Carolina Needs the Competition to Determine a Starting QB

I feel Matt Rhule’s pain going through a quarterback competition—especially when they are two high-profile guys who were high draft picks. Both players have done some really good things and both have struggled.

Rhule is in a situation where he has to get this right for many reasons. One reason is to give the team the best chance to win and the second reason is that he’s under pressure in terms of producing wins on the field. Quarterback competitions are the most important thing to everyone externally, and you have to let the competition actually take place. It’s not going to be something that’s decided overnight or even in the first week, unless one guy definitively outplays the other player. It gets old coming to the podium to give an update.

I went through a few of these, and one was very clear.

In New York, I had a situation where Chad Pennington was coming off an injury. The injury was so severe that doctors didn’t know if he would fully recover. We drafted Kellen Clemons in the second round because we both weren’t sure about the injury and really liked Clemons. Being new to the organization, I wanted to give everyone an opportunity to compete. It became very clear early on that Pennington’s injury was going to be fine and that he was much further ahead than Clemons.

The decision became an easy one to make, and it was a much quicker decision than what I had to make in Cleveland.

The Browns drafted Brady Quinn in 2007 when they traded back into the first round to acquire the Notre Dame product. Being a kid from Ohio, the fanbase was excited and thought maybe this was the next Bernie Kosar. He ended up holding out long into training camp, and Derek Anderson and Charlie Frye competed for the starting job. After winning the starting job, Anderson caught lightning in a bottle and won 10 games—earning him a significant contract extension. The next season wasn’t close to as good, as Anderson got benched for Quinn after eight games. Unfortunately, neither quarterback played well and both got injured in the second half of the season.

When I got to Cleveland in 2009, it was important to me to setup a competition that was as fair and transparent as possible. Unlike what happened in New York, neither player distinguished themselves. It wasn’t clear-cut at all until the third preseason game. Quinn played really well, going 11-15 for 128 yards and a touchdown and made a bunch of good decisions.

The decision became easier.

I would much rather have a clear-cut, out-in-front winner and I’m sure that’s what Rhule is thinking in Carolina. Hopefully through these preseason games, one of these guys between Baker Mayfield or Sam Darnold is going to pop to a point where it’s obvious that they should be the starter.


Brissett Has to Be ‘Eager’ to Get Reps With 1st Team

Jacoby Brissett didn’t get any reps in the Cleveland Browns preseason game, but the Browns’ presumptive Week 1 starting quarterback needs to be eager to get those reps according to The 33rd Team’s Matt Cassel—who knows exactly what it’s like to be in an unclear QB battle.

Cassel, a longtime backup in both college and the NFL worked his way into a starting role a few years into his NFL career. In 2014, while with the Minnesota Vikings, Cassel entered the offseason as the presumptive starter but then the team drafted Teddy Bridgewater. Every day was a grind to get extra work with the first team and prove yourself to the coaching staff.

In Cleveland, Deshaun Watson is the clear franchise quarterback after signing a historic, fully-guaranteed contract, but he will be suspended for an extended amount of time at some point following the NFL’s appeal of his six-game suspension. Brissett has been named the starter, but did not play in the Browns first preseason game. Watson struggled

In the video above, Cassel lays out the ins and outs of how reps can be divvied up in training camp and preseason games. He also talks about the psychological approach quarterbacks must take to the situation.


Preseason Is the Stuff of Nightmares for General Managers

Preseason Is the Stuff of Nightmares for General Managers
As a general manager in the NFL, you’re scared to death this time of year. You go into every preseason game holding your breath about the possibility of injury, because these games don’t count in the standings. It literally keeps you up at night. Football’s a contact game…a collision game. There are going to be […]

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Gage, Julio Give Buccaneers One of NFL’s Best Receiver Groups

I can’t imagine too many receiver groups will be as good as the Buccaneers if they’re healthy. 

If the Tampa Bay Buccaneers can get Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Russell Gage and Julio Jones all healthy and rolling at the same time, Tom Brady is going to have four excellent weapons this season. Brady made headlines Thursday, announcing he was stepping away from the Buccaneers for an extended time. However, two of his top new targets will be ready to make a difference when he returns.

Russell Gage

Tampa has had to go slot receiver by committee during the last few seasons, but the Bucs are getting a proven slot receiver this season in Gage. Gage can play outside when needed. He’ll catch the ball in traffic, and he’s tough over the middle.  He has extreme body quickness, a great release and a tricky euro move off the line of scrimmage that is unique to him. Brady and Byron Leftwich will love working with  Gage this year.  

