Jaguars and Raiders players to watch in Thursday’s Hall of Fame game

Touchdown Wire’s Laurie Fitzpatrick gives us the players to watch for the Jaguars and Raiders in Thursday’s Hall of Fame game.

After six long months without football, the Las Vegas Raiders and Jacksonville Jaguars kick off the 2022 NFL preseason in Canton, Ohio with the Hall of Fame game, which takes place this Thursday, August 4th. The Raiders are honoring legends Cliff Branch and Richard Seymour, and the Jaguars have their first-ever Hall of Fame inductee in Tony Boselli.

Both teams had big offseason changes. The Jaguars are now led by former Super Bowl champion head coach Doug Pederson. The Raiders have new head coach Josh McDaniels who was under Bill Belichick as the New England Patriots’ offensive coordinator.

As expected, both teams will likely hold out their starters, but this gives the young players a chance to stand out and prove why they deserve a roster spot.

“It’s going to be exciting just to get the team on the field against another opponent obviously,” said Pederson. “And then for the first time for all of us with the coaches and new players and really the whole team. So, we’re looking forward to that.”

Both teams have rookies and empty roster spots that we will be keeping eye on.

Let’s first dive into a few players to watch in the 2022 preseason opener!

How Mecole Hardman benefits in the Chiefs’ new Tyreek-less offense

Touchdown Wire’s Laurie Fitzpatrick goes to the film to see how Mecole Hardman can fill Tyreek Hill’s role in the Chiefs’ offense.

As we all are aware, the Kansas City Chiefs traded Tyreek Hill to the Miami Dolphins. The Chiefs will have a more balanced offense as Patrick Mahomes will be forced to spread the ball around, and what this means for receiver Mecole Hardman, is that Hardman finally gets his chance to shine.

Over the last two years, Hardman has come in as a fill-in for Hill, as they ran similar routes, or he came in as a fourth option alongside Hill, using his 4.33 speed to get vertical, opening the field for his teammates.

Mahomes said this when asked about Hardman, “He made a lot of big plays in big moments, especially at the end of last season. So, for me it’s for him to just continue to be himself. He doesn’t have to be Tyreek Hill; he has to be Mecole Hardman… He’s made a Pro Bowl already and I think he can keep getting better and better. Everybody puts out there he’s got to replace Tyreek. I think he can be his own player…”

Let’s dive into the film to see how Hardman is going to bring his versatility into the starting Chiefs offense!

Twitter reacts to the Jaguars firing Urban Meyer as coach

The Jacksonville Jaguars fired Urban Meyer after a 2-11 record. Here is how Twitter reacted to the news.

The Jacksonville Jaguars got a fresh start Thursday morning with the firing of coach Urban Meyer.

The move happened in the middle of the night, and comes after a string of embarrassments that range from his 2-11 record to getting shutout 20-0 at the hands of the Tennessee Titans in Week 14 to a story about how he allegedly kicked kicker Josh Lambo.

Like Jaguars owner Shad Khan when firing a coach, Twitter never sleeps, and the coaching change by Jacksonville was just what football fans needed as one jolt of excitement before bedtime. Here are some of the best reactions from Twitter.

Patriots QB Mac Jones says he was too focused to grant interview with Peyton Manning

New England Patriots rookie QB Mac Jones explained why he turned down an interview with Peyton Manning ahead of the popular ManningCast for Week 13.

New England Patriots quarterback Mac Jones made history on Monday night in the 14-10 win over the Buffalo Bills.

Not only did the rookie from Alabama play a complete game throwing just three passes, but he also is the only quarterback to date to turn down an interview with Peyton Manning ahead of the popular ManningCast alternate commentary of ESPN Monday Night Football.

Jones told his side of the story on “Merloni & Fauria” on WEEI 93.7 in Boston Tuesday.

“I texted him or whatever,” Jones said. “I am not going to get into any details, but I think we were just focused on the game. The Patriots do a great job of just helping me stay focused on what I need to stay focused on. I was like that in college, too.”

Peyton isn’t the only Manning in Jones’ cell phone. According to the first round pick, Archie Manning, Peyton’s dad, was a resource for him as he was working through the draft process.

“They’re great people,” Jones said. “I’ve been in contact with them throughout the whole process, even Archie, too. He’s a great resource to me.”

Peyton and Archie aren’t the only famous people in Jones’ contacts list, but the 23-year-old wasn’t forthcoming about who else might be in his phone.

