Each week, Pittsburgh Sports Now will check in on former Pitt Panthers currently in the NFL and highlight those competing for roster spots. This week we take a closer look at Aaron Donald, Tom Savage, and provide more insight on Nathan Peterman’s climb up the Buffalo Bills depth chart.
Pittsburgh Steelers Le’Veon Bell isn’t the only marquee name in the NFL holding out during training camp. Los Angeles Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald has yet to appear in camp, demanding a contract extension and significant salary bump from the $3.2 million he is set to make this season.
Widely regarded the league’s top interior lineman, Donald’s situation is unique in that he still has one year left on his rookie deal and the Rams already exercised his fifth-year option in April, guaranteeing he’s under team control through next season. After that, the organization could use the franchise tag to keep him from hitting the open market. Essentially, the Rams are in a position of leverage and not obligated to extend an offer.
Aaron Donald dominates like no other against the run and as a pass rusher pic.twitter.com/EFcKSEK5M1
— PFF (@PFF) August 18, 2017
When NFL owners and the players association ratified the most recent collective bargaining agreement in 2011, the two sides agreed first-round picks would sign four-year deals, with a team option for a fifth year, in addition to a rookie wage-scale system. Donald is the first, and maybe not the last player from the 2014 draft class, to test the status quo.
Recent reports indicate Donald’s holdout may last into the regular season:
Rams DT Aaron Donald's holdout is threatening to last into the regular season, per league sources. One source… https://t.co/C3Lk4M1aQz
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) August 17, 2017
Vincent Bonsignore, who covers the Rams for the Los Angeles Daily News, emphasized the organization understands Donald’s position and hopes to have a deal done before the team’s season opener against Indianapolis.
“They understand he [Donald] has far out played his rookie contract, and from their prospective, they want to get it done sooner rather than later,” Bonsignore said in a phone interview with Pittsburgh Sports Now.
Bonsignore expressed the Rams are willing to make Donald the highest paid defensive player in the league and have offered a contract with nearly $70 million in guaranteed money.
“They want to work with him, and there’s only so far they should go,” Bonsignore said. “We will see how much resolve he has and how entrenched he is in position.”
He added the Rams are “counting on Donald when it gets down to it,” and expects the standstill to end with both sides happy.
“It’s poker right now, and deep down the Rams are confident they will call him on his bust,” Bonsignore said.
Donald is being fined $40,000 for each day of training camp he misses.
Houston Texans head coach Bill O’Brien tabbed former Pitt Panther Tom Savage the team’s starting quarterback Tuesday.
Bill O'Brien on Tom Savage 'Tom is our starter. He's had a good camp' Emphasized he's No. 1 and Deshaun Watson No. 2
— Aaron Wilson (@AaronWilson_NFL) August 22, 2017
Savage entered training camp atop the Texans depth chart, but many believed rookie DeShaun Watson could push for the starting gig with a strong camp performance. While Watson has dazzled at times, the Clemson product was just 3-10 in Houston’s second preseason game and lacks Savage’s experience. O’Brien had this to say about the quarterback competition:
“Deshaun is a very, very good young player who has a bright future in this league. Let’s put the cards on the table, but Tom has been here for four years. The way we want to play, the style relative to getting guys lined up, protection points, route reads, putting guys in the right spots, Tom’s ahead of Deshaun.”
The Houston Chronicle’s Aaron Wilson echoed O’Brien’s feelings and acknowledged Savage has shown improvement from his third season.
“Tom has gotten a lot better with his internal clock as far as knowing when he needs to make a decision and get rid of the football,” Wilson told PittsburghSportsNow.com. “He’s more decisive and is moving around a bit better in the pocket.”
Wilson went on to add that while star receiver DeAndre Hopkins’ public endorsement of Savage didn’t influence the coaches’ decision, “it doesn’t hurt to have him [Hopkins] endorse him [Savage] obviously.”
We spoke to Wilson prior to Tuesday’s announcement, and even he claimed that Watson would have to be “spectacular” to secure the starting job.
Buffalo Bills rookie Nathan Peterman followed up his solid preseason debut with another positive outing against the Philadelphia Eagles.
Peterman was 10-20 for 167 yards and led the Bills on a pair of scoring drives, including a field goal in the final minute of the first half. The Pitt Panther had another drive in Eagles territory killed when Jon Banyard lost a fumble midway through the third quarter.
Nathan Peterman takes the #Bills 67 yards on 9 plays in 47 seconds… the best the offense looked all first half. Seizing his opportunity
— Jon Scott (@JonScottTV) August 18, 2017
Most notably, Peterman vastly outperformed starter Tyrod Taylor, who threw a pair of interceptions, as the first-team offense struggled to move the football. Although Peterman only completed 50 percent of his passes, he continued to demonstrate a willingness to throw the ball deep down the field.
Jon Scott, who covers the Bills for Spectrum News Buffalo, agreed Peterman’s performance was strikingly better than Taylor’s.
“If you compare him to Tyrod, it was night and day,” Scott said. “The first team offense was terrible all around, and Tyrod was a part of that. While Peterman was great, it wasn’t perfect.”
Scott highlighted Peterman’s middling completion rate, for example, and alluded to Taylor’s performance in the team’s preseason opener as another reason why head coach Sean McDermott is not considering Peterman for the starting role. Scott did shed some light on the coaching staff’s opinion of Peterman, though.
“They like his decision making—you can see that,” Scott said. “He’s pretty quick. One of the weaknesses of Tyrod Taylor is he holds the ball too long.”
“He [Peterman] seems to be grasping the offense well, and it’s not too much for him.”
He added Peterman “utilizes his feet well to pick up first downs,” which has been a surprising development for Bills fans.
Despite his strong preseason performance, don’t anticipate Peterman taking over the starting job, Pitt fans. Scott maintained Taylor would have to be abysmal for an extended stretch of games or injured for such a move to happen.
New England Patriots running back Dion Lewis continues to make a push for touches in a crowded backfield. In the team’s 27-23 loss to the Houston Texans, the sixth-year pro led the Patriots with 34 yards rushing and a 4.9 yards per carry average. He also added one reception for nine yards.
Dion Lewis continues to make tacklers miss and create extra yards. The RB core (Burkhead, Gillislee, White & Lewis) will be VERY dangerous.
— Doug Moore (@DMooreNFL) August 20, 2017
Bill Belichick could very well keep all four backs, but both James White and Lewis fill the same role—pass catching threat—meaning the Pitt Panther might be expendable, or at most, end up on the practice squad.
Buffalo Bills running back Lesean McCoy made his preseason debut against the Philadelphia Eagles but was limited to just four carries as a precaution. He finished with 21 yards on the ground (5.3 YPC) and hauled in an 11-yard pass. He also looked in mid-season form toting the rock:
Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Tyler Boyd caught a pair of passes for 45 yards in the team’s 30-12 loss to Kansas City. The Clairton native logged the second-most snaps (14) alongside top wideout AJ Green during the game. Only Brandon LaFell (23) was on the field more than Boyd.
A strong training camp has one Bengals beat reporter believing Boyd could be Cincinnati’s most productive receiver outside of Green.
Brandon LaFell will be the official No. 2 to start the season. I think Tyler Boyd will be second most productive WR this year. https://t.co/5g31VinmaR
— Paul Dehner Jr. (@pauldehnerjr) August 22, 2017