NFL teams enter their final days of on-field work of the offseason this week, with 15 of the NFC teams conducting their mandatory minicamps. Only Arizona is idle after having their minicamp last week.
Once teams conclude their work this week, players will scatter until the opening of training camps late next month.
This will also be the final week of our evaluation of stars of the week. Next week, we will identify offseason standouts for each team.
For this group of “stars,” it’s notable for the first time that defensive players are taking center stage, at least in the NFC. There are nine players on that side of the ball, with five being cornerbacks and four linebackers.
On the offensive side, there are three wide receivers, two running backs and two offensive linemen.
Of the 16 players, six are rookies.
RB T.J. Logan: One of the Cardinals’ hallmark traits they admire most in recent years is speed and this player has enough of it to burn. Logan flashed all week during mandatory minicamp, and the fact that rookies keep turning head coach Bruce Arians‘ head is remarkable in and of itself. He usually doesn’t think they’re able to contribute at the NFL level until late November of their first season. Logan, however, has been electrifying as both a runner out of the backfield, a pass-catching threat and as a kick returner. It could make the team recalculate its idea of possibly adding a veteran running back (Chris Johnson, perhaps?) to the roster — even after the determination was made this week to move Andre Ellington back to running back after a trial period this offseason as a wide receiver.
WR Deante Burton: An undrafted wide receiver from Kansas State, Burton is getting a lot of action with wide receiver Julio Jones and Taylor Gabriel out. Burton made a spectacular catch along the right sideline in OTAs Tuesday. At 6-foot-2 and 205 pounds, the Falcons like his size and ability to catch the ball away from his body and stay on the move.
LB Ben Boulware: He is hard to miss with the bushy beard and the high amount of energy. He also comes with a certain amount of clout after being a key member of Clemson’s national championship team. He has kind of embraced the underdog role as an undrafted players, so he seems to relish the chance to make an impact. He has fallen into the category that Rivera said “we’re going to keep an eye on.”
CB Sherrick McManis: The player with the longest active tenure on the Bears’ roster at five years, McManis made two interceptions Tuesday in a short span during a full-squad non-contact scrimmage. McManis is no threat to challenge for a starting spot in the secondary. His role is as a special teams ace, and it would appear he’ll have this duty again even with a more experienced group of special teams players. McManis’ 55 special teams tackles lead the team since 2012. However, he has been valuable in the secondary on occasion as a special teamer who is active on game days and capable of filling in if more than one injury hits during a game at the cornerback spot. McManis has had a habit of making interceptions in training camp and OTAs, but never really has done that when put in position to do so in regular-season games.
T La’el Collins: Collins has made a seamless transition from left guard. Collins, who starred at tackle in college at LSU before switching to guard when he joined the Cowboys as an undrafted free agent in 2015, said he feels like his back in his natural spot. “It doesn’t feel like I have changed positions, it feels like I’m playing right tackle,” Collins said. “It feels good.” It feels so good to Collins and the Cowboys that Chaz Green, who was the swing tackle last year before getting injured and one of the supposed main competitors for the right-tackle spot created by the retirement of Doug Free, is now getting reps at his old left-guard position.
Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett said Collins his simply responded well to the change. “He’s done a really nice job,” Garrett said. “We’ve had him over there really for most of the football part of the offseason. He has a comfort level there. He’s played there in the past. And he’s really embracing it. I do think you can see some things. Obviously, contact and the physical part of the game is huge for everybody. But footwork, hand placement, your overall technique, that’s equally important. And he’s worked very hard at that.”
CB Teez Tabor: A rookie second-round pick out of Florida, Tabor had his first interception of the spring on Tuesday when he picked off a deep Matthew Stafford pass intended for Marvin Jones. Tabor fell to the second round because of concerns about his speed, but he’s impressed in Lions camp so far. The rookie has played primarily with the second-team defense so far, behind starters Darius Slay and Nevin Lawson, and has earned praise from coaches for his mental approach to the game.
GREEN BAY PACKERS
OL Don Barclay: The Packers list Barclay on the roster as a T tackle) and a G (guard). They should consider trying to squeeze in a C (center) as well. With young incumbent Corey Linsley sidelined this spring as he recovers from ankle surgery, Barclay has been filling in as the starting center. The sixth-year pro is living up to his reputation as ol’ reliable on the offensive line.
“Don Barclay has so many excellent attributes,” head coach Mike McCarthy said. “You look at someone who can play all five positions and has played tackle, guard and center in our system. His versatility, his work ethic (stand out) … (and) he’s a great locker-room guy.”
Though Barclay has been mostly a utility guy along the line after he started 15 games (including the playoffs) at right tackle in 2013, the team thought enough of him to re-sign him to a one-year contract for $1.025 million as an unrestricted free agent in March. Longtime quarterback Aaron Rodgers applauded the move during the ongoing organized team activities after the Packers lost Pro Bowl right guard T.J. Lang (Detroit Lions) and onetime starting center JC Tretter (Cleveland Browns) in free agency. The 6-foot-4, 305-pound Barclay’s expertise along the line makes him a useful player to retain. He’s slotted to be the understudy at center, where Linsley is expected to return during training camp.
