You never want to overreact to Week 1 of the preseason. You just want to see encouraging trends, improvement in areas of deficiency.
But once you get that first taste of every team, it leaves you hungry for more. Who will continue to progress in Week 2? Who will follow up an impressive debut with a discouraging step back? Will we get any closer to answering the burning questions that abound in this part of the football calendar?
Here are the things I’m most eager to see in the second full week of preseason play, Schein Nine style:
1) Magical Mitchell Trubisky
I will not dash the sudden enthusiasm among Bears fans with the kind of wet-blanket analysis many lazily espouse: It was only the preseason and he was playing against the backups to the backups. Anyone who does that is shortsighted, oblivious to the bigger picture. Trubisky’s preseason debut against Denver provided something Chicago football fans haven’t had in quite some time: Hope.
Trubisky looked like a leader. Completing 18 of his 25 attempts for 166 yards and a touchdown, he threw brilliantly and with zip on the fastball. He was accurate while throwing on the run, on bootlegs and roll-outs.
Mitchell Trubisky looked like an NFL quarterback.
Directly following the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft, I absolutely crushed the Bears’ selection at No. 2 overall. Most of my venom stemmed from the facts that Chicago A) gave up valuable picks to move up one freakin’ draft slot and B) immediately scrapped the plan that was hatched in free agency one month prior. Seriously. Mike Glennon, who signed a three-year, $45 million deal ($16 million this season) in March, became the future ex-quarterback of the Bears in April. It’s over. He’s a place-holder. The only question for this season is when he’ll be forced to hand over the torch. Everyone knows it. Might it have been wiser to spend that Glennon money on Alshon Jeffery? What was the full offseason plan here?
All that said, I’ve always believed Trubisky has potential. Yes, I was worried about his limited college experience (13 total starts), but knew he possessed the tools to be an NFL quarterback. Trubisky is a big-time talent. And if he can provide another inspired performance at Arizona on Saturday night, Glennon could be holding a clipboard much sooner than most think. The 16 Million Dollar Backup …
2) Roberto Aguayo making kicks
Yes, I initially called it “clever usage of the No. 59 overall selection” after the Buccaneers spent a second-round pick on a kicker. (Hey, instant draft analysis is hard. At least I’m honest.) Tampa Bay needed Aguayo to improve special teams and help this team return to the playoffs. Neither thing happened — though at least the postseason goal was a near-miss. Aguayo was a complete whiff. The former Florida State All-American just couldn’t handle the pressure of being such a high pick. Credit Bucs GM Jason Licht for admitting a mistake and cutting bait following another lackluster showing from the kicker in Tampa’s preseason opener. Licht doesn’t have an ego.
Aguayo succumbed to the heat in Tampa, but he was immediately scooped up by Chicago. I know he’s just a waiver-wire pickup who’ll have to shore up his accuracy issues immediately to even have a chance at making the roster, but I also know he has talent. I mean, he was one of the most accurate kickers in the history of college football. I’m rooting for the guy. This is the loneliest position in football — who wants to see a youngster with so much promise flare out so spectacularly?
3) The New York Giants running the ball
I’m very high on the Giants this year. I think they’re going to win the NFC East with the best defense in the division. But there are major concerns on the other side of the ball, specifically the offensive line and backfield. These are issues that could’ve — and should’ve — been addressed during the offseason. They weren’t. And the opening week of the preseason did little to quell worries. Starting running back Paul Perkins rushed for three yards on five carries, as the offensive line failed to create much of a push. (Additionally, the O-line had plenty of trouble pass protecting against rookie T.J. Watt and his Steelers cohorts, but we’ll give the unit a bit of a break in the aerial attack because Eli Manning didn’t play a down.)
The Giants need to show some growth Monday night in Cleveland. Color me skeptical. I don’t think they have the personnel, in the backfield or up front.
4) The Dallas Cowboys running the ball without Ezekiel Elliott
Ezekiel Elliott’s appealing his six-game suspension, but I’m still going to think about Dallas’ ground game without the NFL’s reigning rushing king.
Darren McFadden actually looked pretty good in the Cowboys’ preseason opener vs. the Rams this past Saturday, rushing for 28 yards on six carries. McFadden, of course, was the Cowboys’ primary back in the season before Elliott’s arrival, and he rushed 1,089 yards at 4.6 a clip. But McFadden turns 30 later this month, and his career has been defined by injuries more than touchdowns. Behind McFadden, the Cowboys have Alfred Morris and Ronnie Hillman. Not entirely inspiring. Prove me wrong!
Zeke immediately burst on the scene in Year 1 as one of the most dynamic talents in the NFL. He’s irreplaceable. But can the overpowering O-line pick up the slack and allow the Cowboys to still be a running threat? That’s the question. I have my doubts. In fact, if Elliott does end up missing six games, I think Dallas goes 2-4.
5) The Minnesota Vikings’ O-line: still suspect or improved?
Minnesota is a candidate to surprise this year. Of course, there’s a glaring “yeah, but …” that could bury all hopes: the offensive line.
The unit was afflicted by injuries and poor play throughout last season. Consequently, Minnesota fielded the worst ground game in football and Sam Bradford was sacked a career-high 37 times. Will this year’s unit perform any better?
Well, in last Thursday’s game at Buffalo, Sam Bradford was sacked twice in 13 offensive snaps, with left guard Alex Boone adding a holding penalty for good measure. This unit will decide Minnesota’s fate in 2017. Bradford needs time to throw and supremely talented rookie RB Dalvin Cook needs room to run.
After a 5-0 start to last season, the Vikings train flew off the tracks largely because of the line. It can derail again.
6) Jay Cutler and Adam Gase: Will they pick up where they left off?
I touched on how much I love this (re)marriage in last week’s column. I think Jay Cutler can be better for Adam Gase than Ryan Tannehill. After all, the duo made sweet music in Chicago back in 2015, when Cutler posted the highest passer rating of his career (92.3). Well, it’s time to get another look at the pairing, as Cutler’s poised to make his Dolphins debut on Thursday night vs. Baltimore.
Cutler’s obviously familiar with Gase’s offense, but it’ll be very interesting to see how quickly he can gain a rapport with a promising receiving corps that includes Jarvis Landry, DeVante Parker, Kenny Stills and Julius Thomas.
I believe in the Cutler-Gase marriage, but the clock is ticking.
7) The Cleveland Browns’ QB development
Brock Osweiler actually made a beautiful throw to Kenny Britt for a would-be touchdown vs. the Saints last Thursday, but Britt didn’t drag his toe in bounds. I took that as a positive. And how about rookie DeShone Kizer? The Notre Dame product threw a few gorgeous deep balls and finished his first NFL game with a nice stat line: 11 of 18 for 184 yards and a touchdown.
Those are the only two guys who should be in the mix for the Browns’ starting job. (Sorry, Cody Kessler.) And I’m excited to see the duel take center stage on “Monday Night Football.”
8) Something … ANYTHING from Paxton Lynch
In the first subsection of this column, I talked about not minimizing Mitchell Trubisky’s performance just because it came on a preseason stage against backups. When you flash, you flash. It’s exciting and inspiring.
Have you ever once felt those feelings after watching a Paxton Lynch pro performance?
Denver’s 2016 first-round pick was completely underwhelming against Bears backups. That’s alarming. The light needs to go on. And fast. Because it’s not like Trevor Siemian is doing much to win this quarterback competition; Lynch is losing it. And if this team is forced to settle at quarterback, it will be wasting a very talented defense once again.