The MMQB team is making its way around the nation visiting NFL training camps this preseason. Up today we have a few observations and takeaways from visiting the NFC West teams, plus one lingering question for each team.
• When asked if QB Kyler Murray is unequivocally his starter now, Kliff Kingsbury gave no hesitation: “Yes.” Murray has impressed everyone. While I was there in early August, he made a throw rolling right, flicking it down the seam to Larry Fitzgerald—the move got a few “wows” from teammates.
• Among all the rookie WRs, sixth-round pick KeeSean Johnson has stood out—he’s natural and a good route-runner, who learned from ex-teammate Davante Adams. The other obvious standout at the position is Christian Kirk, who should have a huge year.
• Nice bounceback candidate: Robert Alford. The cornerback was hurt last year in Atlanta, and the Cardinals thought he had something left. He’ll be a good, competitive piece, and necessary given that Patrick Peterson is suspended for the first six games of the season.
• Terrell Suggs has been good, and has even helped Chandler Jones in refining his game. A good bonus: His presence should allow Arizona to keep Haason Reddick off the line as a stack LB.
• Rookie Zach Allen has looked sturdy as a five-technique end in the 3-4 front that new defensive coordinator Vance Joseph is putting him in, and he has a little bit of a chip on his shoulder over sliding to the third round in April. So far the staff seems to have no issue counting on him.
• QUESTION: It’s no secret that the offensive line needs work. J.R. Sweezy and Marcus Gilbert have brought some edge and toughness. But sorting out the interior—especially with a shorter quarterback—is vital, and it remains a work in progress.
LOS ANGELES RAMS
• Josh Reynolds has taken a step forward, and the staff now believes it has four starting-caliber receivers, in Brandin Cooks, Robert Woods, Cooper Kupp and Reynolds. Figuring out how to take advantage of that is good problem to have. (And TE Gerald Everett gives the team one more skill guy who has made a leap).
• Both C Brian Allen and LG Joe Noteboom are coming along nicely, which was needed with the losses of John Sullivan and Rodger Saffold, who were both released. Allen’s an important one, because of the responsibility that Sean McVay gives his centers to make protection calls. And the team is hopeful Noteboom will eventually succeed Andrew Whitworth at left tackle.
• Jared Goff has improved making adjustments at the line, both in protection calls and in calling audibles. It may seem like a small thing, but it’s not. Goff told me in June that the Super Bowl showed him he needed to evolve in that area.
• It’s hard to overstate how happy the Rams are with the acquisition of Eric Weddle. He’ll make them more adaptable in a ton of ways on defense, like he did for the Ravens. One Rams’ staffer predicted that safety John Johnson will make the Pro Bowl because of Weddle’s presence.
• Should the Rams need it, Los Angeles has flexibility at RB, with Malcolm Brown back, and Darrell Henderson in the fold. The team’s call to take Henderson was more the coaches wanting him as a player than the team needing to draft at the position. They have a vision for his role, and it should be fun to see it play out.
• The Rams think they have something in Clay Matthews, who was playing over 70% of the snaps last year in Green Bay. Having him getting after the passer in a platoon with Dante Fowler and Samson Ebukam should help.
• QUESTION: The obvious one is what form of Todd Gurley the team will get? Based on the nature of Gurley’s knee issue, I think we’ll have to wait on an answer to that one. The good news is the Rams look more prepared with contingencies than they were a year ago.
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS
• The 49ers believe new DL coach Kris Kocurek can be a difference-maker for a unit with five first-rounders. In particular, Solomon Thomas has benefitted from looks that get him upfield more often. He may never live up to his draft spot, but the team thinks he can be a disruptive presence.
• Before he suffered a ‘significant’ ankle sprain that will keep him out for the remainder of the preseason, rookie Nick Bosa has been a menace, going toe-to-toe with Mike McGlinchey and Joe Staley. At one point when I was at practice the first week of August, McGlinchey looked very frustrated trying to handle Bosa. As one coach explained, Bosa just doesn't stay blocked. Now, he has to get—and stay—healthy, which has already proved harder than expected. The OL/DL battle here was really competitive in general.
• The Niners are optimistic they’ll get the Seattle version of Richard Sherman this year. Last summer he was up-and-down in coming back from his torn Achilles’ tendon, and generally operating at about 70% capacity. He's been a tone-setter in camp for the defense thus far.
• Rookie sleeper: LB Dre Greenlaw. The fifth-rounder has flashed instincts and feel for the game, and looks like he could contribute, in some way, right away. Thing is, big-ticket free agent Kwon Alexander plays the WILL, which is his natural spot.
• If there’s a swing factor for San Francisco, it might be Weston Richburg’s health. His status for the start of the season is in question, but if he can play, the OL could wind up being pretty strong. If not ... You’ll see that center is a pretty important spot in the Shanahan offense.
• QUESTION: Can Jimmy Garoppolo regain his late 2017 form? He’s done the work, that’s for sure, but he’s still very green from a play-time perspective—Kyle Shanahan told me the biggest thing for Garoppolo is just getting more game experience. The good news is he’ll have a better line in front of him, and the crew of receivers and tight ends has promise.
• LB may be as deep as it’s been since head coach Pete Carroll and GM John Schneider arrived in Seattle, and rookie Cody Barton is a major reason why. The third-rounder's ability was apparent right from rookie minicamp. For now, he’s at MLB behind Bobby Wagner, but he can play all three spots and is pushing for time.
• One under-the-radar camp battle is for the third RB spot, behind Chris Carson and Rashaad Penny. C.J. Prosise and J.D. McKissic are in the mix, but rookie Travis Homer has a shot—with his physical running style and special teams ability—to swoop in and take someone’s job.
• Another camp battle has been for the nickel CB spot (Shaquill Griffin and Tre Flowers are entrenched outside). The team has numbers there with Akeem King, Kalan Reed and Ugochukwu Amadi, but there is a chance that Justin Coleman’s replacement isn’t on the roster yet.
• For the first time in what seems like forever, the Seahawks actually have solid depth along the offensive line, and particularly at tackle. Behind Duane Brown and Germain Ifedi, George Fant has starting experience and should moonlight as a blocking tight end, and second-year man Jamarco Jones is developing nicely.
• Interestingly enough, Ziggy Ansah has become an important piece, which makes his ability to stay healthy crucial. He’s playing the Leo spot in Pete Carroll’s defense, and the pass rush is a big area of concern going into the season, especially with Jarran Reed on the shelf for the first six games (DT still needs to be sorted out, too).
• QUESTION: How will roles at receiver work out? D.K. Metcalf has impressed early on, and the team knows it can count on Tyler Lockett. There’s good speed and depth overall, but how the pieces fit together around Russell Wilson remains a question.
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