Teams are all over the spectrum when it comes to how they are handling the preseason. Some have fielded starters in both of the first two games, and some have not yet played starters at all. Some played them the first week and not the second, and some the other way around. Most teams that have not yet played their first team will likely do so in Preseason Week 3, but there could be some that we never see until Week 1 of the regular season. These are the notes of interest from Week 2 of the preseason.
The Cardinals played a mix of starters and backup. The most interesting note from the game was a package that included two linemen and five linebackers with Isaiah Simmons, Zaven Collins, and Jordan Hicks on the field together.
J.J. Watt was activated from the PUP on Monday and returned to practice this week. Barring a setback, he is expected to be ready for Week 1.
Shawn Williams saw extensive action at strong safety, with most of his playing time coming after the starters were done. Williams looked pretty good and is a fairly safe bet to at least make the final roster. He looked better than currently projected starter Jalen Thompson in my opinion.
The Falcons have held many of their defensive starters out of both preseason games. There were no awe-inspiring performances, but Mykal Walker showed he can be effective and productive at the inside linebacker position should either of the starters go down.
Malik Harrison made his second start of the preseason and seemed to have solidified his hold on the starting job next to Patrick Queen, even before L.J. Fort suffered an ACL injury. Harrison continued to exit when sub-packages were used, so his upside may remain limited.
The Bills played mostly backups in warmup round two, but their rookie pass rushers are exciting. They started Greg Rosseau and A.J. Epenesa, with Rosseau recording his second sack of the preseason. Boogie Basham also saw early action against Chicago, going 4-1-1. Mario Addison and Jerry Hughes are still considered the starters, but if the youngsters continue to play so well, it will be hard for the Buffalo coaching staff to keep them off the field for long.
The Panthers are supposed to be running a 4-3 this year. The announced starting lineup for Saturday’s game showed a four-man front with Brian Burns and Morgan Fox at defensive end, but on the field, they were in a 3-4 on the first series, with three down linemen and Brian Burns and Hasaan Reddick standing up on the edge.
When they were in a 4-3, Jermaine Carter was in the middle, flanked by Shaq Thompson and Frankie Luvu. Carter and Thompson stayed on the field in sub-packages. We know what to expect from Thompson, a solid LB3 with a little upside, but with Jeremy Chinn moving to full-time safety, Carter could be surprisingly productive as a three-down middle linebacker.
The more I see the Panthers, the more concern I have about how Chinn is being used. He played a lot of deep center field against Baltimore.
We are only two preseason games in, but that is enough to tell this is not the same Bengals defense we saw last year. Both Tampa Bay and Washington rolled out their entire starting offense against Cincinnati, and both were shut down cold. The pass rush is invigorated with the additions of Trey Hendrickson and rookie Joseph Ossai. The Bengals are showing some 3-4 looks with Trey Hendrickson playing from a 2 point stance at times. So far, the starting unit has produced a pair of sacks on just 20 plays. Unfortunately, it is feared Oassi will be lost for the season with a torn meniscus. Noah Spence was signed to help with depth.
With Larry Ogunjobi and D.J. Reader at the tackle positions and Logan Wilson playing full-time at middle linebacker, the Cincinnati run defense might improve even more than the pass rush. Jermaine Pratt has been impressive on early downs. Jordan Evan stepped in for Pratt in nickel situations against Washington.
The Browns defense already has some injury issues, so it makes sense they would keep their starters out of the second wave of preseason action. Grant Delpit and Ronnie Harrison suffered hamstring injuries early in training camp. Both players returned to practice ahead of the second preseason game but Delpit aggravated his injury on his first day back. Harrison is expected to start at this point, partly due to Delpit’s injury and experience. According to defensive coordinator Joe Woods, the ultimate plan is to have all three safeties, including John Johnson, on the field together in some packages once they are all healthy. Harrison has a history of injuries but has also been a quality IDP option when healthy.
Greedy Williams is currently listed as one of the starting corners on Cleveland’s depth chart, but the guy is just not able to stay on the field. He has battled injuries throughout his young career, the latest being a groin strain suffered against the Giants. If Williams is not ready for the opener, Troy Hill or first-round pick, Greg Newsome will start. Hill is expected to work in the slot on passing downs but could play outside in two corner sets as he did with the Rams last year.
