Scout NFL Roundtable: Biggest Surprise

Every year there are surprises in training camps around the NFL. So we asked our team experts what -- or who -- has been the biggest surprise in training camp so far for their respective teams. Get the scoop inside from 15 of our team experts...

Charlie Bernstein,
Jacksonville Jaguars

Among the surprises this year at Jaguars training camp have been the stellar footwork and accuracy of Byron Leftwich, the superb condition of Mike Peterson, Reggie Hayward, and Greg Jones -- who all missed 11 or more games in '06 -- and the nice hands and route-running of Jimmy Farris. 

However, the biggest surprise thus far at Jaguars training camp has been rookie third round selection Mike Walker.

The rookie out of Central Florida is the best receiver in Jaguars camp so far, running precise routes, catching nearly everything thrown his way, and making the Jaguars' veteran cornerbacks look silly on a routine basis. Walker was supposed to be eased into the role of a backup wide receiver for Jacksonville, but he is undeniably talented and will likely supplant one of the Jaguars' veteran receivers sooner than later.

Aaron Wilson,
Baltimore Ravens

Rookie offensive tackle Jared Gaither, a supplemental draft pick out of the University of Maryland, has been a huge surprise with how he has walled-off pass rushers like two-time Pro Bowl outside linebacker Terrell Suggs. 

Gaither is massive at 6-foot-9, 350 pounds and has major upside as he's only 21 years old. He's also worked hard, dispelling some notions about his poor work ethic for the Terrapins. Gaither was declared academically ineligible earlier this summer, prompting his decision to enter the NFL.

Denis Savage,
Oakland Raiders

B.J. Ward was an afterthought in Baltimore during the 2005 season before spending 2006 on injured reserve with lingering migraine headaches. Since the start of training camp, however, no player has been seen or heard as much as the 25-year-old in Raiders' camp. 

Ward has intercepted at least five passes to date and the sound of pads colliding often leads back to the young safety. He's making it hard for the Raiders to not consider him for a spot on the 53-man roster.

Doug Farrar,
Seattle Seahawks

(Getty Images)
That third-round pick Brandon Mebane, a defensive tackle from Cal, is excelling in his first NFL camp isn't a surprise – after all, Mebane was named to the All-Pac-10 teams in his junior and senior seasons. He also impressed NFL scouts and coaches during Senior Bowl practices. 

What has been notable is how much of an impression Mebane is making. Pegged as the primary 4-3 nose tackle until Marcus Tubbs gets off the PUP list, Mebane has showed great ability to not only soak up blockers, but to disengage and make plays on his own. 

Coaches and teammates have been unanimous in their praise – veteran DT Chuck Darby says that Mebane's wide base and low center of gravity give him the impact of a player 30 pounds heavier when he unloads on an offensive lineman. His added ability to rush the passer makes Mebane the main man for Seahawks fans to watch this preseason.

Barry McBride,
Cleveland Browns

Browns fans have gotten used to negative surprises during training camp, but a player who has been a pleasant revelation so far this preseason has been safety Brodney Pool.

Cleveland hoped the second-year player from Oklahoma would step up his play after veteran Brian Russell left via free agency, and thus far it appears he's responding. He has closed very well in coverage and has been a menace to both Charlie Frye and Derek Anderson as they've attempted to impress during team scrimmages, particularly in the red zone.

Along with fast-rising youngsters like Sean Jones, Eric Wright and Leigh Bodden, the Browns defensive backfield is starting to look like a unit which will really help the team in 2007.

Matthew Postins,
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

I think the biggest surprise in Bucs camp is quarterback Luke McCown. He was completely forgotten about in the spring and summer, as the Bucs signed Jeff Garcia, courted Jake Plummer and hoped Chris Simms would be ready for camp. McCown's progress in this camp -- he's now second string -- has taken the sting out of Simms' reported elbow problems. 

McCown is improving daily and more resembling the quarterback the Bucs traded for in early 2005. He won't push Jeff Garcia for playing time, but right now he's the unquestioned second-best quarterback in training camp. Not bad for a guy that, at one point, may as well have been fifth on the depth chart.

Ken Palmer,
New York Giants

Amani Toomer has been, by far, the biggest surprise to come out of Giants training camp in Albany this summer. 

Toomer is not even a full year removed from ACL surgery, which he underwent during the middle of last season, yet he looks to be basically as good as new and back to the Toomer of old. He's been limited to one practice a day, but has excelled during those workouts and, according to coach Tom Coughlin, is well ahead of where a normal ACL guy would be at this point. He and quarterback Eli Manning appear to have picked up right where they left off early last season.

John Crist,
Chicago Bears

Trumaine McBride
(Getty Images)
The biggest surprise of training camp so far for the Bears in Bourbonnais is how things have developed at the cornerback position behind starters Charles Tillman and Nathan Vasher.

GM Jerry Angelo drafted a pair of corners this past April, Corey Graham of New Hampshire in the fifth and Trumaine McBride of Ole Miss in the seventh. But it has been McBride who has outplayed Graham since Day 1, getting lots of reps with the second team and even a few looks with the No. 1 defense on Wednesday as former Pro Bowler Nathan Vasher was rested. Graham, on the other hand, is toiling with the third-teamers and in danger of not making the 53-man roster.

