Print and Go Back ESPN.com: NFL [Print without images]

Monday, May 14, 2012
Opportunity knocks at minicamp

By John Clayton
ESPN.com

The first waves of rookie minicamps were completed over the weekend.

Under the new collective bargaining agreement, each team is permitted one three-day rookie camp, a full minicamp and 10 OTAs (organized team activities). The unique part of the 31 rookie minicamps held over the past two weeks was how they were structured.

Teams can have their drafted rookies, undrafted rookies and players who weren't on the roster long enough last year to gain one year of vesting participate. To make the camps work, though, teams brought in a dozen to two dozen tryout players to fill out positions.

This is a nice victory for the players because more players on the street have a chance to get on a roster for training camp. Former Bengals quarterback Jordan Palmer got a contract from the Jaguars last week. The Seahawks had a chance to look at former first-round pick Alex Barron, an offensive tackle. Tampa Bay signed defensive linemen Hilee Taylor and Derrick Roberson from tryouts. Unsigned veterans were given an extra chance that might not have been around under the old CBA.

Before last year, only a few teams would invite unsigned players to minicamps.

For coaches, the new structure is a positive. They've now been given 90-man rosters for the offseason. With the minicamps, they might have a chance to look at 15 to 20 more players.

For owners, it might be a little more costly, but no one seems to be complaining.

From the inbox

Q: I just noticed that there are a lot of unsigned starting-caliber free-agent safeties -- Yeremiah Bell, Oshiomogho Atogwe, Abram Elam, to name a few -- compared with other positions. Any thoughts on why the safety market is still flush with talent?

Trevor in St. Louis

A: Great observation. Unfortunately, it is like this in most years. Safeties have a hard time getting jobs once they get close to the age of 30. Many have to wait until injuries happen before they get jobs. Plus, the safety position is undergoing somewhat of a transition. Teams are trying to get more coverage safeties into the mix to cover the growing number of pass-catching tight ends, and are trying to get more speed at the position. That makes it tougher for run-stopping safeties or safeties who have lost a step or two.

Q: Is Ryan Tannehill, given the fact he has been reunited with his old coach, in a better position to have more success early than Andrew Luck and RG3?

Karness in Chicago

A: Tannehill does have a chance to get more wins than Luck because of the statuses of their teams. The Colts are in rebuilding mode. The Dolphins have better talent. If Tannehill can do well enough to win the starting job, he could get to six or seven wins faster than Luck, even though Luck is the better quarterback. Of the three, Robert Griffin III has the best chance of winning more games because I think the Redskins have more talent than the Dolphins and Colts.

Q: While I'm no expert, it seems to me that if the shoulder hit was banned it could cut down on the number of head injuries. Whatever happened to real tackling by wrapping your arms around someone and bringing them down? Take away the shoulder hit and make mouthpieces mandatory for everyone and I think it could help with these types of injuries. What do you think?

Brad in Greensboro, N.C.

A: I don't see a problem with the shoulder hit as long as it's not aimed at the head or knees. Wrapping up isn't as easy at this level. Big backs and big receivers are hard to bring down. Under the current rules, a defender is going to need as many tools as possible to bring down an offensive player. For protection of the offensive player, the defender has to adjust his target area. Any player who doesn't wear a mouthpiece is making a mistake. Most do.

Q: I have had absolute faith in Ben Roethlisberger as a Super Bowl-caliber QB. I have never been scared of Joe Flacco and I don't think Andy Dalton will ever be elite. Do you agree on the latter?

Sam in Seattle

A: I'm higher on Flacco than you are, but you may be right about the fear factor. Dalton is going to be one of the better quarterbacks who might not be elite, but he's good enough to get the Bengals to the playoffs. The best quarterback in the AFC North is Big Ben. It will be interesting to see how he will adjust to Todd Haley's offense. I think he will do well. What will make things better are the improvements along the offensive line. The combination of the line improvements and the team's quality at receiver should lead to a good season for the Steelers' offense.

Q: Let the usual offseason critique of your QB rankings begin! Last year you answered a question of mine on that subject. I come back with yet another argument: What if a QB is blessed with a relatively easy schedule against soft defenses and/or bad QBs? You should tweak your system so that it takes into account strength of schedule, playoff victories and quality of opponents (both defenses and QBs).

Raphael in Zurich, Switzerland

A: That is a point well taken. I actually do account for strength of schedule. I study the schedule and give extra attention to the quarterbacks who play easier schedules. Often, that's the difference between a first-place and second-place finish in a division. The best example of that is in the NFC South. Matt Ryan might take the division title away from Drew Brees if the Falcons have an easier schedule than the Saints or if the Falcons get the tougher games at home. The Saints had the easier schedule last year and won the division. An elite quarterback could see his numbers drop slightly against a tougher schedule. Still, the great ones still play great, regardless of the schedule.

Q: I know the Raiders lost some key personnel on defense, but is it reasonable to expect an improvement simply because of a change in scheme? Seems to me the Oakland D was known around the league for being dogmatically predictable. I'd expect an improvement simply because the schemes are more aligned with the current style of play.

Tyler in Boulder, Colo.

A: My biggest concern is at cornerback. They are just patching the position this year, and that could be a problem. New head coach Dennis Allen should do well in getting the most out of the defense, but it might be tough in the first year.

Mark Sanchez
Mark Sanchez has done some good things, but his critics need to see more.

Q: With all the lawsuits that the NFL is facing with regards to concussions and player safety, why has no one brought up the negligence that the NCAA or high schools or Pop Warner has had in diagnosing these brain injuries? Are we as fans really supposed to believe that no player ever received a concussion before he was 25 years old and already in the NFL? James in San Diego

A: Anybody who gets into football understands the dangers. It's a violent sport and it's hard to prevent injuries. I think people are getting carried away in pointing the finger at the sport for negligence as opposed to pushing the sport to be more proactive in finding the solutions. The good news is more studies are being funded and more information is coming forth. Instead of looking at the past, those in football and those who follow it need to look forward.

Q: When analysts talk about recent first-round quarterbacks who start immediately and have success they talk about Joe Flacco, Matt Ryan, Cam Newton and even Andy Dalton, but they leave off an important one -- Mark Sanchez. He's been to two championship games and is 4-2 on the road in the playoffs. Why does he get shunned?

Frankie in Stratford, Conn.

A: The thought with the Jets is that the team wins with Sanchez, not because of Sanchez. You're right, he's been to two championship games and has done his share of winning. He's been a success, but everyone wants more from him. Until he shows it, he'll be under the spotlight of criticism.