The Packers still aren’t solidified in replacing Lang at right guard, though they signed former New Orleans Saints standout Jahri Evans, a 12th-year pro, in late April as a stopgap. “Bringing Don back was a big thing for us,” Rodgers said. “He’s stepped into the backup center role and done a fantastic job (this spring). He’s really improved his game. You look at a guy who has started at tackle for us, started at guard for us, and now is in line to be our backup center. That’s fantastic. I just give him a lot of credit. He’s had a great approach. He’s a great teammate. I think this is an important offseason for him to continue to show this team how valuable he is to it.”
LOS ANGELES RAMS
WR Michael Thomas: The second-year man has been a standout among a competitive young group of wide receivers. Of all the young receivers, Thomas has the speed and size to be a big-time downfield threat. And he is flashing that during OTAs.
“What you like about Mike is he’s a competitive player,” Rams head coach Sean McVay said. “He’s got some speed. You’ve got the ability to push the ball down the field with him.
“I think he’s getting more and more confident with his hands and just becoming a more polished player — with just his routes and increasing that route versatility. What we’ve seen from Mike so far has been encouraging and he’s made plays down the field. You can feel him, he’s got some speed that gives you the ability to stretch the top shelf of the defense and that’s what he’s done so far.”
CB Terence Newman: The oldest legs on the field looked full of life during Tuesday’s OTA practice. Newman, who turns 39 on Sept. 4, was breaking up passes and challenging his defensive teammates verbally during the 11-on-11 periods. And his boss, head coach Mike Zimmer, loved what he saw. And heard. “You know, Terence is a guy who has an awful lot of pride,” Zimmer said. “If you want to talk a little noise to him, he’s going to take your challenge. You better be careful not to wake up that bear.” The offense woke that bear up Tuesday, and Newman looked fresh enough to step up.
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS
RB Mark Ingram: Ingram participated for the first time in the three practices that were open to the media. He had been held out of the previous two due to an undisclosed injury as a precaution and looked like he’s ready to handle the competition from Adrian Peterson, a three-time NFL rushing champion with the Vikings.
NEW YORK GIANTS
WR Sterling Shepard: With the addition of 6-foot-3, 234-pound tight end Evan Engram to the roster, there has been some question as to whether the 5-foot-10, Shepard, the Giants’ slot receiver last season as a rookie, might see some of his opportunities decrease in the passing game. Shepard, for his part, is doing everything possible this spring to show that he can very much still be a contributor in that regard, especially with his work in the red zone this week where he came down with multiple touchdown receptions. Year 2 will be a big one for Shepard, who last season averaged 14.6 yards per reception in the first three games of his career only to see that number dip to 9.2 yards per catch over the final 12 games of the season.
CB Aaron Grymes: Grymes is a former All-CFL player who signed with the Eagles last year. He would’ve made the season-opening roster but for a late preseason shoulder injury. He ended up spending much of the season on the practice squad. He’s picked up where he left off last summer.
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS
OLB Jimmie Gilbert: Without question, Gilbert was the standout of the 49ers’ 11-on-11 controlled scrimmage on the final day of organized team activities. The former Colorado University defensive end, undrafted in May, is attempting to make the 49ers as an outside linebacker. Three sacks in Thursday’s action surely got him noticed.
CB Shaquill Griffin: The third-round pick has already drawn praise from head coach Pete Carroll for his ability to jump in at right cornerback and handle the basics of Seattle’s press techniques. “It looked really good for the first weekend,” Carroll said during rookie minicamp. “He got some good shots on some balls down the field, we got to see him run a little bit and all.” Griffin has worked with the first unit at times with DeShawn Shead out and continuing to recover from an ACL tear sustained in January.
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS
LB Kwon Alexander: Alexander plays with a chip on his shoulder pads for not being named to the Pro Bowl last season. He’s been the Bucs’ leader in tackles the past two years. The biggest improvement in his game is his understanding of coordinator Mike Smith‘s defense. It showed up again this week as Alexander was all over the field, particularly in coverage, where he had a red-zone interception Thursday.
OLB Junior Galette: A forgotten piece of the puzzle because Galette has never played a game for Washington despite signing early in 2015 training camp after New Orleans cut him for issues on and off the field. But the outside linebacker had 22 total sacks for the Saints in 2013 and 2014 and the Redskins’ pass rush still needs proven production. Galette has returned quicker than expected from a second torn Achilles tendon suffered last summer and is already taking part in team drills. At Wednesday’s open session, he pushed left tackle Kevin Bowen into quarterback Kirk Cousins and forced a bad throw during the 11-on-11 session and later swallowed up running back Mack Brown on a running play.