There’s an old saying in the modern day national football league that goes, “preseason games don’t count, but they do matter.”
Training camp and preseason is a hectic month, not just because it’s the first NFL football in five months, but also because of the storylines that can come out. You have player hold outs, injuries, practice reports, game analysis, roster cuts, Super Bowl odds and so much more. One area of league play that can sometimes involve a little bit of each of those aforementioned categories is the play and progress of incoming rookies.
The preseason is an important time for any rookie. For first rounders, it’s about solidifying yourself as a potential early starter. For Day 2 players, it’s about positioning yourself for playing time in the year to come and hopefully laying a foundation for starter reps later on. For Day 3 and undrafted prospects, it’s about making a name for yourself and hopefully making the final 53-man roster.
So far we’re two weeks into the preseason with two games left to go and already we’re seeing storylines start to form. For some of these rookies, it has been praise. Baker Mayfield, Bradley Chubb and Sam Darnold have all garnered praise for their early performances, and that has been enjoyable to watch.
For others, however, the clock is ticking. For some, that ticking clock is more dire than others, but sometimes the clock is ticking for the teams more than the players.
With a lot on the line as cuts loom and the regular season nears, these are some players that need to make the most out of their last two games before the regular season begins.
Roquan Smith, LB, Chicago Bears
Rooquan Smith, the 2018 NFL Draft’s No. 8 overall pick, was the last rookie to sign his deal due to complication in the contract language. After a month-long holdout, Smith signed and joined the Bears on the practice field for the first time this week.
Smith said he’s been training back in Georgia, and said he did not expect for there to be any additional adjusting due to the time lost. However, Smith has been a limited participant at practice due to “hamstring tightness” and his status for Saturday’s game against the Chiefs is now up in the air. If he can’t go on Saturday, that leaves just one game left in the preseason for him to participate in, and that fourth preseason game is usually reserved for backups. As the No. 8 overall pick, that typically wouldn’t be a game he participates in, but he may have to.
The Bears not only need his talent on the field for Week 1 but also ready to go. He’s running out of chances to get acclimated before the games count.
Ronald Jones, RB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
When Jones was drafted by the Buccaneers at the top of the second round, it was expected, by most, that he would overtake Peyton Barber as the team’s top running back sooner rather than later.
Two games into the preseason and Jones has just 11 yards on 12 carries, nothing close to what Barber has had with less chances.
The bottom line is the Buccaneers need Jones to step it up. It’s unknown just how much of a work load he’ll get over the next two games, but unless Jones shows something he hasn’t yet, there’s no way he’s starting in Tampa Bay any time soon, barring an injury.
Jones being ready for Week 1 would mean a lot to the Buccaneers’ offense. He has two more games to get as ready as can for regular season action.
Terrell Edmunds, S, Pittsburgh
The reports out of Steelers camp have been generally positive about the assessment of rookie safety Terrell Edmunds. It was reported that Edmunds has move up the depth chart and is now on the second team. But the Steelers didn’t draft Edmunds No. 28 overall in the first round to sit on the bench, and when you’re on the second team that’s what you’re doing for the majority of the time in the regular season — minus big nickel packages.
Edmunds had a rough Week 2 with two touchdowns thrown against him while he was in man coverage and one rushing touchdown scored because he couldn’t beat the quarterback to the goal line.
Edmunds is going through his NFL learning curve right now, the highs and the lows, which is totally normal. But I do think these last two games will be crucial for Edmunds’ progress as he ascends towards a potential starting role.
Marcus Davenport, EDGE, New Orleans Saints
It doesn’t matter how you slice it, when you select a pass rusher in the top half of the first round, especially one that you gave up another first round pick to trade up and get, they not only have to play relatively soon but also make an impact while doing so.
That’s the situation the Saints are in with Marcus Davenport, and so far it hasn’t been smooth sailing. Davenport has been sidelined for the last three weeks with what reports have described as a “minor groin ailment”. When you stack on the fact that, just before camp began, Davenport had to have surgery on his thumb, that’s not a great start.
Davenport returned to the practice field this week, which was good news. Though the Saints might not need him right away with Cameron Jordan and Alex Okafor healthy as well, they didn’t draft Davenport in the first round to play second fiddle.
He needs to take advantage of these next two games, especially since the last season of football he played was against lower level competition in college.