The Schein Nine  

 

Sam Bradford highlights camp risers; Jets, Bills on the decline

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They say some things never change.

I say the people who say that have never watched football.

There are notable developments all over the NFL landscape, some positive, some negative.

Here are a few of the things that really stand out in mid-August -- but also pertain to the bigger picture of the 2015 season. Call it a preseason progress report, Schein Nine style:

PROGRESS

1) Sam Bradford, QB, Philadelphia Eagles

I might have to retire my joke that Bradford is akin to "Big Foot," as we've had consistent sightings of the new Eagles quarterback at training camp. And he's looked the part of a viable starting QB. While the former fact is a welcome change, considering Bradford's extensive injury history, the latter can't be considered a surprise. Bradford, if healthy, is a great fit for Chip Kelly's offense. That he's practicing without a bulky, restrictive brace on his surgically repaired knee is noteworthy.

The last time we saw Bradford in regular-season action, he was playing his best football at the NFL level. Through the first seven games of the 2013 campaign, the former No. 1 overall pick had 14 touchdown passes against just four interceptions and boasted career highs in completion percentage (60.7) and passer rating (90.9). Of course, that season came to an abrupt end for Bradford when he tore his left ACL for the first time -- and the 2014 campaign was a complete wash, as Bradford re-tore the same ACL in the preseason. But alas, don't forget the promise he showed in the first half of '13.

Let's not minimize the potential impact here: With a revamped Eagles team that is better than last year's 10-win version, a healthy campaign from Bradford would send Philly soaring to the top of the NFC East.

2) Ameer Abdullah, RB, Detroit Lions

This cat is the talk of Lions camp -- and for good reason. Detroit wisely scooped up the Nebraska back with the 54th overall pick in this year's draft, and he is turning heads left and right. Detroit Free Press scribe Dave Birkett sums it up nicely: "After Calvin Johnson, who makes at least one amazing catch per practice, Abdullah has been the most eye-popping player in the first week of training camp and it isn't particularly close."

The Lions shouldn't even feign a running back competition. Abdullah, who rushed for 3,301 yards and 28 touchdowns in his last two seasons as a Cornhusker, should get the ball 20 times a game and provide needed balance to the Matthew Stafford-led offense. It wouldn't surprise me to see Abdullah in the mix for Offensive Rookie of the Year.

3) Marcus Mariota, QB, Tennessee Titans

The Titans rookie has been basically flawless in his first training camp, admirably protecting the football while dazzling with his knowledge of the playbook and incredible skill. I never quite grasped the criticism of Mariota during the pre-draft process. He's smart, he's gifted and he's flat-out electric.

After years of mind-numbing blandness, Titans fans have a QB who provides sizzle and plenty of hope for the future. I think Mariota is the franchise quarterback this team has been looking for since the end of Steve McNair's tenure. With Mariota and Ken Whisenhunt leading the charge, Tennessee will be solid going forward.

4) Eric Berry, SS, Kansas City Chiefs

A couple of weeks ago, I penned a Schein Nine on the NFL folks I'm rooting for in 2015. Not surprisingly, Berry topped the list. What a great story, with the safety returning to the practice field less than eight months after being diagnosed with Hodgkin's Lymphoma.

On Wednesday, we received more great news: Berry is indeed going to play in the Chiefs' preseason opener Saturday night in Arizona. We've always known Berry is a talented dude. Now we can all marvel at his inspiring resiliency.

REGRESS

5) Dallas Cowboys RBs

Every game, all season

Gus Johnson gets the start for Dallas in its first preseason game. No, not the excitable announcer. The undrafted rookie out of Stephen F. Austin. Joseph Randle, Darren McFadden and Lance Dunbar are all hurt. (Honestly, relying on the oft-injured McFadden was a foolish premise to begin with.)

This all goes back to DeMarco Murray leaving for Philadelphia, with Dallas apparently content to rush just about anyone behind its imposing offensive line. I've questioned this approach all along. Tony Romo just enjoyed his most efficient season ever, thanks to the balance provided by Murray, the 2014 Offensive Player of the Year. What kind of domino effect will Murray's absence have on the 35-year-old quarterback -- and Dallas' offense as a whole? I fear the 'Boys will get back to their haphazard, pass-happy ways, which are counterproductive.

6) New York Jets

Between Sheldon Richardson's off-the-field nonsense and Geno Smith getting sucker-punched to the sideline for six to 10 weeks, Todd Bowles' first training camp is not exactly off to a flying start.

When reserve linebacker IK Enemkpali punched the Jets QB, the resulting broken jaw significantly set back Gang Green. With a capable offensive coordinator (Chan Gailey) and a bona fide No. 1 receiver (Brandon Marshall) joining the fold, Geno appeared poised to even out his play after two roller-coaster seasons to start his NFL career. Well, not so fast. Now Ryan Fitzpatrick takes over. We know the Fitzpatrick story. He's a backup for a reason. Bill O'Brien let him go -- opting instead for Ryan Mallett and Brian Hoyer -- for a reason.

This incident has "Same Old Jets" written all over it. Not the way Bowles wanted to start his tenure in NYC.

7) Buffalo Bills

So what happens when you punch a teammate in the face and get cut? Well, naturally, you get claimed by Rex Ryan and the Bills.

Apparently Rex hasn't learned from what doomed him in New York: bad characters and unnecessary drama. Rex now employs Enemkpali, Richie Incognito and Percy Harvin, who was chased off by the Seahawks for being a bad seed.

Another thing that doomed Rex in New York? Horrendous quarterback play. In Buffalo, Rex has Matt Cassel, Tyrod Taylor and EJ Manuel. That's a nightmare -- as we've been hearing throughout camp.

8) Cam Newton, QB, Carolina Panthers

On Monday, Newton got into a scuffle with cornerback Josh Norman that led to both players rolling around on the turf, with teammates forced to separate them. Just another training camp fight -- no big deal, right?

Wrong.

Two months ago, Newton signed a five-year, $103.8 million contract extension. He's clearly the face of the franchise in Carolina. His actions on Monday -- and the justification/complete lack of regret on Tuesday -- tell me he doesn't understand his outsized importance to his team. Sure, no damage was done in the dust-up. But what if Cam had broken his hand? There's just no reason for Newton to unnecessarily put himself in harm's way. Do you see Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers, Andrew Luck, Russell Wilson or Tom Brady doing this?

Leave the quarreling to those guys who aren't wearing red jerseys, Cam. Starting quarterbacks just can't be so uninhibited.

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9) Todd Gurley, RB, St. Louis Rams

The No. 10 overall pick won't play a snap this preseason. And according to NFL Media insider Ian Rapoport, it appears that the Rams rookie won't see the field in the "first couple games" of the regular season, either.

Don't get me wrong: It's smart for St. Louis to take it slow. Gurley is still recovering from last November's torn ACL, and the Rams must protect their investment. But Gurley's the kind of freakish talent who can instantly impact an NFL team -- and not having him in the early going really hurts St. Louis' chances of getting off on the right foot.

Follow Adam Schein on Twitter @AdamSchein.

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