Topics this week include the Browns' next steps at quarterback, rookie signal-caller Carson Wentz's sensational debut -- and what could have been -- plus, the connection Texans coach Bill O'Brien had to his first-round pick.
Browns forced to change QB plans -- again
For now, the best guess on the time Robert Griffin III will miss is 10-12 weeks, per sources. With Griffin sidelined with a shoulder injury, Josh McCown becomes the starter, and rookie third-round pick Cody Kessler becomes the backup. But there are more questions there, as is usually the case at quarterback in Cleveland.
Browns sources say Kessler is not close to being ready to play -- which doesn't mean he won't -- but expectations for him aren't particularly high. Yet there are those in the Browns' building who think Griffin's injury could turn out to be a good thing for the franchise, because coach Hue Jackson was so focused on righting Griffin. The team now can move on and do what it needs.
Where the Browns go and what they do next are significant issues. Their recent track record at quarterback is not overly favorable. The quarterbacks the Browns loved in the offseason were Jared Goff, Kessler and Griffin, per team sources. The quarterbacks they didn't care for were Carson Wentz and Dak Prescott, per the same sources. Those same men who appear to have missed last offseason will be in charge of finding Cleveland's next quarterback, whoever that is, this offseason. They need to find Cleveland's quarterback of the future, which is tied to the other issue.
Since rejoining the NFL in 1999, the Browns have had 25 starting quarterbacks, the most in the NFL. At the rate this is going, Kessler is likely to be the 26th, practice squad quarterback Kevin Hogan could be the 27th ... and either Deshaun Watson or DeShone Kizer, two of college football's top QBs, could be the 28th.
-- Adam Schefter
It's early, but Carson Wentz has traits to succeed
To be fair, it will take more than one game and probably more than a year to determine whether the Cleveland Browns blew it by not giving more consideration to draft Carson Wentz with the No. 2 overall pick.
Nevertheless, before the Browns traded that pick to the Eagles, there were some NFL evaluators who agreed that Wentz fit the mold of an AFC North quarterback.
At 6-foot-5, 235 pounds, Wentz has the prototype size of QBs such as the Steelers' Ben Roethlisberger, the Ravens' Joe Flacco and former Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer. Current Bengals QB Andy Dalton, though not as big as those three quarterbacks, does not have a frail frame.
The dome-free AFC North is portrayed as the NFL's real "black-and-blue" division because of its physical DNA. One personnel man opined that the quarterbacks in the division will not go physically unscathed but argued that their stature allows them to recover from injuries. In fact, every one of the aforementioned quarterbacks -- Roethlisberger, Flacco, Palmer and Dalton -- have missed games because of injuries.
Wentz also is not immune to injury. Last October, he broke his wrist. The injury required surgery, but he came back to lead North Dakota State to an FCS national title. He also fractured ribs last month in his first preseason game, but the Eagles deemed him ready to open the season as the starter when Sam Bradford was traded to the Vikings. They see him as a physically and mentally resilient quarterback but still emphasize that he needs to get the ball out of his hands quickly, because the pounding takes its toll.
More than one personnel man also suggested Wentz's hand size (10 inches) projected well in a division that often plays in inclement weather later in the season (the NFC East would also qualify).
Then is it a worthy counterpoint to note that Wentz played his college home games indoors at the Fargodome at North Dakota State? That did not bother one general manager, who pointed out that the Green Bay Packers largely practice indoors when the weather turns frosty, yet have a decided home-field advantage outdoors at Lambeau Field. The GM said Wentz being acclimated to that climate all his life was a more favorable factor.
It's nothing more than a snapshot, but it was a snapshot taken by some evaluators before the 2016 draft.
-- Chris Mortensen
Bill O'Brien commits to former commitment
As the 2016 NFL draft approached, most expected Texans coach Bill O'Brien to make a major push for one of his former Penn State recruits. And he did.
When Fuller was starring at Roman Catholic High School in Philadelphia, his first scholarship offer came from none other than O'Brien and Penn State. Fuller verbally committed to O'Brien and Penn State. But when the Jerry Sandusky sanctions were handed down, he opened his recruiting again and opted for Notre Dame.
When O'Brien had another chance to land Fuller last spring, he and the Texans traded up one slot in the first round to draft the wide receiver who escaped Penn State.
Sure enough, Fuller reeled in five catches for 107 yards and a touchdown in Week 1. When O'Brien was asked about how Fuller was able to bounce back with a strong game after dropping the first pass thrown in his direction, he knew why, perhaps better than anyone.
"The one thing I know about Will, having known him for a while, he's a very resilient guy," O'Brien said. "He grew up in a great family, hard-working parents. I'm sure they taught him about, 'Look, sometimes you're going to get knocked down. You have to be able to pick yourself back up.' That's something he does well."
O'Brien knows Fuller, trusts Fuller and believes in Fuller. Now, with Houston heading into Week 2 matchup vs. the Kansas City Chiefs, he has already been rewarded by him, too.
