In the next few weeks, NFL training and their facilities will be a little more calm as players and staff get ready for training camp. A small vacation of the sort.
Although it’s early to conclude on a few things that happened before the league went on a holiday, now is a good time to check out some players and their teams that won or lost as they finished their off season activities with their minicamps this past week.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers RB Doug Martin: Looking to bounce back after a disastrous season, the veteran looked “quicker” and “bulkier,” according to Joe Bucs Fan. And general manager Jason Licht told NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo that the 28-year-old two-time Pro Bowler “looks like the Doug Martin of 2015.”
Miami Dolphins DE Charles Harris: The rookie first-round pick might have a chance to push William Hayes for snaps opposite Cameron Wake after he “flashed early and often during organized team activities and minicamp,” per ESPN.com’s James Walker.
Dallas Cowboys LB Anthony Hitchens: Trying to hold off second-year second-round pick Jaylon Smith, Hitchens “was everywhere,” for the Cowboys this offseason, according to ESPN.com’s Todd Archer, “especially during minicamp.”
The New Orleans Saints offensive line: Still without center Max Unger (foot surgery), the Saints lost left tackle Terron Armstead to a torn labrum. He could miss four to six months, according to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport.
Winner: Buffalo Bills WR Andre Holmes
The Buffalo Bills are looking for a savior at receiver. Three of their top four wide receivers from last season—Robert Woods, Marquise Goodwin and Justin Hunter—are gone, the inconsistent, injury-prone Sammy Watkins is still being eased back from foot surgery, and rookie second-round pick Zay Jones has plenty to prove.
But the Bills could be in for a pleasant surprise this year from veteran Andre Holmes, whom they signed to a three-year, $5.2 million deal in March.
WKBW’s Joe Buscaglia noted following Bills minicamp that the former Oakland Raiders role player is “separating from the pack” in the competition for a starting job.
“Of the horde of receivers that are trying to break through, Andre Holmes seems to have stood out the most,” Buscaglia wrote. “It was a slow start, fighting the ball a little bit early on, but he’s settled in nicely—and is even leading a lot of the positional reps during individual work. He’s consistently worked with the first-team offense, and [offensive coordinator] Sean McDermott made it known that he felt really impressed by Holmes with both his offensive and special teams work.”
Holmes has caught fewer than half of the passes thrown his way during his five NFL seasons (102 of 210), and he’s coming off back-to-back 14-catch campaigns. It’s hard to envision him suddenly becoming a star at 29, but he’s winning in June and the Bills like what they see.
“I’ll tell you the guy that’s really stood out has been Andre,” McDermott said, per Jay Skurski of the Buffalo News. “He’s done a phenomenal job, not only on offense, but also special teams. Very solid performer day to day, consistent and just really—that’s been a nice pickup for us so far and I really appreciate his leadership.”
Loser: Philadelphia Eagles WR Jordan Matthews
Promising but sometimes disappointing former second-round pick Jordan Matthews didn’t exactly face stiff competition for playing time last season. The Philadelphia Eagles receiving corps was thin, and Matthews didn’t have to fight hard to earn a regular starting role for a third consecutive year.
That won’t be the case in 2017.
Because not only did the Eagles bolster their wide receiver depth chart by adding former 1,000-yard wideouts Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith in March, but it also appears they’re getting something more out of 2015 first-round pick Nelson Agholor.
With Matthews sidelined due to a knee injury, Agholor stepped into his vacant slot position with the first-team offense and has received rave reviews.
“I’ll tell you, he’s been explosive in there,” Eagles head coach Doug Pederson said of Agholor at the conclusion of minicamp, per Matt Mullin of Philly Voice. “He’s made some big plays for us in there this spring. And his confidence level is high right now. I’m excited to see him grow in that position, and it’s been valuable for him.”
“He’s always been an explosive guy, but boy, it sure seems like he might have gotten quicker and more explosive this offseason,” added quarterback Carson Wentz, per ESPN.com’s Tim McManus. “He’s getting open, making plays. It’s good to see.”
Agholor, who has been prone to mental miscues and has just 59 catches and three touchdowns in two NFL seasons, still has to prove he can deliver when it matters. And Matthews should have a chance to regain favor if indeed he can get healthy in time for training camp. But at minicamp, one won and the other lost.