Reporters' Notebook

Rams taking it slow with Jared Goff; Victor Cruz on his return

As the 2016 NFL season gets into full swing in Week 1, NFL Media's network of reporters gets you up to speed with the hottest news and notes from across the league, including:

But first, a look at how the Los Angeles Rams are handling Jared Goff ...

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Rams coach Jeff Fisher knew what was coming the second the Eaglesnamed No. 2 overall pick Carson Wentz as their starting quarterback following Philadelphia's trade of Sam Bradford to the Vikings last weekend.

What's the deal with No. 1 overall pick Jared Goff, who not only won't start the Rams' season-opener vs. the host 49ers on Monday night, but who will most likely be inactive as the No. 3 quarterback?

"Maybe if we traded our starting quarterback, we'd start our rookie quarterback, too," Fisher said.

Case Keenum will open the season as the Rams' starter, and Sean Mannion will be his backup. Fisher said he wants Goff -- who is from the San Francisco Bay Area, near where the Week 1 contest will be played -- to not deal with any pressure, and to take in everything that comes with game day.

As Goff's inconsistent preseason play and practices already underlined, he's also not ready. That is something not one person with the Rams denies.

However, Goff could be the backup in Week 2, when the Rams play host to Seattle in their home opener at the L.A. Coliseum. On Tuesday, Fisher said the Rams could "flip" Goff and Mannion on the depth chart, with Goff being No. 2 and Mannion moving to the game-day inactive role as the third quarterback.

Would the Rams make such a move and telegraph it more than a week out to protect Goff's confidence? That could be part of it. Still, if Goff isn't ready to be the backup Week 1, why change?

To the cynic, promoting Goff for Week 2 could be a move intended to showcase the first-ever pick by these new Los Angeles Rams to the home crowd, which is expected to number close to 90,000. That doesn't wash, though. Why bother with such theatre when the defense wisely could be announced coming out of the tunnel before the offense? Or, if the offense is to be announced first, why take any attention away from running back Todd Gurley, the current face of the franchise?

Realistically, there might not be much of a gap between Goff and Mannion. And Fisher, who didn't start quarterbacks Steve McNair or Vince Young in their first NFL games with the Oilers/Titans, might be using some of that experience to bring along Goff -- at least for the season opener.

The bigger question is if Goff is elevated to the No. 2 spot for the home opener -- or whenever the Rams promote him -- will he ever be demoted?

It would be hard to think so.

Goff is going to be the starter at some point, probably sooner -- by this season's midpoint -- than later. So unless he is just completely overwhelmed and lost, there is no need for some kind of backup QB rotation.

He needs to get in as much work in the Rams' offense during practice as he can. Running plays off of opponents' flip cards as a scout-teamer isn't the ideal track to improvement. If he wants to play, Goff has to take the initiative to put in extra time -- in practice and in meetings -- to get up to (and stay up to) speed, since he won't be getting as many reps as he did during OTAs and camp.

With all that, everything really comes down to how Keenum plays. The Rams only have two games in Los Angeles before their Week 8 bye, and the schedule appears to be unforgiving. Should Keenum get nicked, not play very well or drop the majority of those games before the bye, you'd think a move would be made.

A quick aside as it pertains to Keenum: There is an old saying in football that players will gravitate to a quarterback who will jump into a pile for a fumble. That's Keenum: a foxhole guy who loves every second he gets to play the game.

His teammates dig him, but they also know he's a placeholder. Keenum has to play well, but he also has to win. If the Rams are going to lose, they can lose with a rookie who learns on the job. If the Rams didn't think they were going to win, then Goff might already be the starter.

And now, the rest of this week's notes from NFL Media's reporters:

ARIZONA CARDINALS: Johnson ready to run wild? The Cardinals had the top overall offense last season and set a franchise record for scoring (489 points, an average of 30.6 per game). How do they top that? Like everyone else, the Cardinals' offensive sage -- assistant head coach/offense Tom Moore -- wants to see what running back David Johnson can do for an encore after his dazzling rookie season.

