Texans defensive tackle J.J. Watt was, before missing 13 games with a back injury last season, the best defensive player in the NFL. So will Watt be as good a player this year as he was before?
No. According to Texans coach Bill O’Brien, he’ll be better.
“I can tell you right now the guy’s going to be at the top of his game,” O’Brien told Peter King of TheMMQB.com. “He’s had a great training camp. I think he’ll be better than he was.”
Watt, who won his third career defensive player of the year award in 2015 while playing through the back injury that eventually caused him to miss most of 2016, said he can’t guarantee that O’Brien is right about that.
“I don’t know the answer to that,” he said. “I’m sure the doctors don’t know the answer. That’s the goal. But all I know is I can be as smart as I can possibly be, and that’s with practice reps, that’s with workouts, that’s with doing everything I can to make sure that for those 16 games-plus a year, I am ready to roll. I feel great and as long as we stick to the plan that we’ve got—a day off here and there, some practice reps off here and there—I think we are going to be in good shape.”
The Texans were already a playoff team without Watt last year. If Watt comes back better than ever, Houston is in very good shape.
As if on cue with the regular season drawing near, we’re starting to hear about Le'Veon Bell‘s “love of football.”
Granted, he doesn’t love it enough to show up to play in the preseason, but he loves it enough to cash those checks toward his $12.1 million franchise tender (around $712,000 a week).
According to Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com, the Steelers running back is not expected to show up in time to play in this week’s third preseason game, but is expected shortly after that. At least one teammate said he should be back before Labor Day, and Bell has been texting teammates lately to stay in the loop.
Bell has skipped all of training camp (after skipping all the OTAs and minicamps), but he can’t be fined since he hasn’t signed his contract yet. He’s been working out on his own in South Florida instead.
Perhaps enhancing his love is seeing rookie James Conner play well. The third-rounder had 20 carries for 98 yards against the Falcons, if not a Bell-like performance then one which would certainly suffice.
Titans rookie receiver Corey Davis has been week-to-week with a hamstring injury. His return could be a week or two away.
Coach Mike Mularkey said Sunday that Davis could play in the preseason finale against the Chiefs.
“On track to do that if he continues to progress like he is,” Mularkey said, via Jim Wyatt of the team’s official website. “I think he is ahead of schedule with that. . . . Obviously it would be really good for him to get into [a preseason game] but we want him for the season.”
Davis, the fifth pick in the draft, is just one of four Tennessee receivers with question marks. Tajae Sharpe remains on the PUP list; he’ll be evaluated Monday. Eric Decker missed the preseason game against Carolina with an ankle injury, and he may miss the Week Three game against the Bears. Rishard Matthews was excused from Saturday’s game for personal reasons.
Anquan Boldin played for several NFL teams. He retired on Sunday from the team with which he spent the least amount of time.
“We respect Anquan’s decision to retire from the NFL,” Bills G.M. Brandon Beane said in a release. “We appreciate the time he gave us over the past two weeks. He is one of the best receivers to play this game and we wish him and his family all the best moving forward.”
Boldin’s own statement suggests he has a higher calling than adding to a potential Hall of Fame career.
“Football in its purest form is what we all strive for as a nation,” he said. “People from all different races, religions and backgrounds working together for one shared goal. The core values taught in football are some of the most important you can learn in life. To always be there for the guy next to you and not let your fellow man down. You do whatever it takes to make sure your brother is OK.
“Football has afforded me a platform throughout my career to have a greater impact on my humanitarian work. At this time, I feel drawn to make the larger fight for human rights a priority. My life’s purpose is bigger than football.”
If Boldin has had the impact in his future pursuits that he had in football, he’ll be a tremendous success. We wish him well.
Chargers offensive tackle Tyreek Burwell left in the first half of Sunday night’s game against the Saints. When he returned to the sideline, his right hand was heavily wrapped in a club.
Burwell started in place of left tackle Russell Okung, who returned to practice on a limited basis last week as he works his way back from a sore leg.
Burwell is attempting to make the team as a swing tackle. He signed with the Chargers as an undrafted free agent in 2015 and played in 11 games his rookie season and five last season.
