Jacob Hollister

Extra Points: Gordon, Pats, Lee, Giants, Lions

In a development that’s sure to prompt thousands of early phone alarms Sunday morning, Melvin Gordon has been downgraded to questionable. The Chargers‘ top threat is now a true game-time decision to play against the Titans in London, Adam Schefter of ESPN.com tweets. Considering this is an 8:30am CT game, this will obviously test the commitment of Gordon’s North American-based fantasy owners while putting the Bolts down one of their best players. Gordon was a limited participant in Friday’s practice, but as ESPN’s Eric Williams notes (on Twitter), wasn’t listed on the injury report until Saturday. A hamstring malady places Gordon’s availability for Week 7 in question. The Chargers took precautions against a Gordon absence by promoting Detrez Newsome from their practice squad. Since finishing his first two NFL seasons on IR, Gordon has played in 22 straight games and emerged as one of the league’s best backs.

Here’s the latest from around the league:

  • The Cowboys will have the services of Sean Lee on Sunday against the Redskins. Lee is not on Dallas’ injury report for its game against Washington. He missed the past three games because of a hamstring strain, opening the door for first-round pick Leighton Vander Esch to log plenty of playing time. Vander Esch responded and enters Week 7 as Pro Football Focus’ No. 2 overall linebacker. Lee, Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith will split time in Dallas’ nickel package, Todd Archer of ESPN.com notes.
  • A disastrous Giants start will result in more changes to their maligned offensive line. Big Blue will bench free agent guard pickup Patrick Omameh and move center John Greco to guard on Monday night, Dan Duggan of The Athletic reports (subscription required). Former Chargers starting center Spencer Pulley will move into the role of Giants first-string snapper, Duggan adds. Omameh suffered a knee injury in practice this week, but Duggan notes this decision was made prior to that occurring. PFF slots the former Jaguars starter as its No. 67 guard (out of 73 full-time players at this position). He’s signed to a three-year, $15MM deal. Pulley, who started all 16 games for the Chargers last season, landed in New York via post-preseason waiver claim. Pulley will join Greco and right tackle Chad Wheeler as replacement starters for this year’s Giants front.
  • Despite logging three limited practices this week, Ziggy Ansah will not return for the Lions on Sunday. Detroit declared its top pass rusher out for a fifth straight game. The franchise-tagged defensive end said (via Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press) like he felt like he could play, but the Lions will continue to soldier on without him. He’s been trying to surmount a shoulder injury since exiting in Week 1 because of it.
  • T.J. Lang, however, will return to the Lions’ lineup. The veteran guard missed two games because of a concussion and sought medical advice from several doctors, per Kyle Meinke of MLive.com. While Lang’s return will be a welcome sight for Lions fans, Meinke does not expect Detroit to keep him around in 2019. The final year of Lang’s Lions deal comes with an $11.7MM cap hit. It would save the Lions $9MM if they cut Lang, for whom they authorized a $9.5MM-AAV deal in 2017.
  • Rob Gronkowski is almost certainly going to miss the Patriots-Bears game, with ankle and back trouble keeping the all-world tight end home after his team departed for Chicago. But the Patriots will also be without backup Jacob Hollister, the team announced. This leaves Dwayne Allen as the only healthy tight end available. The former Colt has one catch this season. The Pats still haven’t declared Gronk out, which would make for an interesting sequence of events were he to play without boarding the team plane.

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.

AFC Notes: Dolphins, Pats, Dupree

Dolphins QB Ryan Tannehill believes the team’s 2017 offense will be the best he has ever played with, and James Walker of ESPN.com agrees with him. On paper, Miami does boast a great deal of talent at the skill positions, but as Walker observes, the Dolphins still have some depth problems. Jay Ajayi was a revelation in 2016, but what happens if he should go down with an injury, or if he needs to be spelled from time to time as the season progresses? Could Kenyan Drake or Damien Williams step up? And can Leonte Carroo be counted on to complement Kenny Stills, Jarvis Landry, and DeVante Parker, or even carry the load if one of those players should get hurt? Will Mike Pouncey stay healthy for a full season. Of course, every team can ask itself similar questions, but for the Dolphins’ offense to take a step forward this year, it will need to stay healthy or else get contributions from unlikely sources.

