Before the Hall of Fame Game kicks off the 2016 slate of preseason action, NFL Media's network of reporters gets you up to speed with the hottest news and notes from across the league, including:
The drama surrounding the one-day holdout of Texans wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins didn't last long. The discussion about what he'll do this coming season might also not require a serious amount of speculation. Hopkins recalibrated his mind the minute he reported to the Texans earlier this week. All that matters to him today is reminding people of why he felt so grossly underpaid in the first place.
Hopkins is one year removed from a season that saw him produce career highs in receptions (111) and yards (1,521) and a single-season franchise record in receiving touchdowns (11). The addition of more skill players around the fourth-year pro -- including former Broncos quarterback Brock Osweiler -- means he should be even more dangerous than he was in 2015.
"I want to be more dominant," Hopkins said Wednesday morning. "I'm talking about making the little plays that I couldn't take advantage of, because my timing wasn't right with my quarterback. Now that I know who the quarterback is going to be, we can capitalize on those plays I left on the field."
Osweiler's presence should be critical to Hopkins, because the Texans started four different quarterbacks last season. It's hard enough for a receiver to develop reliable chemistry with just one signal caller over the course of a year. To do what Hopkins did, especially when defenses knew he was Houston's primary target every week, was downright astounding. The Texans didn't even have a dependable running attack to ease the pressure on their passing game or set up play-action opportunities.
Hopkins pushed through that challenge by telling himself it ultimately didn't matter who was playing quarterback. He was going to control what he could control, do his job as best he could and pray that the ball arrived in a spot where he could do something with it. Hopkins wound up catching seven or more passes in nine separate games last season with that approach. He surpassed the 100-yard mark six times.
"That was the hardest thing I've ever endured in football, aside from going 2-14 my rookie season," said Hopkins. "Playing with that many quarterbacks is going to be hard on any receiver. Every week, you have to change something you do, depending on the quarterback and his strengths. I wound up studying our quarterbacks as much as I studied the defensive backs on other teams."
Hopkins already has been encouraged by what he's seen from Osweiler, as they worked together and with other Texans receivers in Arizona during the offseason. The Houston coaches also have pushed Hopkins to take his game to new heights this coming fall. The Texans are hoping a collection of younger receivers -- including second-year pro Jaelen Strong and rookies Will Fuller and Braxton Miller -- can grow up quickly in an offense that needs to become more dynamic. For that to happen, Hopkins will have to be even more of a leader in the locker room and on the field.
Texans offensive coordinator George Godsey added that the expectations surrounding Hopkins have only grown as he's evolved into an elite talent.
"He's a young receiver who knows he has to still work on some things," Godsey said. "That could be how he runs certain routes or playing different positions in the offense. We want to give these players as many tools as they can handle, and that means we're going to keep challenging him. If he's doing a one-on-one drill, we're going to turn it into a two-on-one drill, because that's what he's going to be facing during the season."
The reassuring news for the Texans is that Hopkins doesn't plan on sulking about a contract that has two years left on it (and which will pay him $1.445 million this year). Owner Bob McNair publicly said that the franchise would take care of Hopkins, and general manager Rick Smith reiterated that point after practice on Wednesday.
"All he has to do is take a look around the locker room to see we take care of guys," Smith said. "All he has to do is be patient."
That clearly is what Hopkins intends to do as he moves deeper into training camp with his sights focused on this season. When asked about the holdout, he simply said, "I wasn't gone for long, and that's all behind me now. I'm on to what's in store for this season."
Those are pleasing words to the coaches and executives who wondered how bad things might get a few days ago. Now they're only pondering how far Hopkins will elevate his game with more help and hunger to aid him. -- Jeffri Chadiha
And now, the rest of this week's notes from NFL Media's reporters:
ARIZONA CARDINALS NEWS: The secret to Bruce Arians' success.Tyrann Mathieu is signed and Carson Palmer has enough weapons to legitimize the high hopes in Arizona. Cardinals linebacker Deone Bucannon told me that coach Bruce Arians has them feeling like they are the best team in the NFL. That, in turn, makes players feel like they have the best coach in the NFL. The mutual respect and swagger (a term that is a tad played out) has the Cardinals feeling like the Lombardi Trophy is theirs to seize, Bucannon said. -- Steve Wyche
DALLAS COWBOYS NEWS: Line vs. line. Watching the offensive line absolutely mop the floor with the defensive line in the first day in pads begs two question: 1) Is the O-line as good as advertised. 2) Is the D-line a dumpster fire? Early on, the answer is yes -- on both fronts. The offensive line is so good, and guards La'el Collins and Zack Martin are just physically overwhelming and gifted. The defensive line was missing DT Tyrone Crawford with a back injury, but the rest of the guys ... That said, practicing against this offensive line every day will make the defenders better; in fact, the group could eventually be decent, especially since it won't be facing a unit as strong as the one it wrangles with in practice. -- S.W.
