It was a day of positive vibes for quarterbacks during Sunday’s 2020 NFL training camps as Alex Smith of the Washington Football Team was cleared for football activity and activated off the physically unable to perform list, capping a remarkable recovery from a leg injury that nearly cost him his life.
Smith, 36, who broke the tibia and fibula in his right leg in a November 2018 game, is expected to be on the field when Washington begins full-pad work on Tuesday.
In Jacksonville, QB Gardner Minshew has made a good impression on new offensive coordinator Jay Gruden, who is pleased with how fast the second-year QB has picked up the offense.
Here’s what you need to know from camps across the league for Sunday:
Top news of the day
Source: Giants plan to sign ex-Panthers kicker Graham Gano
The New York Giants plan to sign former Pro Bowl kicker Graham Gano, a source told ESPN. Gano, 33, was the Panthers’ kicker during current Giants general manager Dave Gettleman’s tenure in Carolina. The plan appears to be for Gano to compete with veteran Chandler Catanzaro for a job. The Giants signed Catanzaro several weeks back after releasing Aldrick Rosas, who is dealing with his legal issues from a hit-and-run accident earlier this offseason.
Joe Theismann: Smith’s injury much worse than mine
The one former NFL quarterback who understands the leg injury Alex Smith has overcome is rooting hard for the Washington QB.
“Go, Alex, go,” Joe Theismann told ESPN in a telephone interview.
The former Washington quarterback suffered the same injury in 1985 and was in the stands when Smith broke his leg 33 years to the day Theismann was injured. Theismann needed only one surgery on his right leg to clear up an infection; Smith required 17.
“He has gone through a lot more than I had to go through,” Theismann said. “… Alex came within 24 hours of losing his leg. I didn’t wind up with complications; he wound up with a tremendous amount of complications. It wasn’t just healing from a broken leg. The mountain he had to climb is so much greater.”
This on Sundays >> pic.twitter.com/lwhKAJTniX
— Tampa Bay Buccaneers (@Buccaneers) August 16, 2020
Who’s ready for San Francisco 49ers football?! 🙋♂️
— TheSFNiners (@TheSFNiners) August 14, 2020
— Denver Broncos (@Broncos) August 16, 2020
The release… pic.twitter.com/EiyRPEu0nT
— New York Jets (@nyjets) August 16, 2020
— Chicago Bears (@ChicagoBears) August 16, 2020
— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) August 16, 2020
We just wanna ball 😤 pic.twitter.com/b9joLXBc3k
— Carolina Panthers (@Panthers) August 16, 2020
— New England Patriots (@Patriots) August 16, 2020
— Cincinnati Bengals (@Bengals) August 16, 2020
Today was a good day 👏 pic.twitter.com/2MD4C4UJpI
— Washington Football Team (@WashingtonNFL) August 16, 2020
— Cleveland Browns (@Browns) August 16, 2020
— Dallas Cowboys (@dallascowboys) August 16, 2020
— New York Giants (@Giants) August 16, 2020
Two days of practice down.
— Houston Texans (@HoustonTexans) August 16, 2020
.@Matt_Skura62 passed his physical and is expected to be on the field Monday.
— Baltimore Ravens (@Ravens) August 16, 2020
All the time. pic.twitter.com/Sj8fijAHXl
— Atlanta Falcons (@AtlantaFalcons) August 16, 2020
“No matter what happens he’s already won the award for comeback player of the year.” Joe Theismann, former Washington star, on the return of QB Alex Smith
What our NFL Nation reporters saw Sunday
The Cowboys want to be able to take the ball away better than they have in recent years. Sunday’s work might be a good start. Anthony Brown intercepted a deep ball from Andy Dalton to Michael Gallup that was slightly underthrown and tipped into the cornerback’s hands. Corner Chidobe Awuzie made a diving pick of a Clayton Thorson throw. Linebacker Jaylon Smith had two pass breakups and linebacker Leighton Vander Esch broke up one on a bootleg from Dak Prescott to Blake Jarwin.
Louis Riddick and Tim Hasselbeck break down Dak Prescott’s contract and his future either with the Cowboys or another team.
New Jaguars offensive coordinator Jay Gruden said he’s been impressed with how second-year QB Gardner Minshew has picked up the offense and how smooth he looked in the first week of practices. That’s not a surprise, though, considering Minshew is on his seventh offensive system since the 2014 high school season and has thrived at most stops.
