Best of Thursday at NFL training camps: Newton’s big day, Ravens’ soccer drills, more


Thursday’s 2021 NFL training camp practices kicked off with plenty of deep-ball passing, rookies showing off their talent and quarterback competitions heating up.

Can veteran quarterbacks Cam Newton of the Patriots and Andy Dalton of the Bears hold off first-year QBs Mac Jones and Justin Fields, respectively? Who will emerge from the Saints’ battle of Jameis Winston and Taysom Hill? Can Teddy Bridgewater beat out Drew Lock for Denver’s starting gig? It’s much too early to tell, only a few days into training camp, but we are getting our first glimpses of the head-to-head competitions.

And while it might not even be August yet, we’ve already seen offenses working on stretching out the defense. Numerous highlight-reel deep balls came out of practices today, including one from the Eagles’ Jalen Hurts to rookie wideout DeVonta Smith. Smith wasn’t the only rookie to make big-time plays Thursday, either.

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

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Top NFL news of the day

NFLPA president Tretter rips teams’ wristband use for unvaccinated players

NFLPA president JC Tretter ripped the NFL teams that are forcing their unvaccinated players to wear wristbands, calling it an unnecessary move that publicly shames players. “It’s a nonsensical idea,” the Cleveland Browns center said Thursday. “They say they need a differentiator between vaccinated and unvaccinated players. We already have a differentiator. The unvaccinated players need to wear masks. No other sports league uses any sort of scarlet marking or helmet decal or wristband, because they know it’s not necessary and the teams know who’s vaccinated, who’s not vaccinated.”

Jets’ Wilson signs rookie deal after missing first 2 days of practice

It took longer than expected, but the New York Jets and quarterback Zach Wilson agreed to terms Thursday on his rookie contract. The first-round pick and presumptive starter, who missed two days of practice as the two sides haggled over technicalities in the contract language, will sign a four-year, $35.15 million contract — a slotted deal that is fully guaranteed. It includes a $22.9 million signing bonus and a fifth-year team option, standard for all first-round picks.

Ravens CB Smith still traumatized by February robbery

Baltimore Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith said he suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder since his family was robbed at gunpoint in February. “Going into the store and being around anyone with a mask or hood on, it really makes my heart thump to this day,” Smith said after Thursday’s practice. “It was terrifying situation.”


What our NFL Nation reporters saw today

Falcons receiver Calvin Ridley was on the field doing a large majority of work during the first day of Atlanta’s training camp Thursday — which was a question since he had offseason surgery and did not participate in on-field work during the team’s minicamp last month. He looked smooth running in and out of routes and a lot like the player who is expected to take over for Julio Jones as the team’s No. 1 receiver. He didn’t do everything Thursday, as Falcons coach Arthur Smith said, “we’ll bring him along.” — Michael Rothstein

While the rest of his Giants teammates practiced, star running back Saquon Barkley worked on the back field with trainers. He was running routes, cutting, catching passes and sprinting. Full-speed sprints! Barkley looked good, albeit from quite a long distance. Still, this was the first time since tearing his knee that he has been out in public doing these types of things. It’s at least a good sign, despite his starting the summer on the PUP list. Maybe getting into a practice is only a few weeks away? — Jordan Raanan

Coach Kliff Kingsbury said five Cards were out because of the COVID-19 protocol, including three starting offensive linemen: center Rodney Hudson, left guard Justin Pugh and right tackle Kelvin Beachum, plus receivers Andy Isabella and KeeSean Johnson. Besides Hudson’s projected return of Aug. 2, Kingsbury didn’t have a timeline for when they’d be back. Kingsbury said it’s a “plus” for guys to test positive at this point in training camp because they don’t have to get tested again for three months. — Josh Weinfuss

Taysom Hill got the first turn of training camp as New Orleans’ starting quarterback during Thursday’s practice. However, Jameis Winston generated more buzz with an efficient day that included a deep completion to receiver Deonte Harris and a variety of short and intermediate throws. He showed more rhythm, timing and patience than he did in a small sample size last summer. — Mike Triplett

The Chiefs’ Chris Jones had what would have been a sack of Patrick Mahomes had Thursday’s practice been a full-contact workout, and it happened from his new position at defensive end. “I feel good rushing off the edge,” said Jones, who led the Chiefs in sacks in each of the past three seasons playing mostly from an interior position. Jones said he spent more offseason time doing yoga and Pilates, which help his flexibility. “[Coming] from the edge, it’s a little different from taking the turn from [the interior],” he said. — Adam Teicher

Cam Newton continues to take top QB reps for the Patriots, followed by Mac Jones. In full-speed 11-on-11 or 7-on-7 drills, Newton was 9-of-14 and Jones 7-of-13. Newton capped off his practice with a double exclamation mark — back-to-back TD passes to tight end Hunter Henry. — Mike Reiss

