Training camp is here!! Thank goodness.
For NFL fans, seeing players hit sun-soaked practice fields in shorts and helmets whets the appetite. Real, live football is right around the corner!
For many NFL players, though, camp begins with an immense sense of urgency. This is a proving ground, and that means the pressure cooker fires up with the sweltering summer heat.
With that in mind, here are the players who really need a strong training camp, Schein Nine style:
The Dolphins quarterback made headlines back in February when he described his rookie season as "below average" in an interview on my SiriusXM Mad Dog Sports Radio show. Honestly, I felt Tua was too hard on himself. His rookie year was ... typical. There were ups and downs. His last two outings of the year -- a benching for Ryan Fitzpatrick in Las Vegas and a three-pick performance in a 30-point loss at Buffalo -- were tough. No doubt about it. But he still finished the season with a 6-3 record and an 11:5 TD-to-INT ratio. Not too shabby.
Look, the Dolphins should've taken Justin Herbert over Tua. It's obvious now, in the wake of Herbert's transcendent rookie season, but it's something I felt before the 2020 NFL Draft. The inevitable comparison between the two quarterbacks adds another layer of pressure on the Dolphins' second-year signal-caller. That said, I still believe in Tua. And you should, too. Remember: Tua entered the NFL fresh off major hip surgery, in a highly abbreviated offseason thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. Not to mention, his surrounding weaponry was seriously lacking. What a difference a year makes. Now, Tua's getting a real offseason to learn, and the Dolphins significantly beefed up their receiving corps by signing Will Fuller and drafting Jaylen Waddle.
It's Year 2. It's go time. Put that five-pick minicamp practice in the rearview. Inspire in camp. Lead. I think Tua takes a major jump, but this spotlight will be bright. With a great coach, improved roster and increased expectations in Miami, it's fair to say this is the beginning of an absolutely crucial season for Tagovailoa.
Prior to the 2020 draft, I didn't think Okudah was a top-three defender, much less a top-three pick. But alas, Bob Quinn and Matt Patricia turned in this card at No. 3 overall. That Lions regime is gone, of course, but Okudah remains in Detroit -- and he's the biggest name in a very thin position group on the roster.
Okudah missed nearly half of his rookie season due to injury and then had muscle core surgery on both sides. But now he's ready to rock. So, was last year hijacked by poor health? Poor coaching? Poor play? I personally doubt Okudah will ever live up to his lofty draft pedigree, but can he emerge from bust status? He can -- and he should. Detroit's new coaching staff helps. Defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn spent 15 years as an NFL cornerback, earning three trips to the Pro Bowl. Not a bad resource for Okudah, eh?
The Lions need Okudah to play at a solid-starter level in 2021, so the cornerback needs to flash this summer.
I audibly gasped when NFL Network's Tom Pelissero broke the story that Rams running back Cam Akers was done for the year after suffering a torn Achilles. Akers finished his rookie season with a bang, exploding for 171 rushing yards in a prime-time December win over the Patriots, and then racking up 272 total yards during Los Angeles' two playoff games. When McVay talked to me on SiriusXM in May, he was so energized about Akers' talent, work ethic and immense upside. The second-year pro was primed to emerge as a top 5-7 back in Year 2. No more. Now it's on Henderson to provide the ground component of McVay's attack.
I always liked the Henderson pick early in the third round of the 2019 draft. As an explosive, one-cut back, he seemed like a possible home-run hitter in this offense. And he's flashed this ability in his first two NFL campaigns, piling up 624 yards (at 4.5 ypc) and five touchdowns in 2020. Now we really get to see what he's all about. In the wake of Akers' injury and Malcolm Brown's free agency departure, the Rams' backfield seriously lacks experience beyond Henderson. So No. 27's poised to carry a heavy load.
The Rams obviously have high hopes for 2021, having traded for Matthew Stafford in the offseason. In fact, they're my Super Bowl pick in the NFC. In camp, Henderson needs to show he's healthy and ready for prime time.
Calling Ruggs' rookie season a "disappointment" is a grotesque understatement. The first receiver taken in the 2020 draft caught 26 passes. Think about what fellow first-rounders Justin Jefferson (88 catches for 1,400 yards and seven touchdowns), CeeDee Lamb (74/935/5), Jerry Jeudy (52/856/3) and Brandon Aiyuk (60/748/5) showed. Not to mention guys like Tee Higgins (67/908/6) and Chase Claypool (62/873/9), who were picked in Round 2. Shoot, Darnell Mooney (61/631/4) doubled Ruggs' production as a fifth-round field stretcher.
