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2021 NFL preseason Week 1: What we learned about each NFC team

There is so much football-nugget goodness to get to after the first week of the preseason that we're going with team-by-team notes. Here is what we learned about each NFC squad:

It was interesting to hear Cardinals preseason TV legend Ron Wolfley talk repeatedly about the Cardinals' offense putting Kyler Murray under center more this season. This makes sense for a team looking to be less predictable, even as a changeup. If you can't beat Kyle Shanahan and Sean McVay, join them? ... Rondale Moore's extremely active preseason debut (five targets in 13 passing down snaps) is a sign of things to come. He should be a big part of the offense. ... J.J. Watt has missed nearly all of training camp with a hamstring injury, which is worth keeping an eye on. ... Zaven Collins passed the eye test in his first preseason game, playing downhill and aggressive. He may not have the same initial growing pains that Isaiah Simmons did a year ago.

A depressing preseason opener played exclusively by backups was highlighted by 2020 second-round defensive lineman Marlon Davidson's dominant effort. Defensive coordinator Dean Pees, back for one last job, needs more young players like this. ... If the preseason is any indication, Pees may blitz more than any coach in the league. ... Qadree Ollison looks like the clear backup to Mike Davis at running back, if you are into that sort of thing. ... Former Washington Football Team corner Fabian Moreau is the favorite to start opposite A.J. Terrell in one of the shakier defensive back groups in the league. Journeymen Erik Harris and Duron Harmon are in line to start at safety, while second-round rookie safety Richie Grant is no lock to play big snaps.

P.J. Walker took a step toward winning the backup quarterback job (again) during the preseason opener. The guy just makes plays. ... The Panthers' left tackle spot is one of the weakest in football, with Trent Scott and Greg Little up first in their rotation Sunday. (UPDATE: The Panthers traded Greg Little to the Miami Dolphins in exchange for a 2022 seventh-round selection, the team announced Tuesday.) I wonder if the team would consider playing rookie third-rounder Brady Christensen there or sliding Taylor Moton to the blind side permanently. ... Denzel Perryman's injury has highlighted the Panthers' lack of options at off-ball linebacker, once the team's bread and butter. ... A young Panthers squad is only going to get younger, with second-rounder Terrace Marshall closing in on winning the No. 3 receiver job while fellow rookie Chuba Hubbard's motor could win him the backup running back spot.

Justin Fields looked like Justin Fields in his preseason debut, which is mostly a good thing. He held the ball forever (like he did in college), and it often led to positive gains (like in college). His arm is electric, and his playmaking instincts are obvious. It was nice to see him use his legs in the red zone, something he could have done more at Ohio State. He also had a few three-and-outs and an unnecessary fumble. ESPN's Mina Kimes has compared rookie Fields to rookie Russell Wilson, which is apt. Fields will probably have to get better each week in the preseason (like Russ once did) in order to get the Week 1 start. Andy Dalton is no Matt Flynn. ... The battle for Chicago's CB2 spot is between veteran Desmond Trufant and second-year man Kindle Vildor. Duke Shelley is their slot cornerback. Early opponents like the Rams and Browns will test this group.

I'm beginning wonder if Jaylon Smith makes this team. Jon Machota of The Athletic wrote that linebackers Micah Parsons and Keanu Neal are expected to play the most at the position on passing downs. That leaves Leighton Vander Esch third in the pecking order and Smith, one of the team's highest-paid players, fourth. The Cowboys just guaranteed Smith $7.2 million in March, which is looking like a mistake. They may wind up trading him in a Joe Schobert-like deal where they pay much of his salary, just for a little cap relief. The Cowboys' misadventures in self-scouting are a problem that goes back decades. ... Starting defensive tackle Neville Gallimore will miss 4-6 weeks with an elbow injury, according to NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport. It's a brutal blow. Gallimore is the best Cowboys player at their thinnest position and was one of the few young defenders with a chance for a breakout. Third-year pro Trysten Hill is also on the PUP list. Dallas may be looking for a starter from another team during roster cuts. ... Randy Gregory also came down with a foot injury just as the Cowboys were getting positive injury news with Dak Prescott, Amari Cooper and Demarcus Lawrence all trending in the right direction to full-pads practices. (Although they aren't there yet.)