“We’re starting to install the meat and potatoes of our offense and Gardner’s been great,” Gruden said. “He’s a hard worker. He’s willing to learn. … He’s got a huge upside and we’re excited to tap into that.”
Minshew didn’t seem to have any confusion on Sunday. He held the ball a little too long a couple times while trying to find a receiver in 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 drills, but his throws were crisp. While he might not completely know the offense at this point, he was calling out checks and re-aligning players before the snap. In one instance he moved rookie WR Laviska Shenault across the formation into a different spot.
“I like where his mind’s at,” Gruden said. “We’re trying … challenge him with these concepts and protections and so far it’s been great.” — Michael DiRocco
Not so sure Jon Gruden would describe Marcus Mariota‘s Sunday practice as “electrifying” again. Mariota struggled mightily on intermediate passes, badly missing at least three receivers (one pass nose-diving before two defenders could pick it off) on plays that needed time to develop.
Granted, Gruden praised Mariota for his running ability on Friday, and Mariota did flash when the pocket broke down. And he did look good at the 10-yard line, firing TDs to receiver Bryan Edwards, who outleapt fellow rookie Amik Robertson, and tight end Foster Moreau on quick-hit passes on crossing patterns across the back of the end zone. But Mariota is still picking up the offense after a hands-off offseason.
And while Josh Jacobs practiced for the first time since media was allowed in on Wednesday, he showed why his goal is to catch 60 balls this season. Taking a pass in the right flat from Derek Carr, Jacobs sped up the sideline, where he was met by safety Damarious Randall.
“Boom,” Jacobs yelled, feigning lowering a shoulder into Randall. “I just retired you. You’re going to have to make a grown-man decision.”
Randall laughed. “Your ankle will make that decision for you.”
The Raiders practice in pads for the first time on Monday. “That is exactly what we need,” said linebacker Cory Littleton. “It is a little intimidating at first.” — Paul Gutierrez
Odell Beckham Jr. stole the show Sunday with several impressive catches, including a dazzling one-handed grab in coverage along the sidelines during 7-on-7. Afterward, coach Kevin Stefanski praised OBJ’s ball skills.
“The unique thing with him (is) the ball skills. I just think he is special in that regard. When the ball is in the air, he has a knack of getting it any which way he can — one-handed, two-handed, along the boundary. He just does a nice job from a ball skills standpoint.” — Jake Trotter
The Jets are hurting at their most vulnerable position — wide receiver. They’re already down two players, rookie Denzel Mims (hamstring) and Vyncint Smith (core muscle). That’s why they signed free agent Chris Hogan, 32, but it will be a few days before he can practice because of the league’s COVID-19 protocols. They have two proven receivers, Breshad Perriman and Jamison Crowder, and a whole lot of questions. One name to watch: First-year WR Jeff Smith, who started his Boston College career as a quarterback. He caught coach Adam Gase’s eye last season. — Rich Cimini
With injuries in a crowded backfield, Stephania Bell provides some clarity on which New England RB gives your roster the best chance to win.
The Patriots held their final OTA-type practice Sunday, setting the stage for the first full-pads practice on Monday. Running back Rex Burkhead, on the team’s official Twitter account, said: “Great day. Guys getting after it. Looking forward to tomorrow, putting the pads on, and getting the physicality going.” — Mike Reiss
All-pro Saints RT Ryan Ramczyk said he had his knee scoped after the season to clean up some cartilage — but it doesn’t sound like anything that is affecting him now. Ramczyk also commented Sunday on how good veteran LG Andrus Peat looks after losing some weight in the offseason and coming into camp in great shape. The media will get its first glimpse of all these guys on the field Monday when the Saints have their first padded practice of the offseason. — Mike Triplett
The Bills will give all their specialists an equal number of reps during training camp as they seek winners of their competitions at kicker and punter. Buffalo drafted Tyler Bass in the sixth round to compete with incumbent kicker Stephen Hauschka and signed Kaare Vedvik to push last year’s starting punter Corey Bojorquez. The equal reps are an effort to simulate competition without preseason games. — Marcel Louis-Jacques
Media were allowed to watch a Matt Rhule practice on Sunday for the first time since the former Baylor coach was hired in January. The session lived up to its billing with high energy and a fast pace. It was highlighted by big plays and Rhule stopping the music blaring during team drills several times to let players know what he was thinking. He once had the offense drop and do push-ups. Just don’t look for Rhule to put on pads and a helmet — as he did at Baylor and Temple — when the Panthers have their first padded practice on Monday.