"He had a good camp," Moore said. "He'll have the same role as he had last year, but the thing is his improvement, and to keep getting better. The other two backs, the combination of all three, I think they make each other better, the competition."

Among all players who started at least five games last season, Johnson averaged the most yards from scrimmage per game as a starter (131.6 yards). He took over the starting running back role for the final five games after injuries to Andre Ellington and Chris Johnson, but he wound up leading the Cardinals with 13 touchdowns -- eight rushing, four receiving and one kickoff return.

Before the injuries forced him to remain more often in a running back role, the Cardinals had split Johnson out wide or used him as the slot receiver. General manager Steve Keim went so far as to compare Johnson's receiving skills to those of Marshall Faulk, which has only heightened expectations for what Johnson might contribute this year. Even Patriots coach Bill Belichick praised Johnson this week as a receiver with run-after-the-catch ability, the strength to break tackles and the speed to separate from defenders. But Belichick, a student of the game's history, stopped short of comparing Johnson to Faulk.

"That's putting the bar pretty high with him," Belichick said.

How will Palmer shake his playoff disappointment? When last we saw Carson Palmer in a game that counted, it was unsightly. After having the best season of his career at age 35, with 4,671 passing yards and 35 touchdowns, he had six giveaways, including four interceptions, in the NFC Championship Game loss to the Carolina Panthers.

According to research, only two other quarterbacks -- Jake Delhomme in a 2008 Divisional Round game and Brett Favre in a 2001 Divisional Round game -- had such extensive playoff meltdowns in terms of giveaways. Delhomme was never the same after his; Favre, of course, rallied for more greatness in his career. The way Palmer goes will determine the fate of the Cardinals, who might have the most talented overall roster in the league.

"He's over it," Moore said. "Carson is a veteran. Carson will handle everything and has handled everything like a true professional. Carson had a great camp, he's a great leader and a great professional. He's a winner."

Moore can't quit. Tom Moore is, at age 77, in his 38th year in the NFL. You can stop asking if he has pondered retirement.

"There's always things that come up and new things, that's what keeps you on your toes," he said. "You've got to make sure you stay up with it. I'm going to go until nobody will hire me. I'm never going to retire. I don't want to. It's too much fun. You can't match the excitement of getting ready for the game. I'm as fired up as can be this week."

CAROLINA PANTHERS: Kuechly drawing raves. Here's Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis on fellow 'backer Luke Kuechly: "He has an undeniable will to want to be the best."

Since 2012, no player has more tackles than Kuechly (591) heading into 2016. This week, Panthers head coach Ron Rivera told me Kuechly has just such a natural feel for the game. He anticipates everything.

"He seems to always be heading in the right direction," Rivera said.

But he also has skills middle linebackers just don't have, according to Broncos defensive coordinator Wade Phillips.

"Not many linebackers are intercepting passes for touchdowns," Phillips told me this week. "He did that quite a bit last year. That's the special part of him. There are a lot of really good linebackers, but they don't make the kind of plays he makes."

Rivera believes Kuechly is in a place all his own in terms of breaking toward the ball.

"If there is one thing I think Luke has right now, it's probably one of the best first steps in football," Rivera said. "It might be one of the best first steps I've ever seen."

Davis told me everyone gets to be wowed by Kuechly on the field, but they don't get the joy of watching the 2013 Defensive Player of the Year work during the week. The extra time he spends alone in the film room. The extra reps he takes every day after practice that are a part of that will to be the greatest.

"He knows what the offenses are going to do before they do it," Davis said.

That first step Rivera talks about apparently isn't just natural ability. It's a combination of Kuechly's athleticism, hard work, football IQ and film study.

DALLAS COWBOYS: Prescott's dream-come-true moment. The Dallas Cowboys are opening the regular season with rookie Dak Prescott, a fourth-round draft pick. The Haughton, Louisiana, native told me he grew up a Cowboys fan and has dreamed of his moment Sunday since "dreams were possible." Prescott will be the Cowboys fourth rookie to start Week 1 for the Cowboys, joining the likes of Roger Staubach, Troy Aikman and Quincy Carter.

