Best of Thursday at NFL training camps: Tennessee Titans add ‘Flair’ to practice; Lamar Jackson, DeVante Parker impress
There’s a distinct wrestling vibe in Nashville this week, and it spilled over into the Tennessee Titans’ training camp on Thursday.
WWE is hosting SummerSlam on Saturday, and on Sunday, pro wrestling legend Ric “The Nature Boy” Flair will perform in the ring for the last time on an independent show. Before that milestone event, Flair, 73, took time to stop by the Titans’ practice and speak to the players at the invitation of coach Mike Vrabel, according to ESPN Titans reporter Turron Davenport. Flair walked onto the field after practice as the team played his theme music and shared who his favorite NFL player is, and said Vrabel could have had a career in wrestling.
The first week of the 2022 NFL training camp schedule has had its share of news, including word Thursday that Tampa Bay Buccaneers center Ryan Jensen was carted off the field with a left knee injury. Meanwhile, Carlos Dunlap II is going to sign with the Kansas City Chiefs, and after Cameron Heyward’s rebuttal to Ben Roethlisberger’s claim that today’s players are more “me-first,” the retired Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback tried to add some context to his statement.
Here’s what you need to know from camps across the league:
What our NFL Nation reporters saw today
Baltimore Ravens: Lamar Jackson has visibly bulked up, adding more lean muscle, and it showed on his throws. He threw the ball with more velocity and had tighter spirals. Jackson was 12-of-17 (70.5%) on his passes in team drills, including a 55-yard touchdown pass to rookie Isaiah Likely. “He’s strong and he looks great,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. — Jamison Hensley
Pittsburgh Steelers: Kenny Pickett had a rough day during his second camp practice, throwing an interception on his first live, team-period rep. Pickett also had an interception to end Wednesday’s practice. Another ball on Thursday was batted down. Pickett has consistently taken reps with the third string, but the early bumps aren’t cause for major concern. Mike Tomlin is insistent this quarterback race won’t be micromanaged, and he isn’t evaluating his options on a throw-by-throw basis. Good news for Pickett as he gets his footing in the NFL. — Brooke Pryor
Indianapolis Colts: The Colts have had an expeditious first couple days of training camp, finishing 10 minutes prior to their scheduled finish time each day, despite running the same number of plays as last year. Why? “That’s because of the quarterback,” coach Frank Reich said. “The quarterback is pushing the tempo.” Quarterback Matt Ryan has followed through on his vow to raise the intensity of training camp and has done it by demanding a greater tempo between snaps. “It’s unbelievable,” Reich said. “We’ve never practiced that fast. It’s a mentality. It’s a confidence. He told me at the start, ‘I’m gonna push the tempo’. And I said, ‘We’ll follow your lead. Go.'” — Stephen Holder
Carolina Panthers: Quarterback Baker Mayfield admitted on Wednesday he was “pretty stupid” for showing up in the hot, humid conditions of Spartanburg, S.C., wearing long pants, so he made a good decision wearing short pants for Thursday’s second practice. He still made some poor decisions on the field while taking first-team reps with Sam Darnold taking second, flip-flopping from the previous day. Two of Mayfield’s first three passes in 7-on-7 drills should have been intercepted. They were the type of mistakes the Panthers are trying to eliminate, the kind Darnold made way too often a year ago, the reason coach Matt Rhule will continue flip-flopping who works with the first-teamers. — David Newton
Green Bay Packers: Rookie receiver Romeo Doubs looks NFL-ready. After a solid first day, Doubs was the star of practice No. 2. The fourth-round pick from Nevada made the play of the day when he caught an 8-yard touchdown pass on a fade from Aaron Rodgers over cornerback Eric Stokes. “Stokes’ back was turned,” Doubs said. “Aaron gave me a chance, and I was able to make something happen.” One way to gain Rodgers’ trust is to make 50-50 balls like that one closer to a 90-10 ball. Doubs also beat veteran linebacker De’Vondre Campbell for another red-zone touchdown on a drag route, and he held onto a ball over the middle after an accidental hard collision with safety Darnell Savage. This was all while fellow rookie receiver Christian Watson (a second-round pick) has been out of camp while recovering from a knee injury. — Rob Demovsky
Cleveland Browns: Quarterback Deshaun Watson continues to develop chemistry with his new WRs as he waits to see whether he’ll be suspended for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy after multiple accusations that range from inappropriate behavior to sexual assault during massage sessions. Watson has maintained he is innocent of the accusations. During Thursday’s practice, Watson found Donovan Peoples-Jones on several nifty throws. But WR Anthony Schwartz had to leave practice early with what appeared to be a left knee injury. With Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr. no longer around, the Browns are counting on DPJ and Schwartz to fill the void at receiver, alongside Amari Cooper. — Jake Trotter