He and the rest of the Chargers offensive line struggled mightily against the Saints. Los Angeles allowed four sacks and six quarterback hits in the first half.
The Falcons, who had 34 sacks last season, used the 26th overall pick on Takk McKinley to help their pass rush opposite Vic Beasley. In his preseason debut, McKinley showed he plans to do just that.
McKinley entered Sunday’s game in the third quarter and got a quarterback hit in limited action as the Falcons defense had a sack and three quarterback hits.
“He was very excited to get going,” Falcons coach Dan Quinn said, via D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “He played a little bit at right end in our nickel package and a little bit on the punt return game. For him, getting his first NFL action was exciting for him.”
McKinley missed the first preseason game as he continues to work his way back from right shoulder surgery.
“I think he had a couple of pressures,” Beasley said of McKinley. “He’s starting to get acclimated with the game. Come soon, he’ll be good to go.”
In addition to drafting McKinley, the Falcons added defensive linemen Jack Crawford and Dontari Poe in free agency.
The Bills were hoping they could get away with a wide receivers room lacking “divas” by virtue of having at least one veteran presence among them.
But that guy walked out the door Sunday.
According to Jim Trotter of ESPN, wide receiver Anquan Boldin has left Bills camp today, and has informed the team he’s retiring.
The 36-year-old Boldin had signed with the Bills earlier this month, just before they traded Sammy Watkins to the Rams, and they were hoping he’d lend stability to a depth chart lacking firepower.
They’ll now have to rely on trade acquisition Jordan Matthews (once he’s healthy), rookie Zay Jones and former Raider Andre Holmes, among the inevitable newcomers.
If Boldin is indeed finished, he’s walking away from the NFL with an incredible resume already. He has 1,076 receptions (ninth on the league’s all-time list) for 13,779 yards (14th) and 82 touchdowns (23rd).
The Buccaneers claimed first-year offensive tackle Marquis Lucas off waivers from the Falcons as the team continues to churn the roster at that position.
Tampa Bay waived rookie tackle Austin Albrecht, who signed Saturday. Rookie tackle Cole Gardner was waived Saturday with an injury designation.
The Bucs are without linemen Demar Dotson and Kevin Pamphile, who are rehabbing minor injuries.
Lucas, 24, played at West Virginia, entering he league as an undrafted free agent with the Bills in 2016. Buffalo released him in the final roster cutdown, and he later joined the Vikings practice squad.
The Vikings re-signed Lucas after the season but waived him in May. He joined the Falcons in June, and Atlanta waived him Saturday.
Lucas played both tackle positions for the Mountaineers, starting 30 games in his career.
Brandon Williams has not played cornerback long, converting from running back his senior season at Texas A&M. The Cardinals made him a third-round choice last year, and he started three games last season.
Williams isn’t likely to push Justin Bethel for the starting job opposite Patrick Peterson, but he has stayed ahead of veteran Tramon Williams and seems to be improving by the day.
“Very ambitious, very hungry to get better,” Brandon Williams said, via Darren Urban of the team website. “That’s all I care about. I don’t care about media; I don’t care about the [No. 2] cornerback battle. I don’t care about none of it. I’m just here to get better every day and then show what I got on game day.”
Brandon Williams dropped an interception in the Cardinals’ 24-23 loss on Saturday night, but he played 35 defensive snaps and 11 special teams snaps and tied for the team high with five tackles while making two pass breakups.
Coach Bruce Arians said Brandon Williams played “really well.” Williams disagreed.
“I set the bar so high for myself, when I don’t make a play like that, it messes up the whole game,” Williams said, referring to his drop. “In my eyes, the game wasn’t that good. Next week, it’ll be better. I promise you that.”
Steelers defensive tackle Javon Hargrave left Sunday’s game with a concussion, the team announced.
Pittsburgh selected Hargrave in the third round of the 2016 draft out of South Carolina State. He played in 15 games as a rookie, making 27 tackles, two sacks and a forced fumble. Hargrave added eight tackles and a sack in the postseason.
The Steelers list Hargrave as the starter at nose tackle, and Leterrius Walton replaced him in the lineup.
Hargrave, 24, entered concussion protocol late last season too.
