AFC Stars of the Week: Quarterbacks opening eyes

The Sports Xchange

June 05, 2017 at 4:02 pm.

May 26, 2017; Jacksonville, FL, USA; Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles (5) works out during organized team activities at Everbank Field. Photo Credit: Logan Bowles-USA TODAY Sports

May 26, 2017; Jacksonville, FL, USA; Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles (5) works out during organized team activities at Everbank Field. Photo Credit: Logan Bowles-USA TODAY Sports

NFL offseason work is winding down with most of the activities ending next week.

Two teams return to work this week after not having OTA sessions last week: Buffalo and the Los Angeles Chargers. The New England Patriots are going a tad against the grain with their mandatory minicamp this week and final OTAs next week.

All teams have players that stand out, which gives us the opportunity to evaluate some of the stars of last week’s OTA work. In addition to the Bills and Chargers, there is no player identified for the Patriots because they had no open practices last week for the media.

Interestingly, three teams highlighted quarterbacks that opened eyes: Alex Smith in Kansas City, Blake Bortles in Jacksonville and Josh McCown with the Jets.

Aside from the quarterbacks, three of the 13 players are rookies.


–CB Maurice Canady: The second-year player from Virginia had three interceptions when the media was allowed to view practice on the last day of voluntary camp Thursday. He also knocked down several passes. Canady, a sixth-round pick, showed promise before being placed on injured reserve after four games with a thigh injury in 2016. The coaches have praised his physicality. The Ravens finally have a deep secondary after struggling with injuries over the past few seasons. Canady appears ready to make an impact within that group and also shine on special teams.


–LB Kevin Minter: The departures of free-agent linebacker Karlos Dansby and Rey Maualuga, who was released, left a void at linebacker that the Bengals hope to have filled with the signing of Minter. Minter is a four-year veteran who is learning to play in a 4-3 scheme. Two weeks into OTAs, Minter appears to be a quick study while shadowing veteran Bengal Vinny Rey. Minter, who had 81 tackles and a career-high 3.5 sacks for Arizona last season, has impressed his teammates. “He sounded good,” linebacker Nick Vigil told the Cincinnati Enquirer. “He understood what the offense was trying do. He’s been playing a long time and he’s seen it all. Nothing is going to surprise him; he’s just got to get down the lingo and kind of get in sync with everybody around him. He plays fast. He plays fast.”


–NT Danny Shelton: Shelton, the Browns’ first-round pick in 2015, made a big leap in his second year and if OTAs are an indication of what to expect he is poised to do the same thing in 2017. Shelton is quick in drills. He was especially explosive in swatting away a blocking pad in a drill designed to mimic moving aside blockers to get to the running back. There is no tackling in OTAs, so the real proof won’t come until later, but the signs opponents will have difficulty running up the middle are there.


–DE Adam Gotsis: He is still working on the second team, but is finally starting to look like the player the Broncos said they felt he could be when they selected him in the second round of the 2016 draft. Gotsis batted down a pass at the line of scrimmage during Tuesday’s work and also got his arm up to prevent a throw down the middle. “He’s a second-round pick for a reason,” Broncos head coach Vance Joseph said. “That’s what I saw on tape in college, this guy who we’re seeing now. I’m excited about him. He’s finally healthy and you can tell.”


–CB Denzel Rice: A reserve defensive back, Rice had an interception off a deflected Brandon Weeden pass. Rice didn’t look out of place operating with the first-team defense with veteran Johnathan Joseph given the day off Wednesday. Former Clemson star and first-round pick Deshaun Watson has also impressed teammates with his work ethic and willingness to learn the offense.


–WR Kamar Aiken: The former Baltimore Ravens wide receiver has been as good as advertised during the first couple weeks of the Colts’ OTA workouts. Aiken is being counted on to add some much needed veteran depth to the position. His arrival as a veteran free-agent addition is also expected to push two of the team’s young receivers, Donte Moncrief and Phillip Dorsett, to continue their development.


–QB Blake Bortles: Granted its early in the offseason, players were without pads and the defense didn’t put on a strong rush, but the consensus about Bortles was that he has looked sharp and fit in the Jaguars’ early workouts. Bortles, who was listed as 245 pounds at the start of the 2016 season, said he’s now playing at 233. His mechanics have looked good, an indication that the offseason drills with his personal quarterback instructors in California, have paid dividends. Wide receiver Allen Hurns gave his quarterback an early endorsement.

“We saw some differences in how the ball was coming out. The timing of things,” Hurns said. “You’re coming out of your break, the ball is there.”

Bortles is looking to improve on his overall game, especially in cutting down on turnovers where he has an NFL-high 63 since 2014.


–QB Alex Smith: All eyes in offseason workouts may follow rookie quarterback Patrick Mahomes, but Smith continues to prove day in and day out why the Chiefs remain his team. The Chiefs have Super Bowl aspirations, and Smith delivers the team’s best opportunity to deliver on that promise. Smith holds a strong command of HEAD coach Andy Reid’s West Coast offense, and his ability to deliver the ball on target and avoid turnovers appears in midseason form before the start of summer. Backups Tyler Bray and Mahomes showcase bigger arms in practice, but Smith stands alone in his ability to run the Chiefs’ offense at peak efficiency.


–DE Charles Harris: The rookie first-round pick from Missouri had three sacks on Wednesday and continues to show his first step is as good as advertised. Granted, there are no pads and defensive linemen know the Dolphins are working largely on pass-rush drills so they have an advantage. But Harris got past left tackle Laremy Tunsil a few times and put pressure on the quarterback a few other times. It’s way too early to draw conclusions, but Harris has done well so far.


–QB Josh McCown: He isn’t going to the Hall of Fame, but he has a Canton-worthy resume when compared to his competition for the starting job with the Jets. McCown continued to impress Tuesday, when he took the first-team snaps while Christian Hackenberg had a sure-fire pick-six dropped while overseeing the second-team snaps. Bryce Petty was relegated to third string. As long as McCown remains healthy and doesn’t face-plant over the next three months, it’s hard to envision him not being behind center in the season opener.


–LB Tyrell Adams: He has been working with the first team in a wide-open competition at inside linebacker and has been faring well in non-contact drills. Being able to take on blocks when the Raiders get to training camp will be crucial, but until that point, Adams’ ability to play the pass has opened some eyes and put him in the mix.


–CB Cameron Sutton: The rookie third-round corner has been a standout in practices from rookie minicamp through the first two weeks of OTAs. Sutton’s ability to break on the ball has been evident as he has come down with multiple interceptions during team periods. The Steelers are looking to play more man coverage next season, and if Sutton continues to play well, he’ll find himself in the mix for playing time.


–WR Taywan Taylor: The rookie from Western Kentucky continues to turn heads with his shiftiness on the practice field as a slot receiver and his ability to quickly pick up the playbook. While Taylor is playing the position (slot) and wearing the number (13) of his predecessor, Kendall Wright, Taylor is showing a toughness and a buy-in factor that often seemed to be missing from Wright’s game his final couple of seasons in Tennessee.