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2021 NFL training camps: 21 things we learned after first 2 weeks

The last full week without a complete slate of preseason games is in the books. Here's a look at the juiciest tidbits escaping from training camps across the NFL.

1) There is a non-zero chance that Corey Clement leads all Giants running backs in Week 1 touches. NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported last week that Saquon Barkley is expected back no later than Week 3, which sounded like bad news wrapped up in a good-news sandwich. Barkley coming off the PUP list on Monday is a great sign, but it's telling the team already has serious doubts whether the star runner will be ready for the opener.

Clement, meanwhile, has reportedly outplayed Devontae Booker in a camp battle to be Barkley's primary backup.

2) Colts coach Frank Reich said it was a "fair question" to ask whether sixth-round rookie quarterback Sam Ehlinger is worthy of a bigger role after outplaying nominal starter Jacob Eason in practice over the last week, in the wake of Carson Wentz's foot surgery.

Ehlinger is a nice story so far, but the fact that he's reportedly going through his reads more quickly than Eason, a second-year player, doesn't bode well for the Colts' current setup. Watching the young kids for a preseason game or three makes some sense, but I still expect the Colts to add another veteran quarterback to the mix before the regular season begins, given Wentz's uncertain recovery timetable.

3) Something strange is up with C.J. Henderson, the toolsy Jaguars cornerback selected ninth overall in last year's draft. After missing the offseason and the start of training camp to injuries and then the reserve/COVID-19 list, Henderson was absent over the weekend for personal issues. ESPN's Jeremy Fowler then reported that the Jaguars could be listening to trade offers for Henderson. Is this a case of a new coach (Urban Meyer) having a short fuse with a previous regime's selection?

Henderson would certainly have a market if available. Whether Henderson is ultimately dealt or not, Tyson Campbell -- the first of two second-round picks for Meyer's Jags in April -- appears headed for a big role at corner with some flexibility to play inside and out.

4) There is nothing to worry about when it comes to Odell Beckham Jr.'s cautious return to training camp, with the Browns playing it safe in terms of OBJ not fully practicing every day or against live defenses. With that disclaimer out of the way, Beckham's a key player to watch in the next month as he ramps up activity in hopes of playing Week 1. It's possible he won't be ready for a full complement of snaps right away.

5) At some point in training camp, a player's absence goes from a slight concern to one with repercussions. That timeline moves more quickly with rookies. That's why I already have my doubts whether Vikings first-round left tackle Christian Darrisaw and Bears second-round LT Teven Jenkins have already missed too much time to start Week 1.

Depth charts are always presented post-draft as if rookies solved roster holes. Then August reality hits with either injuries or underperformance. Chad Graff of The Athletic believes that Vikings tackle Rashod Hill could start the opener over Darrisaw. Third-round guard Wyatt Davis, also viewed as a potential starter for a troubled Minnesota line, has also possibly missed too much time.

The Bears' May release of left tackle Charles Leno Jr. was strange at the time and assumed Jenkins could take over right away. It looks even stranger now, especially with a rookie quarterback in Justin Fields expected to take the field at some point this year. It's difficult to know how and when to sound alarm bells for injuries. Bears veteran safety Eddie Jackson, a huge part of the team's defense, is still on the team's non-football injury list. The Bears had 27 players out of work at a recent practice. Twenty-seven!

6) The core muscle injury to Saints kicker Wil Lutz reported by Rapoport sounds like it will knock Lutz out of the start of the season. The number of potential new Week 1 starters in New Orleans is up to 11.

7) The Miami Dolphins avoided a protracted holdout with cornerback Xavien Howard by adding some modest incentives to his 2021 season and guaranteeing a big chunk of his 2022 salary. This compromise was similar in some respects to how the Packers ended Aaron Rodgers' standoff in Green Bay without any truly "new money" in the contract.

Howard's December 2019 arrest for domestic violence -- on charges that were ultimately dropped when Howard's fiancée said she did not want to proceed with prosecution -- did not appear to seriously impede his desire for an adjustment to his contract with four years remaining, but the restructure was mostly cosmetic. Rapoport reports that the Dolphins made an "assurance" to revisit the deal in the offseason based on Howard's performance and health. That leaves room for Miami to do nothing if Howard gets hurt this season or his play declines, in which case the two sides could be at odds again.

8) The Patriots may have to give more than assurances to Stephon Gilmore to get him back on the field. New England's best cornerback quietly remains on the PUP list coming off a serious quadriceps injury. He received a one-year pay bump before the 2020 season and a similar move could be coming for him in the coming weeks.

9) Patriots 2019 first-round pick N'Keal Harry will probably always be known around Foxborough as the guy Bill Belichick drafted over A.J. Brown and Deebo Samuel, two similarly physical wideouts from his draft class. Harry's reported improvements in his third training camp may help him make the 2021 squad, but I still don't see a path to a major role. Nelson Agholor, Jakobi Meyers, Jonnu Smith, Hunter Henry (barring fallout from a recent shoulder injury) and James White are all going to be ahead of Harry in line for targets, with Kendrick Bourne also a factor. If anything, a strong preseason for Harry could make him more tradable.

