Teams traditionally use the second and fourth preseason games for a variety of things ranging from the bottom of the roster competitions to exploring new scheme tweaks and putting players in different situations to see how they react. While we get marginal information from most of these games, there are interesting nuggets in some of them. This time around, injuries to some significant defenders are getting most of the major headlines.
The Cardinals would like the regular season to start now, while they still have enough guys to field a team. Hasaan Reddick is recovering from a knee scope, Patrick Peterson is suspended for the first six games and now they will be without their other starting corner Robert Alford for much if not all of 2019 with a broken tibia. Tremaine Brock and rookie Byron Murphy are the likely starters in September, with Brandon Williams the probable nickel corner. The rookie corner rule could come into play here if Murphy plays well enough to keep the job opposite Peterson.
We will probably see the Falcons us a lot of big-nickel this year. Damontae Kazee played so well in relief of Ricardo Allen last year, the coaching staff had to get him on the field more. Atlanta opened in a nickel against the Jets with Kazee and Keanu Neal on the field. They used the same package several times with Allen often playing deep and Kazee moving around a lot before he left with a rib injury. The team is calling Kazee day-to-day so it sounds like he will be available for Week 1. If he gets on the field enough once the season starts, Kazee could be a surprisingly solid producer for us. He was a beast for a few games early last year when covering for Neal.
Chris Board and Patrick Onwuasor both continue to work as three-down linebackers for the Ravens. Board left the game versus Green Bay a little early to be checked out for a possible concussion, but he should be ready for the regular season.
In their first preseason game, Carolina did not show many four-man fronts. Against Buffalo, they began to change it up much more often. Mario Addison lined up off the ball on some plays in the first series and looked pretty good when asked to drop in coverage. A few plays later Addison put his hand in the dirt and got to Josh Allen for a sack. If the second game is any indicator, the new scheme could make Addison him a much for valuable IDP option providing he keeps the defensive end designation.
Managers in corner required leagues will be interested to know that Terrance Mitchell holding is off Greedy Williams for starting spot opposite Denzel Ward. Mitchell is one of the fantasy games more productive corners when healthy and playing full time. He makes a lot of tackles for a corner and tends to create a lot of big plays.
Tracy Walker and Quandre Diggs were the starting safeties for Detroit against Houston. At this point it feels like those two will be on the field when the regular season opens as well, but the competition may not be over just yet. Tavon Wilson remains in the mix. He did not play versus the Texans so there was no opportunity to confirm how the coaching staff currently sees the situation. For what it is worth, the Lions depth chart currently shows Wilson behind Diggs at strong safety and Andrew Adams behind Walker at free.
In the first outing, Detroit’s coaching staff took a good look at Jalen Reeves-Maybin at weak-side linebacker. He passed the eyeball test with flying colors, making several good plays and being around the ball a lot. Christian Jones got his chance against Houston. Jones did nothing to hurt his chances of starting but he did come off the field in sub-package situations where Reeves-Maybin played all three downs in the first game. Reeves-Maybin saw most of his action with the second team in this game but he once again stood out both on the field and in the box scores with a team-high five solo tackles.
Jarrad Davis sat out so rookie Jahlani Tavai got another opportunity to run with the first team. He had another solid outing, adding to speculation he could eventually emerge as the starting middle linebacker.
Romeo Okwara saw much of his playing time last year in sub-packages. He has been working as a three-down end through the first two games. Okwara has looked solid in the role and could be a sneaky good DL2 for IDP managers. He was 3-0-1 with a forced fumble against Houston.
Green Bay Packers
There is no earth-shattering news out of Packers camp this week. The update on Oren Burks says he will not be out for the season. He may not play again this preseason though. Ty Summers played well in relief of Burks last week. In their second game, the coaching staff got a look at Curtis Bolton. The undersized undrafted rookie showed good quickness but was not able to fight through blocks and make tackles. Summers came on with the second team and once again played well. If Burks misses regular-season games, Summers should at least see the early-down snaps.
