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Winners and losers from second week of camp

It's the time of training camp where everyone gets a little punchy, sometimes literally. Players are tired of going against the same guys each day. Reporters are tired of looking for a new angle after the 13th day of practice. Games can't start fast enough.

Before the preseason gives us a new wave of storylines, let's look at some of the winners and losers from the second week of training camp.

Moving Up

Underrated linebackers

Bobby Wagner, DeAndre Levy, and Lavonte David all signed similar deals within eight days of each other. It's rare you see three contracts signed so closely together that clearly were made possible by the others. That's especially true of Levy and David, who are the two best 4-3 outside linebackers in football. They pursue runners and excel on passing downs in a way that perfectly fits this era of pro football.

As Chris Wesseling pointed out last week, it's absolutely insane that David and Levy haven't made a Pro Bowl. The NFL needs to consider reclassifying the linebacker positions between pass rushers and non-pass rushers so they have a legitimate chance to get in. We'd like to think Pro Bowls don't matter, but they matter every year when Hall of Fame voting comes up.

ProFootballFocus also deserves some love for being early champions of Wagner, Levy, and David. The site's rankings had them as top-shelf players long before the public knew. I cringe at slavish devotion to PFF rankings as the gospel truth, but this is an example of the site highlighting under the radar stars before they were stars. The Seahawks, Buccaneers, and Lions showed they agree with their rankings with their wallet.

Sam Bradford again

Not only is Bradford practicing every day, he's starting to impress. Reporters at Eagles camp are talking up Bradford's accuracy and arm strength. He has taken every snap possible at camp and wrote that you can't even tell that Bradford is coming off an injury. He needs to stay healthy, but Bradford has given the Eagles a shot of optimism with a strong start to camp following some concerns during OTA season.

Malcolm Butler's staying power

"In Belichick we trust" has never been more apparent than this training camp in New England. The Patriots have massive questions at running back, defensive tackle, and cornerback. It's crazy that last year's Super Bowl hero Malcolm Butler appears to be the steadiest player at the position. By all accounts, Butler has his starting job locked down. Logan Ryan, Tarell Brown, and Bradley Fletcher are among the players rotating through the right cornerback job, but Butler has the left side locked down.

It wasn't only Manziel's performance in Friday's scrimmage. He also strung together a handful of positive practices before the performance. Manziel is not competing with August Josh McCown. He's competing with November Josh McCown, who is likely to be struggling with a Browns team under .500. If Manziel continues to show progress this month, coach Mike Pettine will be more willing to move to Manziel down the stretch.

It's officially out of control. Blake Bortles got similar love a year ago, although that came from his preseason performance. Mariota has wowed just about everyone in the Titans organization and everyone that has visited the team for practice. Speaking of which ...

Why has this become a thing this year? Can it stop? Geno Smith finally threw his first interception on Monday, and then Darrelle Revis doubled the total later in the day. Mariota's streak rages on and remains a popular talking point. Interception-free streaks in the regular season are relatively fluky, with luck a huge factor in any streak. They seem utterly meaningless in camp practices. Mariota has impressed in practices, but that's not the reason why.

Forgotten veteran free agent pickups

Stevie Johnson and Hakeem Nicks were afterthoughts on the free agent market. Both look like they are going to be sneaky big parts of their respective offenses. Johnson and Philip Rivers feels like an especially promising pairing. Rivers is an unorthodox quarterback that can play the game with a rare "feel" for the position. Johnson is a similar style receiver. Nothing he does quite makes logical sense and he has often struggled to get on the same page with his quarterbacks. According to Rivers, that is not going to be an issue in San Diego.

I'm expecting a big second year leap out of Bortles. He has reportedly looked much more mature in practices, and had a nice showing in the team's scrimmage over the weekend. Yeldon is already listed as a starter at running back for the Jaguars and also received kudos for his performance in the scrimmage.

Not familiar with the players above? You aren't alone. They were, respectively, the starters at wide receiver, center, left guard, safety, and outside linebacker at Seahawks practice on Monday. Pete Carroll doesn't mess around with this whole "Competition" mantra.

Moving down

Bills and Texans quarterback battles

The daily reports out of Buffalo have turned into farce. It's almost as if the beat writers are in competition to describe the carnage they see in the most painful way possible. It's not a surprise that the Bills offensive line can't slow down Buffalo's insane defensive line of Mario Williams, Marcell Dareus, Kyle Williams, and Jerry Hughes. And it's not a surprise that Matt Cassel, Tyrod Taylor, and EJ Manuel can't handle being pressured every other snap. This is a trend, though, that could easily continue in a division loaded with big fronts. For what it's worth: It feels like Manuel has fallen the furthest behind.

Everyone is losing in Buffalo, while it appears Brian Hoyer and Ryan Mallett are treading water in Houston. The problem for the Texans quarterbacks is that they now will have to carry an offense without Arian Foster for much of the season.

Rookie Duke Johnson was expected to be the riser of this group, but he's been on the shelf. Terrance West (calf) returned to practice Saturday after missing most of last week. And presumptive starter Isaiah Crowell got an earful from running backs coach Wilbert Montgomery.

"How can you play and not want to be a starter? It just bothers me that guys don't want to be the lead bell-cow guy," he said via the Akron Beacon-Journal. "(Crowell's) got to show me that he's hungry. If you want to be a starter, you practice like a starter ... You take care of your body. You show up and do the things that are going to keep you healthy, get treatment after practice, hydrate, do all the little things you have to do in order to be that guy."

Now that I think of it, this has become a trend:

Rex Ryan called Bryce Brown "disappointing, to put it mildly" after Brown's recent run of fumbles. It appears that Karlos Williams is going to knock Brown off the roster.

Arizona Cardinals coach Bruce Arians called out his running back group, hoping that rookie David Johnson returned from injury soon. (Starter Andre Ellington finally returned to practice Monday.) Arians wants to sign another runner to help out.

Dolphins rookie Jay Ajayi, meanwhile, is buried on the depth chart in Miami. Atlanta's two candidates to start, Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman, are both missing time with hamstring injuries.

Eagles trade luck

One week after dealing away slot cornerback Brandon Boykin, the top option to replace him, JaCorey Shepherd, was lost for the season with a torn ACL. The Eagles defense looks vastly improved, but their questions at safety and slot cornerback threaten to sink their defense.

NFL reporters

It's just not going to be as fun without Steve Smith around any more.

Eric Mangini's coordinator of the year candidacy

Aldon Smith's latest arrest and release was another body blow for the San Francisco 49ers defense. Mangini is excellent at patching up weaknesses, but many of the 49ers' defensive strengths have been depleted beyond recognition this offseason. With all that said, Mangini has low expectations on his side.

JPP's communication skills with his bosses

It's very strange that Jason Pierre-Paul hasn't returned the texts of Giants owner John Mara. It might be even more gutsy to ignore Tom Coughlin for more than a month before finally connecting with him over the weekend. Pierre-Paul won't return to the team until he's ready to play again, which is a strange stance to take when his signature would be worth $14.8 million on his franchise tender.

The latest Around The NFL Podcast discusses Steve Smith's retirement news and predicts the training camp QB battles.

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