LOS ANGELES RAMS NEWS: Jared Goff shows progress. I was with Los Angeles' old/new franchise before the full squad took the field, but the reports from Rams coaches and personnel were that Goff was much smoother and more confident taking the play call and relaying it to his teammates in the huddle, and in getting the offense to the line of scrimmage and executing the plays on schedule. He struggled with that stuff in OTAs. While that might not seem like much, it showed that Goff has put in the time to get better. Coaches were encouraged. Several of them said it "is still a process" -- words two separate sources used -- for the No. 1 overall pick, but the feeling I got was that he still is targeted to open the season as the starter. -- S.W.
OAKLAND RAIDERS NEWS: Mark Davis' talent gamble. The Raiders have received plenty of preseason hype, and owner Mark Davis seems to have bought in, as well: Though Oakland has gone 18-46 since Davis hired general manager Reggie McKenzie to overhaul a roster assembled by his late, legendary father, the team recently announced that McKenzie had been signed to a four-year extension through the end of the 2021 NFL Draft.
It remains to be seen whether the Raiders can put together their first playoff and/or winning season since the 2002 campaign -- when Oakland suffered a Super Bowl XXXVII beatdown at the hands of former coach Jon Gruden and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers -- but in the meantime, another competition rages: Each summer since his father's 2011 passing, Davis and a few of his confidantes, including former Raiders secondary studs Willie Brown and George Atkinson, have each selected the undrafted rookie they feel is most likely to make the final 53-man roster.
"I've hit it every year," Davis said last Saturday while standing between the practice fields at the team's bucolic training-camp home in the heart of California wine country. "If the guy makes the practice squad, that's OK, but if he ends up on the final roster, then you're really winning. I just come out here and watch and look for someone who pops -- who looks like an NFL player. It's first-come, first-served, but once you make the pick, you've got to stick with it."
I won't reveal Davis' 2016 sleeper -- yet -- because to do so might taint the process. Then again, it's tough not to surmise that the boss possesses somewhat of an inherent edge, especially if and when he passes on his choice to McKenzie, the man charged with making the final cuts.
Last year, for example, Davis' pick, former New Mexico defensive back SaQwan Edwards, snuck onto the final 53, only to be released the following day. Edwards, who then joined the team's practice squad, is back in camp fighting for a roster spot this year.
"My guy last year made it, and Reggie cut him the next day," Davis said, smiling. "But I still won, so Reggie obviously knew what he was doing. Why do you think he got extended?"
To this, I say two things: First, let's be very clear -- Davis was joking. And secondly, if Davis' 2016 pick fights his way onto the final 53, I won't be stunned.
Feel free to reach out via Twitter on or after cutdown day, and I'll happily reveal his name then. -- Michael Silver
PITTSBURGH STEELERS NEWS: Sticking to hard-hitting football. Nobody who passes through Pittsburgh Steelers camp can miss it: the sounds of hard hits and big collisions during practice. The Steelers may run the most physical camp in the NFL, providing a slice of what training camp used to be like when players endured two-a-days in full pads, before rules legislated such experiences out of the game. A highlight of Steelers practices -- and the unquestioned fan favorite -- is the ferocious backs-on-'backers drill, in which running backs and fullbacks seek to pass protect against onrushing linebackers.
"You need to be prepared, No. 1, and No. 2, I want to provide clarity from an evaluation standpoint," coach Mike Tomlin said Wednesday. "And I think taking our approach does both. It prepares them for the physicality that is still very much a part of our game. Blocking and tackling is never going to leave our game. And we've got 90 guys out here, many of which are new, and we're searching for clarity, division of labor, who does what, who is capable of what. Playing with that level of intensity eliminates some of the speculation involved in evaluation. It's really definitive when you're playing tackle football. I like that element of it, and I think our guys do, too. I respect the risk. I just think that's a tightrope we walk daily in our business, and I don't mind doing it." -- Judy Battista
Coates, a third-round draft pick in 2015, spent much of last season on the scout team after he arrived from Auburn out of shape. The Steelers got the first glimmer of what they hoped Coates would become in their playoff loss to the Broncos, when Coates caught two passes for 61 yards. Chickillo is an even more off-the-radar player. A sixth-round pick from the University of Miami, he was a defensive lineman in a 3-4 defense who had to make the switch to outside linebacker. He played well on special teams last year, and after a strong start to camp, Tomlin said Chickillo has an opportunity to work his way into a crowded outside linebacker rotation that includes, among others, James Harrison and Bud Dupree.
"They're doing what's natural in that they're second-year guys," Tomlin said. "They are better prepared than they were a year ago, from a conditioning standpoint, playing with more confidence, more detail in their labor. All of that is reasonable to ask for in a second-year player. There's a certain level of expectation in terms of taking a step. The things that allowed them to remain around here a year ago won't keep them around here, and it's our job to make that very clear to them." -- J.B.
Faneca retired during the lockout following the 2010 season, and although he never contemplated being a coach when he was a player -- he said most players believe it requires far too great a time commitment -- Faneca is thinking about it now.
"I bet if you polled the team, at least 90 percent would say, 'Hell no, no way.' I was the same way. But you get out. I've been having fun for five years chasing the kids, and now it's time to do something. Why not start here? It's always been a part of my life. It definitely beats selling insurance."
