NFL training camp updates: Aaron Rodgers' new ride, injuries hit, 'Baby LeBron' in Carolina, more

ByESPN Staff ESPN logo
Saturday, July 31, 2021

Friday's 2021 NFL training camp practices started off on a lighter note when Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers was gifted a sweet ride by longtime left tackle David Bakhtiari, but injuries and frustration struck at other camps.

There is apprehension in Indianapolis, where quarterback Carson Wentz is out indefinitely with a foot injury, and Miami Dolphins cornerback Xavien Howard did not practice Friday because of an undisclosed injury.

Elsewhere, Jacksonville Jaguars coach Urban Meyer continues to work on rebuilding the team's culture, Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady said he will ditch the sleeve he has worn on his left knee and is already looking ahead to when the pads come on, and New York Jets fans got to watch first-round pick Zach Wilson make some throws.

Here's what you need to know and see from camps across the league:

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Howard misses practice with undisclosed injury

Howard, who took to Instagram on Tuesday night to request a trade from Miami because of his displeasure with his contract, did not practice Friday because of an undisclosed injury. An All-Pro selection last season after leading the NFL in interceptions with 10, he jogged off the field after the team's warm-up Thursday before resurfacing some 40 minutes later and watching the end of practice from the sideline. The team provided no updates on Howard's condition.

Wentz out indefinitely with foot injury

The Indianapolis Colts quarterback is out indefinitely as he undergoes further testing for a foot injury suffered at the end of Thursday's practice, sources told ESPN's Adam Schefter and Mike Wells. Second-year quarterback Jacob Eason took the starter's reps at Friday's practice, with Sam Ehlinger serving as the backup.

The Colts acquired Wentz during the offseason and reunited him with coach Frank Reich by giving the Philadelphia Eagles a third-round pick in this year's draft and a conditional second-round pick in the 2022 draft.

Brady ditches sleeve he has worn since 2008 knee injury

Tampa Bay's quarterback has officially shed the trademark sleeve he has worn on his left knee since suffering a torn ACL in 2008. He wore it Sunday in his first training camp practice, but Monday, he had it rolled down at his shin. By Tuesday, it was off. He hasn't worn it since and doesn't plan to put it back on.


What our NFL Nation reporters saw today

Sammy Watkins has been the Ravens' best wide receiver in the first three days of training camp. He has been extremely quick and has caught everything in his reach, including a touchdown grab in the corner of the end zone on Friday. Watkins has shined with Marquise "Hollywood" Brown sidelined and Rashod Bateman off to a slow start at camp.

"He's one of the best receivers in the NFL, period," said Ravens offensive coordinator Greg Roman, who is reuniting with Watkins after coaching him in Buffalo in 2015. -- Jamison Hensley

Although D'Andre Swift is expected to be "The Guy" at running back, Lions coach Dan Campbell said he envisions Swift and Jamaal Williams becoming like Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram in New Orleans in 2017-18. The Lions haven't had a 1,000-yard rusher since Reggie Bush in 2013, the longest active drought in the NFL, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. -- Eric Woodyard

Safety Jeremy Chinn, a possible candidate for NFL Defensive Rookie of the year in 2020 as a linebacker, has been dubbed "Baby LeBron" by middle linebacker Denzel Perryman. Or "South Beach LeBron" as cornerback Donte Jackson referred to the nephew of Pro Football Hall of Fame safety Steve Atwater. Chinn intercepted Sam Darnold on the first play of seven-on-sevens Thursday, then almost did it again during 7-on-7 drills on Friday. He followed that with a great breakup of a pass to tight end Ian Thomas. -- David Newton

On a morning when the Bears welcomed back veteran defensive lineman Akiem Hicks (sore foot), the defense decidedly outperformed Chicago's offense on Day 3 of camp. Led up front by Eddie Goldman, Bilal Nichols and Hicks, the defense consistently clogged passing lanes and nearly intercepted multiple balls near the line of scrimmage. Quarterbacks Andy Dalton and Justin Fields still had their share of good moments, but not enough to stem the tide. -- Jeff Dickerson

The biggest cheer in the crowd (limited because of COVID-19) came when linebacker Kyzir White picked off a pass and ran to the end zone (or close to it until the whistle came). It happened against backup quarterback Easton Stick, granted, but a pick is a pick. And the defense celebrated, too. -- Shelley Smith

Friday's practice was a good showcase for the defensive end depth, with starter Cameron Jordan appearing to get a rest in full-team drills. First-round pick Payton Turner got a lot of reps with the first-string defense, and fellow backup Carl Granderson appeared to have one or two potential sacks in the non-contact drills. The Saints need defensive ends like them to step up after letting Trey Hendrickson go in free agency. -- Mike Triplett

It was not the best practice for the offense on Friday. Daniel Jones threw an ugly interception in the red zone to Logan Ryan. Intended target: Evan Engram on a fade route. Mostly for the offense, there have been a lot of underneath passes. The unit has just looked a bit out of sync through three days. -- Jordan Raanan

About an hour into practice Friday, coach Nick Sirianni halted play and brought the team together to say the performance was not meeting the standard.