In the preseason opener, Indianapolis had Anthony Walker at weak-side linebacker and Bobby Okereke in the middle. They went with what appeared to be their full starting lineup against Cleveland, which included Darius Leonard at WLB and Walker back in his normal spot in the middle. It may be tough for Walker to hold off Okereke for the entire season but it looks as if he has done so thus far. Walker worked with Leonard in nickel sub-packages as well.
Free safety Jarrod Wilson was the only defensive starter to see action for the Jaguars against Philadelphia. Defensive end Josh Allen and tackle Taven Bryan were in the lineup. Those two are expected to be the third man in the rotation at their respective positions. Beyond those three played Jacksonville used the game to get a good look at guys fighting for jobs.
Allen lined up on the edge but played from a two-point stance which technically makes him a linebacker. This could eventually lead to issues with his positional designation.
The Jaguars continue to list Quincy Williams as their starting weak-side linebacker, even though he is still at least a week or two from getting back on the field. They started Ramik Wilson at the position in the first game and Joe Giles-Harris in the second. Williams said this week that he expects to be ready for the Chiefs in Week 1.
Kansas City Chiefs
Kansas City was one of the few teams to run with their entire first-team defense in this round of games. There were no real surprises here but we were able to confirm that Anthony Hitchens and Damien Wilson are the nickel linebackers. Hitchens worked on the weak-side on early downs with Wilson lining up strong and Reggie Ragland in the middle. When they went to a nickel set, Ragland went off and Daniel Sorensen slid up to linebacker depth and rookie Juan Thornhill came on to play deep safety. For those that may have been a bit nervous about Hitchens role, all is well. As a three-down strong side backer, Wilson could also provide some value this year. Darron Lee saw action exclusively with the second team.
Tyrann Mathieu made an early exit with a shoulder injury. There has been no update on the severity but this one brings a red flag. Sore shoulders tend to linger and can have a significant effect on the production of guys that make a lot of tackles.
Los Angeles Chargers
The injury to stud safety Derwin James is a serious blow to the Chargers. James is expected to be out until at least mid-November after having surgery on his foot. The team has a week 12 bye so chances are, if we see James at all this year it will not be until week 13. Meanwhile, Adrian Phillips is the heavy favorite for the starting job going forward. Phillips is not going to supply the big-play threat that James provides, but he is a dependable veteran that makes a lot of tackles in run support, is strong in coverage and will make a contribution in the turnover columns. Last year Phillips was 65-29-0 with 10 passes defended and 2 turnovers while playing about 66% of the snaps as the third safety. As the starting strong safety, he could be as much as a solid DB2.
When Kyzir White started the first preseason contest at middle linebacker, we assumed it was because Denzel Perryman was not fully recovered from the knee injury that ended his 2018 season. When the Chargers opened the second game with White in the lineup it seemed like more of the same; at least until Perryman came on the field with the backups.
White has impressed as the middle backer in both preseason contests to date. He is not only making plays but is wearing the communications helmet and leading the defense on the field. The more signs we see, the more they suggest White has played his way into the starting job. That said, it needs to be mentioned that neither Jatavis Brown nor Thomas Davis played against the Saints. Brown is currently buried on the team’s depth chart while Davis is listed as the starter on the weak-side.
One other note of interest; the Chargers came out in a 3-4 against New Orleans and stuck with it for most of the time their starters played.
Los Angeles Rams
Micah Kiser left Sundays game with a pectoral injury that will require surgery. He is out indefinitely and is a candidate for injured reserve. The next man up at the position is Bryce Hagar who should get the start in the upcoming matchup. Providing he holds a three-down role, Hagar is going to have some value as at least solid depth. He is high on the watch list for the third week of preseason games.
The Dolphins have now played two preseason games but we have not yet seen Kiko Alonso or Raekwon McMillian in action. What we have seen is Jerome Baker and Sam Eguavoen playing well as three-down linebackers in a big nickel base defense. The team has rarely deployed three linebackers while the first unit has been in the game and all signs suggest that will be the plan when games start counting. Miami’s depth chart still shows McMillan as the starting middle backer, Alonso on the weak-side and Baker strong. Hopefully, the third round of warmup games will give us some confirmation.
