July 2016

Thursday’s contract extension for Zimmer was another nod to the team’s newfound stability. Zimmer, like Bruce Arians, was ignored for too long in head coaching interviews because he may have been too honest. While Zimmer may not play the politics well, he has the full attention of his players. He has a knack for developing defenders, especially on the defensive line and secondary. They have an all-time great Adrian Peterson trying to squeeze out another season of greatness before his contract becomes an issue. The Vikings boast promising youth throughout their defense and look to take a Cardinals-like leap toward the upper echelon of NFL teams.

On Thursday’s Around the NFL Podcast, Marc Sessler took issue with everyone handing the NFC North to the Packers. The natural inclination is to wonder if Minnesota will take a step back after 11 wins last year, but there are plenty of reasons to believe they can be even better. They might have bought low on Zimmer.

Here’s what else we learned at training camp Thursday:

While Broncos VP John Elway says it’s an open competition for the team’s starting quarterback job, coach Gary Kubiak has sounded a different note publicly. He gave Mark Sanchez first team reps, with Trevor Siemian occasionally mixing in with the starters. Rookie Paxton Lynch was with the third team and showed “stage fright”, according to NFL Media’s James Palmer, in his first camp practice. Kubiak admitted Lynch’s head was spinning.

Don’t rule out a Tyrod Taylor extension in Buffalo just yet. Vic Carucci of the Buffalo News reports that the two sides have been talking “frequently” and Taylor still has a chance for an extension before the season. It’s a tricky contract to figure out; the Bills would essentially be buying low.

One clear change to the Colts’ offense showed up at practice on Thursday. The base two-tight end offense appears to be gone, according to the Indianapolis Star, along with Coby Fleener. The team now appears to be working out of a base offense with three receivers on the field: T.Y. Hilton, Donte Moncrief and Philip Dorsett. Moncrief and Dorsett are in prime position to make the leap.

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If given that “golden” opportunity as a rookie, expect Shepard to shine under New York’s bright lights, perhaps even generating some Offensive Rookie of the Year consideration if a few big plays on the big stage earn the Giants a return to the playoffs.

Other thoughts on the Giants’ 2016 draft class:

While Giants fans probably loved the selection of Shepard in the second round, there may have been some confusion as to general manager Jerry Reese’s pick of Ohio State cornerback Eli Apple at No. 10 overall. After all, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie played well in 2015 and the Giants handed Janoris Jenkins a five-year, $62.5 million deal in the offseason.

Apple checked in at No. 18 on my own personal Big Board, so I am not about to characterize the selection as a terrific value, but given how often teams line up in three-receiver sets in today’s NFL, one can’t bicker about the Giants’ eagerness to add a third standout corner. The buzz leading up to the draft was that NFL teams were higher on Ohio State’s redshirt sophomore than I was, with some claiming that he would ultimately prove the best cornerback from this class.

The 6-1, 199-pound Apple is long, physical and fast, projecting ideally outside in press coverage, which is where the 6-2, 193 pound Rodgers-Cromartie excels. The 5-10, 198 pound Jenkins is the logical candidate to move inside for nickel duties — a role in which he stood out during his time with the St. Louis Rams. The addition of Apple is essentially extending the aggressive bet Reese and Co. made in signing Jenkins and edge rusher Olivier Vernon in free agency. Giants fans who applauded those moves should also approve of the addition of Apple — once they appreciate how he fits.

While perhaps not the plug-and-play option that Apple and Shepard offer, former UCLA running back Paul Perkins is another intriguing selection for the Giants. His slashing running style complements what the club already has in the always-grinding (but rarely breaking away) Rashad Jennings and Vereen, a receiving specialist. Perkins was highly productive at UCLA, leading the Pac-12 in combined rushing yards the past two seasons, but scouts wondered if the Bruins’ spread offense and talented QBs inflated his numbers. Expect Perkins to contribute in 2016, but Shepard is the name for fantasy football enthusiasts to get excited about.

Kaepernick will need further clearance from the San Francisco 49ers’ medical staff when he reports for training camp before he can take the field.

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Broncos coaches have talked up the untested Siemian as having a “legitimate shot” to start, while general manager John Elway said in May that Lynch will be “ready quicker than a lot of people think.”

Still, it’s not surprising if Kubiak chooses to open the campaign with the only quarterback on his roster boasting genuine NFL experience. For all his on-field quirks, Sanchez has 72 regular-season starts and a 4-2 playoff record with two trips to the AFC title game. He’s also a confirmed turnover machine primed to lose any job he wins.

Williams, at least when talking Wednesday, disagreed, saying: “Personally, I’ve got a lot of faith in Mark and Trevor, as well as Paxton. But I feel like Mark can go out there and get the job done if he needed to.”

With the Broncos set to kick off their preseason on Aug. 11 against the Bears, the answers to these long-running — and, by now, oxygen-sucking — questions will come soon enough.

Are we inching closer to a decision on the fate of Josh Gordon?

NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport reported that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell met in person with the Browns receiver on Wednesday regarding his return to the field, per sources informed of the process. Rapoport added that no decision appears imminent for Gordon, who can’t reapply for reinstatement until Aug. 1.

The oft-banned Gordon failed another drug test in March, prompting the NFL to deny his application for reinstatement and delay his potential return until after Cleveland opens training camp. He was suspended in February 2015 for violating the NFL Policy and Program for Substances of Abuse.

Drafted in the third round out of Minnesota in 2007, the noted blocking specialist has accrued 420 yards and 10 touchdowns on 55 receptions across nine seasons with the Steelers and Chicago Bears.

Between the release of Spaeth and the offseason retirement of Heath Miller, Pittsburgh is undergoing a changing of the guard at tight end.

Former San Diego Chargers speedster Ladarius Green was signed to add a more dynamic dimension to the aerial attack. Jesse James, selected in the fifth round of the 2015 draft, is expected to take over Spaeth’s role as an inline blocker and red-zone specialist.

At the Scouting Combine in February, Arizona Cardinals general manager Steve Keim offered penetrating insight into the state of the position in today’s NFL.

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