The Schein Nine  

 

DeMarco Murray, Kevin White progressing; Bills D regressing

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The old expression is tried and true:

Nothing stays the same -- except for the Minnesota Vikings.

OK, I made that up. But it applies.

The NFL is wild and unpredictable. And August is full of surprising developments. Some players turn heads in camp, building excitement for their prospects in the coming season. Others, not so much.

It's time for our annual August accounting of progression, regression and stasis, Schein Nine style:

PROGRESS

1) DeMarco Murray, RB, Tennessee Titans: Sometimes you forget, but this guy was the 2014 Offensive Player of the Year. He led the league in rushing and was a driving force behind the best team the Dallas Cowboys have fielded since George W. Bush was president. Murray is less than two years removed from that career campaign. Feels like a lifetime ago, doesn't it?

When Murray left Dallas for Philadelphia in free agency -- a move that served neither Murray nor the Cowboys well -- it was a total disaster. Chip Kelly never used the running back correctly (see: north-south) and never gave him the requisite carries. Murray didn't exactly handle it well, complaining (albeit somewhat understandably) to owner Jeffrey Lurie on the flight home from the team's best win of the season in New England. The marriage needed to end -- even with Chip getting fired -- and it did, with a trade to Tennessee.

I loved the trade at the time and love it even more now that we're in training camp. Murray, who seems rejuvenated, is a perfect fit in Mike Mularkey's smashmouth attack. Titans.com reporter Jim Wyatt recently wrote that the 28-year-old back "continues to impress" with sharp cuts and smooth running.

Even with rookie RB Derrick Henry getting burn, I think Murray will regain his status as one of the best runners in the league.

2) Kevin White, WR, Chicago Bears: I can't wait to see the Bears' 2015 first-round pick hit the NFL gridiron for the very first time in Thursday night's preseason opener against the Broncos. White, who missed his entire rookie season with a shin injury, has turned heads and made headlines for all the right reasons this training camp. And maybe you forgot the immense buzz during the pre-draft process back in 2015. While I never bought the hype that White was better than classmate Amari Cooper -- hype that many respectable analysts were selling -- the West Virginia product was heralded as a game-breaking receiver and fantastic competitor. Bears fans -- and, most especially, Jay Cutler -- never got a glimpse of White's potential for greatness. Until now.

This 6-foot-3, 215-pounder -- who, by the way, blazed a 4.35-second 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine -- is going to be a huge factor for Jay Cutler in the passing game. I think it's one of the most underrated subplots in the entire league coming into this season.

And I loved how White stood up for Cutler after former Bear/current loudmouth Martellus Bennett lambasted his old quarterback. Pretty heady stuff from a guy who has never played an NFL down.

3) Robert Griffin III, QB, Cleveland Browns: Now that is how you run a fake quarterback competition!

Hue Jackson deserves credit for not messing around and naming RGIII the starter the week of the first preseason game. If you know, you know -- no reason to wait until after the third preseason game, like many coaches have done in similar situations.

Now, I still believe the Browns fouled up by not staying in the No. 2 draft slot and taking Carson Wentz. But that's in the past. And Griffin made the most of the offseason workouts and start of camp, looking healthy and acting like a leader while absorbing Jackson's offense. RGIII, who seemingly did everything wrong in Washington and rightly was jettisoned, looks like he has learned.

"Since he was signed back in March, Robert has made it clear through his actions that he is willing to do everything that has been asked of him to earn this role," Jackson said in the Browns' announcement of RGIII winning the job. "Throughout this process he has gained the respect from his teammates, the coaching staff and the entire organization that is necessary for him to lead our offense and really the entire team."

There's still a variable quotient attached to how he will play. But Browns fans have to be impressed with what they have seen thus far in terms of both tangibles and intangibles. That's progress.

4) Aaron Donald, DT, Los Angeles Rams: The love that Donald received in the first episode of "Hard Knocks" was much-deserved.

