What To Watch For: Saturday 8/9
The initial batch of preseason games are usually marked by how quickly the starters are pulled, or if they even play at all. Yet there is still useful information to be gleaned, and not just from the opening series. It’s our first opportunity to see rookies that were dutifully dissected all spring take the field as pros, and perhaps our last chance to see what those at the end of rosters can show before they’re ushered up to Canada. Most importantly this we are in the midst of the first relatively full slate of football games in over seven months. Enjoy!
Just try to pace yourself, and keep those Hot Takes lukewarm – at least for another week or so.
Browns at Lions (7:30pm – NFL Network)
Despite disappointment over Johnny Manziel not getting first team snaps, and Jordan Cameron sitting out, there will be plenty of intriguing Browns story lines. Besides, Manziel will get sufficient work with the starters this preseason, and there’s a non-zero chance that Brian Hoyer plays well enough to hold the job for a while. Ben Tate, Terrance West, and even Isaiah Crowell are essentially vying for playing time, despite starting from different depth chart levels. Their success will be impacted by how things shake out with an unsettled group at guard – an off-the-radar camp battle worth watching. Receivers to monitor closely include Andrew Hawkins, Charles Johnson, and Willie Snead – although they’re just the most interesting names in a crowded pool of candidates.
Even though head coach Jim Caldwell is being stone-faced about who will play, it’s doubtful that we see rookie first-round tight end Eric Ebron. He’s nursing…something. Hopefully it’s a hands transplant or a blockage removal. Calvin Johnson is a question as well, since he missed practice for personal reasons on Thursday. Keep an eye on how heavily new offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi utilizes his fullbacks – a common occurrence in New Orleans. Jed Collins logged 449 snaps (37%) last year with the Saints, and regularly was in for 40-plus percent of plays. He’s a traditional blocking fullback and is competing for the role in Detroit with the more versatile Montell Owens. Having a fullback on the field obviously limits the number of other fantasy relevant weapons seeing snaps. A closer look at Theo Riddick, and examination of what Ryan Broyles has left, will be items of note.
Steelers at Giants
Pittsburgh has a number of players that are worth monitoring, but perhaps none more so than their physically impressive rookie wideout, Martavis Bryant. He’s been making big plays in practice of late, and will attempt to take the initial steps toward performance consistency in his first professional game. Also watch for 6-3, 207-pound receiver Justin Brown, who’s been getting some snaps in the slot where his size can cause matchup advantages. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s burgeoning rapport with new starting wideout Markus Wheaton is a key story line, as is how creative the Steelers will be in deploying diminutive rookie speedster Dri Archer. They’ll probably save Le’Veon Bell’s bullets by limiting his preseason work, so check out how free agent import LeGarrette Blount runs behind a new offensive line.
It’s debatable if New York Giants hype-train darling Andre Williams can do anything to top his preseason opener, but it probably requires running directly over Ryan Shazier – and eating his soul. Either way, it will be good to see how he, and more importantly New York’s starting offensive line, does against a first-team defense. Hopefully the line holds up better than they did early in the first game and we can see Eli Manning execute more of Ben McAdoo’s new offense than some hurried throws to Rashad Jennings. New York will attempt to get him into better rhythm with Victor Cruz and Rueben Randle, and perhaps steady Jerrel Jernigan can grab a couple more passes before rookie Odell Beckham returns. With tight end Daniel Fells hobbled, look for any potential signs of life from Adrien Robinson.
Packers at Titans
DuJuan Harris’ level of burst, or lack thereof, remains unknown even though the running back has recovered from what was recently revealed to be a ruptured patellar tendon. Once a favorite of many smart analysts, it’s conceivable he could approach relevance again if the injury didn’t rob him of his explosiveness. The tight end battle also bears watching, as Brandon Bostick has been drawing more praise of late. Still, rookie Richard Rodgers won’t go away quietly, and Andrew Quarless won’t just go away. While it is extremely unfortunate that rookie wideout Jared Abberderis tore his ACL, at least it should afford more early looks at his fellow rookie pass catchers, Davante Adams and cult icon Jeff Janis. Also see if the Packers line has any issues in the interior, as they’ll be breaking in a new center this season.
Bishop Sankey. Zach Mettenberger. Antonio Andrews. Justin Hunter. Taylor Thompson. Shonn Greene. Okay, maybe not Greene, although he’s listed atop the depth chart for now. Yet there are plenty of other interesting names to watch for when the Titans have the ball. Imagine that. It starts with what is likely a top-10 offensive line, so keep an eye on how they perform against Green Bay’s starting front-seven. There are enough weapons for Ken Whisenhunt’s offense to field a productive passing attack, but quarterback Jake Locker must be more accurate – a skill that passers don’t typically improve upon significantly. First round pick Taylor Lewan is ticketed to be the swing tackle this year, but has gotten time at guard. He’s probably already better than free agent signee Michael Oher, so watch how he’s progressing. Also progressing, hopefully, is the Titans defense as it switches to Ray Horton’s 3-4 scheme. Check for inordinate signs of chaos.
Texans at Cardinals
There’s no truth to the rumor that front row seats are more expensive due to the chance of catching a ball thrown by rookie passers Tom Savage of the Texans and Logan Thomas of the Cardinals. Both scattershot, rocket-armed passers will play late – but before they enter the game there will be a handful of things to note on both sides.
It will be interesting to see the general approach of new Houston Texans head coach Bill O’Brien’s offense, and if it will be as two-tight end heavy as most assume. Andre Johnson and Arian Foster won’t be on the field, so we’ll get an extended look at their supporting cast. Pay particular attention to rookie running backs Alfred Blue and newly signed Tim Cornett, as main backup Andre Brown hasn’t proven to be very durable in the past. Cornett, in particular, is someone to check out. How overly-maligned Ryan Fitzpatrick operates O’Brien’s passing game, how quickly he gets DeAndre Hopkins involved, and which of the Texans’ group of tight ends stand out, are also items of note.
The Arizona Cardinals offensive line received a needed facelift, and plenty of offseason analysis, after a league-worst performance in 2013. They’ll get a good test right off the bat against the Texans active front-seven (rookie Jadaveon Clowney says he’ll play), and redshirt freshman guard Jonathan Cooper bears watching after uneven performance reports during training camp. It will be a good sign if they can keep Carson Palmer clean for a couple of feet-wetting series. Rookie camp standout John Brown has apparently shaken his hamstring injury and will have all eye on him when he’s out there. The battle for the number two running back spot is relatively important, as Bruce Arians’ offense has consistently employed a big running back for a sizeable chunk of carries per game. Stephan Taylor and Jonathan Dwyer are vying for that role and the resulting goal line work.
Pat Thorman is a Lead Writer for PFF Fantasy and was named 2013 Newcomer of the Year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association. You can follow him on Twitter at @Pat_Thorman