With the grime, sweat, blood and tears of training camp in their rear-view mirrors, teams are gearing up for some actual game-planning in NFL preseason Week 3.
Most teams are going to play their starters at least the entire first half. Some will even keep them in through three quarters. It’s the dress rehearsal for the regular season, and teams hope they have their ducks in a row by this point in the proceedings.
That said, plenty of reserves will get a shot to make their mark. Many players find themselves on the roster bubble and are under immense pressure to come through.
It’s now or never time for the following players who have a lot to prove still as the regular season fast approaches.
Arizona Cardinals: Scooby Wright, linebacker
A guy who’s fighting for one of those precious 53 roster spots in Arizona, Wright has done some impressive things this summer. Head coach Bruce Arians has suggested the linebacker has a shot to make it. However, in Week 3 against the Chicago Bears, Wright wasn’t looking sharp at all. Both he and Haason Reddick struggled as starters in the team’s 3-4 scheme in this game. In particular, Wright was slow to react and was out of position on some key plays. If this former Arizona Wildcat is going to land on his feet and make the roster, he must show up big in Week 3.
Atlanta Falcons: Akeem King, cornerback
The Falcons have quite the heated competition going on right now at the cornerback position. Jalen Collins’ suspension has opened the door a bit for guys like C.J. Goodwin, Deji Olatoye and King to make a case that they deserve to make the final roster. King, a former seventh-round pick out of San Jose State, missed all of last year with foot injury. He had a nice interception Sunday against the Pittsburgh Steelers but is still very much on the bubble. It’s going to take nothing but his best in the next couple of weeks to get over the hump.
Baltimore Ravens: Ryan Mallett, quarterback
We cannot overstate just how awful Mallett has been this summer. Whether it’s in practices against his own teammates or in the two preseason games thus far, Mallett has proved he’s incapable of leading an NFL offense to success. Speaking of those two games, Mallett has completed just 55 percent of his passes, averaging 4.3 yards per attempt with one touchdown and two interceptions.
He absolutely has to get better this week. The offense is going in reverse, and the regular season is right around the corner. It’s definitely time to panic, even if Joe Flacco is on schedule to play in Week 1. The entire offense is hurting when Mallett plays this poorly. He’s got to get it together, for the sake of the entire team.
Buffalo Bills: Tyrod Taylor, quarterback
The pressure on Taylor to succeed just got turned up a few notches in the wake of Anquan Boldin’s decision to retire. Taylor had an awful outing on Thursday against the Philadelphia Eagles and has struggled in training camp. Already heading into the 2017 season without his top receiver the past two seasons in Sammy Watkins, suddenly Taylor’s best weapons are two slot specialists in Jordan Matthews (injured) and rookie Zay Jones. So we’re talking about a player who is in a prove-it year to begin with and suddenly he’s set up to fail.
Carolina Panthers: Cameron Artis-Payne, running back
Clinging to a roster spot, Artis-Payne busted out with a huge game against the Tennessee Titans on Saturday. He finished the game with 70 yards and a touchdown on just five attempts, including a long run of 43 yards. It was the first time this year we’ve seen the former Auburn star show up big. But given the team’s depth and talent at running back, by no means was this a definitive performance. He needs to continue to show up big the next couple of weeks to ensure he’s on the final roster.
Chicago Bears: Mike Glennon, quarterback
Glennon was unwatchable in the first preseason game while rookie Mitchell Trubisky shined, which of course led to some immediate controversy. Then after chipping away in dink-and-dunk fashion against Arizona, he unconscionably threw what was nearly a pick-six to Tyrann Mathieu. Glennon did salvage his performance with a touchdown before the half. But in no way did he prove he’s the better man to lead Chicago’s offense. The Bears don’t want to have to start Trubisky, but if Glennon continues to struggle they may have no choice.
Cincinnati Bengals: Chris Smith, defensive end
The Bengals have seen tremendous production from Smith, the defensive end they acquired in a trade with the Jacksonville Jaguars in April. He’s been a force to be reckoned with off the edge, accounting for seven quarterback hits in two games. But despite his strong play the Bengals need to continue seeing him produce the next couple of games to lock him up. He’s competing with Wallace Gilberry, a 32-year-old veteran with tons of experience, for one of the last defensive line spots on the roster.
Cleveland Browns: Brock Osweiler, quarterback
The Browns have been desperate for Osweiler to make a definitive claim on the starting quarterback job since preseason began. His quarterback coach defended his awful first game, saying it wasn’t as bad as it appeared. We begged to differ.