"I don't think I've ever seen a kid like 99," said Mike Singletary, now a defensive assistant with the Rams. "I've never seen a kid like him."

No surprise seeing this guy get that kinda praise. He is an absolute game wrecker, as evidenced by his 11 sacks and 69 tackles last season. (Remember, he's an interior D-lineman.) You can easily make the case that Donald, with the J.J. Watt injury, enters this season as the leading candidate for Defensive Player of the Year.

REGRESS

5) Buffalo Bills' defense: I really liked the Bills' first two draft selections. Now, one is done for the year and the other is out until at least midseason. Yikes. This is awful news in a hot-seat year for the head coach filled with hot air, Rex Ryan.

Reggie Ragland was a second-round steal -- exactly the kind of instinctive tackling machine Buffalo needed in the middle of this defense. Now the linebacker's going under the knife with a torn ACL. Ouch.

In late April, the Bills loudly, arrogantly and ignorantly boasted that -- contrary to many reports -- first-round pick Shaq Lawson would be ready to rock in Year 1. By mid-May, the pass rusher was ticketed for shoulder surgery. On Wednesday, ESPN's Adam Schefter reported that Lawson is "not expected to return until October at earliest."

This Bills defense -- this Bills team -- will take a step back in 2016. And Buffalo will need a new coach for 2017.

6) Victor Cruz, WR, New York Giants: I don't believe the Giants have legit depth behind Odell Beckham Jr. at receiver, not when they're relying on the oft-injured Cruz. Yes, Sterling Shepard has shown plenty of promise, but he's a rookie second-rounder. And in the modern NFL, you need more than two capable pass catchers, anyway.

While Cruz was quick to dismiss the seriousness of groin tightness that forced him to leave practice on Tuesday, I completely disagree. Cruz hasn't played in an NFL game since October of 2014. Color me skeptical. And quite concerned.

7) Josh Norman, CB, Washington Redskins: It's well-documented how much I loved Washington's pickup of Norman, a top-three corner last season. (I still can't believe Dave Gettleman and the Panthers let him go for nothing!) But Norman's Redskins tenure has gotten off to a rather ignominious start.

First, Norman was getting burnt by DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon early in training camp. Not a huge deal, but enough to warrant local and national chatter. Then Norman inked a deal to contribute to the NFL on FOX pregame show. And good for him, starting a broadcasting career. Brandon Marshall, my "Inside the NFL" colleague, was nominated for an Emmy last year for his outstanding work on our show. But Marshall informed his coaches, like you would do with your boss. Not Josh Norman. Jay Gruden was completely caught off guard when peppered by the press about Norman's new gig. That's inexplicable. And a terrible job by Norman.

8) Miami Dolphins' run game: Jay Ajayi has been battling a knee injury this summer. That's a problem for an organizational favorite, a guy the Dolphins were so high on that they let Lamar Miller walk in free agency. It's an even bigger problem when the other starting option is Arian Foster, a 29-year-old with an extensive injury history (having missed 23 games in the past three seasons) and a recently repaired Achilles tendon. No, I haven't even remotely bought into Adam Gase's fawning over Foster. If it was 2013, sure. But it's not.

Ryan Tannehill needs balance in the offense. This is a major, major concern.

THE SAME

9) Minnesota Vikings: Yes, the Vikings remain static -- and this is a good thing.

Now, I think the Packers are going to win the NFC North, with Jordy Nelson back and Eddie Lacy in shape. But Minnesota remains a promising group that'll again make the playoffs and appears on the verge of big things in the coming years.

I love Minnesota coach Mike Zimmer and I'm thrilled for his success. He deserved to be a head coach a long time ago. His Vikings are simply solid in every single phase. The defense is strong. Adrian Peterson is a star back. And Teddy Bridgewater should improve in Year 3.

Not a bad time to open up a new stadium, eh?

Follow Adam Schein on Twitter @AdamSchein.

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