The first-year NFL coach said “no way,” that those days are long gone. — David Newton
Patrick Mahomes has made similar throws before, but that didn’t make his touchdown pass to backup wide receiver Gehrig Dieter in a 7-on-7 drill any less impressive. Mahomes was drifting to his left and couldn’t step into the throw but still completed the pass with just a flick of the wrist.
“The great thing about training camp practices with [Andy] Reid is that he allows me to try those different things,” Mahomes said. “As you’ve kind of seen camp go, there have been times where I’ve made these throws and they worked out and we scored touchdowns. Then I threw one one day that was an easy interception. He lets you try those different things and you just learn from them, see what you can and can’t do. It helps me when I get into a game.”
Even after seeing such throws before, Reid still can’t help but look on with a sense of awe. “I appreciate his talents,” Reid said. “I remind the coaches often that that just doesn’t happen all the time, with every quarterback. But he makes it look easy and does it time after time. You don’t ever get complacent or satisfied with those, you enjoy each one of them.” — Adam Teicher
Quarterback Alex Smith indeed returned to practice Sunday, although it’s going to be a little while before he’s able to participate in full-team work. Even though Smith was activated off the PUP list Sunday, he’ll still be limited as the team eases him back into drills. They had just reached a point after two weeks where they need to see how he handles being in a pocket when the play goes off-schedule and when he has to react. It could still be some time before they put him in such a situation, but until then any talk about him seriously challenging for the starting job will be muted. — John Keim
Safety Kenny Vaccaro went inside during team stretch with a sleeve on his right leg and came back out and rode a stationary bike. He left midway through practice on Friday. However, the depth at safety showed with Amani Hooker filling in for Vaccaro and making a nice pass breakup during 7-on-7s. Dane Cruikshank also received extensive work.
Derrick Henry worked extensively with running backs coach Tony Dews on receiving during special-teams periods. He caught a pass and raced down the field during the team period as well.
Rookie running back Darrynton Evans looked sharp in route running and showed some burst to the edge running the ball. But Evans fumbled twice which is rare. He didn’t fumble at all during his college career at Appalachian State. — Turron Davenport
The 49ers have high hopes for rookie receiver Brandon Aiyuk and although they are not yet in pads, the early returns have been quite promising. Aiyuk is already getting opportunities with the starting offense and making the most of them. In Sunday’s practice, Aiyuk got a deep ball from Jimmy Garoppolo that would have gone for a 50-plus yard gain and then added other would-be big gains on a deep crosser and a dig route. Aiyuk has already earned praise from coach Kyle Shanahan for his attention to detail and work ethic.
“You can tell he knows how to practice like a pro,” Shanahan said. “You can tell he comes prepared every day. He’s not a guy you’ve had to teach how to act or teach how important it is to learn this stuff. You can tell he understood that before he got here and since we’ve been around him, you can tell he’s been working and that’s why he’s further ahead, I think, than a lot of rookies would be at this time.”
Quinton Dunbar practiced with the Seahawks for the first time Sunday, nine days after armed-robbery charges against him were dropped. He got some brief one-on-one instruction early in practice from Pete Carroll, a former defensive back himself, then watched during the team periods as Tre Flowers played right cornerback with the No. 1 defense. With Dunbar just getting back on the field, it’ll be at least another day before the Seahawks see their new-look secondary — Dunbar, Jamal Adams, Quandre Diggs and Shaquill Griffin — together in its entirety.
Elsewhere, Shaquem Griffin made a nice play Sunday when he set the edge at strong-side linebacker and forced Russell Wilson back inside on a quarterback keeper. The Seahawks are so stacked at linebacker right now that it’s not even clear how they’ll get first-round pick Jordyn Brooks on the field with the (current) projected starting trio of Bobby Wagner, K.J. Wright and Bruce Irvin. Cody Barton is another linebacker Seattle is high on. That means it’ll take a strong August for Griffin to make the team. In addition to making plays like the one he made Sunday, Griffin might also have to show he can provide some pass rush. Seattle began using him in that role late last season. Griffin had a sack in the playoff loss to Green Bay. — Brady Henderson