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Winners and losers: Underdog QBs rise; injuries dog Chargers

Jay Cutler doesn't have much time to prepare for the season after joining the Dolphins midway through training camp. Then again, Cutler threw as many passes in practice last week as Andrew Luck and Cam Newton did.

Luck, who had surgery on his throwing shoulder in January, was placed on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list by the Colts two weeks ago, with no signs that his return is imminent. While general manager Chris Ballard said previously Luck won't stay on PUP into the regular season, reporters have yet to see Luck even throw on the side of practice. Luck observed his team from the sideline over the weekend, an act that Indianapolis coach Chuck Pagano said was "good for the soul." Watching Scott Tolzienconsistently scuffle in practice, on the other hand, shares none of chicken soup's restorative properties.

Newton returned from his March shoulder surgery far more quickly than Luck -- perhaps too quickly. Newton threw with a trainer Sunday, but it's been a full week since he practiced fully with the Panthers. The quarterback started camp with few restrictions, lasting four full days before backing off to a full stop. This setback is being treated as no big deal in Carolina, but the fitful start to camp is a reminder that recovery from such a major surgery is rarely straightforward. The Panthers are attempting a dramatic identity change without their starting quarterback on the field. Meanwhile, the team's No. 1 receiver, Kelvin Benjamin, was held out of team drills in Friday's Fan Fest, with coach Ron Rivera saying Benjamin had "wobbly" legs. Carolina's speedy second-round pick Curtis Samuel has practiced once in camp because of a hamstring injury.

"We are installing our offense," Rivera said Sunday. "We are not going to wait on anybody. We'll just have to pick it up when [Samuel] gets out here."

The Pantherswill wait for Newton, just like the Colts are waiting for Luck. But all this missed practice time could result in a regular season where both offenses are constantly playing catch-up.

The Panthers and Colts had tough weeks. Here are some of the other winners and losers as training camps continue:


Tyrann Mathieu, Cardinals safety: The Honey Badger entered this pivotal training camp promising to promise less and deliver more. It's a great sign that he's already throwing that plan out the window.

Days after coach Bruce Arians said Mathieu -- who struggled in 2016, landing on injured reserve in December with a shoulder injury, after suffering the second ACL tear of his NFL career in 2015 -- looked completely healthy for the first time, Mathieu called himself the best player in the world and got into a Twitter beef with Giants safety Landon Collins. In other words, the Cardinals' defensive X-factor believes he's all the way back, too.

QB competition underdogs: Two weeks of training camp provided little clarity in three of the NFL's open quarterback competitions, making the first two weeks of the preseason matter even more.

Jets quarterback Josh McCown has failed to stand apart from Christian Hackenberg, with the Jets' offense producing five three-and-outs and a pick-six in its first nine possessions during the team's scrimmage Saturday night. Hackenberg still can't be ruled out as a potential Week 1 starter.

Brock Osweiler was announced as the Browns' starter for the team's first preseason game ... despite receiving virtually no first-team reps for all of OTAs and the start of training camp.

"You want somebody to be head and shoulders above everybody else, but let's be honest, when you have four guys that you are giving a bunch of reps to, it is hard to do," coach Hue Jackson said over the weekend.

This is an indictment of Cody Kessler, who has reportedly struggled after opening camp as the starter. Rookie DeShone Kizer should still have time to make up ground, because no one in Cleveland, from fans to Jackson, appears eager to believe Osweiler is the Browns' best option.

In Denver, conventional wisdom holds that Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch are both struggling to gain traction in their competition. This is a worst-case scenario, with Siemian reportedly nosing ahead of last year's first-round pick only by default.

(UPDATE: NFL Network's James Palmer reported Monday that Siemian will start in Denver's preseason opener against the Bears on Thursday, while Lynch will start the second preseason game vs. San Francisco on Aug. 19.)

Packers cornerback depth: As Pete Dougherty pointed out for the Green Bay Press Gazette, we can consider it a great sign for the Green Bay defense that the team's No. 1 cornerback in the playoffs last season, LaDarius Gunter, is now closer to No. 5 on the depth chart and battling to make the team. This secondary should be vastly improved.

Eric Decker, Titans receiver: Decker's dueling hip and shoulder surgeries are a distant memory, with the veteran lighting up Titans camp. Even before first-round pick Corey Davispulled a hamstring, Decker looked like one of the free-agent bargains of the season with a salary under $4 million.

