With all 32 teams in the thick of the preseason, NFL.com's network of reporters collects the hottest news and notes from across the league, including:
But first, one of the league's top running backs tells Jim Trotter why he feels forgotten, and why he'll be better than ever in 2018 ...
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- On his first carry from scrimmage in 11 months, Cardinals running back David Johnson burst through the middle of the Chargers' defense for 14 yards last week. Then, as if to show it was no fluke, Johnson took a handoff on the ensuing play and burst through the middle of the line for another 14 yards.
Officially, the carries meant nothing, because they came during the preseason. Unofficially, they meant everything, because the 6-foot-1, 224-pound Johnson wants to reintroduce himself as one the game's best backs after missing the final 15 games of last season with a dislocated wrist.
If it sounds strange that a player would feel the need to reintroduce himself less than two years after leading the NFL and setting a franchise record with 2,118 yards from scrimmage (1,239 on the ground, 879 through the air), it speaks to not only the fast pace and transient nature of the league, but also Johnson's mindset heading into this season.
"He's incredibly hungry," said teammate Patrick Peterson. "You can tell how much he wants it, and he looks better than he ever did before the injury. He doesn't talk about it, but I saw him working as hard as he ever has in the offseason, as far as in the weight room and trying to learn as much as he can about the new offense from [QB Sam Bradford]."
Johnson isn't one to make attention-seeking statements off the field. He handles his business with poise and professionalism. Consequently, it raised a few eyebrows five days ago when the fourth-year pro reposted a video that begins with him walking off the field injured, with Jay-Z's "Public Service Announcement" playing beneath the images. The track opens as follows:
Fellow Americans, it is with the utmost pride and sincerity that I present this recording, as a living testament and recollection of history in the making during our generation.
The video then shows highlights of Johnson's most memorable plays, one after the other. When Johnson reposted the video, he wrote "Seemed to have forgotten about me" and included a thinking-face emoji.
"It's bothering him, and it boiled to the top," said Arizona wideout Larry Fitzgerald. "When you're great at what you do and you play in Arizona, you're in obscurity for most of your career and all you hear about is the other guys. Just because you're not on the East Coast and you don't play in nationally televised games, they don't respect your body of work. I can definitely relate to how he might feel. I've struggled with that at times in my career."
Said Johnson on Saturday night: "I definitely feel like people seem to have forgotten about me. You hear people talking about Todd Gurley, Zeke Elliott and Lev Bell -- and they're great backs. But then you notice that you're not hearing your name or people are not talking about you."
Johnson didn't post the video to make a statement -- "I just thought it was hype" -- but he believes the lyrics could apply to him and the upcoming season, as far as history in the making. Consider: In 2015, he scored a rookie-franchise-record 13 touchdowns and became the first player in league history to score as a runner, receiver and kick returner in his first two career games. In 2016, he set franchise marks for yards from scrimmage, touchdowns (20) and rushing touchdowns (16), and he established a league record with at least 100 yards from scrimmage in each of the first 15 games of a season.
What can we expect this year?
"Definitely a better No. 31 than in 2016," Johnson said, referring to his jersey number. "You can expect a guy who is going to be able to do that stuff and more."
One of the first things new offensive coordinator Mike McCoy did was review Cardinals game tapes from 2016 and how Johnson was used. In particular, he wanted to know the routes where Johnson excelled and which plays were tailored to his varied skill set.
"I've told him that this is going to develop over time," McCoy said. "We have to see in person where he fits in our system and what he can do and what he's good at, then go from there. One thing I do know is that David can do it all. He's talented. He'll be fun to work with."
Johnson is entering the final year of his rookie contract and is seeking a new deal. The process has been delayed while general manager Steve Keim serves a five-week suspension for a DUI arrest. But Johnson says he is "optimistic" things will work out sooner than later. In the meantime, he's eager to leave last year in vapor trails.
"I really can't compare it to anything I've been through," he said. "You never want to have that feeling that everything you did in the offseason -- all of OTAs and minicamps and training camp -- mean nothing because you get hurt in the first game and don't play a single snap the rest of the year. You can't really put into words. I felt like I wasn't even a Cardinal. I felt like I wasn't even an NFL player because I wasn't practicing or preparing for games."
Said Fitzgerald: "He's always been motivated, but he's got a lot of things that can motivate him now: missing a year ... wanting a contract ... and wanting his respect. That's good for him and even better for us."