Then on Monday night he appeared in two drives and did absolutely nothing to lock down the job. Throwing high most of the time, Osweiler was very inaccurate. He completed 6-of-8 passes, but that is more a reflection of receivers giving effort and hauling in bad throws. He also threw an interception on a tipped pass (watch here), which is pretty much one of his specialties. Whether he starts or takes a back seat to DeShone Kizer in Week 3, Osweiler is under tremendous pressure to improve.
Dallas Cowboys: Kellen Moore, quarterback
The Cowboys are concerned about their backup quarterback, and rightly so. Moore, who is already challenged enough because of his diminutive size and lack of arm strength, has to be precise and on time to be effective in the NFL. He’s struggled in this regard this preseason. Though he had a big outing during the Hall of Fame Game, Moore has been very inaccurate since. For the preseason, he has completed just 54.5 percent of his passes with one touchdown and one interception. If Dak Prescott goes down with an injury, Dallas is in trouble unless Moore figures out what’s wrong and fixes it fast.
Denver Broncos: Garrett Bolles, left tackle
Trevor Siemian will be starting for the Broncos in 2017, and he’s clearly earned that right. With that out of the way, Denver now needs to figure out if rookie tackle Bolles is really ready to be Siemian’s blind-side protector. He struggled against a tough San Francisco 49ers defensive front in Week 2, whiffing badly on some blocks. Bolles needs to really focus on doing all the little things right. Because if he doesn’t do his job, the Broncos might be forced to go to Paxton Lynch as the quarterback. That won’t bode well for this team.
Detroit Lions: Storm Norton, left tackle
The Lions enter the season without starting left tackle Taylor Decker. He’s not going to be ready to play until sometime in the middle of the year. Needless to say, Detroit needs someone to step up in a big way to protect Matthew Stafford’s blind side. The team has a three-way battle going on for this spot. Two names you’ll recognize, and one you probably won’t. Greg Robinson, Cyrus Kouandjio and Storm Norton are all fighting for the starting spot. Norton’s a guy the coaching staff has said good things about, but if he fails to make a good impression the next two weeks he could also be on the outside looking in when final cuts occur.
Green Bay Packers: Jamaal Williams, running back
It’s interesting. Last week we highlighted Ty Montgomery in this exact same spot. He ended up getting hurt and didn’t play in the second preseason game. With a clear path to make a case he deserves the starting job, the rookie Williams failed to do it. He rushed for just 12 yards on seven carries, bringing his preseason total up to just 26 yards on 11 carries. That’s not going to cut it. If Williams can’t do something more to show he’s the man for the job, Montgomery might win by default.
Houston Texans: Dylan Cole, linebacker
Cole appears to be well on his way to earning a roster spot. He’s racked up 13 tackles, one defended pass and one fumble recovery so far this preseason and has caught the eye of his coaches. Even better, he’s shown a knack for blitzing, as we saw against the Panthers in the first preseason game. He harassed Joe Webb a couple of times in that game. Not bad for a kid out of Missouri State who was a long shot to make the team. Another big game could cement him as a special-teams ace at the very least.
Indianapolis Colts: Scott Tolzien, quarterback
This is an easy one. The Colts, who likely will start the regular season without Andrew Luck, haven’t seen good things from his backup, Tolzien. Though completing 10-of-14 passes looks pretty darn good on the surface, Tolzien only managed 70 yards passing against the Cowboys. Dallas doesn’t feature a strong secondary, and Indy’s offense is supposed to be about big plays. Stephen Morris looks more like what the Colts need right now. But for now, head coach Chuck Pagano is sticking with Tolzien.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Blake Bortles, quarterback
Another easy pick, here. Head coach Doug Marrone couldn’t hide his disgust after Bortles’ performance last Thursday against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. This was seen even more when the team released its weekly notes, which you can read more about here. Bortles is on his last leg. He either needs to find some confidence, not to mention sound mechanics, and play well or he’s done as the starting quarterback in Jacksonville.
Kansas City Chiefs: Seantavius Jones, wide receiver
The Chiefs feature a very diverse group of pass catchers. And it seems they’re starting to focus more on deep speed than ever before with the addition of rookie Patrick Mahomes II. Jones fits that mold. He’s 6-foot-3 and can fly. Better yet he’s been reported as having a good camp this summer. Through two preseason games, we’ve seen some of the things the Chiefs like. He caught a touchdown pass against the Bengals that went for 18 yards. But overall he hasn’t made a big impact with just three catches for 31 yards. Jones will need to show up a bit more to prove he’s worth a roster spot in the coming weeks.