Darryl Johnston, Aikman's former teammate, told me things were a lot different the year Aikman started as a rookie. In 1989, the Cowboys were dealing with changes at the top, his receiver Michael Irvin was a still young player, and he didn't have the talented offensive line that the Cowboys now feature.

Cowboys offensive coordinator Scott Linehan jumped on the praise Thursday when I talked to him about his rookie quarterback.

"Players have a confidence in him," Linehan said. "There is a huge amount of excitement for the young kid and I just love that guys accepted him -- but he earned it."

Linehan added he doesn't seem like a young guy; instead he's always had a look of I'm ready, coach.

Prescott said some of that maturity comes from the obstacles he's had to endure the last few years -- most notably the passing of his mother, Peggy, following a battle with colon cancer. Prescott wears No. 4 to mark her birthday, which took place this past weekend on Sept. 4. He said it was a day of reflection and ahead of this game, he'll do what he has always done -- send her a text -- which has proven to be a diary of sorts to his late mother.

Elliott after rushing record.Ezekiel Elliott may have only played in one preseason game this season, but the rookie running back from Ohio State is ready to play. When he and Prescott take the field Sunday, they will be the first rookie quarterback and running back to play for the Cowboys on Week 1 since Roger Staubach and Calvin Hill in the 1969 season. Earlier this week, Elliott was asked about goals for the season and the rookie rushing record came up. Elliott acknowledged that he knew Eric Dickerson still held the record of 1,808 yards during the 1983 season.

"Honestly, this year, that's something I do want to accomplish, but it's not a priority," Elliott said. "What's a priority is going out there and winning ball games every week."

Elliott has also acknowledged that running behind Dallas' offensive line -- featuring Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick and Zack Martin -- certainly makes his job easier.

Dez ready to put 2015 behind him.Dez Bryant poised for a big year. Last year, he told me the (2015) offseason was frustrating as he dealt with his contract and wasn't around his teammates as much as he would like. Then there was the foot injury he suffered against the Giants on Sept. 13 that saw him miss the next five games. Bryant returned to play against Seattle in Week 8 and finished the season with 31 receptions for 401 yards and three TDs. This year, he is looking for redemption.

Cowboys' defense a work in progress. On defense, instead of a four-man rotation, expect eight men. Defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli has had his hands full with injuriesand suspensions this season. Marinelli admits they don't have a proven pass rusher heading into Sunday's matchup against the Giants, but hopes by keeping his guys fresh and adding versatile linebacker Kyle Wilber to the mix in certain situations that they can stay competitive.

When Marinelli was asked how the Cowboys cover a guy like Odell Beckham, Jr. he said, "Know where he's at, he's got a presence," Marinelli said. "We hope to give him some different looks, disrupt him and sometimes you just got to play your defense."

Another versatile player to keep an eye on is defensive end Jack Crawford, the 6-foot-5 Penn State grad. Marinelli, who will use Crawford for a few different looks, said, "If there's a ditch to fill, he'll fill it."

As for Marinelli's corners, he's starting three. Brandon Carr, Morris Claiborne and Orlando Scandrick will be be manning the secondary. Marinelli said they give him a veteran presence back there and it's nice to have his "playmaker" Orlando Scandrick back. Scandrick is ready, too. Next to Dez Bryant, he was the most vocal guy at camp and continues to be at practice day in and day out.

DENVER BRONCOS: Miller even more dialed in: This is a different Von Miller than the one who took home MVP honors 215 days ago in Super Bowl 50. After traveling the globe and signing the richest non-quarterback contract in NFL history, he's more focused than he's ever been. Players see it, coaches see it, and anyone watching training camp close enough could see it.

Broncos defensive coordinator Wade Phillips believes Miller is better right now than he was at this point last year. He also thinks the 2016 Von Miller should have his sights set on what J.J. Watt -- a player Phillips has also coached -- has accomplished in three of the last four seasons.

"I think he wants to prove to everybody that maybe he's the best player, maybe he's the Defensive Player of the Year," Phillips said. "He was the MVP in the Super Bowl, but I think his next step, or his next goal, is to be the Defensive Player of the Year."