As a matter of fact, McBride has played so well that Angelo felt comfortable enough to trade backup corner Dante Wesley to the Patriots for a seventh-round pick earlier this week.

Alain Poupart,
Miami Dolphins

The answer for the Dolphins has to be rookie sixth-round pick Drew Mormino, who has been working with the first-team offense since the start of camp. It was expected that rookie second-round pick Samson Satele would start at center, but few would have predicted that Mormino might have a shot at becoming a starter right away even after getting some snaps with the first unit during the offseason camps.

Mormino has impressed the Dolphins with his toughness and physical play, and he'll get a big test Saturday night against the Jacksonville Jaguars' rugged defensive line.

Craig Massei,
San Francisco 49ers

A second-round draft pick by the Washington Redskins in 2003, Taylor Jacobs has only 34 receptions to show for his four-year career, and many expected the veteran to be on the outside looking in among a crowded group of wide receivers at 49ers training camp.

Instead, Jacobs has emerged as one of the standouts of camp and has significantly improved his chances of making the final roster on a team that added veterans Darrell Jackson and Ashley Lelie and third-round draft pick Jason Hill to its receiver corps during the offseason.

After coming to the 49ers via trade last season, Jacobs has absorbed the system and now looks like an assured, confident player. He runs smooth routes, has great acceleration out of his cuts and caught everything in sight during the first week of San Francisco's summer camp, when he also displayed an ability to return kicks.

Nate Caminata,
Detroit Lions

The Detroit Lions, and in particular offensive coordinator Mike Martz, have been thrilled with former NFL Europa co-MVP, quarterback J.T. O'Sullivan. Martz's interest in O'Sullivan comes down to identity: the former UC-Davis standout takes as much pride in understanding the offense as he does performing within it. That has been evident in O'Sullivan's relatively seamless transition into a complicated playbook, combined with a sharp accuracy he has maintained throughout the camp. 

Just a little over a month after joining the team, O'Sullivan -- who has played with six different NFL teams since 2002 -- was the No. 2 quarterback in the team's exhibition opener against the Cincinnati Bengals, edging former fifth-round pick Dan Orlovsky for the nod.

Michael Lombardo,
San Diego Chargers

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The player who has stepped it up most during training camp is second-year cornerback Cletis Gordon. Last season, Gordon won a roster spot as an undrafted free agent out of Jackson State. He made the team as a kick returner after Darren Sproles was injured in the preseason opener. However, Gordon was active for just two games.

Gordon has shined throughout training camp, more so on defense than special teams. His technique has improved by leaps and bounds and his recovery speed is second to none. He has a knack for reading quarterbacks and making timely breaks on the ball.

That doesn't mean he won't be used on special teams, where he has excelled both returning and covering kicks. If he can maintain his high level of play throughout the preseason, he will make the team as the No. 4 cornerback and relegate supplemental pick Paul Oliver to inactive status.

Todd Korth,
Green Bay Packers

Cornerback Jarrett Bush is the biggest surprise in the Green Bay Packers training camp. Bush played mainly on special teams last season after he was claimed on waivers from the Carolina Panthers a day after the final cutdown. 

Thus far, Bush, a second-year pro, is playing with the second-team defense ahead of Frank Walker, Green Bay's only signing during the unrestricted free agency period this off-season.

Jon Scott,
New England Patriots

For the Patriots, the biggest camp surprise is the emergence of wide receiver Jabar Gaffney. Despite adding four new receivers during the offseason, it's the one New England signed late last year that has created a buzz.

Gaffney has shown skills few of the others – other than Randy Moss – have demonstrated in camp so far: the ability to create separation from defenders,  propensity to land acrobatic catches and an improved sense of chemistry with Tom Brady that has been missing since Deion Branch was traded to Seattle.

What is the most surprising part of the emergence of Gaffney is the buzz he has stolen from Randy Moss, Donte Stallworth, Wes Welker and Kelley Washington. Although Moss has lived up to the hype, it's Gaffney who has clearly emerged from a potential roster casualty to one of the team's more reliable receivers. 

Ed Thompson,

I've been watching the developments out of the Colts training camp in Terre Haute as the World Champions prepare to defend their title, and the biggest surprise so far has been the sudden loss of veteran defensive tackle Anthony McFarland due to a torn patella tendon. While the team didn't statistically see a huge improvement in keeping opposing rushers under 5 yards per carry with the former Buccaneer in the lineup, his veteran presence had a big impact during the postseason.

With McFarland likely out for the year, the Colts will likely turn to a trio of rookies during training camp to find his successor. Third-round pick Quinn Pitcock out of Ohio State got into camp late and hasn't seen much action yet. So the team started undrafted rookie Ed Johnson against the Cowboys in their preseason opener and the former Penn State run-stuffer had a solid night. Seventh-round selection Keyunta Dawson out of Texas Tech will likely rotate in during passing downs to add his quickness to the Colts' pass rush efforts.

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