Now for more from the AFC:

  • As Mike Reiss of ESPN.com observes, the Patriots don’t have many major position battles, but one to keep an eye on is at backup tight end. Of course, Rob Gronkowski and Dwayne Allen are entrenched in the top spots, but given Gronk’s health issues, the No. 3 TE could end up playing a significant role. As it currently stands, Matt Lengel and James O’Shaughnessy will compete with UDFAs Jacob Hollister and Sam Cotton for the job.
  • Steelers LB Bud Dupree was drafted with the thought that he could become the next great Pittsburgh pass rusher, and given the way he performed down the stretch in 2016, the team believes the third-year pro is ready to make the leap. As Joe Rutter of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review points out, Dupree did not start his first game in 2016 until Week 14 — he began the year on injured reserve and was slowly eased back into action — but in that Week 14 matchup, Dupree played all but one snap and racked up 2.5 sacks (he ended the regular season with 4.5 sacks). He also recorded a half-sack in the playoffs while playing all but three snaps, so he appears primed for a breakout in 2017.
  • The Browns finished 1-15 last season, and most think they will be lucky to get to six or seven wins in 2017, but Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com says head coach Hue Jackson is not on a short leash. The team’s front office realizes it was again looking at a multi-year overhaul when it hired Jackson, and Jackson will get a chance to see it through (assuming he wants to, of course).
  • Some are wondering why Chad Henne is still on the Jaguars roster even though he does not have a pass attempt since 2014, but Ryan O’Halloran of the Florida Times-Union has a succinct answer. O’Halloran says, “Henne has experience in many offenses. He has experience working with new coordinator Nathaniel Hackett. And he has accepted being a sounding board for Blake Bortles. That’s why [he] is here.” Of course, as we heard last month, second-year player Brandon Allen could unseat Henne with an impressive preseason.

Extra Points: Kizer, Moore, Patriots, Jackson

We recently heard that the Browns‘ staring QB job is Cody Kessler‘s to lose, and while that still might be true, the team selected DeShone Kizer in the second round of this year’s draft for a reason, and Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer says the Notre Dame product demonstrated superior physical skills during the first week of OTAs, especially with respect to arm strength and mobility. Cabot also says Kizer is picking up the offense quickly, and even if he does not start Week 1, he will get his chance early on in the season. Hue Jackson has spent more time with Kizer and will continue to do so, while quarterbacks coach David Lee will have a bigger role with Kessler, Brock Osweiler and Kevin Hogan, per Cabot.

I want to make sure I have my hand on him as much as I can,” Jackson said, via Cabot, of coaching Kizer. “I will continue to do so. I have to find out probably more about [Kizer] than I do any of the guys. He’s not going to get too far away from me, I know that. He’s done a good job. He just has to keep getting better. He’s improved from day to day.”

Here’s more from around the league.

  • With only four draft picks, the Patriots allocated a considerable amount of funds to their UDFAs. The Pats guaranteed $415K to their 19-man UDFA class, according to Mike Reiss of ESPN.com. Reiss pointed this out after Mike Zimmer revealed the Vikings spent $192,500 on their 13-man class, which the coach said was the most in his four years. The Packers, meanwhile, guaranteed their 20-man pool just $63K. The Pats were aggressive with possible late-round picks that slipped out of the draft in BYU linebacker Harvey Langi — who took up a sizable portion of New England’s total with a $100K base salary guarantee and $15K signing bonus — and Wyoming tight end Jacob Hollister, Reiss reports.
  • Cowboys 11th-year quarterbacks coach Wade Wilson would be on board with the team bringing in competition for Kellen Moore, who is entering his sixth season but has just three career games (all with the 2015 Cowboys) to his name. “I do think that we need to create competition for him, and that’s at every position, but especially at the quarterback position,” Wilson said, via Matt Galatzan of Scout.com. “So because he hasn’t played, if there’s a veteran out there that we want to bring in and compete against him, I’d be all for that, but if not, I feel very comfortable about him going out there and playing.” The Cowboys were in on Josh McCown but didn’t come close to matching the Jets’ offer. They signed Moore, who is coming off a season-ending injury, to a one-year, $775K deal in March.
  • Lamar Jackson dazzled the college football world last year, but Louisville’s Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback doesn’t strike NFL.com’s Bucky Brooks as a polished passer ready to make an NFL impact in that area yet. While Brooks described Jackson (1,570 rushing yards, 21 touchdowns) as a more explosive runner than recent dual-threat prodigies Marcus Mariota or Robert Griffin III, he needs to improve upon his footwork, passing mechanics and defensive diagnoses to elevate into a franchise-type passing prospect. Both CBS and the Sporting News had Jackson as a first-round pick in their way-too-early 2018 mocks.
  • Brooks also heard from an NFC scout that Penn State running back Saquon Barkley‘s early hype is justified going into what most expect will be his final college season. The anonymous evaluator viewed the junior Nittany Lion as a player who is as “complete as they come” at this position. This follows an NFL exec saying Barkley could be the best running back prospect in a decade.

Rory Parks contributed to this report.

Patriots Add 19 UDFAs

Along with the previously reported signings of BYU linebacker Harvey Langi and Central Florida defensive back D.J. Killings, the Patriots announced 17 other undrafted free agent pickups Friday. Here they are: