The Schein Nine  

 

Peyton Manning, Darren McFadden under microscope in Week 3

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Here we are in Week 3 of the NFL preseason. Yup, it's go time!

Teams use this week as the dress rehearsal for the regular season. Of course, every team has things to iron out before the show opens. Major questions remain, especially when it comes to certain players.

Here are nine guys carrying substantial question marks into the preseason's most important game:

1) Peyton Manning, QB, Denver Broncos

"I can't feel anything in my fingertips."

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That was Peyton Manning, speaking to The MMQB's Peter King and explaining that he hasn't had feeling in his fingertips since the series of neck surgeries that caused him to miss the entire 2011 season. Pretty jarring stuff. Now, he has thrown 131 touchdown passes in the three seasons since, but this speaks to a larger concern for Manning: the corroding health of his 39-year-old body.

Let's get one thing straight: Manning is an all-time great quarterback. There's clearly no disputing this. But 17 seasons deep, his body is betraying him. He wasn't healthy down the stretch last season, as a quad injury drastically impacted his play -- and led to Denver's playoff one-and-done, via a strikingly underwhelming home loss to Indianapolis. Can we really expect Manning's body to hold up through another long NFL season? Oh, and did I mention that the Broncos' offensive line is chock full o' inexperience? In Week 2 of the preseason, Denver started two rookies on the left side (tackle Ty Sambrailo and guard Max Garcia) and a center who spent last year on the practice squad (Matt Paradis). Now, on Wednesday, the Broncos wisely signed veteran Evan Mathis, who will take over for Garcia at left guard. That's a major upgrade. But Manning still has a lot of feeling out to do with all of the new faces on his O-line.

And just in case that wasn't a big enough list of concerns ... Peyton is learning a new offense, with Gary Kubiak taking over as head coach. And his first trial run in live action -- last Saturday's game against the Houston Texans -- certainly left something to be desired. Manning completed eight of his 14 passes for just 52 yards (a paltry 3.7 yards per attempt). Most importantly, all four Manning-led drives in the game ended in punts. It appears there's going to be a learning curve for everyone to grasp Kubiak's offense, and for Peyton to get comfortable performing all of his checks at the line. It will be very interesting to see where everyone's at in Saturday night's game against the San Francisco 49ers.

2) Devin McCourty, DB, New England Patriots

McCourty just got paid in the offseason for being an impactful and reliable safety. Yet, in last Saturday's game at New Orleans, McCourty lined up at cornerback. And in the postgame, the ultra-classy and team-oriented 28-year-old didn't seem too keen on the move.

"I hope it's not permanent," McCourty said, per CSN New England. "As a player, that's out of your control.

"It didn't feel great, and I don't think it looked great, so we'll see."

With Darrelle Revis gone to the Jets and Brandon Browner in New Orleans, Bill Belichick is taking a look at all of the different possibilities in his secondary. McCourty moved back to safety in Tuesday's practice, so maybe that was just a one-game trial. Super Bowl hero Malcolm Butler and Tarell Brown appear poised to start as the top two cornerbacks, with a battle still raging for the nickel spot.

The Patriots' upside in 2015: to win another Lombardi Trophy. That said, with some ambiguity in the defensive backfield -- not to mention at quarterback -- there's notable uncertainty about the defending champs.

This Friday's game against the Kelvin Benjamin-less Panthers might not be the most imposing test for the secondary, but it will still be interesting to see how Belichick deploys his troops.

3) Brandon Scherff, OG, Washington Redskins

Yes, Robert Griffin III's poor play and complete lack of pocket awareness is discouraging, but let's be honest: The Redskins' offensive line was atrocious in last Thursday's game against Detroit. It was particularly alarming seeing the fifth overall pick resemble a fifth-round selection. Scherff got completely worked over at right guard. Just look at how forcefully he's driven back by Lions DT Tyrunn Walker on this sack. Can't imagine that was fun for Scherff to relive in the film room.

As I wrote in the Schein Nine recap immediately following the first round of the 2015 NFL Draft, Scherff was a big-time reach at the No. 5 overall spot. (Still can't believe the 'Skins took him with Leonard Williams just dangling there for the picking.) Scherff needs to shore up his play. And fast. On Saturday, Scherff and Co. travel to Baltimore to face the Ravens' stout defensive front. How will the rookie guard perform against the imposing interior duo of Brandon Williams and Timmy Jernigan?

4) Darren McFadden, RB, Dallas Cowboys

He's been injured in the preseason, which can't be a surprise. After all, McFadden's logged 16 games in just one of his seven NFL seasons. He did play in this past Sunday's game against the 49ers, though, logging 4 yards on three carries. All in all, head coach Jason Garrett was not happy with the ground game after that contest.

"It was good to see those guys out there," Garrett said, via The Dallas Morning News, alluding to the fact that Dallas' backfield has been quite banged up, "but we obviously didn't run the ball real well."

No real surprise, if you ask me. With reigning Offensive Player of the Year DeMarco Murray gone to Philly, the Cowboys' RB depth chart includes the likes of Joseph Randle, Lance Dunbar, Gus Johnson and McFadden. I never would've signed McFadden in the first place, given his extensive injury history. Is he in jeopardy of not making the team? It'd certainly be nice to see him do something against the Vikings this Saturday ...

5) Devin Funchess, WR, Carolina Panthers

Kelvin Benjamin is out for the year, and that's just a brutal loss for Carolina. I liked Funchess as a second banana to Benjamin, but is he ready to take over as the team's WR1? I have my doubts, that's for sure. And it certainly doesn't help that Funchess has been limited by a hamstring injury (though he did return to practice in a limited role on Tuesday).

Hopefully, the second-round pick is able to play in Friday's game against New England, because -- fair or unfair -- he needs to prove he can be an instant-impact target for Cam Newton. There is a ton of pressure on this kid in the wake of Benjamin's injury. He needs all the preseason reps he can get.

6) Jarryd Hayne, RB/PR, San Francisco 49ers

What a story this is, with the Australian rugby star making an immediate impact on the Niners, particularly on special teams. It's highly entertaining to watch -- check out the Willie Mays impression on this 27-yard punt return. Right now, he's averaging 21.6 yards per punt return. Oh, and he's also rushed 13 times for 117 yards.

But is Hayne a lock to make the team?

I think he's a front-runner, but he's not quite there yet. A guy like Hayne doesn't have any margin for error and needs to keep proving he belongs. I hope it continues to happen Saturday night in Denver. This is just a fun guy to have in the league.

7) Davante Adams, WR, Green Bay Packers

With the crushing blow that is Jordy Nelson's season-ending knee injury, this second-year pro has been thrust into a leading role in the Packers' passing game, starting alongside Randall Cobb. Is Adams ready to deliver?

I believe he is. Mike McCarthy gushed about Adams in recent months, calling him the offseason MVP. We saw him flash plenty of talent as a rookie -- see: his dominant performance in the playoff win over Dallas -- and I think he catches 80 passes this year.

I believe the Packers are still a legit Super Bowl contender because Aaron Rodgers is the best quarterback in the game today. But Nelson was a top-five receiver. Adams has big shoes to fill. And it begins Saturday night against the Eagles.

8) Doug Martin, RB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Bucs fans had to be very enthused by the way Martin carried the rock on Monday night. With six rushes for 59 yards -- including a tackle-breaking, 30-yard scamper -- it was a throwback to Martin's 1,454-yard rookie campaign in 2012. Now, it needs to be the norm.

Jameis Winston looked much better in Week 2 of the preseason, but the rookie signal caller certainly needs help from the run game if the Buccaneers are going to surprise folks this year. Let's see what Martin can do against Mike Pettine's Browns defense on Saturday.

9) Blair Walsh, K, Minnesota Vikings

Every game, all season

As I first talked about back in June, the Vikings are my surprise pick for the playoffs. But the kicker has to make kicks.

Walsh, who signed a four-year, $14 million extension in July, has come down with a rather absurd case of the yips this August. Against the Raiders last weekend, Walsh missed all three of his field-goal attempts (including kicks of just 35 and 38 yards) and shanked an extra point for good measure.

That has to end, right? Imagine Mike Zimmer would like to see his kicker boot a few balls through the uprights in Dallas this Saturday.

Follow Adam Schein on Twitter @AdamSchein.

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