Teammates give Michael Pittman a chance to flourish with Colts

Parris Campbell could make Michael Pittman’s life easier.

The Indianapolis Colts, like every other NFL team, lack preseason games in which to initiate their rookies. While the NFL preaseason has always been an excessive parade of activity, a needlessly overexpansive succession of games in which players can be injured before Week 1 in September, it remains that having a preseason game can educate a rookie in ways training camp can’t fully match.

Four preseason games has always come across as excessive, but two preseason games sounds just about right. This year, the Colts and the rest of the NFL won’t even have two preseason games. Therefore, training camp and padded practices — which have both begun — will offer the main theater of activity in which rookies are challenged.

How is camp progressing for USC receiver Michael Pittman, taken with the 34th pick of the 2020 NFL Draft (the second choice in the second round)? One doesn’t have to answer this question directly to produce an optimistic view of how Pittman’s career will unfold with the Colts.

It is becoming increasingly clear that Michael Pittman has walked into the right situation… and the answer doesn’t necessarily begin with Pittman himself.

To be sure, Pittman has impressed observers with his strength and his hands, two obvious qualities a top wide receiver needs to have. To the extent that Pittman has received reviews and evaluations, they have been positive. Yet, it has to be emphasized that the best feature of the Colts for Pittman is that he won’t have to do everything himself in his rookie season.

This is a team he can blend into, an offensive roster which will make him better.

At Colts Wire, Frank Reich had this to say about Parris Campbell, the multi-threat skill player who will be used primarily as a receiver:

“Yeah, I think as much in Parris’ (Campbell) particular situation, I think mentally Parris is a really smart guy. But as I said before even with Pitt (Michael Pittman), there is always an adjustment for receivers just because there is a lot going on in the offense and a lot that you are responsible to know. We have high expectations there. That is why we always try to draft smart guys, of which Parris is one of those, but I just think that he just has complete command.”

Campbell’s early tenure in Indianapolis has been marked by injuries, but an accumulation of experience combined with renewed health have enabled Campbell to enter 2020 training camp with a much better chance of breaking out and having a strong season.

Imagine, then, a Colts offense in which Campbell thrives and T.Y. Hilton delivers the goods, with Philip Rivers distributing the ball.

Michael Pittman is expected to produce right off the bat — no one is questioning or doubting that reality — but he is surrounded by other elite players who will stretch the field and give Pittman chances to make plays in one-on-one situations. He won’t receive overwhelming attention from opposing defenses because the Colts have too many weapons. Pittman will be able to win 50-50 balls with his reach and his hands. He has the right set of circumstances in which he can thrive, and he doesn’t have to be the dominant figure in the offense, either.

More and more, it seems Pittman found an ideal spot in Indianapolis.

Evaluating Austin Jackson with the Dolphins is tricky right now

No preseason games is a part of this calculus.

This past spring, shortly after the NFL draft, Josh Webb of Trojans Wire interviewed Miami sports analyst and talk show host Alex Donno about USC’s Austin Jackson and how he fit into the Dolphins’ plans.

Donno said this about Miami’s expected handling of Jackson, and how much time the organization will give Jackson to develop as an offensive line prospect:

“I fully expect Jackson to have at least two seasons where he’s essentially “on scholarship” with the Dolphins. If they were looking for a player to judge by just one season, he likely would not have been their selection at number 18 overall. The organization views him as someone with sky-high potential, but possibly needing a bit of seasoning. Jackson will likely be brought up on a similar schedule to the quarterback he was drafted to protect. As Tua Tagovailoa is phased in gracefully behind Ryan Fitzpatrick, Jackson should see similar treatment behind veteran tackles Juli’en Davenport and Jesse Davis.”

That conversation occurred in early May.

Fast forward to the middle of August.

The folks at Dolphins Wire are keeping track of training camp, less than one month before the scheduled start of the 2020 NFL season.

Here’s this nugget from Dolphins Wire’s Kyle Crabbs:

“The Dolphins have a clear battle at left tackle in Julien Davenport and rookie Austin Jackson.”

If Jackson really is pushing Davenport in camp, that’s a great early sign of his development. It is easy to be optimistic and enthusiastic about Jackson’s ceiling as a player.

Yet — though this might make me a killjoy — I would advise some caution here.

I’m not saying Jackson is in any way overrated. I think he can certainly be great.

The more instructive point is this: We are not operating in a normal NFL preseason context.

Though four preseason games have always been far too many for the NFL, and even though the pandemic might have awakened the NFL to the need to reduce the number of preseason games — maybe we will have only two in 2021 after the pandemic lifts (assuming it does) — it remains that Austin Jackson hasn’t yet been tested in live NFL action.

There is no substitute for in-game competition against other NFL players. That’s what Austin Jackson needs the most. Without preseason games — which we would have had by now if the pandemic hadn’t hit — Jackson isn’t getting the benefit of a normal NFL preseason.

If you read the Alex Donno interview linked to above, you will see that Donno thinks Miami’s offense can evolve into a fast and physical unit. If you read the Dolphins Wire story linked to above, you will see Kyle Crabbs make the point that Miami has large, physical players and will try to lean on opponents in fourth quarters of games.

