We were hoping to see more starters in the second round of warmup games, but many clubs continue to sit at least their stars while other teams have not yet played any expected starters in the preseason. With today’s NFL focusing intently on keeping players healthy, some/many teams may elect not to play their frontline guys at all until the games count.
The Cardinals have not yet addressed the obviously whacked-out depth chart that is showing on their website, so we can only go by what we are or are not seeing on the field. We are seeing Arizona’s second defense in both preseason games and Zaven Collins working with that unit. We are not seeing Nick Vigil playing in these games, which suggests he is the current starter.
Vigil is a dependable veteran with plenty of starting experience but limited upside. Collins was a first-round pick in 2021 and has a ton of upside. He played the entire first quarter against Baltimore with minimal box score impact but looked pretty solid on the field. It would be a shock if Collins is not promoted at some point this season, but it doesn’t look like the coaching staff is going to be in any hurry, nor do they need to be.
It was against the Jets' backup quarterback and some of their second-team offense, but Atlanta did not look like the same old leaky defense we have come to expect in recent years. They were more aggressive, with linemen penetrating and disrupting, linebackers blitzing, and corners playing more press than we have seen from the Falcons in a long time.
Atlanta put nearly all of their first-team defenders on the field to start the game. Rashaan Evans and Mychal Walker were the inside linebackers, with Walker wearing the communications helmet and calling plays in the huddle. Both players stayed on the field in passing situations.
It is a matter of time until first-round safety Kyle Hamilton moves into the starting lineup. How much time is the question? Baltimore went with their second team against the Cardinals, which included Hamilton. We have seen some teams mix their young starters with the second team to get them some reps, but this situation doesn’t have that feeling. The Ravens' depth chart shows Chuck Clark as the starter, and Clark has not played in either preseason game which confirms it. What might be an even bigger concern for everyone drafting Hamilton, he is often working at free/deep safety with the second team while Brandon Stephens and Tony Jefferson are seeing work at strong.
A.J. Epenesa started opposite Gregory Rosseau, but Carlos Basham Jr and Shaq Lawson also saw rotational action with the starters. The sample size was not enough to tell the snap percentages, but all four of these guys seem headed for significant roles.
Carolina played few, if any, starters, but it is noteworthy that they activated Shaq Thompson from the PUP list this week.
Chicago played most starters with Matt Adams standing in for Roquan Smith. Adams was shaken up on a big hit early on. Smith returned to practice Saturday and announced that he will play out his current contract with the Bears. For those that added Nicholas Morrow, his upside is capped a little but don’t be discouraged, there will be plenty of opportunities to support both players, and Morrow has looked great.
Strong safety Jaquan Brisker recently underwent thumb surgery but has a good chance of being ready for the opener.
Cincinnati put their second defense on the field again in game two. There were two takeaways from this game. First, the Bengals' defense is deep at virtually every position, so if a starter with IDP value goes down, his backup could be a good in-season addition. Second, this team will not miss a beat if Jessie Bates III refuses to report. Daxton Hill was everywhere in the first half against New York.
Drew Sample will miss at least a game or two as he recovers from what is being called a knee sprain.
Cleveland played their second-team defense against the Eagles. The fact that Jacob Phillips was in the lineup could be a telltale sign that he is still running behind Anthony Walker for the starting spot. It could also mean that the coaching staff wants to give Phillips a chance to prove himself and gain some experience. Walker missed some time with a groin injury early in camp, giving Phillips a chance to run with the starters. Walker activated from the PUP on August 6, so the injury is probably not why he was sitting against the Eagles.
Dallas fielded no starters for the second consecutive week. Unless they elect to use next week’s contest as a warmup for the first team, we will not see their plan at linebacker until Week 1. That said, I still expect Leighton Vander Esch to have a big enough role in making him an IDP factor. It would also be nice to look at the defensive end rotation and see if Dorance Armstrong is worthy of a roster spot.
Denver rolled with nearly all backups and was no match for the Bills' starters. About the only thing of importance that we learned from the Broncos' Week 2 effort is that recent addition, Joe Schobert, will not automatically move ahead of Alex Singleton. With Jonah Griffin expected to miss time, Singleton is in line to be a solid target for at least the first month of the season.
We might assume that the Lions were playing their second team. The problem is that we are not sure who is starting at some of these spots. Jeff Okuda started at corner, as did Malcolm Rodriguez at middle linebacker. I’m not thinking either of these guys is a backup on this team. For anyone that might have missed Hard Knocks, one of the defensive coaches went on a tirade in the linebacker room because he doesn’t want to start a rookie, but he’s going to have to if no one steps up. My only concern is the potential for the dreaded platoon approach, which is what they showed versus the Colts. Chris Board and Derick Barnes also saw time with the starters, with none of them playing full time.
Green Bay Packers
Rookies Quay Walker and Devonta Wyatt were the only probable defensive starters to see action against the Saints. Walker garnered mixed reviews. On one play, he got off the block of a guard and made a nice tackle on an inside run. A couple of plays later, he was blown completely out of the play. That’s about how it went for most of the time he was on the field. The good sign for IDP managers is that regardless of how he looked on film, he stayed on the field and got those all-important sub-package snaps.
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