All has been quiet regarding the recovery of middle linebacker Anthony Walker from a sore knee. He has been out of practice since the first week of August. The team needs Walker back, not only because he is their best linebacker but also because they lost his backup, Jacob Phillips, to a torn biceps and strong-side starter Sione Takitaki to a hamstring injury during a joint practice with the Giants last week.
Jon Machota of The Athletic reports that Jaylon Smith could be the odd man out in the Cowboys’ crowded linebacker rotation. Their depth chart does not agree, listing Smith as the starter in the middle with Leighton Vander Esch on the weak side and Micah Parsons strong. On the field, we have seen another version of this story. In each of the first three games, these three and Keanu Neal have all seen significant first-team action, but none have played full time. Against the Texans, Dallas opened in a nickel with Parsons and Neal at the linebacker spots. In other situations, Vander Esch and Smith were on the field with varying combinations of the four throughout the game until the starters were pulled. The closer we get to Week 1, the more this looks like an ugly situation for all of us counting on one of these guys as a starter.
One guy we probably can count on is strong safety Donovan Wilson. He was on the field full time, lined up in or near the box often, and was around the ball a lot versus Houston.
Demarcus Lawrence did not play against Houston, so Dorance Armstrong drew the start opposite Randy Gregory. Gregory worked from a two-point stance much of the time, which was interesting but does not impact his production. He did not show up in the box score but did generate some pressure in the pass rush.
Denver had most of their defensive starters on the field, with the notable exception of Von Miller. Malik Reed worked with the first team in his place. Justin Strnad started next to Alexander Johnson on the inside, replacing Josey Jewell, who is nursing a groin injury. Jewell returned to practice late in the week but was held out of the game as a precaution.
Detroit’s front seven were backups against the Steelers, but starting secondary played for a while. This may be a combination of the ongoing struggles of the pass defense and an unsettled depth chart at corner. Current starters Jeff Okudah and Amani Oruwariye are young players with a lot still to prove, and undrafted rookie A.J. Parker has seen first-team time as the slot corner.
Keep an eye on rookie linebacker Derrick Barnes. He was slowed by a hamstring injury early in camp but has been turning heads recently. Jahlani Tavai and Jalen Reeves-Maybin started against the Steelers and were adequate, but Barnes stood out when his opportunity came. He totaled 6 tackles, recorded a sack, and knocked down a pair of passes in the game. With Alex Anzalone set to open the season as the starter, Barnes could quickly move up the depth chart, especially if the Lions struggle early in the season.
Green Bay Packers
It is not looking good for Krys Barnes. If he is a starter, he was the only one to play against the Jets, which tells us he is probably not, or maybe the final decision has not yet been made. DeVondre Campbell is set to take over the lead role at inside linebacker. The Packers have often fielded just one in years past, filling in the other spot with a third safety. If Green Bay fields a second inside backer more often this season, it will likely be either Barnes or Oren Burks, who has made a strong case throughout training camp and the preseason. Regardless of who comes away with the job, they are likely to be a part-time, two-down contributor.
Green Bay’s biggest pass rush threat, ZaDarius Smith, is already being called questionable for Week 1 with a back issue.
Houston has still not posted a depth chart, but at least we got to see their first-team defense on the field against Dallas. Christian Kirksey and Zach Cunningham were the full-time linebackers, with Kevin Pierre-Louis as the third on early downs. Whitney Mercilus worked as a three-down defensive end with Charles Omenihu opposite him on early downs and Jacob Martin in nickel situations. Shaq Lawson and Jordan Jenkins rotated with Mercilus and Omenihu after the first series. In the secondary, Justin Reed and Eric Murray were the starting safeties, with Reid lining up deep most of the time. Vincent Taylor and Maliek Collins started at tackle, but Houston rotated a lot of players there while the first defense was still in the game. The corners were Bradley Roby, Terrance Mitchell, and Desmond King for the most part, with Vernon Hargreave also seeing some time.
