by Chris Corbellini
If vanilla is your favorite ice cream flavor, then Week 2 of the preseason is absolutely your week.
The rush of pro football being back last weekend is long gone. After the OTAs, summer Oklahoma Drills, 11-on -11s against the scout team, and finally some game action, each club *thinks* they know what they have amongst their top-tier starters. There’s a lot of optimism to go around, from camp to camp, coast to cost. So don’t expect to see much more from those starters, or anything meaningful from the playbook — though a savvy head coach like Bill Belichick may call something unusual, just to make his opponents think he’ll use it in season.
So expect four large scoops of vanilla in every game.
Still, Week 2 holds a lot of importance for the players on the fringe of the roster. Simply put, they are playing to make their dreams come true. A 40-yard catch down the seam, a great tackle for loss on special teams … these things matter when formatting a final, 53-man roster and getting something on film for other teams to pour over. Meanwhile, some starters need to answer questions as well — which is just as important, if not more so. They have their sea legs under them now — one game is in the books — can they prove to the coaches that the consistency is there?
Preseason games can be incredibly competitive for those reasons. It’s just not all that meaningful for the marquee players. With that in mind, here’s what stood out in Vanilla-Ville:
Philadelphia Eagles at Pittsburgh Steelers (Thursday night, 7 p.m. ET)
The most intimidating figure facing the Eagles wide receiving corps will be on the sideline.
Dorial Green-Beckham stands 6-foot-5, weighs 225 pounds, and can clock a sub 4.5 40 yard dash. Those measurables, plus a few leaping touchdown catches during his rookie season, prompted Philadelphia to trade offensive lineman Dennis Kelly for the receiver this past week.
Green-Beckham will not play in this one. He’ll probably be one of those guys with his arms folded in a team t-shirt and shorts (perfect for a cutaway for TV), watching the game unfold. But his mere presence should put pressure on the incumbent receivers. For one game at least, he represents unlimited upside without stepping onto the field.
Nelson Agholor, the team’s 2015 first-round selection, is one of the hardest workers on the team, according to the local media. But it hasn’t shown on the field yet. He told that same media the Green-Beckham trade doesn’t put any further pressure on him.
That’s just adorable.
He’ll be the most scrutinized player on the field by fans, and whether they admit or not … the coaches. Likewise, Reuben Randle, a free agent pickup from the Giants, and Josh Huff, a third-round pick in 2014, are under the microscope in this one against the Steelers defense.
Atlanta Falcons at Cleveland Browns (Thursday night, 8 p.m. ET)
Can Robert Griffin III still play? He can certainly still sling it against a rush — completing a gorgeous 49-yard rainbow completion to Terrelle Pryor in the preseason opener. But can he be consistently accurate — on the run and in the pocket — in a game situation? Is this offense already his? Browns fans hope so.
NFL players are mostly an optimistic lot when talking/thinking about their starting quarterback. They have to be, otherwise the season is over before the real kickoff. To his teammates, all RGIII needs is to put together 2-3 smart, solid scoring drives in August to completely win them over. Week 2 is the perfect opportunity to do that — even without Corey Coleman (hamstring) or Josh Gordon (quad) available. Both are unlikely to play.
Chicago Bears at New England Patriots (Thursday night, 8 p.m. ET)
These teams faced one another earlier in the week and things got a little ugly. Nothing outrageous took place like an all-out brawl, but a joint practice in the August heat feels like a test of a team’s composure from Patriots HC Bill Belichick … and New England didn’t pass it. How cleanly they compete is something he’ll surely be watching closely, while the rest of us wonder where Tom Brady is.
A potential knucklehead on his roster — and a very talented one — is tight end Martellus Bennett. Bennett is a former Chicago Bear, and wasn’t always in lockstep with his QB there, Jay Cutler. If you are to believe his brother, Michael Bennett, Cutler is the worst QB in the league. Bennett also dropped a few passes last week, so there’s plenty of motivation in this one to score a long receiving touchdown — or knock over a few of his former teammates.
Speaking of pass defense … the Bears don’t have any yet. Not really. Their best option at the moment, corner Tracy Porter, got smoked by Patriots receiver Julian Edelman earlier this week. Kyle Fuller (knee) and Bryce Callahan (muscle strain) are injury question marks, so 2015 undrafted free agent Jacoby Glenn has a chance to showcase his skills here against all that shiftiness and double moves by the Pats receivers.
San Francisco 49ers at Denver Broncos (Saturday night, 9 p.m. ET)
With playoff wins under his belt and a former first-round pedigree, this was Mark Sanchez’s job to lose. Did he lose it already? Too soon to tell, but he won’t be starting against the Niners in Week 2. Trevor Siemian will be the guy for the Broncos instead.
Say it together now: “Who?”
Siemian, a seventh-round draft pick in 2015, obviously has some familiarity with the Broncos system. Still, while sitting behind Peyton Manning and Brock Osweiler last year, how many reps did he get? Manning will work extra with the scout team when he can. And that means Siemian, then a rookie, probably handed him the football and ran a few routes just to help out.
In the preseason opener, Simian went 7-of-12 for 88 yards. In this one, he runs with the 1s. The Broncos would love to be able to make a definite decision on their open QB battle by the third preseason game — and then generally keeping their starter out of harm’s way. So this is Siemian’s best chance to make an in-game impression.
The 49ers, meanwhile, are hoping to see more from Blaine Gabbert this weekend.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Jacksonville Jaguars (Saturday night, 7:30 p.m. ET)
On paper, judging from last year, this one doesn’t look all that exciting. But both these teams are young and eyeing a rise up the standings. There’s actually some pride at stake here.
Two potential studs to watch will be Jaguars rookies Myles Jack and Jalen Ramsey. Jack, who has impressed thus far, could play against the Buccaneers first team at middle linebacker, just to see where he is, and then keep him out there for a stretch. It’s still Paul Posluszny’s defense, but preseason is where you give a rookie a larger workload and hope he plays mistake free.
Ramsey (knee) is not a guarantee to play due to a spring injury. He didn’t play in the first game against the Jets. But the safety participated in a joint practice against the Bucs this week, and would love an in-game crack at his former FSU teammate, Jameis Winston.
Winston. Ramsey. Jack. Blake Bortles. Allen Robinson. Dante Fowler Jr. There’s a lot of talent here. One of these teams could be ready to make a jump.