The team’s depth chart also shows Reshad Jones starting at strong safety with Bobby McCain at free. It has Minkah Fitzpatrick and T.J. McDonald as backups. With Jones still sidelined by a foot injury, the team has kept McDonald, McCain, and Fitzpatrick in the game together virtually every snap taken while the first team has been on the field. Something has to give here as well. Jones is expected to be ready for Week 1, but we may not know for sure who holds the most value among this group until mid-September.
New York Giants
Inside linebacker Tae Davis was everywhere in the Giants first preseason game, but he was nowhere to be seen in the second one. In fact, neither he nor Ryan Connley who started for a banged-up Alec Ogletree, showed up in the box score at all. In some situations, this would be a major red flag. In this particular instance, we should not read much into it. The Giants ran out nearly all their starters on defense while Chicago played none on either side of the ball. Thus there was not much opportunity for the linebackers. Davis was not in the game for long.
Against Chicago, Marcus Golden made his first start as a Giant. It did not take him long to get a mark in the sack column.
New York Jets
The Jets started a few first-team players against Atlanta. They now wish they had gone with one fewer. The team’s leading tackler in 2018, Avery Williamson was lost for the year with a knee injury. Most are looking at veteran journeyman Neville Hewitt or second year, former undrafted free agent Anthony Wint as the best options to move up. Rookie fifth-round pick Blake Cashman is another player we should keep a close eye on. He is not the biggest or fastest of linebackers, but he has a nose for the ball and made a lot of plays for the Golden Gophers last year. New York also added free agent veteran Albert McClellan who served as a starter at times during his five-plus years with the Ravens.
Coach Gruden and his defensive coordinator Paul Guenther unveiled their defense against Arizona, and it looked rather good. Granted it was against a rookie quarterback, but there is little doubt this is going to be a significantly better defense in 2019.
There were some notes of interest for IDP managers. Up front, Oakland started Clelin Ferrell and Arden Key at the ends, with Maurice Hurst and Jonathan Hankins as the tackles. There is nothing surprising about that. There was no surprise at linebacker in terms of who was starting, but the position those players worked from was a bit eye-opening. Vontaze Burfict called plays and was on the field full time as the middle backer. Brandon Marshall worked on the weak-side and came off in sub-package situations, while Tahir White lined up on the strong-side on early downs then joined Burfict in nickel sets. This situation clearly favors Burfict being the best fantasy option. Whitehead should also have decent value though it is unlikely he will approach last year’s production.
As expected the starting corners were Gareon Conley and Darryl Worley. After that, it was not exactly what most of us thought it might be. Johnathan Abram started at free safety, lining up 12-15 yards deep much of the time. Karl Joseph worked at strong safety, spending must of his time at linebacker depth while rarely being more than 10-yards deep. Lamarcus Joyer worked as the slot DB with Oakland lining up in a big nickel in most passing situations. It was east to see what Abram’s speed and athleticism added to the secondary; unfortunately, he was not involved in making many tackles. If he continued to be the deep safety most of the time, IDP managers may need significant big-play production for Abram to live up to expectations.
As we try to figure out what the Eagles will look like on defense come Week 1, the view greatly obscured by a number of injuries. Looking at their starting lineup for the game against Jacksonville, one might assume they were resting several veterans. In reality, some of the starters that sat out might have tried to play if the game counted, but all of them are less than 100% right now. The list includes corners Ronald Darby and Jalen Mills, safety Rodney McLeod, linebackers Kamu-Grugier-Hill and Nigel Bradham, and defensive linemen Fletcher Cox and Derek Barnett.
Darby avoided the PUP and has been working his way back into practice as he recovers from knee surgery. There is still hope for him making the opening day lineup. Mills, on the other hand, landed on the PUP with his foot injury and there is not much optimism that he will be ready by early September. Rasul Douglas, Sidney Jones, and Avonte Maddox are all possible Week 1 starters at corner.
