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Sunday, May 12, 2013
Rookie minicamp first impressions

By John Clayton
ESPN.com

The rookie-camp phase of the offseason has ended. Next, the OTAs begin.

Over the weekend, 23 teams held rookie minicamps. Last week, the other nine teams completed their rookie camps.

What have we learned over the past two weeks?

Hopkins
DeAndre Hopkins was the second receiver off the board in April's draft and appears to be a good fit in Houston.

• The Houston Texans might have found the right help on the other side of Andre Johnson. The Texans used a first-round pick on wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, and he lived up to his billing. "He's special," Houston coach Gary Kubiak said. "His ball skills are extremely special. He's going to help us early."

Robert Woods of the Buffalo Bills might be a steal for new coach Doug Marrone. Woods looked smooth running his routes during the week, and the Bills were desperate for a threat on the other side of Steve Johnson. The only reason Woods slipped into the second round is Southern California featured Marqise Lee last year. The Bills might be the benefactor.

• Ted Thompson created a great situation for the Green Bay Packers' backfield. Not only did he draft Eddie Lacy, but he also drafted Johnathan Franklin. They were roommates during minicamp and got along. The competition between the two could create the best backfield situation for Green Bay in years.

The Packers also made news by reshuffling their offensive line. Although vets weren't able to take part in rookie camp, Mike McCarthy was serious about fixing line issues. Bryan Bulaga has moved to left tackle. Rookie David Bakhtiari could challenge former left tackle Marshall Newhouse for the right tackle spot. Josh Sitton switched places with guard T.J. Lang, with Sitton moving to left guard and Lang at right guard. Evan Dietrich-Smith takes over for Jeff Saturday at center.

Geno Smith is a work in progress with the Jets, but he has a chance. Smith showed he prepared well for the minicamp; decision-making was a problem, but that was understandable. If the defensive alignment was new to him, Smith would double-clutch, but he can work his way through that. Smith's showing doesn't guarantee Mark Sanchez will be with the team, although Sanchez remains the favorite to be New York's starting quarterback.

Montee Ball lived up the billing that he could be the next Terrell Davis for the Denver Broncos. Ball's productivity in college and running style make him look like a perfect fit for the Broncos' offense. He's already being projected as the team's rushing leader for 2013.

• The addition of Tyler Eifert will change and improve the Cincinnati Bengals' offense. The Bengals can give more two-tight end looks and create major matchup problems for defenses -- try matching up against Jermaine Gresham and Eifert. Cincinnati was already loaded with promising young receivers along with the proven A.J. Green. Combine that with Jay Gruden's play calling, and the Bengals have a roar to their offense.

• The Oakland Raiders are not only in transition on the football field, but they remain in transition in the front office, as CEO Amy Trask resigned Saturday. She was among the highest ranking women leaders in sports and a loyal employee of the late Al Davis. Trask did great work for Davis, but the organization continues to reshape itself under Al's son, Mark.

• The rookie pool is working. Approximately 91 draft choices reached contract agreements since the draft. The entire draft classes of the Detroit Lions and New Orleans Saints are under contract. With the slots being well defined, there is no reason for players not to accept their deals, collect their signing bonuses and lock themselves in for four years.

From the inbox

Q: Not so much a question, but a thought on the issue of college coaches leaving the college game just as they come under suspicion for illegal activities. I agree with you that what happens in college should stay there. But if a coach is found to have violated a rule or 200, he can't go back to the college game until he serves whatever "sentence" he was given. I don't know if that's the case now, but if it isn't, I feel it should be. Thoughts?

Jim in Natick, Mass.

A: I would agree if the violation is so bad the school is close to the death sentence, then maybe there should be some kind of carryover. The question is, where do you draw the line? The penalty would have to be so severe it would cause the NFL to shudder at the thought of taking on the coach, and I contend that is hard to determine. Usually, the cases in college take so long, the former college coach could be a year or two into his NFL contract before the big penalties against the school are legislated. How many times is the coach fired the same year the penalties are administered? Rarely. After a year or two, the coach is judged on what he does in the league. Call it an escape. Call it a loophole. I just believe there is a separation. Let's say a coach takes a team to the playoffs his first two years in the NFL and then after the second year, the penalty comes down against the school. Should the players on that NFL team and the fans of that NFL city pay a price for those past transgressions? I don't think so. If the college coach restarts in the NFL, he gets a new résumé. That's my opinion.

Q: I am not a Tim Tebow fan, but I do think he is getting a raw deal right now, and the media plays a significant role in that. If it were not for all of the unwarranted media attention and hype surrounding Tebow, he would probably have a job right now. What do you think about this?

Matt in Santa Barbara, Calif.

A: Media attention and fan support doesn't change the fact he is not a very accurate quarterback, but I think your point is right. Tebow is a victim of his own celebrity. He's more popular than his accuracy. The media hypes him because the fans want to read about him. Many fans believe he can do in the NFL what he did in college. Fans don't get to see the practices and see how he struggles to complete passes. Until fans see enough evidence to realize what some coaches believe, that popularity won't go away. It is unfair. In many ways, it's sad. I honestly don't know of a team willing to take a shot at Tebow as a quarterback.

