5 key players to watch during Week 1 of NFL preseason action

Shutdown Corner

Two teams have already gotten their preseason feet wet, but this week all 32 NFL teams will be in action as the preseason really gets underway.

Starters won’t play too much in the opener, but we’ll get a good chance to see some veterans in new places and some rookies getting their first taste of NFL action. Here are the five players we’ll be watching in Week 1 of the preseason:

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Houston Texans QB Deshaun Watson

Watson is the future for Houston. Can he be the present? Watson has the tools – mobility, is a natural leader and a proven winner – but don’t forget that he tossed 17 interceptions at Clemson last season on a measly 7.9 yards per passing attempt. NFL offenses, to be sure, take years to master.

While in his infancy stages with the club, he has been praised by head coach Bill O’Brien for his work ethic and ability to understand scheme. However, Tom Savage still seems to hold the edge for the starting job, according to several reports. One key to look for early on in preseason is how Watson handles the blitz. Does he panic? Does he target his hot read? Does he identify if – and where – it’s coming from before the snap? These things will help determine if he gets the Week 1 nod for the Texans.

All eyes will be on Deshaun Watson as he makes his NFL preseason debut this week. (AP)
All eyes will be on Deshaun Watson as he makes his NFL preseason debut this week. (AP)

Jacksonville Jaguars RB Leonard Fournette

Fournette’s entry into the NFL is one of the most anticipated by a running back we’ve ever seen. A freight train with top flight speed, the fourth pick in the draft shouldn’t have much trouble adjusting to the pro game. Young running backs often struggle with pass protection at this level – a coach’s pet peeve. If Fournette is even halfway adequate picking up the rush, he will be able to stay on the field. He’s that talented. The Jags will be watching this as much as anything else because coach Doug Marrone would love nothing more than to feed his young workhorse 20-plus touches a game. Make things simple for turnover-prone, erratic quarterback Blake Bortles with an effective running game and the Jags will start to win football games.

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Chicago Bears QB Mitchell Trubisky

Chicago gave up a king’s ransom to acquire the North Carolina quarterback with the second pick in April’s draft. In terms of the big arm and classic drop-back passer frame, Trubisky – who started a mere 13 games in college – checks all the boxes. But can he excel between the ears? Can he not only read defenses, but grasp his own offense as well? Ideally against Denver, he will make a few nice throws and flash his arm. But pay close attention to how he commands the huddle. Does he look in charge, or is this a Jared Goff deer in the headlights situation? It’s very early, but Trubisky already fumbled three of the six snaps he took in a single drill during camp. 

Seattle Seahawks RB Eddie Lacy

A Pro Bowler in 2015, Lacy fell out of favor in Green Bay because of an inability to keep his weight down. Ballooning to 267 pounds, he became an injury-prone, heavy-footed running back with the Packers. But nobody has ever questioned Lacy’s talent and to that point, Pete Carroll believes Lacy is better served to play bigger, somewhere around the 245-pound mark, which is where his contract is incentivized.

The Seahawks entered camp with plenty of uncertainty at running back. Thomas Rawls led the league with a 5.6-yard-per-carry average as a rookie, but has missed 10 games during his two seasons as a pro. C.J. Prosise is an electric speedster but is likely more of a change-of-pace guy. If the 27-year-old Lacy, who entered camp in good shape, runs hard early in preseason, it would strongly behoove his efforts to become Seattle’s primary back entering Week 1 against none other than the Packers at Lambeau Field. 

Tampa Bay Buccaneers WR DeSean Jackson

A three-year, $35 million deal is a huge investment to make for a player in Jackson who hasn’t played a full regular season since 2013. Then again, Jackson remains one of the league’s premier deep threats and should help the development of James Winston and Mike Evans. Look to see how the Bucs deploy the three-time Pro Bowler against Baltimore: Will they line him up opposite Evans, or will they get creative, perhaps with some bunch sets to create misdirection and confusion? Jackson is 30 years old but he’s a true burner who opens up the field in a way few receivers can. It shouldn’t take long to foresee the type of impact he can have on the Bucs’ potentially breakout offense.

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