Julio Jones

When he was with Atlanta, Jones was the number one—the first option. He’s always been the number one in his career. But that’s not the role the Bucs need him to play right now. I think part of the reason Jones doesn’t have a ton of red zone touchdowns in his career is that he was the first option, so he was normally double-teamed. That should not be the case in Tampa.

Jones is a football junkie and a very smart player. He can do it all. Jones is a route runner; he has speed, and he can block. He can do everything they need him to do. So, I think that maybe to start the season, Tampa Bay will use him in the Godwin role. Jones would be the ‘Z’ receiver instead of the ‘X’ opposite Evans. That receiver in the Bucs offense has to be a blocker. Jones is not only that but also a play-action guy and a target in the red zone.

The only issue with Jones throughout the last few years is his ability to maintain health. But when he is healthy, he’s as good as anybody out there.


New Faces in New Places: QB Edition

A lot of quarterbacks moved around this offseason. To me, none are as impactful as Matt Ryan joining the Indianapolis Colts.

Ryan is joining the number one rushing offense from last season, and one of the things about Matt Ryan is that he’s a great play-action quarterback. Pairing him with Frank Reich, they can put it all together this season. I think they’ll have some explosiveness with the receiving core too, and obviously, with Jonathan Taylor doing his thing in the run game. This is a team that can be in the playoffs by the end of the year if they do it right.


Wannstedt: Three Reasons for Optimism in Chicago

This is the most optimistic I have felt about the Chicago Bears in the last 10 years.

I don’t want to call it a college mentality, but after being at training camp for an entire practice, guys were hustling from drill to drill. There weren’t guys sitting around on helmets. Everybody was up and moving. Their coaches aren’t wasting a lot of time.

Making The Hard Choices

I think new general manager Ryan Poles is doing a great job. The easiest thing he could do was to be sentimental and keep Khalil Mack, Akiem Hicks and Danny Trevathan, and some of these older players that have been banged up a little bit but can still play at a high level.

Youth on Offense

On the other side of the ball, Poles has gone with a complete youth movement. Led by Justin Fields, the youth is prevalent everywhere. The Bears let their one veteran weapon leave in Allen Robinson, but they still have talent in RB David Montgomery and TE Cole Kmet.

Without doing what their front office has done, their offense would’ve been maturing and getting better and better and then a year or two from now they would’ve had to deal with these defensive guys from a contract standpoint. You look at that roster, and it’s filled with young players pretty much across the board. I like that part of it. They are going to grow together.

They are pretty settled on the inside of the offensive line, but there is some real competition at the tackle spot right now. How does it shake out? Nobody knows right now.

A Scheme Change on Defense

There are some changes on defense. After moving on from key veterans, new head coach Matt Eberflus is changing the scheme. The Bears for the last four or five years have been a 3-4. Now, they are going to a 4-3 similar to Lovie Smith, to what I did in Dallas and to what I did with the Dolphins. There isn’t a lot of blitzing.

If you look at what Eberflus did in Indianapolis, they’re going to blitz about 15% of the time, a little bit more when they have to, but they like to get the rush with four guys. Then, they run combination coverages on the backend. So, there’s a big philosophy change. More zone coverage. Less blitzing.

I like what they are doing. They are really excited about their rookies. There are a lot of positives going forward.


Training Camp Confidential: Early Run-Ins With Big Names

When you look back on favorite training camp memories, it can often be the biggest guys on the field and biggest personalities in the locker room who make for some of the most interesting stories.

When I think back to my time as a coach at training camp, two of my favorite memories were created by guys people across the country knew—specifically because of their size. Those guys gave me a couple of my earliest and fondest memories in the NFL in general and then as a head coach.

In 1989, I followed Jimmy Johnson from the University of Miami to the NFL with the Dallas Cowboys. It was my first year as a coach in the league. And while we were at training camp, we ran things like we had at Miami.

It didn’t take long to get a reminder that we were in the NFL, though. One of our biggest names walked right in to Jimmy’s office one day and dropped a check on his desk. That wasn’t something I was used to seeing in the college world, and when I heard the reason why, it got even funnier.

It wasn’t long before I got one of my favorite memories as a head coach at camp, either. In fact, it ended up being my first decision I made as coach of the Chicago Bears—all about running a warm-up lap on the first day of camp, involving maybe the most famous name in the NFL at the time.

Just a couple of great stories from camp that I think back on as teams start camp every year.

Training Camp Confidential

The 33rd Team has unprecedented access to executives, coaches and players and wants to provide an in-depth, never-before-seen look into the best stories and memories from NFL Training Camps. Stay tuned to our Training Camp Page for more great stories like this one.