Los Angeles Chargers: Cardale Jones, quarterback
Jones has arm talent. Nobody can deny that. That’s a big reason why the Chargers traded for him this summer, rather than take a flyer on the injury prone Robert Griffin III. Unfortunately, based on the way Jones has played in his first two preseason games, his position on Los Angeles’ roster is in no way guaranteed. He’s gone 9-of-24 for 111 yards (4.6 yards per attempt) with no touchdowns, one godawful interception and another near-miss that should have gone for a pick-six. Jones has also struggled with pocket awareness, enduring five sacks for a total of 57 yards. That means that he’s netted 54 yards as a quarterback on 24 attempts. Kellen Clemens is no prize. But he might be the best backup the Chargers have right now.
Los Angeles Rams: Justin Davis, running back
Davis was our target last week on this same list. He did some good things in Week 1 but also put the ball on the turf twice and lost one of the fumbles. He’s a player the Rams have had their eye on to potentially make the roster. So a big game in Week 2 would have gone a long way. Unfortunately, Davis struggled on the ground, going for eight yards on five carries (with a long run of eight yards). Though, he did catch three passes for 20 yards. But that wasn’t nearly enough to remove Davis from his spot on the roster bubble. He’ll need to step up his game in a big way to ensure he can get off that bubble on the right side.
Miami Dolphins: Chase Allen, linebacker
Raekwon McMillan’s season-ending injury opened the door for Allen to have a clear path to a roster spot. The rookie out of Southern Illinois was bumped up to second string, and he’s done plenty of positive things in his first two games this preseason. Leading the Dolphins in tackles (14), Allen has also defended a pass in coverage. But with the team recently signing Rey Maualuga, suddenly Allen is back to square one as a third-string linebacker. He’ll need to make his bones in special teams and continue making big plays when he gets his opportunities on defense.
Minnesota Vikings: Datone Jones, defensive end
The one-time first-round bust of the Green Bay Packers, Jones signed with the Vikings this year in the hopes that a switch back to a 4-3 alignment would help get him on track. At this point, it looks like Jones might be on his way out in Minnesota, too. He finds himself firmly on the roster bubble. He’s competing for a reserve role with the likes of Shamar Stephen and Will Sutton, both of whom have done more with their snaps than he’s managed to do.
New England Patriots: Cyrus Jones, cornerback
A second-round pick last year out of Alabama, Jones’ position on New England’s roster is far from ironclad. He barely registered as a blip on the radar last year and finds himself fighting for one of the team’s final cornerback spots heading into the 2017 season. A touchdown scored against him against Jacksonville didn’t do anything to help him, and he’s yet to break through as a return man, too. If Jones is going to prove he’s worth keeping around, he needs to do it now.
New Orleans Saints: Ryan Nassib, quarterback
With Brees sitting Sunday night’s game out, Nassib got to play the entire second half after Chase Daniel played the entire first half. Going up against Los Angeles’ reserves, Nassib was terrible. He completed just 6-of-15 passes for 55 yards, threw one interception, took a 10-yard sack and ran once for a loss of two yards. This is a fifth-year player who was drafted in the fourth round out of Syracuse, not some fresh-faced rookie who’s never seen the speed of the NFL game. Barring some significant improvements, Nassib might be playing his way out of the NFL.
New York Giants: Paul Perkins, running back
It’s been years since the Giants featured a reliable running game. It’s a known issue they’ve been trying to fix, and many thought Perkins would be a big part of the solution. So far? Not hardly. In two preseason games, the former UCLA star has gained 13 yards on 11 carries. Even worse is the fact he has long runs of 16 and seven yards, meaning he’s actually gone backwards by 12 yards on the other nine carries. That’s not going to cut it. The Giants feature a bad offensive line. This is known. But they have to be able to figure out some way to move the ball on the ground. If Perkins isn’t the guy to do it, then they need to figure out who is.
New York Jets: Christian Hackenberg, quarterback
The Jets surprised everyone by keeping Josh McCown on the bench and starting Hackenberg in Week 2 of the preseason. It wasn’t pretty. Hackenberg went 2-of-6 for 14 yards, didn’t complete a single pass thrown beyond the line of scrimmage, got absolutely destroyed on a sack/fumble and engineered four consecutive three-and-outs before the half mercifully ended. It was a frightening display of quarterbacking that he’ll have to work hard to overcome. This scribe is convinced the Jets need to move on, but we’re betting the Jets continue to see if he can be their guy.