Jared Goff's 18-play field goal drive taking up 9:54 is probably what the Lions' offense will look like, even if it's going well. That's not a terrible recipe for close games with a potentially elite offensive line, safe quarterback and defense full of questions. ... The Lions are going to ask their highest-paid player, Trey Flowers, to stand up as a linebacker this year. He's never done that before. Romeo Okwara, re-signed after the Lions knew the defense they were going to run, is a more natural fit for that type of edge role. ... Okwara's brother, second-year pro Julian, has lit up training camp practices and was dominant in the preseason opener. He could give the Lions more pass-rush juice. ... Jahlani Tavai, a 2019 second-round pick, may be one Matt Patricia/Bob Quinn selection that doesn't have a future with the team.

Jordan Love's shoulder injury is a drag because he showed a lot to build off in his preseason debut. Love performed with confidence, had some splash plays and went through progressions. (He also got hurt on a play in which he was strip-sacked.) The good news is that Aaron Rodgers is not expected to play at all in the preseason, so even if Love misses this week's game against the Jets, he could be back by the third game (at Buffalo) to get close to a full game's worth of snaps. ... David Bakhtiari's recovery from a torn ACL is less of a concern because the Packers are playing Elgton Jenkins at left tackle. The third-year pro has played center and guard so well at the NFL level that I'm convinced he can do anything. Jenkins can make some serious money if he looks good in the preseason. ... The interior O-line could still be a concern with the guard spots up for grabs and a rookie (Josh Myers) at center.

The Rams are not going to play any starters in the preseason, but rookie tight end Jacob Harris has a chance to eventually develop into one. The fourth-round pick could be a nice pass-catching role player behind Tyler Higbee already. ... Second-rounder Tutu Atwell also looked like he could be a different-making returner. Then again, so did Raymond Calais. If DeSean Jackson stays healthy, Atwell won't have to play many offensive snaps in Year 1. ... Safety Jordan Fuller is going to wear the "green dot" as the team's primary signal-caller. He's the reason the team was willing to allow John Johnson to leave via free agency and will be a huge part of this Rams secondary.

It looks like first-round pick Christian Darrisaw (groin) has run out of time to be able to start Week 1 at left tackle. He underwent another procedure last week, with Rashod Hill getting all the snaps with the starters in camp. ... Justin Jefferson was back at practice Monday, helping to ease any concerns about the shoulder injury he suffered earlier in camp. ... It's been surprising to see Cameron Dantzler lose his starting job after being the Vikings' best corner as a rookie. Dantzler was toasted for an 80-yard touchdown by Denver's K.J. Hamler, whom Mike Zimmer called "a little kid." Bashaud Breeland looks like the clear starter opposite Patrick Peterson, with Mackensie Alexander in the slot. ... Kirk Cousins is still using the phrase "YOU LIKE THAT," in case you were wondering if that phase of our lives was over.

This is going to be an offense full of undrafted free agents. Marquez Callaway and Juwan Johnson, two 2020 pickups, continued to solidify roles in the preseason. Callaway looks like a clear starter at wideout, practically the only Saints receiver who is healthy. He flashed as a rookie, too. Johnson is the bigger surprise, a converted wideout playing tight end who may earn significant playing time. ... Six turnovers will make any coach cranky, but New Orleans' meltdown feels more random than anything. It was a limited sample size, but I thought both Taysom Hill and Jameis Winston mostly played well. ... Another season, another round of Marcus Davenport hype. As always, I'm buying. He reportedly has had a strong camp -- and looked great in the preseason opener. He could be a top-10 pass rusher if he stays healthy. ... Latavius Murray is not being treated like a guy necessarily guaranteed to make the team. He's someone to keep an eye on, although Devonta Freeman doesn't seem like an upgrade.

