Locals In Training Camp: Former Lions, area natives prepare for season’s dawn

Former Arkansas-Pine Bluff standout Terron Armstead heads into training camp with a legitimate shot at winning the starting job at left tackle.

The third-round pick by New Orleans appears to be in a three-way battle for the starting role with Charles Brown and former No. 2 overall pick Jason Smith as the Saints begin training camp on Friday. Indications are, though, that the Cahokia, Ill., native is still a year away from being ready to protect franchise quarterback Drew Brees’ blindside.

Armstead, who turns 22 today, is possibly headed toward a redshirt season.

“He’s as raw as can be but had as freaky a combine as anyone not named Lane Johnson,” NFL.com’s Mike Mayock said. “When you plug him into New Orleans, this kid is a developmental player.

“You need to redshirt him, and he’s a starter next year.”

Still, there is a chance Armstead impresses enough in camp to force the Saints into giving him the starting nod.

“He likely won’t play much this season as he acclimates to New Orleans and the NFL,” wrote New Orleans’ WWLTV.com. “The Saints have historically redshirted these players, though he could be the next Jahri Evans, a player so talented he forces his way onto the field early.”

Falcons’ Thurmond staring up depth chart

UAPB product Brandon Thurmond finds himself with a mountain to climb when the Atlanta Falcons begin training camp on Thursday.

The rookie defensive end from Augusta, Ga., likely sits way down on the pecking order. According to a Falcons’ team report by Thomson Reuters on globalpost.com, Thurmond is one 15 defensive linemen on the team’s roster, of which seven are defensive ends.

Thurmond, who was the Southwestern Athletic Conference’s Defensive Player of the Year in his senior season, likely will be fighting for a backup spot behind left defensive end Kroy Biermann.

Heading into training camp, Scott Carasik has Thurmond on the outside looking in as it comes to making the Falcons’ final 53-man roster. Carasik predicts Atlanta will have six defensive linemen — Biermann, Osi Umenyiora, Malliciah Goodman, Jonathan Massaquoi, Stansly Maponga and Cliff Matthews — on its final roster.

Childs fights for roster spot as health improves

Warren native Greg Childs suffered one of the most unlikely injuries during an intrasquad scrimmage with the Minnesota Vikings this past year.

Childs, a former UA wide receiver, tore the patellar tendon in both of his knees at the same time while attempting to catch a pass on a play he wasn’t even touched.

“I’m the kind of guy who is going to make this believable,” Childs, 23, told Mark Craig of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. “People are going to be like, ‘OK, we believe now.’”

The Vikings open camp on Friday and will likely keep no more than six, and possibly just five, wide receivers on their roster. With Greg Jennings, Cordarrelle Patterson, Jerome Simpson, and Jarius Wright, who was Childs’ teammate at Warren High School and the UA, basically guaranteed spots on the 53-man roster, Childs is fighting for possibly just one roster spot with eight other players, including former quarterback Joe Webb.

Even if Childs doesn’t make the Vikings’ roster, he still believes he will play in the NFL someday.

“One day when this happens to other guys, they’ll have a guideline to go by,” Childs told Craig. “They’ll be able to say, ‘OK, just because I tore both of mine, look at that guy Greg Childs. He worked his butt off and did what they said couldn’t be done.’”

Vikings’ Wright looking to continue success

Warren native and UA product Jarius Wright had success late in his rookie season with Minnesota. The question for the Vikings wide receiver as his team kicks off training camp on Friday is will that success continue with Greg Jennings and rookie Cordarrelle Patterson now on the roster.

Wright, 23, took advantage after Percy Harvin’s season-ending ankle injury this past season playing in seven games (one start) and made 22 catches for 310 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

“Even with the addition of Greg Jennings in free agency and Patterson in the draft, Wright still figures to play an important role in the passing game,” Mike Wobschall wrote in a Monday Morning Mailbag for Vikings.com. “I actually like Wright as either an outside or slot receiver, and I think that versatility will ensure he sees a lot of field this season.”

Veteran Williams travels to London

Fordyce High School graduate Kevin Williams enters his 11th season with the Minnesota Vikings with a starting job locked up.

