Trey Lance, Justin Fields, and Harrison Butker Highlight Thursday’s Top Storylines from NFL OTAs

With NFL OTAs underway, we're tracking the latest news, rumors, injuries, holdouts, and other developments coming out of spring practices.

Football never sleeps. While NFL training camps are still weeks away, teams are getting in work during the spring via organized team activities (OTAs).

Contact isn’t permitted during these practices, but OTAs can give a club’s decision-makers their first impression of how their squad will look in 2024.

With that in mind, we’re tracking every bit of news coming out of OTAs in late May and early June. Here are the top stories from Thursday’s NFL practices.

Latest News and Notes from NFL OTAs

Cowboys Impressed by QB Trey Lance

The Dallas Cowboys are staring down a contract-year season for Dak Prescott, but he’s not the only quarterback on the club’s roster on an expiring deal.

Former No. 3 overall pick Trey Lance, whom the Cowboys acquired from the San Francisco 49ers in 2023, is competing with Cooper Rush to back up Prescott this season.

Lance wasn’t active for a single game last season, but Dallas head coach Mike McCarthy is pleased with how the 24-year-old QB has performed at OTAs.

“He was on a learning curve, but now he is starting to get the timing,” McCarthy said Wednesday, according to Jane Slater of NFL Network. ” … He’s close to being a master of the system.”

McCarthy added that Lance has a “really high understanding” of the Cowboys’ offense and “just needs as many reps as he can” get, per Michael Gehlken of the Dallas Morning News. Lance should be expected to receive the lion’s share of Dallas’ QB snaps during the preseason.

Justin Fields Willing to Play Kordell Stewart Role

The Pittsburgh Steelers seem to have at least flirted with the idea of using quarterback Justin Fields on kick returns under the NFL’s new rules. Could the 6’3″, 225-pound uber-athlete try to expand his role on offense in 2024?

Asked Thursday if he’d be willing to take handoffs or catch passes while playing a Kordell Stewart/Taysom Hill-type role, Fields said he’s willing to do whatever is needed.

“When my name is called, I’ll be ready,” Fields said, noting he’d play in “whatever capacity” is asked of him, per Tim Benz of the Pittsburgh Tribune.

While Fields is willing to explore other roles, he noted that the Steelers have not discussed the concept with him yet. Russell Wilson is expected to be Pittsburgh’s starting QB to open the season, but Fields said last week that he doesn’t view himself as a backup.

Chiefs May Not Use Harrison Butker on Kickoffs

Speaking of the NFL’s new kickoff rules, the revamped system could have implications for Kansas City Chiefs kicker Harrison Butker.

On Thursday, Chiefs special teams coordinator Dave Toub said Kansas City will explore using safety Justin Reid as kickoff specialist in 2023.

“I like to have someone who can go back and make a tackle,” Toub said. “Butker’s able to make a tackle, but I really don’t want him making tackles all year long.”

Toub estimated that kickers were involved in 25-40% of kickoff return tackles in the XFL, whose rules the NFL is adopting this season.

Reid, a starting safety on the Chiefs’ defense, filled in for an injured Butker in 2021, converting one of two extra points while kicking three touchbacks on kickoffs.

“The team that figures it out, kickoff-wise and kickoff return-wise, is gonna really excel early,” Toub said. “We wanna be that team.”

George Kittle Provides Timeline After Offseason Surgery

On Wednesday, San Francisco 49ers tight end George Kittle said he played through a core-muscle injury suffered in Week 9 or 10. After gritting it out through the Super Bowl, Kittle underwent surgery in the offseason.

“Progressing as planned,” Kittle said, according to Nick Wagoner of ESPN. “The goal is to be back ready for training camp, and all signs point to I will be ready for training camp.”

With Kittle on the mend, 49ers TEs Brayden Willis and Cameron Latu — both 2023 draft picks — should see plenty of reps throughout OTAs and minicamp.

Darius Slayton Returns to Giants OTAs

While Darius Slayton had been hoping for an extension with the New York Giants, the veteran wide receiver returned to OTAs after reaching a middle ground with the club.

Slayton confirmed Thursday that Big Blue agreed to add incentives to his contract, per Ryan Dunleavy of the New York Post.

The Giants added $650,000 worth of incentives to Slayton’s deal, as ESPN’s Field Yates reported. Slayton had previously been able to earn $1.5 million via incentives; now, he can secure up to $2.15 million.

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Slayton, heading into the final season of a two-year, $12 million deal, has led New York in receiving yards in four of the past five campaigns. However, he’s no longer atop the team’s WR depth chart after the Giants drafted Malik Nabers sixth overall.

Elsewhere in New York’s receiving room, former Carolina Panthers and Baltimore Ravens WR Steve Smith is helping out at Giants practices, as the Athletic’s Dan Duggan indicates. Head coach Brian Daboll suggested Smith is working in an informal role rather than as an actual coach.

Eric Gray Working as Giants’ RB2

Free agent signing Devin Singletary will likely handle most of the Giants’ workload as they seek to replace RB Saquon Barkley. Meanwhile, New York’s RB2 battle might not be as wide open as it appeared heading into the summer.

Eric Gray, the club’s fifth-round pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, is working as the Giants No. 2 back, per Pat Leonard of the New York Daily News. Gray “got a lot of run” with New York’s first-team offense on Wednesday, playing ahead of Jashaun Corbin and 2024 fifth-rounder Tyrone Tracy.

Gray (5’9″, 206) rushed for over 1,300 yards during his final season at Oklahoma but didn’t test like an athlete at the 2023 Combine. He played just 65 offensive snaps and handled 17 rushing attempts in his rookie campaign.

Michael Pittman Jr. Held Out of Colts Practice

The Indianapolis Colts held wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr. out of Thursday’s practice after he banged knees with a defender last week. Head coach Shane Steichen said the Colts are merely being cautious with Pittman, who could have practiced if it were the regular season, per Joel Erickson of the Indianapolis Star.

Right tackle Braden Smith isn’t practicing as he recovers from offseason knee surgery, but FOX59’s Mike Chappell believes the veteran offensive linemen should be ready for training camp.

How Did Deshaun Watson Look at Browns OTAs?

Six months after undergoing right shoulder surgery, Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson “showed no outward signs of discomfort” during Thursday’s practice, as Scott Petrak of the Chronicle-Telegram writes.

New Browns offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey has experience working with a quarterback returning from shoulder surgery, helping the Carolina Panthers’ Cam Newton after a shoulder injury as the club’s QB coach.

“We went through a similar thing in Carolina with Cam coming off a shoulder surgery where we had to make sure we’re monitoring distance of throws,” Dorsey said. “[He] couldn’t go past certain yards, how many throws he’s making at practice, all those things were basically throughout the entire year

” … You see (Watson) continue each day ramping it up a little bit more and more. He threw the ball down the sideline, a vertical throw today, and that’s one I hadn’t seen from him a lot. We haven’t pushed him to do it, so that was good to see. So I think the more he grows and feels comfortable with it, the more you’ll start seeing those things get ramped up more and more.”

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