The circle of life is constantly at play in the NFL, and Baltimore has the most recent example of it. The Browns new head coach is far more player friendly than the last regime's coach, and it could be just what Cleveland needs to start moving in the right direction. Antonio Brown had the most targets of any receiver last season, but can (and should) the Steelers rely on him to do it again?
The circle of life in the NFL is constantly in motion. That's the nature of a business where once your physical health or production starts to decline your employer has already lined up several guys to take your job. Ronnie Stanley is on the beneficial side of this circle right now. The Ravens released Eugene Monroe, an offensive tackle that Baltimore traded a fourth and fifth round selection in the 2014 draft to acquire. That trade left a hole on the depth chart at left tackle, but, that hole could be quickly filled by first round Draft pick, Ronnie Stanley. Stanley was the first offensive tackle drafted in this year's Draft, and he says he's starting to get the hang of playing left tackle at the NFL level.
"This is the first time ever I felt this kind of pressure," Stanley told Jamison Hensley of ESPN. "I've never felt pressure like that before. It's something I know I can handle and part of the transition to the NFL. It's a production business and that's the way it's always going to be. So, it's just something you have to get used to and I know I will."
Stanley does realize the harsh reality that this opportunity was created by one of his teammates losing his job. Which is obviously hard to ignore for any player, but it often goes unnoticed by fans. To us, it is merely a player being cut; we may feel bad or happy, but we move on. Those players on that team just lost a friend who they've been through thick and thin with, and that has an effect on the mindset of a player. And yet, the circle continues its motion, and the players can only role with the punches until they end up on the same end as Monroe.
Joe Flacco will be ready for training camp
Joe Flacco says he will be on the field for training camp, and even joked he's more worried about his 'rusty arm' than his leg, but the Bengals have seen this play out before with Carson Palmer, and even Geno Atkins, where sometimes just because a player is ready to go doesn't mean they're fully healthy. Sometimes it'll take another full offseason of just working out instead of rehabbing to get back to being the guy we all know.
Ravens focused on turnovers
The Ravens know they'll have to do better than their -14 turnover ratio from last year to compete this season. The Ravens were focusing on strip drills and ball security drills this minicamp to improve that number. It is one the general keys to every game: win the turnover battle. That was a battle the Ravens consistently lost in 2015 and as a result, they consistently lost games. It wasn't like they were blown out of many games either. An extra possession here and there could've easily changed the outcome of games for the Ravens last season.
Cleveland fans have a habit of treating players harshly. You don't have to look much further than the treatment of their quarterbacks, but last season Joe Haden caught a lot of criticism. Haden only played in five games because he was dealing with a multitude of injuries, but most notable were his two concussions. It is really unfair to criticize a player for putting his mental well being ahead of a football game.
Haden doesn't really care though because, like Joe Thomas, he has been reinvigorated by the hiring of Hue Jackson.
"It’s a feeling in the facility you can’t describe," Haden told Tony Grossi of ESPN. "Everybody’s just legitimately bought in. You don’t hear any ulterior motives. Everybody wants to win and there’s no reason we can’t turn into that team. I know it’s difficult for the outside world to hear that, but inside it’s so believable for us.
We haven't heard this kind of optimism out of Cleveland players for a while. Believing is half the battle after all. The other half is acquiring the proper talent, putting them in winning situations, and then executing, but hey, they have half of it down at least.
Continuing with the trend of Jackson creating a culture change in Cleveland, the Browns' new coach has started to give veterans veteran days off. This is something the Bengals and plenty of other teams have routinely done over the past few years. Training camp and especially minicamp are far less important for veterans who are in shape and know the system. Thomas is an established professional who doesn't need to practice everyday. He also is getting to the age where practicing everyday would probably hinder more than help.
"I think they pay me to play on Sundays," Thomas told Pat McManamon of ESPN.
He is right, and Jackson and the medical staff are wise to keep him healthy and watching during these early (menial) practices.
Today, people track stats fans would've never dreamed of 10 years ago, like how often a wide receiver is targeted compared to the rest of their team. But, it is such an important stat to see how much a team relies on a certain player. The Steelers rely on Antonio Brown more than any other team relies on any of their receivers. Although, Julio Jones is very close behind. Brown gets 33.7 percent of his team's targets. One-third of all the throws from Steelers quarterbacks go toward Brown, and he usually doesn't disappoint. He finished the season with 1,834 yards. That was without Ben Roethlisberger for a few games, but it was also with Le'Veon Bell missing time due to injury.
It is very possible the Steelers could go for a more balanced approach with Bell returning to the lineup. This could easily cut down the number of throws coming Brown's way, but in the end it could create less double teams and more space for him to operate. Without Martavis Bryant opposite Brown next season it may not be as wise to force the ball to Brown as much, considering most teams will look to take him away early and often.
Bell looks for advice
Bell is going to seek out Adrian Peterson's help regarding getting over the mental aspect of his knee injury. Bell was cleared just a few weeks ago, but he is dealing with the issue many running backs who go through this injury do: worrying about it holding up. Many times, you hear guys say they just need to feel that first real hit and get up just to know that everything is okay.
Two back set coming back
The Steelers have a good NFL problem of having two talented running backs, which sometimes creates trouble for defenses when you can utilize both of those guys on the field at the same time. But, those days in the NFL are mostly gone, especially with neither Bell nor DeAngelo Williams being very adept at splitting out wide to create matchup problems. Pittsburgh would be better off spelling each back to keep them fresh and healthy.
A big debate for the Steelers is whether to continue having Brown returning punts. The obvious argument is the risk versus the reward. He is a very talented returner, but considering how much of the offense he eats up, it is safe to say the Steelers don't want to put him in harm's way more often than necessary. The Steelers also drafted a rookie from Houston this year, Demarcus Ayers, who has looked impressive returning punts as he looks to earn a spot on the roster. As they say, the more you can do, the better your chances of making the team. Being able to relieve the star wide receiver of punt return duties would make Ayers pretty valuable.