The Colts fielded their first-team defense except for Darius Leonard, who missed some time early in training camp with a sore ankle. Matt Adams started at weak-side linebacker with Bobby Okereke again working in a three-down role in the middle and Zaire Franklin on the strong side.
I admit to having reservations about Kwitty Paye earlier in the summer, but he has looked good. In the first game, Paye was able to get pressure on the Carolina quarterback and landed a sack against the Vikings in the second one.
In the first preseason game, Jacksonville played Josh Jones as a box safety, keeping him near the line much of the time, while Rayshawn Jenkins covered the deep/free safety role. Against the Saints in game two, the players switched roles, with Jenkins lining up within seven yards of the line on nearly every play. Maybe this is just a case of the coaching staff wanting to look at their options, but without knowing their thought process, we have to drop Jones back down the sleeper list a few slots and move Jenkins up a little. We will be watching game three closely with the hope it will provide some answers.
Kansas City Chiefs
Kansas City opened in a nickel-base defense with Willie Gay Jr and Anthony Hitchens at linebacker. Hitchens in the nickel base scheme. Nick Bolton was one of the first backups to get in the game and saw some time with the starters. After watching the Chiefs basically sit Gay last year, it will not be a surprise if Bolton is held back as a rookie, but this guy is a future starter for sure. It is just a matter of when.
It was interesting to see how the Chiefs used corner La’Jarius Snead. I believe he worked outside some but also spent time in the box, in a role that closely resembled a box safety/nickel linebacker. If you start corners, Snead should be a priority target. Snead could be a solid addition to your roster even if your league does not break out the defensive back positions.
Chris Jones appears to have taken to his new position. He landed a sack against the Cardinals and was a force on the edge while the starters were in the game.
Las Vegas Raiders
The Raiders had a sprinkling of starters on the field against the Rams. Most of them were defensive backs. The game gave us little useful information, but there is a noteworthy situation to cover. Nick Morrow suffered an ankle injury during joint practices late last week. After being down for a while, he could walk off without help, so there is hope it was not serious. Keep an eye out for an update on the situation. This could open the door for Nick Kwaitkoski to get back in the lineup, but be aware that he is also banged up and missed practice leading up to Saturday’s game. On Sunday, beat writer Tashan Reed tweeted that Morrow will miss some time, but Kwiatkoski should be back for the opener.
Javin White and Asmar Bilal were the starters against Los Angeles. White was looking good before being carted off with e knee injury. Rookie defensive end Malcolm Koonce was injured on the same play and was not able to return.
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Los Angeles Chargers
The Chargers sat Joey Bosa and Derwin James but played a lot of starters, including Kenneth Murray. Murray stayed on the field in all situations, including dime packages. Unlike last year, he was smooth and looked like a first-round pick.
Kyzir White started Drue Tranquill, who worked with the second team and was rather quiet. I wonder if he is still feeling some effect from the broken leg he suffered last season. White was active and around the ball a lot. If you are drafting this weekend, I would suggest making him a late-round target.
Los Angeles Rams
No starting defensive linemen and no starting defensive backs saw action against the Raiders. Micah Kiser and Ernest Jones started at inside linebacker, suggesting they are not starters either. This is good news for anyone that rolled the dice on Troy Reeder, as it looks like he will be the guy to have here.
Another player to watch is rookie edge linebacker Christopher Garrett who was 2-2-1.5 against Las Vegas. Garrett has been turning heads in practice as well. The Rams are searching for a difference-maker to work opposite Leonard Floyd, so Garrett could open the door.
We have seen Miami’s starters in each of the preseason games. Against Atlanta, they came out in a 3-4 with Andrew Van Ginkel and Jaelan Phillips on the edge, Benardrick McKinney and Jerome Baker at inside linebacker, Eric Rowe and Jason McCourty at safety. Byron Jones and Xavien Howard were the corners with Nick Needham in the slot on passing down nickel calls. Five players rotated along the line, Christian Wilkins, Emmanuel Ogbah, Raekwon Davis, Adam Butler, and Zach Sieler.
