Take a deep breath. Inhale. Take it in. Exhale. What is that you smell? Football is in the air, and NFL Training Camps begin next week. Football is almost here. With WVUPros ready to join their teams, we look at some stories that we will be following in the coming weeks.
Geno Smith – With contract negotiations seemingly at a standstill with last year’s starting quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, the Jets are prepared to move forward with Geno Smith under center again. While Smith’s on-field struggles with turnovers in his first two seasons are well-documented, spending last year on the sidelines may have helped him mature and learn the nuances of Chan Gailey’s offense.
While many fans and pundits would rather have the experienced Fitzpatrick under center, one former Jets player, Bart Scott, sees Smith as the better option.
“Geno bring[s] something to the table because he can throw the long ball, so it makes defenses have to step back and play more honestly, defend the entire field, because he can throw the 70-yard bomb on a rope. Fitz has to step into that,” Scott told NJ Advance Media.
“He can throw the same route, but he has to let it go earlier, which doesn’t allow the big receivers or the speed of [Eric] Decker to separate. So he has to throw it up, and they have to go get it. That’s just what it is, man. I wasn’t trying to cause any controversy, but I just understand the business side of it, from both sides, because I’ve been in that same situation.”
Kevin White, Chicago Bears – After missing his rookie season with a shin injury, first round pick Kevin White is healthy and “looked like a beast” during the Bears offseason program. The caveat here is the Bears’ youthful secondary–they have been White’s competition in OTA’s and going into camp. We will get our first glimpse of White against high-level NFL talent when the Bears start their pre-season on August 11 against defending Super Bowl Champion Denver Broncos.
Daryl Worley, Carolina Panthers – When Panthers’ GM Dave Gettleman rescinded the franchise tag on All-Pro corner Josh Norman before the NFL Draft, it left a starting spot available opposite Bene Benwikere. In the draft, the team selected corners in three straight rounds. WVU’s Daryl Worley was the second of those picks, drafted in the third round. He will vie with veteran Robert McClain for the starting job.
Bruce Irvin, Oakland Raiders – On Thursday, we highlighted how the combination of Bruce Irvin, Khalil Mack and rookie Karl Joseph could help the Raiders rise to the top of the AFC West. Since Irvin signed with the Raiders, he has been vocal and a leader on the defense. More so than when in Seattle where there were plenty of leaders on that defense. The Raiders had two defensive captains last season: Charles Woodson and Justin Tuck. They retired. Irvin is now a favorite to earn status as a captain of the defense.
Karl Joseph, Oakland Raiders – After tearing his ACL in practice during his senior season at WVU and not being able to participate in the NFL Draft Combine or OTA’s, heavy-hitter Karl Joseph is cleared to start practicing with the team when camp begins.
“I can’t wait to put the pads back on and just get out there and compete with those guys,” said Joseph.
Quinton Spain, Tennessee Titans – The undrafted Spain worked hard in his rookie season and started the final six games of last season. Headed into camp, he’s the favorite to start at left tackle.
Tavon Austin, L.A. Rams – Although Todd Gurley and the running game are likely to be the focus of the Rams’ offense this season, Tavon Austin is primed to post big numbers according to head coach Jeff Fisher.
“It’s going to all focus off the run game,” Fisher said of the Los Angeles offense. “We’re going to be able to, if need be, hand it off to Todd and if someone says ‘we’re not going to let you do that,’ then we’re going to spread it around. And so when it’s all said and done, I think we’ll be able to look back and I think see Tavon maybe double in catches over what he had last year. And that’s the most important thing, is just get the chunks downfield.”
Will Johnson, New York Giants – Johnson came to New York as a free-agent this offseason in hopes of seeing the field on offense more often than with Pittsburgh. His signing excited many, including QB Eli Manning, as Johnson provides the team a versatile player who can help move the ball in several different ways.
Joe Ramirez of The Empire Writes Back hails Johnson as the “Most Underrated Free Agent Pickup.”
Johnson brings a lot to the table that most Giants tight ends on the roster don’t bring to the offense. He’s an effective run-blocker. With a team ranked in the middle of the pack in rushing yards, finishing 18th in the NFL in 2015, Johnson’s blocking will help improve those rushing numbers from a season ago.