Q: I have always liked you, but I just read your piece on the AFC North and not one mention of the Browns? Last time I looked, the AFC North has four teams. The Browns are making strides and I am sure that will show this season. Forgive the pun but, c'mon man, give a dog a bone.

Don in Akron, Ohio

A: I ignored the Browns because I didn't think they were moving in a positive direction. Go back to last year. I went to training camp and I liked what they did; they went young, and looked good in doing so. I thought they were going in the right direction, but then there was an ownership change, a coaching change, a front-office change and a switch to the 3-4. There wasn't any reason for a change other than the fact that new people were coming in.

Q: Is Victor Cruz going to accept the long-term contract the Giants are offering him? I think $7 million with a lot of guaranteed money is plenty for a slot receiver, and he also is getting a bunch from endorsements. Still, I'm worried.

Andrew in New York

A: You should be worried. Tom Coughlin is worried. It's hard for a slot receiver to make more than $8 million a year. Cruz wants more. That's negotiating. I can't see the Giants going above $8 million, particularly knowing they might have to pay more to Hakeem Nicks if Nicks shows he's healthy. I think it would be good business if Cruz compromises, comes closer to the Giants' number, and then takes a deal that will leave him in position to get those endorsements. I have no problem with a player asking for the most money he can make. In this market, though, I worry what happens to the player if he lets a decent deal slip by and the money goes to another player.

Q: Is there some kind of practice-squad exception for foreign players so someone like Lawrence Okoye has the chance to be developed and protected by the 49ers, but not take up a spot on the eight-man practice squad?

Greg in Portland, Ore.

A: There is no practice-squad exception for foreign players. Teams have an eight-player max to their practice squad. They can use the spots however they want. The early word out of San Francisco, though, is that Okoye might have enough pure talent for the 49ers to consider him for the active roster. There is such a good buzz about him that another team might claim him off waivers if the 49ers try to get him to the practice squad. Okoye is a great story so far.

Q: I am having a hard time understanding the Power Rankings. You and everyone else have the Jets as one of the worst teams in the NFL. Are we rebuilding? Yes, I would say so, but this is still a team with a lot of talent with one of the best defensive coaches in the game, who just drafted two first-round defensive players that I think will make an immediate impact. I feel Muhammad Wilkerson and Quinton Coples will also have a big impact. As long as we don't turn the ball over (whoever starts at QB) and Chris Ivory stays healthy, we can easily win eight games this year.

Frankie in Strat City, Conn.

A: Of course the Jets are rebuilding. They traded Darrelle Revis. Gone are Sione Po'uha, Bart Scott, Eric Smith, Yeremiah Bell, Mike DeVito, Shonn Greene, Dustin Keller, LaRon Landry, Brandon Moore, Matt Slauson and Bryan Thomas. Sanchez is barely hanging on. They've invested no more than $2 million a year on any replacement on the roster. That's rebuilding, and that puts the Jets, who were the ninth-worst team last year, as one of the worst in the rankings this year.

Q: No one ever pays attention to the Pro Bowl game, especially the players playing it. I understand the reluctance due to possible injury. Has the league ever thought of having a rookie versus sophomore game? I think everyone would love to watch that, and you could really answer the questions about, "Oh, this year was a bad draft." RG III/Luck versus Smith/Barkley, etc. It would take away some player incentive because they wouldn't make the Pro Bowl, but wouldn't it be fun?

Brian in Kansas City, Mo.

A: I don't know if everyone would enjoy watching a rookie versus sophomore game. Curiosity would draw initial ratings, but that would wane over a couple of years. Consider the fatigue factor. A lot of rookies hit the wall by November. To come back and play in another game might be a challenge. Usually, only 50 players end up becoming starters as rookies. It might be hard fielding an entire team, because some of those players would either be exhausted or injured. It's not like basketball, where you can field a dozen or so players and have a game. But the NFL would consider anything if the Pro Bowl fails.

Sun Life Stadium
South Florida taxpayers aren't eager to pay for upgrades to Sun Life Stadium.

Q: Recently, The New York Times ran an article detailing in depth the ever-growing demand by businesses to receive tax cuts and/or direct cash payments to do business in a city or state. I just read that the CEO of the Dolphins says their future in Miami is bleak because the state didn't offer any cash or tax rebates for improvements to Sun Life Stadium. Who owns the stadium? I respect the owner willing to pay 70 percent of the cost, but if he owns it, shouldn't he pay the full 100 percent? This is an issue I've seen not just in the NFL, but in other major sports. Typically, does the team own or lease a stadium, or does a city/state pay a team to play there? How does that relationship work?

Burton in Mobile, Ala.

A: Normally, cities or counties own the stadium. There is usually a partnership between the area and the team to make the stadium work. The problem with the Dolphins is how the "partnership" between the Miami Marlins and South Florida broke down. The area built the stadium, and the Marlins gutted the team after one season. Sports is big business; investing in sports can have its benefits to an area. Many deals are struck that don't hurt taxpayers. If the money comes out of rental car and hotel taxes, the partnership can be good. If the Dolphins got another Super Bowl from the stadium fix, that would be a benefit for South Florida, as it has been in the past.