The concern with second-rounder Azeez Ojulari coming into the draft was whether he could hold up in run defense. He made a nice play on the edge in the preseason opener and looks headed for a starting OLB job, presumably opposite Lorenzo Carter. The Giants could really use an impactful debut season from Ojulari. ... Fellow rookie Kadarius Toney, the team's first-round pick, has struggled to stay on the field in camp and wasn't available for the preseason opener. He had a lot of ground to make up as a route runner, even in a perfect scenario, and could be falling behind.

Jordan Howard being only 26 years old was the most surprising thing I learned from the entire week of the preseason. He appears to be locked in as Miles Sanders' running mate, with Kenneth Gainwell in the mix on passing downs. Kerryon Johnson, a former second-round pick of the Lions, may not make the team. ... The Quez Watkins glow-up is real. With DeVonta Smith returning to the field on Monday, Watkins should still get some starter snaps while rotating with Jalen Reagor and Travis Fulgham. ... Andre Dillard's injury all but ended the team's left tackle battle, which was already going to Jordan Mailata. ... Big-ticket 2020 free-agent pickup Javon Hargrave appears ready to make Philadelphia look smart for signing the defensive tackle, albeit a year later. If they stay healthy, the Eagles could have a top-five offensive line and a top-10 defensive line. That's a recipe to overachieve.

Trey Lance's debut was a reminder why the 49ers are happy to still have Jimmy Garoppolo. It wasn't just the four first-half sacks, fumble and near-interception Lance threw -- it was how hard the rookie was hit behind a dominated backup offensive line. The 49ers don't want to be one snap away from playing Nate Sudfeld or Josh Rosen. Lance also had some remarkable "wow" throws beyond his 80-yard touchdown strike before the pressure started to affect him. Still, you got the sense Kyle Shanahan brought him back out for the third quarter to end on a positive note, and it didn't happen. The 49ers had five first downs in eight drives with Lance. ... That 80-yarder was to Trent Sherfield. A team planning to roll out Mo Sanu as the third receiver could use a little extra receiver depth. ... Rookie RB Trey Sermon looked like he belonged. His feet are quick for such a big man, and he made defenders miss in tight quarters. ... I am curious to watch Dee Ford's progress this month. The 49ers haven't given up on him helping out as an extra pass rusher.

(UPDATE: The Seahawks and Adams have agreed to terms on a four-year, $70 million extension, making him the highest-paid safety in the NFL, Ian Rapoport reported Tuesday.)

There appears to be a lot of negotiating through the media between the Seahawks and Jamal Adams. The reporting from the Seattle Times, however, notes a remarkably small difference in total money and guarantees between the two sides. This shouldn't be that hard; both sides probably just aren't sweating the missed work quite yet. ... Duane Brown's "hold-in" feels like a bigger deal to me, especially with other offensive tackles hurt. No one wants to see Russell Wilson playing with his blind side protected by sixth-round rookie Stone Forsythe. ... Rashaad Penny is slated to be the team's backup running back, but a recent injury could open the door for Alex Collins or even DeeJay Dallas to take the role.

Bruce Arians played his starters in the preseason opener, saw Tom Brady immediately get sacked and now plans to sit the starters this week. He does say the starters will get "significant" work during the third preseason game because they'll have two weeks off before Week 1 after that. ... The Bucs' television broadcast estimated that O.J. Howard may only be at 70-75% of his former self right now. It was good to see Howard get involved in the offense, but his explosion did not look the same. It's telling that he's playing when other starters are not. ... Gio Bernard is getting a lot of love in Bucs camp and looked good in the preseason opener. It's very easy to imagine Brady trusting him on passing downs more than Leonard Fournette and Ronald Jones. And most downs are passing downs!

Don't be surprised if Adam Humphries winds up with more catches than Curtis Samuel this year. Ryan Fitzpatrick looked to his old Bucs teammate on third downs in the preseason opener. Samuel's nagging groin injury, which dates back to June, is a major concern for someone who missed much of his first two NFL seasons with injuries. Samuel did finally hit the practice field Sunday, which is a positive sign. ... In fantasy leagues, I don't believe it's possible to draft Terry McLaurin too early.

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