<
>

Thursday camp preview: Cam Newton's red zone struggles and more

Rob Carr/Getty Images

NFL Nation reporters look ahead to Thursday practices at their team's training camp.

AFC EAST

Buffalo Bills: The Bills will continue to grind through their first full week of training camp, but injuries are starting to pile up. RB Anthony Dixon (calf) is expected to be out for several weeks, and starting RB LeSean McCoy (toe) is being held out of practice. Cyrus Kouandjio, the favorite for the right tackle job, could also miss time with a knee injury. -- Mike Rodak

Miami Dolphins: With Dallas Thomas nursing a shoulder injury, the focus Thursday will be at guard as Billy Turner and rookie Jamil Douglas try to earn starting jobs. -- James Walker

New England Patriots: After holding their annual night practice for season-ticket holders inside Gillette Stadium, the Patriots return to practice this afternoon, when we'll again keep a close eye on the cornerback position. Free-agent signing Tarell Brown has begun working alongside Malcolm Butler in recent practices, with Logan Ryan moving into the slot. A Butler-Brown starting combination could ultimately be the answer to how the Patriots plan to replace Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner. -- Mike Reiss

New York Jets: The Jets, grinding through a stretch of five straight days of practice, still are looking for clarity at right guard. The competition between Willie Colon, Brian Winters and Brent Qvale is "all even," according to Todd Bowles. Some separation would be nice. -- Rich Cimini

AFC NORTH

Baltimore Ravens: While there's plenty of attention on the Ravens' alleged involvement in Deflategate, the health of their wide receivers is a far bigger issue. Rookie first-round pick Breshad Perriman and Marlon Brown, two of Baltimore's top four receivers, are sidelined. Perriman is considered day-to-day with a knee injury, and Brown is out indefinitely with a nerve problem with his back. This opens up more playing time for young targets like Jeremy Butler, Michael Campanaro and Darren Waller. -- Jamison Hensley

Cincinnati Bengals: Might this be the day the Bengals' offensive line units, particularly their second- and third-stringers, are able to hold their own against the defensive front? Through the first five days of training camp, Cincinnati's D-linemen have plowed regularly through their counterparts. Veteran offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth said it's often easier at this point in camp for defensive linemen to speed-rush past backpedaling offensive linemen who are still rediscovering how to work together. After the entire team was off Wednesday and Whitworth and Andre Smith had veteran's off days Tuesday, the Bengals' O-line should be well-rested. -- Coley Harvey

Cleveland Browns: The Browns have their final practice before heading south to Columbus for Friday night's intrasquad scrimmage. The team will detail its plans for the scrimmage and try to avoid adding to an injury list that's already too long for coach Mike Pettine. -- Pat McManamon

Pittsburgh Steelers: The battle for the left outside linebacker spot between Arthur Moats and Bud Dupree should start to heat up Thursday. Dupree, a first-round rookie, hasn't disappointed with his athleticism, but Moats is the more reliable option at this point. With two practices before preseason games kick off, let's see if Dupree digs in. -- Jeremy Fowler

AFC SOUTH

Houston Texans: Texans coach Bill O'Brien has been itching to see Ryan Mallett and Brian Hoyer against an opponent, and he'll get that chance today. Houston traveled to Richmond, Virginia, last night and its three practices against Washington will be critical to determining who wins the quarterback competition. -- Tania Ganguli

Indianapolis Colts: The Colts have their first day off since the start of training camp after completing a night practice in full pads Wednesday. Receiver Andre Johnson and running back Frank Gore are proving age is just a number, as the Colts' two key offseason additions have made a smooth transition to picking up the offense and fitting in. "Football is life for Frank," offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton said. "[Johnson's] catching radius is off the chart as well as the fact that Andre is a big, physical, strong man." -- Mike Wells

Jacksonville Jaguars: WR Marqise Lee went down with a hamstring injury during Wednesday practice, and if his past experiences with that kind of injury are any indication, he won't be on the field for a while. Arrelious Benn took some first-team reps in Lee's place, but this opens the door for several other receivers -- including former Baltimore Ravens receiver/punt returner Tandon Doss -- who are fighting for what may be only one spot on the 53-man roster. -- Mike DiRocco

Tennessee Titans: The Titans' receivers and tight ends have been dropping too many passes and if the rate doesn't slow down, it'll start to become a bigger concern. Tight end Delanie Walker and rookie receiver Dorial Green-Beckham are at the top of the list of guys who have to clean things up and prove more reliable for the quarterbacks throwing to them. -- Paul Kuharsky

AFC WEST

Denver Broncos: The Broncos could use a little more good health along the defensive line, having finished out one practice earlier this week with just six defensive lineman able to go. Broncos players had Wednesday off, which gave the likes of Malik Jackson (calf) and Marvin Austin Jr. (groin) some extra rest. Coach Gary Kubiak has said he hoped both could participate on even a limited basis Thursday. -- Jeff Legwold

Kansas City Chiefs: The Chiefs have their first day off from practice, and it might be a good idea for the players to catch up on their rest. When the Chiefs return to work on Friday, they'll begin a stretch of six straight days of practice, their longest of camp. Five of those practices are scheduled to be in pads. -- Adam Teicher

Oakland Raiders: It's essential for quarterback Derek Carr to build chemistry with new receivers Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree. We'll get a good look at how that's coming on Thursday, when the Raiders are expected to work more on the hurry-up offense. -- Bill Williamson