“I think if I ever get a chance to get advice from people who have done really well in the NFL or just successful people, I just try to pick their brain and stuff like that. Just being in a situation growing up watching a lot of great players and getting a chance to meet them or talk to them, I always use that to my advantage.”

The Patriots are 9-4 and possess the No. 1 seed in the AFC. With the Patriots’ on a Week 14 bye, Jones intends to stay low key and relax at home in New England.

Peyton Manning shares how he was denied an interview with Patriots QB Mac Jones

Hall of Fame QB Peyton Manning told a humorous story about how he was denied an interview with New England Patriots rookie Mac Jones.

Peyton Manning comes through when it matters, except when it comes to interviewing every quarterback ahead of the Monday Night Football Manningcast on ESPN 2.

The two-time Super Bowl champion shared notes from talking with Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen on the Manningcast. When Eli Manning pressed Peyton on whether he spoke with New England Patriots rookie quarterback Mac Jones, Peyton revealed how he came up empty.

“I tried to talk to Mac Jones and he was very respectful. He said, ‘Peyton, I want to do it, but can you call our PR director, Stacey [James]. He kind of has to oversee all things.’ I said no problem. I called Stacey, he was very professional, and I said, ‘I’m talking to Coach [Bill] Belichick, can I talk to Mac Jones?’ And I got to tell you: I appreciate how they’re handling Mac Jones. They are trying to protect him and give him as few off-the-field distractions as possible. Let him concentrate on playing football. So, yes, I did denied. It was the first quarterback I haven’t talked to, but I appreciate it.”

According to Peyton, the approach the Patriots are taking with Jones is reminiscent of how the Indianapolis Colts handled him in 1998, his rookie season after being selected No. 1 overall in the draft.

“[General manager] Bill Polian, as a rookie, with me with the Colts did the same. He didn’t let the marketing department talk to me, the community relations department talk to me. He said, ‘Hey, it’s all football this first season. Don’t bother him.’ I think the Patriots are taking the same approach to Mac Jones. It’s paying off. It’s working.”

Eli asked how that could be accurate when he did so many commercials as a rookie, but Peyton corrected him to state he never shot one commercial as a rookie; it was only after he threw 28 interceptions that he “earned” the distinction to start shooting commercials.

How rookie Javonte Williams can define the Broncos’ running game

The Broncos got a second-round steal in North Carolina running back Javonte Williams, and he could be Denver’s lead back right away.

The Denver Broncos drafted one of the top running backs in North Carolina’s Javonte Williams. He is a strong, physical, downhill runner who can excel in an inside zone run style scheme and also a gap-style pull run game. Williams has patient vision paired with very good anticipation while accelerating through the trenches, the guy has incredible collision balance who runs behind his pads.

Melvin Gordon is the main back for the Broncos, but should he be? The NFL Network have him as the 24th running back out of 32 of the starting running backs in the league. Gordon almost reached 1,000 yards last season, but also put the ball on the ground four times last season and twice in one game; against the Kansas City Chiefs. Is that enough to run him out of town? Not sure, but the Broncos backfield combined for only 52 catches for 272 yards in 2020 and also allowed 19 sacks from only 5 in 2019. So, Gordon isn’t necessarily holding the Broncos back, but he isn’t making them more dynamic, either. Running backs aren’t known for their longevity, and with Williams and Gordon having a similar skill set, it’s Williams’s job to take.

On top of Williams’s running style, he can pass protect and also catch the ball from the backfield. The only question is how the Broncos can use him in their offense. Gordon said himself that he prefers an inside zone run style, but last year the Broncos showed that they are much more.

After Week 11, Broncos offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur made it clear that he wants the offense to be a gap and pull run style as well as inside zone. “We still run a considerable amount of zone plays. I think there ‘s a place for all of it.”

Following a lead blocker, a running back has an opportunity to bounce it outside or make a quick cut inside to slide through the defense.

These are the types of blocks that Williams excels behind the most.  We’ve watched him follow his blockers to no end and last year he showed that he can go either way to gain yards.

Williams can follow the play to the outside, but also has the skillset to see the opportunity to cut back.

There aren’t a lot of things that set the Broncos backfield apart, but if Williams can continue to gain yards after contact like he did in college, this attribute can be the part of his game that will take him to the next tier among running backs. Per Pro Football Focus, in college, Williams forced 76 missed tackles as a runner in 2020 (the highest total in the country), and nine more as a receiver.

