What We've Learned From OTAs, Pt. 1
Word out of San Francisco is that NaVorro Bowman will miss roughly half of the season due to his knee surgeries. ILB Michael Wilhoite played with the starters during camp and seems to be the leader to start in Week 1, but all indications are that the 49ers plan on rotating players next to Patrick Willis until Bowman returns. So while it doesn’t look like any one player will inherit Bowman’s tackle statistics from last season, Willis may be in line for an uptick in his numbers for at least the first half of the season.
In Philadelphia, ILB Mychal Kendricks has been calling out defensive plays with DeMeco Ryans during the OTA practices. Ryans called the plays last season, but Kendricks is learning how to at least help out. While this could simply be the Eagles preparing themselves for injury or the future, if it means that Ryans will lose any snaps this season it would be huge. Ryans was a top 10 linebacker in many formats last season, and a lot of that had to do with the fact that he played more snaps than any other ILB in football.
Chad Greenway could have even more value this season. He is moving from the strong side over to play the WILL and has also been practicing at the MIKE in subpackages. Fantasy fan favorite Audie Cole has been competing with Jasper Brinkley for the MIKE job in the base while No. 9 overall draft pick Anthony Barr of UCLA is projected to be the starter at the SAM. It has been projected that Barr could move to an online pass rusher role in subpackages, so if Cole is able to hold off Brinkley, we could see Cole moving over to the SAM in subpackages, making him a three down player.
Last season the Cardinals selected LSU ILB Kevin Minter with the expectation that he would immediately challenge for a starting spot. But even with Daryl Washington suspended for the first month of the season, Minter could not get on the field. He contributed on special teams and played one, yes, just one, defensive snap. In the offseason, the Cardinals did not match Karlos Dansby’s deal with Cleveland, and Daryl Washington was suspended again, this time for the year, for violations of the league’s substance abuse policy. So now Minter, after playing just that one defensive snap as a rookie, is making all of the defensive calls in camp. Minter has reportedly looked excellent against the run so far, so if he can improve in coverage and hold on to play calling duties, he could be a player to roster.
It didn’t amaze everyone that Giants MLB Jon Beason played well last season. He normally puts up good fantasy numbers when he plays. What amazed many people is that he was able to stay on the field to do it. It was his lack of playing time over his last two seasons in Carolina that made him available for New York in the first place. So when Beason was carted off of the field with a small fracture and a ligament tear it was more of a case of deja vu than of surprise. He will not need surgery but his foot was put in a walking boot and word out of New York is that will not be ready for the beginning of the season. However the Giants already had a contingency plan for Beason. During free agency New York signed Jameel McClain to play the SAM with the idea that he could step in at the MIKE if he ever had to. Jacquian Williams seems to be plugged in at the WILL right now and could be an every down player. It remains to be seen if either player will have any fantasy relevance, even in deeper leagues.
Jon Bostic was originally drafted in 2013 out of Florida to fill the huge shoes of Brian Urlacher at the MIKE position. But Bostic had problems against the run (-14.0) and at the end of last season their were rumblings that he would be pushed to the outside where he would compete with 2012 first-round pick Shea McClellin (-23.5) for the starting SAM position. McClellin played defensive end last season where he was penciled in as a pass rush specialist but he had trouble in that role, so the thought was that he may be better suited playing without his hand in the dirt like he did at Boise State. McClellin lost weight in the offseason in anticipation of the position change and has looked good so far at the SAM. In fact, he has looked so good that Bostic is now splitting time with D.J. Williams back at the MIKE. One would assume that if Lance Briggs stays healthy at the WILL he will be the linebacker to own in Chicago. What remains to be seen is, will there be a viable, three down, high volume second linebacker on the Bears lineup. For those of us in deeper leagues who could use a second high volume tackle linebacker coming out of the Windy City, this is a situation to monitor.
There still doesn’t seem to be an obvious replacement in Atlanta for LB Sean Weatherspoon who was placed on injured reserve with a torn Achilles’ tendon. Our IDP maven Jeff Ratcliffe wrote an article on the subject, and he said that he “wouldn’t rule out the potential of seeing a platoon between two players rotating the base and subpackage snaps.”
Ashe started his writing career at the now-defunct CNNSI in Atlanta. He moved on to CNN Domestic where he joined his first fantasy football league. He writes about sports and politics when he isn’t checking the waiver wire.