So, is the Dolphins’ offense going to be fast or grinding? Will it be based on pace or brute force? Obviously, some people will say “Why not both?”

The point is understandable, but the larger discussion here relates to the identity the Dolphins are trying to cultivate on offense. We really won’t know until we see a live game, and even then, the outlook might not emerge for a few weeks.

I’d love to tell you I know how Austin Jackson is evolving in Miami. The more responsible answer is to tell you that I don’t know, and that we have to wait… which in many ways is a fitting answer for a pandemic in which we have had to wait a lot more in our lives.

Trojans in the NFL: Iman Marshall will miss 2020 season with torn ACL

Former USC Trojans cornerback Iman Marshall, now with the Baltimore Ravens, tore his ACL and will miss the 2020 season.

Former USC Trojans cornerback Iman Marshall suffered a major knee injury on Sunday, which will cost him the entire 2020 season, according to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport.

Marshall reportedly tore several ligaments in his knee, including his ACL. The hope is that he will be healed in time for the 2021 season, although these types of injuries can easily last a full season, which could cost him some of training camp next year.

Marshall joined the Ravens as a fourth round pick in the 2019 NFL draft. After missing the first 10 weeks of the season on the injured list, Marshall appeared in three games and 47 total snaps down the stretch, with 43 of those snaps coming on the special teams.

The 23-year-old starred at USC from 2015-2018, finishing 20th in NCAA history with 36 career passes defended, second all-time in the PAC-12.

He also racked up 146 combined tackles and six interceptions, becoming one of USC’s all-time great defensive backs.

Hopefully, a year of recovery will give Marshall a chance to compete for playing time in Baltimore’s crowded secondary in 2021.

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Trojans in the NFL: Everson Griffen signs with Cowboys

Longtime Minnesota Vikings defensive end and former USC Trojan Everson Griffen is set to sign a one-year deal with the Dallas Cowboys.

Former USC Trojans defensive end Everson Griffen likely did not expect to still be without a home in mid-August, but the star pass rusher and four-time Pro Bowler finally inked a one-year deal to play for Jerry Jones and the Dallas Cowboys in 2020.

His contract is reportedly for one-year and $6 million dollars, with $3 million as a base salary and up to $3 million more in roster bonuses.

Griffen hit free agency this March after spending the last decade with the Minnesota Vikings, who selected him in the fourth round of the 2010 NFL draft after an accomplished career at USC.

Griffen, who has made the Pro Bowl in four of the last five seasons, was not linked to Dallas publicly all that often, with most believing he would end up reunited with coach Pete Carroll in Seattle with the Seahawks.

Instead, the 32-year-old will help solidify an already solid defensive unit in Dallas, a team that is hoping to make waves in the NFC East before they have to pay Dak Prescott in free agency.

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Trojans in the NFL: Buccaneers waive RB Aca’Cedric Ware

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers removed running back Aca’Cedric Ware from the reserve/COVID-19 list, and immediately waived him.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers activated former USC Trojans running back Aca’Cedric Ware from the reserve/COVID-19 list and promptly waived him on Thursday.

Because Ware was medically cleared before getting waived, he will be free to sign with another team immediately.

After going undrafted in the 2019 NFL Draft, Ware signed with the Indianapolis Colts as an undrafted free agent. He spent the preseason competing for a backup running back role, before getting cut in early September and catching on with the Buccaneers, where he spent the rest of the campaign on their practice squad.

After signing a reserve/futures contract in January, Ware will now be forced to look elsewhere for a new job – a daunting task for any undrafted free agent, but particularly tricky in light of the COVID-19 situation, which may disadvantage younger, inexperienced players because they will not have preseason games to show off their skills against other opponents.

Ware was at USC from 2015-2018, rushing 264 times for 1,505 yards and 10 touchdowns, with most of his damage coming his senior season.

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Trojans in the NFL: John Houston waived by Steelers

Former USC Trojans linebacker John Houston was waived by the Pittsburgh Steelers on Saturday.

Former USC Trojans linebacker John Houston was waived by the Pittsburgh Steelers on Saturday.

Houston joined the team as an undrafted free agent on April 25, shortly after the conclusion of the 2020 NFL Draft.

However – the COVID-19 pandemic robbed him, and all other undrafted free agents, of the opportunity to show what he is capable of doing. Limited access to facilities and in-person learning of the playbook and defensive schemes for younger players has no doubt caused many coaches to lean toward veteran free agents for the final few spots on the roster, instead of going with unproven talent.

It’s a logical decision that unfortunately impacts young players like Houston, who seemed destined to carve out a role as a core special teamer while he cut his teeth on the defensive side of the ball in training camp and practices.

Houston racked up a whopping 104 combined tackles in his senior season at USC, including seven tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks, and three passes defended.

He’ll hope to catch on elsewhere as injuries necessitate a need, and if all else fails, it looks like the XFL is aiming to play again in 2021, perhaps he could start his pro career there if he chooses.

