Preseason notebook

With the first set of preseason games being played last week, it was good to finally have some football on our televisions. Every team has played at least one game now, and there were a couple of things that stuck out to me. Nelson Agholor, Tyler Lockett, and Phillip Dorsett will give Amari Cooper stiff competition for Offensive Rookie of the Year My early favorite to win Offensive Rookie of the Year is Amari Cooper. Watching the Raiders against the Rams featuring Cooper in their first handful of plays did nothing to change my mind. Cooper was targeted four times and made three catches for 22 yards in the first quarter. What was also impressive were the starts of three other rookie wide receivers in the Eagles' Nelson Agholor, Seahawks' Tyler Lockett, and the Colts' Phillip Dorsett. Nelson had an up and down game for the most part, as he did drop some balls, but also made a tough catch (thrown a bit too high), quickly turned, avoiding the defender, and sprinting up field for a 34-yard touchdown. Agholor was touted as one of the better route runners coming out of the draft and watching him cutting in and out of his routes on Saturday, you could see why. With his timed 4.42 speed, Nelson will be the primary deep threat for Chip Kelly’s high-powered offense. Nelson and second-year receiver Jordan Mathews look to be Sam Bradford’s main targets in Philadelphia, so he should see plenty of action. Indianapolis Colts' rookie Phillip Dorsett started their preseason opener versus the Eagles in place of T.Y. Hilton and caught four balls for 51 yards. Dorsett was more of an afterthought in Colts grand scheme of things heading into training camp. With Veterans Andre Johnson, Donte Moncrief, and the aforementioned Hilton, the Colts looked like they would not have enough balls to satisfy all their receivers. With the quickness and speed Dorsett displayed versus Philly, I can’t see how Coach Pagano and Offensive Coordinator Pep Hamilton can keep him off the field. Dorsett is so quick and has soft hands. I can see him eating up yards from the both the slot position as well as the outside. With Andrew Luck at quarterback, Dorsett has a leg up on the others in terms of playing with one of the best signal callers in the league. Tyler Lockett of the Seattle Seahawks also had quite the coming out party. Drafted not only for his receiving ability but also his special teams' skills, Lockett returned a kickoff for a 103-yard touchdown. In total, he had 186 kickoff return yards and 18 yards on his lone punt return. Obviously, Lockett will have a major impact on the Seahawks' special teams unit, but what also needs to stressed and repeated with this young man is that he is a heck of a receiver. Listed at 5’10” 182lbs, Lockett has always had to fight off the “too small” stigma, even while putting up huge numbers in his final two seasons at Kansas State. Lockett had over 2,700 yards receiving and 22 touchdowns combined in his last two years in Manhattan, Kansas. Prior to the game, Lockett had already been drawing praise from the coaches for his route running and speed. He quite possibly landed in the perfect situation, between the head coach and coaching staff, to take advantage of his skills. If there is one thing Pete Carroll has made clear in the past, if you can play and produce on the field, no matter your size or draft status, he will find a way to use you. Lockett also does not have a number of established veterans to climb over on the depth chart. The days of the Oakland Raiders being pushovers might be over The Raiders are coming guys, and no, I am not referring to their possible relocation to Los Angeles. The Raiders have stockpiled some young talent on their roster and will no longer be marked as automatic wins on their opponents' calendars. Having gone 11-37 over the last three seasons (2012 – 2014) the Raiders have not been a very competitive team to say the least. The lone bright spot in those dismal seasons was the fact they were able to compile high draft picks in every round. Coupled with smart free agent signings, it appears they might be on their way back to being competitive. Head Coach Jack Del Rio and his staff had the young Raiders flying around the field last Friday night versus St. Louis. With Derek Carr entering his second season, and the addition of wide receivers Amari Cooper, Michael Crabtree, and Center Rodney Hudson, expectations were that the Raiders would take another step up on offense. What took me by surprise was how fast and physical the Raiders were on defense. Defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. had their players attacking from the start. With second year linebacker Khalil Mack leading the way, the Raiders were swarming to the ball carriers with their speed and gang tackling at every opportunity. Mack was not alone in his relentless pursuit. Joining him was fellow 2014 draft classmate Shelby Harris who had one sack and one tackle for loss. Not to be outdone, rookie linebacker Ben Heeney, a 2015 fifth round pick from Kansas, also registered eight tackles and a sack. In all, the Raiders finished the game with three sacks and seven tackles for loss. Now I am not saying they will win their division or even finish above 500, but the last two draft classes put together by Reggie McKenzie have been very good, and the proof is on the field. Expectations are that 15 of the 18 players selected in the last two drafts (not including undrafted free agents) will make the final roster. The Raiders are building that young nucleus that will lead them back to prominence. With Derek Carr and Amari Cooper on offense and Khalil Mack and company on defense, the future appears to be very bright. The Steelers could have the best offense in the NFL It’s hard to imagine the Steelers having a better offense than what they displayed in 2014, when they had one of the most explosive offenses in the NFL. They finished in the top two overall for average yards per game (411.1) and total passing yards per game (305.9) and seventh overall in scoring offense (27.2). Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger had a tremendous season, passing for 4,952 yards and 32 touchdowns (all career highs). Wide receiver Antonio Brown had 129 receptions 1,698 yards and 13 TD, while running back Le’Veon Bell compiled 1,361 rushing yards, 854 receiving yards, and 11 TD. Expecting Roethlisberger, Brown and Bell to repeat or come close to their 2014 stats is a bit unrealistic, especially when Bell will miss the first two games of the season serving a suspension. Where the improvement will come from is the added depth at running back and the continued development of their younger receivers. The Steelers finally seem to have depth at running back with veteran DeAngelo Williams and second year speedster Dri Archer. Both will be asked to help fill the void in the running game for the first two games with Bell out. Williams was a terrific signing and will give the Steelers a dependable option as a backup to Le’Veon when he returns. Archer has speed to burn and will be used in a number of different formations that will be designed to get the ball in his hands in the open field. Both will allow Bell to stay fresh at the end of games and limit some of the physical punishment he absorbs. Pittsburgh appears to have a spectacular and dynamic collection of wide receivers. With the aforementioned Antonio Brown leading this group, expect a huge year out of 2014 fourth round pick Martavis Bryant. Bryant, who in 10 games last season had 549 yards and eight touchdowns, has size (6’4” 211lbs.) speed (4.42), and big play ability (21.1 yards per catch). With Antonio Brown drawing the primary focus of opposing defenses, Bryant will thrive with single coverage. With the continued development of Markus Wheaton, plus this year’s third round pick in Sammie Coates, the Steelers very well could have the best group of wide receivers in the NFL. With Ben Roethlisberger coming off a career year in 2014, and entering his fourth season with Todd Haley as his offensive coordinator, the sky is the limit for the Steelers on offense. Roethlisberger has complete command of the offense and has become the unquestionable leader of that unit. During practice, he is not only coaching up and talking to the quarterbacks, but also the receivers, offensive line, and running backs. Coming into coming into training camp, both Roethlisberger and offensive coordinator Todd Haley suggested that the Steelers can average 30 points a game this season by simply limiting the early season struggles they endured in 2014. After initially scoffing at the notion, I believe the Steelers have a legitimate chance at topping 2014 and will have the best offense in the NFL this season. Tim Tebow Will Make the Eagles 53-man Roster Leave it up to Chip Kelly to resuscitate Tebowmania, this time in city of brotherly love. Tebow played almost the entire second half versus the Colts on Saturday, seeing his first live game action since 2012, completing six of twelve passes for 69 yards. He also had a 15-yard touchdown run. Tebow had been working on speeding up his throwing motion and improving his accuracy from the pocket in order to enhance his chances of getting back in the league. Even though he made a couple of nice throws from the pocket, he still is not a NFL caliber quarterback in my books. Yet, I still see Tebow making the Eagles' final roster as the third quarterback and beating out Matt Barkley. No, this won’t be a publicity stunt by Kelly and the Eagles to try and drum up more media attention. Chip Kelly does not like the spot light. He just wants to coach football and he wants to do it his way. The reason Kelly will keep Tebow will be football related. First, Chip Kelly believes in his offense and this offense revolves around the quarterback. Kelly wants accurate, athletic quarterbacks who can make quick, smart decisions with the ball. In starter Sam Bradford, he has the accurate and quick decision maker part down. He is just not athletic enough to buy time or create plays with his feet, especially after back-to-back knee surgeries. Tebow gives Kelly an option at quarterback that would replace Bradford in short yardage and goal line situations. My guess is Kelly already has a number of plays drawn up that will strictly be “Tebow Plays”. With both Ryan Mathews and Demarco Murray joining Tebow in the backfield, it would be difficult for defenses to determine who would get the ball pre-snap. This could give the Eagles one of the most efficient goal line offenses in the NFL. Second, Kelly might feel having Tebow on the roster would give the Eagles an edge on their opponents. Even if Tebow is not active on game day, the opponent’s defensive coordinator still has to plan and prepare for him. They have to take time during the week of preparation and practice possible situations and plays that Tebow could run during a game. Some may argue that’s just gamesmanship, but to Kelly, it’s an advantage. The time they spend preparing for the possibility of Tebow playing is less time they prepare for the rest of the offense. Chip Kelly has proven this offseason that he has a vision on how he will win in the NFL, and he does not care what anyone else may think. He has a plan, and in 2015, his plan will include Tim Tebow. Danny Shimon is a graduate of Introduction to Scouting and Scouting Boot Camp. Follow Danny on Twitter @dshimon56
Danny Shimon
NFPost Scouting 101 & Scouting Seminar Graduate. Bears writer for www.windy-citysport.com

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