I talked to several tackles around the league this week, and the first thing out of all of their mouths was in reference to the freak athletic ability Miller possesses. But a few wanted to make sure everyone knows they can tell Miller studies, putting in a ton of time watching film on the tackles he'll go against. Combine that with athletic ability few players in the league have, and it creates a Sunday experience for NFL tackles that one player put so perfectly.

"It's calculated madness."

MIAMI DOLPHINS: Putting pressure on Ajayi to step up.Arian Foster winning the starting job with the Dolphins is a testament to the veteran running back's work in returning from an Achilles tear at age 30.

It's also an indictment of Jay Ajayi's offseason and training camp, as the 2015 fifth-round pick was supposed to be the No. 1 back for Miami.

But along the way, according to a team source and another person informed of Ajayi's status with the team, Ajayi didn't respond to the challenge Foster's arrival presented. The Dolphins' coaches wanted to see Ajayi dig in, work hard and force the team to keep him in the top spot while Foster -- who signed in July -- complemented him. Instead, they saw Ajayi sulk and struggle through a subpar preseason (18 carries for 49 yards and a fumble).

The hope now is Ajayi will finally respond to seeing Foster begin the season as the starter.

"The message has been received," one source said.

NEW YORK GIANTS: Cruz counting down to return. Sunday is lining up to be a momentous day in the football life of Victor Cruz, who is expected to play in a regular-season game for the first time in 700 days.

On his long road back, one recent day stands out: Aug. 16. That day, Cruz, then dealing with a groin injury, went to the office of Ben McAdoo to clear the air.

In the meeting -- as detailed by Cruz to me -- Cruz sought a better understanding with his new head coach.

"I went up there to let him know I'm not tanking this thing at all. I want to play," Cruz said. "I want to play at a high level every week, I want to practice; I love practicing. And I wanted to let him know [my sentiments were] for real."

McAdoo's response?

"He let me know they're behind me 100 percent to get back to full health and full strength, and then the rest will take care of itself," Cruz said. "You always want to feel wanted. You wanted to make sure they want you here. You want to make sure they feel the same way you feel."

Immediately after the meeting, Cruz felt better. "It was definitely a turning point for me, at least mentally," he said. A week later, he was healthy enough to return to practice.

Cruz and 2014 Offensive Rookie of the Year Odell Beckham Jr. have never started and finished the same game. It could happen Sunday at Dallas, depending on the Giants' starting formation. Certainly, Sunday figures to be an emotional day for Cruz, who last played Oct. 12, 2014, when he tore his patellar tendon.

"Exhilarating, emotional, exciting, retrospective," he said. "It will be everything when I come out of that tunnel."

Collins leaner, faster and more prepared. A year ago, Landon Collins was a rookie, a 16-game starter logging the most snaps on a Giants defense that ranked last in the league. How much better is Collins a year later? He exhaled deeply before answering.

"I can tell you I know the defense [now]," Collins said, "so my comfort level is beyond what it was. I'm comfortable, excited and ready to play. Last year, I was still thinking about calls and what happens [in a given scenario] and second-guessing myself. Now I'm just playing."

At 216 pounds, Collins is leaner and faster this year after dropping 12 pounds. He said he cut out "anything fried, pasta, snacking late and, especially, Oreos."

Vanilla Oreos, if you're wondering.

NEW YORK JETS: Lee taking cues from Revis. The role of 2016 first-round pick Darron Lee remains something of a mystery. Coach Todd Bowles is expected to find creative ways to use Lee, an inside linebacker who instantly upgraded the speed on the Jets' defense and should be a factor in the blitz. But the Jets showed little of that during preseason, keeping most of their looks vanilla.

Lee has already gotten an education as part of a Jets defense that aims to be the league's finest and is obviously talented. From Darrelle Revis, Lee said, he has learned "how to be a professional." He added:

"He's sharp at all times; he's incredible with his technique. I look at him and realize I have a long way to go."

Perhaps Revis could give Lee some tips in coverage. Lee is likely to match up against opposing tight ends, including the Chiefs' Travis Kelce (Week 3) and the Patriots' Rob Gronkowski (Weeks 12and 16).

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