<
>

Clayton: Five things we learned from first minicamps

The spring juggling act has begun.

NFL coaches spend May and June trying to get the most out of the limited practice time afforded them. Each team can hold a mandatory minicamp and 14 organized practices (OTAs) to prepare its players for training camp.

Over the weekend, 24 teams held various forms of minicamps. Some invited just rookies and selected veterans. Others made it mandatory for the entire roster. Some brought in undrafted rookies and draft choices and held tryouts for players still on the street.

The idea is to teach and condition. In the past, the two weeks after the draft were the time for getting entire teams together. Now, coaches have found ways to extend some of their minicamps and OTAs until late June.

However, May still opened with the most active sessions. Here's what we learned over the weekend:

1. Cedric Benson might sail away from Chicago soon

The former first-round pick started walking the plank when the Bears selected Matt Forte in the second round. He has started only 12 games and gained only 1,593 rushing yards in three seasons. A metal plate was surgically inserted into his leg this past fall to repair a fracture. The team isn't sure he will be able to run as fluidly after that injury, which is why it drafted Forte. Benson's recent run-in with law enforcement could be the final straw for him in Chicago. Over the weekend in Texas, he was charged with boating while intoxicated and resisting arrest, and he reportedly was shot in the face with pepper spray. He has vehemently denied being drunk. But after suspending and then releasing Tank Johnson for gun charges, the Bears aren't too tolerant of players with off-the-field issues. To make matters worse for Benson, Forte was the star of Bears rookie camp. Benson plans to attend voluntary workouts Tuesday but knows management won't be happy to see him.

2. Robo QBs

Over the past couple of years, starting quarterbacks -- particularly those known more as pocket passers -- have shown amazing healing powers. Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers is ahead of schedule in his recovery from a Jan. 25 knee reconstruction. He threw during individual drills at Chargers camp over the weekend and appears to be on schedule to do a full training camp. Over the past two years, Carson Palmer of the Bengals and Donovan McNabb of the Eagles also bounced back from knee reconstructions. Panthers quarterback Jake Delhomme, one of three NFL quarterbacks known to have had Tommy John surgery, also threw in individual drills over the weekend and is confident he can have a full training camp. Cardinals quarterback Matt Leinart threw well despite coming back from shoulder problems. And 49ers quarterback Alex Smith did everything coming back from shoulder surgery. Each year, more and more quarterbacks seem to be bouncing back from bad injuries more quickly.

3. Quarterback competitions

Observers at the 49ers' camp thought Alex Smith looked better than Shaun Hill and J.T. O'Sullivan in what coach Mike Nolan would like to be a three-way competition. As Smith should have. He was the first pick in the 2005 draft. Hill and O'Sullivan are NFL Europe grads. It's really between Smith and Hill, and Smith should win.The 49ers would like to resolve the starting job before the start of camp in order to give the winner time to fully learn the Mike Martz offense. In Miami, Chad Henne showed he has a chance to win the starting job against John Beck and Josh McCown. Henne, the team's second-round choice, threw strong Friday and Saturday but faded Sunday. He even had to run a lap after blowing a snap count. The Dolphins had only a rookie camp, but Henne will be a factor as the summer comes closer.

4. Big wide receivers

Receivers weren't huge when it came to ratings in last month's NFL draft, but several were huge over the weekend. Ten receivers went in the second round, none in the first. However, Limas Sweed worked with Hines Ward at the Steelers' minicamp and instantly established himself as a red-zone presence and big target for Ben Roethlisberger. James Hardy towered over his new receiving teammates with the Bills. Previously, Buffalo was the only team not to have a receiver in its top four who measured taller than six feet. The Redskins' Malcolm Kelly showed great hands, while their other new receiver, Devin Thomas, showed great speed. Both should expand the Redskins' offense. Plus, they are big targets, Kelly checking in at 225 pounds and Thomas at 224.

5. No ZZZs with Zorn

New Redskins coach Jim Zorn had the most entertaining minicamp. Jason Campbell seems to be responding to Zorn's unique coaching methods. Clinton Portis, in his best shape as a Redskin, almost beat safety LaRon Landry in a match race. Landry ran a 4.35 40 coming out of college, but Portis wanted to challenge him. Then there was second-round pick Fred Davis. He couldn't sleep Saturday night because his roommate wouldn't shut up. So he went to the desk of the hotel and asked for a different room. He slept until 11 a.m., and the team couldn't find him because he wasn't in the right room. Zorn wants his players alert -- but Fred, tell the roommate to shut up and don't forget the wakeup call.

John Clayton, a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame writers' wing, is a senior writer for ESPN.com.