-- Adam Schefter
'Hammerhead' shows why fullbacks matter
When Denver Broncos rookie fullback Andy Janovich broke loose for a 28-yard touchdown run in the season-opening win over the Panthers, the NFL's first rushing score of the 2016 season, former Cowboys great Daryl "Moose" Johnston noted that when he glanced at his Twitter account there were three mentions that he says were almost identical: "Somewhere, Moose Johnston is smiling."
Johnston was indeed smiling. He believes the fullback position, which was on a path toward NFL extinction, still has a future.
"We're seeing defenses, especially teams like the Arizona Cardinals, that are loading up the back eight essentially using a safety as that extra linebacker, and it gives an offense an opportunity for a fullback like Janovich to create some favorable matchups in blocking," said Johnston, who studies the game when prepping for his Fox Sports broadcast assignments. "The big thing, though, is you have to find that guy who is not just a thumper, but one who can be versatile in formations, on a free release where he can recognize coverages and be a viable receiver down in that red zone, where points are a premium. Janovich appears to have that type of ability."
A sixth-round draft pick, Janovich was a walk-on at Nebraska who earned a scholarship and became known as "Hammerhead" when he was the often the lead blocker for Ameer Abdullah, who had three 1,000-yard rushing seasons before being drafted by the Lions in 2015. Janovich also was a special teams standout, a must if a fullback is going to land a job in the NFL. His "Hammerhead" moniker has stuck with the Broncos. Janovich was on the field for almost half the offensive snaps in the opener against the Panthers.
-- Chris Mortensen
Growing branches from Patriots-Colts rivalry
The rivalry between New England and Indianapolis has been so good that it has had a lasting impact on four teams this weekend not named the Patriots or the Colts.
The general managers of the Titans and the Lions, who play each other Sunday, are Bill Belichick disciples. Tennessee GM Jon Robinson spent 12 years in New England (2002-2013), during which time he worked with Bob Quinn, who was with the Patriots from 2000-2015 and is now Detroit's GM. The Patriot Ways already have come into play in Tennessee and Detroit, with Robinson and Quinn's own influence on their respective rosters.
The general managers of the Jaguars and the Chargers, who play each other Sunday, are Bill Polian disciples. Jacksonville GM Dave Caldwell spent 10 years with the Colts (1998-2007), during which time he worked with Tom Telesco, who was with the Colts from 1998-2012 and is now San Diego's GM. The Colts Ways already have come into play in Jacksonville and San Diego, with Caldwell and Telesco's own influence on their respective rosters.
So even in the NFL, trees grow branches. The tree that was the home of the NFL's best rivalry this century, Patriots vs. Colts, produced branches that now will be tangled Sunday.
-- Adam Schefter
Emptying out the notebook
Browns veteran QB Josh McCown, who takes over the starting job for injured Robert Griffin III, had a reasonable protest about the notion the Browns should tank for the No. 1 pick in 2017. McCown mentioned the need to respect veterans on the team such as tackle Joe Thomas. That's not lip service to Thomas, who declined to push the front office for a trade to the Broncos last October when it was in discussion. The same sources say Thomas then privately cited the loyalty to other veterans in the Browns' locker room and the organization that made him the third overall pick in 2006.
The most surprising statistic about Spencer Ware's opening game for the Chiefs was his seven catches for 129 yards. He had just six catches for 5 yards in 2015. "He's got good hands," Chiefs general manager John Dorsey said. "He was a pretty good baseball player in high school, good enough to play baseball at LSU his freshman year. You can't be a good baseball player and have bad hands."
When the Ravens passed on overpaying pending free-agent receiver Torrey Smith in 2015, they knew they were subtracting a player who played to one of quarterback Joe Flacco's strengths -- deep-ball accuracy. That's one reason they drafted Breshad Perriman (4.25 in the 40-yard dash) last year, but Perriman missed his rookie season with an injury. Then GM Ozzie Newsome got insurance with Mike Wallace (4.33 in the 40) this offseason. Big plays from Flacco to Wallace (66-yard TD) and to Perriman (35 yards to help set up a field goal) were moments the Ravens needed to beat the Bills 13-7 in their opener.
Hall of Fame coach Bill Parcells has never been a proponent of paying cornerbacks huge bucks, though he acknowledges "the cost of doing business is going up." Parcells, however, is a proponent of loading up on defensive backs. "I tell my guys still coaching that you need more than four or five cornerbacks. You better have seven of those guys in today's game."
The Patriots play the Dolphins on Sunday, one of three consecutive home games before Tom Brady returns from suspension. A breeze after a tough road win at Arizona? Maybe not. The Seahawks believe the Dolphins' defense will be a challenge for any opponent after a narrow 12-10 home-opening win over Miami. "They're pretty darn good," Seahawks GM John Schneider said. "They're deep, especially on the defensive line. ... They've got talented guys positionally playing where they should play."
Titans coach Mike Mularkey this weekend will indirectly face his son, Patrick Mularkey, who is the Lions' pro scouting coordinator. "It's pretty neat," Mike Mularkey said. "I actually asked him yesterday -- it never really dawned on me -- who my wife and his mom is rooting for to win this game. I haven't asked her yet, but it's special, because I'm proud of him. Very proud of the job he's done. I love that he's in this business, because I think he's really good at what he does. Regardless, I think there's a win in this somehow, in the outcome of this game."