10) Texans third-round pick Nico Collins has played well enough to figure into the starting mix out in Houston. Brandin Cooks could wind up playing on the inside plenty with Collins and Chris Conley out wide. Keke Coutee also figures to sneak into the rotation.

11) FOX's broadcast of the Cowboys-Steelers Hall of Fame Game gave us some context for Dak Prescott's shoulder injury. Jay Glazer reported that Prescott's injury was more typical in a baseball pitcher, so the team consulted doctors for the Texas Rangers. That sounds less than ideal. Troy Aikman, who understands how the Cowboys PR machine works better than anyone, had this to say:

"The Cowboys are downplaying it, but I think when your franchise quarterback is missing the amount of time he's missing, I tend to think it's probably a little bit more significant than what they have led on."

12) Josh Allen's contract ultimately had more guarantees than Patrick Mahomes' deal with the Chiefs, looking like a five-year, $164.5 million contract before Buffalo could realistically move on. While that's riskier for the Bills in some respects, it also gives them a ton of leverage in any future Allen renegotiations. If Allen remains a top-10 quarterback, he will be underpaid quite early in the contract. I'm a little surprised that young quarterbacks are so willing to lock in their flexibility long-term like this when the clearest path to the highest amount of money -- with the most leverage -- is a shorter contract like Kirk Cousins' pact or even Prescott's deal.

13) Another 2018 quarterback, Baker Mayfield, is still waiting for his second contract. He has publicly avoided angling for a new contract, but his response to Allen's megadeal was a classic example of protesting too much.

"I'm not doing the negotiations, so quite frankly, I don't give a damn," Mayfield said.

I'd be worried about Mayfield if that were actually true.

14) By all accounts, the race for the 49ers' No. 3 receiver job is over. It's going to be Mohamed Sanu, who has shown very little during the regular season the last two years. That's a concern if Brandon Aiyuk or Deebo Samuel gets hurt this season.

15) The No. 3 quarterback job in San Francisco is probably accounted for, as well. Nate Sudfeld beating out Josh Rosen is expected to happen barring a crazy preseason. It's worth wondering if Rosen, taken only three picks behind Allen in the 2018 draft, has reached the end of the line for his career. The Rosen-Allen debate would have got a whole lot of faux decision makers on Draft Twitter faux fired.

16) Will Fuller has been out of Dolphins practice with a foot injury. Health is the chief factor preventing Fuller from a huge long-term contract -- and he'll have to be healthy this season to earn one in 2022 free agency.

17) Friend of the program Bo Wulf at The Athletic has noted that Jordan Mailata has been consistently winning his position battle with 2019 first-round pick Andre Dillard for Philadelphia's left tackle job. The Eagles have enviable tackle depth with Lane Johnson also healthy.

Mailata, who didn't play football until 2017, is shaping up to be the International Player Pathway program's biggest success story yet. He's on track for a large second contract.

18) Some enterprising analysts will inevitably do a postseason examination on how opting out of college football in 2020 impacted highly drafted prospects. While it's an admittedly small and self-selecting sample size, Cowboys linebacker Micah Parsons and Buccaneers pass rusher Joe Tryon are two examples of rookies who have started out like they belong after skipping games last year. Both players have been among the most consistently impactful performers in their respective training camps.

If Tryon is as good as he looks, the Bucs will have a scary top-three pass-rush group with Jason Pierre-Paul and Shaq Barrett leading the way.

19) The steady drumbeat of Jeff Okudah love in Lions camp is worth keeping an eye on. The No. 3 overall pick in 2020 had a brutal rookie season, but a new coaching staff and new scheme make him a player to watch early in the season to see if he makes a big leap. Playing in the NFC North against Davante Adams, Justin Jefferson and Allen Robinson makes it difficult.

20) The Steelers' offensive line was a talking point all offseason. I thought the anxiety was a bit overblown because their young players weren't likely to be worse than the aging linemen were in 2020. Then again, I didn't expect three starters to be injured during training camp while another (Kevin Dotson) is benched because Mike Tomlin says he's not working hard enough.

21) Joe Burrow's daily struggles against a remade Bengals defense in camp are noteworthy.

"It's frustrating right now, more so just not feeling like myself," Burrow said in a weekend press conference. "I know I've put the work in to make my knee feel good, make my body ready for the season. It's just now trusting my abilities, trusting my work, trusting everything."

A torn ACL can impact accuracy and confidence, in addition to any changes in Burrow's mobility. He won't play much in the preseason, if at all, so he needs to make progress on the practice field to earn some confidence heading into a Week 1 date against Mike Zimmer's Vikings.

Follow Gregg Rosenthal on Twitter.

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