AFC Campers of the Week

The SportsXchange

Making a good impression early and often is key to surviving and succeeding in an NFL training camp.

So with all camps still in early stages, The Sports Xchange asked team correspondents to name those players who are making the best first impression -- the Camper of the Week.

Results from the American Football Conference show that making an early impression is just as important for veterans, as proven by Indianapolis wide receiver Reggie Wayne, as it is for rookies, such as wide receiver Aaron Dobson, the second-round draft pick whose camp early camp performance had given the New England Patriots a much-needed positive topic of conversation before a minor ankle injury kept him out of Tuesday's practice.

Here is a review of each AFC team's COW near the end of the first week of camp (listed alphabetically):

Baltimore Ravens -- Linebacker Terrell Suggs.

Suggs has been practically unblockable so far in camp. He is in excellent condition and looks primed to reprise his NFL Defensive Player of the Year (2011) form after struggling with injuries last season, including a torn Achilles and torn biceps.

Buffalo Bills -- Linebacker Marcus Dowtin.

A 24-year-old free agent claimed off waivers in April after being released by the New York Jets, has constantly been around the ball in early camp drills. Dowtin is benefitting from knowledge of former Jets defensive coordinator Mike Pettine's multi-scheme defense that he brought to Buffalo. Dowtin, 6-2, 226, has the kind of athleticism needed to play in Pettine's defense as a run defender, pass rusher and pass defender lining up inside and outside. On one play during the team's first practice, he ran down a deflected pass and made a diving interception. That's turning heads.

Cincinnati Bengals -- Cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick.

Kirkpatrick played only five games last year and missed all of offseason workouts as he recovered from knee surgery, so he is being watched closely. He is battling Adam Jones for time at the No. 3 cornerback spot. During the first week of practices, Kirkpatrick has shown plenty of athletic ability while also displaying improvement in technique. Kirkpatrick: "I'm more confident in the playbook, been studying a lot. ... same technique, same steps from Alabama."

Cleveland Browns -- Running back Dion Lewis.

Lewis is contending with Montario Hardesty, Brandon Jackson and Chris Ogbonnaya to back up starting running back Trent Richardson. Lewis, acquired from the Eagles in an April trade, is proving he can catch the ball out of the backfield -- an important quality for a running back in Norv Turner's offense.

Denver Broncos -- Tight end Julius Thomas.

Thomas appears to be finally channeling his potential that made him a fourth-round pick in 2011 in spite of playing just one season at Portland State. Thomas, hindered the last two seasons by ankle problems, took advantage of extra work during the offseason following starter Joel Dreessen's injury. In workouts he made a series of athletic, leaping catches that earned notice from coaches and quarterback Peyton Manning, who has targeted him more frequently.

Houston Texans -- Safety D.J. Swearinger.

A rookie second-round pick from South Carolina, Swearinger continues in training camp to impress as he did in offseason workouts. He is always around the ball, making plays and showing a nasty disposition when necessary. Off the field he spends hours watching tape and is media friendly, which apparently didn't hurt him in this poll.

Indianapolis Colts -- Wide receiver Reggie Wayne.

The Colts' Pro Bowler started the team's 2013 training camp the way he ended the 2012 season, in spectacular fashion. Wayne was in mid-year form in the team's first two practices, coming up with several one-handed catches. Learning his third offensive system in three years, Wayne shows no signs of slowing down in his 13th NFL season.

Jacksonville Jaguars -- Wide receiver Mike Brown.

A year ago, Brown spent the first 15 weeks of the season on the team's practice squad. He was activated the final two weeks and started the season finale at Tennessee. Brown has shown a huge improvement from a year ago and, with Justin Blackmon out with an injury, Brown has jumped to the No. 2 receiver spot behind Cecil Shorts III and looks particularly effective on hauling in deep passes.

Kansas City Chiefs -- Wide receiver Dexter McCluster.

McCluster started on the first play of training camp when he hauled in a long pass from quarterback Alex Smith and took it to the end zone. That lit a fire under the nearly 4,000 fans watching the opening workout. McCluster continued to make plenty of catches as he lines up as a wide receiver, wingback, slotman, and running back. "If my number is called, hopefully I can be the guy to make the play," McCluster said. "That's who I want to be."

Miami Dolphins -- Quarterback Ryan Tannehill.

In his second season, Tannehill is improving quickly, which is a relief to Dolphins coaches, players and fans. Tannehill, who had 12 touchdowns and 13 interceptions last season as a rookie, had no interceptions during his first week of practice and he frequently hit speedy wide receiver Mike Wallace on deep passes. Realistically, it is a so-far-so-good situation with plenty more to prove.

New England Patriots -- Wide receiver Aaron Dobson.

Despite a minor injury -- Dobson took a cleat to his ankle Monday and was scheduled to sit out Tuesday and Wednesday before returning Thursday -- the rookie second-round pick was a hot topic among those watching Patriots workouts. He has shown sure hands and solid route-running in his first taste of action working with quarterback Tom Brady. Dobson has been getting reps with the first unit alongside Danny Amendola, and made plenty of impressive plays against the Patriots' top cornerbacks.

New York Jets -- Wide receiver Clyde Gates.

Gates has shown flashes of big-time talent during cups of coffee with the Miami Dolphins and Jets, but it looked as if he might be losing his best chance to establish himself when he battled a concussion throughout the final month of last season and missed much of OTAs this year with a hamstring injury. But he has been the early star of camp, showing an impressive array of skills as both a deep threat and a precise route-runner.

Oakland Raiders -- Wide receiver Rod Streater.

Although the passing game as a whole has struggled early in camp, Streater has looked good himself with memorable catches of all sorts as an early favorite of new quarterback Matt Flynn. Streater was signed as a free-agent rookie after the 2012 draft and, thanks to injuries, was a starter at the beginning of last season. He finished the year with 39 catches for 584 yards and three touchdowns and shows potential to do much better this year.

Pittsburgh Steelers -- Wide receiver Markus Wheaton.

The rookie third-round pick was unable to practice in the spring because he didn't finish school at Oregon State until mid-June. But early in training camp, he has shown he can outrun almost everyone and he made several difficult catches. If he can pick up the offense quickly, he could become a bigger factor as a rookie than expected.

San Diego Chargers -- Strong safety Marcus Gilchrist.

A cornerback his first two years with the Chargers, Gilchrist has made an impressive transition to safety, with mentoring from veteran free safety Eric Weddle. Gilchrist is seldom out of position and while the Chargers haven't done much hitting, being physical has always been a big part of Gilchrist's game.

Tennessee Titans -- Wide receiver Kendall Wright.

Wright led the Titans in catches as a rookie with 64, but the Titans want his yards per catch to go up. In camp, Wright and quarterback Jake Locker teamed up for several solid plays and Locker appears to trust Wright as a favorite target. After losing 15 pounds, Wright seems to have found a faster top speed.
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