As NFL training camps move through their second week, some players are making it clear that they deserve attention, either for the first time or again.
From unknown rookies demanding respect, to veterans reminding that they can still play this game, players all over the league are making important impressions and much of this is little-known or lightly reported.
So with teams moving toward their first preseason game, The Sports Xchange asked AFC correspondents to report on those players making a good impression on each team — the Camper of the Week.
As usual, reports included great play from well-known veterans, such as San Diego Chargers safety Eric Weddle, as well as relative unknowns struggling to keep a job, represented by New England Patriots tight end Zach Sudfeld, an undrafted rookie tight end out of Nevada. Sudfeld is taking full advantage of injuries and drama that depleted the tight end position in New England.
Here is a review of each AFC team’s COW near the end of the second week of camp (listed alphabetically):
Baltimore Ravens — Wide receiver Torrey Smith.
With the loss of so many veterans, especially the trade of wide receiver Anquan Boldin to the San Francisco 49ers, Smith appears to be assuming the role of a team leader. He caught 99 passes for 1,696 yards and 15 touchdowns in his first two seasons and is playing lights out in training camp. His quickness off the line and speed downfield consistently burns cornerbacks.
Buffalo Bills — Middle linebacker Kiko Alonso.
The 6-foot-3, 238-pound, second-round draftee out of Oregon capped his first week of training camp with a stellar afternoon, dominating in team drills against the run and the pass. He made a highlight-reel interception of rookie QB EJ Manuel, playing the ball perfectly while guarding TE Lee Smith. Alonso is a lock to start at middle linebacker in Buffalo’s new scheme.
Cincinnati Bengals — Safety George Iloka.
After not seeing any snaps on defense last season, Iloka is listed as the starting strong safety. Iloka was strong in offseason workouts and continues to carry that momentum. He has been consistent in coverage and in run stopping with what appear to be no major breakdowns.
Cleveland Browns — Wide receiver Jordon Norwood.
Norwood is fighting for a roster spot as a sixth receiver and is trying to help his cause by auditioning as a punt returner. Norwood returned four punts in 2011 for 35 yards but none last year. Although he dropped two passes in a Saturday night scrimmage, he rebounded Monday with a strong practice and two excellent catches over the middle.
Denver Broncos — Wide receiver Demaryius Thomas.
Thomas had his breakout season in 2012, and looks poised for a better performance this year. He has consistently won duels against perennial Pro Bowl cornerback Champ Bailey during training camp and led Broncos receivers with three catches, including one for a 4-yard touchdown, during the full-contact scrimmage on Aug. 3.
Houston Texans — Wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins.
Through almost two weeks of training camp, Hopkins has caught everything thrown near him, often making highlight-reel catches against starting cornerbacks Johnathan Joseph and Kareem Jackson. Taken 27th overall out of Clemson in this year’s draft, Hopkins maximizes is size (6-2, 214) and wears red gloves on his huge hands, making them appear even larger. He is confident, aggressive and very impressive.
Indianapolis Colts — Tight end Coby Fleener.
Through the first week of training camp practices, Fleener appears to be miles ahead of last year’s pace. “Probably having the most productive camp, including his time at Stanford, that I’ve seen,” said offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton, who coached Fleener in college. “In the time that I’ve been around Coby, he’s a lot more explosive and confident right now and he’s making plays that big-time NFL players tend to make.”
Jacksonville Jaguars — Wide receiver Ace Sanders.
Sanders was drafted in the fourth round out of South Carolina by the Jaguars with the idea that he would be an instant improvement in the team’s kick return game. That has proved to be true, but what has surprised many is Sanders’ talents as a receiver. Next to veteran Cecil Shorts III, Sanders and Mike Brown have been the two biggest surprises in training camp thus far. With Justin Blackmon still recuperating from groin surgery, Sanders is challenging Brown for the No. 2 spot behind Shorts.
Kansas City Chiefs — Quarterback Tyler Bray.
The undrafted free agent out of the University of Tennessee with a gun for an arm has often been the most productive passer on the field, albeit often against backups. Bray has taken control of the battle for the No. 3 quarterback spot over Ricky Stanzi and behind Alex Smith and Chase Daniel. He has the strongest arm of any of the quarterbacks and his practice accuracy has improved dramatically from the team’s spring workouts.
Miami Dolphins — Wide receiver Chad Bumphis.
The 5-10 undrafted rookie speedster from Mississippi State had a game-best five receptions for 85 yards against Dallas. But he also had a crucial mistake. He allowed a pass to go off his hands and intercepted for a 75-yard touchdown. But throughout the week Bumphis has been rising because he has shown a flash of speed and an ability to go deep, something the Dolphins don’t have when wide receiver Mike Wallace isn’t in the game.
New England Patriots — Tight end Zach Sudfeld.
The undrafted rookie out of Nevada was the highlight of spring practice, showing fluid route running and soft hands. After a slow start to training camp, Sudfeld began showing those same traits in full pads this week. He is naturally quicker and smoother than the other tight ends and already shows some rapport with quarterback Tom Brady.
New York Jets — Running back Bilal Powell.
Powell’s roster spot seemed endangered when the Jets traded for Chris Ivory and signed Mike Goodson, but with Ivory hurt and Goodson nowhere to be found, Powell has re-established himself as a contender for carries in the backfield. Powell had six rushes for 41 yards in the Green-White Scrimmage on Saturday. He doesn’t dazzle, but he is reliable as a pass blocker and receiver.
Oakland Raiders — Quarterback Matt Flynn.
Flynn has taken hold of the Raiders offense and it is merely a formality that coach Dennis Allen has not named him the starter for the regular-season opener against Indianapolis. Flynn has been effective with short and intermediate passes and shown a propensity to get out of the pocket and scramble for yardage to keep drives alive.
Pittsburgh Steelers — Running back Le’Veon Bell.
Bell, the team’s second-round pick, is blowing away the competition to start at running back. During live 11-on-11, he has ripped off several good runs. Bell has come out of the gate fast and continued to do so until he bumped knees in practice Friday with a teammate. The injury seems minor and there is little doubt that he will start.
San Diego Chargers — Safety Eric Weddle.
Weddle routinely is ranked among the top players at his position but seldom gets any Pro Bowl love. But the heady ball-hawk is proving his worth again in camp with his playing and coaching. He had a sensational over-the-shoulder interception on a deep ball thrown by Philip Rivers on Saturday. Weddle is the only returning starter to the rebuilt secondary.
Tennessee Titans — Wide receiver Michael Preston.
Undrafted out of Heidelberg University in Tiffin, Ohio, in 2011, Preston beat the odds last year and played with the Titans enough to catch five passes for 59 yards. He is still facing an uphill battle to make the roster, but he does his part almost every day in practice with outstanding, athletic catches.
—Team correspondents for The Sports Xchange contributed material for this story.