AFC Update: Hall Of Fame Game Opens NFL Preseason
By Christian S. Kohl
With Hall of Fame Weekend having enshrined the game’s former greats, and the very first preseason game of the year completed, here is the latest news from around the AFC:
Baltimore Ravens: In good news for Ray Rice, the Ravens resigned elite fullback Vonta Leach for another two years. The need for Leach is reportedly related to the loss of Dennis Pitta, as is the strategy to heavily increase the workload for Torrey Smith, since the injury to the TE is still expected to sideline him until 2014.
Cincinnati Bengals: The tweaked knee of AJ Green will likely sideline him for week 1 of the preseason, but not week 1 of the 2013 season. In his absence, TE Tyler Eiffert has reportedly become a primary target for Andy Dalton. In non-aerial news, Benjarvus Green-Ellis is leading the depth chart of Bengals running backs ahead of early rookie standout Gio Bernard.
Cleveland Browns: A ding to the shin of Trent Richardson will likely keep him out of the preseason opener. Like any elite player, causes equally likely to sideline Richardson in the preseason opener include a stiff breeze or a chance of snow in December’s forecast. He is expected to be a full go come opening week, with Montario Hardesty and Brandon Jackson dueling for what appears to be one slot as his backup.
Pittsburgh Steelers: DB Cortex Allen is likely to miss about 4 weeks after having his knee scoped this week. With Heath Miller sidelined early, Matt Spaeth looks to fulfill TE1 duties in his absence. In other void-filling news, Antonio Brown will look to play the X receiver spot in place of the speed demon taking his talents to Miami, Mike Wallace.
Houston Texans: Linebacker and fan-favorite for on-field player to mic Brian Cushing returned to action this week after an ACL injury derailed his season in week 5 last year. The Texans are as happy to hear this as they are concerned about the numerous nicks on star RB Arian Foster. Add a back issue to his nagging calf injury, and Houston is forced to consider what type of workload they are willing to give to the standout back after nearly running him into the ground the previous few years.
Jacksonville Jaguars: WR Ace Sanders is impressing those in Jacksonville with his prowess as a WR as well as having the greatest name currently on the roster. Mohamed Massaquoi, conversely, is failing to impress the Jags front office. With Justin Blackmon absent, not locking a WR slot in Jacksonville customarily means one’s days of football are rapidly winding down. Speaking of which, Blaine Gabbert did manage to outplay Chad Henne for the starting spot in a Saturday scrimmage, prompting additional news reports informing us Chad Henne is in fact still in the league.
Indianapolis Colts: The only news from Indy involves players who were currently or who have recently been injured. Darius Heyward-Bey sprained his left knee this week, with no timetable available yet for his return. DB Greg Toler suffered a concussion this week as well, while Ahmad Bradshaw took a few handoffs in walkthroughs, though he is still in recovery from multiple foot surgeries.
Tennessee Titans: Delanie Walker will likely not be activated for at least two more weeks due to a knee injury. That further reduces the passing options for Jake Locker, who was 16-26 in a team scrimmage this Saturday, a stat which includes two unimpressive drops from WR Justin Hunter. The Titans need to get healthy and smooth out rough edges mighty quickly to have even an outside chance at contention this season.
Buffalo Bills: While Coach Doug Marrone has been unwilling to name a starter at QB, a wet mat weighed in with its opinion of Kevin Kolb’s durability this week. Kolb, unable to avoid the stationary object, slipped and injured his knee, sidelining him with a day to day injury, allowing more snaps for rookie EJ Manuel on the first team offense.
Miami Dolphins: Ryan Tannehill completed 2-5 passes for 11 yards in an abbreviated debut this preseason. Tannehill lacked both Hartline and Wallace, so little should be concluded from an initial effort. Lamar Miller coughed up the ball on the initial drive, but his job remains safe as the starting tailback for the Fins.
New England Patriots: In a dismal offseason for the Pats which simply will not end, Rob Gronkowski may well be kept on reserve/PUP. If so, that would render him unavailable until week 7 at the earliest. The scramble for New England to find players to occupy the first team offense continues, with Kenbrell Thompkins reportedly the favorite to lock up WR 5 duties.
New York Jets: Geno Smith reportedly played a cleaner series of downs than Sanchez in scrimmages, impressing Rex Ryan and closing the gap to near dead even for starting QB duties. A hamstring injury to Chris Ivory did not excite Rex Ryan, and Bilal Powell is taking the handoffs for now while Ivory recovers.
Denver Broncos: An ankle injury will sideline CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie for 2-3 weeks. An additional knee surgery for Joel Dreesen will also conclude his work during training camp and the preseason, but he hopes to return for week 1. In non-injury news, Montee Ball reportedly played the best in the initial Broncos scrimmage, above both Ronnie Hillman and Knowshon Moreno.
Kansas City Chiefs: The Chiefs OC declared Alex Smith the best quarterback in the NFL, either as a clear overstatement or as a plain statement of evidence he has yet to watch at least 15 other NFL quarterbacks play football. Confidence is high in KC, helped largely by Smith’s accuracy and rapidly developing chemistry with open-field terror Jamaal Charles. These two work well in an Andy Reid system, and Alex Smith does not have to be the NFL’s best quarterback for the Chiefs to make a giant step forward this season.
San Diego Chargers: In depressing news for San Diego, King Dunlap appears to be their best option at left tackle this season. Vincent Brown also appears completely unable to stay healthy. In other words, Rivers appears to currently have very little protection and even fewer options downfield. The Chargers have a long way to go.
Oakland Raiders: Speaking of teams with a long way to go, the Raiders decided the player on their roster most worthy of a large contract is kicker Sebastian Janikowski, offering him an additional $15 million over four years. While such a move might warrant mockery, Raiders fans must glumly admit he is in fact essentially their only high value player. The Raiders are approximately 11 missing pieces away on both offense and defense from emerging as a feared contender this season.
If nothing else, this week of news demonstrates perfectly why it is best to conduct fantasy drafts closer to September than July. Keep it here for all the latest player updates, and here’s hoping that, whichever team you root for, next week’s updates include infinitely fewer injury stories.
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Christian S. Kohl is a sports contributor for CBS Local Digital Media.