San Diego Chargers: After a day off, the Chargers ran the ball effectively in the red zone on Wednesday. That's good news for a revamped O-line that struggled to consistently create holes last season, but bad news for a defense that couldn't stop the run in 2014. A better effort is needed up front defensively for the Chargers on Thursday. -- Eric D. Williams

NFC EAST

Dallas Cowboys: As the Cowboys work through in-game situations each day, today's focus is short-yardage and goal-line work, which is the only time players are allowed to tackle teammates to the ground. Jason Garrett has asked for a more physical camp as things have progressed and today's work figures to be the most physical to date. -- Todd Archer

New York Giants: Thursday afternoon's practice will be open to fans, who can watch to see whether second-year defensive back Bennett Jackson keeps his momentum. Jackson, a converted cornerback who missed his 2014 rookie season due to injury, has run with the first team at safety for three practices in a row. The Giants are looking for answers at safety, and if Jackson keeps making the most of his reps, he could bring more clarity to a shaky position. -- Dan Graziano

Philadelphia Eagles: The Eagles return to the NovaCare Complex for practice after an off day on Wednesday. Sam Bradford's left knee made it through the first three days of practice without incident. His next step will be to develop better timing with his receivers. He has 10 practices to do that before the preseason opener against Indianapolis. -- Phil Sheridan

Washington Redskins: The Redskins begin three days of practices vs. the Houston Texans starting Thursday, which provides the team another chance to measure quarterback Robert Griffin III's progress. Griffin has done a nice job in camp, but he's also facing a defense he now knows well -- one that forces him to hit checkdown passes and avoid dangerous throws. It was after practicing vs. New England last season that doubts about Griffin surfaced. Keep in mind: In the season opener last year, Griffin completed 29 of 37 passes for 267 yards vs. Houston. But he was sacked three times and led just one touchdown drive. A good showing this week would be welcomed by Redskins management. -- John Keim

NFC NORTH

Chicago Bears: Head coach John Fox attempted to downplay rookie Kevin White's shin injury, but the health of Chicago's top pick is a concern. The Bears' offense will try to bounce back after the defense thoroughly dominated Wednesday's practice. -- Jeff Dickerson

Detroit Lions: Ameer Abdullah has been one of the Lions who has put together an impressive first few days of camp. With each day that starting RB Joique Bell misses, the chance for Abdullah to earn the trust of the coaches and other starters increases. This will be something to watch as the Lions slowly make their way to the first preseason game next week against the Jets. -- Michael Rothstein

Green Bay Packers: The competition for the punting job has gotten off to a slow start. Incumbent Tim Masthay has had only nine live punts so far in training camp, while Cody Mandell has had just eight. Expect that to change. Get your stopwatches ready because special teams coordinator Ron Zook said the reps will increase starting with Thursday's practice. -- Rob Demovsky

Minnesota Vikings: Following a day off on Wednesday, the Vikings get back to work at Minnesota State on Thursday. Coach Mike Zimmer, who has been in Florida with his ailing father, Bill, is expected to be back with the team for the morning walk-through and afternoon practice. -- Ben Goessling

NFC SOUTH

Atlanta Falcons: The status of Falcons rookie running back Tevin Coleman (hamstring strain) will be worth monitoring the rest of camp. Coleman, who's competing with Devonta Freeman for the starting role, did not practice Wednesday. Coach Dan Quinn said he hopes Coleman returns soon. In the meantime, his absence means more reps for Antone Smith, Jerome Smith and perhaps rookie Terron Ward. -- Vaughn McClure

Carolina Panthers: Carolina's first day of installing its red zone offense didn't go so well for quarterback Cam Newton, who completed only two passes and failed to get his unit in the end zone on two series. For a team that ranked 27th in the league in red zone scoring last year, that left a lot to be desired. It's way too early to push panic buttons, but keep an eye on the Panthers' proficiency inside the 20 today to see if there's improvement. -- David Newton

New Orleans Saints: The Saints are expected to install some red zone and two-minute packages, which means QB Drew Brees should take center stage. Those drills can get ultracompetitive, and it will be interesting to see who emerges as Brees' go-to guys in those key situations with Jimmy Graham now in Seattle. -- Mike Triplett

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: The Bucs return to practice Thursday after having Wednesday off. One player under close scrutiny is middle linebacker Bruce Carter. He is being asked to learn a new position after playing on the outside in Dallas. -- Pat Yasinskas

NFC WEST

Arizona Cardinals: As the Cardinals take their first day off from training camp, their focus will be on how long wide receiver Michael Floyd will be sidelined with dislocated fingers in his left hand. Early speculation is that it could be as long as four weeks. -- Josh Weinfuss

St. Louis Rams: Now that the Rams are back in pads, the offense is hoping to be a little more competitive against the defense. Quarterback Nick Foles has not hesitated to take chances down the field early in camp and was letting it fly in Tuesday's practice, but he's been just a bit off on some of the throws. With a chance to look at the film during an off day, it'll be worth watching whether he and his receivers can start connecting consistently on Thursday night. -- Nick Wagoner

San Francisco 49ers: The 49ers, after five straight practices, including the last two in pads, enjoy their first off day on Thursday. It gives QB Colin Kaepernick time to continue working on his throwing mechanics, while getting more comfortable calling plays in the huddle. -- Paul Gutierrez

Seattle Seahawks: The big thing to watch Thursday is what safety Earl Thomas does on the field. The Seahawks activated him from the physically unable to perform list Wednesday, making him eligible for practice. With Thomas coming off a complete reconstruction of his shoulder, it's likely Seattle will ease him into drills. Thomas loves practicing so he might try to do too much. -- John Clayton