NOTES FROM AROUND THE REST OF THE LEAGUE
CHICAGO BEARS: Rookie linebacker starting a trend?Bears rookie LB Roquan Smith might have started a trend. Smith, the eighth overall pick in April's draft, held out for 29 days. The stalemate stemmed, in part, from a dispute over the language within his contract that pertained to the Bears being able to reclaim guaranteed money if Smith is suspended due to the NFL's new helmet rules. Veteran Chicago LB Danny Trevathan, who has been fined in the past, believes players in the future will hold out just as Smith did because of the new rule.
Trevathan said in a very politically correct fashion that everybody won and it's all in the past now. But he added that, in the future, making sure the proper language is in his contracts will now be something he fights for.
"I'm gonna be talking," Trevathan said with a smile. "I'm definitely going to put it in there. Yeah, implement some stuff. Just a little fine-tuning. On the field, you got to fine-tune some things. Upstairs, you gotta fine-tune some things."
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CLEVELAND BROWNS: Not sweating heated exchange between top assistants. The dynamic of Browns defensive coordinator Gregg Williams and offensive coordinator Todd Haley being on the same staff was fascinating even before "Hard Knocks" documented a coaches meeting and before Williams and Haley had a heated exchange on the field during practice this week.
How does it work with those two strong personalities as coach Hue Jackson's top lieutenants?
"It works," Jackson told me after the practice exchange Monday. "At the end of the day, I still get to say, 'Stop.' I think they both respect me and when I say 'enough's enough.' But that's going to happen. This is football. That happens from time to time. We don't want it every day, but it's going to happen every now and then."
"The linebacker -- I think Jamie Collins flashed some things in the first preseason game where he's coming back (from injury). He's had a really nice camp so far," Dorsey said. "I think the growth of Myles Garrett will be very important. I can't wait to see him. I can't wait to see more reps out of (safety) Jabrill Peppers. The acquisition of (safety) Damarious Randall -- I think that was very important. It fits the true free safety model that helps Gregg Williams' defense roll. I like the way that the young guys have stepped up and played in terms of the draft picks, and I like the competitiveness of the positional battles going on right now."
Garrett missed five games last year, four to an ankle injury and one more later because of a concussion, but it wasn't just lost time that held him back. Garrett said he dedicated himself this offseason to becoming "more proficient" at a variety of moves.
"My arsenal is different," the 22-year-old said. "I can come after you in different ways."
Garrett said he watched a lot of nine-time Pro Bowler Julius Peppers this offseason, and not just because the 38-year-old veteran is one of the most dominant to play defensive end. Though Peppers is bigger (6-foot-7, 295 pounds) than Garrett (6-4, 272), the younger player said he sees a similar frame.
"We both have that big, athletic build. We both played basketball, we can run with anyone and we can drop back," Garrett said.
"I'd like to put on a little show for him," Garrett said with a grin.
Garrett is generally soft-spoken and has many interests beyond football. (Last year, he told us his go-to music was that of Marvin Gaye and Dean Martin. He spoke of his love of poetry on "Hard Knocks" this week, and he's talked at length about wanting to fund dinosaur fossil digs one day.) So, no, he is not a trash talker of the Jalen Ramsey variety. But he is still definitely a young man who embraces his confidence.
On his first official day in the NFL, when asked about which AFC North quarterback he was most excited to face, he mentioned two-time Super Bowl winner Ben Roethlisberger and freely said he wanted to "chop him down." They never actually faced off, as Garrett missed the Week 1 Browns-Steelers matchup and Roethlisberger missed the Week 17 one. Nevertheless, this year, the Browns video staff closed a (hysterical) player parody of "The Office" with Garrett shredding a picture of ... Roethlisberger.
"You have to have some fun playing this game," Garrett said, with a shrug. "Besides, the worst thing they can do is hit me."
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HOUSTON TEXANS: Encouraging early signs from Deshaun Watson. The Texans gave Watson five snaps in the preseason opener against the Chiefs, and he threw only one pass. It was enough for the team to accomplish its goal of getting Watson on and off the field without any issues as he continues to work his way back from a torn ACL suffered in practice after his seventh game last season.
O'Brien indicated Watson would see more time on Saturday against the Niners, though it doesn't sound like it'll be a significant increase in snaps.
The Texans have liked what they've seen from Watson on the field in camp. The refrain from those in the organization is that if you didn't know Watson was coming back from significant knee surgery, you wouldn't be able to tell from watching him. He looks as smooth as ever while scrambling and throwing on the run, and his mechanics in the pocket have been excellent.
O'Brien tempered expectations a bit for Watson by noting this year is a continuation of his rookie season because, while he was sensational in seven games of action, it still was only seven games. Watson agreed he has plenty of work to do, though he said he is "light years [ahead of] last year" at this point.