The Eagles list Nigel Bradham as their starting middle linebacker. We got the feeling something was up with him as camp approached. It recently came out that he has foot surgery at the end of last season after suffering an injury in the playoff loss. There is growing concern about his availability for Week 1 as well. With Grugier-Hill out indefinitely due to an MCL sprain, Nate Gerry and Zach Brown are in line to be the opening day starters. Both are very capable both on the field and in the box scores. The only problem is not knowing how long they can be counted on.
As the coaching staff tries to figure out how best to use their available linebackers, they are moving guys around from week to week. In the first game, it was Gerry in the middle with L.J. Fort on the weak-side and Brown strong. In game two it was Fort in the middle, Brown weak and Gerry strong. Someone here is going to put up strong numbers. Brown is still the best bet to do so but is far from a lock; especially after leaving practice early on Monday with an ankle injury. Check his status before you draft.
Andrew Sendejo has been filling in at safety and has made a strong showing. The team still lists McLoud as the starter but then they expected him to be ready by the start of training camp. He has been doing some work but continues to be limited. His availability for Week 1 also remains in question.
Both Fletcher Cox and Derek Barnett have been participating in training camp and appear likely to be ready for the regular season. We may not see either of them in the preseason as the coaching staff will take no chances.
The Steelers sat both Devin Bush and Vincent Williams on Saturday. This is the anticipated starting tandem but it is worth mention that the team’s current depth chart shown Williams and Mark Barron as the starters. Barron struggled at the point of attack in the opener but looked much better against a Chiefs offense that is built more on speed than power.
DeShawn Shead put up good numbers as a supersized starting corner for the Seahawks in 2016 before tearing his ACL late that season. Seattle brought him back this summer to compete for a job at safety/corner. Instead of competing for a roster spot, Shead might play his way into the mix for the starting job. He certainly grabbed everyone’s attention by recording four tackles, an assist and an 88-yard interception return for a score against the Vikings. Shead has the cover skills of a corner packed into the 212-pound body of a strong safety. The team currently lists Shead as a corner but he might be a great fit as the slot defender in nickel packages.
Marquise Blair has also played well this summer. He had a strong first outing but was carted off the field on Sunday with a back injury before having an opportunity to build on the earlier performance. As this is being written on Monday evening, there have been no updates on his status.
The Titans may still visit their three-man rotation at inside linebacker but it will clearly be different than what we saw last season. Against New England, both Rashaan Evans and Jayon Brown were on the field full time until the third series when Tennessee went to a second-team lineup. Wesley Woodyard and David Long were the inside linebackers with that group.
Once again Washington lined up Jon Bostic as a three-down inside linebacker, making it rather apparent they intend to continue using him in that capacity for the foreseeable future. For as long as he continues in this role, Bostic should be a decent option as depth or a marginal third starter for IDP managers.
One change from the first game was at the other ILB position where Josh Harvey-Clemons got the start. Neither Shawn Dion Hamilton nor Cole Holcomb played against the Bengals, leaving us unsure how much we should read into the start by Harvey-Clemons. Hamilton is still listed as a starter on the team’s depth chart for what that is worth midway through the preseason. Adding to the mystery, Harvey-Clemons left the game with an apparent knee injury and a possible concussion. As this is being written, there have been no updates on the severity of either injury or his availability going forward. Harvey-Clemons played well against the Bengals while showing up particularly well in coverage situations. All we can do is continue to watch until we get some clarification.
Free safety Montae Nicholson intercepted a deflected Andy Dalton and returned it for a score but was otherwise quiet versus Cincinnati. Landon Collins looked much like himself. He was physical, aggressive and around the ball regularly during the short period of time Washington played their starters.
Most teams still use the third preseason game as a dress rehearsal, though we may not see starters into the third quarter as in past years. This next round of games will be our best and last opportunity to get a fix on what defenses will look like come Week 1.