With the NFL preseason well underway, we thought this would be a good time to check in on the Crimson Tide players who were drafted in April. As expected, it sounds like some of our favorites have a real chance to make an impact this season.
Dee Milliner, CB- 1st round, New York Jets
How's this for character building? Not only was Dee drafted into the pressure cooker that is New York, he is being thrown into the starting lineup as a rookie in place of departed All-Pro Darrelle Revis. After his first preseason game, head coach Rex Ryan and fellow starting CB Antonio Cromartie each publicly criticized Dee's performance, citing a perceived lack of aggressiveness. Sounds like Dee is adapting though, as Cromartie followed up:
"For us, having a guy of Dee Milliner's caliber is great. For him, it was a learning experience. For us, we can set the standards for him where we know where he needs to be. He came out yesterday in practice showing a tremendous drive and finishing off everything and doing the things he needs to try and do."
With the high draft position and commensurate salary, increased expectations come. I look forward to watching Dee develop this season.
Chance Warmack, OG- 1st round, Tennessee Titans
From jlomas of Music City Miracles:
You can tell Warmack can be a devastating run blocker, especially in space, but he needs work on his short pass sets. He needs to be more aggressive without letting his technique suffer. You can also see that both the OC and Locker are completely comfortable with him despite him only having a handful of practices with the team. They often run the ball behind him with success and when Locker has a medium/long pass play called he always looks to step up into the right side of the pocket.
Sounds like Chance was sort of feeling his way in his first action, but as expected he will be a starter from day one and has legitimate Pro Bowl potential. The Titans are going to be lucky to have Chance anchoring their run game for the foreseeable future.
DJ Fluker, OT- 1st round, San Diego Chargers
From John Genarro of Bolts From the Blue:
DJ's been alright. He's definitely going to be the Chargers' starting Right Tackle, but (as expected) he's been struggling with speed rushers in the preseason. As a run blocker, he has looked awesome, so San Diego is hoping that's enough to make him a productive rookie.
Eddie Lacy has brought something to Green Bay that has not been present in a few years - optimism and excitement for the running game. Of course, when he sat out the Packers' first preseason game and a series of practices with a mild hamstring injury, fans began to panic about the "injury-prone" label, but he returned this week and put up an impressive showing in his first preseason action. Lacy ran eight times for 40 yards and caught one pass for 11, but it was the way he picked up yardage that has Packers fans excited. He's shedding tacklers, both with his signature spin move and by simply running through them. If he can take even a little bit of pressure off Aaron Rodgers, his draft selection will have been well worth the investment.
Nico Johnson is coming along nicely in the NFL. With fourth round picks, you're not necessarily expecting them to start for your team right away but Nico could. Lining up at inside linebacker, he's in the midst of arguably the best position battle on the team, Nico the rookie vs. Akeem Jordan the veteran. Jordan has been running with the first team throughout camp but Nico has gotten some looks with the ones here and there. It would not surprise anyone in Kansas City if he ends up taking the starting job at some point this season. Considering the value, Nico has been a nice pick so far. We're excited.
Jones is the dark horse of the offensive line. He's been hyped coming into camp, mostly because of his ability to play nearly any position on the line. He's dealt with a lisfranc injury for awhile now, but saw some action against Cleveland. With some of the lineman injured, it wouldn't be surprising to have him take snaps at both center (where he is currently the 3rd stringer) or right tackle.
Jesse Williams' play is kind of concerning at this point. Williams got most of his snaps with the twos and threes and didn't show anything in terms of a pass rush, and at times was pushed back off the line too easily. He's a space-eater, and these are super vanilla schemes, so maybe his value as a nose tackle or base three-tech will be seen later on, but in the game last night, he didn't do anything that impressed me (not that I am an expert on defensive line play).
He had surgery on turf toe back in January, and he actually has not practiced with the team. He is on one of the team's Non-Football Injury list. It's obviously a football injury, but any injuries that happen to a draft pick before they are selected by the team are referred to as "non-football". He is expected to remain on the NFI list for the start of the season. If he is on the list when the regular season starts, he has to remain on it a minimum of six weeks, and cannot practice during that time. He can only rehab during those six weeks.
Williams has had a relatively quiet training camp, which is mainly because of his role. He was drafted to be the Lions' blocking tight end, and he has filled that role admirably so far. He should make the roster as the Lions' third tight end, and I'd imagine they will get him a bit more involved in the passing game once the regular season begins.