Oakland Raiders: EJ Manuel and Connor Cook, quarterbacks
We saw last year how Oakland’s offense imploded when Derek Carr was injured. He’s incredibly gifted and drives this unit, without a doubt. And the Raiders are a team that has Super Bowl aspirations. At this point, if Carr were to be lost for a chunk of games, it’s highly likely Manuel and/or Cook would be unable to win games based on the way they’ve played. Manuel had a nice first game but struggled last week. Cook was a bit better, but not remarkably so. Both quarterbacks have their work cut out for them to earn the backup role.
Philadelphia Eagles: LeGarrette Blount, running back
Blount was one of the big free agents Philly signed that people thought would be a trans-formative player for an offense that struggled to run the ball last year. But so far, he just looks slow. Through two games, Blount has rushed for just 17 yards on nine carries. Worse still is his two long runs amount to 17 yards, meaning he’s gained zero yards on the remaining seven. Blount might end up being just fine, but it’s been reported he’s on the roster bubble now and could be cut. Time to prove the doubters wrong, or else.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Joshua Dobbs, quarterback
For the second game in a row, this rookie out of Tennessee looked lost against the Atlanta Falcons. Accuracy has been a real problem (52.9 percent completion rate), as have turnovers. Dobbs has thrown for just five yards per attempt, throwing one touchdown and three interceptions while enduring four sacks for 26 yards. Landry Jones hasn’t played a single preseason snap and is clearly the preferable backup to Ben Roethlisberger, which is sad considering his career in the NFL. Dobbs might be doomed to the practice squad, at best.
San Francisco 49ers: Ahmad Brooks, outside linebacker
It’s crazy to think that a guy who’s started 98 games in his career, totaling 53.5 sacks and 370 tackles, would be fighting for a roster spot. But that appears to be the case for Brooks, San Francisco’s long-time starter at outside linebacker. He’s being pushed by Eli Harold, who’s coming on strong. In Saturday night’s game against the Broncos, Harold got first-team snaps and Brooks played well into the third quarter.
Brooks is due to count $6.1 million against the cap this year. Kyle Shanahan said salary wouldn’t be the contributing factor. Given the fact that San Francisco has cap room to spare, it’s conceivable he could remain on the final roster even if he’s not starting. But that isn’t to say his position on the team isn’t in danger. It is.
Seattle Seahawks: Eddie Lacy, running back
Lacy hasn’t done anything in two preseason games to indicate he’s the power back Seattle needs to balance out its offense. He has looked slow, and while he can plow ahead for extra yards he doesn’t have the burst necessary to pierce through what will be some very skinny running lands behind Seattle’s awful offensive line. So far, Lacy has managed to gain 30 yards on 10 carries, with nine yards coming on his longest run. It’s hard to imagine Lacy would be cut this summer, given the $2.865 million guaranteed money he’s getting paid. But it’s not looking like Lacy will have a big season, either.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Nick Folk, kicker
The Bucs must have collectively crapped their pants when Folk did his best Roberto Aguayo impersonation (watch here) on his first kick following Aguayo’s departure. Then he missed an extra point, to boot. It’s really mind-boggling because it seems like Aguayo’s ghost remains. Folk is a fairly reliable kicker, but suddenly now that he’s won the starting job by default, he’s under some serious pressure to make sure he doesn’t continue missing relatively easy kicks.
Tennessee Titans: Kalan Reed, cornerback
The Titans are stacked. At every single position, there is excellent talent lined up. Reed, otherwise known as “Mr. Irrelevant” in 2016 as the last draft pick selected, spent last year on Tennessee’s practice squad. He’s looking up at the likes of Logan Ryan, LeShaun Sims, Brice McCain and Adoree’ Jackson on the depth chart, and there is significant competition for the final one or two spots. Reed has been very active in the team’s first two preseason games and was even highlighted by Pro Football Focus for his work against the Jets. One or two big games from Reed will land him on the active roster in 2017.
Washington Redskins: Rob Kelley, running back
Washington’s running game has struggled in general this preseason. The offensive line hasn’t played well, and running lanes have been slow to materialize. But No. 1 running backs are able to gain yards even under those circumstances every once in a while. That hasn’t happened for Kelley this preseason. He’s gained 11 yards on 12 attempts and has long rushes of four yards in each of the first two games. Meanwhile, rookie Samaje Perine broke out in a huge way this past weekend (more on that here). Kelley needs to raise his game, or he might get supplanted in the staring lineup.