Rookie QB Trevor Lawrence had only three incompletions in 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 work, and one was a drop. He worked with mainly the first team on Thursday after working mainly with the backups on Wednesday, and he connected with Laviska Shenault Jr. and Marvin Jones Jr. (for a TD) on deep passes. — Michael DiRocco

The Bears’ Andy Dalton practiced like a quarterback entering Year 11. Justin Fields, at times, resembled every NFL rookie quarterback on the second day of training camp. Dalton’s throws were largely on the money, including a deep ball to Marquise Goodwin on the first snap of 7-on-7. Fields had a good number of sharp completions, but the first-round pick also struggled in the accuracy department during certain portions of the workout. Chicago’s No. 3 quarterback, Nick Foles, predictably experienced a high degree of success against the Bears’ third-team defense. — Jeff Dickerson

Jeremy Chinn showed on the first play of 7-on-7 drills why the Panthers are high on him making the transition from outside linebacker to safety, picking off a Sam Darnold pass. Coach Matt Rhule said, “I think right now we feel good about the plan of trying him back there, letting him affect our pass defense a little more, and then we can move him up by call or by game plan.” — David Newton

Starting center Ryan Kelly left practice early Thursday after suffering an elbow injury during 11-on-11 drills. Kelly immediately grabbed his left elbow and then spent the rest of practice watching with it heavily wrapped. Second-year player Danny Pinter replaced Kelly. The Colts are already missing starting left tackle Eric Fisher, who is still out while recovering from a torn Achilles. — Mike Wells

Quarterbacks Drew Lock and Teddy Bridgewater will be subjected to the daily scrutiny, but the first two days of camp showed the Broncos’ first-team defense could have a big say in who does win the job. Lock drew the first-team D in a red zone period Thursday, for example, and was shut out. Later in practice, in some additional red zone work against a different group, he threw three scoring passes. So while Bridgewater has been more consistent overall in the early going — two incompletions in two days combined in full 11-on-11 work — ultimately the quarterback who solves the Broncos’ own defense, as well as the preseason opponents, the best will likely win the job. — Jeff Legwold

Backup quarterback Tyler Huntley delivered the biggest highlight of the Ravens’ second day of training camp, uncorking a 70-yard touchdown pass to Jaylon Moore, who was double-covered at the time. With Lamar Jackson sidelined with COVID-19, Baltimore has remained aggressive on offense. The Ravens have talked about wanting to go deep more this season, and they’re backing it up with several downfield throws early in camp. — Jamison Hensley

A wide receiver wearing a No. 84 jersey drew loud cheers from the fans at Heinz Field on Thursday. But it wasn’t Antonio Brown making the impressive catches during the Steelers’ second open training camp practice. Instead, it was rookie Rico Bussey. During an 11-on-11 passing drill, Bussey juggled a deep pass from Dwayne Haskins Jr. on the sideline and brought it down over Justin Layne. A few plays later, he made a diving catch on a Josh Dobbs pass, laying out to grab it over Stephen Denmark on the other boundary. He put a bow on his practice by hauling in a wide-open touchdown from Haskins to end the two-minute drill. — Brooke Pryor

Washington hopes rookie receiver Dyami Brown will develop into a big-play threat, as he has been in two days of practice. On Thursday, he beat fellow rookie corner Benjamin St-Juste on a deep out-and-up and created much separation before making an over-the-shoulder grab of a slightly underthrown ball. Brown’s speed was been evident, but he has also done a nice job running slants — a route the team likes for him because it considers him fearless. — John Keim

Raiders edge rusher Maxx Crosby was having his way with first-round draft pick Alex Leatherwood in individual pass-rush drills Thursday, and he pulled the No. 17 overall pick off to the side to offer support and advice on how the right tackle might handle the myriad of rushes with which Crosby was beating him. — Paul Gutierrez

The revamped Titans secondary has gotten a lot of attention during the offseason. Breon Borders is a holdover from last year who started five games, and he has had a solid start to camp. He had a big pass breakup in one-on-ones with Racey McMath and a couple of them during 7-on-7 and team periods as well. — Turron Davenport

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NFL quotes of the day

“I think that’s a big part of it. I don’t think, without Aaron [Rodgers], we would be pursuing him. This was a very important thing for Aaron, and that’s why we did it.”

Packers GM Brian Gutekunst on why the team traded for WR Randall Cobb

“You need that type of guy out there. It’s the first day, so everybody’s high energy, but Day 10 and Day 11 might not be so high energy. But, Jamaal’s gonna be the same way every day. When he comes out there, he’s gonna put a smile on your face no matter what, so we need that type of guy out here.”

Lions RB D’Andre Swift on the energy backfield mate Jamaal Williams brings to practice


Cardinals WR A.J. Green on the last time he wasn’t WR1 (DeAndre Hopkins will line up opposite Green in Arizona)

“I see instant chemistry between them two, honestly. They were used to playing with each other at Alabama, and they got plenty of work together in the offseason, too.”

Eagles RB Miles Sanders on the early chemistry between QB Jalen Hurts and WR DeVonta Smith

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