring an injury, he will be the Jets' opening-day quarterback, but the team isn't willing to anoint him just yet. Rex Ryan confirmed the obvious, saying Smith will start Friday night against the New York Giants, but he didn't want to make a commitment beyond then.

"When we think it's the right time, we'll tell you," said Ryan, who was peppered with questions.

Smith is expected to play two-plus quarters with the starters, meaning he will end the preseason with about 5 1/2 quarters with the first team. (Traditionally, Ryan doesn't play starters in the preseason finale.) So far, Michael Vick has played only one series with the starters. Do the math.

Why haven't the Jets made the announcement? A couple of reasons. John Idzik's mantra is competition, and he probably believes it would contradict his philosophy if they were to declare a winner at quarterback before the most important preseason game -- even though we all know it's a faux competition.

Secondly, there's the injury factor. Without using the word "injury" -- hey, the man is superstitious -- Ryan alluded to that as the reason for holding off. When asked what could happen that would affect his decision, he said, "I don't even want to think of the negative thing or whatever. Let's just let it play out. I'd rather not answer that question because there's an obvious scenario that I don't like to think about."

Can't blame him. After all, Ryan lost Mark Sanchez to a season-ending shoulder injury last preseason against the Giants.

The coach acknowledged that the third preseason game is the closest thing to the real thing, and that his starters usually end up starting the season. But he stopped short of saying the words everyone in the building, from the players to the cafeteria staff, expects to hear: Geno is our starter.

"I'm not going to name it right now, no matter how many times you ask me," he said. "Somebody fire another one at me. 'I'm going to get it out of him.' No, you're not. I've given in to you guys before. I'm not giving in on this one."
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Jaguars coaches and players have talked about rookie quarterback Blake Bortles' development for weeks.

They’ve mentioned his knowledge of the offense, his ability to make the correct read, and how accurate he has been during the first two preseason games. That’s been proven by the fact that he has completed 64 percent of his passes for 277 yards, numbers that could be even higher considering three of his 10 incompletions have been drops.

Bortles’ rate of progress goes beyond stats, though, and one play in the Jaguars’ 20-19 loss to Chicago last Thursday captured it perfectly: His 29-yard hookup with receiver Kerry Taylor down the left sideline.

[+] EnlargeBlake Bortles
AP Photo/Andrew NellesBlake Bortles has passed for 277 yards in the Jaguars' first two preseason games combined.
The throw was perfect, right in front of Taylor and over the shoulder of Bears cornerback Demontre Hurst. It was thrown where only Taylor could catch it.

"Kerry did a great job of getting off the line and beating his guy and getting downfield," Bortles said. "There was good protection. I was able to get him the ball."

It was a little more intricate than that. Offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch had a run play called, but when Bortles got the line of scrimmage he saw the Bears were expecting run and had loaded the box. He audibled to a pass play, saw Taylor was in one-on-one coverage, and signaled the route Taylor should run.

When he took the shotgun snap, Bortles’ first option was receiver Mike Brown on the right side of the field. The second option was tight end Brandon Barden. Both were covered, so Bortles came back to the left side, saw Taylor had a step on the corner, and let it fly.

"He was able to see the coverage ahead of time, not during the snap but pre-snap," Fisch said. "He was able to get the indicators that he was looking for and then get the check and signal it properly and get those mechanics. That was a big play.

"… I think that shows a guy with great confidence. So, that part of it is fun, but he just has to continue to build and learn."

So, to recap: He recognized the offense was in a bad play for the defensive alignment, audibled to a pass play, and hit his third read for a big gain. That’s something with which some veteran quarterbacks struggle, but Bortles, in just his second professional game, nailed it.

"He’s definitely advanced," said Taylor, who caught three passes against the Bears. "He studies and he gets the reps in practice and does what he’s supposed to do. When we get out to the game we have trust in him that he can go out there and make those things happen.

"For him to see that and see the reads and see what’s there and what’s not there, it’s great for him, it’s great for our offense. It just shows that we have multiple quarterbacks that can get the job done."

