Analysis

NFL Training Camp Notes: Best 1st Impressions so Far

Nothing lasts longer than first impressions and a lot of players made some big training camp first impressions the last couple of days. NFL Training camps started at the beginning of the week. With that, comes star players returning and rookies emerging. 

Players returning from injury are always a welcomed sight, even if it means a short stint on the PUP list. Rookies earning the trust of coaches and veterans alike is also something fans and teams love to see. Training camp first impressions made by both could make or break their training camp experiences. 

Some involve notable players, and others involve new faces in new places. In short, it will be difficult to keep up with all 32 camps starting at one time, but that doesn’t make it impossible. 

Here are some great first impressions as the first week of camp nears its end. 

Saquon Barkley, New York Giants 

One of the teams coming into the new NFL season with a ton of optimism is the New York Giants. It’s been a rough run the last couple of seasons, but the excitement around new general manager Joe Schoen and coach Brian Daboll is palpable. Daboll brings his system from Buffalo that helped the Bills become one of the best all-around offenses in the league. 

A major cog in the machine that could be the Giants’ offense is Saquon Barkley. After only playing in 15 games the past two seasons, there is hope surrounding the Penn State alum. He hasn’t quite reached the heights of production he did as a rookie when he accumulated 2,028 scrimmage yards. Some believe this new Giants’ offense could get him back to that point if healthy. 

So far, so good in camp for Barkley.

Michael Thomas, New Orleans Saints 

Another offense that needs to see some more consistency is the New Orleans Saints. After being ravaged by injuries, they are finally getting healthy. All-Pro receiver Michael Thomas came back after missing all of last year and only playing in seven games in 2020. 

The return of Thomas, alongside first-round pick Chris Olave, could have the Saints set up to have one of the best receiving duo’s in the league.

Thomas was seen this week at camp running routes and doing drills with the receiver group. New coach Dennis Allen has been optimistic all offseason about Thomas, and now that positivity is showing on the field. Thomas’ status for the preseason is still unclear but just being back for camp is a good sign.

Brandon Aiyuk, San Francisco 49ers 

It is never easy being a first-round pick in the NFL, expectations are high and immediate production is expected. Brandon Aiyuk may have finally had the NFL switch click inside him this offseason.

According to Akash Anavarathan of Niners Nation, Aiyuk has taken the next step by becoming a leader both on and off the field, comparing him to George Kittle from a leadership perspective.

From the on-field standpoint, Aiyuk seems to have a strong connection with new starting quarterback Trey Lance. The 49ers are all in on Trey Lance now, so for him to take the step they expect they need all hands on deck. 

George Pickens, Pittsburgh Steelers 

George Pickens has had all the attention since coming out of high school as a five-star recruit. Now, after a college career field with ups and downs, it seems Pickens is ready to thrive. The Pittsburgh Steelers have become a factory in coaching and developing younger receivers, and Pickens seems to be next.

With Diontae Johnson doing a hold-in during his contract negotiation, some first-team reps have opened up. Pickens, who the team has lined up outside while they move Chase Claypool inside to the slot, has filled his role so far. 

Pickens reportedly made several big catches and demonstrated impressive body control and athleticism. It seems a healthy Pickens has a chance to be a major part of the Steelers’ offense.

Leonard Fournette, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Reports circulated earlier this month that running back Leonard Fournette reported to the Buccaneers weighing nearly 260 pounds. Once training camp started, it seemed a different Fournette was suiting up for the Buccaneers. 

He told Buccaneers reporter Jenna Laine he weighed in at 244 and the weight issues were in the past. Coach Todd Bowles also added, “He’s in great shape…he can play right now,” all signs point to a seemingly non-existent issue now with Fournette’s weight. 

Fournette worked well in both running and receiving drills and should have a chance to take the next step after a huge year with the Buccaneers. His skill set separates him from everyone else on the depth chart so a healthy and lean Fournette is something they will need to pursue another Lombardi Trophy.

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