New England Patriots: Veteran WR DeVante Parker had one of the plays of the day, catching a back-shoulder TD pass from Mac Jones near the left pylon of the end zone as CB Jalen Mills had tight coverage. In fairness to Mills, he was wearing mitts on his hands as part of a technique that coaches use to help cornerbacks avoid grabbing, and these aren’t padded practices, so there is no contact. But Parker has made an early statement nonetheless. — Mike Reiss
Jacksonville Jaguars: Cornerback Shaquill Griffin didn’t have an interception in his first season with the Jaguars in 2021, but he did drop four potential picks, which is why he made working on his hands a priority in the offseason. It appears to have paid off early in training camp. Griffin made a diving, one-handed catch to secure a tipped pass in the end zone during red zone work on Thursday. Trevor Lawrence tried to zip a pass to tight end Evan Engram, but linebacker Shaq Quarterman deflected it and Griffin nabbed it. Griffin, who signed a three-year contract worth $40 million in March 2021, said in the spring that he had been trying to catch 75-100 balls per day. — Mike DiRocco
Washington Commanders: The Commanders’ offense did not look sharp Thursday, especially the passing game. Too much pressure by the defense; too many hands in passing lanes and too many errant throws. But late in practice, quarterback Carson Wentz showed off his arm on a deep ball to rookie receiver Jahan Dotson, hitting him in stride on an approximately 40-yard throw vs. tight coverage by corner Benjamin St-Juste. The play also highlighted Dotson’s strengths as he maintained leverage and made an over-the-shoulder catch. Dotson has been impressive since the spring. — John Keim
Los Angeles Chargers: Chargers star safety Derwin James Jr. did not practice for a second consecutive day as negotiations over a contract extension continue. James is, however, participating in the walk-through portions of practice. Edge rusher Joey Bosa went through the contract process two years ago and said he’s talked with James about the situation. “He’s, I think, doing the right thing,” Bosa said about James, a two-time Pro Bowl selection. “He obviously deserves whatever he’s going to get,” Bosa said. “He puts in 100 percent every single day…. the fact that he’s out here, coaching the guys, fully involved, 100 percent locked in every day, it obviously means a lot to all of us.” James is scheduled to earn $9 million in the final season of his rookie deal. — Lindsey Thiry
Atlanta Falcons: It’s been only two days, but quarterback Marcus Mariota has looked good. Based on unofficial calculations, Mariota has completed all 24 passes he’s thrown so far in camp — although to be fair, a lot of them have been short passes, and Thursday he was bailed out a few times by nice plays from his tight ends, including Anthony Firkser with a one-handed, diving catch. Rookie QB Desmond Ridder also has looked like he’s getting a handle on the offense — a deep throw to Drake London in particular sparkled Thursday — but he also held the ball too long in multiple instances. The Falcons have essentially indicated that they are starting out with Mariota as their No. 1, but it’s going to be an interesting competition to watch. — Michael Rothstein
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Lamar Jackson says he’s hopeful on deal with Baltimore Ravens but talks will have ‘cutoff’
Quarterback Lamar Jackson said Thursday that he’s hopeful a contract extension with the Baltimore Ravens will eventually get completed, but he doesn’t want negotiations to drag into the regular season.
Asked if believes a deal will get done with the Ravens, Jackson said, “I think so. I think so. I think so. We’ll have to see.”
Will a deal happen before the Sept. 11 opener against the New York Jets? “I said there is going to be a cutoff [in talks],” Jackson responded. “So, hopefully.”
Bucs starting center Ryan Jensen carted off with knee injury
Ryan Jensen was carted off the field during Thursday’s training camp practice with a left knee injury.
Bucs coach Todd Bowles said Jensen will undergo an MRI to determine the severity of the injury. General manager Jason Licht said the team might not have a diagnosis for a few days due to swelling.
The injury happened during a team period and resulted in the whole team gathering around Jensen, who has been a fixture on the Bucs’ offensive line for five seasons. The mood immediately turned somber.
Kansas City Chiefs signing Carlos Dunlap, agent says
Veteran defensive end Carlos Dunlap is signing a one-year deal worth up to $8 million with the Chiefs, agent Drew Rosenhaus told ESPN’s Adam Schefter on Thursday.
The Chiefs were 29th in the league and sacks last season and lost one of their top pass-rushers in veteran Melvin Ingram, who left in free agency to the Miami Dolphins.
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Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray held an unscheduled news conference Thursday to defend himself against the backlash he has received from the independent study addendum that was added to his contract.
He said it was “disrespectful” that outsiders thought he would reach the levels he has — a starting quarterback in the NFL — without being a “student of the game.”
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