Seven teams kicked off their annual three-day mandatory minicamps on Tuesday.
The difference between the organized team activities and mandatory minicamps is simple: One is voluntary and the other isn’t. The intensity is naturally higher and the competitive juices flow a bit more. This is the final opportunity coaches have with players until training camp.
“The last phase of our offseason program is of course this mini-camp,” Bucs head coach Lovie Smith said, via the team’s transcript. “I like the way it’s set up, the part that’s mandatory, where they have to come, is right at the end for you to see exactly what we have.”
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The Bengals, Browns, Broncos, Bucs, Cardinals, Lions and Saints collectively don’t appear to have any holdouts. The other 24 teams — the Rams, who don’t hold a minicamp, excluded — will begin their mandatory work next week.
Per the collective bargaining agreement, players are subject to fines if they don’t attend their team’s respective minicamp. Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson, Bengals tight end Jermaine Gresham and Buccaneers offensive guard Carl Nicks all showed up to work, while the latter continues to be sidelined by a foot injury.
Lions cornerback Chris Houston, though, was absent from the first day. Fortunately for Houston, head coach Jim Caldwell called it an “excused absence.”
Houston, who has been rehabbing an injured toe, spent the last month away from the team facility, despite being penciled in as a starter.
"He’s not expected to be here,” Caldwell said. “He is right where he is supposed to be at this point in time. Right where he expected him to be."
With other teams still in the midst of OTAs, here’s the latest from around the league:
Clowney to earn his playing time
Just because Jadeveon Clowney was selected No. 1 overall doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll be handed playing time right away.
Texans defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel declared that the 6-foot-6, 270-pound pass rusher must put in the work to carve out a role for himself.
“He’s going to earn his spot, in my eyes. … If he learns, then chances are that he’ll get playing time,” Crennel said, via the Houston Chronicle. “If he doesn’t learn, then he probably won’t get as much playing time. And now then that’s where [Whitney] Mercilus, he’s going to be there and he’s going to play. Or if it’s Brooks [Reed], Brooks is going to play.”
With Mercilus likely to start at one outside linebacker spot and Reed slated to play inside, it’s unlikely that Clowney wouldn’t have a prominent role in the defense. Making the transition from defensive end to outside linebacker comes with a handful of challenges, but it’s certainly not anything he can’t handle.
“I think he’s a guy that’s come in here and really put in extra time so far,” head coach Bill O’Brien said on Monday. “He needs to keep doing it. He’s put in extra time in the training room to work on his flexibility. He’s put in extra time on the practice field. He’s being coached very well by Mike Vrabel and Romeo Crennel.”
Eagles more than satisfied with Sproles trade
It didn’t take long for Chip Kelly to realize the Eagles were on the right side of a bargain this offseason. The team has already begun to reap the rewards of a trade with the Saints for running back Darren Sproles.
Since Sproles has been in the facility, he has lived up to the expectations and bought in completely to the coach’s philosophy. Kelly was even given a heads up by other coaches around the league, who had experience tutoring the diminutive-sized running back.
“I talked to Norv Turner and he remarked to me when I saw him at one of the pro days, he said, ‘You’ll have to slow him down because he only knows one speed’" Kelly said, via the team’s transcript. “And that’s the same thing you see. Darren practices and trains at one speed. It’s awesome. He fits in with the culture that we want in terms of preparation but it’s everything we wanted when we got him here.”
Sproles, who was acquired by the Eagles for a fifth-round pick, was given a two-year extension, signing him under contract through 2016.
Browns significantly value OLB Sheard
Mike Pettine was a highly coveted head coaching candidate because he knows how to operate a defense that can get to the passer.
After leading Buffalo’s defense to fourth in the league in sacks (48.0) in 2013, Pettine has been re-tooling Cleveland’s unit to resemble a similar aggressive style of play. The first-year head coach has been intrigued most by outside linebacker Jabaal Sheard.
“We talk about the ‘Play like a Brown’ attributes, and we want a guy that plays like his hair is on fire,” Pettine said, via the team’s transcript. “If I had to pick one guy that fits that, the first name I would come up with is Jabaal. He’s versatile. I think we can move him around. He can play with his hand down. He can play up. His drop skills are more than adequate, and he plays violent.”
Sheard, who is entering the final year of his rookie deal, has racked up 21 sacks in three seasons and his representatives have opened up discussions for a possible extension.
“Hopefully it works out,” Sheard said, per the Elyria Chronicle-Telegram. "Love it here. (I) want to be here when (the) city erupts."
Pettine said he expects to be even more impressed with Sheard when the Browns put on the pads in training camp.
"It’s tough for him in this arena when it’s no pads," Pettine said. "I think he’ll show up even better when we have the pads on and his physicality will be much better used.”
TE Rudolph poised for breakout campaign?
Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph could be in line for a breakout season.
Entering the final year of his rookie deal, Rudolph will play in an offense directed by Norv Turner, who historically has given his tight ends a hearty workload.
“I’d say the best way to describe Norv’s offense is explosive,” Rudolph said, via the team’s official website. “He wants to take advantage of every opportunity. There is a bunch of playmakers in that locker room and he wants to make sure that he’s putting us in the best situations.”
Tight ends Antonio Gates and Jordan Cameron were beneficiaries of Turner’s pass-happy offense the past seven seasons, combining for six Pro Bowl appearances.
While Rudolph is coming off Pro Bowl of his own, the 6-foot-6, 258-pound target could play a major role in the Vikings offense in 2014.