|Baltimore RB Ray Rice has been suspended for the first two games of the NFL season|
With the NFL season just a few weeks away and teams across the United States well into their training camp programmes, here’s six stories from across the league as teams gear up for the upcoming 16 game slog:
Eagles Lane Johnson Tests Positive for PEDs
Last years third overall pick, tackle Lane Johnson, is to miss the first four games of the NFL season after he tested positive for a banned substance during the off-season. The news is a blow to Philadelphia and head coach Chip Kelly, who were relying on Johnson to anchor the right side of the Eagles offensive line as they bid to retain the NFC East title in 2014. Johnson struggled at times last year but he still projects as a player who can retain a starting spot for a decade or more – though he’ll have to watch from the sidelines as the Eagles latest campaign gets underway.
Geno Smith to Start Jets First Pre-Season Game
After signing former Eagles and Falcons QB Michael Vick in the summer Jets head coach Rex Ryan has named incumbent Geno Smith as the starter for New York’s first game of the pre-season. Smith had his struggles as a rookie in 2013 and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him supplanted by Vick at some point this year, particularly with Ryan’s job seemingly on the line. However Smith will have first crack on the role, and Vick will have to wait for the second team to take the field to make his mark.
Johnny Football Not the Browns Starter.. Yet
Like Vick, Browns QB Johnny Manziel will also be consigned to playing with the second string in the first round of pre-season contests. Brian Hoyer will start for Cleveland under first year coach Mike Pettine, who has declared the competition under centre wide open. Normally the pre-season is a time for tuning up and avoiding injury – not so for these two pairs of quarterbacks, whose immediate and long term futures are on the line.
DeSean Jackson Picks Up Ankle Injury
Newly acquired Redskins receiver DeSean Jackson is set to miss the first pre-season game with his new team after he picked up a slight ankle knock during training camp. The injury appears to be minor on the surface, but Washington will be keen to get Jackson back as soon as possible as he figures to be a key part of the offense as Robert Griffin III and the Redskins aim to bounce back under new coach Jay Gruden. Jackson’s ability to stretch the field is well documented – as is his tendency to cause trouble off the field and in the locker room, hence his sudden release by the Eagles.
Ray Rice Banned Two Games for Domestic Abuse Incident
After being involved in an ugly domestic violence incident, Ravens running back Ray Rice received what many perceived to be a lenient suspension from NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. While players such as Lane Johnson (four games) and Josh Gordon (eight) were punished heavily for drug related misdemeanours Rice was handed just a two game ban for what is, in most peoples eyes, a more serious issue. Rice struggled mightily in 2013 and had what was probably the worst season of a decorated career, including a Superbowl title in 2012. If the former Rutgers man is to bounce back he’ll need to do so in just 14 games, as opposed to the usual 16.
Josh Gordon Reportedly Facing Eight Game Suspension
As Browns fans celebrated a successful first round of the NFL draft back in May, topped by the selection of Manziel with their second pick in the process, news broke that receiver Gordon had tested positive for marijuana for the second time in the past couple of years. Originally it was feared he might miss the entire season – as it’s transpired it’s likely his suspension will be half of that. The knock-on effect of Gordon’s ban could be significant: without a top target to throw to coach Mike Pettine is less likely to throw Manziel into a hazardous situation, with Miles Austin the next best option in a depleted Cleveland receiving corps and the offensive line far from reliable with the exception of left tackle Joe Thomas.
Stay tuned for the ‘American Football Focus Podcast’ and predictions for the upcoming NFL season. Tweet your views to @fredjstanley