This doesn’t mean Bortles is ready to become the Jaguars’ starting quarterback. He still hasn’t played with the first-team offense or faced a first-team defense -- that comes Friday when he gets about a quarter of work against Detroit -- and he is continuing to improve footwork and fundamental issues that were never addressed when he was at Central Florida.

But Bortles is clearly ahead of where most rookie quarterbacks would be at this point in their development. He certainly is ahead of Johnny Manziel and Teddy Bridgewater.

"I don’t think I really went in with any preconceived notions on where he was going to be," Fisch said. "Obviously, we were excited when we drafted him, so we thought he was going to be a very good player. We’re still excited on how he has progressed. I think it’s a situation now where each day we are just looking for improvement, and he has challenged himself to get better every day. So, really I’m not exactly sure where I expect him to be, so he is doing well for where he is at."
PHILADELPHIA -- A day after LeSean McCoy revealed he has an injured left big toe, Philadelphia Eagles coach Chip Kelly downplayed the seriousness of the injury and playfully mocked the media for making too big a deal about it.

McCoy, 26, led the NFL in rushing yards last season, and news of his injury was a big deal given that he's the Eagles' biggest playmaker on offense. Plus, the depth behind McCoy at running back is shaky at best. Third-year running back Chris Polk should be the Eagles' No. 2 running back, but he has missed both preseason games with a nagging hamstring injury and has not practiced in weeks.

Darren Sproles is the more reliable option to spell McCoy, but he is 31 years old and the prevailing theory is that Kelly would prefer to use Sproles more as a receiver out of the backfield and give him just a handful of carries each game.

Speaking to the media on Sunday before practice, Kelly did not mention McCoy was not going to practice. Kelly did not talk to the media on Monday, so Tuesday morning was the first opportunity he had to address McCoy's injury publicly.

"I don't think he'll ever play again," Kelly said sarcastically when asked about McCoy. He added: "He's fine. He practiced full yesterday. He's fine. It's not as big an issue as anybody's made it out to be."

On Sunday, McCoy seemed irritated about something as he walked off the practice field. He would not answer questions about why he didn't practice.

"LeSean is a competitor and wants to be out there," Kelly said. "It was just one incident. There's a lot of questions about a toe for a practice in August."

Asked about McCoy's general practice demeanor, Kelly did not exactly give a ringing endorsement.

"It's OK," he said. "Some days he's great out there, and there are other days he's not so great."

McCoy was named a first-team All-Pro last season after leading the league with 1,607 rushing yards and 2,146 yards from scrimmage. Since becoming a full-time starter in 2010, he ranks second to Minnesota running back Adrian Peterson in rushing yards.

Later during his media availability, Kelly was asked if starting inside linebacker DeMeco Ryans is the most indispensable player on the team, given that Ryans makes all the defensive calls, including audibles. Kelly said no, mentioned center Jason Kelce and quarterback Nick Foles and then mentioned McCoy.

"I think everybody would be kind of sad here if LeSean McCoy's toe injury was so grievous that we never had him again," Kelly said. "So there's a lot of indispensable players."
PHILADELPHIA -- Listen up, potential shoppers. If you are in need of a quarterback and are interested in trading for the resurgent Mark Sanchez, you better make an attractive offer because the Philadelphia Eagles aren’t inclined to let him go.

“I mean, we’ll listen to anything for anybody,” second-year Eagles coach Chip Kelly said Sunday morning. “We’re not going to just bury our head in the sand and say no. But it better be a pretty good deal in terms of what it is.”

No team has inquired about Sanchez, Kelly said. Yet.

After getting cut by the New York Jets during the offseason, Sanchez signed a one-year deal with the Eagles in late March and has thrived working in Kelly’s up-tempo system. In two preseason games against Chicago and New England, Sanchez has completed 18 of 22 passes for 196 yards and two touchdowns. Against the Patriots on Friday night, Sanchez threw just one incompletion and finished with a 112.2 passer rating.