The defensive tackle out of Oklahoma State went with teammate Jared Allen to London to promote the Vikings’ game against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Wembley Stadium on Sept. 29.

Despite coming off a playoff berth, Williams, 32, and his teammates are not resting on their laurels heading into the opening of training camp on Friday.

“We can’t settle on what we did last year,” Williams told Chip Scoggins of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. “We jumped over the bar that people had set for us. We have to expect to get there and beyond this year.”

Johnson hoping to be part of Steelers’ plan

In 2012, Pine Bluff native David Johnson expected to have a big season as Pittsburgh’s H-back. Now he just hopes to make the Steelers’ roster.

Last season, the PBHS and Arkansas State alumnus suffered a season-ending knee injury in the first quarter of Pittsburgh’s preseason opener with the Philadelphia Eagles.

“I’m about 85 to 90 percent,” Johnson told Ralph N. Paulk of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “It continues to get better and better each day.”

Johnson, 25, has seen his role with the team change over the five seasons he has been in Pittsburgh, which begins its training camp on Saturday. As long as his health continues to improve, that versatility could land him a roster spot.

“We all are trying to find out what the coaches need us to do,” Johnson told Paulk. “It could be we’ll do a few things differently this year. We have to find the best player for the job and situation.

“Sure, we need to know where we fit. Then, we have to buckle down and compete for it.”

Special teams might be place for Lions’ Johnson

Rison native Tyrell Johnson is heading into his sixth season as a defensive back in the NFL, but the A-State product might have to settle for a special teams role with Detroit.

Johnson, who signed with the Lions late last season, will be competing with six other players at the safety position when training camp begins on Friday.

According to Chris McCosky of The Detroit News, Johnson, 28, needs to perform well on special teams to make the 53-man roster.

“Fighting hard to win a roster spot through special teams will be a pair of linebackers, former Kansas City Chief Cory Greenwood and rookie seventh-round pick Brandon Hepburn, and defensive backs Ricardo Silva, Chris Greenwood and Tyrell Johnson,” McCosky wrote in a training camp preview story on Monday.

New system could mean big things for Thornton

Star City native Cedric Thornton didn’t have the 2012 season he had hoped for playing defensive tackle for the Philadelphia Eagles. With a move to defensive end practically imminent, the Southern Arkansas alumnus will look to improve upon last season, which saw him make just 27 tackles and record only one sack.

With defensive linemen Cullen Jenkins, Derek Landri and Mike Patterson all departing after last season, Thornton has a good shot at starting for the Eagles, who begin their training camp on Friday.

“Some of the issues (of the defensive line) will be minimized if the Eagles go with a 3-4 base defense, rather than their old 4-3. … All in all, the drop-off may not be too steep — a line of Fletcher Cox, (Isaac) Sopoaga and either Cedric Thornton or (Bennie) Logan should hold its own,” Chris Burke wrote in an NFC East preview on the Sports Illustrated blog Audibles.

One person who believes in Thornton is Bleeding Green Nation writer Dan Klausner.

“At 6’4”, 309 pounds and 25 years old, hopefully year three is the one where Thornton blossoms, as it seems Billy Davis’s new scheme should be perfect for his skill set and versatility. Thornton saw a lot of time with the first team defense during mini camps, but will have to continue earning his keep in training camp, preseason and the regular season,” Klausner wrote earlier this month for the SB Nation blog.

Bills’ Gragg expected to make impact off bench

Warren native Chris Gragg is not expected to start at tight end over seven-year veteran Scott Chandler, but he is expected to make some noise coming off the bench.

The UA graduate was a seventh-round draft pick by the Buffalo Bills, which kick off training camp on Sunday.

Bleacher Report’s Andrea Hangst believes Gragg, 23, will have a big impact when he gets on the field.

“While Gragg is not an all-around tight end, lacking the blocking skills that would cause him to leapfrog Scott Chandler on the depth chart, his receiving abilities should result in him getting a good amount of playing time this season,” Hangst wrote in a post titled “NFL Rookies Who Will Play Major Roles in 2013 Despite Not Being Starters.”

Mark Gaughman of The Buffalo News isn’t sold on Gragg just yet.

“Passes eyeball test, but athletic TEs notorious for teasing potential,” Gaughman wrote about Gragg.