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NFL AM: Ten To Watch Thursday Night

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Week Two of the National Football League preseason kicks off on Thursday night with 12 more teams in action across six games.

For players at the top half of rosters, it’s another opportunity to tune-up, a first for many of them who didn’t play last week. But it’s really crunch time for those at the bottom half of each roster, with a first wave of cuts on the horizon next week. It might be their last chance to make and impression on their team or another. That means its time for some breakout performances to separate the good from the bad. Here are 10 to watch on this Thursday evening of NFL action.

EAGLES WIDE RECEIVERS – The Philadelphia Eagles were so displeased with the performance of their wide receiver group over the first two weeks of training camp and the first week of the preseason that they went out and traded for Dorial Green-Beckham from the Titans. It could end up being a solid move, but still doesn’t give Philly much more to assess in the short term. DGB won’t suit up Thursday and Jordan Matthews is still sidelined with a knee injury. That leaves Nelson Agholor, Josh Huff and Reuben Randle atop the depth chart this week, and that trio had a case of the drops last week. With Green-Beckham now in the mix there is probably only room for two of those three guys on the final roster. The time is now to catch on or get dropped.

STEELERS SECONDARY – It’s perhaps only fitting that this week’s matchup between the Steelers and Eagles pits the most questionable position groups on each team against one another. For the first time in a long time, Pittsburgh has talent in droves at defensive back, but injuries continue to hamper their progress and there is still much to be learned about who will take the reps when in that group. Another injury to Senquez Golson that will keep him out most of the year was a significant setback, but on the plus side 2016 first round pick Artie Burns returned to practice this week and should be ready to see game action soon. In the meantime, the Steelers will continue testing out two other key pieces opposite mainstay William Gay: Ross Cockrell and Doran Grant. Pitt needs at least one of those two to be a key contributor for the group to take a step forward this season. The Steelers also love what they’ve seen out of fourth year safety Shamarko Thomas in camp and his continued progress is worth monitoring.

BENGALS WIDE RECEIVER TYLER BOYD – The departures of Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones this offseason left the Cincinnati Bengals pool of wide receivers beyond star A.J. Green shallow to say the least. The team addressed their need in free agency by bringing in Brandon LaFell, but the veteran suffered a torn ligament in his hand that could cost him much of the season. Now the Bengals need someone to step up to take hold of the second wide receiver spot and they’re banking on it being Tyler Boyd. The 2016 second round pick has been drawing rave reviews at Cincy camp and though he had just one catch in the preseason opener, it was an impressive 40-yard grab off the arm of AJ McCarron. Look for Bengals to try to get the ball in Boyd’s hands more this week and see what he can do in game action.

LIONS LEFT TACKLE TAYLOR DECKER – The much-maligned Lions front five was supposed to be much improved this season after the team spent their first round pick on Taylor Decker to shore-up Matthew Stafford’s blindside. Instead, Decker acted as a revolving door for the Steelers defense last week. Add Decker’s struggles in with the lack of improvement across the line and the questionable depth behind their starting group and Detroit is facing a series crisis up front. If the Lions are to go anywhere in 2016, this group needs to get it together, and fast. Decker making some strides and blocking some Bengals from getting after his quarterback this week would be progress.

BROWNS QUARTERBACK ROBERT GRIFFIN III – For the second straight week, all eyes will be on RGIII in Cleveland as the Browns try to bring him along as their starting signal caller. Griffin had an uneven performance in his Browns debut last week, connecting with rookie Terrelle Pryor for a big gain on his first play only to halt momentum with a characteristic bad interception just a few plays later. Lucky for Griffin he has virtually no competition at the position, leaving him plenty of room to improve as the starter this preseason, but Cleveland has to be searching for flashes of the old RGIII. With rookie wideouts Pryor and Corey Coleman and the return of Josh Gordon on the horizon, Griffin should have all the tools he needs to succeed in Cleveland. It’s on him to make the most of them.

PACKERS RUNNING BACK EDDIE LACY – One of the biggest things to come out of last week’s game for the Packers was that Eddie Lacy’s decrease in size wasn’t a myth anymore. A slimmer Lacy looked solid and said he felt “more explosive” in limited reps against the Browns and should see even more action on Thursday against the Raiders. The former first round pick reportedly dropped 20 pounds this summer after the team mandated him to get in shape and he showed the Packers the type of play they’d been missing since his rookie season in his opening plays of the preseason. If the Pack can get their running game going again and keep their wide receiver corps healthy, there’s every reason to believe they can be a championship contender this season. Lacy is a key piece to that puzzle.

BEARS WIDE RECEIVER KEVIN WHITE – One of the most highly touted prospects in the 2015 NFL Draft, White became something of a forgotten man entering training camp after missing all of last season with a leg injury. But since Chicago started practicing, White has been anything but forgotten, making highlight reel plays and hauling in essentially everything thrown his way. He’s drawn praise from teammates and coaches and appears to be coming along well. Now he’s got to show it in a game. Last week, the former first round pick had just one catch for three yards in Chicago’s shutout loss to Denver. Everyone on the Bears offense wants to show they’re better than that this week against New England, but it’s especially important for White to take some steps forward in-game as his “rookie” season draws closer.

PATRIOTS QUARTERBACK JIMMY GAROPPOLO – The summer of New England’s discontent is over and the Patriots are coming to grips with the fact that they will indeed be without quarterback Tom Brady for the first four games of the 2016 season. One factor easing that burden has been the impressive play of reserve quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo in training camp and the first preseason game. The 24-year-old was efficient in last week’s game against New Orleans showing off exactly the type of skill the Pats hope can carry them through Brady’s absence. But as teams get more game film on him, Garoppolo will have to continue to adjust and adapt, a key part of being a successful NFL quarterback. He’ll have the chance to do that against the Bears, who the Pats have practiced against all week, on Thursday. It’s an important game, as a setback could send the angsty New England fans back into a tizzy about Touchdown Tom’s suspension.

SEAHAWKS RUNNING BACK CHRISTINE MICHAEL – The story of Christine Michael’s 2015 season is a confusing one. He wasn’t quite good enough for a Seahawks team that needed him, so they sent him to Dallas for a draft pick. Then he wasn’t quite good enough for a Cowboys team that needed him so they cut him. He ended up back in Seattle and closed the season very strong with good performances in Week 17 and the Wild Card playoff win before being cast aside for the divisional round loss to the Panthers. Now he’s back in Seattle and looking like far and away the best of a Seahawks running back group that anxiously awaits the return of Thomas Rawls. Even if Rawls comes back completely healthy, they’ll need more at running back. After his whirlwind 2015, Michael is out to prove he’s the guy to provide that boost. But can we believe in it, or is it just another summer tease?

VIKINGS WIDE RECEIVER CORDARRELLE PATTERSON – Remember Cordarrelle Patterson? A first round pick out of Tennessee, he burst on the scene in 2013 as a rushing, receiving and returning threat for Minnesota, likely to be the next great Vikings offensive talent. Then as if he was a tall tale all along, Patterson virtually vanished, first seeing his production drop significantly in 2014 and then completely falling off the map in a 2015 season that saw him touch the ball just four times on offense. Now in his fourth season, Patterson is on the fringe of the Vikings roster, fighting for a job. He can still have success as a returner, but Minnesota’s depth at the position means they need to see more than that. He’s only got a few chances left to prove he can provide it, and Thursday’s games against Seattle is one of them. If he’s reinvigorated as they say he is, we could see a Cordarrelle renaissance. If not, he’s likely to just fade away as so many before him have.


About Devon Jeffreys

Devon Jeffreys