Although he was limited during offseason workouts while still recovering from a shoulder injury that ended his season last August, Sanchez is back to full strength. During the brief respite between the end of minicamp in June and the beginning of training camp in late July, Sanchez said he finally felt 100 percent healthy while working out with a former coach near his home in Southern California.

Sanchez is No. 2 on the Eagles' depth chart. He has said that, while he would love to start, he is focused on putting good work on film so that when he becomes a free agent again in 2015, he can hopefully land with a team that is looking for a starting quarterback. He also has said he is more than happy to support Nick Foles.

Kelly said that with Sanchez, Foles and Matt Barkley, he feels like the Eagles “have one of the better quarterback situations in the league.” Sanchez has 68 career starts, including the playoffs, while Foles has 17, including a playoff loss to New Orleans last January.

“I’m also a big guy that you better have two quarterbacks in this league,” Kelly said. “So I think unless something blows you out of the water, we’re real confident with Mark starting a game if we need it. ... We need him.”

Kelly was asked, hypothetically speaking, would he move Sanchez?

“What are you giving me?” he responded.

Kelly made it clear: It would take a lot for him to let Sanchez go.

Injuries: The Eagles returned to practice Sunday morning after having Saturday off following their preseason game at New England Friday night. While wide receiver Riley Cooper and running back Matthew Tucker practiced, the Eagles were still without several key players.

Kelly said an X-ray on rookie wide receiver Josh Huff's injured shoulder was negative. Wide receiver Jeremy Maclin, who has tightness in a hamstring, should return to practice Monday. Cornerback Cary Williams also sat out with a sore hamstring he injured while returning an interception of Tom Brady for a touchdown.
CINCINNATI -- Geno Smith played "great," according to New York Jets coach Rex Ryan. Obviously, he hasn't set the bar that high for his second-year quarterback. Smith wasn't great Saturday night against the Cincinnati Bengals, but he was far from awful. Continuing a summer-long trend, he made enough positive plays to show that he's maturing and developing a better feel for the game.

[+] EnlargeGeno Smith
AP Photo/Tom UhlmanGeno Smith's preseason has been far from great, but it's just a matter of time until he's appointed the Jets' starting quarterback.
Smith played the entire first half in the Jets' 25-17 win, leading the offense to 17 points. Only 10 came against the Bengals' starting defense, including a short-field touchdown -- a 19-yard drive after a takeaway by the defense. His critics will find fault in the production, but he played with poise in the place where he played one of his worst games as a rookie.

"I had some good plays, and I had some plays where I think I could've done a lot better," said Smith, who completed 10 of 13 passes for 98 yards and an interception.

He made two throws he wishes he could have back. On the first play of the game, he missed an open David Nelson on a deep post. Later, he was intercepted by cornerback Terence Newman on a quick throw to Nelson.

Nelson turned late. Or Smith threw too soon. Pick your alibis.

Smith took the blame.

"We were both on the same page, but I was too early with the throw, and it caught him by surprise," he said. "I put that solely on me. I need to give him a better opportunity in that position."

Other than that, Smith did a nice job with his decision-making, looking for his check downs and running when no one was open. He ran four times for 20 yards, including a 1-yard touchdown on a read-option play.

Clearly, Smith will be the starting quarterback. The entire competition, if you could call it that, has been tilted in his favor. Michael Vick didn't get any work with the starters, as he was relegated to three series with the backups in the third quarter. Some might argue that Vick is a better right-now quarterback than Smith, but he hasn't received the chance to prove it.

The only question now is when, not if, Rex Ryan names him the starter. It hasn't been a stellar preseason for Smith, but he has completed 74 percent of his passes (14-for-19), with only one turnover and no sacks. His passer rating is 70.3.

Smith didn't want to get into whether he has locked up the job. He said it's up to the coaches. Asked if he believes his teammates recognize him as the starter, he said, "You have to ask them that. The intention is to work hard and put myself into the position to be the starting quarterback and to lead this team. It's up to them, whether or not they want me as the starting quarterback."
TAMPA, Fla. – Mike Evans had to be the happiest person that Saturday night’s game with the Miami Dolphins was only a preseason contest.