The player that stood out in this game was backup linebacker Sam Eguavoen, who exploded for 11 total tackles, including 4 sacks. Eguavoen made a lot of preseason noise a couple of years ago as well. It was enough to earn a starting spot early in the 2019 regular season, but he quickly faded when the games counted. He is worth keeping an eye on, but the big numbers likely have more to do with him taking advantage of Atlanta’s backups than being an emerging star.
Rookie safety Jevon Holland was held out of Saturday’s game due to an undisclosed injury.
The Vikings fielded a few starters mixed in with the second team guys, including Eric Kendricks and Nick Vigil at linebacker. Vigil joined Kendrick in nickel package and made a nice play to knock down a pass on the opening series. Anthony Barr did not play, so we can not confirm that Vigil will be the guy in nickel come Week 1, but if he ends up being a three-down weak-side linebacker as it appears he will, Vigil could provide a quality option late-round option or first-run waiver pickup for those that have already drafted.
Danielle Hunter was a scratch against the Colts, so Minnesota was without their one elite pass rusher. The guys who did play got very little pressure on the quarterback for a second straight game and recorded no sacks. To address that issue, the Vikings signed longtime starter Everson Griffen on Monday. Griffen may not be the player he once was, but he is still a quality veteran addition that can get some pressure on the passer. He should be in the starting lineup before long.
New England Patriots
The Patriots showed us that same vanilla look we got from them in the first game. Donta Hightower and JaWhaun Bentley started at linebacker again, with Bentley seeing a few sub-package snaps this time around.
Devin McCourty played in this one, with the Patriots appearing to use a three safety rotation, including Adrian Phillips and Kyle Dugger. As it did last season, the team’s depth chart shows Phillips and McCourty as the starters, but we know Dugger will have a significant role to play.
While the scheme was bland, there were a pair of performances that stood out. Chase Winovich and Harvey Langi did not start, but they saw action with the starters and the second unit. Winovich turned in a mark of 4-1-2, with Langi going 3-2-1 on the heels of a 7-2-0 in the first game.
We keep hearing about Josh Uche being a breakout candidate in his second year, but he has not done much so far.
New Orleans Saints
The Saints came out in a big-nickel base defense against Jacksonville, with Demario Davis and Zach Baun at linebacker and C.J. Gardner-Johnson as the nickel linebacker/box safety. When Jacksonville went to four-receiver sets, New Orleans countered by replacing Baun with a corner and pairing Davis with Gardner-Johnson at linebacker. This is no different from what the Saints did last season when Gardner-Johnson was a little inconsistent week to week but often gave us quality points.
The Saints surprisingly released Prince Amukamara last week. The initial reaction by most was to assume Ken Crawley would move back into the starting lineup. That might ultimately be the case, but we should not count out rookie Paulson Adebo. With Marshon Lattimore not playing, Adebo started opposite Crawley and more than held his own. Crawley has been a steady player for the Saints for a few years now but has no upside. If Adebo lands the job opposite Lattimore, he could have some IDP value.
New York Giants
It was a quiet week in Giants camp. No serious injuries, no important news for IDP managers, and no starters on the field against the Browns.
New York Jets
The Jets' effort to turn things around hit some stumbling blocks over the last week. The biggest one being the loss of edge defender Carl Lawson who landed on IR with a torn Achilles. Bryce Huff will get the first shot at the starting job but keep an eye on Ronald Blair III. Blair turned in eight and a half sacks as a rotational backup with the 49ers in 2018 and 2019 before missing 2020 with an ACL injury. He left the last preseason game with a tight hamstring but, when healthy, can be a considerable contributor.
Lawson was the biggest loss but not the only one. Starting linebacker Jarrad Davis was helped off the field and eventually left on a cart after suffering an ankle injury. Coach Saleh said initial tests were encouraging, but no timetable for his return has been mentioned yet.
The injury to Davis would seem to be a door opener for Blake Cashman to get back in the conversation. Still, so far, the only player mentioned has been converted rookie safety, Jamien Sherwood. Sherwood came into the game when Davis left, but that was about the same time New York started pulling starters, so it may have been a coincidence. This situation will be high on the watch list the next time Jets starters take the field. Considering they are so young, that might happen in the third warmup game.