The Steelers also lost inside linebacker Steven Johnson, who injured his hamstring during Sunday’s game.
Washington activated Jordan Reed from the physically unable to perform list Sunday after he passed a physical. The Pro Bowl tight end missed training camp with an injury to his left big toe.
Reed said last week he expected to return before Washington’s third preseason game against the Bengals. He has worked on the side, running and catching passes as he becomes accustomed to wearing customized orthotics in his cleats.
“It’s been working good,” Reed said, via Stephen Czarda of the team website. “It’s helped my toe out a lot and when I tried them out it felt really good.”
Reed expects to pick up right where he left off, after he made 153 receptions for 1,638 yards and 17 touchdowns in 26 games over the past two seasons.
“I think the coaches are allowing me to rest it and allow it to heal,” Reed said. “I don’t think it will be a problem during the season because it’s starting to heal up really good right now.”
Left tackles don’t grow on trees, which is why Pete Carroll used the words “broken-hearted” when announcing George Fant will miss the season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament.
Fant, 25, started 10 games last season and would have started this season. The Seahawks used Rees Odhiambo at left tackle after Fant left the game Friday night, and Luke Joeckel previously played left tackle for the Jaguars.
Branden Albert remains a free agent after his release from the Jaguars, if he is serious about a return, but Seattle hasn’t turned that direction yet. Instead, the Seahawks will sign Tyrus Thompson, according to Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle.
Thompson, a sixth-round pick of the Vikings in 2015, spent the last five games of the 2016 season on Carolina’s practice squad. He also briefly spent time with Detroit and new Orleans.
The Panthers cut him Aug. 12.
Thompson has yet to appear in a regular-season game.
Roberto Aguayo‘s stay in Chicago might prove shorter than he had hoped. The kicker started on the wrong foot with his new team, missing a 49-yarder at Arizona on Saturday night.
“I just jumped on it,” Aguayo said, via Rich Campbell of the Chicago Tribune. “I didn’t contact it as good as I wanted to.”
The Buccaneers cut Aguayo on Aug. 12, admitting they made a mistake in trading up in the second round in 2016 to take the former Florida State kicker. He missed an extra point and a 47-yard field goal in the Bucs’ preseason opener, leading to his release.
The Bears claimed Aguayo off waivers to compete with Connor Barth. So far, so bad for Aguayo.
“At the end of the day it’s my job to get it in,” Aguayo said. “We’ll go back and work on that rhythm this week. That’s all you can say, really.”
Aguayo did hit an extra point in a 24-23 victory over the Cardinals, but Barth made his only field-goal attempt, a 42-yarder, and two extra points.
“I just slowed down and stayed smooth, and it went through,” Aguayo said of his extra point. “You’ve got to look at the positive things too. Kickoffs went well, and I’ve just got to keep going.”
Texans rookie Deshaun Watson only completed three of the 10 passes he attempted against the Patriots on Saturday night, but he ran for a touchdown and a couple of those passes went for big gains that set up 10 Houston points while he was in the game.
Both of those big gains came courtesy of long runs after the catch by wide receiver Bruce Ellington and running back D'Onta Foreman, although coach Bill O’Brien credited Watson with doing “some good things” during a night with more ups and downs than his preseason debut.
“I did a decent job,” Watson said, via the Houston Chronicle. “I did what I needed to do to try to move the ball to help the team out. There’s always things I can get better at. I’m going to watch the film and I’m going to continue to work on that.”
Tom Savage was 8-of-9 for 98 yards before giving way to Watson and there was little about either quarterback’s performance to suggest that the Texans will give serious thought to veering away from their plan to have the rookie start his NFL career as a backup.
Thirteen days before a mandated cut to 53 players, the Bengals have created three roster spots.
The most significant move comes from the decision to terminate the contract of veteran defensive tackle Brandon Thompson. A third-round pick from Clemson in 2012, Thompson appeared in 39 regular-season games. He started seven games in 2013.
A torn ACL late in 2015 resulted in Thompson spending all of 2016 on the PUP list. He immediately becomes a free agent.
The Bengals also waived receiver Karel Hamilton and running back Stanley Williams. Both were undrafted in 2017.