Shurmur may alternate touches early on between Gordon and Williams while running the same plays for each, and the result will help him decide on who is the guy moving forward. With Williams physicality in pass blocking, he could ultimately win over that starting job earlier than expected.

How Najee Harris will be successful behind Steelers’ redefined offensive line

Steelers rookie running back Najee Harris has a chance to redefine Pittsburgh’s running game.

Despite the Steelers offensive line ranking 29th according to Pro Football Focus, the team went 12-4 in 2020 while also enjoying an 11-game win streak to start the season. So even without a top-ranked offensive line, you can still win your division. 

The Steelers definitely needed to make some changes to the front five. They lost 3 starters in the offseason: Tackle Alejandro Villanueva, guard Matt Feiler, and center Maurkics Pouncey who played on his heels on most running plays, and was simply overpowered.

So right now, here is the offensive line:

Left Tackle: Chukwuma Okorafor, switching from RT.

Left Guard: Kevin Dotson, started only 4 games.

Center: JC Hassenauer, started 3 games at Center.

Right Guard: David DeCastro, questionable All-Pro

Right Tackle: Zach Banner, coming off torn ACL

Its a bit of an understatement to say the offensive line will be unknown this year. Last year since the run game wasn’t effective, Ben Roethlisberger focused on getting the ball out quick, and so he led the NFL in the quickest average time to throw with 2.17 seconds. It’s safe to say that the passing offense can absolutely carry this team into another winning season if it takes rookie running back Najee Harris some games to get used to the NFL.

James Conner had some issues last year where he wasn’t able to see the gaps, get skinny nor run behind his pads. The Steelers rushing offense in the wild-card game against Cleveland Browns never really developed. In the first quarter, this play design should have given them the first down. The motion at the snap forced the defensive end to bite for the jet sweep but it looks like Conner waited a little too long to hit his hole and when it was time to get up field there was no hard cut to get vertical.

Najee Harris isn’t a guy that tip-toes behind the line of scrimmage. He can make a one-bounce cut, get skinny, and run behind his pads. 

In a similar play to the Steelers play above, the offensive line pulls across the line of scrimmage to pick up a defender. Harris stretches the defensive end and then makes a quick cut by planting his back foot, getting skinny through the small hole inside his pulling offensive lineman. Its something as simple as this to get a few extra yards when you are facing second-and-3 or third-and-1. Where the Steelers often got stuffed or even lost yards last season.

Harris has something that this Steelers offensive line needs, someone who makes quick decisions that do not force them to hold their blocks for very long but even if the blocks are not made, Harris’ lateral quickness can keep his speed and momentum through the middle of the field. 

Behind this young offensive line, Harris will often see some inside blitzes and stunts from the defense, but as we can see, he has the skill set and determination to get this rushing offense back on track for the first time since Le’Veon Bell was a major factor in 2017.

10 facts about Broncos No. 9 overall draft pick CB Patrick Surtain

The Denver Broncos selected Patrick Surtain from Alabama No. 9 overall in the 2021 NFL draft. Here are 10 facts surrounding the pick.

The Denver Broncos decided they have solutions at quarterback after trading for Teddy Bridgewater and standing behind 2019 second-rounder Drew Lock.

Why not find a shutdown cornerback with their No. 9 overall pick in the 2021 NFL draft?

The Broncos selected Patrick Surtain from Alabama. Here are 10 facts surrounding their selection of the Crimson Tide product.

10 facts about Dolphins No. 6 overall draft pick WR Jaylen Waddle

The Miami Dolphins drafted former Alabama receiver Jaylen Waddle No. 6 overall in the 2021 NFL draft. Here are 10 facts surrounding the pick.

The Miami Dolphins managed to draft former Alabama receiver Jaylen Waddle with the No. 6 overall pick in the 2021 NFL draft.

The pick gives the Dolphins a familiar target for Tua Tagovailoa.

Here are 10 facts surrounding the Dolphins’ selection of the Alabama wideout.

10 facts about Bengals No. 5 overall draft pick WR Ja’Marr Chase

The Cincinnati Bengals have drafted LSU WR Ja’Marr Chase No. 5 overall in the 2021 NFL draft. Here are 10 facts surrounding the selection.

The Cincinnati Bengals selected former LSU Tigers wideout Ja’Marr Chase with the No. 5 overall pick in the 2021 NFL draft.

The Bengals take another receiver in the first round, the third time since 2011.

Here are 10 facts surrounding the selection of Chase.