I blasted the Ruggs pick when it was made. Lamb and Jeudy were much better prospects. Now, Jon Gruden has to make it work. This is his guy. His baby. Ruggs has to flash something for poor Derek Carr, who is still in need of a legit No. 1 receiver.
I really liked this signing by the Steelers. After watching Bud Dupree skip town for a major payday in Tennessee, Pittsburgh took a calculated flier on a three-time Pro Bowler. When healthy, Ingram was a pass-rushing stud for the Chargers. Of course, health was a major issue last year, when he logged just seven games and didn't record a single sack.
From 2015 through '19, Ingram averaged nine sacks a year. But he went unsigned until mid-July for a reason: No one knows what kind of gas the 32-year-old has left in the tank. On a one-year deal, Ingram has much to prove. And the Steelers, who need edge-rushing juice across from the great T.J. Watt, could sure use a throwback effort from the former first-round pick. It will be fascinating to see what he looks like over the next month.
In theory, there's nothing to prove. Fields was an absolute stud at Ohio State, having just outplayed No. 1 overall pick Trevor Lawrence in the College Football Playoff. When he inexplicably started to fall in April's draft, the Bears wisely pounced, trading up to No. 11 to secure his services. Instantly, the feeling around this franchise flipped; suddenly, the Bears had hope.
But for some odd, awful, stubborn reason, Matt Nagy seems hell-bent on the idea of Andy Dalton being "QB1". It's illogical. Spare me the Kansas City/Alex Smith/Patrick Mahomes noise. The Chiefs didn't need a quarterback entering the 2017 season; Smith was a really strong player and winner. But Andy Reid, Brett Veach and Co. recognized Mahomes' rare skill set and traded up. It was still Smith's team for a year, and the Chiefs won the division. This is not similar to the current situation in the Windy City. I've taken the same number of snaps for the Bears as Andy Dalton. And Andy Dalton is Andy Dalton. What are we doing here?
Fields needs a great camp to take the decision out of Nagy and Co.'s hands. Fields needs to dazzle, make the press ooh and aah. Fields needs to do this for all the amazing Bears fans who have been through so much nonsense at the game's most important position.
No one questions Derwin's ability. He's a certified stud, a difference-making safety whose versatile skill set changes the Chargers' defense. The guy was a first-team All-Pro as a rookie in 2018, filling the stat sheet with 105 tackles, 13 pass breakups, three picks and 3.5 sacks. He was a force of nature.
But since that otherworldly debut, James' body has failed him. He played in just five games in 2019 due to a foot fracture and missed the entire 2020 campaign with a torn meniscus. This has robbed football fans of one of the most exciting defensive players in the game today. I'm dying to see this cat out on the gridiron again. I want to see him in new coach Brandon Staley's scheme. I want to see him looking healthy and dynamic once more. For a Chargers team that I currently have pegged for the playoffs, it's only everything. He's that impactful and irreplaceable.
With Kenyan Drake departing in free agency, some thought the Cardinals would look to make a splash at the running back position in free agency or the draft. But when I spoke with Steve Keim a few months ago on SiriusXM, he waxed poetic about Edmonds' potential as a do-it-all starting running back in the NFL. And seeing how James Conner is Arizona's most notable backfield addition, Keim clearly wasn't blowing smoke about his belief in Edmonds.
I believe in Edmonds' talent, but the former fourth-round pick needs to prove that he can be more than a change-of-pace back. He needs to provide Kyler Murray with the balance of a steady run game. The franchise quarterback took a beating running the football last season, and it showed with his play in the second half of the year. Edmonds needs to carry the ground attack.
Welp, Aaron Rodgers is officially back in the saddle. Giddy up! Time to make another run for the ring. But while the Packers' passing game is clearly in good hands, their passing defense has a huge question mark across from stud CB Jaire Alexander. Can King fill the CB2 role, or will the Packers have to throw raw rookie first-rounder Eric Stokes into the fire?
King, a high second-round pick back in 2017, has not lived up to the billing in Titletown. The kindest possible way to put it would be saying that he's been inconsistent. But really, for much of his pro tenure, he's been the type of cornerback whom receivers can't wait to line up across. And the last time we saw him -- in the NFC Championship Game -- King was burnt to a crisp. That's why many Packer Backers were stunned when Green Bay brought him back on a one-year, $6 million deal. Can he prove his worth? Can he finally reward the Packers for taking him at the top of the second round? Buckle up, butter cup. A good camp would inspire.