Alex Singleton and Eric Wilson showed well again in game two. Singleton led the team in tackles at 5-2-0 while Wilson was a solid 4-0-0 before the starters came out. In the first game, T.J. Edwards logged playing time in three linebacker packages. He did so again in game two and saw some rotational action in two-linebacker groupings, with both Singleton and Wilson rotating out for a few snaps. This is not necessarily a red flag, but it is something to keep an eye on.
KVon Wallace made a couple of nice plays from the strong safety position before leaving with a groin injury. He, too, is a player to keep on the radar, providing the injury is a non-issue.
Derek Barnett is dealing with a sore shoulder that kept him out of practice early in the week. This, and his history of nagging minor injuries, might be enough to justify moving Josh Sweat up a few slots on your draft board.
It was no surprise to see Joe Schobert joining Devin Bush as three-down inside linebackers. Considering Schobert has only been with the team for a week, it was somewhat unexpected to see him wearing the green dot communications helmet and calling plays. Schobert fit right in and looked completely comfortable in his new surroundings.
T.J. Watt sat out again, so Melvin Ingram III and Alex Highsmith saw the first-team action on the edge. Both looked good again. It will be no surprise if the steelers lead the league in sacks for a fourth consecutive season.
San Francisco 49ers
The 49ers sprinkled in some starters against the Chargers but at all of their stars. Recent addition Ha Ha Clinton-Dix made the start at safety and looked fairly good. Arik Armstead played and accounted for one of the team’s five sacks. After a mediocre 2020, he is out to prove the big 2019 season was not a fluke.
Javon Kinlaw sat out while nursing a sore shoulder, and Maurice Hurst lets with an ankle injury. Recently signed Mychal Kendricks did not last long, going down with yet another injury. This time it was a toe. If this guy could stay on the field, he would be a good player.
Tavon Wilson did not play but is the starting strong safety on the team’s unofficial depth chart.
I believe the Seahawks and Texans are the only teams that have not posted a depth chart on their team site. Jordyn Brooks was one of the few sure starters to see action versus Denver. It is hard to say if his playing time was by design or due to the season-ending knee injury to Ben Burr-Kirven at the start of the game. Regardless of why he was out there, Brooks looked good, leading the team in tackles with seven combined stops.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Buccaneers saw enough from their starter in the first game, so they all sat out versus Tennessee. With the backups on the field against many of Tennessee’s starters, Tampa Bay took one on the chin on the scoreboard, but they liked what they saw from rookie edge defender Joe Tryon who landed a sack, a tackle for loss, and a quarterback hit. Coach Arians talked about how Tyron will be used this season, saying that he will not play a lot on early downs but will see plenty of action as a rush specialist.
Most of the starting defense was on the field for a series or two against the Buccaneers. The most notable exception being Bud Dupree, who is not likely to see any preseason action. With Janoris Jenkins being rested and the team being careful with rookie Caleb Farley coming off an injury, third-round pick Elijah Molden ran with the starters and stayed on the field for much of the game. The rookie gave up some catches but kept the receiver in front of him and made a lot of tackles, giving up no big plays. He also showed prowess on the blitz, ending the night with eight solo tackles, a sack, and a pass breakup. The Titans have a long history of quality production at the corner positions, so keep Molden on your radar if you start corners.
Washington Football Team
Last week I mentioned that Kamren Curl played strong safety with Landon Collins working as the deep/free safety. The two were switched on the team’s unofficial depth chart this week with Curl listed as the free safety, but Washington looked pretty much the same on the field versus Cincinnati, with Curl continuing to see a lot of time near the line of scrimmage.
In their first preseason game, Jamin Davis was in the middle when Washington fielded three linebackers but was not in sub-packages early. The Football Team opened in a nickel against the Bengals with Cole Holcomb and Jon Bostic as the linebackers. Davis replaced Bostic on the second series, and when Washington’s defense came out for the third time, it was Davis and Bostic at linebacker. It is hard to say if this was the coaching staff looking at options or the plan is to have these three rotate in nickel situations. Hopefully, game three will give us some clarification.
That’s a wrap for this week. I will cover the third round of preseason games in the next offering. Until then, best of luck in your upcoming drafts.
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