So why is Faneca only somewhat familiar? Because he is nearly unrecognizable after losing 100 pounds from his playing weight of between 315 and 320 pounds. Faneca has since gone back up to 230, but admits he doesn't recognize the guy in pictures of himself. -- J.B.
SAN DIEGO CHARGERS NEWS: Joey Bosa won't budge. Unless third overall pick Joey Bosa gets antsy, it doesn't appear his holdout will end anytime soon. His people are dug in, wanting his $17 million bonus to come in one payment upon his signing a deal, according to a source close to the player. The Chargers, according to GM Tom Telesco, plan to pay the guarantee in two payments -- one (the heftier portion) upon signing, the other in March. Some teams use this method to pace cash flow. Either way, he gets all of the $17 million. Telesco said the team isn't giving in because other players wanted their bonuses up front like Bosa, but the team refused and players eventually came to terms. To change course for a player now would be a bad look for management, Telesco said. A handful of players told me this is not the issue for which Bosa should stand his ground. They get it, but it's a bad look for both sides. In a separate note, tight end Antonio Gates, entering his 14th season, told me this, in all likelihood, is his last training camp. -- S.W.
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS NEWS: Team taking to Chip Kelly. Have to give early props to Chip Kelly. In speaking to several veteran 49ers players over the past few months, they said that he has been nothing but fair and is nothing like they expected after the reports of him being unable to relate to players during his stint in Philly. They said Kelly has, more than anything, been a man of his word in San Francisco, and the shining example is his making the QB competition a fair and even one. Blaine Gabbert and Colin Kaepernick get even reps and even opportunities to play into -- or out of -- the top job. -- S.W.
SEATTLE SEAHAWKS NEWS: Michael Bennett's negotiating strategy. A year ago, Kam Chancellor was a no-show at Seahawks training camp, engaging in a contract holdout that extended to the third week of the regular season. The standout strong safety didn't get the new deal he was seeking, but he had another stellar season that earned him a fourth Pro Bowl selection -- and he and his bosses seem to have put the spat behind them.
Heading into this year's camp, it seemed highly plausible that defensive lineman Michael Bennett would engage in a similar boycott. Chancellor, however, wasn't buying it.
"No, I knew he was gonna be here," Chancellor told me Monday after finishing a practice at the team's training facility. "He's got four kids -- and a wife. No way he was staying away."
Sure enough, despite being highly dissatisfied with his contract, Bennett is playing the part of happy camper while his agent, Doug Hendrickson, and Seahawks general manager John Schneider continue conversations aimed at hammering out a new deal. The ultra-versatile Bennett has outperformed the four-year, $28.5 million contract he signed before the 2014 season and will be the league's 27th-highest-paid defensive lineman in 2016 if no adjustment is made.
Sources familiar with the negotiations believe there is a good chance the two sides will complete a new deal before the start of the season, though owner Paul Allen is not thrilled about the idea of redoing a contract with two years remaining, as Chancellor learned a year ago. On a positive note, Hendrickson -- who also represents recently retired Marshawn Lynch -- developed a strong relationship with Schneider while advocating for the eccentric halfback on contract matters and various other issues.
On Monday, Bennett expressed cautious optimism that he'd be getting a raise during our sit-down interview, in which he expanded upon his desire to see NFL players speak out on social issues. If he ends up with a new, multi-year pact, Allen and Schneider will be sending a clear message: If you're upset about your contract, reporting for camp is a far better strategy than staying away.
Chancellor, meanwhile, remains far from thrilled with his deal, which has two years remaining. When I asked him if, before and during last spring's draft, he wondered whether the Seahawks were dangling him as trade bait, he shrugged and said, "At that point in time, I didn't really think about anything. Whatever would have happened was going to happen. But I would rather be with my brothers here than anywhere else."
"I don't wanna make any predictions," Bennett told me Monday. "I just wanna be a great teammate and a great player and stay behind the scenes, and just keep doing what I'm doing. Like, I don't wanna be a distraction. I think we have a chance to really get back to Houston and play in a great game [Super Bowl LI]. We've got great players at every level of this team. We have all those guys and nothing needs to get in the way of that." -- M.S.
"I don't want him to wake up," Redskins defensive backs coach Perry Fewell told NFL Media, "because he's rolling."
There's an interesting side note to Breeland's development, and it's that Fewell was showing him tape of Norman late last season to get Breeland to do some of the things Norman was doing so well with the Carolina Panthers -- bending his knees, sinking his hips, having vision on the ball and just generally "working smart." Sure enough, Norman joined the Redskins this April and began teaching Breeland these lessons in person.
During practice this Tuesday, Breeland showed excellent technique and smarts by being in the right position and keeping his vision on the ball well enough to catch a deflection for an interception.
"Josh is a hard worker. He's built his reputation because he's a hard worker," Fewell said. " 'Bree' Is a hard worker, too, so I've got two guys that love to compete. They might not be the most talented, but they work hard at their craft." -- Mike Garafolo