Nelson Agholor, Eagles receiver: The consistent drumbeat about Agholor's excellent practices are getting too hard to ignore. Our buddy Daniel Jeremiah said on his "Move the Sticks Podcast" last week that Agholor has enjoyed a "total rebirth" and is destined to be Philadelphia's slot receiver. With Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith as options on the outside and little-known wideout Marcus Johnson making noise, it's unclear where veteran slot receiver Jordan Matthews fits in.

Matthews' salty reaction to the story, lashing out at Jeremiah's mock drafts, is the clearest sign that DJ is onto something. (Matthews is barking up the wrong tree here, because Jeremiah's mock drafts have consistently been tested as accurate over the last four years.)

Don't be surprised if Matthews comes up in potential trade talks this month, with the Texans being a potential fit.

Stuck in the middle

Tom Savage, Houston Texans: Despite a strong start to training camp by rookie Deshaun Watson, John McClain of the Houston Chronicle writes that Tom Savage is "clearly No. 1" because of his sharp play. After learning Bill O'Brien's system the last three seasons, this could be Savage's only chance to enter a season as an NFL starting quarterback. He's just not set up for success.

The loss of No. 2 receiver Will Fuller, who is out until at least October with a broken collarbone, exposes the Texans wideout group as one of the thinnest in football. The Texans hope that youngsters Jaelen Strong or Braxton Miller can step up, but the team may have to look outside the organization for help. Left tackle Duane Brown's holdout also shines a light on an offensive line that was shaky a year ago and doesn't necessarily look better. It's not all on the quarterback in Houston.


The Chargers' draft class: GM Tom Telesco's incredibly bad injury luck has traveled with him up north. One week after announcing first-round pick Mike Williamsis not expected to practice this camp with a back injury that calls into question his ability to play this year, the team lost second-round guard Forrest Lamp for the season to a torn ACL. Third-round center Dan Feeney remains healthy, although he's still practicing with the second-team offensive line. The group protecting QB Philip Rivers is a makeshift unit hoping for a lot of variables to break its way. This all sounds too familiar to Chargers fans.

Baltimore's backup quarterback options: There was great outcry last week when the Ravenssigned another camp arm, Josh Woodrum, instead of Colin Kaepernick. That move had little to do with Kaepernick's chances for future employment in Baltimore. The team's pickup of tackle Austin Howard could be a much bigger factor. The team signed the former Raiders tackle for more than $5 million, essentially vaporizing the rest of its cap space for 2017. While the team could still make room for Kaepernick if it wanted, it just became more difficult.

Seattle could prove to be a better fit for Kaepernick. Seahawks leadership hasn't expressed the public ambivalence that we saw in Baltimore, and the need for a backup quarterback is growing. Second-year pro Trevone Boykin has reportedly struggled early in Seahawks camp, with even the perennially sunny Pete Carroll failing to stick up for him.

Ryan Tannehill: Conor Orr did a great job examining Tannehill's future in Sunday's edition of "What We Learned," recognizing that the Dolphins could choose to move on from Tannehill -- who could require knee surgery -- in 2018 with few financial repercussions. The entire situation promises to get messy, and much of it is out of Tannehill's hands. Cutler could play well enough for the team to put Tannehill on the trade block, and it's possible the Dolphins could ask Tannehill to renegotiate his salary. He'll be 30 years old next season, and he still hasn't proven he's a true franchise quarterback.

Kevin White's confidence: Consider it a bad sign that White had to dispute a public account from his receivers coach in Chicago that the duo watched White's college film lately to remember how dominant he could be.

"No, [I don't need that reminder], I see it every day on film," White told reporters, via ESPN.

Bears coaches have spoken about White needing to tune out the media, but their public comments betray a lack of faith in the team's No. 7 overall pick from 2015.

"We have to figure out, 'Hey, this is what Kev does well,' " offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains said over the weekend. "And maybe it's everything. Maybe it's seven or eight routes. Maybe it's three or four."

It's Year 3 of his NFL career, and White is competing for practice time with journeymen, his coaches still unsure about what he does well.

Bay Area Smiths: Linebacker Malcolm Smith, recipient of one of the most generous free-agent contracts of the offseason, was the only 49ers defender who played in coordinator Robert Saleh's defense before. Now Smith is out for the season with a torn pectoral muscle, which should open up a starting job for rookie Reuben Foster. (Ray-Ray Armstrong is also in the mix.)

Across the Bay, Raiders coaches sent a message to cornerback Sean Smith by demoting him to No. 4 cornerback behind T.J. Carrie and undrafted rookie Breon Borders. Keep in mind this demotion happened even with first-round pick Gareon Conley sidelined. If not for the $9.25 million guaranteed Smith is set to earn this season, he would be a strong candidate for release.

Follow Gregg Rosenthal on Twitter @greggrosenthal.

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