Darius Phillips

AFC Notes: Broncos, Brady, Jets, Dunlap

Bill Musgrave, who was elevated to Broncos‘ offensive coordinator once Mike McCoy was dismissed after Week 10 of the 2017 campaign, could not effectuate many wholesale changes to the offense midseason. But as Mike Klis of 9News.com writes, Musgrave is installing an almost completely different offense this year. “Yeah, it’s pretty much all different,” Musgrave said.

Denver ranked 27th in the league in scoring last season, and everyone from the front office down believed that McCoy’s complex system was a big reason for that, although the team’s offense has been in a funk since the second half of the 2014 season. However, the Broncos hope that Case Keenum will bring much-needed stability to the quarterback position, and that Musgrave’s more streamlined offense — which was developed along with GM John Elway, head coach Vance Joseph, and personnel advisor Gary Kubiak — will lead to improved results in 2018.

Now let’s take look at a few other AFC notes and rumors:

  • Although Tom Brady has not announced when he will return to the Patriots, Ben Volin of the Boston Globe, just like owner Robert Kraft, expects him to be present for the team’s mandatory minicamp this week. Brady’s backups, Brian Hoyer and Danny Etling, have gotten increased work in Brady’s absence, and it remains unclear as to how Brady will be received by head coach Bill Belichick when he returns. While Brady will likely not have much trouble making up for lost time, his absence has created plenty of buzz in the NFL world, and it is not helping the already palpable tension between him and his coach.
  • Mike Reiss of ESPN.com says Patriots second-year TE Jacob Hollister, who made the team as a UDFA last year, has added some noticeable weight and strength and has looked good in OTAs. Hollister will compete for No. 3 TE reps with free agent signee Troy Niklas, who comes with a better draft pedigree but who has not done much in his first few professional seasons.
  • Jets CEO Christopher Johnson‘s pro-player stance on the national anthem issue will likely not be a major factor when it comes to luring free agents, but Rich Cimini of ESPN.com says it is suggestive of a player-friendly environment, which could be a selling point if a player has narrowed his choice to a couple of teams. In the same piece, Cimini notes that the team is rededicating itself to a physical and prominent running game, which free agent signee Isaiah Crowell will lead, and that Quincy Enunwa still expects to be ready for the start of training camp.
  • Steelers‘ 2018 second-round choice James Washington is the presumptive favorite to assume the team’s No. 3 WR job following the draft-day trade of Martavis Bryant. But as Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com writes, Justin Hunter — a former second-round pick of the Titans whose star never rose like some expected — has been getting a few first-team reps during this year’s OTAs, and he is making the most of them. Hunter, like Bryant, is a lanky deep threat capable of making plays downfield, and he hopes to become a consistent target for Ben Roethlisberger.
  • Both Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap are entering the final year of their respective contracts, and as Paul Dehner Jr. of the Cincinnati Enquirer notes, the Bengals clearly want to keep Atkins around long-term. Whether or not they want to keep Dunlap could hinge not only on the performance of the young defensive lineman already on the roster, but on next year’s crop of rookies. 2019 is already being labeled “the year of the defensive lineman,” and if the 2019 crop of collegiate prospects lives up to its billing, Cincinnati could be perfectly content to let Dunlap walk. We learned yesterday that Dunlap would end his short-lived holdout and report to the team.
  • In the same piece linked above, Dehner names Bengals‘ 2018 fifth-round choice Darius Phillips as the late-round pick who has stood out the most thus far. Phillips has been deployed as a slot corner in spring practices and has looked sharp and instinctive. He also has been getting a shot at punt returner, as he is reportedly electric with the ball in his hands.

Bengals Sign Three Draft Picks

The Bengals signed four draft picks yesterday, and they’ve inked three more rookies today. Paul Dehner Jr. of the Cincinnati Enquirer reports (via Twitter) that Cincy has signed three players: second-round safety Jessie Bates, fourth-round running back Mark Walton, and fifth-round cornerback Darius Phillips.

Bates, who was taken with the 54th pick, is the most notable name on the list. The Wake Forest product finished his sophomore season with 77 tackles, six tackles for loss, and one interception. During the 2016 campaign, the safety had 100 tackles and five interceptions. The Bengals had been eyeing a cover safety, and Bates’ versatiltiy should help him get on the field. The 21-year-old is projected to play behind starters Shawn Williams and George Iloka to begin the year.

Following a 1,000-yard, 14-touchdown season in 2016, Walton’s 2017 campaign was cut short due to an ankle injury. The Miami product ultimately compiled 428 rushing yards and three touchdowns on 56 carries in only five games. Walton has also shown some talent catching the ball, hauling in 56 receptions during his three seasons. He’ll likely serve as the Bengals’ third running back behind Joe Mixon and Giovani Bernard.

During his time at Western Michigan, Phillips set the FBS record with 12 return touchdowns. He’s a candidate to return kicks and punts in Cincinnati, and he’ll serve as a depth cornerback piece (alongside fellow fifth-round rookie Darius Phillips).

The Bengals have now signed seven of their 11 draft picks. That leaves first-round center Billy Price, third-round defensive end Sam Hubbard, third-round linebacker Malik Jefferson, and seventh-round receiver Auden Tate unsigned.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.