As the NFL calendar heads into May and June, players are donning their helmets to participate in OTAs and minicamps. While practices in jerseys and shorts are very different from intense practice sessions with clicking pads, organized practices allow players and coaches to experiment with various techniques and schemes to prepare for the season.
With player development seen as every team’s primary focus during the summer, it’s the perfect time to look at the players who should shine in OTAs and minicamps over the next month. Here are the players to watch:
Jordan LoveQB, Green Bay Packers
After Love has patiently waited his turn to supplant Aaron Rodgers as the Packers’ franchise quarterback, the football world will get a chance to see if the wait has been worth it. While the fourth-year pro has steadily improved throughout his tenure, the standard is high for quarterback play in Green Bay after seeing the boys in gold jackets (Brett Favre and Rodgers) thrive at the position during the last 30 years
As skeptics wonder if Love can play up to the standard in Titletown, the first-time starter can build his confidence with strong performances during OTAs and minicamp. Considering how time, pace and momentum can lead to sensational play at the position, the work put in by Love in June and July can lead to success in the regular season.
Travon Walkeredge, Jacksonville Jaguars
The No. 1 overall pick in the 2022 draft is expected to create more disruption in his sophomore season. Walker has shown impressive strength, power and explosiveness at the point of scrimmage, but the Jaguars need the second-year pro to become a sack master to elevate a defense that needs more top-line production to catapult the Jaguars in title fight.
Given the offensive potential of Trevor Lawrence & Co., Walker should have plenty of opportunities to chase the passer in favorable pass rush situations. If the former first-rounder shows any growth as a sack artist, the Jaguars defense should make the leap needed to complement a high-powered offense with Super Bowl potential.
Tony Pollard i Ronald JonesRB, Dallas Cowboys
The Cowboys’ running game is the key to an offense that routinely overwhelms opponents with body shots and knockout punches. Despite Ezekiel Elliott’s declining production late in his tenure, the veteran gave the Cowboys an old-school identity with his rugged running style. Without the two-time champion running back in the huddle to set the tone, the Cowboys could become a “soft” offense that lacks the power and pop to close out games.
While OTA practices are non-contact workouts, the team will get a sense of whether Pollard and Jones have the toughness to do the dirty work needed to help the offense maintain its blue-collar identity in 2023.
Skip Bayless: Cowboys will win NFC East, reach NFC Championship Game
I’m DeanLB, Philadelphia Eagles
The Eagles will enter the 2023 season hoping to make a return trip to the Super Bowl on the strength of a dynamic defense that pummeled opposing quarterbacks into submission last year. While the disruptive front returns mostly intact, the changing of the guard at linebacker could affect the unit’s performance.
After spending 2022 apprenticed to TJ Edwards and Kyzir White, Dean gets to run the show as the designated defensive player in a new scheme. Given the responsibility of serving as new defensive coordinator Sean Desai’s eyes and ears on the field, the second-year pro must prove to his coaches that he can run the program like a crafty vet.
Sam HowellQB, Commanders of Washington
Maybe Ron Rivera knows something we don’t about the potential of the former fifth-round pick poised to fill the role of QB1 for the Commanders. Despite only having one career start, Howell has been handed the keys to the franchise in a make-or-break year in DC. The North Carolina product showed some management skills in his debut (11-for-19 for 169 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT), but playing winning football as an inexperienced starter will require new offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy to create a quarterback-friendly system with easy concepts and a high percentage of throws.
If Howell can show his teammates and coaches that he can consistently string together completions, the young quarterback may command more respect as the team’s anointed leader in winning ways.
Bucky Brooks is an NFL analyst for FOX Sports. He appears regularly on “Speak For Yourself” and also breaks down the game for NFL Network and co-hosts the “Moving the Sticks” podcast. Follow him on Twitter @BuckyBrooks.
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