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Takeaways from first week of NFL preseason: As usual, quarterbacks take spotlight

Tuesday - 15/08/2017 06:58
SportsPulse: USA TODAY's Jarrett Bell explains how Colin Kaepernick's message continues to thrive through other players. Even as he remains a free agent. USA TODAY Sports

The first week of the 2017 NFL preseason is in the books. Many rookies have now taken their first professional snaps, position battles are underway, and roster cuts are creeping closer.

Here’s a breakdown of the biggest story lines so far and how they might affect the rest of the year.

Players continued to protest during national anthem

Oakland Raiders running back Marshawn Lynch was the first to generate attention for sitting during the pre-game playing of The Star-Spangled Banner. His former Seattle Seahawks teammate, defensive end Michael Bennett, later did the same. Philadelphia Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins continued to raise his fist during the national anthem, as he did last season.

Colin Kaepernick sparked a wave of social activism in the NFL last year. Many believe he cannot find a job in the league now because of it. The most interesting thing to watch moving forward is how front offices and the public react. Because if it’s true that activism is what’s keeping Kaepernick unemployed, then protesting players may face even more outside pressures to end their stances.

Mitchell Trubisky had a strong debut

New Chicago Bears starting quarterback Mike Glennon posted a 0.0 passer rating in limited time with the first string Thursday. So naturally, the calls for Trubisky to get starter’s reps grew louder. Trubisky completed 18 of 25 passes for 166 yards and one touchdown. He needs to show, however, that he can do it against starting-caliber talent before Glennon’s job becomes tenuous.

But it could still happen.

Remember when Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll signed quarterback Matt Flynn to be the team's starter in 2012? Well, a rookie named Russell Wilson consistently outperformed Flynn and eventually took the job.

More: What's next if Elliott appeals suspension?

More: Dolphins 'trending' toward playing Cutler

More: Long brothers condemn violence in hometown of Charlottesvilla, Va.

Deshaun Watson looked good, too

The quarterback whom the Houston Texans dealt up to draft in the first round played well, completing 15 of 25 throws for 179 yards and adding three carries for 24 yards and a rushing score. Incumbent Tom Savage led a scoring drive himself and will remain the starter, but Watson’s debut was impressive.

But was it impressive enough to cast any doubt about Savage? As of right now, probably not. Still, Watson clearly showed he has enough poise and natural ability to eventually become the franchise's long-awaited answer at quarterback. All this does is put more pressure on Savage not to slip up.

Too slow?

Jacksonville Jaguars rookie running back Leonard Fournette carried the ball nine times for 31 yards and scored a touchdown against the New England Patriots. Not exactly setting the box score on fire, but it did prompt him to comment to NFL.com about the pace of play: “It's a lot slower than I really thought … I think, to me, it was really easy.”

Well, Fournette is now dealing with a foot injury that will likely force him to miss this week's game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Rookie lesson No. 1: Keep your name out of headlines that don’t involve your play.

Jimmy Garoppolo put on a show

Tom Brady's fourth-year backup completed 22 of 28 throws for 235 yards and two touchdowns against the Jags. If Garoppolo continues to dazzle, his value only ascends even further.

The byproduct is that it continues to make New England’s decision at the end of the season that much more difficult. If Garoppolo is truly capable of being a franchise quarterback, how much longer can he sit? And how much will they have to pay to keep him?

Christian Hackenberg showed improvement

The second-year New York Jets quarterback, who never saw the field during his rookie season, completed 18 of 25 passes for 127 yards. They were mostly short throws, but Hackenberg avoided mistakes. Veteran Josh McCown also played well in his short time on the field, completing three of four passes for 72 yards and a score.

Hackenberg has been getting more and more first-team reps in practices, so this could signal a shift in New York’s plan. The Jets are rebuilding and, sooner or later, they have to see if Hackenberg is part of the long-term plan.

Notable injuries

— Atlanta Falcons running back Devonta Freeman is in the concussion protocol after he exited Sunday’s practice. Head coach Dan Quinn hinted Freeman could sit out the rest of preseason. He is a huge part of a high-powered offense, and Atlanta should be cautious with one of its best players.

— Detroit Lions defensive end Kerry Hyder reportedly tore his Achilles in Sunday’s win over the Indianapolis Colts, leaving Detroit without a promising young player for 2017.

— Miami Dolphins second-round linebacker Raekwon McMillan suffered a torn right anterior cruciate ligament Thursday against Atlanta. The Dolphins are dealt yet another blow to a position that was already one of their weakest.

— Washington Redskins safety Su’a Cravens left Thursday night’s game against the Baltimore Ravens with a knee injury that is expected to keep him out two to three weeks. Linebacker Trent Murphy suffered a torn ACL and medial collateral ligament, ending his season.

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Follow Lorenzo Reyes on Twitter @LorenzoGReyes

PHOTOS: NFL preseason action

Source: USA Today:

 Key: NFL

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