The rookie wide receiver for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers had a play that looked like it was heading for a highlight reel but instead might end up on a bloopers show.

In the second quarter, Evans caught a short pass from Mike Glennon and bounced off a would-be tackler. Evans seemed destined for the end zone, but something got in the way. Miami cornerback Brent Grimes stripped the ball from Evans at the 1-yard line. A play that should have resulted in a touchdown turned into a touchback.

“It was a rookie mistake,’’ Evans said after Tampa Bay’s 20-14 loss. “I had the ball on my inside arm and I didn’t anticipate him. It was a good play by him. I should have had the ball in my outside arm.’’

“We can correct that,’’ coach Lovie Smith said.

But Evans obviously has been making a good impression in practices. He had been behind Chris Owusu on the depth chart. But Evans got the start over Owusu on Saturday. The Bucs don’t expect Evans to make the same mistake again.

“I don’t think we have to have any conversations,’’ quarterback Josh McCown said. “As unfortunate as that is, it’s the best teacher.’’
Jeff JanisJasen Vinlove/USA TODAY SportsJeff Janis turned a short reception into a 34-yard touchdown scamper Saturday.
On the eve of what would be his first NFL game, Saturday's preseason affair against the St. Louis Rams, rookie receiver Jeff Janis could not help but think about his father.

As the Green Bay Packers' seventh-round pick sat in his St. Louis hotel room and prepared for his debut, Janis knew it was the anniversary of his dad's death. Christopher Janis died on that day, four years earlier, of liver cancer.

So forgive the 23-year-old if he got emotional one day later in front of 55,072 people at the Edward Jones Dome.

For it was his father who entered his thoughts as soon as he realized what he had just done the first time he caught the ball in a professional game on Saturday. After Janis grabbed a short crossing route from quarterback Matt Flynn in the third quarter, he flashed the speed that allowed him to run a 4.42-second 40-yard dash at the combine (only three receivers ran faster in Indianapolis this year). He turned down the left sideline and outran safety Christian Bryant to the end zone.

Then, in his words, he "kind of blacked out. It was pretty exciting."

And in an instant, it hit him.

"I think I had a pretty good guardian angel over me today," Janis said. "I'm just glad everything happened the way it did."

For Janis, it may have sealed his spot on the Packers' opening-day roster. After missing the first seven practices because of a case of shingles, which was diagnosed on the eve of training camp, Janis returned to the field with a flurry. On his first day as a full participant, he snagged a one-handed catch for a touchdown over cornerback Sam Shields. From there, not a practice went by that Janis didn't make an eye-catching play.

But he still needed to do it in a game.

Coach Mike McCarthy held out Janis from the preseason opener at Tennessee, so Saturday's game against the Rams was his first chance to show that his small-school success at Saginaw Valley State and practice-field production would translate to a game.

"It was great to get Jeff out there finally," McCarthy said. "It was great experience for him, and he continues to do something every day. That's something that you look for.”

The next step will be to do it with the starters and against an opponent's starters. That chance could come against the Oakland Raiders on Friday, when McCarthy likely will play quarterback Aaron Rodgers for more than just the two series he did against the Rams.

But the 6-foot-3 Janis already has captured his teammates' attention.

"He's made a few plays," Rodgers said. "He's athletic. He's fast. He ran his route, caught a ball and outran everybody today. When you're playing against the first string, you have to run crisp routes and make the plays that are there, so plays like today help him out confidence-wise for sure. He did it in practice last week. Coming back from his ailment, he did a nice job for us."

Said Jordy Nelson: "Janis obviously showed his speed tonight. I was very impressed. He got up the sideline."

Halfway through the preseason, Janis might be the leading contender for the fifth receiver spot behind Nelson, Randall Cobb, Jarrett Boykin and second-round pick Davante Adams, who had two catches for 28 yards against the Rams. Janis also got three chances as a punt returner. He had two fair catches and one return for 9 yards.

But Janis wasn't thinking about roster spots or depth charts after Saturday's game. This was a day for him and his dad.

"He's just probably got a big grin on his face, and he's just as excited as I am," Janis said.