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Clay Matthews, Everson Griffen drawing interest from Seahawks

The Seattle Seahawks are reportedly interested in a pair of former USC Trojans; Everson Griffen and Clay Matthews.

NFL free agency opened up officially on March 18, less than a week after the COVID-19 crisis shut most of the country down. As such, the pandemic has very clearly had an impact on a handful of free agents who are still looking for employment heading into what will be a unique 2020 season.

Two of the most prominent names still on the market, outside of Jadeveon Clowney, are former USC Trojans: defensive end Everson Griffen and outside linebacker Clay Matthews.

Now, with training camp just getting underway and teams allowed to conduct in-person physicals, it looks like the long wait may be nearing an end for at least one of Griffen and Matthews – as they are each drawing interest from Clowney’s former team, the Seattle Seahawks.

The Seahawks almost certainly won’t sign both of coach Pete Carroll’s former players, but they have been connected to each of them throughout the offseason – especially when it became clear a reunion with Clowney was unlikely.

Griffen, at least on paper, seems like a better fit for the Seahawks. He is an accomplished pass rusher off the edge, with 74.5 career sacks to his name during a 10-year career with the Minnesota Vikings. He is known to have interest in Seattle as well, but was waiting to see what would happen with Clowney – a saga that remains unresolved.

Matthews would certainly upgrade Seattle’s depleted pass rush, but his complicated history with the team and the fan base may make him a tricky addition, and the team’s plethora of outside linebacker candidates – including the recently signed Bruce Irvin – make this less of a fit as the roster is currently constructed.

Regardless, both veterans will find themselves homes before too long, and it looks very likely one of them will be in the Emerald City.

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Trojans in the NFL: Marvell Tell III will opt-out of 2020 season

Former USC Trojans cornerback Marvell Tell III, now with the Indianapolis Colts, will opt-out of the 2020 season – likely due to COVID-19.

Just three days after his 24th birthday, Indianapolis Colts defensive back Marvell Tell III informed his team he intends to opt-out of the 2020 season.

Although Tell has not released a statement, it is likely he is opting out due to concerns about his health and safety, and the health and safety of his family and loved ones, because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Tell was competing for a backup role in Indianapolis’ secondary, a role he no doubt hopes he will get a chance to compete for once again in 2021.

Tell was originally a fifth round pick by the Colts in 2019. He appeared in 13 games for Indianapolis in 2019, starting one and racking up five passes defended, one forced fumble and 26 combined tackles – doing most of his work on the special teams.

Tell was a four-year contributor for the Trojans from 2015-2019, racking up 127 solo tackles, 13 passes defended, five interceptions and a touchdown.

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Jurrell Casey provides financial relief for local high school

Former USC Trojans defensive tackle Jurrell Casey is providing financial relief to Park Hill High School football players.

Former USC Trojans defensive lineman Jurrell Casey is making himself right at home in Denver, his new NFL city after getting traded from the Titans to the Broncos this offseason.

Casey, via the charity he co-founded, The Casey Fund, is providing the Park Hill Pirates with a back-to-school grant, which will cover the costs of all football registration fees, and will also provide tables and internet access to students for the upcoming school year.

“Eliminating the fees for the Park Hill Pirates’ parents is huge,” Casey said in a statement released on Twitter. “Growing up playing Pop Warner football myself, my other always had to find a way to come up with these fees – considering bills pile up quickly. Plenty of times, I almost couldn’t play, but my uncle stepped in to help. Now, it’s my chance to help and I am honored to do that.”

Casey spent the first nine years of his NFL career with the Titans before joining Denver this offseason, where he will unite with Von Miller and Bradley Chubb to form an elite defensive front.

The big defensive tackle starred at USC from 2008-2010, racking up 22 tackles for loss before being selected by Tennessee in the third round of the 2011 NFL draft.

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Tyron Smith no longer considered top-5 offensive tackle in the NFL

Touchdown Wire ranked the top-11 tackles in the NFL, and former USC Trojan Tyron Smith came in at No. 7 overall.

USA TODAY’s Touchdown Wire continued their series ranking the 11 best players at every position in the NFL, and already the USC Trojans have been represented, first with slot cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman, and now by offensive tackle Tyron Smith.

However, Smith may not be as high on the list as many USC fans would hope to see him, especially coming off his seventh consecutive Pro Bowl appearance in 2019 with Dallas.

Smith comes in at No. 7 on the list, not bad for an aging veteran, but hardly indicative of how good he has been in his career, and as recently as last year.

USA TODAY writer Mark Schofield explains:

Over eight years at left tackle, Smith has allowed just 19 credited sacks. That includes one in 2018 and one again in 2019. That is extremely impressive for a left tackle. He did allow 23 quarterback hurries in 2019, his most allowed since 2013, as well as 30 quarterback pressures (again his most since 2013), which sees him slide a bit in these rankings. But not too far.

While Smith’s performance may be waning (a tiny bit) he’s still among the league’s most elite pass and run blockers, and the Cowboys are more than happy sliding him in to protect Dak Prescott for the foreseeable future.

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