They are playing football in the National Football League this week. Actual football, being played, professionally, across this country.
Okay, technically it's being practiced ... but that still requires it to be played. Games or not, dudes are putting on pads all over this country and engaging in live drills and 11-on-11 sequences and working on the red zone and special situations. It's really happening.
We're not talking about talking about football. Or Zooming about football. Or meeting about football. Or planning what it might look like to actually play or practice football again in the age of COVID-19. Nope, this week, en masse, in team headquarters from coast to coast, we have full scale, training-camp caliber practices taking place. Everyday.
Which means we have actual competitions going on for roster spots and we have depth charts that are being impacted by things that are actually occurring on a football field, and we have film of these practices for coaching staffs to review and grade. Which means, as far as I can tell, it's open season to begin speculating and projecting about where drama might arise and which clubs may have the potential for, dare I write it, a full-blown quarterback controversy.
Oh man. Remember those?
If training camp is really underway, and not just glorified walk-throughs but full speed football practices, which will then be obsessed over by coaching and personnel staffs, that means position battles are upon us. And, with no preseason games to play anywhere this summer, each of these practices becomes all the more important, especially in a city where the backup QB is already pretty popular with the fanbase ... or has the potential to become quite popular with the fanbase the moment a starter on shaky ground starts to wobble.
The NFL season kicks off in less than a month, and we've got 2020 projections. Football Outsiders' Aaron Schatz joins host Will Brinson to break everything down on the Pick Six Podcast; listen below and be sure to subscribe for daily NFL goodness.
The reality is, with just 14 of these real practices to spread out before the regular season begins, there will be fewer veterans who actually lose their jobs early on, particularly at quarterback. But there are some situations that I'll be watching particularly closely as we move into a period of on-field evaluations, and some that I believe will merit a closer review than some might think as we nudge closer to mid-October.
The good news for Mitchell Trubisky is that there will be almost no televised football activities in which his questionable ability to man this position will be analyzed and critiqued. The bad news is that the media will still have access to watching many practices, and everything that Nick Foles does better than him will be on full display. This front office has too much invested in the Trubisky era (or, more to the point, too big of a blindspot for what seems pretty obvious to any impartial observer) to allow him to be defrocked too soon. I suspect they'll give him September to show what he can do, and then Foles will take over. Problem is, Foles is a guy you want for four-to-six weeks, not 12 or more. No team has botched the QB position worse than the Bears in recent years. Chickens roosting could mean big changes come January.
Derek Carr has spent the offseason oscillating between being his own Hype Man and talking himself into believing he is definitely Jon Gruden's QB of the present and the future (He is THE MAN, no matter what you haters think), to alternately blocking from social media those who dare ponder a Raiders future beyond him. Kinda like he is serving as his own crisis PR guy -- NOT THAT THERE IS ANYTHING TO SEE HERE!! Anyone else notice some of the early Vegas camp headlines, with Gruden gushing about super-athletic No. 2 QB Marcus Mariota, calling him a "dazzling playmaker"? This is the same guy who the Raiders raced out to sign in March while the rest of the NFL slow-played that market with so much supply and not nearly a corresponding amount of demand? Yeah that happened. Gruden has been frustrated by Carr not cutting it loose with his arm and his legs. He and GM Mike Mayock were massive Mariota fans in college and what QB guru type doesn't believe he can be the one to fix a highly skilled reclamation project? Oh yeah, this one has legs (excuse the lame pun). Could Mariota pull a Tannehill on Carr?
Washington Football Team
Whomever serves as the QB for The Washington Football Dudes this season has his work cut out for him. Dwayne Haskins was already looking at one of the worst offenses in the NFL, with a middling line at best and arguably the weakest skill position talent in the entire league. And this situation was already pretty interesting to begin with, before Alex Smith pulled off a miracle to get cleared for football activities. An amazing story already. Who could bet against Smith now? Could he actually be ready to play in a full-contact NFL game this season? We very well may find out. Factor in that new coach Ron Rivera brought in a young veteran QB from Carolina early in the offseason in Kyle Allen, who already knows the system inside and out, and it's pretty obvious that this situation will be among the most talked about in the entire league this summer.
Speaking of medical marvels, Tua Tagovailoa is ahead of schedule and seems to have put his hip injury behind him. He should be a perfect fit in Chan Gailey's offense ... but then again, so is the ageless Ryan Fitzpatrick. Okay, so he did go to Harvard, but he isn't actually ageless and I figure that Tua ends up getting about half the season to show what he can do. This teardown and rebuild was all about landing the QB of the future, and now that he's here, you're only going to sit him but so long.
Los Angeles Chargers (Bonus Hard Knocks Points!)
Oh man, how about those slow-mo glory shots of the strapping Justin Herbert flinging footballs into what appear to be fishing nets capable of corralling a school of sharks (do sharks swim in schools?). Pretty sight, eh? But I'm not going for the okeydoke on this one. Tyrod Taylor is a proven winner who simply refuses to turn the ball over; rookie QBs tend to do precisely the opposite. And that's what got Philip Rivers run out of SoCal in the first place (more on that below). Anthony Lynn wants to control the ball and control the clock and win with that studly defense of his. Yeah, they'll talk up Herbert and his pretty throws a ton, but a lot more than that goes into starting in this league and I see them in the postseason with Tah-rod or Tie-rod at the helm (Couldn't help but harken back to the ghosts of Hard Knocks past there). The other guy? Notsomuchjustyet. I believe the Chargers see it my way as well.
If, like me, you watched a ton of Jacoby Brissett and a ton of Rivers last season, are you thoroughly convinced the old guy is better than the young guy? Are you even a little convinced? Cuz I'm not. I kinda think Brissett got a bit of a raw deal here, lacking weapons and with T.Y. Hilton either out or on one good leg when he did play, and I think the guy is an NFL starter. Frank Reich and Chris Ballard are way smarter than I could ever hope to be when it comes to this stuff, but I can't help but ponder a scenario where Rivers remains a turnover machine and that division is still sitting there for the taking come, say November, and one QB looks like he is still ascending and the other most certainly does not. And, well, what would you do in that scenario? I know what I'd do.
The Andy Dalton revolution has begun, and it will be televised. The Red Rifle owns Texas. Just kidding. It's all Dak all the time. I heard that if you mention the Cowboys and/or Dak Prescott in an article you get like infinitely more eyeballs on your columns (at least that's what Will Brinson says), so I figured I'd try it.