"He wanted to bring attention to that and say, 'Hey, this can be a microcosm of the season, at times you have your ups and downs. What are you going to do when you get off to a slow start? You've got to pick yourself up.' That was his message, and I think we finished practice stronger than we started," said edge rusher Ryan Kerrigan. -- Tim McManus

The play of the day came when safety Amani Hooker swooped in to intercept a Ryan Tannehill pass for the second time in three days. Hooker has been a standout player so far. -- Turron Davenport

Receiver Mecole Hardman, looking for a starting role for the first time, is off to a good start in training camp. He caught a long touchdown pass from Patrick Mahomes when he got behind the coverage on Friday, and lost another big gain only when cornerback Charvarius Ward made a great recovery on a play. One issue for Hardman has been earning the trust of the coaches and Mahomes by always being in the right place at the right time. Mahomes praised him in that regard.

"The maturity I guess you could say of how he practices, how he goes about his business, is completely different," Mahomes said. -- Adam Teicher

The chemistry between Derek Carr and his security blanket of a slot receiver, Hunter Renfrow, is uncanny. Late in Friday's practice, during an 11-on-11 non-padded red zone scramble drill, Carr rolled to his right. Renfrow was covered in the back of the end zone and running to his right until Carr locked eyes with him and tilted his head to the left. Renfrow stopped on a dime, Carr threw and Renfrow spun to lose his coverage. The ball arrived as Renfrow's spin was complete. Touchdown. -- Paul Gutierrez

Ryan Fitzpatrick trusts receiver Terry McLaurin, even in tight coverage. On several occasions he has thrown to McLaurin, who was covered well by corner William Jackson III. But McLaurin more often than not has come down with the ball. It has led to Fitzpatrick saying he now knows he can make such throws to McLaurin in a game. On Friday, they connected on a deep ball when McLaurin wasn't open by much but still made the catch. -- John Keim

Packers' first-round pick Eric Stokes got his welcome-to-the-NFL moment. During a red zone period on Friday, he stuck with receiver Davante Adams on a fade route, blanketed him in coverage and jumped at just the right instant. Yet Aaron Rodgers still floated the ball right into Adams' outstretched hands for a touchdown. So what did fellow Packers' DB Darnell Savage tell Stokes after that? "There's not many 12s and 17s out there," he said referring to the jersey numbers of Rodgers and Adams. Adams, of course, led the NFL last season with 18 touchdown catches. -- Rob Demovsky

Olamide Zaccheaus, a 24-year-old slot receiver from Virginia entering his third NFL season, has an opportunity to carve out a role behind Calvin Ridley and Russell Gage. At 5-foot-8, 193 pounds, he has run crisp routes the first two days and made some impressive catches, including one Friday in 11-on-11 work. -- Michael Rothstein

This is Brandon Linder's eighth training camp, and the center said the enthusiasm on the practice field is like nothing he has experienced before under past coaches Doug Marrone and Gus Bradley. Linder said coach Urban Meyer has the players at a different energy level, in part because of his commitment to giving them the best at all times (for example, a new recovery area that offers various therapies the players had to previously leave the facility to get). Meyer wants to change the culture and seems to be off to a good start. "It's refreshing. It feels new. It's exciting what we've [got] going on down here," Linder said. -- Michael DiRocco

Defensive tackle Mike Purcell left Friday's practice with an ankle injury. He is a key to the run defense and missed the last 10 games in 2020 with a fractured foot. Coach Vic Fangio said preliminary exams showed it was a sprained ankle, but Purcell will have additional testing. -- Jeff Legwold

On the first day fans were allowed to attend practice, Baker Mayfield sailed several passes early during team and 7-on-7 sessions as the offense struggled to move the ball. Mayfield later settled in, tossing TD passes to Donovan Peoples-Jones, Ja'Marcus Bradley and speedy rookie Anthony Schwartz. -- Jake Trotter

The ability to use their receivers interchangeably could be the boost the passing game has needed. At one point Friday, DeAndre Hopkins lined up wide left and A.J. Green was wide right. Another time, Hopkins was in the right slot with Green wide right, and Christian Kirk wide left. Rookie wide receiver Rondale Moore was also getting reps in the slot. -- Josh Weinfuss

Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow had one completion to a true wide receiver Friday -- rookie Ja'Marr Chase in a 7-on-7 period. Burrow's completion percentage was also dinged by a couple of drops. It was the second straight day that the team's defense had the upper hand. -- Ben Baby

The 49ers' defense won the day Friday, and the most encouraging sign was a good outside pass rush from free-agent addition Samson Ebukam, who had two would-be sacks during team drills. "Samson, he's done a real good job. He's in shape, he's explosive, he's strong. ... He's been exactly what we hoped for," coach Kyle Shanahan said. -- Nick Wagoner

Rookie offensive tackle Spencer Brown and defensive tackle Ed Oliver got into it on the practice field Friday. "It was just a little scuffle, competition," Oliver said, smiling. "I might go in the locker room and we might go eat together. What happens on the field stays on the field -- we're family in the locker room." -- Marcel Louis-Jacques

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